Rainy Mornings and Boring Bicuspids

Alas, another fleeting patch of free time has been bestowed upon me. Just like last semester, this semester (my second in a 4 year dental school) started off tough from day one. After Christmas break it was hard to walk into class at 8am and hit the ground running, but I managed to get the hang of it after a few days. I’ve heard medical school being described as “trying to drink from a fire hydrant”, but I think a more appropriate analogy would involve a treadmill set too fast. You have to work as hard as you can as soon as your feet touch the ground, and you might be able to keep up for now but you don’t know how much longer you can go before you tumble. I never really tumble, but I always feel like I’m about to. Overall, I can’t complain. I’ve managed to compartmentalize dental school into a chunk of my schedule (albeit a massive chunk), leaving time to spend with my family (wife) and when she’s at work, time to spend playing with electronics (which seems to be radio at this stage of my life).

Rather than bore the internet with descriptions of what I’ve been up to in dental school, I’ll focus on the interesting aspects of my most recent endeavors. A few weeks ago I took the final (third-level, extra class) amateur radio license exam. It’s a bunch of technical questions about radio circuitry, antenna theory, and other random stuff. You can see what I mean by taking an online practice test! I passed [whew!] and applied for a new call sign (extra class operators can have shorter call signs). The FCC gave me a VD. AJ4VD that is! Yes, my old call sign KJ4LDF has gone out the window as I am now AJ4VD! In morse code, that’s [.- .— ….- …- -..]. Speaking of code, I made my first contact in Morse code from my apartment! Let me set the scene for you…
This is the radio I’m using. It’s a Ten-Tec Century 21 HF CW transceiver which puts out ~30W.
I’m using a super-cheap but surprisingly functional homebrew base-loaded vertical antenna! The main vertical element is quarter-inch copper pipe from Home Depot (a couple bucks) cut with 1” to spare from my 10ft ceiling. Therefore, it’s a less-than quarter-wave vertical element, requiring a tuning coil (variable inductor at the base)…
Here you can start to see the tuning coils. Briefly, I scraped a deep gash in the copper pipe such that a big glob of solder would adhere to it, and stuck a wire (yellow, coated) into that solder so it’s a good connection to the pipe. I then started wrapping the wire around a few toilet paper rolls [it’s all I could find at the time!] adding tap points (regions of exposed wire) every other turn. This functioned somewhat, but didn’t allow for fine-tuning (pun intended). I therefore scrapped the bottom half of the cardboard cylinder/coil and constructed a slightly more elegant solution…
That’s an Olvaltine container. Yeah, I know, “More chocolaty Olvaltine please!” I used a rotary tool to scrape some measured/templated gashes on each side to give the wire (picture frame hanging wire from Target, 50′ for $1.99) something to rest in. It turned out not to be enough, so I hot-glued the wire into the holes. This gives me a lot of exposed wire space to allow me to “tap” the coil wherever I want. By modifying where I clip onto the coil, I modify the length of wire in the coil that’s used, therefore modifying the inductance of the coil, allowing for some tuning capabilities. Although it has a narrow tuning range, using the current setup I’m able to get my SWR down to 1:1 on 40m (nice!).

I made a couple of contacts since I got the rig last night. First was K4KOR in central TN, who was calling CQ. I replied (slowly), and he came back to me (blazing fast Morse code). I was unable to copy ANYTHING he said (I’m not that good of an auditory decoder yet!) I’m sure he’s incredibly nice and it wasn’t intentional, but I had to give up the QSO. I know he copied my call, and I copied his, but I didn’t copy ANYTHING else he said. Does that count as my first contact? This morning I fired up the rig at 9:15 and heard W4HAY calling CQ from Northeast TN. I replied, stating that I’m new to CW so go slowly, and he was AMAZINGLY nice at sending me code at a snails pace. I was able to copy 90% of what he said, and will consider him my first solid contact! How cool is that?

And, as a closing note, Misia performing “Everything” (my favorite song) in Seoul, Korea: