[amsat-bb] SO-50 Yesterday at 1738Z

Dave Swanson dave at druidnetworks.com
Tue Aug 25 02:50:30 UTC 2015

I'll throw in my .02 since the conversation has moved into a domain that 
I have some experience with.

I've experimented with varying ways of holding antennae, holding radios, 
holding hand mics, writing stuff down, and tuning two knobs for 
doppler...  As I, like most of my fellow humans, lacked the required 5 
arms to hold everything, it was miserable. I tried a tripod only to be 
unhappy with the reception, since I couldn't twist for polarity on the 
fly. I got a voice recorder, but had the exact same thing happen as 
ya'll did, although usually it was with cars, sirens, or low flying 
airplanes blasting out the microphone. I was basically where she was 
at... so let me, if I may be so bold, throw some pointers her way.

1. Get a headset and foot pedal. These things will run some cash, but 
they're worth their weight in gold. Being able to hear the bird in your 
headphones, blocking out the ambient noise is huge, and having the 
microphone in front of your mouth all the time maximizes your modulation 
of the transmitted signal. I got the Heil Micro Pro, and the FS-3 foot 
pedal, but anything like these will work. Get whatever adapter is 
required for whatever radio you're using to make them work. This will 
solve several problems in one foul swoop, and free up a couple of the 5 
hands required.

2. Find a fixed place to put your radio. I *think* Hope is still using 
an HT, or a combination of HT's for her contacts. When I first started 
on SO50  I was building cheap Yagi's for reception, and attaching my HT 
right to the antennae itself with some zip ties. This had the dual 
effect of minimizing my coax run, and freeing up yet another hand from 
holding my radio. When I needed to shift for doppler, my free hand 
reached to the radio on the beam, flicked a switch, and went right back 
to it. Later on when I upgraded to the linear birds, and bigger radios, 
I bought one of those little cheap folding tables at home depot for 20 
bucks, and just carried it around in the Jeep with me. Having some place 
to put the radios is big. With HT's, even something like a backpack that 
has a strap across your chest is a great place to attach it, and keep it 
close and accessible, without requiring another hand to hold.

3. Get tons of audio adapters. I like other people to be able to hear 
what I'm doing.. I also want to hear things clearly... I also want to 
record the pass without interference... these 3 wants typically exceed 
the audio output of most radios. So, get a splitter, a recorder, a 
volume attenuator, and an external speaker... or some combination of 
everything. I will, at max, run a 3-way audio splitter, plug in my 
headphones to one, plug in a speaker to another - with a long audio 
cable away from me to eliminate any feedback, and a volume attenuator 
feeding my voice recorder (because speaker output is typically too high 
for most "line-in" plugs on voice recorders) into the third. It's a mess 
of cables, but it accomplishes accuracy, demonstration, and recording, 
all at the same time.

4. Write stuff down anyway. If I'm solo somewhere, no ones watching, and 
I'm not trying to set DX distance records, I usually don't even mess 
with my voice recorder. Even when I do, I've had it fail on me tons of 
times. Usually it's cause I'm a bonehead and forget to check the 
batteries first, but still the point is still valid.  Practically before 
every pass I work, I jot down who I am (yes, I stumble over my own call 
sign sometimes...) where I'm at (especially useful if I'm somewhere 
other than home) the bird I'm working, the date, and the AOS and LOS 
times of the upcoming pass. That basically leaves me with callsign and 
grid, as the only two important things I *have* to record after each 
QSO. For bonus points, if I've got a sked with someone (the horror!) 
I'll pre-jot their callsign and grid down, and usually write 'Q' or put 
a check or something next to it when we've made the contact. Now, this 
DOES require a hand to write, but you've got the notepad on that fixed 
place you put your radio, so it should be a simple pen pick up, notate, 
and set back down... right? :D

5. Ditch the tripod, hold the antenna. This one I know will draw fire 
from some, but as an exclusively portable operator, I stand by it. The 
nerves transmit a signal to the muscles in a normal human's arm 
somewhere in the range of 200-220mph. This is a faster reaction time 
than any rotor I'm aware of, and it allows you to make hundreds (or 
thousands if you ever watch how twitchy I am) of corrections during a 
single pass. Do it enough, and you'll completely forget you're even 
moving the antenna, following its arc across the sky, and constantly 
twisting it for the best signal. Your ears will hear how strong the bird 
should be, and your arm will just react. I can't explain why or how, but 
it just will. In the month or so I used a tripod, I never got the hang 
of moving the Arrow, going back to transmitting, and remembering to move 
it again. A few weeks of holding my arrow and letting my ears be my 
guide, and it was like a 6th sense. And, as I mentioned to Sean KX9X 
recently after his roadtrip, holding an arrow for multiple passes for a 
couple straight weeks in a row, will make you a great arm wrestler.

6. Develop a system. This one kind of goes with the last two, but figure 
out how you want it all to go together, and get comfortable with it. 
Whether you're in the backyard, or on a mountain, set things up the same 
way, every time, and be able to do everything by reaction, instead of 
thinking about it. For example, I always setup so the bird I'm working 
will apex directly to the left of where I'm standing. I always hold my 
arrow in my left hand. My right hand does the radio manipulation, and 
quick note jotting. My right foot is always on the pedal. I always have 
my notepad immediately to the right of my radio. I have the radio at 
exactly the height level, and high enough I don't have to bend over. I 
color coded all my coax cables, I memorized where the step and channel 
lock buttons are, and can find them by feel. Working a pass anymore is 
just a reaction, I don't even really have to think about anything, I 
just set my phone on compass mode, watch the clock, and go.

So this turned into a Novel, but I hope there's some good info she can 
use. I am an exclusively portable satellite operator, and plan to be for 
some time. I've ran into all these problems, and like to have think I've 
solved them. I also plan to pick your brain in about 8 years on how to 
teach my little girl, who (at 4 months old) really wants to figure out 
where those voices in the speaker of my 857 are coming from, effective 
ways to work the birds herself.


-Dave, KG5CCI

On 8/24/2015 8:23 PM, James Lea - WX4TV wrote:
> She used to use a tripod and will probably use it again in the future.  This worked very well, but she wanted to try another way.  I believe that kids learn by making mistakes.  Trying to hand hold the antenna and radios is a mistake!  She will learn.
> The big issue with writing call signs for her is that she is still learning to write.  Remember, she is a very young kid.  As her writing improves, she will be able to do the paper method.  All in time.
> Thanks and 73,
> James
>> On Aug 24, 2015, at 8:55 PM, Scott Richardson <scott.xot at gmail.com> wrote:
>>> wasn’t able to write down the callsign while holding two radios and an antenna.
>> When I started out, it took me only one or two passes to realize I needed a tripod. I know I'm not the only one to have cobbled together a frame that mounts on a tripod and holds the antenna, two radios, a timepiece, and operating aids. Seven years later, this system is still working great.
>> Call me old fashioned, but a pad and pencil are indispensable for my operations. I usually note several callsigns and grid squares before making any calls, and if someone not on my list calls me, I'm quick to write their call down. This method requires no extra wires and no batteries, while creating a record that's easy to reference both during and after the pass. It's a rare occasion that I want to listen to an SO-50 pass again after getting through it "live."
>> 73, Scott N1AIA
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