My Shack

 “The Shack”

Shack 1-1

Work & Play – Side by Side!

My shack is located in my basement. As mentioned earlier my house was built in 1870 so it had what we call a “Michigan basement”. Over the years it has been improved with more digging, concrete floor ledges and a poured concrete floor. Everything did not go well with the floor of my shack. I dug down and extra 6″ or so to create a little extra head room in the shack. That was lots of work. I re-briefed the concrete man in the morning on on the day of the pour. I got the “two thumbs up” meaning everything was understood. I returned home from work and found that they had completely refilled the hole I dug with concrete. I wanted to kill them. (OK, maybe great bodily harm!) You can see from the above picture that the ceiling is pretty low. I’m 6′ 1″ and have about 6 inches of clearance. Not perfect, but better that digging up and hauling the concrete from the basement.

The basement is divided into two main rooms. In the one side I built a 10 ft by 15 ft  office/shack. It has custom counter tops and drawers. The counter tops go most of the way around the room in the shape of a “U”. One very nice additional plus about being in the basement is the convenience of grounding. All the ground leads are short and I have little problems with RF. I operated for a number of years from the second floor of my present house and from previous QTH’s. I had many problems with RFI. All those problems went away with the basement move.

I use my basement shack for both ham radio and my little consulting business. When I face west, I’m on my business computer and working hard (of course). When my DX Labs “SpotCollector” program informs that a new band country is on the air it is just a matter of swiveling to the right in my chair and getting on the right frequency and hopefully working the DX! Of course, then it’s time to go back to work. At least that’s what I’m trying to convince my wife I’m doing!

Close in shack

NU8Z Operating Position

To the left is a closer up picture of the “business end” of the NU8Z Station. The radio is a Flex 5000. I have used a number of different radios over the years such as the IC751A, FT-1000MP and FT1000 MarkV. They were all great radios, but from the DX point of view, there is none better than the Flex 5000. From the sensitivity standpoint it is about the same as the other radios I have used. But, there are two major items that set the Flex aside from other radios. The first is the very robust receiver. It holds up very well in the presence of strong signals. The filters are “brick wall” great! Going beyond the performance of other radios that declare high dynamic range numbers, the receiver continues to hold up even when there if multiple signals within the bandpass of the filters. The signals do not turn to mush, thus allowing your “mind filters” to do the job if there is enough difference in frequency. This robust performance has proved very valuable in the pileups. Many times I’m able to continue to copy the DX regardless of the number of carriers and cops on the frequency or the amount of crap on the DX listening frequency. The next great plus with the Flex 5000 in the Pan-adapter. The use of the Panadapter provides an additional “sense” or dimension to DX operating. It allows you to see what is happening. This is a huge plus in finding the stations that are working the DX in a split operation pile up. In addition to the Flex, I use a THP HL-1.5 KFX amp with a Palstar Auto Tuner. For more information about the equipment I use, see the “Stuff & Links” page of this website.

The Flex 5000

Flex screen

Flex Radio “PowerSDR”

OK! Granted, I’m pretty high on the Flex !! But that being said, it is not perfect.  If you like to fiddle with computers and software, it’s great! But if not, it may not be the radio for everyone. Basic operation is pretty straight forward and would not an issue. But to get the most from the Flex it requires some additional work. There are many nifty little programs that enhance the operational enjoyment factor. It has been a blast for me to work through the process of getting the Flex to work with the many third party logging, data decoding, and accessory control programs. All the support programs and the Flex communicate simultaneously via a nifty little program called “DDUtil” by (Steve Nance – K5FR). This little program is incredible and combines with a Virtual serial port linking program called “vspMGR” to make all the necessary data connections between the programs. There is also a great little program called “VAC” (Virtual Audio Cable). This program is a driver that allows the transfer of audio data from one program to another. In the case of the Flex Radio it allows you to connect to the your logging, RTTY, PSK, WSPR or CW Skimmer program with out any cables. It’s all done within the computer.  The audio data remains in the digital domain.  OK, now there is the issue of “NO KNOBS” and the loss of “computer focus” when moving from the logging program to the Flex User Interface.  As a causal contester I can tell you it’s a real shock to type something in the logging program when the computer focus is on the Flex UI. The next thing you know you are in the middle of the 49 meter shortwave band just when you were responding to a call from a needed multiplier. This sucks!!  Well fear not my Flex doubting, contest oriented friends, there are numerous fixes for this issue. My favorite fix was provided by another SDR guru, Tobias DH1TW. This involves a “DJ Console”, yes like the one a “DJ” used at the last wedding reception you attended.  Tobias wrote the code that interfaces the “DJ Console”  to the PowerSDR software. This innovation provides a solution to both the “NO Knobs” and the “Program Focus” issues. Over the years I have evolved to a point where I have little need

DJ Box

DJ Console

for the knobs. But they are available with the DJ Console and are user programmable to do most all the Flex radio functions.  The DJ console always has control of the Flex software regardless of where the “computer focus” is. It’s great to have the two big VFO knobs right next to the keyboard. It almost feels like I’m cheating at times when I’m able to simultaneously listen to both the A & B VFO’s assisted by the visual input from the panadapter.  I think I need to get one of those big red “that was easy” buttons from Staples that I could hit every time break the pile up. To me, making all this stuff work together is the one of the main reasons that I really enjoy using the Flex radio. It is by no means an “Appliance” type of radio. I like to tinker, and this experience put the fun back in “radio” for me.

 

 

Porta PaddleMy Paddles:If you look at my shack picture on the top right hand side of my keyboard you can see a small item on the desk. That little thing is my CW paddles. I have Kent paddles, Bencher paddles and a few others, but they were too big for my liking. It seemed the paddles were always in the way. So I thought I would give something different a try.  I use the American Morse Porta Paddles. These paddles very small and simple but have a remarkable feel and touch to them. I use picture putty or what some call “earthquake putty” on and in the bottom of these little things. Where ever I plop them, that’s where they stay until I move them. All my other paddles may end up at the Dayton or the local Hamfest one of these years. These paddle are very popular with QRP’ers. This is especially true for the guys who operate portable or in the backpack mode.  I use the paddles with the K1EL Winkeyer USB keyer. This is another great product!

ts480-2-s

Kenwood TS-480SAT

Kenwood TS-480SAT: I also have a TS-480SAT in the shack. I don’t use much but it serves as a back up rig. I did use the radio a lot the first year after I bought it. I was very impressed with the performance. I think that it is one of the best “value” radios on the market in terms of “bang for the buck”. I have the 500hz CW filter and the TCXO options installed in mine. The radio has a very good DSP. Much better than the DSP that was is in the FT1000MP or the FT1000MP MarkV that I owned at the time I purchase the TS-480. I made many A/B comparisons between the Yaesu FT’s and the Kenwood.  I would not say that overall the TS-480 was better, but at the same time it was no worse. Not bad for radio that at the time costed less than half as much. Other than a FM dualbander, this is the only Kenwood rig I have ever owned.  The radio is capable of being run remotely with the Kenwood supplied software. I set it up for remote operation just for grins. Fairly simple to set up. I have also run the radio from my car using a 3 band hustler whip with very good results. I use to go mobile in the Michigan QSO Party. I hope to get back into mobile operation again. My plan is to trunk mount the radio with the control head upfront. I might team the radio up with Little Tarheel  HP screwdriver antenna or some other model (Like HQ) .