It’s been a while

It has been quite a while since my last blog post. There’s been a lot going on in my life and at work so that I’ve not felt any desire to write at all. Now that things are starting to settle down and sort out, I think I owe my few readers an update, if only to let them know I’m not dead and will be posting in the future. The updates in this post will cover Astrophotography, General Photography, and Amateur Radio.

 

Astrophotography

Well…as with writing, I haven’t been doing much of this since Wickahoney. It sucks, too, because the weather has been great for it. It hasn’t been a total loss, though.

I did crawl out of my warm bed to see the Blood Moon of the wee hours of 8 October 2014. I actually went outside in the driveway and watched it for a while before it dawned on me to grab my camera. So, I quickly went back in, grabbed the camera, and got back out. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I started taking pictures handheld. Trying to keep the ISO down in order to eliminate as much noise as possible, I was obviously shooting hand-held exposures that weren’t going to come out nice and sharp. Eventually I actually realized that and started bracing against the porch. That kept slipping, definitely operator error, so I moved to the car. The angle of the windshield was perfect but I was still getting blurry images due to the speed at which the moon moves. As I started dialing in for that by increasing the ISO and getting better and better pictures…my battery went to bed. By that time, the moon was emerging from totality so I just stayed up and watched the show a while longer then headed back in to bed.

Lessons learned: Get the friggin’ tripod, it’s only 30 seconds into the house and back out. Wake up more and think things through. Don’t be stubborn about the ISO, for stuff like this bump up the shutter speed, you’ll get better images that way!

On the plus side, I can now state that I have seen, personally and with my own eyes directly, with binoculars, or with a telescope all but one of the planets. The only one I’m not able to say I’ve seen with 100% confidence now is blue Neptune. Pluto doesn’t count, even though I keep thinking of it as a planet. Plus Pluto is so far away that I’ve got a snowball’s chance in hell of seeing it in person. Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, some asteroids, Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus I’ve all seen now. Hold the Uranus jokes, please. Maybe this year or next year I’ll bag Neptune as well.

With Neptune having a magnitude of 7 to 8, I think I now have the necessary tools to locate it. I just have to watch for it to pass near something I can easily identify in the night sky and triangulate off, something that will help me restrict the area I search. The setting circles on my Celestron Classic C8 should really help with this hunt as will the GoTo capability of my Celestron Nexstar 102GT. Provided, of course, that I orient them properly.

Speaking of the Celestron Classic C8, I have the piggyback mount attached to the OTA (Optical Tube Assembly) now. This will let me mount my camera on the C8 and use the telescope to guide the camera. I should be able to get some nice long exposures even with the 400mm now.

General Photography

The only time I did any intential photography in this period was while on vacation in McCall, Idaho. As usual, we went to Charlie’s Gardens to see it and myself with the intent of doing some photography.

This time I got some really nice images of various flowers, and I admit to being pleased with many of them. I was trying to do macro flower photography and I actually took several hundred pictures. Some I took to try and stack for a greater depth of field and some I took to try different perspectives. The best ones, though, were those I simply took to practice macro photography.

Picture of a small blue and yellow flower against a blurred background of green leaves.

A macro of one of the flowers at Charlie’s Gardens, McCall, Idaho.

I also attempted to take the necessary pictures to produce a multiple image of each granddaughter, of my daughter and her daughters, and of her husband. For various reasons that I fully understand in hindsight, the results were dismal: late in the afternoon the light was changing too rapidly, and my depth of field was too shallow. Of the six shots in each sequence, only one is really in focus, the rest are just out of focus. Perhaps not enough to matter to others, but to me that whole project should be tossed. I’ll probably still assemble the images and deliver them to my daughter, but I’m definitely neither happy with nor proud of the result.

Amateur Radio

I’ve done no operating, but I did manage to get a nice, clean installation of my Yaesu FT2500M and FT857D radios in my new to me 1992 Blazer. Power and feedlines are mostly out of sight and are definitely not in the way of passengers or driver like they were in the Geo Tracker.

Image shows two radios mounted in the center area of a 1992 Blazer Silverado.

The FT-2500M is mounted right under the dash while the FT-857D is mounted to a bracket that is in turn mounted to the sloping front of the center console. The Chorus (described in text later) is in the console cupholder.

Antennae for 2m and 70cm are roof-mounted mag mounts: a 5/9 whip for the FT2500M and a combo 2m/70cm for the FT857D. For a clean HF antenna mount, I bolted a front receiver to the frame of the Blazer and was thus able to simply slide in my stinger-mounted 40m Hamstick, using the entire mast assembly intact from the Geo Tracker. I was even able to keep the tow hook that was there. I couldn’t use the rear receiver as the antenna would constantly be in the way of opening the rear and there’s also the need to use the rear receiver for towing the trailer.

This shows the receiver mounted where the tow hook bolts on as well. The L shaped receiver with the condujit pipe mast is the same assembly formerly used in my rear receiver of the Geo Tracker.

This shows the receiver mounted where the tow hook bolts on as well. The L shaped receiver with the conduit pipe mast is the same assembly formerly used in my rear receiver of the Geo Tracker. The mast has no noticeable impact on the headlights lighting up the road.

There’s no APRS install yet as I’ve got to figure out where to put the GPS receiver for best reception. I don’t want it just sitting there on the dash against the windshield. The Geo Tracker’s ragtop was ideal for the APRS setup I had. The Blazer has a metal roof, as you’ve probably deduced from the use of the mag mounts, so mounting it right up there against the roof isn’t an option. I’m thinking of mounting it to the Blazer’s roof rack, but we’ll see.

I also found a small device, the Chorus in the cupholder of the interior image above, that I had forgotten about. That device was originally intended to help me with lipreading but it’s useful for other audio detecting. Supporting a vibrating external transducer and having a mic input, it allows me to connect it to the radio’s audio jack and feel when the squelch breaks without having to look at the radio. I’m hoping it will help me locate and identify CW frequencies in the area. I’m also hoping that with it I’ll be able to eventually learn to “listen” to CW by feel.

Along with that approach, I’ve got a friend attempting to recreate an arm-mounted device I read about that was only referred to as “the Thumper” by some deaf CW operators back in the 1960s. I’ve mentioned the Thumper in an older post.

One of the things I’d been trying to figure out how to do recently was to somehow limit the FT857D scanning to just the 40m CW frequencies. I finally found out it has that capability in the form of Programmable Memory Scanning. Yes, the manual does refer to it as PMS, and so does the radio’s LCD: “press the [C] (PMS) key”. I’ve already made some groaner jokes about that elsewhere and won’t repeat them here. Anyway, it goes to show checking the owner’s manual every so often is worthwhile.

I’m hoping to use this feature to monitor for CW activity without having to scan through all the other frequencies I’ve got programmed into the FT-857D. I’ll be doing this monitoring mostly during my commutes to and from work but hope to also play with it up in the Owyhees. With any luck, eventually I’ll build up a list of reliable CW frequencies for this area and start imporving my CW skills.

I have no intention of transmitting CW while driving. I’ll pull over to operate, but I very much want to get my CW skills up and running so I can have reasonable QSOs and be able to just “listen” to CW exchanges while driving like you listen to the AM/FM radio or your cell phone. I’m not into contesting, but I am interested in chatting and this is a skill that would be very welcome during my Owyhee explorations, which often are in areas with no cell phone service.

That’s it for now. I’ll try and post more frequently again.

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