Monday, January 14, 2008

New Year, New Gadgets in the shack

Every new year comes full of promises for dreams fulfillment. But some time you have to help a little bit to make this true. I think that gadgets are actually extensions of ourselves. You choose them for specific reasons. You feel more complete and more confident just using them in the every day routine. It is a kind of sophisticated toys for adult.But let me tell you what is this little introduction all about: Just to present you my new gadgets.

1. My new weather station. It is a DAVIS Vantage PRO2 wireless. All sensors are integrated to one unit and transmit data to console in a very efficient way. (First and only weather station in its class to use frequency hopping spread spectrum radio technology to transmit weather data wirelessly up to 1000' (300 m)).
I installed the ISS (Integrated Sensor Suite) up to my terrace just under my HF antennas. Fortunately the whole system turned out to be RF proof, an issue that my old Monitor II suffered a lot. The isolation between sensors and console protects the later from static that under bad weather conditions make provoke severe damage. But a weather station without a data logger and proper monitoring software it is absolutely useless. DAVIS has made great job on this part too. Data logger keeps data for 50 days if you choose one record every 30 min (there are many options upon this interval). WeatherLink, as they call the provided software, it does very well its job and can convert the older data bases to the new format. This weather station is a really mature product and quite compatible with HAM environments.

2. My RigExpert AA-200 Antenna analyzer. To say the truth I have not test this instrument as much as I want. First impressions are very good. I have to say that it is very good looking and gives the feeling of a well and toughly manufactured item. It is powered by a rechargeable Ni-MH battery pack 1800mAH and it has autonomy of 2 hours of continuous metering or 20 hours in stand by mode. It can also connected to a PC though a USB port. Connected to a dummy it gave me a R=50.1Ohm and reactance 0.2Ohm. My trapped dipole for 40m and 80m gave me this nice SWR diagram centered to 7080KHz. Magnify to see details. No bad, isn't it? If it is so accurate as I expect this is the ultimate tool for the serious amateur. Anyway I will come back with full review when I have much more measurements.

3. Finally I will add a small review for my ACOM1000 linear amplifier. This is not quite new but it need some time to test a linear.
What can I say about this state of the art piece of radio equipment? There are so many good reviews that I feel I have nothing to add. But let me do just a few simple comments. I work with it more than six months. I have participated in several contests during this period. Among them there were some very demanding ones, as CQ WW RTTY for example. Lots of hours of continuous working without any complain. Every time I am sitting in my shack beside my ACOM1000 I feel proud and full of confidence. Before I get it, I knew that it had a very good reputation, but my cohabitation with it, it is beyond my expectations. What are its hot features?
a. Absolutely silent (whisper fan, vacuum relays)
b. Very easy tuning (attenuator in order to tune with full driving power)
c .Withstand 3:1 SWR transmitting with full power (no external tuner required)
d. Excellent liquid crystal control monitoring 12 parameters
e. Very smart and efficient protection circuit
And some words about service. I need it only once. A minor problem resolved in a couple of days. People in ACOM are very friendly and really helpful. Simply the best service I have ever experienced in my 30 years amateur life.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

At last sun wakes up

I am transferring comments from NASA information site about space weather. There is clear evidence that cycle 24 begun. Ladies and Gentlemen enjoy it.

Jan. 10, 2008: Hang on to your cell phone, a new solar cycle has just begun.

"On January 4, 2008, a reversed-polarity sunspot appeared—and this signals the start of Solar Cycle 24," says David Hathaway of the Marshall Space Flight Center.

Above: Images of the first sunspot of Solar Cycle 24 taken by the NASA/ESA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO). [Larger image] [Movie]

Solar activity waxes and wanes in 11-year cycles. Lately, we've been experiencing the low ebb, "very few flares, sunspots, or activity of any kind," says Hathaway. "Solar minimum is upon us."

The previous solar cycle, Solar Cycle 23, peaked in 2000-2002 with many furious solar storms. That cycle decayed as usual to the present quiet leaving solar physicists little to do other than wonder, when would the next cycle begin?

The answer is now.

"New solar cycles always begin with a high-latitude, reversed polarity sunspot," explains Hathaway. "Reversed polarity" means a sunspot with opposite magnetic polarity compared to sunspots from the previous solar cycle. "High-latitude" refers to the sun's grid of latitude and longitude. Old cycle spots congregate near the sun's equator. New cycle spots appear higher, around 25 or 30 degrees latitude.

The sunspot that appeared on January 4th fits both these criteria. It was high latitude (30 degrees N) and magnetically reversed. NOAA named the spot AR10981, or "sunspot 981" for short.

Sunspot 981 was small--only about as wide as Earth, which counts as small on the grand scale of the sun--and it has already faded away. But its three day appearance on Jan. 4-6 was enough to convince most solar physicists that Solar Cycle 24 is underway.

Strange but True: While Solar Cycle 24 has begun, Solar Cycle 23 has not ended. Both cycles will coexist for a period of time, perhaps a year or more, as one dies down and the other comes to life. In the months ahead we may see old-cycle sunspots and new-cycle sunspots on the sun at the same time.