Sunday, April 14, 2024

As We Move Further From the Best Part of the Year

Just an idle post about what I've been up to here.

As the weeks go by, we're going toward the worst part of the year, weather-wise, as we get closer to summer. I've been saying for quite a while that we're the opposite of the rest of the US, and the northern hemisphere. Our best time of year to be outside is coming to an end; for most of the rest of you it's just getting started. 

Not that we don't go outside in the summer, it's just not as pleasant as today has been, with a morning low of 52 and afternoon high of 79. In another few months, the morning low will be 79 or more and the high in the mid 90s. To be fair, it's not all idyllically wonderful weather in the winter, either. December and January alternated nice weeks with rainy, windy ones; we've had a nice stretch since around the start of February. It wasn't a particularly cold winter, but I kept seeing the temperatures below the official averages. Nowhere near record lows, just below average.

This is our dry season, and while I probably should have done this before, I've had to do what's basically annual maintenance on our sprinkler system. I don't know if you're familiar with them; I don't even know if I'm familiar them, but I fumble around and somehow the stuff gets working. Almost all of the sprinklers are popup sprinklers that are only visible when they're running, so I need to run the system to find them all and make sure they're spraying properly. There were two sprinklers that were broken and needed to be dug up and replaced, and another handful that the grass had grown runners over, preventing the sprinkler from popping up. 

Like millions of Florida lawns, we have St. Augustine grass which grows around the yard by putting out tough runners. I'm reasonably sure that in the rest of the world, it would be considered crabgrass.  Our St. Augustine is mixed with nine million species of weeds. Some of the weeds put out tough runners, too - the runners are what keep the sprinklers from popping up.

We live in a pretty reasonable county, but there are restrictions on watering our lawns, using fertilizers, weed killers and all because they run off into the Indian River lagoon. We're allowed to water twice a week, with the schedule set by house numbers - except for testing and fixing things like I've been doing. I've set the timer to start watering by the twice a week schedule starting this coming week. 

Because of doing that work every afternoon for a bit over a week, I haven't spent as much BIC (Butt In Chair) time in front of the radio with the things I've been working on. Three weeks ago today, I posted about geomagnetic storm going on. As it turns out, pretty much every day in the last two weeks has been poor propagation here. Propagation has been strange on VHF (6m: 50-54 MHz). I'll hear stations from the southernmost portions of South America: Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Paraguay - all of them with my antenna pointed north. Off the back of this beam (supposed to be 25 dB weaker off the back), they'll be almost as strong as local stations. Sometimes even stronger. 

I only recently noticed I made a really egregious mistake in that post. I showed the pad I added not just in the wrong place, but in the worst possible place, before the LNA.  Check out this comparison. 

Why is before the LNA the worst possible place?  Remember the Ham Radio Series post on Noise Figure? Any loss before the first amplifier takes away weak signals that can never be gotten back. Putting a 13 dB pad before an LNA means the noise figure can never be better than 13 dB. Which is horrifically bad for a VHF radio (and barely acceptable at the AM broadcast band).

The pad was always where it shows on the right side, after the LNA, but I brain-farted when I drew the little picture. Oh, BTW, it's currently a 10 dB pad and may stay that value. 

I mentioned the LNA I used was one I found at the Orlando hamfest for $5. It doesn't have as low a noise figure as the one I started with, but works down to below the AM broadcast band. I found a possible replacement that will upgrade this one with a better NF, made by a company called NooElec, that works from 50kHz up to 150 MHz or above the 2 meter band. As a bonus, it's even cheaper than the one I started with (and built from a kit of parts). I haven't hit the shining, candy-like "Buy" button, but still may well do that.


  1. I hear you on the sprinkler system, SiG. I just moved to the SLC area 6 months ago and haven't fired up the sprinkler controller yet, nor do I know if the system was blown out correctly! The back yard is a disaster area, the renters never took care of it and their dogs made a wasteland out of it. The front yard is normal, thank goodness.

    Good thing it DO know sprinkler systems and how to fix 'em!

  2. I've bought several things from NooElec, and was always satisfied with them.

  3. North Brevard here...No sprinkler system. If I watered the grass (weeds) I would have to mow more often. I haven't killed it yet.

    1. You can't kill grass, I've tried. Best thing you can do is nuke it from orbit (just to make sure)...

  4. I'm so glad the wife talked me into a "turn-key/go back home" condo down here (which has now become 24/7/365).
    Not to attract more of you down here, but everybody talks about how terrible (humid and hot) the Florida summers are; obviously they've never lived and worked in Manhattan, taken the sweaty/crowded/packed back-to-back and belly-to-belly subways and busses in 95°+ heat and 100% humidity.
    That's NYC you say - and they deserve all they get - Yeah! but I spent two summers in Grand Forks, ND (all two weeks of it) and that's no joy either.
    I'll take Florida any day!
    End of rant.