Sunday, November 8, 2009

Unwinding at Winshape Retreat

I'm embarrassed to see how long it has been since I have updated this blog. But I have been traveling a good bit lately and have just let the time slip away.

Last week I had the opportunity to spend a couple of nights on the campus of Berry College (it is a 26,000 acre campus!) near Rome , GA. More specifically, I was at a conference at WinShape Retreat, a facility that was formally a 70 year old working dairy farm. Students who could not afford tuition at Berry College could work and live on the daily farm and work their way thru school.

But now the barns and milk houses have been converted into very spacious hotel rooms and conference facilities. There is an elaborate multi-media conference theatre and a dining room (formally the milking barn) that even serves cold milk in the traditional glass bottles.

The facility was make possible in part by a most wonderful gentleman, Truit Cathy of Atlanta. You may know him as the founder of Chick-Fil-A.

If your organization, church or just a group of friends are looking for a truly out of the way place to gather and enjoy a family reunion or perhaps some type of church related event, I highly recommend this place. One thing I might mention. There are no televisions, no phones in the rooms and, unless you bring your own aircard -- there is no Wi-Fi except in the conference center. And you know, I didn't miss it one bit.

If you enjoy astronomy you will also enjoy this setting. You are on the top of Mt. Berry when there are no street lights, and very little outdoor lighting of any type. I was fortunate enough to be there on two absolutely perfectly clear nights and I saw the milky way for the first time in a very long while.

Accommodations are very reasonable. All meals are included, even the pastry and coffee bar is open and free. The first evening we took a hayride and toured the campus of Berry College. There are hundreds (I do not exaggerate) of deer roaming the campus. Because we were an electric utility group, we also toured a nearby hydroelectric power plant. The second night we just gathered around the outdoor fireplace and roasted smores. (One person was appointed to keep their PDA connected so that we could get the football scores).

For more details visit the site. http://www.winshaperetreat.org/

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season

With apologies to Jimmy Buffett -- It looks like it is finally showtime in the Atlantic.

Many of you know that I am an avid storm watcher -- so long as I can keep a couple of hundred miles as a "safety zone" between me and the storm. I've spent way too many hours surfing the Internet looking for new bits of information on hurricanes and the forecast models. I have finally settling on one site that gives me just about everything I want and some of the coolest graphics I've seen.

Go to www.stormpulse.com

Then look on the upper right corner and click the "Forecast Tracks" button. There is much to explore with this site -- just hover over the various items and enjoy.

One other site that has nice maps, especially when the storm is making landfall, is

www.skeetobiteweather.com

So, stock up on the canned goods, gas up the generator and charge up the batteries 'cause the "big wind" is gonna' blow -- maybe.

Friday, August 7, 2009

52nd Scouting Jamboree on the Air

One of the great Scouting and Amateur Radio events each year is the Scouting Jamboree on the Air (JOTA). JOTA is an international Scouting activity held annually on the third full weekend in October. The event was first held in conjunction with the fiftieth anniversary of Scouting in 1957 and is now considered the largest event scheduled by the World Organization of the Scouting Movement (WOSM). Amateur radio operators from all over the world participate with over 500,000 Scouts to teach them about radio and to assist them to contact their fellow Scouts by means of amateur radio and, since 2004, by Echolink. Scouts are also encouraged to exchange QSL cards. This provides the Scouts with a means of learning about fellow Scouts from around the world. It is an adjunct to the World Scout Jamboree. The Coastal Empire Council JOTA will be October 17th from 10:00 a.m. till 6:00 p.m. at the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum at Pooler.
video

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Getting Recharged at Amelia Island

One of my favorite places here on the coast is Amelila Island Plantation. Wendy, Nicholas and I had the opportunity to spend a few days there last week. It was mostly work for me but Nicholas and Wendy got to play. The trip was a little less pleasant due to four separate electric power outages -- two in the same night! But we just opened the doors and slept under the moonlight till sometime after 1:00 a.m. when we were awaken by the TV blaring and all the room lights coming on.
There is a quaint little lighthouse there that I'd like to see some of my lighthouse buddies activate one weekend as a special events station.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Conversations with Ed Bigbie - December 5th 2008

(This story came from a private blog I started some time ago called "Conversations with Ed Bigbie". I started this journal because I've always felt so enlightened and enriched by our discussions and I knew that one day Ed would be gone so I wanted to create something to hold on to from the man I have admired and learned so much. Sadly, that moment came yesterday when Mr. Ed left this world to join his wife in Heaven. I have been rereading some of those postings and thought others might enjoy and remember Ed the way I do.)

I had the very distinct pleasure this morning of enjoying a long breakfast and enlightening conversation with my very dear friend and electronic engineering mentor, Mr. Ed Bigbie.

Ed is well known in the Amateur Radio community by his callsign, W4MMQ. He is an Extra Class license holder and received his first license in 1946. Actually his amateur radio license is probably the least of his credentials. He is a registered professional electronics engineer, a FCC licensed First Class Broadcast Engineer and a member of the IEEE, among many other fine distinctions. He is the retired owner of Savannah Communications in Garden City. The family-owned company is now run by his talented son Don Bigbie.

One day I will write more about Mr. Ed’s vast experiences in radio and television and his many contributions to Savannah, GA broadcasting but that will have to wait for now.

This conversation is one of several recently where Mr. Ed and I discussed his past venture in the design and building of a premium balanced antenna matching unit that he built and sold beginning in about 1996. Antennas and antenna matching has become one of our favorite discussion topics. Ed knows a lot about many technical topics but he is especially knowledgeable about antenna matching.

So, after we ordered our toast and omelets and overpriced espresso coffee drinks we settled into a quite corner at Scoops coffee shop in Richmond Hill. I’d picked Ed up at his home a few minutes earlier and noticed he was clutching a brown manila envelope and a 1967 World Radio Laboratory catalog. My good manners prevented me from blurting out, "What’s in the envelope” before he was ready to share but I knew he had brought along something special – as he so often did.

First he gently turned the pages of a perfect specimen of an 1967 WRL amateur radio catalog. Those of you old enough to remember WRL already know what this was like -- really nothing to compare with a present day Ham Radio Outlet catalog or an AES catalog. The first apparent difference was that everything on every page was manufactured in the United States! Even today I still drool over those fine Hammerland receivers, radios by Hallicrafters and R.L. Drake and Collins. It was a pleasant trip down memory lane back to the time I was a young boy and looked at this same catalog!

Next Ed opened the envelope and began to take out pictures, one by one. The first image was of a somewhat younger Ed; in 1996 in his very well appointed amateur station in Helen, GA. You can be sure that Ed either owned, or previously owned any piece of amateur radio equipment that he has ever wanted. In this particular picture I saw what looked like the most recent Icom premium amateur radio transceiver. Over his left shoulder I could make out an ETO linear amplifier which alone cost more than the sum total of all the amateur radio equipment I have ever owned! Just to the left of the ETO was a stack of three very rugged looking boxes that were the subject of this conversation.
The one on the bottom was the prototype of a very professionally finished balanced antenna matching units that Ed had designed and built.

As I said earlier, Ed knows RF engineering better than anyone I have ever known. I am continually amazed by the cadre of engineers he has been personally acquainted with. (Just for starters, he and Louis Varney G5RV of the legendary antenna were best of friends. Add to that list Art Collins, of Collins Radio; Bill Hallagen, founder of Hallicrafters, and others, and it is easy to appreciate the wisdom and experience that Mr. Ed brings to these conversations.)

It seems that Ed was also a longtime friend with Walt Maxwell (W2DU) – maker of the famous “true current balun” Walt was an engineer with RCA at the RCA Space Lab. There, while he had access to his employer’s very well equipped RF testing facility, he begin to experiment on a new antenna matching unit.

Ed told of his visits with Walt at the RCA Antenna Lab and test range in March 1970. W2DU, for whatever reason, never had any commercial aspirations for bringing his “new” tuner to the market so as time passed his design notes lay filed away.

But Ed was quick to recognize the classic simplicity and value of W2DU’s simple tuner and if Walt wasn’t going to build them then Ed resolved that he would.

So using two rugged 28uH roller inductors and a massive 3.5 kV variable capacitor Ed constructed his prototype W4MMQ Balanced Matching Unit. He labeled it serial number 1. (You can read Ed’s construction notes elsewhere on this blog).
That unit is still in service today, says Ed. “AD4RO (William B. Greer) has it. It’s on the air every morning up in Johnson City Tennessee”.

It is important to remember that these are balanced line tuners. There is no provision for a coaxial output. Because they tune a balanced line, there are two identical roller inductors mounted side by side. The one of the left is driven by a rugged crank reminiscent of those I’ve seen on AM broadcast transmitters. The second parallel roller inductor, mounted just a couple of inches to the right of the first inductor is driven with a special cogged belt so that one crank on the front panel drivers both inductors.

Ed was able to locate a small parts company in Florida who manufactured the drive belts and sprockets. The third component, from left to right across the heavy aluminum chassis was a 500 pf capacitor. Other than a unique true current balun, which Ed assembled, that’s about all there was to it. Most manufacturers insert a voltage balun on the output side but this has a current balun on the input side

But these tuners were not meant to be decorated with lots of bells and whistles, they were meant to run day in and out, handle high power and whatever antenna mismatch most anyone would ever encounter.

Over the next few years Ed and his friend Gene Rhodes of Deland, Fl manufactured quite a number of these “built like a tank” antenna matching units (please don’t call it a tuner, Ed corrected). And being the kind and generous man that he was, they are all in the homes of other hams. He never kept one for himself.

After about the third refill on coffee (Ed did not drink coffee which may account, in part, for his excellent health and longevity) I expressed an interest in documenting and publishing the construction details and even envisioned that he might lead the Coastal Amateur Radio Society club members in a group construction project.

Ed must have anticipated my interest because he then presented me with the remaining contents of the manila envelop which contained his hand drawn schematic, a typewritten essay and a fist full of photographs of the tuner from all angles.

I’ve published his work elsewhere on this blog for all to enjoy. Some months later I heard Ed mention that he had been contacted by a number of amateur operators from all over the world seeking information about building their own tuner from his notes. I could tell that this pleased Ed very much and I was glad that I’d helped to bring him just a small bit of recognition for his efforts.

The breakfast crowd had long cleared from Scoops. A few people we both knew drifted over to our table to greet Mr. Ed. Unrushed, we both got up and I drove slowly back to Strathy Hall savoring every moment of our conversation and not wanting the visit to end. It was a Friday – my day off from the office. I parked in Ed’s driveway where we continued to sit and talk for the longest time.

Our conversations would frequently drift to discussions of broadcasting and RF engineering which I enjoy most. It was that shared interest in broadcasting, particularly AM broadcasting, that first brought Ed and I together sitting in a booth at Captain Joe’s Restaurant down in Midway, GA in 1980 when he made a cold-call on Coastal Electric offering his company's services to maintain our newly purchased Motorola radio system. Interestedly much of that equipment is still on the air, 29 years later, and we've never signed a subsequent agreement. With Ed it was possible to conduct business solely on a handshake. We never had any problems but we knew that if we did it would be Ed's integrity that would resolve the conflict, not words in a contract.

I don't know of anyone else right now that I would trust to that same extent.

Finally, we wound down and parted company. I returned home feeling enriched and enlightened once more from another memorable conversation with Ed Bigbie.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Ed Bigbie - Silent Key

It was with much sadness today that I learned of the passing of Mr. Ed Bigbie (W4MMQ) of Richmond Hill, GA.

Ed was a very kind and generous man and he was a best friend and mentor to me in the field of amateur radio and electronics for the 29 years that I have known him.

Ed Bigbie received his Amateur License in 1946. He has been a member of ARRL since 1946 and QCWA since 1975. He received his First Class Phone License with Radar Endorsement in 1945 and has been an ARRL Technical Specialist since 1996. Ed was a Senior Member of the Institute of Radio Engineers (IRE) until it merged with The American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE) and became the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). Ed was a Senior member of IEEE and a Senior Member of The Society of Broadcast Engineers (SBE). He was also a charter member of the Association of Communication Technicians (ACT). Ed had been a Registered Professional Engineer (PE) in the State of Georgia since 1965 and authored several articles on antennas, transmission lines and matching units.

You could frequently find him on 3.995 early every morning where he put out a "broadcast quality" signal from two IC-756 PROIII's, a IC-PW1 amplifier and an 811H amplifier.