24 October 2021

The View From The Bench - 24 October 2021

 It's been a quiet week in the shack. Work, home repairs, and other non-geeky stuff have kept me otherwise occupied. 

A few days ago I took our 2016 Hyundai Santa Fe in for its annual emissions inspection. The damned thing failed. It's a simple issue to address - a leaking gas cap ($15 at AutoZone), but lately this little car has become a bit of a maintenance headache. We recently had to have the speed sensors replaced in both rear wheels, to the tune of about $700. This on a car with only 34,500 original miles (yes, it's driven by the proverbial little old lady schoolteacher who only drives it back and forth to school about 2 miles a day). So this gets me thinking about complexity, and the necessity of complexity. For a 2016 model, this Hyundai has just about every bell and whistle available from the factory. It's the little old lady schoolteacher's car, and that's the way she wanted it. But I'm guessing we still have not figured out about 20% of the overly complex features in the thing. By comparison, I drive a 10 year old F-150 with very few bells and whistles. It's got over 110,000 miles on it, and other than tires and oil changes I haven't had a lick of problem with it. It's just a simple, reliable beast. 

The price of complexity is necessarily higher failure rates, unless you have a development and quality control budget the size of NASA's. Hyundai actually does a very good job building cars with very high reliability rates - they've learned how to design reliability into a system. But at some point the complexity of a device, time, and continued use will catch up. 

Which has me thinking of this:

Yaesu FT-818

In comparison to this:

Icom IC-705

The simple Ford vs. the complex Hyundai. Which will still be running in 20 years?

OK, moving on. As I posted on Facebook a few days ago, even Extra-class operators can be extra dumb. I went to one of my favorite parks earlier in the week to play around with my KX2, and forgot the coax! I was going to put up either my Par End-Fedz trail friendly antenna, or use my Chameleon whip, but all I had along was a short 4' long section of BNC jumper cable. This restricted me to using just the AX1 antenna. This little antenna actually hears very good on 20 & 40 meters, but I was only able to make one contact. But this one contact was a good one - WW2BSA in Stanhope, NJ.

Next, I'm testing a new portable operations computer option. Currently I use a ruggedized tablet as one of my two shack computers, and take it portable whenever I want to do digital operations in the field, which is about all the time. But this tablet, while very capable, is heavy and chunky like all ruggedized tablets. So I got my hands on a used Microsoft Surface Go 2, an early 2019 model with the anemic Intel Pentium 4415Y CPU. What the hell was Microsoft thinking when they picked this processor?!

Processor aside, it's a pretty good piece of kit. My goal is to stress-test it to see if it might serve as a good, lightweight portable field computer. I had no trouble lashing it up with the Icom RS-BA1 software and driving the IC-705 with it. Next up, trying to get the KX2 working on digital modes like Winlink, and of course getting Ham Radio Deluxe running on it. The Surface Go does have several key advantages for portable operations. It can be charged via the USB C connector using a standard smartphone charger - no proprietary tablet charger needed. It has a back-lit type cover (very useful for night operations), it has a very good screen, and of course it's small and lightweight. It's not at all rugged, or weather resistant. In fact, if you look at the teardown videos on YouTube it's actually somewhat cheaply made compared to it's full-up Microsoft Surface siblings. I figure if I go this route I'll be able to get perhaps two years of useful service out of it before having to find a suitable replacement. 

Later this afternoon I'll be heading out to participate in our club's monthly VHF simplex net. I'll be testing the Yaesu FT-2980R for the first time. I think I'll use it in conjunction with my Arrow Antenna open-stub J-pole. The combo should work pretty good. As long as I remember the coax...

To wrap this up, I did manage to get one blog post out this week - my favorite ham radio bloggers. That was actually a tough one to write, because the list of bloggers I think do a good job is at least twice as long as what I discussed. But I had to pick favorites and keep the post a reasonable length. I'm already thinking of a follow-up post - second round draft picks, so to speak.

That's all for this week. Stay tuned!

W8BYH out

22 October 2021

Bloggers I Enjoy

The Amateur radio world is awash with bloggers. Lots of folks out there want to share their experiences, ideas and opinions. Hey, sound like anyone you know?

Many Amateur radio bloggers are quite good. Some run traditional blog sites, others run video blog sites (vlogging), and more than a few run hybrid sites, with some written content, some video content. The whole idea of a blog or vlog is to have other people pay attention to it, so the better bloggers and vloggers put a lot of time into their sites and develop some really good content.

Going forward here I'll refer to written and video blogs by the single term 'blog' or 'blogger'. Just know that blogging can take both forms, and there's often a lot of overlap. Blog writers often make videos, and video bloggers often write.

So what makes a successful blogger? Let's start with the written word. First off,  you have to be interesting - writing about boring stuff, or writing about interesting stuff in a boring way, is the fast path to internet obscurity. You also have to be able to string words together to make sentences, and sentences together to make paragraphs. In short, you have to know how to write. The mechanics of writing - grammar, syntax, spelling, all that. Part of this is also developing a particular style. All successful bloggers have a style of writing that's unique to them. You have to provide clarity - the ability to make the complex simple. You have to be relevant - what you write about needs to be something people actually have an interest in. And last, you have to entertain - people like to enjoy what they are reading. If you can write in an entertaining and approachable way, readers will come back for more. 

The same general rules apply for video blogging. You have to be interesting, relevant and you have to entertain. But while in the written world we talk about the mechanics of writing - grammar, syntax and all that, in the video world it called production values - the ability to produce a quality visual and auditory product. The explosive development of really good yet relatively inexpensive video gear (like the current generation iPhones, GoPros, etc.) and video editing software has allowed talented video amateurs to produce some remarkably good content. 

One style of blogging that puts me off real quick is sensationalism. This is mainly a problem with video bloggers. YouTube is flooded with crappy unboxing videos (if I hear the words "the mailman just dropped this off, let's open it together!" ever again, I think I'll puke), and bloggers titling their crappy reviews with sensationalistic leads like 'This new radio destroys the competition!' (umm... no, it doesn't), or 'Is this antenna the answer to every prepper's dream?' (uhhh... no, it isn't). It's mostly clickbait, because these bloggers use YouTube as a revenue stream. More clicks and likes = more money. Nothing wrong with making a buck or two off of your efforts, but too many bloggers get hooked on the cash flow and end up releasing junk. This is the reason I don't follow some of the more well known Amateur radio video bloggers. They may have a lot of viewers, but most of what they put out is crap.

But a lot of successful bloggers and vloggers put out some really good stuff. Some only post a few times a year. Others, like K4SWL, are blogging machines, putting out almost daily written and video content that is relevant, interesting and entertaining. Most, however, are like me, posting just a few times a month. And sadly, some good bloggers have gone silent - either their interests have shifted or they simply got burned out and have moved on to other things in life.

 So let's take a look at my top favorites.

  • QRPer.com/SWLing.com. Thomas Witherspoon, K4SWL, is the Energizer Bunny of radio blogging, both in the written and video arena, and what he produces is very, very  good. His two sites have somewhat different focuses. QRPer.com is tightly Amateur radio-related, and is a mix of Tom's personal adventures (you can tell by the title he loves operating QRP) and bright ideas that others provide. SWLing.com is more wide ranging, and focuses on short wave listening, shortwave programming, radio reviews, SWL antenna design, 'state of the broadcast industry' reports and other interesting stuff. Tom also a YouTube channel where he highlights a lot of his activities.  As you would expect, there's a lot of cross-pollination between the three sites. Tom does a great job of keeping the content relevant, fresh, and easy to understand. 
  • N6CC - 'Navy 6 Combat Comms'. When I grow up I want to be just like Tim Sammons. Tim is a Navy vet who's taken his love of military communications gear to almost a lifestyle level. Tim is a great writer with a slight tongue-in-cheek approach to his topics. I really like his 'military-esque' blog site layout and his choice of topics. Tim doesn't write all that much. I'd guess he only posts or updates a few times a year, but he's a fun and informative read if you like military communications gear. And I do. And I want his Bronco.
  • KE0OG. Dave Casler is a video-only blogger with a huge presence on YouTube. Dave's forte is breaking complex or confusing Amateur radio topics (like antenna resonance) into easy to understand lessons. Much of his content is designed for beginners, but even cranky old Extras occasionally turn to Dave's for help. Recently, I was putting together a presentation for my local club and needed to come up with an explanation as to why transceivers are designed to work best with a 50 ohm load. Sure enough, Dave has a great video on the topic. If you don't know why something is the way it is in Amateur radio, odds are Dave's already covered it.
  • OH8STN. Like K4SWL (above), Julian is one of the Energizer Bunnies of Amateur radio blogging. Julian is (I believe) an American expat, living and working in Finland. He's both a video blogger, a written blogger and has a fairly significant footprint on Facebook. His main interest is portable off-grid communications, hence the title of his blogs: 'Survival Tech Nord'. Some of his topics can be uber-geeky (like GPS time syncing a Raspberry Pi), but always well done, and he does a good job of stringing topics together to reach a well defined goal, such as off-grid power options or specific radio configurations for emergency comms. If you've ever wondered what it's like to operate an Amateur radio-based emergency communications system completely off the grid, Julian will show you how it's done.
  • CuriousMarc. Marc does nothing with Amateur radio. I doubt he's even got his ticket (although you can occasionally see what looks like an IC-7300 hiding in the background of a few videos). But Marc runs a wonderful and entertaining YouTube site where he explores old electronics. Not real old electronics - almost nothing with tubes. Mac's focus is on classic (and often historic) electronics from the 60's, 70's and 80's  - mainframe computers, early mini and micro-computers, test equipment and desktop computers from HP (he loves HP gear), hobby robotics, and anything electronic with a NASA property sticker on it. Marc is a Frenchman with a PhD in Opto-electronics and runs a 'super secret lab' in Silicon Valley (aka, his well equipped basement). One of Marc's forte's is the collaborative approach he takes on his projects. He's assembled a team of talented and experienced geeks that he regularly brings together to work on projects, with Marc acting as the orchestra conductor. Marc is also a wonderful video producer, and assembles his project videos into well structured episodes that tell a complete story. Marc is famous for his video series on bringing a classic NASA Apollo guidance computer back to life. It started out as a simple 'lets open this up and have a look inside' video, to ultimately refurbishing this 50 year old piece of US manned space history, resurrecting the original Lunar Module flight control software that ran on it, developing all of the sensor inputs to trick the computer into thinking it's controlling a real LM, developing a software interface that mimics the Lunar Module flight control dashboard, and running real-time landing simulations in front of a room full of retired NASA and JPL engineers who worked on the original Apollo guidance computer and software. Epic geek stuff. 
  • Mr Carlson's Lab. Paul Carlson is a talented Canadian electrical engineer who specializes in bringing old electronics, particularly old radio equipment, back to life. Paul's YouTube videos are noted for their exceptional video quality, and his ability to calmly (almost sleepily) describe in detail what's going on inside. Paul likes transistor-based gear, but he loves old tube gear, and watching him bring an old 1930's-era tabletop tube radio back to life is a fun experience. Paul is the only YouTube blogger I pay a small Patreon fee to for access to his more technical content. 
  • EEVBlog. If Paul Carlson's postings are laconic, the Australian blogger, Dave Jones, is almost manic. Dave is an electrical engineer working out of Sydney, and runs a very active video blog site (hence the name EEVBlog - Electrical Engineering Video Blog), a written blog, and manages a fairly large presence on Groups.io. Dave views blogging as a serious business and it provides him a significant revenue stream. But you can't keep this type of business model running for long unless you can provide a steady stream of quality content, and Dave delivers on this front in a high voltage, rapid-fire format. His YouTube channels (he's up to at least three now) and written blog are chocked full of quality content dealing with a wide variety of electronic topics. No, Dave is not a ham. He's even talked a bit negatively about them once or twice, but his content is otherwise great. One of the things Dave is famous for is his multimeter reviews and tear-downs. It's from Dave that I learned that cheap multimeters are not worth the cost at any price, and likewise, expensive meters are cheap at any price. Stick your probes into high voltage mains and one will get you killed, the other will keep you alive.
  • LifeIsTooShortForQRP. I really don't know who this guy is. I think he's German? Maybe? He never shows himself on his own videos. He operates from Florida, down near Naples. And he's got buddies, because he gets a steady supply of some really interesting HF radios, mostly military, commercial and Amateur. His camera setup is very minimalist, probably just a smartphone. But boy, he reviews some neat stuff! Old NATO and Warsaw Pact gear, Rockwell Collins aviation gear, Motorola/Micom gear, Phillips, SEA, SGC, Intek, Hughes, Icom, TenTec, the list goes on and on. If you like gear that is just entering the 'vintage' stage of life - stuff made from the 1960's to the 90's, this is a very interesting channel. A perfect example of the idea that good content doesn't necessarily need strong production values.
  • Robert Nagy, AB5N. Bob just walks into his garden, sits down, pulls out some notes, looks into the camera, and tells you why you should, or should not, buy a particular piece of gear. No hype, no faux drama. Just straightforward and honest reviews. I appreciate that.
  • Guerrilacomm. This is a great example of a video blogger that had some very interesting content that's relevant to emergency communications, but he's essentially ceased blogging on his channel. I followed him for a few years, but never got his name. He either worked for CALFIRE in California, or worked as a communications tech supporting them. His videos were always rough around the edges, and he was prone to ramble on a bit, but it's clear he was in the center of the action with wildfires and knew what he was talking about. I hope he comes back.
Is this a comprehensive list? No, of course not. There are plenty more really good writers and video producers making Amateur radio-related content, but my list above are the ones who's work I particularly enjoy.

I'd love to see your list of Amateur radio or electronics-related bloggers you follow. You might help me expand my list. So, add your comments below!

W8BYH out

17 October 2021

The View From The Bench - 17 October 21

 Well, what's been happening around the shack this week?

  • (Monday) I ran our regular local 10 meter net (28.380 at 2100 hours EST), but ran it with a twist. I operated QRP from one of the high points in the county, which just happens to be the parking lot of a local middle school. I used my new-old Elecraft KX2 (more on that upcoming) and Chameleon vertical mounted to my truck. The Elecraft, by reception reports, was about 1 khz off frequency on TX. Hmm... time for an alignment check. 

  • (Monday) Shipped my Icom IC-7200 off to N4ATS in Florida to have a 'quiet scan' mod done so I can run the rig using ALE. I've been testing ALE - both MARS-ALE and Ion2G - using my IC-7300, which works great. Both MARS-ALE and Ion2G put the 7300 into split frequency mode, which means that on RX the filter relays are bypassed, eliminating the annoying and not-good-for-the-radio relay clacking as the rig scans through frequency groups. But I  need to leave the 7300 configured for other digital mode operations and want to test & run ALE on a second rig. The 7200 makes a very capable ALE radio, but there's no way to bypass the filter relays while scanning. The radio just isn't capable of that from the factory. But, there's a well documented mod that sets the relays in bypass while scanning, and N4ATS has done a number of these mods for other ALE operators. I figure this route is cheaper than buying a second IC-7300. 
  • (Monday) It's been confirmed - the 2021 Stone Mountain Hamfest is a go for 6 -7 November. Hooray! I'll be in the boneyard on Saturday, trying to offload some unneeded stuff. If you are in the area stop by and say hello.
  • (Tuesday) Speaking of the KX2 (were we?), I just got through doing a frequency alignment. Seems the little rig really was just a bit 'off'. Elecraft provides a very easy procedure where the radio automatically zero beats a known frequency (I used WWV at 15.000 mHz) and self-adjusts. I also did the 'MARS mod', which is a factory firmware update that removes the amateur radio band limits. You have to specifically ask Elecraft for the firmware, but when I explained I was a MARS member they sent it to me with no fuss. Hmmm... a firmware update to achieve wide-band TX. I wonder why IcoYaeKen never thought of that.
  • (Wednesday) So who knew that ham radio has a patron saint? I'm Catholic, and I was surprised after all these years to find this out. Saint Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish priest of the Franciscan order, ran an experimental shortwave transmitter on 40 meters (7 mHz band) between 1938 & 39, as a way to spread the gospel and keep in touch with monasteries throughout Poland and, ultimately, as far away as Japan! Contemporary accounts of Saint Kolbe reveal that he was very interested in modern technology, particularly technologies that helped him spread the gospel, so it makes perfect sense that he would have acquired a transmitter, secured a station license (SP3RN) and started broadcasting. Sadly, Saint Kolbe was arrested by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz, where he perished on 14 August 1941. He was subsequently designated the patron saint of ham radio, and there are regular nets in his name run on HF and DMR. Check it all out at the SP3RN web page
  • (Sunday) It's getting cooler here in the ATL region. Woke up this morning to 45 degree temperatures. The coffee in my mug is actually steaming! Fewer bugs, less sweat, more pleasant portable operating conditions. May have to carve out some time for later this afternoon...

W8BYH out

11 October 2021

The View From The Bench

I think it's time to change things up. I've been blogging about ham radio for almost four years now, and most of my blogging is very deliberate - almost like I am writing for a commercial publication. This is in large part because I enjoy writing, and take pride in what I write. But this process is anything but spontaneous. Crafting a blog post, from start to finish, can take anywhere from a few hours to weeks, or more. For example, the series I wrote titled The EMCOMM Layer Cake took the better part of two months to research, talk to people, test software, work out concepts and write. Hardly spontaneous.

I want to introduce a little more immediacy to this blog. Grinding through two or three long posts per month doesn't allow me capture and comment on a lot of the small but relevant announcements and issues that pop up almost day-to-day in the ham radio world.

I actually do this on Facebook, posting my quick observations and comments across a number of the ham radio pages I follow. I could just set up a separate Facebook page and run things from there. That route is certainly easy, but I'm trying to reduce my social media footprint. Facebook use comes at a cost - they have started overloading member pages with intrusive ads and announcements, started censoring content they disagree with politically, and Facebook's corporate values are not my values. I appreciate the platform they provide, and its served me well for a number of years. But as a conservative Christian I find Facebook and most other social media platforms increasingly out of line with my values. I know that everything I post on Facebook is mined for their financial benefit, and scrutinized to see if it violates their leftist content standards. Facebook and I don't need each other, so I've decided to stick with this Blogger.com platform for my new initiative. 

I know many of you are screaming "But Brian, Blogger.com is a Google platform, and they are the granddaddy of on-line exploitation and personal data mining!" I understand, but Google is pretty hands off with Blogger.com - it's a minimalist blogging platform that is ad free and comes without commercial announcements or censorship. Plus it's free to use. I'm OK with Google web-crawling all over my blog content in exchange for free use of their platform. They do it to the WordPress sites I run anyway, so I may as well get something free in exchange. 

So, here on PRC-77.com I'm going to start recurring commentary posts titled The View From The Bench, where I'll roll up and comment on the fast moving things in the ham radio world that catch my interest. Short bullet points. Occasional witty repartee. Some insightful comments. Or, it could descend into mindless drivel. We'll see where it goes.

So stay tuned. I'll toss out the first The View From The Bench later this week.

W8BYH out

10 October 2021

Boat Anchor

Not one of these:


Or one of these:

No, my local club is getting more and more into 2 meter FM simplex, and I needed a good, basic, 2 meter mobile that can give me at least 50 watts of output power, and that I can take to the field and bang around. I didn't want to spend a whole lot of money, and for this purpose I didn't need anything fancy; no dual bands, no digital modes (DSTAR, System Fusion, DMR, etc.). Just a good old-fashioned 2 meter FM rig that is easy to program from the front panel.

There's plenty of 2 meter mobiles for sale on the used market. Just check QRZ.com any day of the week. New offerings are getting a bit thin (that COVID shortage thing, ya' know), but I was surprised to find Yaesu offering two models that come in right at around $150.00 - the FT-2980R and the FTM-3100R. A hundred and fifty bucks is pretty good for a basic 2 meter mobile from a quality manufacturer, so I settled on the FT-2980R because of its bigger screen.

This radio's claim to fame is that it doesn't need a cooling fan because it's got a large heat sink. Large is an understatement. You'd better not be hanging on to this thing if you fall off a boat, 'cuz you are going straight to the bottom. But darned if it doesn't work! It's dead easy to program - I almost didn't need to pull out the manual (hint - enable tone squelch before trying to set tone frequency) - but other than that little operator headspace and timing issue, setup and programming was easy-peasy. 

So far everyone who's heard me talk on it likes what they hear, and its got plenty of volume at the receive end. I like the fact that Yaesu includes some small screw-on feet to set the radio at a good viewing angle, and permit the bottom mounted speaker to do its work.

Nothing fancy. Sometimes simple is just what's needed

The radio is mostly heatsink. Note the unusual cut-out for the coax connector.
That's a great feature, and makes screwing/unscrewing the connector extremely easy

Bottom view. The screwed on plate covers the actual radio. Those little feet are a nice touch

So that's it. Sometimes even the yeoman radios that don't do anything spectacular, but just do their jobs well, deserve some blog time. Nice and basic - like a bowl of Corn Flakes.

Until next time...

W8BYH out

03 October 2021

Chameleon Antennas

I'm a Chameleon Antenna fanboy. There, I've said it. But if you follow this blog (and I know I'm up to at least eight loyal followers 😆) and study the pictures I post you could have deduced for yourself that  I've got a Chameleon Antenna products addiction.

Here's the latest, from some testing I was doing last week:

Chameleon Hybrid-Micro base, Mil-Whip antenna and extension,
and their new Universal Clamp Mount

I got hooked on Chameleon Antennas about 5 years ago as I was getting back into Amateur Radio. I needed an easy to set up long wire antenna I could temporarily hang from a painters pole off my back deck. I wanted something that was weatherproof and provided good multi-band coverage. After looking at all the available options from vendors like MFJ, Alpha Antennas and others, I decided to give the Chameleon EMCOMM II a try. I was not disappointed. That 'temporary' installation lasted about 18 months and got me contacts all over the US and into places like Spain and the Ukraine. 

Chameleon EMCOMM II

Eventually I decided to replace the EMCOMM II with what I felt was a more appropriate fixed station antenna - a MyAntennas end-fed long wire. That's also a good antenna and deserves its own discussion. 

When I took the EMCOMM II down it looked a little weather-beaten, but otherwise it was in perfectly good operating condition. I still use that antenna today, mainly as a quick deployment wire antenna for things like camping trips and Field Day. I think the EMCOMM II became something of a 'bread & butter' antenna for Chameleon. Although they've come out with an improved version (the EMCOMM III), it's still in their catalog and seems to sell well, based on the discussions I see on the internet. How good is the EMCOMM II? I'll just say this - if I had to go to a 'gnarly place' like an area devastated by a hurricane, to provide emergency communications, the EMCOMM II would be the first antenna that would get tossed into the equipment bag. If it was the only antenna I could take along, I wouldn't feel under-equipped.

Not long after I got the EMCOMM II up in the air, I got an itching for an HF vertical antenna. I was looking for something I could easily set up and take down, and could cover all bands between 10 - 80 meters. Once again, I looked to Chameleon, and one of their original Cha-Mil-whip and Mil-Extensions soon found their way into my equipment stack. Over time, this vertical antenna became my most used portable HF antenna. It's my go-to antenna for camping and day operations like POTA activations. At one time it spent over 6 months in a semi-permanent setup in my back yard, supported by a tripod and guy lines. When I took the antenna down it was just a little weather beaten, but the only maintenance it needed was a wipe down of the antenna joints with some NOALOX paste.

This Chameleon antenna stayed set up in my back yard for over 6 months.
When I took it down the components were a little weather-beaten, but
perfectly serviceable, and I still use them today

The Cha-Mil whip antenna and extension set up in my back yard.
Note the use of the 'Cap-Hat' (capacity hat), also by Chameleon, that
makes the antenna a little more broad-banded

A close-up of the guy system. A simple $1.00 round electrical box cover
plate from Lowe's drilled to slip over the Cha-Mil Extension.
I use a 1" stainless steel hose clamp clamped around the antenna element
to stop it from sliding down

I've used this vertical antenna in a number of setup scenarios - vehicle mounted, tripod mounted, ground mounted using a spike. I'll be the first to admit that its not as efficient as a good long wire antenna (like the EMCOMM II), it is fast, easy and convenient to set up, and in the right conditions very effective.

Excellent for field deployments - light, compact and effective

The Chameleon Hybrid-Micro antenna matching unit

In fact, the only real challenge with the Chameleon vertical antenna, or any portable vertical ham radio antenna, is mounting it somewhere. Chameleon and others make various clamp-on devices that allow you to mount the vertical at the top of a pole, but the antenna is offset from the pole by several inches. This results in an awkward, offset arrangement that's difficult to balance and support. Since ham radio has semi-officially adopted the common painters pole as a cheap and expedient vertical support, an ideal solution would be an adaptor that mates with the industry standard painters pole thread and provides a 3/8" x 24 'stud' socket that is in common use in ham radio. As seen in the photo above, Chameleon does make a ground spike that works quite well, but when you want to get that matching unit above ground level and there are no picnic tables or deck rails to clamp to, setup can be a bit challenging.

Chameleon jaw mount. It works well, but when clamped to a pole the
antenna is offset enough that it causes balance issues

Antenna offset using the jaw mount. It works, but it's awkward

After trying a number of vertical antenna support combinations, I've settled on a setup that uses a lightweight surveyor's tripod and 5/8 x 11 to 1/4 x 20 adapter, both available from Lowe's or Home Depot. This makes a cheap but very effective combo.

Inexpensive surveyor's tripod and a 5/8 x 11 to 1/4 x 20 adapter

The tripod setup is extremely versatile

What makes Chameleon's antennas so versatile is that different elements can be configured in multiple ways depending on the need. For example, the base matching unit you see in these photos - the black 'tube' at the base of the vertical antenna - is a 7:1 matching transformer that can also be used as a base for an end-fed long wire antenna. So, in my kit bag there's a 60' spool of wire in case I want to use it as a long wire antenna.

Chameleon Hybrid-Micro base used in the long wire antenna configuration.
This 7:1 matching unit can be used for both vertical and long wire antennas

Chameleon makes an almost bewildering array of field antennas - end feds, delta loops, dipoles, magnetic loops, and more. They also offer replacement parts and components so if something gets lost (likely) or breaks (less likely), you can be back up and running in no time. Their documentation is second to none. Everything they make - everything - has well written instructions and setup documentation that's downloadable from their website. In fact, Chameleon encourages interested buyers to read the product documentation first to determine if the antenna they are interested in is right for the application. 

But where Chameleon really shines is their customer service. I've emailed them almost a dozen times over they years with questions about antenna capabilities, setups and components, and they've always replied within two days, and always with thoughtful, well reasoned responses. They actually care about their customers.

Chameleon is also honest with their user community. They will tell you right up front that most of their antenna setups will require a tuner. Their antennas, as designed, are 'almost resonant' on a lot of bands, but you'll still need a tuner to tweak things and to protect your radio. No outlandish claims that their antennas are 'resonant everywhere'.  

Is Chameleon's gear any more effective or efficient than, say, the antenna equipment sold by Alpha Antennas, or even MFJ? To be perfectly honest, probably not. At the end of the day the electrons don't care who made the conductor they are traveling down. Where Chameleon excels is in component interoperability, quality of materials, quality of construction and customer service. Their stuff isn't cheap, but it works, works well, and it lasts. It's a true long term investment. For field or emergency use, there's nothing better.

Highly recommended.

W8BYH out