Several versions of ideas coming from all over the place now, thank you all, and keep the ideas/discussion going if you would por favor...
Some of this has been a waiting game, connectors, cables, designs, ideas, and so on. There's at least one more dipole experiment on the way that I haven't so much as seen yet (good friend down the road is retired and just wanted to help out and see what he could come up with)... I'll be getting my first peek at that tomorrow at some point if all goes well.
I did another quickie dipole of my own the other night, no math, no real planning, just roughly eyeballed the parabola and did a little shaping by using an LED spotlight to attempt to focus the whole thing. With light, it looked plausible more as one might have expected it to look, but when it came down to it, the meters told a different story. My theory is that since there is no sub-structure whatsoever to this thing that it deformed as the tinkering progressed, and well, as you can see, the antenna ended up WAY further away from the reflector than the light test suggested it should be.
This thing ain't even close to ideal, but did do better than just the antenna standing alone without the reflector behind it. Easy enough to test, the reflector can be just picked up and removed without disturbing the rest of it.
These dipole tests aren't about the final product, I'm using them as a learning tool and as baselines to compare design to design. What you see below is about half as potent as the dish version posted that started this thread.
The view from the target side. Its pretty apparent even from here that the antenna isn't in the butter zone; you can see the "shadow" of the dipole just to either side of the actual antenna.
A shot from the back. Really all I'm illustrating here is that its just a cut up and deformed wide mouth plastic jug.
A shot more from directly in front of the van.
Here it becomes blatantly obvious that the shape of the parabola had become rather distorted and just how far the focal point had been shifted forward. I was probably getting more direct radiating behavior than anything else at this point, but still had a decent signal (the antenna by itself test mentioned above was performed after this shot was taken).
So far, my conclusions are that antennas are strange creatures. There are so many variables that contribute to the performance of any given design, its not even funny... LOL
I'm looking forward to seeing what my buddy down the road here has come up with, as well as trying the biquad and a handful of others I've seen and/or heard about.
Ross, you mentioned other forms of the quad design the other night in IRC... Any chance you'd elaborate?