Friday, February 23, 2018

Bad news / good news

There always seems to be a silver lining.

Wednesday evening, after work, I attended a CERT Class on the new Code Blue initiative in New Jersey that calls for opening "Warming Centers" for the homeless when weather conditions dictate the need. After class I went to the parking lot, got in my car, started it up and I noticed the little tire warning light came on. This happens from time to time when one of my tires loses pressure - it lets me know I have to add air to get the pressure back up.

This was not that.  This time as I put the car in gear and started to pull away from my parking spot, I heard that distinctive "whump, whump, whump" sound that immediately sent the message to my brain - flat tire!

I pulled to the front of the County Fire Academy building, pulled into an empty slot and got out. Sure enough, the rear driver side tire was flat.  This was no leak, this was a full out breach!  The magical air had fled the friendly confines of the tire.

I got out the jack from the back and after a few minutes, figured out how to get it apart and working. The lug wrench part of the jack doubled as the crank for the scissor jack.  Of course there were no instructions, other than a few vague pictures, and since I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed, it took me a while to realize that I had to crank the jack a few turns with my fingers in order to let the handle loosen up so that I could pull it away from the jack body and use it.

A fireman who was there taking a course helped me by making sure the jack was positioned correctly under the part of the car that is reinforced to handle being lifted. Soon he had to go inside, so I was on my own.  This is not the first time that I've been to this rodeo. I've changed my share of flats before, but believe it or not, this was the first time I've ever had to do it at night. For whatever reason (I guess that it's harder to see what you're doing when it's dark) that increases the difficulty factor X10.

Got the flat off, and as I'm sitting on the ground, putting the donut (el cheap-o spare tire that they give you) on, it starts to rain.  No, make that, it starts to pour.  So by the time I got finished, I was soaked. My glasses were wet from the rain and the humidity and I had nothing dry to wipe them on. All my clothes, my jacket, everything was water logged. I wiped them off with my fingers the best I could and made it home, slowly and safely.

Yesterday morning, after I dropped the kids off at the school bus stop, I headed to my local Goodyear Tire Center, which is about 2 miles down the road. I explained what happened and the Service Manager said he needed to go out to check the tire size. When he came back in he said, "I have good news and bad news. You need four new tires, not one. They're all worn to the point where you need new tires. I don't have them in stock, but I can get them here for 2:00 PM, so we can get this done for you today". What are you going to do? The car needs maintenance to keep it running, so I agreed. I knew that this was probably going to be the case in advance, as the tires are 4 years old and have over 50,000 miles on them.

I had planned to take only the morning off; but ended up burning a vacation day, as it didn't make any sense to go into work for only an hour or two. The good news in all of this was that while I kept myself occupied at home with various chores while I waited for the tires to arrive, I also got the opportunity to set up the KX3 on the dining room table, alongside the magloop.

And, on the first try, I was able to snare John Laney K4BAI who was signing as PJ4/K4BAI on 20 Meters. John must have been down on Bonaire for the ARRL DX Contest. It still amazes me that my 5 Watts from my dining room table was able to traverse all the way to just about South America using an indoor compromise antenna not 3 feet away from me! And if it works for me - then there's no reason on Earth that a magloop can't be a viable solution to those who have to live under situations where antennas are not allowed or are severely discouraged.


That definitely made the day much. much better! Even later, as I was forking over the $$$ for the tires, that DX QSO brightened the whole day.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The EMCOMM/AUXCOMM challenge

My teaching partner, Mark K2VHW and I are currently midway through another 8 week class, in the process of getting another group of candidates to pass the test for a Technician class license. The challenge is that these are for the most part (but not all) CERT people. They want their licenses so that can engage in Public Service communications for their town.

But that's not all there is to Amateur Radio, is there?

And of course, the answer to that is, "No, it isn't." And while obtaining a license for the purpose of Public Service communications is certainly admirable; it isn't the end all and be all of Amateur Radio. We would be derelict in our duty as Amateur Radio instructors if we didn't point out the "fun" aspects of the hobby. Not to mention that these new Technicians will be more likely to maintain their licences (and actually use them) if they become more involved in Amateur Radio for other than just the utilitarian uses of it.

So inevitably, our first session of an eight week class tends to involve the mundane tasks of signing in, collecting contact information, handing out textbooks, study aids and all that kind of thing. But we like to end the session by exposing the students to the fun.  After all, the fun part is what will hopefully keep them engaged and interested in Amateur Radio for a long period of time.

To that end, we have been showing this video by RadioQRV.com.


As you can see, this is a highly polished, professional quality video and it certainly goes over all the aspects of Amateur Radio, but yet, it still has a kind of .........detached. clinical feel to it.

This morning, Marv pointed me to this video by HamRadioConcepts:


And while this one also is a very high quality video; it has an appeal that the other does not. This is what I'd hope to end up with if I got a bunch of Ham friends together (who are very "into" the hobby) in order to put together a show like this. A high quality product, but yet something that says, "Hey, this is what we do and how we have fun. Would you like to come out this weekend and join us? We hope you would!"

Our goal, then, is to always end up with a bunch of Amateur Radio operators who also engage in Public Service communications; and not ONLY a bunch of Public Service Communicators who only occasionally get involved in other Amateur Radio pursuits. Because we all know that "All work and no play make Jack (or Jill) a very dull Amateur Radio op." After all, it's all about balance.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

ARRL DX CW aftermath

I wasn't expecting much, now that we're on the downward slope of the sunspot cycle.  This really got reinforced for me on Friday.  I had taken the day off from work, to use up some leftover vacation days from last year, and to make the long President's Day weekend even longer. So Friday afternoon, I got on the radio, expecting to hear all kinds of stations warming up for the Big Event.

Nothing - the bands were dead!  I had mentioned this on Twitter and K2MTS came back to me that there were some tough solar conditions that were occurring. Of course, on my day off, O'l Sol would choose to throw a hissy fit.

Come Saturday afternoon, I got back on again, not quite knowing what to expect.  This time, the Sun and the ionosphere had decided to make nice. Conditions seemed to be remarkably better. I stuck to mainly 20 and 15 Meters and was able to work anyone that I chose to (I was searching and pouncing). The Caribbean nations and Europe were within easy reach. I was even able to work Japan on 20 Meters and a couple of Hawaiian stations on 15 Meters.  In all, operating VERY casually, if memory serves me correctly, I made close to 75 contacts and probably worked 30 to 40 different DXCC entities.

I have Log4OM set up to notify me whenever a station from Poland is spotted.  I guess it's a heritage thing; and I pay close attention to working Polish stations whenever I can. I worked and handful of them as well.

So it turned out to be a delightful weekend of twiddling the knob and getting back into the swing of being able to bust small pileups, even with only 5 Watts.  Even though I know that it's true, it's nice to have that confidence in the back of my mind that QRP works, even when band conditions are less than optimal.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

ARRL DX CW Contest

Is on for this coming weekend!

Even with us being in the lousy part of the sunspot cycle; this is a perfect opportunity for budding QRP DXers to get their hands (and keys) dirty. When the sunspots are high, it's not unheard of to work DXCC in a single weekend, if you're really gung-ho about it and don't mind not sleeping for 48 hours.

But with conditions such as they are, you can still expect a nice country total if you're starting from scratch. The exchange is simple - US/VE stations give a signal report and state/province. DX stations give a signal report and a number corresponding to their power output.

If you're a newbie to CW, QRP and/or DXing, I'd advise not to jump into the contest for the first 12 hours or so - maybe even not the first 24 hours. For this part of the contest, the big gun contest operators are sending their exchanges with code speeds that sound more like a buzz saw than any kind of Morse you'd understand.  Granted, even in the opening hours of the contest you'll find ops sending code that you can decipher; but for the most part, if you're a neophyte to QRP DXing or Morse Code, you'll probably get frustrated and want to hang up your key and turn the rig off.

It's better to wait to Saturday evening, or even Sunday.  The big guys have gotten a lot out of their systems and now they're just looking to increase their points total by as much as they can before the contest ends.  This means that they'll no longer dismiss signals that are less that 599+ and they'll be more patient with you if your code speed is a bit slower.

As an example, a few years back, I jumped into the fray on Saturday night with my K2 (before I sold it to be able to afford my KX3) set at the 900 mW level. I surprised myself how many stations I was able to work! Unlike many others, I've never contemplated trying to work DXCC at QRPp levels; but if I were so inclined, the ARRL DX CW contest would be a great place from which to begin.

So if you get a chance to jump in this weekend, by all means, give it a shot! I'm sure you'll have fun. You know what would be an interesting stat? To somehow be able to find out how many QCX transceivers are going to be in the contest this weekend. I'd be willing to bet quite a few.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least1

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

NAQCC Sprint tonight

I made a mistake last night when posting to the various e-mail servers the notice about the NAQCC February Sprint, which occurs this evening.

The proper link is: http://naqcc.info/sprint/sprint201802.html

Sorry, if my e-mails were driving you crazy!

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Major Sheldon's Last Watt

For those of you who get the Elecraft Newsletter via e-mail; don't pass by the February edition.  I know that sometimes we get so many e-mails in our inboxes that we tend to pass on these, every now and then. Thanks to W3BBO, this time I didn't - and you shouldn't either. There's a great short story in there by W.A. Taylor, titled "Major Sheldon's Last Watt."

It's a fun read and very well written. I wish I could spin a yarn like Mr. Taylor.

I'd love to post a link to it here; but it's copyrighted and I'm sure Elecraft used it with permission, and I want to respect that.  If you're not on the Elecraft mailing list; hopefully you have a QRP friend or Elecraft user friend who can show you the story.

Who knows? If someone from Elecraft reads this and feels that it's not problematic - they can always feel free to post the link in the comments section!

UPDATE:  I got permission from Wayne NK6R to post the link to the story.  It appears that Mr. Taylor gave unlimited distribution rights - so here it is!

http://www.elecraft.com/fiction/Maj%20Sheldon's%20Last%20Watt.pdf

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Friday, February 09, 2018

Getting back to the subject of Maker Fair

Plans are coming together.  We're in the process of acquiring the kits and getting together all the ancillary equipment needed (diagonals, soldering stations, solder, needle nose, safety glasses, etc.) to build these 4 Sates QRP Group code practice oscillators at the Maker Fair at the Piscataway Public Library on Saturday, March 10th.

There will be 4 or 5 building stations, with an experienced Ham/builder at each to guide the construction step-by-step. In the background we will have this video that Alan Wolke W2AEW so generously made for us.  It will allow those in queue to see what they will be doing while they wait their turn to begin building.



We also plan to have another demonstration going. This will be one of either two things - either an HF radio set up with a program such as Fldigi running, so the participants can see Morse Code being decoded for them. Or perhaps we can have a computer running with MorseMidi or some other program so that they can type plain text in and be able to hear the Morse Code it has been translated to.

It looks like it will be a good day.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

AWESOME !!!!

I just finished watching the successful launch of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy booster. It was awesome! So many memories evoked from watching Mercury, Gemini and Apollo launches as a youngster.

I must admit that I waited with breathless anticipation, waiting for the countdown to be aborted at the last minutes, as was usually the case in the early manned launches. But everything went absolutely flawlessly. And to be able to watch the launch from the cameras on-board the spacecraft as well as land based cameras! Terrific!

Then came the icing on the cake. Watching the two side boosters separate from the core rocket, and return to Cape Canaveral and land (simultaneously) dead center on their targets! On my!

Thanks, Elon Musk and SpaceX for taking me back in time and giving me another thrill ride!

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Monday, February 05, 2018

N2CX antenna as a new QRPGuys kit

Joe Everheart N2CX can probably best described as a "QRP Guru".  Joe's tips regularly appear in issues of "QRP Quarterly" published by the QRP-ARCI.  He and George N2APB were the brain trust behind Atlanticon and are still the brain trust behind the NJQRP. They are both QRP geniuses.


That being said, Joe, who was always an active QRPer, got hit by the portable operations bug hard during the National Parks on the Air event. And by "hard", I mean REAL HARD!  He and his son traveled to just about anywhere they could get to, to put National Park entities on the air. As you can see from the NPOTA Leaderboard, Joe tied for 11th Place, nationwide in Activations, with 235. He made literally thousands of QSOs! And when the NPOTA program ended with 2016, Joe continued on. He is a major activator in the WWF POTA program. Joe is out there, putting parks on the air just about every chance he gets.


The reason for his success, is of course the superb operating skills that N2CX possesses. But right behind that was the equipment he used. And as all QRPers know, the antenna is probably the most important part of that link. It doesn't matter if you use the world's finest transceiver, if you hook it up to a piece of limp macaroni you might as well just stay home..

Joe's antennas were of course, of his own design.  The QRP Guys persuaded to coax some of Joe's antenna secrets out of him and they are offering his Tri-band (covering 40, 30 and 20 Meters) NPOTA antenna as their newest kit: You can get the details here - http://qrpguys.com/qrpguys-tri-band-portable-vertical-antenna



All you need to supply in addition to the kit is wire for the radiator and radials and some sort of support system - whether that be a mast or some way of hanging it from a tree limb. For only $15 for the kit, how can you go wrong?  And sooner than later, Winter will be over and Portable Ops Season (as I like to call it) will be upon us again.

Be ready!

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Sunday, February 04, 2018

My start in Public Service

Thanks to a post on Facebook by Nicholas Bachar from South River, NJ, I was reminded that my start in Amateur Radio Public Service began some 38 years ago today, on February 4th, 1980. This was the day that the Olympic Torch, which was to light the Olympic Flame at the Lake Placid Olympics made its way through our local communities.

I was licensed for only fifteen months, and I had only upgraded to General eight months before, but I joined with other local Hams from the Old Bridge Repeater Association to volunteer for the event. We were tasked with keeping the Torch Relay support vehicles apprised of any problems or disruptions along the route as the Torch made it's way from Philadelphia through New Jersey and into New York. The torch passed through three adjoining towns -  East Brunswick (my home town), into South River (my second home town - where our Church was located, where I had attended elementary school and where my Dad's business was located) into Sayreville, NJ (my Mom's hometown).

This was all quite heady stuff for a Rookie Amateur Radio op - to be involved in something of national and international significance.  As I remember when we marshalled for duty, it was pitch black and cold, cold, cold!. The Torch was due to make its way through South River (where I was stationed) around 6:00 AM or so.  For various reasons, it was delayed and came though just as dawn was breaking.

Thanks to Nicholas Bachar and the "You know You're From South River" Facebook page for posting photos:


 








There was a short ceremony in the center of town as a commemorative Olympic Flame was lit in front of the library.. From there, residents were able to light souvenir candles that were being given out so that they could have their own remembrance of the day the Olympic Flame passed through town.


It all happened so quickly! It seemed like it was over before it started. Fortunately, there were no problems to report, but we enjoyed communicating with the Hams on the support vehicles, nonetheless. And if participating in such an event weren't enough in and of itself, about a month later this came through the mail.


Needless to say, from that day on, I was hooked!  And I'm proud to say that throughout my Amateur Radio career, I have been providing communications for various civic events.  Granted, nothing as "glamorous" as an Olympic Torch Run, but each vital and necessary to their respective communities in their own ways.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Friday, February 02, 2018

Once more, we prove our worth

Amateur Radio's role in the false nuclear attack alert in Hawaii.

http://www.radioworld.com/news-and-business/0002/how-amateur-radio-played-a-role-in-the-hawaii-eas-emergency-response/341139

It always pays to keep training, to be alert; and to be ready for anything - even non-emergency emergencies.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Technician License Class

On Tuesday evening, Marv K2VHW, Drew W2OU and I started another eight week foray towards helping another group of people earn their Amateur Radio license. Like another class we held two years ago, this one is being sponsored by the Clark, NJ Office of Emergency Management. The initial goal was to get some of their CERT members licensed, but it seems to have branched out from there.  In addition to the Clark CERT members, we also have a few "civilian" type walk ins from the community at large who are also interested in obtaining a license.

The first session went well; and the students seem to be motivated and enthusiastic. A tell tale sign that this is going to be successful class was that there were a significant amount of general questions that were asked the first night.

We are going to follow the format that has worked so well for us in the past. Eight sessions following the material found in the ARRL's Technician License manual. Then one session with a brief review and the actual license exam administered to the students.  If this class is typical of the ones we've held before, we expect an 85 - 90% success rate.

Winter is a bad time to hold one of these; as the weather is so unpredictable. But "God willing and the creek don't rise", we'll get this done and we will hopefully have a bunch of new people embarking upon a journey into the fun filled world of Amateur Radio.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Maker Fair

One of the "pillars" of the South Plainfield Amateur Radio Club" is to establish an outreach to the youth of our local communities, in order to get them interested in Amateur Radio, and electronics in general.  To that end, we've given demos on Ham Radio to local Scout Troops, and we've participated in JOTA, among other activities.

We've been approached to participate in a Maker Fair in early March in nearby Piscataway, one of our neighboring towns. To that end, we've decided on constructing a small electronics kit that will allow the youngsters to get hands on experience with kit building and soldering.  My fellow QRPers would call this a "buildathon".

To that end, we've selected the 4 States QRP Group's NM0S Code Practice Oscillator as the kit du' jour.


As you can see, the number of parts is small, so the kits won't take too long to assemble.  And at the finish, each attendee will have a functioning code practice oscillator (there IS a method to our madness!).  We hope to purchase 20 kits and get them all assembled over the 4 to 5 hour period that this will last.

Each builder will have an experienced Amateur Radio op right by their side to show them how to stuff the circuit board and the proper technique for soldering.  While we're hoping they'll do most of the work and have most of the fun, we'll be there to make sure no one picks up a soldering iron by the wrong end, or hurts themselves in any way, for that matter.

At the same time we'll have a PC with some Morse Code decoding software running, so that the kit builders can try out their newly assembled oscillators, as well as their fists. We'll also have video running that Alan W2AEW (of YouTube fame) will be making for us, showing how this kit is built. Hopefully this will really pique the interest of the builders who will be patiently waiting their turn behind the soldering iron.

Thanks to the 4 States QRP Group for making available reasonably priced kits that can be used to spark the electronics/Ham Radio bug in the younger crowd.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

I haven't posted in a while

due to ongoing events in life - family matters, church matters, etc. There's been not much time for radio; AND when there has been time, I've been too pooped to pop!

So I came across this on YouTube. Many of you have undoubtedly heard this before; but for those of you who haven't I present the great Jean Shepherd K2ORS (SK), with a little Ham Radio humor (about a serious subject).


This recording of Shep's program is 45 minutes long, if you don't want to listen to the whole thing, you can fast forward to the 30 minute mark. Or for an abridged, slightly different Reader's Digest version, Jean Shepherd WOR Radio 'Lightning Hits the Ham Radio' in a new tab, click this link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akyTVNorXQ8&t=63s

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Got a lot accomplished

Just about everything that I wanted to get done this weekend, I did.

The highlight was getting on the radio on Monday.  There wasn't much activity, but I did hear Eritrea rather loudly on 30 Meters.  I dove into the pileup, but gave up rather quickly. My heart just wasn't into working DX. Instead, I went down to 40 Meters and had two "Bob" QSOs. The first one with Bob KC8MFF, in West Virginia.  We chewed the fat for about a half an hour.

As I was signing with him, I heard a very familiar call, calling me.  It was Bob W3BBO in Erie, PA on his recently built QCX transceiver.  Powered by 4 Watts, Bob was a very pleasantly readable 569 in NJ, and I got a 579 in return.  Bob told me that my signal was the best he's heard from me in a long time.  This was the first time we've QSO'ed since I raised the W3EDP another 10-15 feet, so it was either that, or band conditions were just very good. Maybe a combination of both.

I also got the PWS (personal weather station) up and running in a temporary spot.  As mentioned, the station is being held aloft by 20 feet of aluminum Army surplus masting, which is anchored in a 5 gallon paint bucket full of concrete.  It was tricky getting the whole affair level, so that the anemometer (wind meter) would function properly.  It's a hack job for now, but the masting is plumb. This spring, I'll get some brick, blocks or pavers and I will make a level base for the bucket to sit on. Once that's done, I'd feel more comfortable about adding a couple more mast sections to get the sensor up to the 30 foot level.

If you scroll all the way to the bottom of the blog, you'll see a WeatherUnderground box which is displaying real time weather conditions at the W2LJ QTH.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!