Thursday, April 26, 2018

Tomorrow, April 27th, is Samuel F. B. Morse's birthday

And here is an excellent suggestion by Wayne N6KR:


No matter how busy I am tomorrow, I aim to make at least one QSO on this coming Friday in honor of Samuel Morse’s birth (227 years ago!). I’ll be dusting off my oldest hand key for the occasion, one with a leg strap and Levi’s-style button that was used by the South African army circa WW2. 

If you have an even older hand key, and you manage to get its contacts cleaned in time for this auspicious date, please send me a photo of it. I’ll collect the photos and post them on the Elecraft website photo gallery.

73,
Wayne
N6KR

I have a collection of several fine straight keys, including a McElroy; but none of them are what I would consider to be really old antiques. My J37 and J38 keys are probably from the WWII era. (Funny how for us Baby Boomers, things from the WWII era still don't seem to be that "antique" - Unless you include us!) My Vibroplex Original goes back to the 1920's I think; but that's not a straight key.

In any event, tomorrow might be a good day to pack the KX3 and battery in the car and get out there during lunchtime, in order to inaugurate the W2LJ 2018 Lunchtime QRP Season.

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

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

What to bring?

I was reading a post on QRP-L the other day that brought a smile to my face. Someone (can't remember the name or call sign) was lamenting on how he went out for QRPTTF last Saturday and discovered that he had just brought along too much stuff. This brought that smile to my face, because I have also found myself in that position........many times.

Let's face it ...... those of us who are Weekend Warriors do not really need to pack like as if we were  SOTAteers. Those intrepid QRPers usually have to hike for many, many miles to get to their final destination. For them to not have a redundant set of just about everything would be a disaster. I can only imagine how much fun it would be to hike five or ten miles to a mountain top, set up the station only to find out that your BNC to SO239 adapter broke and that you didn't carry a back up. That would be a hair-tearing-out day, indeed.

For those of us who go to a local. county or state park and set up at an available picnic table usually have the luxury of parking nearby. That makes life so much easier! I usually leave the backpack full of all extemporaneous stuff in the back of the Jeep.  All that comes with me is the KX3 in its padded case, the battery and a paddle and set of ear buds along with the antenna du` jour. I carry these items in a very light, over-the-shoulder messenger bag that Cafe Press used to offer, but sadly, they no longer do. Glad I got mine while they had it!


This bag fits everything I need for a few hours of operating outdoors in a park-like environment.  Of course if I were to set up somewhere that required a substantial walk or hike, I'd bring the entire backpack with me. It's no fun walking a couple miles back to the car because you didn't bring any zip ties or extra antenna support rope with you in a small day pack. Not only is that frustrating; but it takes away from your operating time. The object it to maximize operating time and minimize set up and tear down time, right?

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that you learn as you go. Do enough portable operations and you'll learn soon enough when to carry light, or when to bring the kitchen sink along with you.

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

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Geez! Another kit!

From QRPGuys. No shortage of offerings to the QRP community!


Here is another circuit design from Cliff Donley, (K8TND) he calls “Lucky Strike”. It is a sensitive direct conversion receiver kit that covers the 40m band for cw or ssb reception. It is a through hole kit that uses the popular NE602/612 mixer/oscillator and an LM384 audio amplifier for ear buds or a small speaker. Cliff has incorporated an LED  for the AGC system. There is a switched attenuator on the front end to prevent overloading. All the controls and I/O are board mounted. Front controls are Coarse Tuning, Fine Tuning, and Audio Gain. Rear connections are 12V power jack, 3.5mm audio jack, and the BNC antenna connection. The Power and Attenuator switches are board mounted, with pads for 9V battery operation if desired. We have provided power and signal pads for our Digital Dial if you want to add that option. All the receiver components are included in the kit with the pcb. It is a little over 2.50” square, and the same size as the MMM+ transmitter. Current usage is ~10mA

Yours for $25

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

Monday, April 23, 2018

Never enough time for radio

Humbug!

Saturday got away from me again. Too many chores and errands, not enough time for radio. QRPTTF will have to wait another year for participation from W2LJ (as is that even matters).

From the summaries and reactions that I have been reading on QRP-L, it looks like the QSO rates were quite light for those who took part. Some have reported only 4 or 5 contacts for the entire event. Band conditions were pretty bad to say the least; and was probably the main reason for this.  Related to that, I saw on Facebook where Mike KC2EGL posted that he and John K3WWP only made 15 contacts during their subpedition to the USS Requin yesterday. I guess band conditions were lousy both days.

Personal experience would tend to back that up.  Yesterday afternoon, I got a few free moments and decided to set up the KX3 and magloop on the back patio. It was sunny and 65F (18C) and sitting in the sunshine, it actually felt much warmer. I haven't used the loop in a while and I kind of surprised myself how adept I've become at tuning it. I heard some loud signals on 40 Meters, though far and few between. 20 Meters was even worse. Any DX that I heard at the low end of the band was way down in the mud and was hard to hear. Stations from Slovenia and that area of Europe usually boom into NJ that part of the afternoon. Yesterday I had to strain my ear bones to hear them.

I called CQ for a bit on both bands for a few minutes before the battery that I was using went down below 8 Volts and caused the KX3 to turn off.  I guess that was just as well; because from the RBN chart, I wasn't being heard anywhere very well, anyway.


I saw in one post to QRP-L that Rick N9KG and Jerry N9AW were discussing that during the lower end of the sun spot cycle that "all day" QRP events might be better served by turning them into 3, 4 or even 5 hour sprints. The idea being to concentrate the participation and activity into a smaller time frame so that the experience becomes meaningful for all those involved.

Off hand, I'd say that's a pretty good idea. It keeps interest in the event alive from year to year when people feel that they've had a modicum of success. If you've made 20, 30 or 40 or more QSOs, you're more likely to make an effort to go out and conduct a portable operation again the following year. No one wants to go through all that trouble only to have it become an exercise in setting up and tearing down. When the sun spots come back in plentiful numbers, you can always adjust the hours of the event to reflect that.

Just a thought; and if I daresay, a good one on the part of NK9G and N9AW - two avid veteran QRPers whom I both respect, very much.

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

Friday, April 20, 2018

QRPTTF - "A River Runs Through It"

QRP To The Field is tomorrow. QRPTTF always seems to signify the beginning of the outdoor QRP season, at least for me.  Once QRPTTF comes, Spring can't be far behind.

The rules can be found at http://www.zianet.com/qrp/qrpttf/2018/ttf.htm

The weather in our neck of the woods will be somewhat Spring-like. It's supposed to be sunny with a high in the afternoon somewhere around 65F (18C). Pleasant enough, for sure.

What will be getting in my way, is a busy schedule. I have a doctor's appointment at 9:00 AM for a regular check up. Follow that with the weekly trip to the grocery store and then I can hopefully mow the lawns. Even though the weather feels more like early March instead of mid-April, the lawn seems to have awoken from its Winter slumber. While not really full, it has greened up and I have a lot of what I call "lawn porcupines" - little tufts if grass that grow really tall and are scattered here and there. They look like little green porcupines, sleeping on the lawn.

If I can get those chores out of the way, maybe I can sign on as a home station and hand out some points. Hope to hear you on the air!

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

Thursday, April 19, 2018

I gave in!


I went and ordered a 40 Meter QCX kit and it arrived last week! My wife wanted to know what I wanted for my birthday, coming up next month - so I handed her the box.

I can wait.

After hearing so many good things about my friend Bob W3BBO's QCX, and the good words from Dave Richards AA7EE - both of whom I highly respect - I just couldn't resist. So much for only $49 - it seems like a sin not to take advantage.

God knows, with the way my eyes are aging - this might be a Herculean undertaking, but I'm willing to give it a shot.

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

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Happy World Amateur Radio Day!

Ice cream for everybody!


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

Monday, April 16, 2018

Two days of Summer - gone!

After a long and miserable Winter, we were finally greeted with two days of Spring/Summer last Friday and Saturday. Daily high temperatures reached into the 80s (29C), and both days were sunny. So of course, for the ARRL Rookie Roundup, we were presented with a return to Winter!

As the last few years, we set up at Putnam Park, a local park here in South Plainfield.  I think even Dave KD2FSI was feeling the chill as he kept the setup to a modest two rig, two antenna affair.  When the weather is good, Dave usually gets out everything but the kitchen sink, but given how dang cold it was, he did his usual stellar job.

How cold was it? At the time we started, it was only 42F (5.5C) an entire 40 degrees F lower than the day before. The killer was the breeze.  Checking into my weather station at home via my smartphone, we had 4-5 MPH continuous winds with occasional gusts to 8-10 MPH.  Hardly hurricane weather; but it was enough to chill you to the bone.






Why not operate from inside? When SPARC participates in these kind of events, we like to make them as public as possible, so as to maybe generate a little public enthusiasm for Amateur Radio. There weren't many visitors to the park on this cold, breezy, gray day - but there were a few, and you never know when you're going to get a chance to plant that seed.

Oh, and for those of you out there who think I'm a biased shill for Elecraft, we used exclusively Dave KD2FSI's Yaesu equipment and it worked very, very well, indeed!

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

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Another portable antenna from the QRPGuys

Boy, these fellows are really cranking out the new kits! Any new portable antenna is bound to catch my eye - here goes:


The QRPGuys Multi-Band End Fed Antenna is designed as a portable 40/30/20m two trap wire antenna with a built-in tuner and SWR indicator. It consists of a main board with tuner and SWR indicator, two trap pcb’s and an end wire support. It incorporates the N7VE led SWR indicator and has a board mounted female BNC for connection to your rig. The built-in absorption bridge design will ensure you do not damage your finals with a poor SWR. Our test show and SWR of 1:1 on 20m, 1.1:1 on 30m, and 1.3:1 or better on 40m. It is rated for 5 watts continuous, 10 watts PEP. The kit comes complete except for the user supplied #22-24awg wire for the elements. All S.S. connection hardware for the radiator and counterpoise connections. The tools required are a soldering iron with a small tip, rosin core solder, small side cutters, and can be built in an hour or two. On a difficulty scale of 1 to 5, 5 being the most difficult, this is rated at 2.



N.B. - I am not affiliated with any company that you see that has products that appear in this blog. I deem these posts to be newsworthy enough to share with the greater QRP community.

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

Another evening - another demo

Admittedly, my appearances on the HF bands have been pretty much nil, lately. But as I have mentioned before, that does not mean my life has been a void, Amateur Radio-wise.

Last night we gave another Amateur Radio "demo" to Boy Scout Troop 125 right here in South Plainfield, NJ.  It's a small troop of only about a half dozen scouts; but they seemed to take to the presentation given by Dave KD2FSI and Harry KC2PGX and Marv K2VHW.

There were two "hits", as far as the reaction of the Scouts seemed to indicate. The first was when Dave produced his Go Kit.  The concept that a small HF radio, a battery and a wire antenna tossed into a bush or tree could get you talking around the world from the middle of nowhere seemed to interest them to no end. Of course, you would think that portable operations and Boy Scouting would go "hand in glove" wouldn't you?  And yet this seems to be something that's not promoted enough. Sure, there's JOTA and all that; but can you imagine a serious effort to integrate Scouting and SOTA - or even Scouting and POTA?

The other big hit was, once again, Morse Code. Not exactly sure why, but the code just seems to have a certain "wow factor" that impresses the heck out of youngsters. They eagerly ran up to the table where the keys and oscillator were so that they could play with the straight keys, the bug and paddles that we brought to show them. And they were duly impressed when they heard and saw Morse Code being transmitted on 40 Meters. Dave had Fldigi (I think that was what he was running) on his laptop and it was decoding the Morse as it was being sent.

So, how does one get a feel for whether or not the presentation was a success?  Two or three Boy Scouts asking if we could offer a class seemed to be a big indicator. Personally, I would love to hold a Tech course just for kids and Scouts in general, both boys and girls.

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

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

So why am I so skittish?

I've been an Amateur Radio operator for 40 years this year.

1) In that time I have built enough Heathkits to qualify for their Master Builder status.
2) I have built an OHR 20/40 Classic, a PFR-3A and many other non-Heathkits as well. Probably so many kits that I can't remember them all  In all that time, I have never built a kit that didn't work; or that I was not able to get to function.
3) I have built a K1, K2, KX3 and K3.
4) I worked for 22 years for Sinar Bron, Inc. performing component level repairs on multi thousand dollar professional studio strobes. I worked on equipment that was powered both by 120V and 220V AC and that stored up to 6400 Joules of flash energy. I started out as a bench tech and worked my way up to Service Manager after graduating from DeVry with a degree in Digital Electronics.

So why does the thought of opening up and replacing the battery in my daughter's iPhone 6 make my hands sweat?  I think mainly, the thought of screwing something up and disappointing a person that I would give up my life for.


Ahhhh, the joys of Fatherhood.

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

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Our friend, Vinnie

Seems like I'm writing about Silent Keys these days.

Vinnie Lobosco KC2IZK was a member of the South Plainfield Amateur Radio Club, among others. One day this past January, the club received an e-mail from his niece. Sadly, she informed us that Vinnie had suffered a heart attack, and that the prognosis was not good. A few days later, Vinnie was taken off life support and passed away.

Vinnie was a confirmed bachelor, having no wife or children. He lived in his parent's house and he became what could be called (charitably) "an extreme collector" of antique radios and audio equipment. There was so much equipment left behind that his niece opened the house Friday and Saturday to anyone who might be interested in obtaining some of Vinnie's collected treasures.

Marv K2VHW and I made the trip yesterday. When we entered the house, the first thing you noticed was the smell of old paper and dusty, old equipment. Was met our eyes was this - antique radios and phonographs and test equipment from floor to ceiling.






The garage had even more equipment, including TVs - including this extremely rare Hallicrafters TV.


Marv found a gold plated Astatic D104 microphone, a Golden Eagle. It was in excellent shape.  I found this old Hallicraftes S-53A, with all the tubes in place, including an instruction sheet on the inside. I've always wanted a piece of either Hammarlund or Hallicrafters gear in my shack ever since I was licensed in 1978. Thanks to KC2IZK, that dream has come true.


I think it's in good condition. The power cord has been switched out to a current type and everything on the inside looks clean. In a few days, I'll plug it in and will flip the big switch. I'm going to see if anyone in SPARC has a variac that I can borrow so that I can "ease" it back to life. As long as I have this receiver, KC2IZK will always be around.

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

Thursday, April 05, 2018

WB3AAL - Silent Key

This morning, I was shocked to read a post to QRP-L by Ed Breneiser WA3WSJ, that Ron Polityka WB3AAL became a Silent Key last Friday.


Not to say that Ron and I were close friends - mere acquaintances would be a better description of our relationship. But Ron's name and call were a steady show in the major QRP Outdoor events and sprints.  His website was a good resource on all things QRP Portable, especially antennas.

His presence in the QRP community will be missed, as he was so well known and so highly regarded. In addition to his operating exploits from the Appalachian Trail, he was also a presenter at Atlanticon when that was an annual event in the early 2000's.

RIP, Ron - Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him.

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

Monday, April 02, 2018

April Fool's Day - one day late!

After a beautiful Saturday and a very nice Easter Sunday, I awoke to a world covered in white. Yes, Virginia, it is once again snowing in New Jersey. There'a about 2-3 inches down already, as a rough guesstimate without any actual measuring.

The drive into work was a hoot as nothing was plowed or cleared. I would hazard a guess that all the normal road crews were off to enjoy the Easter/Passover weekend.  It was a white knuckle ride, driving in preceding car's wheel ruts on the highways; and then getting bombarded with splattering snow thrown up by passing tractor/trailers.

I have a feeling that this is going to be one of those years where Winter hangs on, kicking and screaming until the bitter end. Then, a week later we'll start getting temperatures in the 80s and 90s, with no Spring to speak of.

Whatever, I wish the seasons would change, already, so that I could start enjoying some lunch time QRP at work again.

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

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Easter 2018

Wesołego Alleluja - He is risen! Happy Easter!


And to all my Jewish friends - a very Happy and Blessed Pesach!
“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!"

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

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Technician class

Our Technician class ended last night with the administration of exams. It was a mixed bag of results. At the beginning of the class, we had eleven students. Two of the students were actually licensed during our last class and were attending this class as a refresher in addition to home study in preparation for taking the General class exam.

One student decided to take the exam a few weeks ago and passed. Another student had to temporarily move up to Massachusetts because of a family issue and is going to take the test up there. Three students couldn't make it last night and are coming to our normal, monthly VE session, the next of which will be on Saturday, April 14th.  One was away competing in a track and field event. I'm not sure what he plans to do about the exam.

So that left five students to take their exams last night. Four took the Technician and one took the General. Three passed their Technician test and the one student upgraded to General.  The one who did not pass was crushed. I am sorry to say. However, the good news is that a local hospital has had some employees engage in a self study course. They are holding a one day review and exam session this coming Friday.  Our candidate was made aware of that; and I am fairly sure she is going to attend.  I think with a little more review and pin pointed study; that she will be successful in getting her license.  It's not that she doesn't know the material, I think she's just one of those people for whom taking tests is difficult.  During our classes she was always quick to answer practice questions correctly.  Put a test paper in front of her and the pressure mounts. Unfortunately, that is a situation many of us face.

All our students who took the Tech exam and passed, also took the General exam.  We tell them that it is normal for most new Techs who have not studied for the General to get about 50% of the answers correct. One of our new Techs missed his General by one question!  He will also be coming back on April 14th and I'm sure he'll pass with flying colors.

It will be interesting to see the results from this Friday and April 14th.  It's always our goal as instructors that everyone who attends our classes walks away with their ticket.  I hope that holds true.

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


Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Universal HF Receiver

Diz, W8DIZ has a new offering - a Universal HF receiver. The price is $20 for the main board and each band module is $10.  Looks to be a nice kit, modestly priced that will allow you to have some fun and do some experimenting.  Diz offers suggestions for implementing a digital display and the like.

It's nice to see so may low priced, high quality kits being offered, especially through the QRP community. I saw a post by Hans Summers from QRP Labs, that he has sold over 4,000 QCX kits. Bob W3BBO raves about his and Dave AA7EE had good words to say as well.  Two very highly  respected opinions that are inching me closer and closer towards sending Hans some $$ in order to build one myself. The only question would be 40 or 20 Meters?

It's hard to believe that Easter Sunday is this coming weekend. When I opened the door this morning to leave for work, it was only 24F (-4C) and there was frost all over the car windows. It feels more like mid-Winter than Spring. To add insult to injury, I saw where AccuWeather is posting about a polar vortex for the first week of April that will keep the Northeast in temperatures well below normal.

I'm itching to start bringing the radio gear with me to work, so that I can resume lunch time QRP operations again. As I get older, it gets tougher for me to deal with colder temps. Back when I was working at Sinar Bron some 11 or 12 years ago, I was headed out to the parking lot just about every day at lunch time, no matter what time of year it was. Cold temperatures didn't seem to phase me as much as they do now. My knees and hands seem to work much better in temperate weather.

Tonight, our Technician License class concludes with the exam being administered. One student gave it a go early and got her license a few weeks ago at a local VE session.  It was very gratifying to see her enthusiasm and excitement when she came in last week to tell us all about it. I think it also helped alleviate some of the jitters that some other classmates may be experiencing. It's always easier when it's all over; but I really, truly do expect a 100% passing rate tonight.  This is one of the best groups of students that it's been my honor to have instructed.

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

Saturday, March 17, 2018

A St. Patrick's Day Story


Sort of - more of a personal story; and believe it or not, one that DOES have something to do with Amateur Radio.

Flashback to 1997, the year I met my wife, Marianne.  We had dated a few times before that fateful event that every boyfriend goes through - meeting the girlfriend's parents. My future in-laws were great!  We got along and loved each other very much, but of course when you meet them for the very first time, you never know how it's going to turn out.

As I recall the incident now, I was sitting at my in-law's kitchen table. We had finished eating something and we were sitting around, shooting the breeze. We were just making harmless small talk when somehow, and for some reason, I had mentioned that I was an Amateur Radio operator.

My future Mother-In-Law, who was Irish - and I mean Irish (born in Donegal) came to complete dead silence.  I had gotten a strange look, and I felt the room in the temperature drop about 20 degrees.

"You're a radio operator, you say?" she asked in her distinctive Irish brogue.

I responded in the affirmative and then explained my small station, my two small antennas and the various things that I liked to do in the hobby. The response that I got was non-committal in either way, not unfavorable; but not enthusiastic, either.

Later on, I asked Marianne what that was all about. It was then that I got the story. Her uncle, Lawrence McCrea, who was my future Mother-In-Law's brother-in-law, was a farmer in Ireland. He was also a Ham. More about this in a bit. Uncle Larry had a big farm and he also had a big antenna on a tower right next to the farmhouse. One day, during a thunderstorm, Uncle Larry's tower took a direct lightning strike and the farmhouse suffered from quite the fire as a result.

In my Mother-In-Law's mind, that meant every Amateur Radio antenna, no matter what kind it is, is automatically a magnet for lightning. She was deathly afraid that I would bring fire down upon whatever house we would purchase in the future.

Many years later, back in 2009 or so, my Mother-In-Law would suffer a fall which resulted in a broken hip. After her surgery, she came to live with us for a period of three months. I don't think she was too happy about staying with us, knowing that there were antennas involved! She never said anything about it to me directly, but I think that was always in the back of her mind. She went on to live in Senior housing, very independently for another three years. We lost my Mom and my Mother-In-Law the same year, in 2012. I miss them both, so much!

I have no idea what Uncle Larry's call sign was. I never met him; and I think he might have been a Silent Key by the time Marianne and I got married. All I know was that he lived in the area of Donegal in Ireland.  Marianne has since informed me that he was from Abbeylands, Ballyshannon, County Donegal.

If there are any Hams out there, particularly Irish Hams who might have worked him, or might have known him, I'd appreciate hearing from you. If anyone has a QSL card from Lawrence McCrea and could fire off a scanned copy to me, I'd really love that!

In any event, to all my friends, particularly my Irish friends - Happy St. Partick's Day!

May the blessing of God's soft rain be on you, 
Falling gently on your head, refreshing your soul 
With the sweetness of little flowers newly blooming. 
May the strength of the winds of Heaven bless you, 
Carrying the rain to wash your spirit clean
Sparkling after in the sunlight. 
May the blessing of God's earth be on you, 
And as you walk the roads, 
May you always have a kind word 
for those you meet.


72 de Larry W2LJ (Polish by blood, Irish by marriage)
QRP - When you care to say the very least!

Friday, March 16, 2018

What the ..... ????

Every now and then, I'll "Google" Amateur Radio and hit the news tab, to see if anything interesting pops up.  This time, a story came up about an 80 year old Ham from Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, who was rescued from his tower earlier this week. It would appear that he was climbing his tower to secure something in advance of one the Nor'easters to go through lately.

Two things in the article caught my eye. The mention that he is 80 years old is not one of them. I know a few 80 year olds who are still quite spry. In fact, they may be doing better than this 61 year old. No, the first thing that caught my eye was this sentence:

"William Welch, an electrician and avid amateur radio operator, got his sneaker caught atop a 20-foot-tall backyard antenna after he scaled the structure to secure it ahead of the impending nor’easter, his wife Betty told The Times."

Sneakers? Really? Now look, I'm not a tower owner or climber, but it would seem to be common sense to me that were you to climb a tower, you'd want to be wearing work boots with a steel toe and even perhaps a steel reinforced sole. To this uneducated Amateur Radio Op, sneakers don't seem to be the "de rigueur" for tower climbs.

However, this next part REALLY caught my eye:

"Firefighters moved back and forth over the ladder and put a helmet on Welch and fitted him with a harness. The harness was fastened to the tower, so Welch couldn’t fall. "

So you mean to tell me that he climbed a tower with NO hard hat or climbing harness?  I sincerely hope this was just a case of bad reporting. I know I'm NOT the voice of experience or expertise ....... but seriously? No hard hat, no climbing harness, and it seems like no climbing partner, unless you count his wife who may have been watching from the ground.

We're finishing up an 8 week TECHNICIAN CLASS license course and even there, tower climbing safety is really stressed. Hard hat, climbing harness and NEVER CLIMB ALONE are stressed over and over and over!

If this is par for the course for this gentleman, than he's very lucky to have made it to 80. I hope this caused him to take pause and re-evaluate his past practice, and perhaps bone up on tower climbing safety. And while he's at it, perhaps say a prayer of thanks that things didn't turn out way worse than they did.

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


Thursday, March 15, 2018

Batman humor


Although I'm a Marvel fan - this was too good to pass by.

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

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Maker's Day

Yesterday was New Jersey Maker's Day, and I previously mentioned, the local venue was the John F. Kennedy Library in Piscataway, NJ. The South Plainfield Amateur Radio Club was asked to participate, and we came up with a plan, and did. Participate ......that is.

The plan was to acquire 20 Simple Morse Code Practice Oscillator Kits from the 4 States QRP Group and to make them available free of charge, to any youngster of reasonable age who was willing to build one (with parental approval, of course). This was to be a totally mentored project, with a SPARC member sitting one on one with the builder, guiding them through the entire process. Our goal was to teach basic kit building and soldering skills, perhaps a little electronics theory and work in some interest in Amateur Radio in the process.

The kits were acquired through donations from a local business and the Boyle Family Education Foundation, a local concern that donates to causes that further the education of local youth. SPARC members provided the tools, the soldering stations, the know how and the passion for passing on knowledge and love for our great hobby onto a younger generation.  From past experience, we knew that kids are fascinated with Morse Code - simply because it's different. That's why we picked the 4 States QRP Group kit. It had a small number of components, it's easy to build in a relatively short amount of time, and it left each builder with a memento of the day.

To say the day was a rousing success would be an understatement. Our section was one of the most popular and the most visited. We were right up there with the robotics display.  In addition to the actual kit building, Dave KD2FSI had his rig set up to a 24 inch monitor and had his laptop running a program (Fldigi, I think) that was decoding actual Morse Code being sent on the air. Dave set up his AlexLoop and was monitoring the BERU contest on 40 Meters. Kids and adults alike got a kick out of seeing the code made understandable for them, live and real time.

We had a reception table where SPARC members took requests for kit builds and there was plenty of ARRL material about Amateur Radio available to anyone who wanted it. Our Section Manager, Rob Roschewsk KA2PBT came down for the morning and even served as a mentor for a kit build.

Even though the kit was a simple, through hole build, we allotted an hour for each. We took into consideration that the youngsters would probably have no soldering experience and that learning how to solder would be part of the process. We had four stations set up, so we planned to get four kits assembled per hour, with five hourly time slots to fill up the day.

From start to finish, everything went very well. There was a small glitch in that a number of the kits were missing some screws, but a quick run to Home Depot by yours truly took care of that situation. The ratio of kits that worked right off the bat to those that needed some TLC was about 50/50. In one incident, a transistor was soldered in backwards, in another the battery contacts were reversed. The code practice oscillator was rugged enough to withstand these mishaps, and once corrected, they buzzed away, quite happily.  There were of course, the expected cold solder joints and those were corrected, my failing eyesight notwithstanding. The number of solder connections on each circuit board was low enough so that when I had to, touching up every solder connection in a kit took less than a minute.

As we were breaking down and cleaning up at 4:00 PM, the person from the library responsible for putting on Maker's Day came by and told us how pleased she was with our participation.  Not only were we invited to come back next year, but we were also asked about the possibility of running a Technician Licensing Class some time later this year, at the library.











So all in all, Amateur Radio had a nice showing at Maker's Day. Our next project is to make ourselves available at a Boy Scout Merit Badge Fair in April. And the beat about spreading the word about Amateur Radio goes on!

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

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Weather

Not an Amateur Radio post in the strictest sense.

The weather has been the big topic in this area since last Friday. That's when we had a Nor'easter blow through that caused a lot of problems. For the most part, precipitation wasn't a problem for most areas. In fact, it snowed throughout the day with no accumulations, except at the higher elevations, mostly in the Northwest part of New Jersey. Once again, like Sandy some five years ago, the wind was the big factor.

The winds were so strong that my PWS (personal weather station) which is mounted to a mast, anchored in a 100 pound bucket of cement, got blown over a bit during the event. It didn't tip over and hit the ground, but the wind leaned it just a bit (maybe 20 degrees from true vertical) and the anemometer was blocked by a piece of tall brush overhanging from my neighbor's yard. So for a period of about two hours, the anemometer wasn't spinning and recording wind data.  I up-righted it when I got home from work and secured the mast to the chain link fence with two bungee cords to prevent that from happening again.  To that point, I had a recorded gust of about 30 mph, but God only knows what I missed.

I'm sure I missed recording the record high wind gusts for the day because there were a lot of trees down in town; and as a result a lot of downed power lines. Knock on wood, our house lost power for all of about 5 seconds, more of a power blip than anything else. Long enough for the clock on the kitchen stove to display a "PF", though.

There was no damage, per se, at the W2LJ residence. Some minor twigs and branches came down, only. In fact, there was a side benefit, and here comes the Amateur Radio part of this post. When I elevated my W3EDP in the maple in the backyard last Fall, the wire got tangled up in the branches and took on a zig-zag kind of route.  The wind actually caused the branches to move enough to un-snare the wire some!  It's still not perfectly untangled, but it's a lot better than it was.

Tomorrow is another story. Another Nor'easter, but this time the track is different and the air is colder. Currently, the forecast for us is for 6 - 12 inches of snow. The wet, heavy March kind of snow. I'm not looking forward to shoveling and I'm not looking forward to driving back and forth to and from work in the mess of it all.  It certainly would be a good day to hang out in the shack and make a few QSOs!

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

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Expanded Technician Class Privileges

About a year or so ago, you might remember a survey that the ARRL conducted, asking licensed Amateur Radio Ops in the USA how they felt towards a new Entry Level License Class.  According to the League, the results of that survey have led to "recommendations put forth by the ARRL Board of Directors’ Entry-Level License Committee, which explored various initiatives and gauged member opinions in 2016 and 2017."

Instead of coming up with an entirely new license class, the ARRL is petitioning the FCC to expand the privileges of the Technician Class license. In particular, they are requesting "to provide Technician licensees, present and future, with phone privileges at 3.900 to 4.000 MHz, 7.225 to 7.300 MHz, and 21.350 to 21.450 MHz, plus RTTY and digital privileges in the current Technician allocations on 80, 40, 15, and 10 meters."

Furthermore, the petition included the following:

"The ARRL petition points out the explosion in popularity of various digital modes over the past 2 decades. Under the ARRL plan, the maximum HF power level for Technician operators would remain at 200 W PEP. The few remaining Novice licensees would gain no new privileges under the League’s proposal.

ARRL’s petition points to the need for compelling incentives not only to become a radio amateur in the first place, but then to upgrade and further develop skills. Demographic and technological changes call for a “periodic rebalancing” between those two objectives, the League maintains.

“There has not been such a rebalancing in many years,” ARRL said in its petition. “It is time to do that now.” The FCC has not assessed entry-level operating privileges since 2005.

The Entry-Level License Committee offered very specific, data- and survey-supported findings about growth in Amateur Radio and its place in the advanced technological demographic that includes individuals younger than 30. It received significant input from ARRL members via more than 8,000 survey responses.

“The Committee’s analysis noted that today, Amateur Radio exists among many more modes of communication than it did half a century ago, or even 20 years ago,” ARRL said in its petition.

Now numbering some 378,000, Technician licensees comprise more than half of the US Amateur Radio population. ARRL said that after 17 years of experience with the current Technician license as the gateway to Amateur Radio, it’s urgent to make it more attractive to newcomers, in part to improve upon science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education “that inescapably accompanies a healthy, growing Amateur Radio Service,” ARRL asserted.

ARRL said its proposal is critical to developing improved operating skills, increasing emergency communication participation, improving technical self-training, and boosting overall growth in the Amateur Service, which has remained nearly inert at about 1% per year.

The Entry-Level License Committee determined that the current Technician class question pool already covers far more material than necessary for an entry-level exam to validate expanded privileges. ARRL told the FCC that it would continue to refine examination preparation and training materials aimed at STEM topics, increase outreach and recruitment, work with Amateur Radio clubs, and encourage educational institutions to utilize Amateur Radio in STEM and other experiential learning programs."

Some things that come to mind:

1) The Technician Class license has become the de facto "Entry Class License" ever since the FCC stupidly (my opinion, please) eliminated the Novice Class license.  The Technician Class license inherited the Novice HF privileges, but they were for Morse Code only. Since the Morse Code requirement was eliminated, it seems to make sense that the Technician Class license should now include some HF Phone.  The League is NOT proposing to give Techs the same privileges that General Class licensees have - they're giving them about 1/2 (roughly) that the Generals get, so there's still an incentive to upgrade.

2) Personally, I DO NOT care for this part: "RTTY and digital privileges in the current Technician allocations on 80, 40, 15, and 10 meters." Anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis know the affinity I have for CW and Morse Code operations. This feels like an attempt by the ARRL to further erase that mode from existence. It's bad enough when you're in a rag chew and you get blasted away by a digital signal by an existing General, Advanced or Amateur Extra Class licensee. Can you imagine the result of all of a sudden allowing 378,000 new users in to that space with new digital privileges? The Technician Class licensees represent the bulk of the amount of Amateur Radio operators in the States. I can easily imagine that the CW bands will become overly dominated by RTTY and other digital signals, with the sudden influx of so many licensees. And yes, I know CW is allowed anywhere - and it may result that we may have to resort to using CW in new and "unconventional" places - like the unoccupied frequency areas of the "phone bands".

3) I know that many Amateur Ops resent an established license class just being handed new privileges without having to do anything extra to earn them. Whether or not that is a valid feeling is not being discussed here. I'm just making note that the sentiment exists.

4) Many Amateur Radio Ops will probably claim that this is just another attempt by the League to drive up membership.  In fact, the figures of new League membership and retention of old memberships is pretty dismal. They may have a point, they may not - that is open to debate.

Whatever your thoughts on this proposal, pro or con, remember that it's just a proposal for now. The FCC has not issued an NPRM (Notice of Proposed Rule Making) as of yet; and if and when they do (they could always dismiss this before getting to that point), we will all have ample time for making our voices heard. But .........pro or con, make sure your voice IS heard, if and when the time comes. Don't leave it up "to the other guy", because that "other guy" may also be leaving it up to "the other guy" - which is YOU!

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

Thursday, March 01, 2018

A KX2 to FT-818 Comparison

All of you out there know that I am an Elecraft person, through and through. I love my KX3(s) and would not give them up for anything.  I don't own a KX2 (BTW, I know a few people who DO own one of every rig that Elecraft sells. Talk about dedicated!) but came across the following comparison by Wayne N6KR on the Elecraft reflector, and I thought it would be interesting to post, especially as it relates to my immediately previous report about the Yaesu FT-818. So here it is:

A number of customers considering the KX2 have asked us how it compares to the newly announced Yaesu FT-818. The latter is an updated ‘817, with a bit higher power output.

In terms of form factor, the ‘818 is essentially unchanged from the ‘817. So it’s worth asking again: just how “ultra portable” can an HF radio be?

Here’s how the KX2 stacks up:


--- Half the size ---

   The KX2 occupies 24 cubic inches, vs. 52 cubic inches for the ‘818. With dimensions about that of a medium-sized HT, the KX2 is truly pocket-sized.


--- Half the weight ---

   At just 13 ounces, the KX2 weighs 60% less than the ‘818. For hikers or backpackers, this means well over a pound of total weight saved. The light weight of the KX2 is also compatible with extended hand-held operation.


--- Twice the power output ---

   The KX2 puts out up to 12 watts on 80-20 m and 10 watts on 17-10 m. This is roughly twice the FT-818’s max output (6 watts). The KX2 also includes highly effective speech compression (not included with the ‘818). Taken together, these advantages translate to more QSOs, especially in difficult conditions.


--- 50% more battery power ---

   The FT-818’s internal battery, at 18 watt-hours, has more capacity than the FT-817’s. But the KX2’s internal battery has still greater capacity -- 24 watt-hours. This extra 50% allows you to operate longer between recharges.


--- One third the current drain ---

   Typical receive-mode current drain of the KX2 is 150 mA. The FT-818, at about 400 mA, is nearly three times higher. The KX2’s lower current, combined with the larger battery size, works out to over 4 times longer operating time RX-only, or 2 to 3 times longer for typical transceive operation.


--- Built-in ATU ---

   The KX2 has a wide-range internal ATU option that allows multi-band use of ad-hoc field antennas, whips, etc. There’s no need to carry a separate antenna tuner, loading coils, or even coax: just attach a wire or collapsible whip directly to the radio, and let the ATU do the work.


--- DSP ---

   Unlike the ‘818 or ‘817, the KX2 includes digital signal processing (32-bit I.F. DSP). This provides a wide range of features typically found only on desktop radios, including: adjustable noise reduction and noise blanking, auto-notch, variable filter bandwidth/shift, audio peaking filter for CW, full stereo receive, and RX/TX EQ. You can even listen on both VFO A and B frequencies at the same time (dual watch).


--- Built-in data modes ---

   The KX2 offers built-in PSK31, PSK63, RTTY, and CW encode/decode, with text displayed on its alphanumeric LCD. CW and data-mode QSOs can even be logged internally, then sent to a PC when you return from a field outing. A computer can be connected to the KX2 via the supplied USB cable (for text display/keyboard) or via the headphone/mic jacks (for FT8 and other audio-based data modes).


--- Built-in mic, keyer paddle, and tilt stand ---

   You can use either an external mic (MH4) or the KX2’s internal mic. The internal mic is positioned optimally for HT-style operation. In CW and DATA modes, you can use an external paddle, or directly attach our KXPD2, which weighs only one ounce and uses the rig itself as the base. For table-top use, the KX2 features a fold-out tilt-stand. This creates a 3-point mount that also works well on rough surfaces (ground, rocks, etc.).


--- Large, easy-to-read display ---

   The KX2’s display is five times larger than the FT818’s, with separate VFO A and B fields, S/RF-meter and DSP passband graphic, icons showing operating state, and alphanumeric text capability. In addition, the KX2’s LCD is transflective; it is highly readable in direct sunlight. The backlight is highly efficient and can be turned off to further increase battery life.


The KX2 starts at $769, factory assembled. For additional details, see:

    http://www.elecraft.com/KX2/kx2.htm


A few notes on the KX3
----------------------

The KX3 is a bit larger than the KX2, though still smaller/lighter than competing all-band portables. It includes the following additional features:  160 and 6 meters; 2 or 4 meter optional internal transverter; nearly twice as many direct controls; and RX I/Q outputs for use with our PX3 panadapter or computer sound cards. The KX3 is available factory assembled or as a no-soldering kit.

KX3 details:

    http://www.elecraft.com/KX3/kx3.htm

So there you have it.  I know, I'm biased! And while I readily admit that I am indeed biased towards Elecraft, I would never denigrate anyone's differing opinion. My passion is portable ops and I just feel that as far as that goes, Elecraft gives you some of the best options available - especially for portable ops!.

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

Yaesu backlash

As an Elecraft user, I wasn't going to post about this, but the big news recently came out. All QRPers and Yaesu fans finally got the announcement they were waiting for. Yaesu made the public at large aware of their plan to replace the venerable FT-817 and introduced the new FT-818.

I don't think that Yaesu got the reaction that they were looking for. Instead of excited anticipation, the reaction that I've seen from bloggers and on the e-mail lists that I've read was not so much "Wow!" or "Yay!", but more like "Why bother?" or "Huh?".

The big improvements seem to be:

1) An increase in mean power output - from 5 Watts to 6 Watts
2) An improvement in the battery.
3) The TXCO, which was an option before, is now standard equipment.

I think, by and large, Yaesu fans were looking for an overhaul. They were anticipating something different than what is being offered as an improvement.

Now don't get me wrong - the FT-817 has been a very fine piece of Amateur Radio equipment. It has a large fan base and a loyal customer base. It is a top notch performer and there are a lot of very satisfied users. My personal belief is that since the FT-817 has been on the market for so many years now, that the FT-818 was envisioned as to be something radically new, not just a "minor" upgrade.

But when you look at it, QRP is still a niche market.  I don't know how the FT-817 fit into the yearly sales earnings of the Yaesu brand.  I would tend to think that if it accounted for a significant amount of their income, then they would have paid more attention to introducing something totally different.

When in doubt, always "follow the money."

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

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

On the periphery

I've been doing a lot of Amateur Radio, lately - but not really in a way that you'd expect. Maybe it would be better termed Amateur Radio from the Periphery?

Monday night I participated in our Statewide RACES VHF Net on behalf of Middlesex County from our County's Emergency Operations Center. My good friend Marv K2VHW checked in for the County on the HF Net. The VHF net went without a hitch. We have a 2 Meter beam on a very nice tower pointed right at NJ State Police Headquarters in West Trenton, NJ. Communicating back and forth on the 144 MHz band is like you and me sitting next to each other.

HF was another story.  The net was on 80 Meters and early on, way before the net even started, Marv heard K2EOC, the NCS for the evening, on frequency.  Marv gave him a call and signals were great! K2EOC was easily 20 over 9, if not louder and we received a good signal report, in turn. Not surprising, given the hop, eh?


About 30 minutes later, the bottom dropped out from under the band. K2EOC was not 20 over S9 any longer, in fact, they were barely audible in amongst the band noise.  Even for a couple of pretty seasoned Amateur Radio ops, who've been around the block a few times, the change in the signal was shocking. The net got it's business done, but I'd not be surprised if a few counties tried to check in, but were unsuccessful. For Marv, it took a bunch of repeats to get recognized.

Last night was our 5th week of the Technician License class that we are currently teaching. The class is going extremely well. The students are all engaged, interested and are obviously doing their reading homework. I am expecting a 100% pass rate from this group; and you'll be able to knock me over with a feather if we don't meet that goal.

Tonight is a SPARC meeting, as we make final preparations for our Maker's Day presentation on March 10th. I ordered a bunch of handouts from the ARRL today, so we can have plenty of material about Amateur Radio to hand out to interested prospects.

So all of this Amateur Radio activity without actually sitting down behind the key and making contacts! I'd hesitate to say that it's not fun, because in its own way, it is. It's just different, that's for sure!

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

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!