Saturday, September 13, 2014

Crummy day

for yardwork, but it was a good day for radio! Cool, rainy and damp weather kept me inside for most of the day, grocery shopping notwithstanding.

This is the first Saturday in a while that I actually got some time to sit down at the radio and get some operating in.  The 17, 15 and 12 Meter bands seemed to be in decent shape and I worked a bunch of European stations today. And W1AW/5 in Texas was so strong that he sounded like he was just down the street. I think I could have worked him with 100 milliWatts, if I had tried.

And this was all icing on the cake as the day started out well with a successful VE session first thing this morning. Only two out of three pre-registered candidates showed up, but both of those passed their exams and earned their Technician licenses (one of the two getting a perfect score!).

This evening I twiddled the dial on 40 Meters and just spent some time listening to various fists. Remember that post I wrote a few weeks ago about atrocious bug fists?  Tonight I heard a guy who was using a Vibroplex Blue Racer that he claimed was manufactured in 1919 (I think that's what he said). I was astounded as I though he was using a keyer and paddles. His fist was THAT good! He was probably clipping in at around 25 WPM or so, but he was a breeze to copy.  I really did think he was using a keyer. His fist was a joy to listen to - the code literally flowed and it was like listening to a symphony.


The Ham he was in conversation with was using Bencher paddles and the built in keyer that was in his rig, and he did not sound as good as the guy on the bug!

I wish I sounded that good!

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

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Excited


Marv K2VHW and I, under the auspices of the South Plainfield Amateur Radio Club, will be teaching a course for those in the greater Central New Jersey area who want to earn a Technician class license.

Here's the flier that Marv designed to advertise the class:


I'm excited, because so far we have eight potential students who have pre-registered. We have room for more, so if you're interested or know someone in the Central NJ area who might be interested, contact either Marv or myself.  We would also ask that anyone who has pre-registered or wants to register, to please try to attend the next SPARC meeting on Wednesday, September 17th at 7:00 PM at the South Plainfield OEM building.  At that time, we will be taking count and placing a group order for license manuals for the class.  Marv and I are both ARRL Registered Instructors, and a such we can apply for a group rate for the manuals.

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

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Monday, September 08, 2014

QRP Afield Spetember 2014

Did you know this year is QRP Afield'd 20th Anniversary?  This was posted yesterday on QRP-L:




QRP Afield 2014 – Saturday, September 20, 2014 – 1600Z - 2200Z

In celebration of the 20th anniversary of QRP Afield, this year’s event will follow the rules, times, and scoring of the original event from 1994. Note that this is now a six hour event, encouraging everyone to get out during daylight hours. Note also that the scoring particularly encourages QRPp operation, with added points for operating a field location at powers below one watt. Information regarding the event is given below. It has been taken from the June 1994 issue of NEQRP’s 72 monthly magazine, modified only slightly to accommodate reporting via email. It will also soon be posted to the NEQRP web page.

The weather today is absolutely gorgeous in the northeast, with temperatures in the low to mid-70s, mild breezes, and a deep blue sky. This should actually improve over the next couple weeks (we hope), with the advent of early fall. Should be a great time to get out with your QRP rigs, portable antennas, etc., and to take a short (or long) hike to your favorite mountain, state park, lake, wherever and to join in the fun.

See you on the 20th!

72 DE K1CL Chuck...

--------------------------------------------------------------

QRP AFIELD-2014

QRP Afield-2014 is sponsored by the NEW ENGLAND QRP Club and is designed to encourage QRP enthusiasts to field-test their radio equipment, using temporary and non-commercial Antennas and non-commercial sources.

Date/Time Saturday, September 20, 2014 from 1600Z to 2200Z

Exchangez;
     QRP-NE Members: RST, state/province,
     NE-QRP # Non-Members: RST, state/province, power OUTPUT

Definitions:

Permanent Location: Any location using commercial power AND/OR permanently installed antennas

Field Location: Any location using battery/solar/natural power AND temporary antennas Low power QRP: Less than one watt output. High power QRP: 1 to 5 watts output.

Scoring (CW only)

1 point for each contact from a permanent location using high power QRP. 2 points for each contact from a permanent location using low power QRP. 4 points for each contact from a temporary location using high power QRP. 8 points for each contact form a temporary location using low power QRP.

Note: All contest contacts MUST be made using the same location and power output.

Multipliers Each state/province/country worked counts for one point. Multipliers may be counted only once, regardless of band worked.

Awards and Results Certificates will be awarded to the ten stations with the highest point totals. Complete results will be posted to the NEQRP web page. Scores and results may be sent by email or mail to the following:

Address:      

cludinsky@verizon.net
Chuck Ludinsky – K1CL 6 Prancing Rd. Chelmsford, MA 01824

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

Saturday, September 06, 2014

QRT!


Of course!  The ONE Saturday where I actually have time to get on the air ..... the weather refuses to cooperate!  We've had some bad thunderstorms blow through this afternoon and we have a severe thunderstorm watch until 9:00 PM local time.


As you can see by the radar map, the band of cells we went through is now to our east (my QTH denoted by the little red marker). But those cells off to the west should be here in an hour or 90 minutes. The antennas will remain unplugged for the evening, it looks like.

Maybe tomorrow. This is supposed to clear out tonight and not much is planned for Sunday. Maybe I'll be able to spend some quality time behind the key tomorrow.

Oh well, a good opportunity to print out Skeeter certificates.

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

Friday, September 05, 2014

Here's a little something I came up with

This was designed to be printed on 4X6 Glossy stock and then laminated. You can jam in your portable ops bag, in case you're always forgetting the US QRP frequencies like I do.


Feel free to save the JPG as an image on your own computer and print it out, if you like. I also have it as a doc file if you'd like to edit to suit your needs. An e-mail request will get it sent to you.

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

I was asleep at the wheel

How did I miss this?  I've had my September QST for over a week now (we Lifemembers seem to be the last to receive our QSTs!), and I must confess .... today was the first time I've given it a leaf through.  I was surprised and gladdened to read a really nice op-ed piece by good friend Jim W1PID on page 101.

Jim shared his thoughts on the changing face of Amateur Radio in celebration of the ARRL's 100th anniversary, but yet focused on the things that remain the same through the changes. The joy, the excitement, the satisfaction, the fun.

Good article, Jim and I'm glad the Newington Bunch had the good sense to publish it!

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

Thursday, September 04, 2014

I'll admit, I fell for it!

Back in 2000, I applied for and received W2LJ as a vanity call.  I had upgraded to Amateur Extra back in 1994, and I had been wanting a shorter call sign. I picked W2LJ as L & J are my first two initials. The fee was all of $10 back then, if I remember correctly.  It seemed like a bargain - a buck a year.

This from the ARRL today:

ZCZC AG16
QST de W1AW
ARRL Bulletin 16  ARLB016
>From ARRL Headquarters
Newington CT  September 4, 2014
To all radio amateurs

SB QST ARL ARLB016
ARLB016 New Amateur Radio Vanity Call Sign Fee Set at $21.40

The FCC has adjusted very slightly downward - to $21.40 - its proposed Amateur Service vanity call sign regulatory fee for Fiscal Year 2014. In a June Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM), the Commission said it was planning to hike the current $16.10 vanity fee to $21.60 for the 10-year license term. The FCC released a Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (R&O) in the proceeding on August 29, in which it recalculated the fee to $21.40 for the 10-year license term. The $5.30 increase still represents the largest vanity fee hike in many years.

The new $21.40 fee does not go into effect until 30 days after the R&O is published in The Federal Register.

In the R&O, the FCC said it considered eliminating the regulatory fee for Amateur Radio vanity call sign applications but decided not to do so "at this time," because it lacks "adequate support to determine whether the cost of recovery and burden on small entities outweighs the collected revenue; or whether eliminating the fee would adversely affect the licensing process." The Commission said it would reevaluate this issue in the future to determine if it should eliminate other fee categories.

The FCC's Wireless Telecommunications Bureau sets the vanity call sign regulatory fee using projections of new applications and renewals, taking into consideration existing Commission licensee databases, such as the Universal Licensing System (ULS) database.

The FCC reported there were 11,500 "payment units" in FY 2014. The Commission said the vanity program generated an estimated $230,230 in FY 2013 revenue, and it estimated that it would collect nearly $246,100 in FY 2014.

The vanity call sign regulatory fee is payable when applying for a new vanity call sign or when renewing a vanity call sign, although some older vanity call signs are not subject to the regulatory fee.
NNNN
/EX

I wonder what the fee will be in 2020 when it's time for me to renew again!  I think it was around $14 in 2010 when I last renewed.  Oh well, if you want to dance, you have to pay the piper, I guess.

I love this part, though. "In the R&O, the FCC said it considered eliminating the regulatory fee for Amateur Radio vanity call sign applications, but decided not to do so "at this time," because it lacks "adequate support to determine whether the cost of recovery and burden on small entities outweighs the collected revenue; or whether eliminating the fee would adversely affect the licensing process."  Translation - "Naaah!  We decided to raise it by $5.30 instead."

Ya just gotta love the Federal Government!

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


Saturday, August 30, 2014

HV0A

It was once again a busy Saturday.  I rewarded myself with a bit of radio time in between mowing the lawn and starting dinner.  I hadn't looked at the contest calendar beforehand and had no idea if the bands would be full of ravenous contesters, so I headed off to the relative quiet of the WARC bands.

Holy pileup, Batman!

There was a H U G E pileup just above 18.077 MHz.  Some listening revealed that it was indeed a "holy pileup" as the quarry of the hunt was HV0A - Vatican City. And he was loud - very loud! In 36 years of Ham Radio, this was about the second or third time that I have ever heard the Vatican on the air. I have never worked them before.


But today, with them being that loud (599+), I felt I stood a chance. In case you're wondering, wonder no more.  My QRP sensibilities took a backseat and I pumped up the KXPA100 to its full 100 Watt setting. How many times have I heard the Vatican?  Again, only once or twice before - it's rare for them to be on the air, for me to be home at the same time, and for propagation to be so favorable.  I wasn't about to let some false sense of QRP Pride get in the way of getting a rare and new country in the log.

The operator was smooth and was handling the pileup quickly and efficiently. Operating split, he was running a standard racetrack pattern. He was listening slightly higher up after each QSO until he reached a certain frequency and then began listening down unilt he reached a frequency about 1 kHz above where he was transmitting. The he began listening up again, starting the whole cycle over again. Almost exacty like trying to work any of the ARRL Centennial stations - once I figured out his pattern and approximately how much higher he moved after each QSO, I made my plan to "get in his way". After about 6 or 7 attempts, I got in the log. If I ever hear the Vatican this loud again, then next time will be a QRP attempt, this time I'm just fat, dumb and happy.

According to the CW Ops e-mail reflector, the operator was Robert S53R, CW Op #492.  Whomever, he was, he was good!

This is one QSL card that will be framed and hung on the shack wall, once I receive it.

Still stoked!

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


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Did you participate in Field Day 2014

and submit a log to the ARRL?


You can check to make sure they received it, and if there were any discrepancies with the class/category that you claimed.

Go to: http://www.arrl.org/news/2014-arrl-field-day-logs-received-list-available-for-review

Scroll way down to the bottom of the page and download the PDF.

Even though we got an e-mail confirmation when our log was submitted, I double checked to see if the log for NJ2SP was there. You can call me paranoid, but I just wanted to make sure our inaugural Field Day effort gets counted amongst the masses.

It's there.

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

Monday, August 25, 2014

Good lunchtime DX session

When I left the house this morning for work, it was all of 52F (11C), which is very cool for New Jersey this time of year.  Also, I noticed on the drive in that many of the trees already have leaves that are turning yellow and orange, and many trees have started dropping their leaves. Again, that is something we are accustomed to seeing at the end of September, not August.

But the day heated up, and by lunchtime it was 84F (29C). Quite a warm up!  And fortunately, it wasn't only the air temperature that had gotten hot. 17 and 15 Meters were hopping and hot - well, maybe not as hot as a few months ago, but hotter than just a few weeks ago. The sunspot number had risen to 128 making conditions better than they have been in days. I'll take it!

I worked 9Y4/AI5P on Trinidad/Tobago, RI4CWC/3 in Russia and PI4DX in the Netherlands, all on 17 Meters.  The thought then occurred to me that if 17 Meters was working so well, then 15 Meters might be worth looking at.  It was, and after switching over, I worked OQ4U in Belgium and SP2GUB in Poland.  All the stations on both bands had excellent signal strengths and I got decent reports back, the lowest being 559.

I don't know how long these good band conditions will be able to maintain themselves. The way the Sun is throwing fits and starts, it may not be for that long.  But if you get a chance, get on the air and make hay while the opportunity presents itself!

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

Sunday, August 24, 2014

2014 NJQRP Skeeter Hunt Final Scores and Soapbox

Well, the deadline for log summaries for the 2014 NJQRP Skeeter Hunt has come and gone. The NJQRP Club offers a hearty and well deserved "Thank You!" to all who participated. Thanks also for your enthusiasm which helps keep this event going from year to year. We're growing by little bits, and with your help, we aim to make the NJQRP Skeeter Hunt a "must have / must do" outdoor QRP event for summers to come!

So without further ado - the top five finishers are:

1st Place - KX0R - George - 20,680 points
2nd Place - N3AQC - The North American QRP CW Club Team - 13,368 points
3rd Place - N3CU - Ken - 12,717 points
4th Place - N0SS - The Mid-MO Amateur Radio Club Team - 8,836 points
5th Place - WA0ITP - Terry - 6,232 points

Certificates of Achievement will be received by these fine Skeeters, as well as by those who finished top for their state or province, as well as the top finishers in the SSB and Mixed categories. The top "Non-Skeeter" will receive one as well.

To see the Scoreboard and the Soapbox comments, please see the links to those pages at http://www.qsl.net/w2lj/

Thanks again and hope to catch you on the air for the NoGA Peanut Power Sprint this September!

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

Friday, August 22, 2014

Rectifying

And I'm not talking about changing AC to DC.

As predicted, I have received some comments over at AmateurRadio.com, regarding the immediately preceding "Bug Fist" post.  As I've stated there, and will state here again (for the record) that post was NOT intended to be about folks who are learning how to send Morse Code as a beginner.  That post was supposed to be about people who know how to send good code - but don't, because they don't use a bug correctly.

But to answer a question posed over there. How does one learn to send good code in the first place?

Good question.

Back in the day - back in my day, the FCC had a very nice program in place. It was called the United States Amateur Radio Novice License.  It was our gateway.  We learned to receive Morse Code at 5 WPM.  We were restricted to "Novice sub bands".  You say that sounds like a curse?  Heck no! It was heaven!  Imagine trying to learn how to ride a bike with other kids on the playground zooming around on ten-speeds, mountain bikes, scooters and what have you.  We had a little area, set aside for us, where we could zip around on our training wheels.  As we rode and rode (made QSOs) we built up our confidence and eventually shed our training wheels, and we upgraded. Oh, in the process, we fell off our bikes, and got our knees and elbows bloodied along the way. But we learned!

But as they say, "Them days are gone forever." So what's a new Ham who wants to get on HF CW supposed to do?

Several things, actually.

I am going to assume you have learned the basic Morse Code character set and that you can receive at a speed of about 5 WPM.  If you haven't, you need to do that.  But here's an important point - if you've learned CW, whether it be from W1AW or whatever software program - you already know what good code sounds like!  You will also know, conversely, what bad code sounds like. Your assignment is to send good code.

This is where code practice oscillators come in to play.  They weren't invented just to teach people how to learn to receive Morse Code, they were also invented to teach people how to send Morse Code. If you have one, fine. If you don't - get one. Or ..... you can go to your rig, and turn off the VOX while in the CW mode. This should give you a nice, big, fancy and expensive code practice oscillator. Use it. Use it a lot until you are comfortable and can send Morse Code without really have to think about forming the characters too much. As I stated over at AmateurRadio.com - use a tape recorder, or the voice recorder on your cell phone and record your sending.  If you can decode what you are sending, then other people will be able to, also.  If you listen to your fist and find yourself going, "What?!?", then you probably aren't ready and need to practice more. It's OK to send slowly, but accurately. Personally, I would rather listen to someone sending slowly, but correctly, rather than listening someone trying way too hard, too fast, too soon, who leaves me scratching my head. (Pssst! This is why the FISTS motto is "Accuracy transcends speed.")

Once you are reasonably confident in your sending skills, you can get on the air.  The Novice subbands don't really exist anymore, but you can find some slower folks hanging around together around 7.125 MHz. The FISTS and SKCC frequencies also good places to hang - from around .050 to .058.  You can ply your newly discovered skills there among friends. Don't be intimidated!  Relax, take a deep breath and enjoy the ride. Remember, we're not looking for a cure for cancer or cardiovascular disease here. We're supposed to be having fun. Don't obsess and don't put yourself down. We were all beginners once, and we all had to start somewhere.

I'm going to warn you. Your first half dozen or so QSOs will be a bit nerve wracking. Best thing to do is write down ahead of time a "canned QSO".  Just follow the script and before you know it, you'll feel more and more comfortable and will no longer need the script.  If you try to make a QSO every day, before you know it, you'll come to recognize the experience you have gained.  Your speed will increase and you will really come to enjoy this new mode you have set out to learn.

Another word of caution. There will be jerks! Sorry ..... there's nothing I can do about that. Just as on the highway, there's always that idiot that has to zoom in and out of lanes at 75 MPH, you're also going to run into jerks that think 40 WPM is beneath them and will not slow down for anyone - God included. If I may get Biblical here without offending anyone ...."Just shake their dust from your feet and go onto the next village."  The speed demons who won't QRS for anyone are not worth your time or effort. I've been in this game for 36 years now, and I run into my share, too.  To this day, I have to ask myself why guys send at around 55 WPM in contests only to have to repeat their exchanges multiple times, because we mere mortals can't copy their "buzz saw" CW.

Conversely ..... should you answer a CQ, do not, under any circumstances, start sending faster than you are comfortable receiving!  I know, we all have a tendency to do this, but it is going to get you into trouble.  You are going to get yourself into a terrible experience that will make you want to run away from Morse Code forever.  Any dedicated CW op worth his salt will slow down (QRS) for a newbie. Do not be afraid to ask someone to "QRS PSE?", either. We don't know for sure that your uncomfortable unless you tell us.  Sometimes, we more experienced CW ops assume too much, too.

I think I covered everything and I hope this helps those of you who are newer out there and are struggling to learn the CW ropes. If you have any questions, pop something into the comments box or send me an e-mail. I will try to help in any way I can.

There's an old joke where a stranger asks a cabbie in NY how to get to Carnegie Hall. The cabbie replies "Practice!".  If you want to get good at the Morse Code game, it's going to take lots of practice. No way around it, but it doesn't have to be a chore or unpleasant. Have fun and enjoy yourself!

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

This post is going to get me into trouble!

John KK4ITN left a comment on my post "Conditions" over at AmateurRadio.com. Here's a line from it:

"Seems when the bands are down every person with a ‘bug’ is out calling cq. Wish they would put code oscillators and dummie loads on sale. Dits at 20 wpm and dahs at 5 wpm."

I guess it's not directly related to band conditions, and I'm not sure that John's claim is 1,000,000% accurate, however - he makes an excellent point.

Not to dump on bug users, because I have a bug. I like using a bug. Using a straight key makes the arthritis in my hands go "Hey! Stop that!" But unless I've practiced with my bug (off the air) for a while .... my sending can be pretty bad.  So I try to make it a point to take the KX3 "off the air" and practice sending with my bug on a regular basis.  Not as regularly as I should, but I try to keep in decent practice.

I agree with John and I would posit that listening to someone use a bug (or even a straight key or paddles, for that matter), who doesn't know how to use it properly, is akin to listening to nails being scratched across a blackboard. NB: For any younger readers, a blackboard is what we used in school before the advent of whiteboards and smartboards.  If you scrape your fingernails across the surface of a blackboard, it makes a sound unlike anything you've ever heard. It literally hurts to listen to it.  It will make your teeth ache. There's something about human fingernails and slate that just don't mix. Listening to someone scratch a balloon is almost as bad. But .... I digress.

The phrase, "Dits at 20 wpm and dahs at 5 wpm" resonated with me.  Morse Code sent like that is not only unreadable - even worse, it's unbearable.  No one is asking that all Morse be sent so that it sounds like it's coming from a keyer or a computer - but for Pete's sake - at least make sure your sending is copyable!

I would suggest that anyone who is inclined to use a bug perform this little exercise.  Send some Morse and record it, either with a tape recorder (do they still make those?), or, I believe most smartphones have a voice recorder feature. Do it off the air. Either send your RF into a dummy load or turn off your "VOX" - that usually will put your rig into code practice oscillator mode.

Send some Morse, listen to it, and copy what you sent. Be honest and critical with yourself. If you can honestly copy what you've sent, then you're probably good enough to go live. It might even be a good idea to wait a day or two between the sending part and the listening to yourself part - just in order to make it a bit more objective.

I can tell you for a fact, that I have done this - I have listened to my own bug fist - and have said, "Oh my!".  It was a rude, but necessary awakening. I am totally glad that I did not subject my fellow Hams to what I had thought was decent sending.

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