Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Elecraft - my personal opinion

I have been involved in the Service Industry for all of my adult working life.  I have worked in photo studios, photo laboratories, photo retail, professional photographic equipment distribution and service, and most recently in the IT field through inventory control and logistics.

Throughout that period, there was one Prime Directive (to borrow the term from Star Trek), and that is that Customer Service is, was, and always will be #1. Coming up close to 40 years in the field now, I can attest to how that's not always the easiest philosophy to live up to; but it is paramount. For truly, years of hard work to build up a solid reputation can be squandered in mere seconds by an instance of lousy customer service. And once you have squandered your reputation and credibility, even with one person and in one instance, word can get around so quickly that it can take years to get back to where you started from.

"What has this to do with Amateur Radio?", you are probably asking yourself. 

There are many service and product providers in the Amateur Radio market, as small as this niche is. We have many places where we can spend our heard earned dollars. There are many very good companies out there that will bend over backward to make sure that your experience with them is the best possible one that you can have.  On the other hand, there are also companies out there who quite literally (excuse my language) don't give a damn what you care about or want.  All they want is your dollars and once they have them, you are pretty much dead to them.  Thankfully, thankfully, thankfully these companies are the smallest minority and they usually die a pretty quick death, going out of business rather quickly.

On the other end of the spectrum are the companies that go out of their way to ensure that you are happy and satisfied.  In my experience, Elecraft has done an exemplary job in that department. I have been a happy Elecraft owner since 2003, when I first bought my K1.  Since then, I have purchased and built a K2, a K3 and a KX3, along with numerous sub-kits and accessories. In each instance, I had a great experience. The manuals are extremely well thought out, leaving (at least in my case) no doubt as to how things are supposed to go together. In the two instances where my kits were missing parts, or had a wrong part shipped - a quick e-mail to Elecraft got me the needed pieces in literally a day or two.

I have been fortunate that my radios worked right off my assembly line. However, I do know of instances where that has not been the case for other Hams, for one reason or another.  In those cases, it seems that the help that was received from Elecraft via the telephone from their outstanding staff,  or from the Elecraft e-mail reflector(s) where other Elecraft enthusiasts helped to get them up and running quickly.  I also personally know of instances where "stuff has happened" and telephone calls to Elecraft brought timely solutions, even though the equipment in question would have been considered out of warranty by any other manufacturer.

All that being said, the clincher came for me just prior to Field Day, this year.  On QRP-L, many of the guys were beginning to list where their QRP Field Day efforts were going to be held.  I chimed in with information about where the South Plainfield Amateur Radio Club's effort was going to be, and I also mentioned that we were going to be all QRP, using my KX3s as our HF transmitters. Out of the blue, that night I received a private e-mail from Wayne Burdick N6KR, one of the principal owners of the company. In the e-mail he informed me that he read my posting to QRP-L and saw that we were going to be using my KX3s. So from there, Wayne proceeded to tell me how to set up the KX3s so that they would cause minimal interference to each other in close quarters.  And that information, which he also posted to the KX3 and general Elecraft e-mail reflectors, turned out to be a life saver.  After we first got going, it turned out that the SSB station was just swamping me out, and I was basically doing the same to them.  When that became apparent, I whipped out the printed e-mail from my back pocket (it was next to my Swiss Army Knife), made the setting changes and from there we were in like Flynn. The two stations sat side-by-side and hummed along for the rest of Field Day - fat, dumb and happy!

This boggled my mind.  One of the owners of Elecraft was keeping his eye on QRP-L, saw that one of his customers would be using their product and then graciously offered tips on how to make the radios work even better.  That, my friends is ADVANCED customer service - the stuff upon which legends are born.

Now don't get me wrong. No company in this world is perfect. Far from it. Heck, just go to the Elecraft reflectors and you'll find lots of instances where people feel they haven't been satisfied and take ample opportunity to vent.  Some of it may be justified, and some of it is pure nonsense.  But in my mind at least, Elecraft is a very bright spot in the Amateur Radio market, and I would recommend them highly to anyone. And aside from Amateur Radio, I think that they are a shining example to all industries on what great Customer Service is and should be.

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

Monday, July 21, 2014

The bands are slipping

Band conditions seem to have vastly deteriorated from what they were just a few months ago. It's not that propagation is non-existent, it's just that it seems to have left us in a bigger hurry than I would have thought.


I went out at lunchtime today (around 1730Z) to find activity on 15 Meters to be nil.  A quick scan of 17 Meters revealed not so much.  Just a few months ago, both these bands were hopping with all kinds of DX. It wasn't all that rare to hear Europe, South America and Asia all at the same time! It wasn't all that rare to hear a good amount of activity on 12 and 10 Meters just a few short months ago.

Since 15 and 17 seemed inactive, I went to 14.061 MHz and called CQ after QRLing to make sure the frequency was dead.  I was answered by fellow New Jerseyan, QRPer and blogger, Chris KQ2RP who gave me a 559 from Maine.

After that, I worked fellow Polar Bear, Ken WA8REI who is having a hard time enduring the heat and humidity in Michigan.  It's hard to put up with the Temperature Humidity Index when you have so much fur! ;-)  Ken was a good solid 579 here when the QSB wasn't wreaking havoc. We had a nice little chat and then it was time for Ken to go, and my available lunchtime minutes were growing short, too.

Before heading in, I decided to check out 17 Meters one more time.  There, blasting in at 599+ was GA14CG, the Special Event Station for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Scotland.  There was a bit of a pileup, but he was so loud that I figured that I could work him, if only I could place myself correctly.


With time running short, I was able to eventually find the right spot.  GA14CG was using the ol' racetrack pattern scheme. Start at a frequency, move a bit higher after each call, reach a high point and then continue to work stations, moving a bit lower after each QSO until arriving at starting point and starting the process all over again. Essentially, he was doing laps, which I guess was appropriate considering it's the Commonwealth Games.  I placed myself correctly on the return trip home and got into the log. They're on the air until August 3rd, so you have plenty of time to work them.

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

Sunday, July 20, 2014

It was 45 years ago today ......

that "Men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon, July 1969 A.D.  We came in peace for all mankind."


I was 12 years old and was obsessed with anything that had to do with the manned spaceflight program. Some of the earliest TV memories that I have included the launches of Alan Shepard and John Glenn during the Project Mercury days. As young as I was, I don't think I missed a second of any live television coverage of Project Gemini (that didn't occur while school was in session, that is!). My sister and I dutifully wrote to NASA requesting any free "NASA Facts" literature that they would send us. And they sent us plenty! I think I built every Revell model that there was that had anything to do with manned spaceflight,

On July 20th, 1969 my family and I were glued to the TV the entire day.  I believe it was just around 4:00 PM when we heard those famous words, "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."  Walter Cronkite and Wally Schirra were the commentators. I had watched them so much that they felt like part of the family. I remember Walter removing his glasses and uttering "Wow!" when those famous words were relayed, finally announcing that men had successfully landed on the lunar surface.

Fast forward to that evening.


After a sufficient amount of pleading. my parents let me stay up past my bedtime in order to watch the first live TV from the moon.  When Neil Armstrong pulled the cord that lowered the panel from the side of the LM, revealing the TV camera, we witnessed grainy, ghost like and upside down images from the moon. Someone at NASA quickly inverted the picture and we were able to clearly see the first human being take a fledgling step on celestial body that was not the Earth.  For the next couple of hours, we sat before the TV and we didn't go to sleep until Neil and Buzz had climbed back up into Eagle and had safely closed the hatch.

That was a wondrous time to be alive. To watch history being made - good history being made, is a wonderful thing.  The national will to explore space may have died somewhat with the conclusion of Project Apollo, but countless youngsters learned that it really IS possible to dream big dreams, and to do great and wondrous things.  All you have to do is have the will and ambition to get them done.


Earlier this afternoon I worked WA3NAN , the Goddard Spaceflight Amateur Radio Club station in Greenbelt MD, on 40 Meters Sideband (I know, I know!), in order to work one of the few Apollo 11 Special Event Stations that was on the air this weekend. I tried working N4A and N4R in Alabama, but it seemed like neither 20 or 40 Meters were allowing my signal the hop it needed to get the job done.


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

Friday, July 18, 2014

Thanks!

I have to thank two people:

Thank you, Derek MM0WST for the kind and encouraging e-mail you sent, as well as the neat button image.  I have posted it to the right side of the blog - it's really cool looking.

My other "Thank You" goes out to Ivin Flint W9ILF. We had been trading some e-mails back and forth about our Buddisticks and he sent me some photos of his set up.  Instead of the conventional order of base, arms, coil, whip - I noticed he was using base, coil, arms, whip.  As Ivin pointed out to me, keeping the coil closer to the base makes it way easier to change the tap setting on the coil. This is especially true in my case when my Buddistick is mounted on the top of my Jeep, and the coil is probably at the 12 - 15 foot level.  A small thing, but very useful and helpful.


I sometimes find myself getting into a habit or routine of how things are supposed to go together (conventionally) and I forget to think "outside of the box" from time to time.  It's nice to have good friends, with good ideas, to be able to count on! Now when I want to change coil taps, I just reach up and make the change, instead of removing antenna from roof, changing tap position, and putting antenna back on roof. Much easier!



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

Thursday, July 17, 2014

SOTA

I worked three stations this lunchtime.  It takes me a little bit longer (about a minute or two) to get out to the car in the parking lot wearing this orthopedic boot on my foot. Common sense tells me that I should stay inside and go find a quiet place to sit down and read, rather than walking on this. But I was never accused of having an overabundance of common sense, so ......... out to the parking area I went.

I worked two stations on 17 Meters and one on 20 Meters.  DL2DX, Joe was coming in like gangbusters on 17 Meters. He was calling CQ over and over with no takers. I just couldn't let him think that he wasn't being heard.  I told Joe that he was 599+ and got a 569 back in return.

I also worked W1AW/4 in South Carolina.  That took a bit of doing as there was quite the pileup and my 5 Watts was being drowned out by European stations.  But I stuck with it and got in the log after I figured out their "listening pattern" and conveniently plopped myself down in the middle of it.

The coolest QSO of the session was on 20 Meters with George WB5USB who was on SOTA peak W5N/PW-019 in the Pecos Wilderness of New Mexico. (Turns out that was probably a 2X KX3 QSO, to boot!)


I gave George a 449, which he was when QSB was at a minimum.  When the fading was the worst, George was about 339.  I got a 529 in return.

I am fascinated by SOTA and the process of going to activate a mountain.  Maybe it's because of growing up here in New Jersey and not really having a lot of mountains in the area to go to.  I have always lived on the Piedmont. What we do have of bonafide mountains lay in the northwest corner of the state, where the Appalachians run through New Jersey.  They're about an hour or so from my house, by car.

Rocky Mountains

Years ago when I worked for Sinar Bron, I had the opportunity to visit the Art Center College of Design in Denver to do some maintenance on their view cameras and studio strobes.  While we were there, we took a ride out into the surrounding countryside and the mountains. Now the Rockies are what you would call REAL mountains - to the folks out there, the Appalachians would really be just huge, gigantic hills by comparison. Having seen both, I'd have to agree. That doesn't take anything away from the grandeur of the Appalachians, but they're just different from the Rockies.  The Appalachians are a lot older, from a geophysical standpoint, and they've had lots more time to erode into a smaller (altitude-wise) mountain range. To illustrate my point, Mount Mitchell in North Carolina is the tallest Appalachian Mountain. At it's peak, you are at an altitude of 6,684 feet (2,037 Meters). The mountain that George was on today? 9,431 feet (2,875 Meters) - and that's nowhere near the highest Rocky Mountain.

I've been fortunate to have seen the Alps while in Switzerland, they're a whole different story and they just take your breath away!

 Adirondack Mountains - part of the Appalachian chain.

Someday, when I'm through with this rat race we call the work world, I would really love to operate from a SOTA peak (out West), even if it's just one time.

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

Article on the Sunspot Cycle

Seems the general public is beginning to learn about stuff we have been observing and talking about for the past few years.

http://thesiweather.com/2014/07/16/1045-am-the-sun-has-gone-quiet-solar-cycle-24-continues-to-rank-as-one-of-the-weakest-cycles-more-than-a-century/

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

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

17 Meters was decent

I managed to hobble out to my car at lunch time today.  The weather was decent, but my right foot isn't. Seems I aggravated the same tendons and ligaments that I had a few years ago - so now I'm wearing "the boot" for the next week or so. Sigh.

Anyway, after the past couple of days of torrential rain, the skies were blue and sunny today.  The temperatures were downright pleasant and 17 Meters seemed to be hopping.

I worked CT8/DL5NUA, CR5W, and J79BH. So - I reached the Azores, Portugal and Dominica - not terrible.

In other news, we have 118 Skeeters signed up for the Hunt on August 10th. Still plenty of time to sign up. We could use more participation from the West Coast states - HINT, HINT, HINT!

I also attended a meeting of SPARC, the South Plainfield Amateur Radio Club.  We reviewed our Field Day effort and claimed score before officially sending our entry off to the ARRL. We also started making some basic plan changes for next year.  It's so nice to know that my fellow club members had a good enough time with a QRP Field Day that they want to do it again next year!

By the way, if you want to read the local newspaper's account of our Field Day - here's the link:  http://tinyurl.com/ls56z6u.  I think they did a very good job, even though they did get some of the details wrong (like our callsign, for example). But on the whole it was an excellent article which put Amateur Radio in a very positive light.

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

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Bees and Skeeters, oh my!

The bugs is among us!

As of Friday, if you aren't already aware, Rich Fisher KI6SN announced that he is accepting requests for Bee numbers for the Annual Flight of the Bumble Bees. which will occur on Sunday July 27th.  The sign up procedures for both Sprints remain the same as last year - however each Sprint has a different sign up procedure.

To become a Bee, the first thing you have to do is visit http://bit.ly/15aGgN1. Once you're there, you can see what numbers have been requested and assigned.  When you have in mind the number you would like to be assigned, you send Rich an e-mail with your request and two alternate choices to:  ARSBumblebees@gmail.com.

In your e-mail, you send Rich the following information:

Your Callsign
Your First Name
The field location you anticipate to be operating from

Your Top 3 Choices for FOBB Number

Then, go back and check the database after a bit of time, as Rich will not be sending individual confirmation e-mails. I saw my name and number appear just a few hours after I had sent Rich my request.

As I've stated before, the procedure for getting a Skeeter number for the NJQRP Skeeter Hunt is a tad different.  Just send an e-mail to w2lj@arrl.net, and I will send you a sequential number in a confirming e-mail.  I just sent out a bunch of Skeeter numbers to people who sent me requests last week while I was on vacation.  If you have sent me a request, and didn't get a reply or you don't see your name on the roster, then I apologize.  Send me another e-mail and I'll get a number out to you, lickety-split.

Both Sprints are on Sundays from 1700 - 2100 UTC and both are designed to get you and your gear out in the fresh air to enjoy the Great Outdoors. Personally, I hope to work you in both events!

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


Friday, July 04, 2014

Happy Birthday, USA!




We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. 

Happy Independence Day!


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

Thursday, July 03, 2014

QRP Club Forum

I don't know why, but I've never been a big fan of checking out Amateur Radio forums. Whether it's the forums on eHam or QRZ, for some reason, I never got "into it". I always preferred perusing and reading the various QRP e-mail reflectors.

A couple of weeks ago, I received an e-mail invitation from Nicola IZ5ZCO, to check out his QRP Club Forum.  When I got there, I liked what I saw.  The atmosphere is friendly and international - an international society of QRPers, as it were.  But .... like all forums, I guess it could use more activity. You should check it out - you might like it!  Here's the URL: http://www.qrpclub.org/qrp

I just posted something about the EARCHI antenna that we used this weekend, as it's always good to share.


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

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

OK ..... Wait ...... What?

Wow! It was hot here today! It got up into the upper 90s (36C) today and I was loving it! Well, maybe not "loving" it, but I wasn't hating it or wishing it away. I was in my element as I went out to the Jeep and proceeded to try a little QRP.

I wasn't hearing too much on 15 Meters and everyone on 17 Meters seemed to be involved in a ragchew, so I proceeded down to the good ol' standby - the 20 Meter QRP Watering Hole.  It was there that I heard a station calling CQ rather slowly.  I set the KX3's keyer for about 13 WPM and waited for him to sign.  I am guessing that this person is a relatively new Ham because of the slower code speed and because he had a 2X3 callsign and the prefix was KK. I think in the #2 call district we're still at KD as a newly issued prefix.

I sent his call twice followed by mine, three times.  He had a decent 579 signal, and he gave me a 549.  OK, not the strongest, but in my book, a 549 signal is decent enough to have a ragchew with.  After the preliminaries, I thought we were going to get into the heart of a nice chat. That's when I got, "BANDS SEEM TO BE UNSTABLE. YOU ARE UP AND DOWN. 73 DE KKXXXX". Just like that, he was gone.

OK .... wait a second ..... what just happened?


It seems to me that one of the attributes of short wave communications is QSB, i.e. fading.  It's a rare conversation where it doesn't occur, even mildly. It's something you learn to adapt to and overcome in all but the severest cases, as you build up your skills. I feel bad for this guy, because if you're going to limit yourself to only 599 signals, you're going to miss out on a lot of fun. And you're not going to develop yourself as an experienced operator, either.

The antennas are unplugged tonight. As a result of the hot weather and a cool (not cold) front moving through, we are getting some hellacious thunderstorms.  No hail, but the downpours have been heavy and even though the rains have stopped for now, it's still lightning. A lot.

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

Monday, June 30, 2014

Field Day 2014 - Wow!

That's all I can say - wow!  A magnificent time was had at the first Field Day for the South Plainfield Radio Club.  I posted the following to QRP-L, and I'll insert some other thoughts at the end.

The South Plainfield Amateur Radio Club operated Field Day in Spring Lake Park in South Plainfield, NJ. We used Club call NJ2SP, and ran as 2A (Battery). The "2A" were two Elecraft KX3s. The CW station ran to a EARCHI antenna (53 foot radiator, 9:1 UNUN, 25 foot length of coax). The elevated end of the EARCHI was about 30-35 foot up in a tree. The SSB station used a G5RV, about the same height between two trees.

Our operating position behind our club banner. 
And if you look closely (click on the picture for a bigger image) you can see the EARCHI antenna sloping upward and away towards the tree it was anchored in.

The EARCHI antenna was a resounding success. The KX3's internal tuner handled it exceedingly well on all bands. We made just a tad over 270 CW QSOs, with our best DX being Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands.

Dave W2OIL and Marv K2VHW working on deploying G5RV feedline.

The G5RV worked exceeding well, also. The KX3 again tuned without a hiccup. The SSB team completed just over 100 SSB QSOs - these guys are all QRO ops and they were skeptical about completing even a single QRP SSB QSO. They ended up surprising themselves, and they ended up being quite amazed at what they were able to accomplish. Yes, it was not as easy as using 100W rigs, but even in keeping with the ARRL's 5 Watt limit for the battery category, they were quite pleased.

 Power source for the laptops

Power source for the CW station

We operated on solar charged batteries all weekend without a hitch. The energy hogs for the weekend were the two laptops that we used for logging. The Field Day rules state that since we were not using the laptops for rig control, we could have powered them from mains (which we did not have) or a generator (which we had, but didn't use). In keeping with our self imposed "severe emergency capability" theme in order to make this a drill as much as possible, we also powered them off a deep cycle battery using an inverter. We needed to switch the laptops over to a fresh battery somewhere in the mid morning hours, Sunday.

SPARC's first Field day was an outstanding and unqualified success, and I think we 'busted' the myth that Field Day has to be QRO to be fun.

~~~~~~~~~

The EARCHI worked great and way better than I dared hope for. With less exceptions than I can count on one hand, I was able to work everyone that I tried to.  Being on an energy budget because of the batteries and wanting them to last all weekend if possible, I didn't try calling CQ or running a frequency (it was S&P all weekend).  I will reserve that for FOBB and the Skeeter Hunt, which are only four hour events. I can afford to be a little "battery foolish" during those, and I expect the EARCHI to work just as well during those two events.

Our publicity table.

The other Godsend of the weekend? That Joplin ARC antenna launcher kit that I purchased and built up. We were able to place antenna lines pretty much exactly where we wanted with hardly any effort at all.  That thing is one of the greatest things since sliced bread! One or two of the guys were skeptical about being able to place an antenna line so easily and accurately with such little effort. The old saying is "That seeing is believing". They're believers now!

The VHF/UHF antennas for our GOTA station.

Protection from South Plainfield's Finest!

We had wonderful support from our Mayor, Town Council, Office of Emergency Management and our Police Department.  They even parked a car by our site for the overnight, to act as a deterrent against any potential mischief makers!

Tim AB2ZK making SSB QSOs in the dead of night.

Marv K2VHW taking a late night turn at the CW station.

Dawn breaking over South Plainfield on Sunday morning.

Field Day aftermath. 
After being awake for 24+ hours, I fell asleep while waiting for the Mayor to show up late Sunday morning. I woke up in time for his visit, though!

Being in the park, we had a lot of curious people come by.  We answered any and all questions and we handed out quite a bit of ARRL printed material about Amateur Radio. An encouraging sign was that several parents came by and wanted more information for their tech minded offspring.

Squeezing out some last minute QSOs as Field Day draws to a close. Tim AB2ZK on phone, W2LJ on CW.

The moral of the story is that Field Day is fun!  It doesn't have to be elaborate to be a success. With two wire antennas and two QRP rigs anchored at 5 Watts, we had a blast.  Oh, and we made the local paper, too!  http://tinyurl.com/ls56z6u  Some of the details were not exactly reported accurately, but it was good exposure for Amateur Radio nonetheless!

In closing, I'll answer a question that was posed to me by a member of the visiting public, the way I wanted to answer it. A woman asked me if it was a bit extreme staying awake throughout the 24 hours of Field Day. Of course, I gave her the answer of "In the event of an emergency or a natural disaster, sleep may very well be a luxury, ......." Yadda, yadda, yadda.

What I wanted to say was any of the following:

1) It's Field Day! Sleep is overrated!
2) Heck no Lady! Field Day is fun!

Or I could've gotten all Clint Eastwood and said:
3) Ma'am? I'll sleep when I'm dead!

One final, last added mention.  Last year, Marv K2VHW introduced me to Deep Woods Off moist towelettes.  They are a must for the Field Day Go Package. They worked extremely well, and I was not bothered by a single "Skeeter" (pesky little fellows, I should have had them pound brass!) all night long.

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

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

This is Amateur Radio Week

in South Plainfield!


Field Day is two days away and the weather here is supposed to be gorgeous! Psyched!

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