Saturday, December 31, 2005

A Done Deal!

2005 started on January 1st at 0141 UTC with a Straight Key Night QSO with Bob WB8QLA. 2005 wrapped up with a QSO with Jim W4QO on December 31st at 0217 UTC. 365 days of at least one QRP CW QSO a day. The year ended with a total of 1778 QSOs on all the HF bands, save for 12 and 10 Meters.

It's hard to believe that I reached my goal! Band conditions have been so crummy this year. There were times during Coronal Mass Ejections, when radio conditions were all but in a black out; that it seemed that I might have gotten farther using smoke signals instead of RF. But the Morse Code and CW just never let me down. CW and Morse Code did get through when nothing else could have!

There were several highlights to my Amateur Radio year; but three stand out in my mind:

1) The completion of "QSOa Day" for 2005. I had no real idea of the complexity of the task. Juggling family obligations, social schedules with propagation, band conditions and operating time seemed daunting at times.

2) Working SPØPAPA on April 9th. This was a special event station operating in Poland, celebrating the pontificate of Pope John Paul II the weekend of his funeral. All of my grandparents immigrated to this country from Poland. By birth I am an American, by ancestry I am a Pole. John Paul II and this QSO meant a very great deal to me.

3) The one that got away! In July I came THIS close to working Iraqi station YI6ZL. He heard my QRP signal through the pile-up and came back to me with "W2L?" looking for the rest of my suffix. Unfortunately, I was creamed by a W4 station who obviously couldn't understand what "W2L?" meant! Completing that QSO with Iraq on 5 Watts and beating out a humongous pile-up would have been sweet!

So now it's officially 2006 via Universal Coordinated Time. In a half an hour, I'm going to put the kids to bed; and then head down to the shack and Straight Key Night to get it all started, all over again. At times, life is good!

73 es a very Happy, Healthy, Joyous and Prosperous New Year to you all!
de Larry W2LJ

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Two nights to go!

Two more nights! Tonight and tomorrow night and I will have completed my goal for 2005 - at least one CW QRP QSO a day for the entire year! As of last night, I have made 1773 QSOs this year - all of them CW - all of them QRP - all of them on either my K1 or K2 or Rockmite 40.

Tonight is the 40 Meter Foxhunt and it is raining here in New Jersey. That may mean my neighborhood power line noise problem might have disappeared for the night. I am anxious for 9:00 PM to come by so I can join in on the hunt; and maybe even hear the Foxes this time!

What's the goal for 2006? Beat the QSO total for 2005. Maintain my "QSO a Day' pace for as long as I can. Finish unfinished projects. Operate portable from the great outdoors more.

Happy New Year to all!

73 de Larry W2LJ

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Christmas 2005

Christmas Day 2005 has come and gone, even though the Season officially lasts until January 6th, Santa was very, very good this year to my wife and kids; and he was especially nice to me, Ham radio-wise, this year.

Through a hint from my wife, Santa brought the 2005 Christmas Key, a miniature ornament sized; but fully functional straight key. This lil' key is an object of beauty to a veteran CW op. It's perfectly sized for portable operations; but will probably end up never leaving the house! It is surprisingly stable and does not "walk" when being used upon my bench.

Through a hint from my Mom, Santa also brought a Hi-Mite for 15 Meters. This is a great little rig from Dave Benson K1SWL and Small Wonder Labs. It's based upon the famous RockMite series; but includes a VFO so as to be more flexible than the crystal controlled, single frequency RockMites. My Mom was fascinated that a radio kit could arrive in such a small envelope. I explained the situation to her and told her that I would show her one of my Rockmites so she could see just how small a radio can get. As I grew up she remembered the days of the big boat anchors with tubes that glowed. She came to recognize that radios were getting smaller through the various transceivers that I had owned throughout the years; but she wasn't quite ready to believe how small these Small Wonder Labs wonders really are.

Finally, through a hint from my sister, Santa brought a copy of the new ARRL book on basic radio concepts. It's a good book to have, even for a seasoned Ham like myself. I've never been a technical wizard of the likes of Dave Benson K1SWL or Steve Weber KD1JV. Maybe by reading this book and becoming even more comfortable with the basic principles, I can at least begin to understand more thoroughly the genius behind the masterpieces they offer.

All in all, it was an especially good Ham radio Christmas. I had not seen the likes of one of these in a few years. Mind you, I enjoy getting the customary shirts, PJs, and other more traditional "Dad type" of presents; but it was an extra special treat to find a few Ham radio items under the evergreen.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Being the Fox

This past Tuesday evening, I was honored to have had the opportunity to be the Fox in the QRP-L 80 Meter Foxhunt. Fortunately for me, 80 Meters has been nice and quiet this Winter, relatively QRN free. The way 40 Meters has been this season, I have not had any success on that band let alone volunteer to be a Fox!

The anticipation was sweet; and I was awarded with a fabulously good time. Propagation was good; and I was able to work stations as far away as New Mexico. The discipline among QRP operators is outstanding! I announced I was working split, listening 1 kHz up, and I think I was pretty much able to work everyone I heard. I've been told that there were a ton of stations fighting to work me towards the end of the hunt. It was gratifying to find out that my 5 Watts gets out so well!

Once I established a nice rhythm, I was able to work stations at a very nice clip! Once I would announce the call of the station I has chosen to work; the other "hounds" ceased calling and allowed for uninterrupted exchanges. By the end of the 90 minutes (which absolutely flew by!) I had 48 stations in the log, with one dupe contact.

I deeply thank all the Amateur Radio Stations that worked me; as well as those I didn't work, but tried anyway. Also, I deeply thank those on the Foxhunt Committee who sponsor and organize this really super fun activity.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Friday, December 09, 2005

Back in business!

I am back in business - and have been for a week now. As you can see from the picture, my tree had a haircut. The top 20 feet were removed to provide less of a strain to the trunk. The tree is in pretty good health but has been weakened due to damage by squirrels and carpenter ants. The tree straddles my property and that of my neighbor. Neither of us wanted to get rid of the tree outright; we just want it to be safe. Neither of us needed branches falling on our kids; or even worse.

The center insulator for the G5RV is now at the very highest level this tree can now give me - 20 feet. It used to be at the 30 foot level and the tree itself used to be about 40 feet high.

It was hilarious getting the antenna rope back into the tree. I was using this thing called a "hyper dog" trainer which is basically a glorifed sling shot for tennis balls. The device was intended to allow you to chuck tennis balls for great distances; allowing your dog to chase and fetch the tennis balls, wearing itself out in the process.

I took a tennis ball and cut a slit into it. I took the antenna rope and tied it though a large ferrite bead. I inserted the bead and two, one ounce lead fishing weights inside the tennis ball. I then proceeded to attempt to shoot the tennis ball over the limb I wanted, taking the antenna rope with it. The tennis balls ended up flying well; but going in every direction except the one I wanted. Frustrated, I just took the tennis ball in my hand and just chucked it, bare handed.

It went where I wanted it to go on the first try.

In any event, my G5RV is back up. It's 10 feet lower than it used to be; but at least it's not lying on the ground anymore!

73 de Larry W2LJ

Thursday, December 01, 2005

A sad event

I had to come home from work during lunchtime today, to bring down my G5RV. Hopefully, it's only temporary. The maple tree that it is anchored to has become old and it's upper branches weak. It is a danger in a high wind situation. The tree will be topped, that is the top 15 feet or so worth of branches are going to be trimmed off and hauled away.

I won't have a good idea of what I'll be up against until I get home tomorrow night ...... maybe. To make matters worse, there is a wind advisory posted for the NorthEast for tomorrow. I was hoping to have this done tomorrow and then spend part of Saturday getting the antenna back up in the tree or maybe put some masting up if there's not enough of the tree left.

I hope it can be done soon. This leaves me with only the Butternut HF9V. Don't get me wrong - it's a fine antenna; but now I have no back up. I'm getting too close to finishing off "QSO a Day" for 2005 to have things loused up with less than a month to go just because of some tree surgery.

73 de Larry W2LJ

MOCADing - 11 months in.

As mentioned previously, at the beginning of this year, I made a resolution. Not something unrealistic, like losing 25 pounds (which I should do) or to give up smoking (which I don't do anyway). No, my resolution was to get on the radio every single blessed day of 2005, and make at least one QRP CW QSO. My motivation greatly enhanced by the fact the North American QRP CW Club offered it's "QSO a Day" award around the same time I began to contemplate undertaking this task. Talk about timing!

It's December now, and eleven months have passed with, so far, a QRP CW QSO being made each and every day. I have come to learn a few things:

First - This goal, while obtainable, seemed a lot easier to achieve than reality has borne out. I really didn't take into account the declining solar conditions at the bottom of the sunspot cycle. I didn't think that there would be nights when a QSO with someone within the state of NJ would seem like the greatest DX I have ever worked! There were evenings this past January and February, when the ionosphere was sooooooo screwed up from Coronal Mass Ejections, that a QSO with a guy some 30 miles away from me was as difficult as working the DXpedition on Kure Atoll this past fall. Luckily, I was able to work the guy 30 miles away - I never really even heard the guys on Kure all that well.

I didn't take into account things like school plays, recitals, civic meetings which eat up a huge chunk of evening "free time" (a term I use VERY loosely!). Getting home late some evenings and then running down to the basement shack got me operating when a lot of other guys were calling it quits for the night. I know we all need our sleep because we have to go to work tomorrow; but hey! I'm trying to accomplish something here! And I have found, quite remarkably, that is indeed possible to nod off during the middle of a CW QSO. There have been a number of times that my neck snapped and my head jerked as I caught myself dozing off!

I kind of thought that summer vacation was going to be a problem; but it turned out not to be. We rented a cabin at Lake George and I was able to take my K1 along with the PAC-12 antenna; and made the required QSOs. My family is very understanding (for which I love them dearly - especially my wife, Marianne); and fortunately, so was George - the owner of Stepping Stones Resort in Diamond Point, NY. (An unabashed plug for George and Stepping Stones, who were and continue to be very, very gracious).

My brother-in-law's wedding in late July was another concern. That was a hectic two days; but it turned out I had to come home the night of the rehearsal dinner as I had to be home to let our dog Jesse out to do his "business" for the night and again the next morning. This allowed me to squeeze in my QSO in for that Saturday.

Second - I didn't realize how rewarding this quest would become. Not just for making at least 365 consecutive QSOs; but also for a lot of "fringe benefits". My code speed has increased significantly. At the beginning of the year, I was comfortable at the 16 - 18 wpm range; and I could copy at up to 30 wpm for short bursts. Now, in December, I am quite comfortable in the 20 - 25 wpm range and have no problems copying in the 35 - 40 wpm range for short amounts of time until my brain cramps. And I can tell that this spiral upward will continue if I keep at this. The only downside is finding guys who can keep up a QSO at these speeds. Sadly, they seem to becoming fewer and fewer.

I am very fortunate to have a lot of friends that I have met through Amateur Radio. Some like Bob W3BBO, I have met locally. But MOCADing has allowed me to have made friends that I know only from QSOs on the air. These are genuine friends, who I have come to know and have had multiple QSOs with. It is so nice to hear a callsign and know who it is on the opposite end before making contact. There was one instance in particular, that I recall especially. I was in QSO with Jim Stafford W4QO, relatively late one evening in September. From the basement, I was able to hear my son crying in his bedroom. I immediately dropped everything to go and see what the matter was. My five year old had had a nightmare and needed some TLC, which he received. About twenty minutes later, after Joey was securely tucked back in bed, I went back to the shack to fine Jim - on frequency - patiently waiting! He was wondering what the matter was and was relieved with the explanation. He was actually on the verge of reaching out via the telephone to make sure there was no dire medical emergency. Other than the brotherhood of Ham Radio; where could you find that kind of concern and camaraderie?

And there are plenty of others like John AE5X and Gary K8KFJ, who I have come to know from working during QRP Sprints. It's always nice to run into them on the air, only to hear a "Hi Larry" come from the other side! Bob KB2FEL originally from NY and now from WV is also a good contesting "buddy". He always has a great signal and a friendly attitude. Then there are great guys like Geoff W1OH who took the time to send me information on great vacations destinations like Prince Edward Island. Then there are Tom KB3LFC and John K3WWP who I have come to know through the NAQCC and on the air. Also, there is Charles W2SH, who I found out, doesn't live very far from me. I have also come to know Lloyd K3ESE from the air and through a QRP club we both belong to, the Flying Pigs QRP Club International. Lloyd's political views and mine are like oil and vinegar - they DO NOT mix; but LL is a superb CW op. His fist is excellent and he is a joy to copy. His enthusiasm for QRP, CW, building and operating portable know no bounds. Did I mention Lloyd's sense of humor? - definitely quirky; but always amusing and funny.

Third - I have increased my knowledge of propagation. I have come to know what all these solar numbers and indexes actually mean; and I can know ahead of time whether or not it is going to be an easy go on a particular day. Directly responsible for my knowledge is Paul Harden NA5N. Reading his "plain language" articles and postings to the QRP e-mail reflectors has taken a complicated science; and has made it much more understandable.

I fully expect to make my goal; and make another 30 more QSOs to finish off December. The NAQCC is doing the award thing again in 2006; and I may actually try again. You may or may not be able to reach the goal; but I will guarantee you one thing. The attempt is truly an adventure and a learning experience; both at the same time.

See you on the air,
73 de Larry W2LJ

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Things I am thankful for.

In keeping with Thanksgiving tradition, which is tomorrow, I am mindful and give thanks for all the wonderful gifts that God has given me. I am thankful for them all; but in particular, I am most thankful for these:

My lovely wife, Marianne.
Our two great children, Joey and Cara
My Mom and my sister; and my Dad who has since passed away
My extended family - by blood and by marriage.
My Catholic faith.
For my country, the United States.
Our dog Jesse and our cat Sadie
Our nice warm and dry house
Our jobs, that allow us to have necessary and good things.
Baseball, especially the New York Mets.
Amateur radio - the world's greatest hobby.

There are so many things to be thankful for - I can never think of them or list them all. Thank you, God, for blessing the lives of me and my family.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Giving Thanks.

It's less than a week to go until Thanksgiving. This is a day set aside, by the leaders of our country, in order to step back, take a breath and thank the Creator for the wonderful bounty He has bestowed upon the United States.

There are many out there who are uncomfortable with the abundance that has been bestowed upon us. I guess there are some out there who feel we have been given too much and that other nations have so little. There is some validity to that. The United States has been given much - but in turn, we give much in return. There has NEVER been a nation like ours, who gives and gives and gives, for the most part without asking for anything in return. Tsunami, earthquake, famine, flood, whatever ...... if it happens in another part of the world, Americans unhesitatingly open up their wallets or larders and donate whatever they can.

However, while the actions are all well and good; and very commendable, they are not enough in their own right. It is necessary for us to humble ourselves (I know .... what a concept!) and get down on our knees and thank God for the gifts He has given us. Because in the end, the wise ones know, that we can do nothing on our own. It is only by the grace and gifts from God that we are able to achieve what we achieve; and accomplish what we accomplish.

So this Thanksgiving, please put some time on the side - even if it's just a few seconds while you're shaving, dressing, taking the dog for a walk, or whatever; and from the bottom of your heart give thanks to the Almighty for the benevolence that He has deemed to bestow and continues to bestow upon us and our great country.

73 de Larry W2LJ

PS: To all the men and women in all the branches of the United States Armed Service - THANK YOU for defending our freedom and our way of life! Thank you for being there on the front lines so we can enjoy our bounty and give thanks without fear.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Whoa, Martha! Who turned off the ionosphere?

Wow! Tonight was a tough one! It was definitely like I was scraping the bottom of the QSO barrel in order to eke out a QSO to fulfill my "QSO a Day" obligation. Here it is, November 12th. I've made a QSO everyday since January and I'm getting down to the last 6 to 7 weeks of the year. I do not need the ionosphere to go haywire on me just now.

After puttng the kids to bed tonight, I went down to the shack for my nightly QSO. I got a late start because there was a new episode of SpongeBob Squarepants that the kids wanted to watch. As of 8:30 local time, I started calling CQ for an hour and a half with no takers! 40 Meters was wall to wall RTTY (yet another contest ... sigh!) and 30 Meters was pretty much dead. 80 Meters had some signals on it; but not all that many.

Around 10:30 I decided to come upstairs for a short break. When I headed down about 10 minutes later, I heard a very loud station calling CQ on 80 Meters. It was Mike Barrell WB9DLC. We've QSOed a few times before; so right then seemed as good a time as any to drop in my callsign and say "Hello". Mike and I chatted for about ten minutes, and then I let him go. He was hunting for new FISTS numbers as he is not far from achieving Century Gold, the award you earn for working 500 other FISTS members. Way to go, Mike!

73 de Larry W2LJ

Tally ho!

Last night was the third installment of the QRP-L 40 Meter Foxhunt. For those of you who are not familiar with the concept of a QRP Foxhunt, this is how it works.

We get these tiny, small clubs ........ No, No, NO !!!! No wild animals are bothered, injured or harassed. The way it goes is that two volunteer "Foxxi" get on an unnanounced frequency somewhere between 7.030 and 7.050 MHz. For the next 90 minutes, they call "CQ Fox" and then it's up for the rest of us "Hounds" to find the Fox; and have a successful exchange of RST, State, first name and output power. When the exchange has been successfully made, then and only then, can you consider yourself to have "bagged a pelt". If any of you out there have animal sensitivities and are bothered by the jargon; then I can only tell you to "Get a life". It's all in fun and there is no harm done to anything except for maybe knocking off a few charged particles up in the ionosphere.

At any rate, the current Foxunt season began three weeks ago and will continue to run every Thursday night until sometime in March 2006. Last night the Foxii were Doc KØEVZ and John W1RT, who are two very, very good QRPers. I didn't expect to hear John at all last night. He lives in Viriginia, which is too close for good communications on 40 Meters at that time of night at this time of year. I was not disappointed. I heard the pack of houds baying at him; but as expected, I heard nary a peep out of W1RT. I was disappointed, however, with Doc's signal. Doc lives in New Mexico and normally at this time of year, propagation to Texas and Louisiana and a lot of the great SouthWest is an easy hop for me.

I don't know if the ions decided to take the night off for Veteran's Day, or what. I heard absolutuely nothing of Doc or the pack of Hounds chasing him. Disappointed, I took a quick run down to 80 Meters and had a quick QSO with W9TO to at least fulfill my "QSO a Day" obligation.

With a half hour to go, I popped on back to 40 Meters and lo and behold, I was able to hear the faint whispers of Doc on the air. QSB was fast and deep, with Doc rising out of the ashes to be a solid 559; only to go to ESP levels within seconds. What made a bad situation worse was that I could hear Doc handing out exchanges to stations; but I couldn't hear any of those guys he was working! It was impossible for me to tell if Doc was working simplex (on his own frequency) or split (listiening on one frequency and transmitting on another). So I decided I was going to work split; but carefully. I started out almost simplex and then with each try I would move my transmit frequency just a touch higher and higher.

It didn't look good; but finally, with about 5 or 6 minutes left in the Hunt, Doc came back to "??LJ". I sent my call and heard it comeback, along with Doc's info. I sent mine only to hear "QRN agn pse". So I sent my information again, this time just about a WPM slower and sent each bit twice in an attempt to overcome the cruddy band conditions. I was awarded with a "Tnx Larry 72 de KØEVZ".

There's nothing like a fresh pelt hanging in the larder!

73 de Larry W2LJ

By the way, to all of you out there who have served; or are serving in the Armed Forces - "Happy Veteran's Day" !!!!! I thank you for your service to our country. These feelings of gratitude come from the heart and are not just "words" for me. I would like to especially thank a man from New Jersey who served as a Sergeant in the Signal Corps. during WWII in England, France and Germany. He was known as Master Sergeant Alexander Makoski. He is my Dad, who passed away in February 2001. I used to really enjoy his recounting of his experiences in Europe during the war.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Getting old .......

It is often said that as you get old the eyesight is the first to go. I have started building my ATS-3 transceiver kit ala' Steve Weber KD1JV. Working on this kit will put the above mentioned hypothesis to the test. This kit is 99% surface mount technology, or SMT as it is known.

SMT had to have been developed by masochists. The parts are so tiny that I'm pretty sure a grain of uncooked rice is bigger than some of these capacitors and resistors. All work is done with a tweezers and I have resorted to wearing one of those magnifying loupe headband thingies. My bifocals alone are not cutting muster.

The solder that Steve has supplied with the kit is so thin that it reminds me of a cat's whisker from the old crystal radio sets that I played with as a kid. Soldering is done carefully and methodically, all while trying to balance solder, soldering iron and a dental tool for holding parts down in two hands. After each component is soldered in, a visual inspecion is done with all the magnifiers flipped in place to make sure there are no solder bridges as well as no forgotten soldered joints. After the visual inspection is finished, I take an Ohmmeter and check for continuity from the component just soldered in to whatever pad or device that it is connected to.

Construction is definitely taking longer this way; but I want to make sure that if the radio doesn't hum on initial power-up, that it won't be due to some stupid soldering mistake that I may have unwittingly made.

If I can still see straight when I'm finished with this project; then I will consider myself to be a very fortunate Ham, indeed!

73 de Larry W2LJ

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Arrrrrrrrrrgggggghhhhhh !!!!!!!!!!!

The people of this state (New Jersey) went and elected yet ANOTHER tax and spend Democrat to the Governor's office. I swear, a rattlesnake could run for office in this state, put a "D" by his name; and would be elected.

You know what the biggest "Jersey Joke" is? It's not the Turnpike, it's not the pollution, it's the people!

A Good Time

I had an extremely good time on the air last night! I flipped the K2 on and tuned in 40 Meters. Once again, I was greeted with a near silent hiss of a quiet backgound. Every time I turn to 40, I'm afraid that I'm going to be confronted with that buzzsaw of noise again. Breathing a gentle sigh of relief, I turned the K2 off and plugged in the Rockmite 40. After a few CQs, I was granted the opportunity for a QSO. The station I was working was a brand new QRPer who was trying out his new SW40 We were both 559 until the band changed a bit; and QSB took over the frequency. It was nice to see my 500 mWatts get out into the Midwest; and to see the radio still works.

About a half an hour later, I jumped into the fray of the Adventure Radio Society's monthly Spartan Sprint. That was good time as well. Twenty Meters wasn't the greatest, yielding only 3 QSOs. 40 and 80 Meters were great, though. I made 18 QSOs on each band. It was nice to hear the callsigns of fellow QRPers who have become friends; as well as new callsigns, perhaps those just being bitten by the bug?

At any rate, as a really "in it for the fun" kind of contester, I was pleased with my tally of 39 QSOs in two hours. The QRP Sprints are a lot of fun for me; and I look forward to them each and every month.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Monday, November 07, 2005

The Quiet That Was

The quiet that was ....... is back! Yay!

For the past week, the nice quiet background that I have come to know and love on 40 Meters is back. I have no idea as to why or wherefore; but the month of October saw an ambient noise level of S3 to S5 on 40 Meters. It made the band all but unusable. Only the strongest of signals were copyable; and this is not the "bread and butter" of a QRPer. Our strength is in our above average skill in copying signals that are "less than optimum".

There is a house across the street from us that is being renovated for resale. The folks who lived there left to go live with one of their children. It seems that workers have been in and out of there constantly, getting the place ready for resale. I have no proof; but I feel they must have been using something during their labors that was generating a ton of RFI. Now that the house is almost complete, the noise has seemed to have diminished.

Whether I am correct or not in my assumptions is immaterial. The noise is gone for now; and I hope it's for good!

Monday, October 31, 2005

My comments

My comments to the proposal by the FCC to eliminate the Morse Code requirement from Amateur Radio exams:


There have been may persuasive arguments put before the Commission as to whether or not the Morse Code requirement should be kept as part of the examination process. It appears the Commission deems that Morse Code requirement is an anachronism that no longer has any validity and should be eliminated. In my opinion, I believe the Commission is being shortsighted and that we should maintain the requirement.

Many amateurs and organizations point to the fact that the military and other professional communications services have abandoned Morse Code. To some extent, this is true. But those services have gone on to highly advanced satellite communications systems. Amateur radio operators, at least for the majority, have not. Our communications depend mostly on voice or radiotelegraphy in the High Frequency portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. Radiotelegraphy has proved itself to be the most reliable method of communications using those portions of the spectrum that we, for the most part are relegated to. During times of "radio blackout" due to increased sunpsot or other types of geomagnetic activity, often Morse Code communications using Continuous Wave transmission is the only permissible means of radio communications. It should also be noted that the most "cutting edge" frontiers of Amateur Radio - meteor scatter, spread spectrum, low power and microwave and weak signal communications all rely on Morse Code and CW as the "mode of choice" in completing communications.

The Commission has expressed a concern that the providing of Morse Code testing presses an "undue burden" on the part of the VE examining teams. I would like to say, that in over ten years personal experience as a Volunteer Examiner, my team and I never found administering the Morse Code exam to be a burden. In fact, we took extreme pleasure in administering the exam and watching untold numbers of candidates pass. Again, in my personal experience of over a decade as an examiner, I have never come across an individual who was unable to pass the exam given enough time to properly prepare.

The argument has been proposed that the Morse Code exam is a roadblock, preventing untold numbers of qualified individuals from entering the Amateur Radio service. I believe this claim to be unsubstantiated at best; and just another "urban myth" at worst. The Commission has indeed licensed children as young as the age of six or seven as Radio Amateurs. While this is the exception rather than the rule, I would suggest this points to the fact that anyone with a fair amount of ambition, desire and discipline can master a 5 word per minute Morse Code exam. For those who honestly and truly have a valid medical reason for being unable to complete the Morse portion of the test, the Commission had already provided recourse via the medical waiver. I would like the supporters of this argument substantiate their claims with some kind of documentation. It is not proper to make "wild claims" before the Commission without proper documentation. Furthermore, it would seem inappropriate for the Commission to accept these unproven claims as the rule; rather than the exception.

Were the Commission to delegate the Amateur Radio Service as some non-essential radio service such as CB, GMRS or the FRS then I would accept the hypothesis that the Morse Code exam is of little value and should be eliminated. But clearly, the Commission has repeatedly avowed the importance of the Amateur Radio Service and the need for it's continued health and well being. I would hope the Commission would agree with me that to maintain that health and vitality; that it is paramount to not lower standards; but on the other hand to maintain or increase them.

Respectfully submitted,

Saturday, October 15, 2005

My favorite band

I'm going to be upfront. I hate the Fall and Winter! There, I've said it. I hate the cold weather and I hate even the approach of cold weather. I hate the Winter and I despise Autumn because it means Winter is coming. I know, I've heard all the excuses - turning leaves, pumpkins, holidays, etc, etc, etc. Bah! I hate the cold and the lack of daylight. Fall and Winter are nothing but misery for me - with one exception .........

One of the only good things about this time of year is that 80 Meters comes back for the season. This is my favorite band; or at least it's in a tie with 40 Meters for that role. And fortunately 80 Meters comes into it's own at this time of year.

In Spring and Summer, along with the increased daylight and warmer weather also comes thunderstorms and aggravated atmospherics. When 80 Meters becomes noisey; I know warm weather it on the way. So, my favorite band disappears for just about 6 months except for a rare evening here and there.

But now, in October, the band pops up its' head again and becomes a joy to use. There is hardly any QRN and the signals pop out of nowhere all the way to 10 or even 20 over 9. Both my G5RV and Butternut HF9V vertical load quite readily on 80 Meters with no problems. I can ragchew to my heart's content and even work some DX here and there. All the "close in" states become more easy to work, once again.

This year, the QRP Foxhunt Committee had decided to run QRP Foxhunts on both 40 and 80 Meters this Winter season. I have signed up to be a Fox for an 80 Meter hunt or two. I hope they let me; it would be a blast!

73 de Larry W2LJ

Monday, October 10, 2005

It always amazes me ........

It never fails to amaze me .....

There are nights that I can be sitting behind the rig; and I seem to be calling "CQ" endlessly on or about the QRP watering holes with nary a nibble. Then I'll go down toward the bottom of the band edge and I'll hear some DX and will chase it down with not much trouble.

That was the way it was tonight. I was calling "CQ" for what seemed to be an eternity on 80 and 40 Meters. I thought I was going to nod off; I was getting so bored! I then spun the frequency knob towards the bottom of 40 Meters and heard SP3EPK calling "CQ" from Poland. I gave him a shot and he answered me on the third try!

I couldn't raise a stateside station; but yet somehow my 5 Watts made it to Poland and I got a 579 signal report to boot! Thanks, Les!

73 de Larry W2LJ

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Code Practice

Are you tired of listening to the same old Morse Code practice tapes? Do you want to listen to some fun Morse Code and improve your speed - even if you're a grizzled old veteran? I have a solution for you; and best of all, it's all pretty much free!

The first thing you have to do is go to http://www/ and download the program "Koch Trainer" for yourself. It's freeware that was developed and is maintained by Ray Goff G4FON.
This program will not only aid in teaching Morse Code to the neophyte; but it will also translate text files into audio files that the experienced operator can make use of.

I went to the Gutenburg Project and downloaded "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" as a text file. I opened up "Koch Trainer" selected the speed I wanted and set the program to record the session as an audio (.wav) file. I then had the trainer play my text file and when it was finished, I converted the .wav file to mp3 format and then burned it to a CD.

Perfect for playing in the CD player in my car during the ride back and forth to work! This is the Amateur Radio version of "Books on Tape"!

73 de Larry W2LJ

Saturday, October 01, 2005

I can't hear you .......... !!!!

The current big DXpedition is to Kure Island which is at the Northwestern most end of the Hawaiian chain. The callsign they are using is K7C. They've been on that island for about 5 days now and I still haven't even heard them yet! I'm hearing the pile-ups; but not the DXpeditioners themselves. They've had thousands of QSOs according to the official Website - mostly with Japanese Hams, it seems.

Well, I've printed out some propagation forcasts using W6ELprop software. It looks like my best chance will be during the middle of the night; perhaps 3 or 4 in the morning! I'll set the alarm and we'll see. Is this sick, or what?

73 de Larry W2LJ

Friday, September 30, 2005

Memories of Wellfleet

It was the autumn of 1979; just about this time of year. A friend and I decided to go on vacation to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Our goal was to photograph the beautiful reds, yellows, browns and golds of the changing New England foliage. We were not disappointed; and to this day I have those photographs tucked away.

The way south, home to New Jersey saw us take a detour to visit Cape Cod. It was there, passing through Wellfleet when I spied the sign on the road, diverting my attention to Marconi Station. I was a new Ham at the time, licensed for under a year. I was learning the ropes and was eager to soak in as much about the hobby and it's glorious past as I was able. The old ruins of the radio station beckoned; and I headed in the direction that the road signs indicated.

I was not disappointed, even though there is not much there anymore. This was the site of the first wireless communications that spanned the Atlantic. President Teddy Roosevelt used Mr. Marconi's station to send greetings to King Edward VII in Great Britain. All that was left of the giant curtain antenna were the concrete anchors that supported the giant masts in the dunes of sand. A gazebo with a diorama of the orignal radio shack and antenna displayed what was built there so many years ago.

Standing there on that chilly October day; I looked out upon the vastness that is the Atlantic Ocean. As the sea gulls cried, and the breeze howled I was able to feel the electricity in the air. Radio waves emanating forth; traveling up to the ionosphere; only to be bent - refracted back to the surface of the earth so many, many miles away. In an instant, the size of the world was conquered. Vast distances were made relatively small; but being there reminded me how really vast those distances truly are. And like Mr. Marconi, I too, travel them with ease. My meager few watts travel over the oceans and continents at the speed of light, making the world smaller; but at the same time reminding me of it's vast beauty and grandeur.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Dave Benson strikes again!

As if my 40 Meter Rockmite isn't fun enough! Dave Benson strikes again and receives a few more dollars from me. I am now the pround owner of a companion 20 Meter Rockmite to accompany the 40 Meter version.

I have put my other construction projects on the side and am constructing this 'lil beauty. It's just as easy as it's 40 Meter brother; and in fact they're pretty much identical twins. It's just about done with only the resistors and transistors to solder in to the PC board. I should have it done and ready to be enclosed some time this coming week.

If you want to treat yourself to a small radio that's fun to build and easy to operate; then check out K1SWL's Website:

There are plenty of rigs to choose from should you decide you would like something more "well rounded" than a Rockmite. Whatever you might choose from Dave's inventory, I can pretty much guarantee that you won't be disappointed!

73 de Larry W2LJ

Noisey conditions

For me, 40 Meters has been strange. It has been noisey, so noisey in fact, that it has almost been unusable. Same thing with 20 Meters. 80 Meters, however, has been a pleasant surprise. It has yielded a few decent ragchews over the past few evenings. I am guessing that it's just atmospheric conditions and that things will clear up in time.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Getting Political

I know the topic of this blog is Amateur Radio and QRP in particular; but I have to get this off my chest. I have been watching the Main Stream Media for over two weeks now since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans with utter disgust! The way they are politicizing this natural disaster just steams me off!

I have been involved in Emergency Management for just about twenty years now. Admittedly, I'm a low level player without any real authority or expertise. I do however, "know the drill". I've been given enough training and have taken enough courses, through local government and on my own, to know how the system works.

When an emergency or natural disaster or terrorist incident of any kind occurs, the response is totally in the hands of local officials. It is up to the first responders (police, fire, EMS, public works) to handle the emergency the best they can. Once they use up their resources and realize that they are in over their heads, it becomes a county problem. The reponsibility of the county is to help the town in anyway they can - provide assistance, supplies or mutual aid if necessary. Once the resources of the county become overwhelmed, it is the responsibility of the state to take charge and do all it can. In the same vein, once the state is overwhelmed, the respective governor calls the President of the United States (POTUS) and asks him to declare an emergency which starts the wheels turning for Federal aid.

Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama were hit by a hurricane of Biblical proportions - there is no doubt about that. But the repsonsibility of "first response" laid upon the shoulders of the mayors of the affected municipalities and the governors of these states. It was up to them to follow their emergency plans or SOPS (Standard Operating ProcedureS). It is quite evident from the events that occured that the SOPS were not followed or were woefully inadequate.

I have seen the SOP for my county; and was involved with helping to carry it out for years. The SOP is so thorough that it even details how to open the Office of Emergency Management, whom to call and what procedures to initiate if your the first officer to reach the building once a call gets issued! To this observer, it seems the response by New Orleans officials was willy-nilly at best - chaotic at worst. Their evacuation plans were not carried out; and it seems like their evacuations plans were poorly thought out from the get go. The response by local officials was not fluid and it appeared like they were not ready, untrained and were ill equipped to respond. It seems in Louisiana that everyone went off half cocked in their own little direction and that no one talked with each other. The governor appears to have been overwhelmed by the situation and was paralyzed with indecision.

So what does everyone do? Do they look at themsleves and figure out what went wrong and where? NOOOOOOOOOO !!!!!!!! Blame the POTUS and whine and cry that Federal aid was inadequate and was slow in coming, to boot! Why look at yourself when it is so much easier to just pass the buck?

If the mayor of New Orleans and the Governor of Louisiana had their acts together, that city would have been totally evacuated before Katrina struck. Heck, they had five days warning! The head of the Hurricane Center personally called the Governor and begged he to evacuate! They had plenty of buses to get the job done, too. Too bad they ended up sitting in 5 feet of water!

I don't care what the Democrats say, what the Media says, what anybody says ..... given the scope of this disaster; and the amount that was dumped in their laps, FEMA, the military and the Fedreal government acted swiftly, decisively and competently.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Public Service Radio

Since Katrina unleashed her wrath upon the Gulf states; there has been a lot of discussion on various Amateur Radio e-mail reflectors about the value of Ham Radio and emergency communications. This post is not intended to stir up any controversy or debate; it's purpose is, however, to get you to think.

We are ALL vulnerable to natural disaster, whether it be a hurricane on the south or east coasts. Blizzards in the temperature appropriate areas of our country, earthquakes and brush fires out west; flooding in the Midwest; or a tornado just about anywhere. When these things happen and devastation is widespread; your help is needed! We are seeing that this week more than ever.

Please consider volunteering your time and talents. There are many ways you can do this. Hook up with your local Office of Emergency Management and see if there is a CERT program (Community Emergency Response Team) in your area. If there is none; then maybe there's a ARES or RACES group in existence. Where these do not exist contact your local branch of the Red Cross or Salvation Army as both of these organizations have "letters of understanding" with many local Ham radio Emcomm groups.

The point is that Ham Radio is as valid and valuable as it has ever been. Maybe it's not done by Morse Code or maybe not even HF SSB anymore. Maybe it will all be done in your area with VHF/UHF FM communications or packet. Maybe Amateur Radio doesn't get the press that it deserves and maybe it's not as valued as it ought to be. But when all is said and done with Katrina, the stories WILL come out. You will hear instances of where communications systems failed and how Amateur Radio was the only way that rescues were performed, services delivered, families reunited. The ARRL had a slogan on their T-shirts for Field Day a few years ago, "Amateur Radio - When All Else Fails". That has never been more true.

But all that said, YOUR help is needed. Volunteer communicators are needed on a nationwide basis, starting with your own local communities. Get trained and be prepared. The best side benefit is that the knowledge you gain will not only help keep your community safe; but your own family safe as well. You folks who are into QRP and Homebrewing are among the most knowledgeable, brightest, most versatile, most adaptable, best trained Hams we have out there. You build, test and repair equipment. You set up and operate stations from fields, forests, oceansides, backyards, parking lots and even from inside EOCs. You are an asset to this country and its communities.

For more information about CERT - please visit:

73 de Larry W2LJ

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

1000 Miles per Watt

One of the grand awards in the QRP world is the "1000 Miles per Watt" Award. This award, which is sponsored by the QRP Amateur Radio Club International is given for accomplishing a QSO where the distance covered, divided by the power used, exceeds 1000 miles per Watt of power.

Experienced QRPers do this on a regular basis; and in fact, is probably no big deal anymore. However, the first time you do it, is a special event that you remember for the rest of your life.

I've exceeded the 1000 mile limit several times. In fact, just a few weeks ago, I had a QSO withTerry in Madison, Wisconsin. I was using my Rockmite at 500 mW out; so that QSO worked out to be over 1700 miles per Watt. As memorable as that was, my first or qualifying 1000 mile QSO was very special indeed; and it was with a far away and exotic place which made it all the more memorable.

Back in February 2004, Jeff Parker came onto the Elecraft e-mail reflector to announce that the following weekend, he would be operating from the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean as V73GJ. That was all very exciting and I took note of his operating schedule. When time came, I plugged my recently completed K1 into my Butternut HF9V antenna and even though I didn't expect to, I was able to copy Jeff on 15 Meters quite well. He was calling CQ and I thought, "What the heck!". Much to my surprise, Jeff came back to me with a 559 report. I was estatic! Subsequent calculations revealed a distance of some 7000 miles seperated New Jersey from Kwajalein Atoll, where Jeff was operating. 5 Watts divided by the distance yielded a QSO that was about 1445 miles per Watt.

Not only was this my first 1000 mile per Watt QSO; but it was with a new DXCC entity that I had never worked before. Also, Kwajalein Atoll while distant and exotic, was at least a familiar name which I had heard while watching episodes of "Black Sheep Squadron" back in my youonger days. The DX in this case was not only exotic; but it also played an important part in the history of World War II.

I thought of all of this as I came across the QSL card commemorating the QSO. It was time to pony up my money and send in to the QRP-ARCI to apply for the Award and make it "official".

Thank you, Jeff!

73 de Larry W2LJ

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Vacation Operating - Redeux

In a post or two below, I mentioned making contact with the vactioning W1OH during the NAQCC Sprint. Tonight I was calling CQ on 20 Meters, when lo and behold, VY2/W1OH came back and answered me! And tonight, instead of a quickie contest QSO, I was treated to a ragchew with Geoff.

He and his family have been vacationing up at Prince Edward Island for the past 17 years. What had started out as camping trips has evolved into extended vacation stays in rented cottages. Fortunately for Geoff, his temporary landlord has no problem with temporary Amateur Radio antennas. Geoff was using a doublet cut for 80 Meters with an antenna tuner, which allowed him to answer my CQ on 20 Meters.

Geoff's Yaesu FT-897 was doing a fantastic job from Prim Point, PEI to New Jersey. Geoff was about 100 yards away from the water; and I'm only about 10 miles from the New Jersey coast (as the crow flies) ; so maybe the RF was following the saltwater path between us.

From Google searches I have done on PEI, it looks like a pretty fantastic place to vacation. Now that I know that it can be Amateur Radio friendly - it just might be a place to visit one of these upcoming summers!

73 de Larry W2LJ

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Speaking of vacation ..........

Speaking of taking a QRP rig along with you while you're on vacation .......... Do you know those little white oval stickers that you can get from vacation spots or countries for your car? You know, the ones that have a DMK for Denmark or IRL for Ireland or LBI for Long Beach Island or OBI for the Outer Bank Islands of North Carolina?

You can get similar stickers with "QRP" on it for your car. The Hams you know will understand immediately; and you can keep everyone else guessing!

Check out the eBay store by clicking on the title above. This will take you to the Bell Imel Group LLC - Jeff Imel K9ESE owns it and carries them!

73 de Larry W2LJ

Lunchtime QRP

I always have my K1 in the car with me. I keep it in a tool box and have fun with it at work during lunchtime. When the weather is nice, I go out to the car, plop a Hamstick on the roof and break out the K1. More often than not, if band conditions are decent, I'll end up having a QSO.

Today, the weather has been hot; but things have been hectic at work, so I decided to take a break. I went out to my Ford Explorer; popped the 20 Meter Hamstick onto the magmount and fired up the radio and put out a "CQ" near the 20 Meter FISTS frequency of 14.058 MHz.

Much to my delight, Tom K4OFZ answered my CQ and indicated he was operating QRP, also. Cool! Band conditions were not the greatest and the QSB was deep; but we managed a 'lil QSO. I was able to learn that Tom is on vacation down at Edesto Beach in South Carolina. He was using an MFJ QRP radio to a dipole. He had a decent 559 signal into New Jersey before the QSB got so bad that it took us out.

If you get a chance; scope out Edesto Beach by doing a Google search on it. It looks like Tom knows where to go on vacation - really nice place! Would not mind being there myself.

More Hams should take some kind of QRP rigs with them when they go on vacation. It's a ton of fun operating from someplace other than home - seeing how far you can get on low power and maybe not the most ideal of antennas. A few weeks ago, I worked Geoff W1OH during the NAQCC Sprint. He was signing VY2/W1OH which meant he was vacationing at Prince Edward Island up in Canada. That's another place that I would like to travel to someday.

Ham radio - vacation - sunshine - warm air ....... does it get any better than that?

73 de Larry W2LJ

Saturday, July 23, 2005

The Joy of a Ragchew!

There is nothing better, in my mind, in the Amateur Radio experience; than a good CW ragchew. I just had the immense pleasure of spending close to an hour in conversation with Craig, N8KMY who is up in north Michigan.

Craig was using his Kenwood TS-2000 at 30 Watts to a vertical; and I was feeding my G5RV a steady diet of 5 Watts from my K2. The conversation was like a breeze; gently bounding from topic to topic as the mood moved us.

The CW was excellent at a pace of about maybe 20 - 22 wpm and Craig's fist was excellent. I need a few more QSOs like this on a regular basis. They keep my fist sharp, my ear sharp, and my gray matter nimble.

Thanks Craig es 73
de Larry W2LJ

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Times - they are a changin'

Yesterday, the FCC released it's Notice of Proposed Rule Making, where they asked for comments in reference to their proposal to amend the rules governing Amateur Radio. The proposal would eliminate the requirement of a Morse Code test to qualify for an Amateur Radio license.

As a proponent of the use of Morse Code; you probably think I'm depressed and sullen by this development. Disturbed, yes ....... depressed and sullen? No.

Morse Code is a very popular means of communication in Amateur Radio circles. It will not only survive; but will probably thrive. In fact, we may yet even see a "renaissance" of Morse Code on the Ham bands.

My disturbed feelings come not so much from the elimination of the Morse Code requirement. What I feel bad about is the continuing trend where hard work, responsibility and commitment seem to be negatives instead of positive attributes. Let's face it, the Morse Code requirement was removed because of all the whining and gnashing of teeth that Morse Code was too hard to master; and therefore it had become exclusionary. (Have I thrown enough PC BS at you on that one?)

An Amateur Radio license, like a lot of other things, is a privilege and not a God given right. I think people get confused here. In order to earn that privilege you had to take a Morse Code test as well as a written exam. The problem is there are too many "wanna-be's" out there who want the privilege without the work. In way too many cases these days, that seems to be the standing order of the day. And again, in this case, the FCC caved to the PC correct crowd and is allowing this to happen.

In the mid-70s when I first wanted to get licensed, I tried learning the code as a teenager. I failed miserably. Several years after college, I tried again. It was no easier the second time; but I wanted it badly enough and succeeded. A badge of courage? Maybe. Did it kill me? No; and it won't kill anyone else, either.

If this proposal passes; and I'm sure it will, then it will be the end of an era. Who knows what will be targeted next; but I am willing to bet that it will be the CW portions of the Amateur Radio spectrum. The day that those disappear is the day you can look for all of my equipment on eBay.

I'll post more about this topic when I'm not in such a dour mood.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Saturday, July 16, 2005

MOCADing in Lake George, NY

One of my goals for 2005 is to make at least one QRP QSO each day of this year. I had this goal in mind; and it became reinforced when the North American QRP CW Club offered it's "QSO a Day" award. So far, for every day this year, since January 1st, I have made at least on QRP CW QSO a day. Thus, MOCAD or Make One Contact A Day.

There have been days when it has been oh, so difficult. In early January and February there were a couple of days when we had mass coronal ejections so severe that the bands sounded totally and unequivocally dead. Even then, I still managed to eke out at least one QRP CW QSO a day.

Last week, however, was a challenge of a different color. Keeping my goal alive while going on vacation with my wife and kids to Lake George, NY. It would be a test of operating with QRP power on a portable basis with "compromise" antennas for the entire week.

We stayed at a great place, the Stepping Stones Resort in Diamond Point, NY. The place is owned and operated by a fantastic husband and wife team - Chuck and Ronnie. Chuck didn't even bat an eye when I set up my PAC-12 antenna on our parking apron in front of our cottage. In fact, some of our neighboring vacationers had relatives who are or were hams and they all took my portable operating in stride.

The goal was to make a QSO each day in as quick a fashion as possible; so as to maximize my vacation time with my wife and kids. It was definitely difficult, being in a situation where I wasn't really aware of the solar weather and how the bands were going to be. And once or twice, I really didn't think that I was going to make it. But each day, with either my PAC-12 or my Hamsticks magmounted to my Ford Explorer, I managed to get in a QSO or two.

20 and 40 Meters were the bands I decided to stick with; as they are usually the most reliable for me. On a couple of days, both bands were strangely quiet, devoid of any signals to speak of. The worst day was Wednesday, when I ended up working Bob KF4GDX. Bob and I have worked each other before; and our amazingly short QSO ended up being each of us telling each other how crappy the bands were! But a QSO, however short, is a QSO and I was mighty glad to be able to add it to the log.

I tried out several different strategies; and learned from each one. First, I tended to hunt on and around the FISTS watering hole frequencies. FISTS is a club with members who are dedicated to keeping Morse Code alive. They tend hang near the ".058" frequencies, such as 7.058, 14.058, 3.558, etc. More often than not, I was able to work a FISTS member who was just hanging around. Second, one day I was successful by "tailending". I tuned around listening for a strong signal and called that station as soon as he completed the QSO he was in when I found him. The Ham in question came back to me and we exchanged signal reports as well as the basic info. The last strategy was one of desperation that worked nicely. One day as it was getting close to 2400 UTC and I still needed that QSO; but the bands sounded dead - I ended up calling CQ anyway. And wouldn't you know it, I ended up with a QSO in the log for my efforts! So it just goes to show that even when a band sounds dead, it can't hurt to put out a CQ.

I was quite thankful, however, that I was able to keep my operating time to a minimum while still reaching my radio goal. My other and most primary goal was to have fun with my family; and I'm glad to be able to say that I reached that goal, too.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The one that got away.

Twenty Meters was really nice last night. I got on at about 0130 UTC and worked Bert DJ4EL on 20 Meter CW. He was running 100 Watts and I was running 5, as usual. Bert gave me a 559 report, which I was satisfied with. The nicest thing about it, though; was that it was a QSO with a DX station and not a DX QSO. I get really tired of and discouraged with, "599 tnx es 73 ..... QRZ?" Our conversation lasted only about ten minutes or so; but at least I know that Bert is retired from working for the German Tax Office. In turn, Bert knows that I am 48 and work in the professional photo industry. Ground breaking diplomatic relations? Hardly ...... just two Hams shooting the breeze.

The one that got away, however was a bit on down the band. While tuning through, I heard YI6LZ handing out contacts left an right. YI6 ...... plug the prefix into Win-EQF to see that that's Iraq! Wow, that would be a cool prize via QRP.

My wife was working, the kids were in bed, so I figured, "What the heck?". About 45 minutes into the fray, after sending "W2LJ" for what seemed like forever, I heard the op come back with "W2L?". HE HEARD ME !!!!!!!!! I slowed down the speed again and sent my call, a bit more slowly this time. Again, he comes back, "W2L?". I try again; but alas, it was for naught. A stronger station jumped all over me and I hear him come back to a W4 station. Yeah, right .... W4whatever sounds a lot like W2L? !!!!


Fortunately, I'm addicted enough to QRP not to let it bother me too much. Yes, it would have been a real coup to have scored an Iraqi station with 5 Watts. But, there'll be another day and another time. Maybe next time there will be more sunspots!

73 de Larry W2LJ

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Logging in the field.

Operating in the field is fun; and it gives a good chance to get out into the fresh air and sunshine. There's nothing quite like having a QSO on 20 meters while stationed next to a small stream; or in a park or open field, listening to the birds chirp and to the other sounds of nature.

Logging those contacts though, has always been a pain in the butt for me. I used to use the ARRL mini-logbooks; but invariably I would spill something on them, get them wet, have the pages become wind blown, dog-eared and messy. Writing notes about QSOs and then putting the pieces of papers in my pocket to transfer to my main log later was not the best solution, either.

The one day, I read an article on the WWW about using a Palm Pilot for logging QSOs away from the main shack. It seemed like a brilliant idea to me! A trip to eBay and a winning bid later ($26) procured an entry level Palm Pilot, the m105, for me.

Looking for logging programs revealed plenty! I finally settled on two - "QSO Diary" by Ray Goff G4FON and "Ham Pilot" by Chris Williams. "QSO Diary" is freeware and "Ham Pilot" is shareware with a $5 donation requested if you want to register the program.

Both programs are intuitive and quite easy to use. I finally settled on "Ham Pilot" for one reason. I subsequently purchased an optional, folding keyboard for my m105. It makes data entry so much easier instead of relying on the stylus all the time. With "Ham Pilot" hitting the enter button on the keyboard will move the cursor from field to field. The other programs require that you select each field with the stylus - a major drawback in my mind.

The Palm allows me to log my entries just as if I were doing it on my laptop in the shack at home. The price if the Palm is a mere fraction; as are the weight and size. A portable computerized logging system that is small, lightweight, efficient and runs on two AAA batteries. You can't beat that with a stick!

73 de Larry W2LJ

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Visit to the Barbershop

Last evening, I was able to participate in yet another fun QRP contest. This was another Sprint, that is, a contest lasting only a couple of hours. This Sprint is only held on a 5th Wednesday of a month - so it's only a semi-regular event which makes it all the more special.

This sprint is called the QRP Barbershop Sprint; and it is the product of the fertile mind of Lloyd Lachow K3ESE. The suffix of Lloyd's callsign is ESE and in Morse Code that sounds like the old "shave and a haircut - two bits" ..... dit-dididit-dit ... ditdit. Lloyd noticed that there are a lot of dedicated QRPers out there who share his suffix - Monte N5ESE, Bryan W0ESE, Scotty W1ESE and Jeff K9ESE just to name a few.

The idea of the Sprint is that the participants, "the customers" work as many stations as possible. But in addition, "the customers" have to hunt for and chase down "the barbers" and, by completing an exchange, get a shave and a haircut. I think Lloyd was able to round up about 8 or 9 barbers for last night's event; which is no mean feat in and of itself.

A new twist was added for this month. Monte N5ESE was named "the crewcut barber" in that he was selected to run his station at QRPp levels - less than 1 Watt. Anyone who completed the exchange with Monty received 2500 bonus points.

The Sprint ran for two hours, from 0100 to 0300 UTC. and it was a tough go right from the get go. We had a few thunderstorms pass through the area last night; so right off the bat, I lost about 30 - 45 minutes worth of operating time. The station had to be shut down, for safety's sake, when the lightning and thunder were in the area. When I was able to be on the air, the noise from all the atmospheric interference was atrocious! 80 Meters was just about unusable and 40 Meters, while usable was a headache generator! 20 Meters was quiet; but stations using that band were very weak.

By the time the event ended, I had manged to complete 20 QSOs and work five of 'the Barbers"; and I managed to chase down the elusive N5ESE who was running about 500 mW from Texas.

It's definitely a memorable evening when you get five haircuts in one night!

73 de Larry W2LJ

Monday, June 27, 2005

Field Day 2005

Field Day dawned bright and sunny - a portent of the weather for the day.

I got up early and did some basic chores. I ran out to Staples and picked up some ink for the inkjet printer and to the grocery store to do the shopping for the week. After putting all the purchases in their proper places; I began to get ready for Field Day while my wife began getting ready to go to work.

First, I installed the new ink cartridges in my printer and printed up some logging and dupe sheets. Logging was going to be done the old fashioned way - with paper and pencil as Field Day was to be a total battery operation. I would use mini logging and dupe sheets which were formulated and posted to QRP-L and the Elecraft reflector by Wayne Burdick N6KR. Outdoor set up was easy for a solo operation. My trek was not far at all; just to the backyard patio table. And since I do a decent amount of QRP portable operating, I pretty much have it down to a routine, anyway. It was just a matter assembling the PAC-12 and the Buddipole. I could have used my G5RV and Butternut HF9V; but that wouldn't have been in the spirit of doing this as a portable station instead of a home station.

My wife, who is a registered nurse, left for work about 1:30 in the afternoon. With a half hour left until festivities began, I was ready to go. As the magic hour of 2:00 struck, I sat down to make a few QSOs. With 5 Watts, I tend to use the search and pounce method and this was especially true with temporary, portable antennas. After a few QSOs in the log, it began:

"Watcha doin' Daddy"?

"Playing radio, sweetie."

One or two more QSOs.

"Daddy would you push me on my swing?"

"Sure Joey!" Off from the radio to push my son on the swing for a while. I sat down to make one or two more QSOs.

"Daddy, I'm thirsty!"

"Okay, Cara, what would you like .... water, juice, milk ????"

"No Daddy, would you make me and Joey chocolate milk shakes?"

Sigh ....... and so it went. My Field Day operating during daylight hours could best be described as a shotgun effort. A few blasts here and there amongst taking care of "Daddy Duties". But my kids come first before radio - and I was glad to be able to spend time with them.

Later that night, after giving them a bath and putting them to bed; I put in a more serious effort. From about 9:00 PM until 11:00 PM, I was able to put in a decent effort; and made about 40 QSOs in those two hours. Even though I sprayed the area with "OFF" backyard outdoor fogger and applied Cutter's bug repellant to my skin, the insect attack started to become relentless. The Japanese Beetles laughed at the spray and the citronella candles. They bombed me like I was Pearl Harbor! The moths were doing a frenzied dance into the picnic table lights. After much swatting and shooing, I had had enough and pulled the plug for the night.

The next morning, I went out and pulled a few more QSOs out of the aether before leaving for Mass. Then when we got home; the kids wanted to go to the community pool (it was a very hot weekend, after all!) - so that put an official end to my Field Day effort for 2005.

I learned two things, however. For next year, I will purchase a tent or a screened canopy to take care of the bug problem. Next year, I will also put up a temporary doublet or other sort of wire antenna. The PAC-12 worked great to all areas of the country; but I think I'd like to compare it's peformance side by side with a more conventional wire antenna. All in all, I was pleased with my results - over 50 QSOs and 22 states in just a few accumulated hours of operating time with 5 Watts of power. The bottom line was that I had a great time. I hope the rest of you did too!

73 de Larry W2LJ

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Rocks in my head

Last year, I purchased and assembled a Rockmite kit for 40 Meters. For those of you not familiar with the Rockmite series of transceivers; Rockmites are monoband radios that are crystal controlled and are capable of putting out about 250mW for the stock version.

I built my Rockmite last year; but then purchased my K2 and the Rockmite circuit board kind of fell on the wayside. Recently, I had put it in an enclosure and just tonight I had my first two QSOs with it.

This is really my first venture into the world of QRPp (output power of less than 1 Watt) and it was satisfying, exhilirating and a ton of fun. I called CQ for a bit to see what would happen; and was answered by Phil KC4QQ out of Lake City, TN. We had a nice QSO going until QRM and QSB did my flea power signal in. But it was a completed QSO, by the rules, as we did indeed exchange the basics - RST, name and QTH.

A few moments later I heard a station calling CQ and decided to give it my best shot. Frank NF8M out of Novi, Michigan was calling CQ and he signed NF8M/RM. John was using a Rockmite also! Since both rigs are crystal controlled and are on the same frequency; I figured he'd probably hear me call him. My hunch was correct! We exchanged names, QTHs, RSTs and antenna info. before Frank decided to go casting for other Rockmite users.

It is truly amazing how far 500 milliWatts can go! I received a solid 549 signal report from Frank, which is truly not bad at all. There are many times when I use the K2 with the full QRP Gallon (5 Watts !!!!) and get only a 559 report - so 549 was totally acceptable.

I haven't really done much QRPp work until tonight. I think I may be getting hooked! The fun and excitement and satisfaction equals any that I've ever received acquiring a new country with QRO power.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Working the world with just a few Watts

So the HF9V is back in operation; and it's time to put it through its' paces. I tune around 20 Meters and at 2207 UTC on June 14th, I put out a CQ. My thought was that if I was lucky, I'd work a FISTS station or two. Sure enough, out of the background hiss comes a weak station pounding out my callsign. The QSB is tough and the atmospheric noise is kind of high. I ask for a repeat and this time the call comes through! It's IK/DL4NDE.

The operator's name is Bernd; and he lives in Germany; but is on vacation (holiday?) in Italy. Bernd is using the venerable Heathkit HW-8 to a dipole. Because of conditions, the CW is slow; but we exchange information and pleasantries. The QSO lasts only about 15 minutes but once again, just a few Watts have spanned the globe.

My 5 Watts have jumped a vast and mighty ocean; as have Bernd's 4 Watts coming back to me. With less power than is consumed by a nightlight bulb, effective communications occur between Italy and the United States. The thought of the distance involved is fascinating. It would take approximately nine hours to fly that distance in a 747. Our little QRP rigs closed that gap at the speed of light. Somewhere, Mr. Marconi is smiling.

Amateur Radio is magic. I dare anyone to tell me differently.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Antenna problem solved

Without the availibility of an antenna analyzer, I was able to figure out my antenna problem using a process I like to call "troubleshooting by elimination"; or otherwise known as common sense.

As I mentioned before, my Butternut HF9V went "deaf". I couldn't hear signals through it; or even more strangely, would stop hearing signals though it as soon as I applied RF energy to the antenna. Taking off the coax from the 75 Ohm matching stub; and hooking up my K1 and battery yielded plenty of signals. In my mind, that pretty much eliminated the antenna proper.

The next step was to remove the 75 Ohm matching stub for examination. The matching stub, as supplied by Bencher, is nothing more than a 15 foot length of RG-11 coax with a PL-259 on one end and two ring terminals on the other. One ring terminal is connected to the center conductor, the other to the shield. Examination revealed that the connection to the ring terminal for the center conductor was pretty badly frayed. The center conductor is multi-stranded wire and about 75% of the strands had broken. The logical step at this point was to replace both ring terminals and the PL-259 on the other end. A few minutes worth of work; and this was done. I trotted out to the antenna and installed my newly repaired matching stub. Unfortunately, the result was the same. The antenna was either deaf; or would soon go deaf after applying enough RF to send out a "QRL?".

The only left that could be bad was the coax itself. I kept on asking myself how coax could go bad. I have no idea. When I installed it, I had weatherproofed it pretty well to my own satisfaction; so water pentration was pretty much out. The only thing left to do at this point was to replace it, cross my fingers and to hope for the best. Thinking that maybe, just maybe, my two children might have damaged it by walking on it, stomping on it; or possibly by whacking it, I decided to go with something more robust. I had been using mini RG-8 because it's so flexible and easy to work with. This time I went with super low-loss "standard thickness" RG-8. Since I've gone totally QRP, I figured the less lossy cable could only be a benefit. I ordered 150 feet from the Wireman; and when the first opportunity for a small amount of free time presented itself, I installed it.

I went back down to the shack and hooked up the PL-259 to my antenna switch. I turned on the K2, switched on the HF9V and was greeted by plenty of loud signals which were quite comparable to the signals received by my G5RV. A simple little amount of switching between the two bore this out. The next test was to apply some RF and see what would happen. I found a clear spot on 20 Meters and sent out a "QRL?" in Morse, of course! To my relief, the antenna seemed to be whole again! This was quickly followed by a short QSO with another QRP station and the matter was finished.

Moral of ths story? If you're a married Ham with little children who play in your backyard; then do yourself a favor when it comes to picking out the coax for your antenna system. Forgo the more flexible cable and purchase the heavy duty stuff. Then maybe you won't be scratching your head someday, like I was!

73 de Larry W2LJ

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Antenna woes!

I have two antennas at station W2LJ. One is a G5RV at about 30 feet, or so. The other is a ground mounted Butternut HF9V vertical. I was on 20 Meters the other night and the station I was trying to work on the G5RV was kid of weak; so I decided the switch over to the Butternut. Imagine my surprise when the Butternut came up deaf! I was hearing nothing; not even background QRN.

Unfortunately, I lack an antenna analyzer; so I needed to do some basic detective work. Basicaly, I knew there could only be a few things wrong. I decided to start with the concept of, "it's either the antenna itself or the feedline". A basic ohmmeter check of the coax revealed no shorts. I then decided to take the lightning arrestor out of line - maybe something was wrong with that. So I put a barrel connector in it's place; only to get the same results.

Scratching my head for an idea of what to do next, I decided to break out my K1 and 12V SLA battery and hook it right to the HF9V's 75 ohm coax matching stub. Viola! Plenty of signals! So at least now I know the antenna itself is okay. The amazing thing is that when I put everything back together; a trip to the shack shows that everything is back to normal. I'm hearing all kinds of stations and even manage to work a few Europeans with 5 Watts and the K2.

I go back outside to wrap the connections up in electrician's tape, when I notice it. The jacket has backed away some on the 75 ohm matching stub. Right next to the PL-129, I can see tarnished braid. The antenna is working for now; but the first chance I get when we get some dry weather, I will replace both PL-259's. I don't need intermittent headaches!

73 de Larry W2LJ

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Another one bites the dust!

Okay - another state is in the bag! Last night, after coming home from a community activity, I went down to the basement and turned on the K2. Since we are approaching summer time, shortly, I decided to give 20 Meters a shot. Down around 14.058 I heard a 7 land station calling "CQ". His signal was weak; but the band was quiet. I took the gamble and gave him a call.


It turns out that Bill is in Worden, Montana! Cool beans - another state in the bag as part of WAS 2.

We QSOed for a bit until a couple of lids started having a QSO on the frequency without so much as offering a courtesy "QRL?" The QSO was short, sweet, and to the point - complete. We exchanged names and QTHs, RSTs and even a bit of local weather information to boot!

Now all I have to do is send for the QSL card!

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The proud, the few, the difficult

Since becoming an even more die hard QRPer a few years ago, I decided to re-do the Worked All States thing. I originally earned it in 1995 in my 17th year as a Ham. I never really paid much attention to chasing paper.

However, over the past two years; for some reason, the bug has bitten again. This time WAS is to be earned exclusively using CW at QRP power levels. Since I began keeping track, I have succeeded in working 44 states. Number 45 came Monday night, during the ARS Spartan Sprint. I heard and worked KO7X, Alan in Wyoming. That leaves the proud, the few, and the difficult 5 remaining: Hawaii, Alaska, Nevada, Oregon and Montana. The remaining Continental states should come without too much difficulty. I just have to be at the right place at the right time. Alaska and Hawaii are hard enough as it is from New Jersey using QRO. QRP should make it all that more interesting.

Tonight's operating yielded two interesting QSOs. The first was with AD5A, Mike in Boerne, TX. I worked Mike on 20 Meters. Now that we're back in Daylight Savings Time, and summer is coming, 20 Meters has been staying open later into the evening. I called CQ on 14.058 and Mike came back to me with a fine 569-579 signal. He was using a NorCal 20 at 3 Watts. I don't know what kind of antenna he was using; but whatever it was, it sure was doing the job!

The other interesting QSO came later on 40 Meters. I managed to work Alex EW3EW from Belarus on 7.009 MHz. Not the most exotic DX in the world; but not bad for the K2 and 5 Watts - reaching all the way just past the home country of my grandparents - Poland.

The very thought of radio and working DX boggles my mind and is only reinforced each time I visit the New Jersey shore. When you stand on the beach, looking out at all that water you tend to feel so very insignificant. When you think of your radio signal crossing that vastness with less power than it takes to light up your kid's night light ..... well, now that really fills you with a sense of wonder.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Take Your Kids to Work Day

This is a new experience for me. My own blog - devoted to, but not limited to Amateur Radio. This should be fun, interesting; and will hopefully also be a learning experience.

Last Thursday (4/29/05) was national "Take Your Kids to Work Day". You might be asking yourself how is this related to Amateur Radio. I'll tell you.

I belong to the Piscataway Amateur Radio Club in Piscataway, NJ. Right across the street from our meeting place is the IEEE. The IEEE is the professional association for electrical engineers. This is THE place if you are affiliated with any of the electronic fields. The wife of one of our member's works there; and approached him about the possibility of our club giving a presentation on Amateur Radio for that morning. The reasoning was, that since Amateur Radio is at least related to what the institution stands for, it just might be a good time.

We were wondering how much interest we would garner. A lot of folks out there think Amateur Radio is a dying endeavor. Maybe from the experience we had, I'm thinking the reports of our demise might be highly exaggerated.

in the weeks leading up to the event; we were told that twenty children signed up for the presentation. We were enthused. Then twenty became fifty; and then fifty became eighty and then eighty became one hundred and twenty. When the demo actually took place, a head count was taken and one hundred and seven kids attended. We were overjoyed!

There were six of us from the radio club. We started the presentation by showing the ARRL's DVD presentation of "Amateur Radio Today". This was followed by a talk by Bob Hopkins WB2UDC which included a QSO over a local 2 meter repeater and then another video. This was followed up by the kids being allowed to play with and be shown smaller presentations on Morse Code, a SSB HF station, a PSK-31 setup, and the kids even got to play with and twiddle the dials of some old Hammarlund and Hallicrafter boat anchors.

The surprise for us though, was that the hit of the day was the Morse Code displays. We had two laptops set up with Morse Midi on them; so the children could type something in and then listen to what they had typed. And we also had Morse Code practise oscillators going. We could not tear the kids away! I knew we had them hooked when one little girl had typed into the Morse Midi box; ready for translation - "This is so cool".

At the end, each participant was given either an Icom comic book; or a CQ magazine publication. We gave each a Morse Code sheet as well as a sheet we had made up listing some Websites pertaining to Marconi, crystal radios and, of course, Amateur Radio. Each kid got a QSL card with contact information to the club with an offer for tutoring, if desired. On each QSL card was a number; and for the coup de grace, we gave away a hombrewed plaque which had a Speed-X straight key to commemorate the event.

Is Amateur Radio dying; and are kids so spoiled by the Internet that our hobby is considered geeky and anachronistic? Ask any of these 107 kids and you might get a very surprising and pleasant answer!