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