Friday, April 30, 2010

Repeater Club Meeting tonight

Tonight was the monthly meeting of the ETS of NJ, which is the local repeater club, of which I am a member. It stands for the Electronic Testing Society of NJ; but in recent years, some have suggested that might better stand for the Eating and Tasting Society of NJ.

It was a lively meeting with a good turn out. Included was a motion made and passed to increase the yearly dues from the current $20 a year to $25 a year as of 2011 and on to $30 a year as of 2012. It was nice to see these gentlemen understand that if you want to keep up with the latest technical innovations and trends, that there has to be some green in the bank account.

And it was also nice to see old friends and catch up with those I haven't seen in a while.

On the ride home the other day, I had a most pleasant QSO with Gerry N2GJ who is a fellow member of NJQRP. He was giving me the update on his latest involvement with WSPR. I have to admit, that between what I have read about it in the QRP Quarterly, Julian G4ILO's blog and Gerry's pitch that I would not be adverse to giving it a go. The only thing holding me back is that my K2 has no SSB card in it, so I am not capable of partaking in the digital modes. And there are other Ham items that I would like to purchase before plunking down the $110 for the KSB2.

So unless I win the lottery soon; or inherit some money from a distantly related uncle that I don't even know that I have, it looks like my Ham Radio exploits will be confined to CW for the foreseeable future. Which believe me, I am not complaining about. CW continues to be may favorite mode of operating. But all the same, it would be nice ...........

72 de Larry W2LJ

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Waxing philosophically

I received a private e-mail from an individual today, who is/was a regular reader who came to the conclusion that this blog must be the most important thing in my life. I guess he came to this conclusion as I have really been at this for the past few months; and I do try to get a post in just about every day, if I can.

First off, there's nothing that's farther from the truth than that assumption. The most important thing in my life is my family. Immediate and extended, they are without a doubt the most important thing in my life.

Next would come the involvement I have in Church and community and my kid's school. I keep busy with a ton of things and have a lot of commitments. Not only family and civic ones; but work ones too. In a hobby that seems to be dominated by elder gentlemen, I am fortunate enough to be young enough to have to work full time. And believe me, it is rare that I am able to put in "only" 40 hours. So yeah, I have a lot of commitments; but so do a lot of other people these days. It seems to be the way of life now. Some times it seems like I spend more time away from home than in it!

But all that being said, this blog is very important to me. In the few minutes that I get to put into it each day, I get to keep in touch with my favorite hobby and my favorite friends and acquaintances. Maybe it's even a bit of participating in the hobby only vicariously for the want of more time to be able to do it the "right way". Anyway, it's my way of kicking back for a few, having some fun (we ARE all allowed that!); and letting all the other "stuff" go to a side rail - for just a little bit!

72 de Larry W2LJ

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Fuchs L2/L1

It was nice to find out that the appointment that I thought I had for tonight, is actually for tomorrow night. So I had a little time to spend continuing on with the construction of my Fuchs tuner by QRP Project. I used the time to wind the first toroid, L2/L1.

It wasn't as difficult as it looked from the manual; but I have to admit, I "cheated" a bit. The QRP Project folks supply really nice copper colored enameled wire for winding the toroids. Winding L2/L1 involves winding 7 turns and then with another piece of wire, another 7 turns interspersed between the first 7 turns. Personally for me, trying to do all that with the same color wire would probably lead to mistakes. Fortunately, I have spools of red enameled wire! I picked some of the same thickness and used red for the second set of windings (even though it's not easy to tell from the photo, there ARE actually two different colors of wire there). This way, I am positive that the taps (the wires with the looped ends) fall perfectly between the each of the first 7 turns.

Mama didn't raise no dummy !!!

All I have to do now, is to make sure I don't cut the wires too short before soldering them to the various points on the switches and jacks of the tuner. The second toroid will probably get wound either tomorrow night after I get home, or Thursday night. That toroid is about 50+ turns on the same sized toroid as above, with about 3 different taps at various points of the winding. That should be a relatively easy task.

A few weeks ago, around Easter time, I promised to post a picture of my finished Jackson Harbor Press LC Meter kit. We had left our digital camera at my wife's brother's house who we had visited for Easter. We got it back and below is the photo. I mounted the kit in one of the clear top boxes offered by the 4 States QRP Group. As you can see, it is overkill, but I can fit the required 9V battery in there with room to spare - plus there is more than enough room for the two attached test leads. The circuit board and piezo buzzer are mounted using a 3M product that is a lot like Velcro - but yet not quite the same. One side is sticky, so it stays permanently mounted to the tin (as well as the back of the buzzer and the circuit board). The other side (the business side) has what I can only describe as "grabby fingers" which acts a lot like Velcro. But there are no "hooks" and "loops". The "grabby fingers" stick to each other like Velcro; but you only need to buy one roll of this material - not two.

I went down the basement to take another look at the stuff and it is called "3M Dual Lock". I like this product a lot. It's not only good for mounting small circuit boards and the like inside enclosures. I also have used it to mount my Amateur Radio map of the world to the wall without having to resort to tacks or nails. I am going to have to pick up another roll next time I am at the hardware store.

72 de Larry W2LJ

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The beginning of another project

After playing around with portable field deployable antennas yesterday, I have decided to construct the Fuchs tuner kit that my wife Marianne purchased for me for my birthday last year. This kit was (and still is) offered by the QRP Project folks from Germany.

After this little tuning box is done, the theory is that I will be able to take a hunk o' wire approximately 69 feet long (21 Meters), toss it up into the trees, and will be able to operate on any frequency that lays between the 40 and 10 Meter bands without a counterpoise.

My friend Bob W3BBO homebrewed one based on the QRP Project schematic; and he tells me that it works great. Another multiband alternative to the doublets that I am anxious to try.

I drilled the housing today and mounted the hardware. Next step is to wind the two transformers and do all the wiring. I should have it ready to go for field trials by next weekend. Unfortunately, so far both Monday and Tuesday nights are already booked with other commitments.

72 de Larry W2LJ

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Interesting QRPTTF results

First off .... where did the propagation go? Where did the sunspots go? Before that Coronal Mass Ejection that occurred a few weeks ago, it looked like the sun was finally waking up and that Cycle 24 was on the upswing. Now the solar flux is below 80 and the SSN is zilch again. I was hoping for better conditions for QRPTTF this year; but it seems like the same conditions that plagued is for QRPTTF 2009 came back for 2010.

I did hear a lot of Florida QSO Party stations; so there were signals. It seems that there were not a lot of QRPers active today. I could not persuade the kids to come with me to the park for the event (where the fountain is that was built as a WPA project); so I operated as a "field station" from the backyard - temporary antennas and battery power. Actually, it turned out to be for the best as I finally got the chance to allow the PFR3A and the K1 to go against each other, head to head, mano a mano.

Not too surprisingly, the K1 ended up as the clear winner, at least according to my tally. This is for several reasons, some which are just personal preferences, I guess. But here goes:

1) I really hadn't thought of this before; but the K1 is actually smaller than the PFR3A ! It's roughly 1/2 to 2/3 the size.

2) The built in memory keyer in the K1 is MUCH, MUCH better - in fact, the PFR3A doesn't even come close. It's way easier to key in messages, and they playback without any issues. The PFR3 and PFR3A have a firmware problem that Steve KD1JV is addressing.

3) Display - in the bright sun, the LCD display of the K1 is so much easier to see than the PFR3A's LED (or I guess even Elecraft's own KX1 for that matter) display. Also, it is way more obvious to remember when the K1 is in RIT mode than the PFR3A. On the PFR3A a little decimal lights up. On the K1, the decimal blinks, AND a big green LED lights up to remind you that the RIT is on.

4) Audio output - the K1 is much louder. The speaker that is built in is quite adequate. The PFR3A is also adequate; but seems to work better with earbuds than an external speaker.

5) Tuning - I prefer a knob - what can I say?

6) Output power - not an issue as far as max power goes. But with the K1, I can vary the output down to milliWatts if I want to. Can't do that with the PFR3A unless you lower the supply voltage.

All that being said, the PFR3A's receiver is no slouch. I think the K1 holds a definite edge - but just about everything I was able to hear with the K1 - I could hear with the PFR3A. I won't go into the built in tuners between the two because that is like comparing apples to oranges. The K1's tuner is an auto tuner - the PFR3A's is a manual tuner.

I used both my Buddistick and the NorCal doublet. Again - apples and oranges. The Buddistick was a solid performer; but it is a pain in the keister when you want to change bands. Collapse the painter's pole, change the tap settings, extend the painter's pole again - adjust the counterpoise for an acceptable SWR. With the doublet, it was a simple matter of changing bands, and either letting the K1's autotuner do its thing; or touch up the settings on the Emtech ZM2 tuner when I was using the PFR3A. But the Buddistick was a better performer on 40 Meters. With the doublet, I was getting some power fold back issues - the same as last year.

In all, I think I only worked about five other QRPTTF stations. Not the outcome I was looking for; but it did allow me to experiment and play around. The PFR3A will definitely be relegated to back up status as far as my choice of field radios goes. Or perhaps ..... I really would like to acquire a Kenwood TH-F6A HT for my CERT activities. Maybe I can convert the PFR3A to cash. I'll have to think about that.

72 de Larry W2LJ

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Have to give credit where credit is due ....

Same repeater .... 24 hours later.

A newbie Ham comes on the repeater and the red carpet is rolled out for him. The gang on the repeater did a great job giving advice, recommending places to find reasonably priced used gear, the whole lock stock and barrel. Turns out the gentleman was licensed a long time ago and is getting back into the hobby. He was given the royal "welcome back" and it was a nice thing to listen to.

I have to give credit where credit is due. This was a case of Hams helping Hams at its best. I have no idea why the difference from yesterday; but it was good to hear, nonetheless.

The weather is not looking good here for QRP To The Field for Saturday. A high of 69F, which is actually pretty good; but on and off rain showers all day. I might end up operating from the back yard where I can pull the station inside in a hurry, if need be. I still have my fingers crossed for sunny weather so I can make the outing to the park that I operated from last year during QRPTTF.

72 de Larry W2LJ

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Give me HF any day !!!

This post will undoubtedly frost some folks and get their undies tied in a knot; but so be it ..... my blog, my opinion. I don't expect your opinions to match mine.

I will take HF communications any day of the week, over VHF or UHF repeater stuff. Two instances that occurred today have only reinforced that opinion. One involved me, the other did not.

First off, the really nice thing about HF, is that I can get on a frequency, call CQ, and more than likely some Ham who I don't know from Adam will respond to me; and we'll end up having a conversation. It might be a brief exchange of reports; or it may end up in a wonderful ragchew. But the basic fact remains ..... I call CQ and more likely than not I am going to get an answer and get some involvement. When that involvement ends up being with someone you know and have previously QSO'ed with - so much the better. When that ragchew with someone you don't know kicks off a new friendship - that is the ultimate.

Today while driving home, I put out my call on my "home" 2 Meter repeater and had a nice conversation with Dave WA2QIK. We haven't spoken in years and it was really nice catching up. As luck would have it, Dave got home quickly; and I still had over half of my commute remaining after Dave bid me his 73 and cleared the frequency. So I gave out a "W2LJ mobile, listening" call and got no takers. Fair enough - people are busy. I listened for a bit more and then switched over to another local repeater.

Now this is a repeater that I have seriously been considering joining. It is normally very busy; and I have been spending a lot of time on it lately. In fact, I had been thinking that it would be a nice organization to belong to. So I put out my standard, "W2LJ mobile listening" and again, got no takers. But not more than 30 to 45 seconds later, another Ham did the same thing I had done and got an answer from someone immediately as soon as he unkeyed his microphone. And the person who answered him mentioned that he had been "monitoring the repeater for some time". From the conversation that ensued, it was apparent that they were long time friends and they enjoyed their talk together.

Second incident - same repeater. Later in the evening, I was going to the store and turned on the radio in the car. A bunch of Hams who are buddies were conversing in a roundtable. A Ham that I know, who is a relative newbie, threw in his call. He was ignored. I felt bad for him; but since I wasn't involved in the conversation, there wasn't really much I could do. He was eventually recognized; but common sense dictated that he should have been included earlier.

My point is, that I can only imagine that incidents like these are not that uncommon. When you've been a Ham for over 30 years, they are no big deal. But I suppose they are a very big deal to a newbie Technician who is trying to break in and feel like a true member of the Ham community. Being ignored is not a good thing. Ignoring newcomers is a very bad thing.

This is why I feel that it was a tremendous mistake when the FCC did away with the Novice license. No repeater privileges and "subbands" that were a meeting ground for other newbies was a great thing. We learned by each others mistakes and we all dried the wetness behind our ears together. We matured a lot and were ready to "join the ranks" when we earned our General tickets.

Like it or not, VHF and UHF repeaters can be very "cliquey" for lack of a better term. There are a ton of Elmering Hams out there who will take the time to make newbies feel welcome. But there are also a ton of Hams out there who won't even bother to make an old grizzled veteran feel welcome. For the veteran, it's no big deal; and is just a part of life - for the newbie, it might just be the reason for selling the gear and going back on the Internet. Dashed expectations are a horrible thing.

If you hear a "novice" to radio (on ANY Amateur frequency between DC and light); and you can probably tell by the callsign, please go out of your way to make them feel welcome. The hobby you save may be your own.

72 de Larry W2LJ

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

We all live in a Yellow Submarine

Digging through other bins in my cabinet of junk, I found another mini momentary push button switch - this one being "normally open". With the exception of the decal for the AA0ZZ keyer, the "Yellow Station" is basically complete.

To the left is a homebrew single lever paddle that was given to me by Neal W3CUV. The middle box is the AA0ZZ keyer (sans decal) and then the PFR3A, all lit up and ready to go on 30 Meters. This will be the set up for QRPTTF on Saturday, if it doesn't rain.

I will be taking along my zip cord doublets and the Buddistick. I haven't tried using the built in BLT tuner, so that will be a new experience, too. The AA0ZZ keyer works phenomenally! It is very user friendly and intuitive. I recommend this kit highly to anyone who finds themselves in the need of an external keyer.

On top of the Elecraft Hex Key, if you look carefully, you will see the New England QRP SCAF filter circuit board. I have begun the next project already. Also, the decal paper arrived via UPS today, so after this blog post I am going to fire up Open Office to start experimenting with designs for the label for the keyer.

72 de Larry W2LJ

Monday, April 19, 2010

Crud buckets!

I have the AA0ZZ keyer just about finished except for the decal/label and one other little detail.

I thought I was all finished with construction - plopped the three AAA batteries in, only to have the keyer give out a stream of constant "3"s. It turns out that the momentary push button that I have for keyer memory three is a "normally closed" switch instead of "normally open". I didn't quite catch that as I was rummaging through the junk box at the Hamfest last week. Looks like I will have to go to Radio Shack tomorrow evening and buy a package of "normally open" ones. Gosh, I hope they have some!

72 de Larry W2LJ

Sunday, April 18, 2010

RFTB after action report

I devoted 30 minutes to the RFTB this month. In a few minutes, Marianne and I are going to watch a move "On Demand" to spend some time together; so I didn't want to operate the entire two hours. But I did use the RFTB as a "shakedown cruise" for the PFR3A in preparation of next Saturday's QRPTTF contest.

In all, I have to admit that I am very pleased with the PFR3A's performance. I had it hooked up to my 12V SLA battery, so the output was the full 4.75 Watts. The antenna was the Butternut HF9V through the Emtech ZM2 tuner.

I ran both scenarios as I "ran a frequency" and also did the "hunt and pounce" thing. Any CQer that I answered came back to me on my first or second call. So I seem to have picked up the knack for knowing where to place my calls. And I also did fairly well in holding a frequency and answering other Hams who answered my CQ.

In my 30 minutes of operating, I had 9 QSOs and the best DX was Louisiana and South Dakota. It is a lot different from operating the K1 or K2 with the conventional tuning knob; but I am starting to get the hang of using the push buttons. The receiver seems to be very good and the selectivity seems to be very good also. So far, I had no problems discerning between stations that were very close together.

I have a ways to go in forming a complete opinion of the PFR3A; but so far the results look good and are going a long way towards blotting out the dissatisfaction I had during the ordering and building phases.

72 de Larry W2LJ

Before I forget .....

last Tuesday was the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 13 Service Module blowing its liquid oxygen tank.

During a routine procedure to stir the hydrogen and liquid oxygen tanks, it turned out that some wiring to one of the stirrer motors has lost some insulation and a short had caused a spark, which in turn caused the liquid oxygen tanks to blow. The results can be seen above in the photo taken by the Apollo 13 crew after the Service Module was ejected before reentry.

Due to the valiant efforts of the crew and all the NASA ground support; a tragedy was averted and the aborted Apollo 13 mission actually became the space agency's shining moment. The fact that the crew returned home safely is a testament to the ingenuity and hard work of the dedicated men and women of that era.

72 de Larry W2LJ

Learning by doing

The Rustoleum can of yellow spray paint said that the paint is supposed to be applied at temperatures above 50F (10C). I had some things to attend to today; so I decided to give my AA0ZZ Keyer housing its last coat of paint this morning before I left. I checked the thermometer; and at the time it was 48F (8.9C) outside. Close enough - right?

Thankfully, the top half of the enclosure (which is the side the world will see) was already done after two coats, and I didn't need to apply a third coat. The bottom had some drips that I wanted to cover over, so ..........

The paint went on smooth as glass; or so I thought. When I came back home this afternoon, I went to check to see if the paint was dry enough to handle and I saw that the very bottom surface of the housing now has a pebbled finish. Not unpleasant by any stretch of the imagination; but not what I was looking for either. But since this is the very bottom and no one will see it, I am going to let it go. In fact, I intend to make a label (not a decal) with a summary of the keyer's command codes to attach to the bottom, anyway. So it will be covered.

I didn't think a degree or two would make that much of a difference; but facts prove otherwise. It's not like my old black and white darkroom days, where the film or paper developer could be one or two degrees off from what Kodak recommended; and you would still get optimal results anyway. I guess paint is a little more unforgiving.

One thing I have noticed, though. From here on out, I am going to use Krylon paint exclusively. Whenever I have used Krylon in the past, I never had to worry about drip marks in the painted finish. They even make that a part of their advertising. Rustoleum is not as forgiving. I had to put the third coat on the bottom finish to hide a few drip marks.

Now I know why they have robots paint cars in the assembly lines. Besides the fact that auto paint is extremely dangerous to inhale. I have a friend who hand makes racing bicycles from start to finish. Inhaling too many Dupont Imron paint fumes damaged his vocal chords and permanently altered his voice. But that's another story.

72 de Larry W2LJ

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A little on the cool and cloudy side

today; but the iris plants don't seem to mind!

72 de Larry W2LJ

Cheapest spraybooth in the world

An old pizza box. Second coat - which was much more thorough, went on today. Hopefully, the final coat will go on tomorrow.

I went to Greenbrook Electronics today to purchase some 20 pin DIP sockets as well as an enclosure for the NESCAF filter. They had the sockets, much to the surprise of the sales guy; and I picked up a nice little enclosure from Hammond Manufacturing which is located up in VE land. I took the printed circuit board with me to find just the right size. This will get painted yellow, also, when the time is right.

Tonight, if things are quiet, I hope to actually get on the air for a bit and play around on 40 and 80 Meters. More house chores for now.

72 de Larry W2LJ

Friday, April 16, 2010

First coat is on

I applied the first coat of yellow Rustoleum to the AA0ZZ Keyer housing tonight. It was a bit rainy outside; so I cheated by applying a coat in the basement, using an old pizza box as a spraying platform. I really should have waited until tomorrow morning to do this outdoors; but the weather looks questionable for the weekend; and I wanted to get a start.

I have a feeling that about three coats will be required for a nice smooth finish. I also got confirmation by e-mail that my decal paper is on the way. I am going to have to start playing around with decal designs. The OpenOffice suite offers a drawing program; so I will most likely use that.

Next on the lineup is the NE QRP SCAF filter. I've had this for a while; and really had no use for it, as both the K1 and K2 have excellent on board filtering capabilities. But I think this will prove to be an invaluable accessory for the PFR3A. I'm glad that I purchased it back when, even though I didn't have the need at the time. It may end up being a most fortuitous purchase.

I see on John AE5X's blog that Elecraft may be finally rolling out their 500 Watt amplifier soon. Not that I would be a customer; but this was rumored to be happening years ago. And I think they even rolled out a mock up or prototype one or two years ago at Dayton. It looks like Elecraft is seriously "diversifying" into the QRO market. I hope they never forget their QRP roots!

Next weekend is QRPTTF. I am hoping for good weather. I want to operate from the same park as last year - only this time closer to the fountain that was built via the WPA projects during the Great Depression. This time I also want to get some photos to post.

This coming Sunday night is the monthly Run For the Bacon Sprint, sponsored by the Flying Pigs. I hope to use that as a "shake down" run for PFR3A - to get a little more accustomed to being behind the wheel and getting a better feel for how to use this rig under Sprint conditions.

72 de Larry W2LJ

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

AA0ZZ circuit board is finished.

The circuit board phase of this project has been completed. It shouldn't have taken long; there are only 10 components!

The recommended enclosure is, of course, an Altoids tin. I am not using one for two reasons ...
1) I don't have a punch to make the necessary holes and 2) I have some nice sturdier metal enclosures that I saved from the dumpster at my old job.

In addition to assembling the circuit board, I drilled holes in the enclosure for the three phono jacks that you see in the above photo. For the memory buttons, I am forgoing the ones supplied with the kit and am using some Radio Shack momentary push buttons that I picked up at the Hamfest last Sunday. These are chassis mountable and will go on the enclosure's "top" side.

When all is said and done, the enclosure will be painted a bright yellow to match the PFR3A and I also ordered some decal paper to make my own labels. Yes .... decals. For a $17 kit with a homebrew enclosure - decals are just fine.

I ordered a package of decal paper from, and when it comes, I will design and create my own custom decals for this project. Thanks to John AE5X for pointing me to this product from one of his blog posts. Take a look at the video he embedded in his post. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

72 de Larry W2LJ

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Fancy !!! ... and first impressions

The new fancy-shmancy ARRL Website was unveiled today. The servers must have been burning this morning; because when I tried to log in an got a "busy - please try later" message.

This afternoon, I had more success logging in. It's nice, it's pretty and I spent a little, but not too much time poking around. The one thing I did notice right away was that they no longer seem to be listing the Hams who hold the QRP DXCC certificate. On the old Website, the list was last updated 9/14/2009. I thought on the new site, there would be a current list. Looks like now, there's no list!

Under the "Operating Specialties" section, QRP has a nice page. The Web links section is kind of light. Some are really good; but some others, I can't quite figure out why they were included. I think I would have added a few links to field deployable antennas - but that's just me. The club section left out the North American QRP CW Club as well as the North Georgia QRP Club, which in my opinion, was a faux pas.

At least the two major mailing lists got a mention ..... qrp-l and

I guess in time, things will get added and changed. For the first day, the new ARRL Website looks nice!

72 de Larry W2LJ

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Did OK at the Hamfest

The Splitrock Hamfest was good despite the fact that I got lost a little bit. I quickly found my way to my destination; and had a good time rummaging around. It was sunny and cool; a good day for a drive and a good day to be outside.

Mr. Radio Shack bins was there again; and I had another fun time looking for dollar bargains. I picked up some momentary push button switches as well as a battery holder that will hold three AAA batteries. These are items that are prefect for the AA0ZZ keyer that I am building next. I also picked up some small prototype perf boards for a buck and some other items. If it weren't for the crowd, I probably would have spent a longer time looking though his bins. I saw battery holders of all types and I asked if by chance he had any for three AAA batteries. I half expected him to say something like, "What's in there is in there"; but he surprised me by reaching under the table and digging out one of what I needed.

I also picked up two "technician's" tool kits. These are in fake leather folder type cases which are marked with logos from pharmaceutical companies, so I am assuming these were promotional freebie giveaways that the seller had access to. Inside each is a small hammer, a pair of regular pliers and a pair of needle nose pliers, a flashlight, a small tape measure, a pair of hemostats, tie wraps, a small flat bladed screwdriver, a small assortment of Allen wrenches and a screwdriver handle that will take an assortment a various screwdriver bits (flat blade and Phillips type) as well as an assortment of open end hex sockets ranging from 7/16" to 3/16".

The vendor was selling them for $15 a piece and I was looking at them; and he told me that since these were his last two, he would give to me both for $20. I figured I can put one in my QRP rucksack and the other I could keep near the shack bench. These are not high quality, heavy duty tools; but in a pinch out in the field, they might make the difference between a day of successful operating or a day of disappointment.

The other stop I made was to the "Connector Lady" as I call her. She comes to a lot of New Jersey Hamfests from Pennsylvania. From her I purchased some 2.1 and 2.5 mm power plugs. The 2.5 mm variety are pretty standard for QRP radios and I needed a 2.1 mm for the ACME Gel cell charger I built a while back. In addition, I purchased some chassis mount BNC connectors and some BNC to PL259 adapters. I always seem to misplace those, so I figured it couldn't hurt to have a few more.

No big purchases of radios or other big items - just small stuff. I saw some Hams who are friends and had a pleasant spring Sunday morning.

72 de Larry W2LJ

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Another Hamfest tomorrow

I will be getting up early tomorrow to head up to Roxbury Township, NJ for the Splitrock Amateur Radio Association Hamfest. Roxbury is about 45 minutes or so north/ northwest of here by car. I've never been to this Hamfest before; but have heard positive comments about it on local repeaters. This is one of the few times that it has been held on a Sunday, so I will be able to make it.

I am not looking to by anything big, just the typical odds and ends and maybe a good book or something that strikes my eye. I get a kick out of rummaging through the various tools that are for sale. I can always use things like battery holders, clip leads - project parts and pieces.

My next project will be the AA0ZZ keyer that I got for Christmas. I found a nice sturdy enclosure in the junk box in the basement, so I am looking to buy some push button momentary switches. The kit comes with three; but they are not the chassis mountable type. This is a small metal box that I can drill nice holes into; so good push buttons that I can secure with mounting hardware will do the job nicely. I'm not as keen on Altoids tins as everyone else seems to be. I like enclosures that have a bit more "oomph" to them.

After that will come the NEQRP scaf filter; and then after that will be the Fuchs tuner that I received for my birthday last year. Now that the PFR3A is done, I seem to be juiced up to do more building. And I guess I'm just the opposite of most QRPers who build in the winter and operate in the summer. I operate in the summer too; but since my basement is a cool haven from the summer heat, it's nice to spend time down there when the weather gets warm. In the winter it gets uncomfortably cool at times. For instance, for FYBO, it was 57F down there. That was cooler than some of the Florida ops experienced outside!

I spent some time this evening on the 80 and 40 Meters handing out contacts in the various contests. The Georgia QSO Party was going strong with a lot of activity. I was tuning around looking for John K4BAI, but I didn't run into him. I also handed out some contacts in the SKCC Weekend Sprint. I was asked for confirmation of my membership number by several ops. I have a low one, #49 and I guess a lot of the participants aren't used to hearing low membership numbers.

It's going to be an early morning tomorrow (6:00 AM); so I better hit the rack.

72 de Larry W2LJ


My condolences to the people of Poland, the country of my ancestors, upon the death of your President today in that horrible airplane crash.

My thoughts and prayers are with you during this period of mourning.

Moze Bog bedzie z wami

72 de Larry W2LJ

Friday, April 09, 2010

Accessories for the PFR3A

I have a couple of kits in queue that will probably enhance the performance of the PFR3A.

The first that I will build (probably my next project) will be the AA0ZZ Keyer that the 4 States QRP Group offers. My sister purchased this as a Christmas gift for me after several blatant hints were dropped by yours truly. Well she did ask me what I wanted! It has more memories than the PFR3A has built in; and I'm sure will be easier to program. I have found out that if you don't get the timing of your CW just right as you input it into the PFR3A's memory, that the messages can come out garbled, for lack of a better description.

The other kit that I have in the shack, that will come in useful will be the New England QRP Club's SCAF filter. The PFR3A doesn't offer any on board auxiliary filtering. I bought the SCAF a couple of years ago with no real need for it as both the K1 and K2 have great on board filtering. I was thinking of selling it as it was superfluous to my needs then; but it sure isn't now!

I have a pair of Sony earbuds that seem to work great with the PFR3A. I used to use them on my Palm Tungsten E2 when listening to MP3s; but have transferred them over the yellow box. They are less cumbersome than the "Walkman" headphones I was using and deliver a nice strong signal to my ear bones.

I was playing around with "Ol' Yeller" some more tonight and made a couple more QSOs with it. Even with the above accessories added, I don't think that it will replace my K1 as my "lead off hitter" when it comes to portable field radios; but it will be a nice addition to the lineup.

The one thing I am wondering about, and am sure will get to test in the coming weeks, is how the red LED frequency display is going to be in a sunny environment. I might have to come up with some kind of home brewed temporary shield arrangement to allow it to be read outdoors on sunny days.

72 de Larry W2LJ

Thursday, April 08, 2010

First QSO under my belt

So here was the set up:

Newly finished PFR3A to my Emtech ZM-2 tuner, in turn to the Butternut. Called CQ for a bit and got no results. I even tried responding to a few strong CQs and got no takers. Nothing. So immediately the paranoia sets in. Did I mess something up during the final wiring and assembly? Did I mess up a toroid or something while angling the circuit board into the housing? For peace of mind, I removed the coax from the vertical and set the dummy load and QRP Wattmeter in place. Hmmm ...... still getting the 4.75 Watts out that I was getting before. Maybe for whatever reason, it's just not a Butternut night tonight? It happens.

I pulled off the Wattmeter and dummy load and hooked up the G5RV (I know some of you out there consider a G5RV to BE a dummy load!). Playing around with the menu button to enter "tune" mode so I could touch up the ZM-2, I accidentally started sending the contents of the keyer's memory, into which I had programmed a CQ call. Much to my wondering ears should I hear the sweet strains of W9HLY answering my accidental CQ!

Vern and I chatted for only about 10 minutes or so. QSB was deep and there was digital racket that came on board after our QSO started. But the RF from the PFR3A spanned from South Plainfield, NJ all the way to Decatur, IN. And I got a 589 report to boot!

I am happy and know that this is the beginning of nice things to come.

A couple of things. It is going to take some getting used to this push button tuning. 30 + years of twiddling a tuning knob makes the push buttons seem "weird". It is also going to take me a bit to figure exactly where to tune to fall in the middle of the receive station's passband. I am thinking that most likely, I will have to tune the receive station so that their note is a little on the high side.

I also had no problem figuring out how to program and use the memory keyer. The instructions provided are a little confusing (I am dense - I admit it!); but a little trial and error got me going. I haven't figured out how to program the second memory yet - there are two - but I figure "one step at a time".

I'm just happy to know the radio works and is getting out.

72 de Larry W2LJ

Speaking of GQRP ........

While looking up a callsign on QRZ today, I happened to notice that the Rev. George Dobbs G3RJV will be giving a presentation at the Lough Erne Amateur Radio Club Rally on Sunday 11 April.

This is billed as the "Biggest ever QRP gathering in Ireland" and the presentation will streamed live over the Web. Rev. Dobbs will be giving a talk titled "QRP Why and How", and it will be viewable (for those of us who can't be there), thanks to the British Amateur Television Club and the Internet. For more information, you can visit: While there will be a Webcast of the entire rally beginning at 11:30 BST, G3RJV's talk is scheduled to occur around 14:00 BST. Can anyone out there inform me (us) how BST relates to UTC? Are they close, or the same for all intent and purpose? I would really like to catch this and would hate to be an hour late or something like that.

I wish I could be there, as not only would it be great to listen to Rev. Dobbs in person, but Dom Baines M1KTA (whose blog is featured on the blogroll) and Brendan Minish EI6IZ will be there. I had the pleasure to work EI6IZ just this past February. He had generated a pileup and I was able to break through it to work him. It would be so cool to be able to pull them on the side and just "shoot the breeze" for a while. In all, it sounds like it is going to be a great event and one that I'm sure will not be soon forgotten.

72 de Larry W2LJ

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

I am getting forgetful

in my old age (52 ain't that old!). I received my latest SPRAT from the GQRP today to discover that it was time to renew my membership. Actually, the time for all members to renew is January 1. Here it is, 4 months later and I still hadn't done it. Hence, my using "old age" as an excuse.

Luckily, it's a lot easier to do than in the past. The old way was to send your dues to the GQRP's US agent, who was Bill Kelsey N8ET. He would forward payment overseas to the UK. Now it's just a matter of going on over to the GQRP's website and renewing directly through PayPal. No muss, no fuss.

By the way, if you're not a member, you can also use the website to join. I really enjoy getting SPRAT and keeping in touch with what the British QRPers are doing.

GQRP is one of three organizations that I belong to that collect dues. The other two are QRP ARCI and FISTS (well, 4 organizations if you count the local repeater club). I know a lot of Hams rail against paying dues and belonging to organizations that collect them. However, QRP Quarterly and SPRAT are worth the dues, in my humble opinion. I also like The Keynote which FISTS puts out. Now that Nancy Kott WZ8C is no longer the editor of WorldRadio Online, I am hoping that The Keynote will go back to its normal publishing schedule.

I guess you can consider me a dues paying member of the ARRL too; but an all paid up one. I am a Life Member and it's a little weird to get QST each month to see the expiration date of my membership appear as 12/2099. Maybe they know something I don't?

I had a meeting tonight and got home on the later side, so no QSO attempt with the PFR3A today. I am going to give it a shot tomorrow night, most likely. I like the way the little yellow box looks and am looking forward to it being a good performer. Maybe all the trials and tribulations will make future QSOs made with it all that sweeter.

72 de Larry W2LJ

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

All is forgiven ????

I don't know, though I am tempted to say, "Yes".

I am basking in the glow of a radio that seems to be working. Except for the internal battery holders, the PFR3A final wiring is done. For a few brief seconds I thought I was having receive problems again until I realized I was hooked up to the dummy load. Switching in the antenna brought the sweet sounds of CW into the headphones. I haven't made a QSO with it; but I am thinking (and hoping) that will be no problem.

So is all forgiven ?

Again, I don't know; but having a functional radio will be a nice salve for the aches and pains that I have gone through. From start to finish:

1) Ordered the radio in September. Sent my money to QRP Kits via PayPal on a Sunday; and five days later on Friday, the "Out of Stock" sign went up. I thought I might have squeaked by and had gotten the last one before stock had run out. I thought wrong.

2) Heard word that kits were being received in December by other buyers - where's mine? I had to remind QRP Kits that I was on the back order list too - they forgot to send mine ! Finally got mine almost three months after ordering it. In the meantime, hardly any communication at all; and a lot of guessing as to what was up.

3) Got kit and started building. Discovered that the receiver section was dead. Between comparing voltage measurements and other correspondence with Steve Weber KD1JV, it was discovered that U11, the clock oscillator chip that provides the reference for the DDS local oscillator was installed upside down at "the factory".

4) Correspondence with QRP Kits and Dan Tayloe got a replacement U11 within about a week.

5) Got the receiver section repaired and finished the circuit board.

6) Installed the decals on the enclosure and PERSONALLY, am not too thrilled with the appearance. Yes, I am being picky; but for the price, I think that decals are a bad way to go. Especially for a radio that is supposed to be competing with the KX-1 and HB-A1.

7) Found that the machining of the enclosure for the external power jack was off and had to hand ream the opening to correct the problem.

8) Finished the kit.

It's way too early to form any final impressions. I want to be fair and will wait until I've had some QSOs with it and have played around with it for a while. I would not recommend this kit for a newbie builder. I have built other kits more complicated than this (namely my K1 and K2) and did not have anywhere near the frustration that this one provided. In fact, my K1 and K2 gave me no stomach acid buildup at all. At the same time, I would not tell anyone NOT to buy a PFR3A. I am sure that many have gone together without a hitch. This experience just seemed "off kilter" from the start.

Three last tips:

1) Before you assemble the two halves of the housing together, take the little thumbscrews and screw them into the bottom half of the housing first. The threads in mine were gunked up with yellow paint and I had to waste one of the thumbscrews to cut new threads. You get extras, so don't be afraid to waste one. Better to waste a thumbscrew than to end up with a cross threading problem.

2) On the internal battery holders - roughen up the solder tabs with an Exacto knife or something abrasive BEFORE applying solder. If you wait for the solder resin to clean off the tabs for a good solder joint, you are going to melt the battery holder. I almost did.

3) I have a Boosteroo, which is a headphone pre-amplifier. I almost sold it on eBay a few years ago. I'm glad I didn't. The PFR3A is pretty loud as it is; but with some headphones, I think a Boosteroo will come in handy when using this radio.

Trying to listen to 40 Meters tonight, it was unsettling to hear a lack of signals. I had the K2 on for comparison. Everything that I was able to hear with the K2 (not much) I was able to hear with the PFR3A - that is a good thing.

72 de Larry W2LJ

Monday, April 05, 2010

More PFR3A trials and tribulations

So ...... I started the "final" wiring tonight. Binding posts mounted fine, BNC connector mounted fine, DPDT antenna switch mounted fine ...... external power jack did NOT mount fine. It appears the stupid hole for the connector was machined just a bit too small. I could have tried screwing the jack in; but that would have damaged the threads for the mounting nut.

So, I unmounted the circuit board and rummaged through the tool chest to find a tapered reamer. Ten minutes of VERY careful hand reaming and I was able to mount the external power jack. Lest you think it was a case of too much clear spray gumming up the hole, I ended up with a tiny pile of metal shavings. Either the hole was machined too small; or I received a mutant external power jack on steroids.

Again, in the scheme of things, this was NOT a big deal and I was able to solve the problem quite easily. BUT, it seems to me, that I shouldn't have had to do this. This isn't an ATS-3B where I'm homebrewing an enclosure out of an Altoids tin. Things like this just make Elecraft look better and better.

No longer in the mood to carry on, I will get the actual wiring done tomorrow night.

72 de Larry W2LJ

The best intentions .....

I took some pictures of my completed JHP LC Meter on Saturday night with the intention of posting them here. Unfortunately, the digital camera got left behind at my brother-in-law's house when we went for an Easter visit yesterday. The pictures will have to wait until next weekend.

The decals on the PFR3A housing are sufficiently sealed now; so I can begin the final assembly this week. I might even start tonight depending on my state of mind. I came home from work quite tired again, so I might not do anything until tomorrow. I don't think I have enough energy to participate in the ARS Spartan Sprint tonight; but that doesn't start for a couple of hours, so you never know. It's one of those nights where I know that if I sit down in an easy chair, I will probably wake up around 11:00 PM or Midnight - just in time to go to bed!

I read Jeff KE9V's posts about the new Ipad; and also his post about the HP tablet that will be coming out later this year. Looks like I'm going to have to continue buying lottery tickets! Let's see, that Kenwood tri-band HT, a K3, an HP tablet are now all on my "want" list - wow, it's starting to add up.

72 de Larry W2LJ

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Happy Easter!

It is Holy Saturday night, it it time for the Easter Vigil Mass to be celebrated.

"The battle is o'er, the victory is won!"

A very Happy and Blessed Easter to all of you who celebrate it!

72 de Larry W2LJ

Got a few things done.

It was a fruitful Ham Radio day today, so far.

I finished putting the last of the coats of clear lacquer onto the case of the PFR3A. I put on a total of four coats. The Rustoleum instructions said that additional coats could be done after 30 minutes of the first coat; or after 24 hours. So yesterday, I put on the two initial coats and an additional two today. The finish is a super high gloss and you cannot see the edges of the decals. But you can still tell they are decals as the decal area looks a bit darker than the rest of the finish. I suppose I am being super picky here; but for a $200 kit, a silk screened enclosure would have been much, much better. I would have gladly payed and extra $20 to have that done, if that was the cost.

Decals and homemade labels are just fine for projects I whip up myself. Heck, I'm not disappointed when a homebrew project doesn't come out looking like a commercial kit. I'm not a commercial kit producer - although I should aim my sights that high for my own projects, shouldn't I? But still, I expect something that I put down a good chunk of coin for to look a bit better than this.

I also got the Jackson Harbor Press LC Meter kit finished; and it works great! I have to shorten up the leads to piezo buzzer a bit and I really should install a little on/off switch in line with the battery. But it is now in one of the 4 States QRP Group's clear top cases and is a proud addition to my meager set of test equipment. I will get a picture posted soon.

I also futzed around (i.e. not a serious effort) in the QRP ARCI Spring QSO Party for a bit this afternoon. Ron WB3AAL posted that 15 Meters was open; but I did not hear any activity there. I spent the little time I had this afternoon on 20 Meters and made a few contacts. I wish I had the aluminum up in the air that Bob N4BP has! He was working stations left and right - stations I couldn't even hear! So while the K2 was sending "CQ QRP" I was twiddling around with other stuff in between the few contacts I made. Hopefully 40 Meters will be busier tonight.

72 de Larry W2LJ

Friday, April 02, 2010

Another quickie post

before I turn in for the evening.

Don't forget that this weekend is the QRP ARCI Spring QSO Party. for "Da Rulez".

This is a 36 hour contest, for which you can operate a maximum of 24 hours (like THAT'S going to happen for me!).

Hope to catch you on the bands at some point tomorrow afternoon or evening!

72 de Larry W2LJ


I read the other day, in Dan KB6NU's blog, where eHam now has a "blog" category under their "Ham Links" sections. For grins and giggles, I decided to post my URL there too. This morning, I decided to mosey on over there to see how I was doing. Currently, on a scale of 1 to 5, I am at 3.8. Not bad. Not many votes. But one comment describing this blog got me to thinking.

"A mix of "what I did today" with "QRPers are superior humans". No lack of such sites."

Hmmmmm. Yes, there is a lot of "what I did today" here. In fact, you could say a lot of this blog is exactly that. The second part - "QRPers are superior humans" ???? No, I don't really think so. "Special" humans, maybe, but superior - no. Third part - " No lack of such sites." - I definitely disagree.

Which brings us back to the beginning - why blog anyway? The reasons are many; and vary with just about every blogger out there, I suppose. Basically, as I see it, there are three types of blogs.

1) Blogs with the express intention to teach or disseminate information. I would categorize SolderSmoke as one of these. This blog is devoted to the technical side of the hobby and I think the blogger's intended purpose is to share as much of that information with the Amateur Radio community as possible.

2) Blogs that are personal diaries. These bloggers love the hobby so much that they just want to share with the rest of the Ham community their experiences and ideas.

3) Hybrid blogs, that is a mix of categories 1 and 2. And in reality, that's what I had hoped the purpose of this blog would be. To share my love of the hobby and my experiences in it; but yet at the same time, pass along a nugget of knowledge or two that I learned (the hard way) and might be useful to someone else out there.

I have learned a lot by reading other Amateur Radio blogs out there. Some are technically way over my head; but if I learn a new concept or idea or two, I am much better off for having read them. I have also enjoyed and have been entertained by the blogs that are out there for non-technical reasons. By reading some of these blogs, I feel that I have gotten to know the blogger somewhat better on a personal level. I have corresponded with other bloggers on a private level and consider them to be more than acquaintances - they are new found friends.

"No lack of such sites." ???? You've got to be kidding! I wish there were more - tons more! There are MANY Hams out there who have so much knowledge to contribute; or so many enjoyable stories to share. But they don't because they are shy; or feel their point of view or their experiences are insignificant. Or they just don't know how to go about it.

Actually, it's quite easy; and it's free. I recommend the two following URLs :

Whatever your reason for setting up a blog, give it a shot! You may find that you really enjoy it; and if you don't ...... well, you certainly haven't wasted any money; and you can always delete it!

72 de Larry W2LJ

Good Friday

Sometimes I feel like an idiot!

As proof that I really do follow the blogs listed in my blogroll to the bottom right, I was surprised when I read Jason NT7S's "Ripples in the Ether". In his post "Fresh Meat on the Blogroll" he mentioned a blog written by a VERY good friend of mine - Brian KB9BVN.

Now, I consider you all to be very good friends of mine - but Brian and I know each other pretty darned well considering we have never met face to face. We are both members of the Flying Pigs QRP Club International; and we maintain a semi regular correspondence via e-mail. Well, at least when the mood strikes us and we need to vent to one another about something that concerns the both of us. We have common interests that go beyond just Amateur Radio.

I had no idea that Brian has a blog. He's a darned good writer, too. And for those who don't know, he is the recently appointed editor of "QRP Quarterly". Before that, for a long time, he was editor and compiler of the "Bacon Bits Quarterly" the e-newsletter of the Flying Pigs. He had done a marvelous job with "Bits" and , at least in this humble Ham's opinion, the QRP ARCI is darned lucky to have him on their staff.

So once yet again, I had a Homer "D'oh" moment when I discovered that Brian has his own blog. Knowing Brian, I recommend it heartily. He is an avid QRP and CW op, he likes to tinker around and try new things; and he's super articulate in telling you what he has discovered and what is good or bad about it. I know that this is a "keeper" without having to go and read previous posts.

And, he's also the type of guy who would be willing to sit down with you with a few cold 807s and a few plates of ribs and BS about radio all day! What could be better than that?

72 de Larry W2LJ

Thursday, April 01, 2010

April Fool!

Wow! The local "Shack" DID have the clip lead set I wanted. Now I can cut up a couple to use with the JHP LC Meter. But lo and behold, a few minutes after getting home, I saw an even better set available on Electronic Goldmine for a fraction of the price. Phooey! I think I will order a set from them anyway, you can never have too many test clip leads.

Electronic Goldmine is a dangerous place, where I can get carried away and order too many odds and ends if I don't watch myself. Sort of like an electronics version of Harbor Freight.

I also picked up the can of clear spray enamel that I wanted for the PFR3A. It seems the Home Depot that I visited doesn't carry Krylon paint; so I picked up a can of crystal clear high gloss Rustoleum clear lacquer. Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny and in the 70s - perfect weather for the first coat. And it's looking like good weather for the second coat on Saturday.

I put in a little time tonight in the Foxtravaganza. This is the big blow out to celebrate the end of the Foxhunt season, where ALL the Foxes and the members of the Foxhunt Committee get on the air for one huge spectacular Foxhunt. Both 80 and 40 Meters were QRN free and band conditions seemed decent. Activity seemed light however. The HF9V really played well on 40 Meters tonight. Can you believe that I was using my vertical on 40 Meters!?! Just goes to show how well it can work when that neighborhood QRN is gone.

And while I'm on THAT topic, I really should knock wood. I haven't heard that horrendous noise for a few months now. I am wondering if the person in the neighborhood finally fixed whatever was broken and was causing that hash. I certainly hope so, anyway.

This weekend is the QRP ARCI Spring QSO Party. Not the best weekend for it, being Easter and all - but hopefully I will get some time in on Saturday. Easter Sunday will be way too occupied with family. My hide would be tanned if I spent the day behind the radio.

To all my Jewish friends out there, a belated Happy Passover, which began earlier this week, if I am not mistaken. And to all my Christian friends out there, a very Happy and Blessed Easter.

72 de Larry W2LJ