10th Anniversary Giveaway!

On April 30th, it will be ten years since the "W2LJ - QRP - Do More With Less" blog was born.

In appreciation for all who read this blog, I am going to give something away to one lucky reader. I have a new, mint condition, unused, complete sheet of fifty United States Amateur Radio stamps, issued in 1964 on the 50th Anniversary of the ARRL - Scott #1260. I am going to have the sheet matted and framed - ready for display on some deserving shack wall. All I ask is that you send an e-mail to w2lj@arrl.net - entitled "Blog Anniversary Giveaway". Include your name, call sign and mailing address.

Any Amateur Radio op worldwide can enter. I will package and ship the framed stamps to any destination that the United States Post Office will accept.

The names and call signs will be loaded into a software program such as RandomPicker on April 30th and a winner will be determined. The winner will be announced here, and then the framed stamps will be posted.

Good luck, and thank you for reading!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Kit building

While listening to the bands this evening, I finished my NorCal QRP Dummy Load kit that I purchased a few years ago.


This was one of my newly rediscovered kits that I "found" during the big clean up down here in the shack.  It is no longer available from NorCal; but something almost identical is available from Hendricks QRP Kits. The NorCal kit that I have uses SMD resistors. So not only did I end up with a very handy dummy load; I also got a lot of practice in soldering SMD components. After all was soldered, I ended up with a resistance measuring 49.99 Ohms.  This well within the +/- 5% tolerance that was advertised in the kit specs.

When I bought this kit a few years back, my intention was to build it using the solder paste and hot plate method.  Basically, you apply solder paste to all the pads, place the components, and then heat the thing on an ordinary hot plate.  Supposedly the paste becomes liquid, the components "magically" kind of snap into perfect final position.

I never got that far.  I ended up using my super fine soldering tip and a tweezers and my binocular magnifying  loupe headband thingy.  Since I ended up with 49.99 Ohms, I guess I didn't mess things up too badly.  Let's just say that some of my previous attempts at SMD kit building were not as successful.  We'll  just leave it at that.

I built this first, because the next kit on the docket will be the Flying Pigs Pig Rig that Diz W8DIZ sells  through kitsandparts.com.  


There are quite a few of these out there, already. I'm a bit behind, with mine being still in the box.  I hope to start construction this weekend, if I can find the time. (My wife Marianne hit me with a list of events that are taking place this weekend. I'll be very lucky if I get any time to myself!)  

The urge to get started on this kit hit me a few nights ago, but was reinforced this evening when I had a QSO on 40 Meters with Bob KR9Z, who was using his Pig Rig.  It was my first QSO with one of these and it sounded very FB!  I am looking forward to having some 2X Pig Rig QSOs in the near future.

In addition to working Bob on 40 Meters, I worked Greece twice (two different stations), on both 30 and 40 Meters and the Netherlands on 30 Meters.  The bands seemed to be in decent shape this evening.

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

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

100 years ago

Last night, I received an e-mail from Bob W3BBO about an item he saw in The County Hunter News.  The article was written by Bob Voss N4CD, and it concerned a book written 100 years ago, entitled  "Bert Wilson, Wireless Operator".  The book has been made available through Project Gutenberg.

The book was available in various formats, including kindle format.  Bob and I are both kindle owners and avid readers, especially (although not exclusively) when the topic is Amateur Radio.  I downloaded the book last night and began reading it today.  Even though the book is 100 years old, it is a fun and easy read. It's not terribly long, and I'm already a third of the way through.

You do have to keep in mind that this was written in 1913.  The author, J W Duffield makes an early mention of "the unfortunate accident and loss of life" that happened "last year". Of course, he's referring to the Titanic, without directly mentioning the ship by name.  The language is a bit different, with a lot of "By Jove"s, "Great Scott"s appearing throughout.  Friends are referred to as "fellows" and there's a lot of back slapping that occurs instead of the "high fives" that we have become so accustomed today.  Further examples - baseball teams are referred to as "nines" and ball fields as "diamonds", all fitting descriptions, but all very old-timey. There are also some very un-PC descriptions of things in there, so if you're offended by that kind of thing, please be aware. We are talking 1913, here.

But as I've mentioned before, it is a very entertaining little story. I can only imagine that the target audience back then was the same audience for which the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift books were written in my younger days.

In fact, if you go to Project Gutenburg and type in "wireless" into their search box, there are a couple dozen various books that you will be led to.  Some appear to be fiction, while others definitely are not.  But they are all free and readily available to be downloaded for your reading pleasure.

The other thing that I wanted to mention is that there's another unbuilt HW9 up for bid on eBay:


A couple of weeks ago, John AE5X mentioned an auction for one of these.  That kit ended up selling for close to $2000.00.  This one is up to $305.00 with 5 days to go.  I am pretty certain that any unsuccessful bidders from the first auction learned a lesson about holding their cards closer to their vests.  I am predicting that bids will probably (and I mean probably, but I might be wrong) not move much until right before the end of the auction in an attempt to keep the winning bid lower than the $2000.00 neighborhood.  It will be interesting to see how much this unbuilt Heahtkit will end up selling for.

Almost makes me want to buy a K2 and just stash it away somewhere for my kids to sell in about 30 or 40 years.

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

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Pile up behavior

I was in the basement, cutting up some cardboard boxes for the recycling pickup tomorrow.  To dispel the quiet and to have something to listen to, I turned the radio on.

I worked K6K/MM on 17 Meters.  My friend Bob W3BBO worked them last night on 20 Meters and let me know that these folks are the DXpedition that is heading to Clipperton.  I worked Clipperton back in 2000; but that was with 75 Watts (QRO).  I will try again; but QRP this time (of course).

From there, I tuned up into the SSB portion of 20 Meters.  I figured I would listen to either some guys chewing the rag, or some guys working DX.  I ended up listening to guys try and work some DX.  To be honest with you, I don't even know who or where the station was.  He was working simplex and the pile up was not huge; but he wasn't calling CQ, either.  He had enough stations to handle.

Why do people insist on calling a DX station when they can't adequately hear him?  I ask this, because there were guys throwing out their calls, while the DX station was still in QSO with the previous station!

It seems to me, that if you can't hear the DX station well enough to know that he's still talking and hasn't finished ...... what makes you think that you'll hear him come back to you?  Do these folks think that propagation is going to magically improve so that a 2X contact can be made?

I'm not getting just on the SSB guys.  It's no better on the CW side - heck, it's no better in the QRP Fox Hunts!  I can't tell you how many times guys just keep throwing out their call signs over, and over and over until you want to tear your hair out.  Call signs being spewed out when the Fox is in the middle of making a contact with someone else.

If you can't hear THAT, why even bother to try to work them? Unless you can hear him well enough to respond to you, it seems to me that you're just setting yourself up to be thought of as a Lid by your peers.

That old saying holds true - "You can't work 'em if you can't hear 'em."  But maybe we should also add, "You shouldn't try to work 'em if you can't hear 'em!"

Just sayin'

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


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Drop me a line

I spent the evening conversing with Ed, KN9V on 40 Meters. Ed sent me an e-mail a few weeks back, asking him if I would meet him on the air for some real live CW practice. We tried earlier this week, but the propagation gods were against us. Tonight we had a much better go.

Ed feels that he's a little rusty, but it was evident that he's really doing fine. We were about 559 both ways, and we were able to enjoy a QSO for just about an hour. A little QSB and QRM made it interesting, but it was a very nice QSO.

I hope to meet Ed on the air again soon.

If you feel your Morse Code needs a little work and that you need a CW buddy, then send me an e-mail at w2lj@arrl.net.

Time permitting, I'd love to make a sked with you and work with you on the air. Now that the KPA3 amp is installed in my K3, I can turn on the afterburners so that you wouldn't have to strain to hear me. Although, if you're so inclined as to want to attempt a 2X QRP QSO, you wouldn't get any arguments from me!  I am comfortable sending anywhere between 5 to about 23 WPM, and I can go on any band from 160 to 6 Meters.

I am available most weeknights, and would be glad to hear from you.

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

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Sunspots

A huge sunspot has formed on the sun - big enough to make the "regular" news.

http://www.weather.com/news/science/massive-sunspot-forms-20130220

So, as an Amateur Radio operator you've heard about sunspots, you've read about sunspots, you may have even prayed for sunspots ....... but what do you KNOW about sunspots?

I have perused the Internet and have come across several articles by our own Paul Harden, NA5N of Very Large Array (and Zombie Shuffle) fame.  He's our authority on things of the sun.  I have found the best of his words and are pasting them here for your edification:

From Paul Harden NA5N, some solar weather basics:

We all know the sun goes through a solar cycle about every 11 years. During the minimun, or QUIET SUN, there are few sunspots, the solar flux is very low ( less than100), which means the sun's ionizing radiation is quite low. As a result, our upper atmosphere, where the E and F layers reside, are not well ionized. This means the E and F layers do not reflect HF radio waves very well ... and most of your signals will pass right on through to space to be picked up by Jodie Foster in the sequel to "Contact." One measure of how well ionized our E and F layers are is the MUF, or Maximum Usable Frequency. During the quiet sun, the MUF is often below 15-18MHz. This is why 15M and 10M are "dead" during the quiet sun, except for local (line-of-sight) communications.

However, during the solar maximum or ACTIVE SUN, there are many sunspots, the solar flux is high, and this highly ionizes our ionosphere. This in turn means our E and F layers become very reflective to HF signals. Virtually all the power hitting the E and F layers will be reflected back to Earth and Jodie Foster will hear nothing out in space. This high reflectivity causes the MUF to rise, often to above 30MHz. And when this occurs, 10M will be open all day long to support global communications by using "skip propagation" ... in that your signals are skipping (or being reflected) off the ionosphere back to earth.

SOLAR FLUX (SF) is a number that attempts to describe the total power output of the sun at radio wavelengths, which in turn helps describe the total ionizing power delivered to our ionosphere. The higher the SF, the more ionization, and the more reflective our ionosphere is to HF.

An SF of less than 100 is fairly poor propagation, the MUF  will be lower than 15MHz.  An SF of more than 150 is fairly good propagation, the MUF will be greater than 25MHz

A general rule of the thumb is 10M is open when the solar flux is greater than 150.

IONIZATION. The solar radiation reaching the Earth contains IONIZING radiation. This means the incoming solar radiation can rip electrons away from the oxygen molecules high in our atmosphere. So now you have all these "free electrons" roaming around that makes the upper atmosphere (or ionosphere) more dense. Now the mass or weight doesn't change, it's just denser. This density causes your RF signal to not pass onto space. In the real case, your RF signal strikes all these free electrons, and that is what reflects them back to earth ... DURING DAYLIGHT HOURS when ionization occurs.

This is why the higher bands, such as 15M and 10M, are open (that is, signals being reflected back to earth) during the DAYLIGHT HOURS, but these same bands go dead (no reflective propagation) nearly as soon as the sun sets - because the sun's ionizing radiation goes away.

This is also why these same bands tend to be completely dead during the quiet sun, because there is insufficient ionizing radiation to cause ionization for reflection. This is a phenomenon of the active sun, the period we are well into right now. And, during a quiet sun, the ionization can be so low, that the MUF drops below 14MHz at night, which is why even 20M can go dead at night. During an active sun, the MUF almost always remains above 15MHz even at night, which is why 20M often becomes a 'round-the-clock band during the active sun.

So what about 40M? Truth is, the solar cycle has virtually no effect on 40M or below. Propagation on 40M remains pretty much the same during the active sun as it does the quiet sun, because the MUF seldom drops below 10MHz. This is why 40M is the main nighttime band, year in and year out. Even with low ionization, the very long wavelengths of the lower frequencies will be reflected by the ionosphere. This would be like rolling a basketball through the popcorn balls ... while the high frequency RF (the marbles) pass through pretty easy, certainly the low frequencies (basketball) would not. Quiet sun or active sun.

The active sun DOES effect 40M in that absorption to RF can be very good to very bad, or very high noise levels from geomagnetic storms ... both due to solar flare activity that occurs only during an active sun. A large solar flare sends an extra dose of ionizing radiation to the Earth. This can raise the MUF to very high frequencies (greater than 100MHz), but this radiation can also penetrate far into our atmosphere to ionize the lower D-layer. RF signals must pass through the D-layer on their way to the upper E and F layers, where the reflection occurs. The more ionized the D-layer is, the more collisions that will take place with your RF signal, absorbing or attenuating some of its power. Thus, high absorption to HF signals can occur during and after a solar flare. Your poor little QRP signals just vanish on their way to the E and F layers!

80M signals are almost always highly or fully attenuated by the D-layer, and what "propagation" that occurs on 80M is actually by the signals traveling across the Earth's surface, or "ground wave" propagation. The wave front is confined between the Earth's surface and the D-layer, which causes attenuation to the power as it travels along the ground, skims the D-layer, and propagates through the dense atmosphere near the surface. This is why QRP on 80M is challenging at best since the absorption rates are fairly high - day and night, quiet sun or active.

The other major effect to HF propagation during the active sun is geomagnetic storms. Very briefly, this is caused by a shock wave from a solar flare hitting the Earth's magnetic field, causing it to compress and wiggle for awhile. And while it's wiggling, it's generating huge electrical currents, which in turn creates gobs of noise on HF.


...BAND.... THE QUIET SUN.......... / ..........THE ACTIVE SUN
--------------------------------------------------------------------
....80M.... Seldom has skip propagation.....Seldom has skip propagation
....40M.... Open around the clock.................Open around the clock
....30M.... Open daylight hours......................Open around the clock
....20M.... Open daylight hours......................Open around the clock (usually)
....15M.... Dead - no skip propagation..........Open - daylight hours only
....10M.... Dead - no skip propagation..........Open - daylight hours only
--------------------------------------------------------------------

See also - http://www.gqrp.com/SOLAR_HO.pdf  This link explains the A and K Indices and other phenomena associated with solar weather. It also contains other pertinent links to other valuable solar weather sites.

Thank you, Paul!

So to recap (and this is a very general nutshell, and in W2LJ's words)

High Solar Flux and sunspot numbers = increased ionization of the ionosphere =  good propagation = happy Hams.

Keep in mind that giant sunspots can be too much of a good thing, though, causing geomagnetic disturbances and solar flares which can muck everything up.

High A and K Index values = higher noise level on the bands and higher chance for signal absorption and a lowering of the MUF = bad propagation = sad Hams.

In the end, like everything else in nature, it's all a fine balance.

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




Wednesday, February 20, 2013

QRP Operating Events

So you say you're not into the "Big Gun" contests; because as a QRPer, you feel like a fish out of water.  What's a QRPer to do?

Fortunately, there are a bunch of operating events (contests, if you will) that were designed just with you in mind.  Some of these are annual events, some are monthly, some are seasonal.  Here are some good ones that I can think of right off the top of my head:

Monthly ARS Spartan Sprint - this occurs on the first Monday of every month - this is a two hour sprint that runs from 9:00 to 11:00 PM Eastern time (you can do the math for your time zone).  Sponsored by the Adventure Radio Society, there are two divisions - the Tubby and Skinny Divisions.  The divisions are determined by the weight of the equipment you are using. The goal is to use as small and light and portable a station as you can manage - although that's not a requirement to participate. Information about these Sprints can be found here.

Flying Pigs Run For the Bacon - this sprint occurs on the third Sunday of every month.  Another two hour sprint that again, runs from 9:00 to 11:00 PM Eastern time.  This is a very friendly, low pressure sprint where slow speed coders are welcome.  You don't need to be a member of the Flying Pigs to participate; but it's fun to have a Piggie number to exchange instead of just the "standard" 5W designation.  Besides, it's free to join - the club's motto? "No dues, no rules, just have fun!"  Further information can be found here.

NAQCC Monthly Sprint - these sprints are rapidly gaining in popularity. The North American QRP CW Club was founded by Tom Mitchell WY3H and John Shannon K3WWP. They recently just held their 100th sprint since the club was founded and close to 200 logs were submitted after all was said and done.  That amount of logs has to rival even the bigger QRP ARCI contests, I'll wager. You have to pay attention to the days on these sprints however, because they alternate monthly between Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. And the contest time is a bit different also - 8:30 to 10:30 Easter time.  Membership in the NAQCC is also free and more info can be yours, here.

Of course the QRP Amateur Radio Club International sponsors a whole bunch of contests and sprints throughout the year.  There are Spring and Fall QSO Parties and events such as the Hoot Owl Sprint, QRP Field Day, the HF Grid Square Sprint, Fireside Sprint, etc.  QRP ARCI is a fine organization and they publish a tremendous magazine called "QRP Quarterly".  More information about these operating events can be found here.

Then there are also the seasonal, primarily outdoor sprints such as the recently completed Freeze Your Buns Off, and others such as QRP To The Field, QRP Afield, Flight of the Bumblebees, (and my favorite) the NJQRP Skeeter Hunt.  You can Google any of those for further information.

The NJQRP Skeeter Hunt will be held again this August.  The sprint will be have an SSB category for 2013, so those of you who are not into CW can also join in on the fun.  There will be a theme and bonus points awarded for home brewing something specifically for the event; but those details haven't been ironed out yet.  A general contest announcement will be made near the beginning of May, and Skeeter numbers can be applied for as of May 1st.

Lastly, there are also "miscellaneous" indoor QRP operating events that are held each year, that are not sponsored by major clubs.  The one that comes to mind immediately, for example, is the Zombie Shuffle which is run by Paul Hardin NA5N and his wife Jan N0QT.  This is usually held the weekend before Halloween and is a ton of fun.

There are also the Winter and Summer QRP Fox hunts.  If you like the thrill of navigating your way through a QRP pile up, then these are for you.  The Winter season runs from November to March.  There are two hunts each week, usually on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.  One is on 80 Meters and the other is on 40 Meters.  During the Summer, the hunts are on 20 Meters and past practice is that they have been held on Thursday evenings.  Details here.

If you want to build up your log totals, hone your operating skills and have a ton of fun in the process, take some time to investigate what I've mentioned here.  If you've never tried any of these before, get your feet wet and join in. You'll be an Old Pro in no time!

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

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

ARRL DX 2013 - Illustrated


Google Earth is so cool!

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

Mr. Morse

Courtesy of  Ken Knowlton and www.joe-ks.com

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

Monday, February 18, 2013

Bands still relatively busy

I guess that a few folks who went places to operate for the ARRL DX Contest have stayed on a few days at their respective "vacation" spots.  On the air today, I was hearing a lot of the call signs that I heard in the Caribbean from over the weekend.  You would think that having completed major DX contest that these folks would be kicking back on the beach, soaking up the sun and sipping a cool libation from a coconut shell (complete with little umbrella, of course!).

I worked a couple of them; but the station that intrigued me the most was GM100RSGB, the Centennial Special Event Station for the RSGB from Scotland. At 1914 UTC, they were loud into New Jersey on 20 Meters, and I was able to work them with 5 Watts very easily. According to QRZ.com, this is what their QSL looks like:



The Centennial for the ARRL occurs next year.  I wonder if the League will petition the FCC for a special anniversary call sign for W1AW for next year?

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


ARRL DX Contest

Once again, and especially in a contest like this, I resumed my role as a "GOP" - giver of points.

I went into the contest with several goals in mind, one of which I did not accomplish. But I'll save that one for last.  The vital statistics are such that in about an accrued (approximate) 5 hours of operating time, by cherry picking, I made 69 contacts and of those, I worked 39 different DXCC entities.  Hence, my earlier post that if you are just embarking on your journey towards DXCC, this is a wonderful place to start.  In only five hours, I got 39% of the  way there.  If you could devote even more time, there's no reason that you couldn't end up 1/2 to 3/4 of the way there - even with "average" antennas.  If you are fortunate to have a directional antenna? I think you could complete DXCC in one weekend, if your butt can stand a stint in the chair for that long.

My first goal was to really check out the legs if the KPA3 that I recently installed in the K3.  "What?" you say?  "A 100 Watt Amp in W2LJ's QRP rig?"  Yes, but don't get all crazy on me, there's a method to my madness.  I am a dedicated QRPer; but I also like to work DX.  I am currently at about 140 DXCC entities worked. When I hear a new one out there that I have never worked before, or there's a DXpedition to an entity I never worked before, my goal is to get them in the log - period.  My theory is that if I know they're in the log, then the pressure is off and it will be easier to get them via QRP.  And if I shouldn't be able to work them QRP - oh well, them's the breaks, but at least I have them in the log.  When it comes to DX, I am definitely NOT the caliber of someone like Dan WG5G (who should be in the QRP HOF, by the way) who is in the DXCC Honor Roll - all QRP.

All that being said, using the 100 Watt setting on the K3 was like shooting fish in a barrel, in most cases.  If I was able to hear 'em, I was able to work 'em.  Comforting knowledge to have in the back of my mind when I'm fighting it out in a DXpedition pile-up, even though I know that in those circumstances, maybe even 100 Watts might not be enough!.  But getting back to matters at hand, I now know the 100 Watt setting works well.  While it was fun to bag countries like that in one shot, the same thrill and satisfaction of doing it with low power wasn't there.  It was fun, neat and cool; but it wasn't quite the same. So in the end, the 100 Watt setting will not be the norm for W2LJ - the 5 Watt setting will continue to be my normal state of affairs.

I also wanted to try and work a few countries at QRPp power and I did - among them being Bonaire, Brazil, Martinique and a few others.  QRPp was anywhere from 100 milliWatts to 900 milliWatts. Depending on how strong the station was on the receiving end, determined how low I turned down the power.  It was fun, scads of fun, but I doubt I will ever be on par with the like of George N2JNZ who has DXCC using milliWatt power.

Antenna comparison continues to be one of my goals and practices.  Which antenna works best and where. I spent the overwhelming majority of my time on 15 and 10 Meters, but when I went to 40 Meters for a brief stint on Saturday night, the Butternut HF9V turned out to be the best arrow in my quiver in a few instances.  I would have thought the wires would have been the best choice, but the Butternut got me through when the wires weren't.  Lesson learned - I HAVE to get more radials down this coming Spring/Summer!

My biggest disappointment was that in the time I was on the air, I didn't hear any VKs, ZLs or anyone from Oceania (besides Hawaii, which I worked).  I was hoping to try getting someone from that part of the world via QRP - but no dice.  I was looking for them on 15 Meters; and I got an e-mail this morning from my friend Bob W3BBO, that he was able to work them on 20 Meters last evening as the contest was nearing its close.  Once again, W2LJ was at the wrong place at the wrong time, my conventional wisdom let me down, once again.

I wish I could have dedicated more time than I was able to.  But at the same time, I was lucky to put in as much time as I did.  Due to pre-planning, I was able to avoid some routine chores by getting them out of the way early.  It was a lot of fun and I had a blast during my time behind the key, and that's the main idea behind all this anyway, isn't it?

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

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Shack pictures


Overview photo showing the new chair.  I also shifted everything on the bench top to the left.  I picked up a used 19" flat screen monitor for $40 from eBay.  I put that at the right end of the bench top.  The tiny screen of the Netbook was giving me a hard time due to the age/eyes thing.


Kind of a "View from the Operator's Position" kind of shot.


Frontal view - K3 in front, KX3 right above. Elecraft Hex Key to the right, SKCC Straight Key to the left. HRD is running on the new monitor.  To the immediate right of the KX3 is a Fox Hunt "mascot" Ty stuffed animal. To the left of the KX3 is my Radio Shack amplified speaker for the K3, my OHR WM1 Watt meter. All the way to the left is a Yaesu 2 Meter radio (for those rare times that I get on 2 Meters).

Bottom line is that it's still a basement shack in an unfinished basement.  No wall to wall carpeting, finished ceilings or fancy paneling on the walls.  But it is where I spend a lot of time, so at least it's pretty neat and clean, now.

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

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

100th NAQCC Sprint

I spent couple of hours last night playing in the NAQCC Sprint.  It was the 100th Sprint held since the founding of the club back in 2004. It was good to hear familiar friends and new calls come back to me last night.

My score?

Pitiful.

19 QSOs with 13 S/P/Cs worked - my total score didn't even break the 1,000 point mark, only 988 total points at the end.

Not sure why I didn't do better, but if I could blame one thing, I'd have to say probably a lack of practice.  A few years back, I used to get into every QRP Sprint I could.  NAQCC, ARS Spartan Sprint, RFTB every blessed month as well as all the miscellaneous QRP-ARCI and FISTS events.  I would routinely make 30 - 40 contacts in the same amount of time.  Nothing has gotten worse, equipment wise, in fact it's gotten better.  I still have the Butternut, the G5RV got switched out for the 88' EDZ and I even added the W3EDP.  The antenna and rig quality have definitely increased.

What hasn't gotten better has been the time spent behind the rig.  I am doing much better getting behind the key this year compared to last year (heck, the past two years!), but I don't get on nearly as much as I did when I was heavily involved in the sprints a few years ago.  My rustiness shows.

No one to blame, but myself.  I just have to get back on the horse and back in practice.

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

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Long post - two things

First - an announcement from Doug Hendricks KI6DS about a new Steve Weber design kit offering from Hendrick's QRP Kits:


I am pleased to announce that Steve Weber, KD1JV, has designed another new kit for Hendricks QRP Kits.  The kit will be on sale for the first time Friday and Saturday at the Yuma Hamfest.

Here are the specs for the rig:
~10 PEP @ 13.8V
0.2 uV receiver sensitivity
5 pole crystal ladder filter for selectivity
325 or 175 kHz tuning range, selectable at build
Coarse and Fine tuning controls
8 ohm - 500 mW speaker output
SSB, CW, and, "TUNE" mode
50mA Rx current (with optional Digital Dial)
Inexpensive electret microphone input
All through hole construction
Professional silk screened and solder masked pcb
Full aluminum chassis w/bail, cutout for optional digital dial
Small size, 6" x 4" x 1.5"
Assembled weight, w/dd: 330g./11.6 oz.
13.8 @ 2A, min. recommended power supply

Your first question might be why did they name it the "Survivor".  Well that comes from several years ago when Jim Cates and I were running Norcal.   Many people have asked me what my favorite Norcal kit was, and they were usually surprised when I told them it was the Epiphyte.  The Epiphyte was a ssb transceiver that was designed by the late Derry Spittle, VE7QK.  It was a marvelous design, and worked fabulously.  Several people were able to work all 50 states with it, and Vern Wright probably worked well over 100 countries with his.  I kept a daily schedule with Derry and Vern for over 9 months, never missing a day of making contact.  So?  We were using dipoles up about 30 feet, and Derry, Vern and I were all running Epiphytes with 5 Watts of power!!  Derry was in Vancouver, BC, and Vern and I were in California.

The only problem with Derry's design was that the parts were basically obsolete when he finished the design.  He use a Murata filter that is no longer available, and neither is the round 8 pin driver IC.  Norcal kitted 100 of them, and I was finally able to find the filters on my trip to England.  The 100 kits were sold out almost overnight, and there was a clamor for more.  But we just could not source the filter, and we were never able to do another run.  George Dobbs did do a smaller run for the G-QRP Club, which also sold out very quickly.  I have always wanted someone to design a radio similar to the Epiphyte, but using parts that are available.  I wanted it simple, easy to build, yet capable of making reliable contacts on 75 meters. Last year at Dayton, Steve Weber and I were talking, and I asked him to design a modern version with the Epiphyte as the model, but using parts that I could source.  Steve agreed and the Survivor  is the result.

Now how did we come up with that name?  Derry used to take his Epiphyte with him whenever he went on camping trips in the back woods of British Columbia.  In fact, one time he used it to get rescued.  Derry would take a 130 ft. dipole made out of magnet wire and RG 174.  He would string the dipole on bushes, about 3 or 4 feet above the ground.  He ran the short length of coax into his tent, and used that setup to check into a British Columbia SSB net at 8:00 every evening when he was out.  The setup was a perfect NVIS system and Derry had reliable contacts out to about 200 miles. He often said that the Epiphyte was what gave him the confidence that he could survive any situation in the woods, because it worked so well.  So to honor Derry, and to illustrate one of the great uses for the rig, we called it the Survivor.

Ham radio has been used many, many times for rescue.  But 2 meters doesn't always reach a repeater in the woods.  Many hams want to talk with their wives back home while they are hunting or camping, but many of the wives don't know CW.  The Survivor is the perfect rig for taking camping.  With a battery, simple dipole antenna or end fed half wave only 4 feet off the ground, reliable communications with SSB are available.

We also think that groups and clubs that like to build will find this a perfect club project.  Hams love to talk and hams love to build.  Think about how much fun a round table of locals will be with radios that you build yourself.  It is a great way to get club members involved and motivated to operate.  The kit is only $100 for the basic radio.  Accessories include digital readout for $35 and an electret microphone kit for $15.  But, if you buy the combo together, radio, digital readout and microphone, you save $10 as it is available for $140.  The kit will be available on Hendricks QRP Kits web page at www.qrpkits.com on Sunday, Feb. 17th.  The rig is easy to build and align.  In fact the only test equipment needed is a volt ohm meter and a dummy load.  Doesn't get any easier than that.  The kit is complete with everything needed to build.  Case, commercial quality pc board, all through hole parts in the radio (the digital dial has surface mount parts but is easily built) and an online manual so you can see what you are getting into.

If you attend the Yuma Hamfest this weekend, you will get a sneak peak at this radio.  We will have them available for sale.  Hope to see you there at the Hendricks QRP Kits booth.  72, Doug

Steve posted these photos on Facebook earlier today:



Looks like another fantastic offering from Doug Hendricks and Steve Weber.  We are so fortunate to have gentlemen like these continuing to supply us QRPers with fine fare.

Post - Part II - ARRL DX Contest (CW) coming up this weekend


This coming weekend is the ARRL DX Contest.  For you contesters, this one is the "Big GranDaddy” of them all.  I am willing to lay down some heard earned cash that ALL the “Non-WARC” bands will be active this weekend, abuzz with all kinds of signals from all over the world.

So, what’s a non-contester to do?  Well, you can go to the WARC bands (i.e 30, 17, 12 Meters) and rag chew to your heart’s content. You can go up to the phone portions of the band and give SSB QRP a whirl. You can stay off the radio altogether – take in a play, read a good book (I have several suggestions, if you’re so inclined), go to a movie, a museum, go visit your wife’s family, shovel snow, paint the bathroom, clean out the attic or garage, etc, etc, etc.

 Or …… you can get creative.

Use the chance to begin, work on, or finish DXCC (QRP or not, that’s up to you).  This contest has such an easy exchange, it’s ridiculous!  W/VE stations – signal report and state or province.  DX Stations – signal report and power.  No name, rank or serial number - how easy can it be?

If you’re brand new to DXCC but are not into contesting, you can still easily (and I mean easily) walk away with a quarter or more of your DXCC award achieved within a single weekend.  If you’re really dedicated and conditions are good, it’s NOT unheard of to actually accomplish DXCC (even QRP DXCC) in a single weekend.  Just listen around and cherry pick the stations that are in the countries that you need. This is also a good opportunity to hunt for Alaska and Hawaii if you need those two for WAS.

For QRPers, a contest like this can be like Manna from Heaven.  There are a ton of “Big Gun” stations on the air from all over the globe, with monstrous Yagis on top of stratospheric towers, just waiting to pick your QRP signal out of the aether.  This is truly one of the two or three great QRP DXCC opportunites that presents itself throughout the year.

Is DXCC a “been there, done that” thing for you?  Not interested in working towards DXCC Honor Roll? There’s still a bunch of exciting opportunities out there for you.

Turn down your power even lower – see how far you can work on 1 Watt or less.  This is a great way to earn a cool looking “Miles Per Watt” certificate for your shack.  I did something similar a couple years ago, I turned down my power from 5 Watts to 2 Watts and I was amazed that it didn’t seem to have made much of a  difference at all.  I was working foreign countries left and right, as easily with 2 Watts as I had been with 5 Watts.  I’ll bet you’ll be amazed at how much you’ll be able to snare by even going QRPp, in the milliWatt neighborhood.  Personally, I'm playing around with the idea of seeing how many countries I can work using 900 mW.

Or, you can use the contest as a vehicle towards earning other, neat looking certificates to wall paper your shack.  Here are some good Websites with links to all kinds of good information about earning DX operating awards.

DX Awards in general
http://www.qsl.net/va3rj/awards_dx.html

http://www.dxawards.com/

QRP awards
http://www.dxawards.com/DXAwardDir/QRP.htm

If your CW speed isn’t the greatest, don’t get discouraged.  I am going to tell you right here and now, the CW sent for roughly the first 12 hours or so of the contest will probably make your head swim.  Speeds approaching 40 WPM are not rare at all.  Can you say, “buzz saw”? Towards Saturday evening and all day Sunday, CW speeds will approach what the rest of us mere mortals can handle.  The latter part of Sunday is THE best time for QRPers.  Point hungry super contest stations will be more likely to listen for weak signals that they might have otherwise ignored or glossed over.  This is a good time for QRPers.

Finally, if you get on the air and you’re totally blown away by the ARRL DX Contest; but still want to give QRP contesting a try, you’re still in luck.  After the big contest is over on Sunday, the Flying Pigs February Run for the Bacon is this Sunday night.  This is a small and friendly two hour QRP sprint that is a very fun event.  Comparing it to the ARRL DX Contest, it as far as the East is from the West.  But it is a blast and all are welcome – and most, if not all QRPers will be more than happy to QRS for you, if needed.

Above all - have fun!

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



Monday, February 11, 2013

From the sublime

to the not so sublime.

I had a very nice QSO with Eric AC8LJ tonight on 40 Meters. Eric was running QRP from Charleston, WV - a newly built K1 at 5 Watts to a dipole up about 45 feet.  His signal was superb and by the way, he is friends with fellow blogger and good friend John N8ZYA who also hails from Charleston.

The best thing about the QSO with Eric was his fist - it was fantastic. His sending was top notch and made for an easy QSO.  The QSB was getting to us as the band changed; and I am so sorry that it was.  I hated for the QSO to end.

But end it did, and after it did, as I was entering the QSO information into my log, I was listening to another station call CQ just a few Hz up the band.  He had a superb signal also, but I hesitated to call him.

As Joan Rivers was famous for saying ........ "Can we talk?"

I didn't answer the station a few Hz up, because just from his CQ, I could tell that it would have been painful. Look, I'm just another "Joe Ham" like the rest of you guys; I'm not a "CW Snob", but I have learned a few things in my 35 years of being on the air.  Can I share a couple of things?

First off - don't send "CQ" endlessly.  Right now as I type this K1ON is sending a CQ on 60 Meters.  His sending is just a skosh above my comfort zone; but it is superb.  Three CQs followed by "de" and then his call sign twice.  He is repeating this series once and then listening before starting again.

CQ CQ CQ de K1ON K1ON
CQ CQ CQ de K1ON K1ON

Now THAT'S the hallmark of a Ham who knows what he's doing.

You don't need to call CQ ten or twenty times before sending your call!  It's not serving any useful purpose and in fact, it's maddening.  And please use "de" in between CQ and your call sign.  I don't remember any big announcement saying that we were going to drop it.  Besides, if you can call CQ umpteen times, do you really think you're saving a lot of time by dropping the "de"?

Secondly, the Real Estate folk are famous for saying "Location, location, location".  I think the CW folk need their own mantra. Can I suggest one?  How about "Spacing, spacing, spacing"?

Send at a speed that is comfortable for you.  And don't rush it!  Let it flow, like a lazy river or fine wine.

Seriously, do you want to get on the air and have me torture your ears with

CQCQCQCQCQCQCQCQCQCQCQCQCQCQdeW2LJW2LJW2LJW2LJ over and over and over?

Or even worse,

W3EDPDEW2LJTUURRSTIS599QTHISSOUTHPLAINFIELD,NJNAMEISLARRYHWCPY?BTU (as I gasp for air at the end!)

I don't think so.

Take your time and take a breath!  Nobody likes to read run on sentences and no one wants to have to decode run on, gibberish CW.  If you find yourself calling CQ endlessly, and you know your antenna working because RBN has spotters showing you at 100dB, it just might be your sending.

Listen to yourself, critically - you'll be doing yourself a favor.

Hey, I know myself that there are times when my arthritis kicks in big time and I sound like I have dyslexia of the fingers.  That's when I have to face facts and slow my own sending speed down by 5 WPM or so.  It's not the end of the world.

Sending good CW is a good thing; but it takes practice. Don't get discouraged. Take your time to do it right and I promise, the speed will increase as time goes on.

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

Blast from the past!

circa 1979

My best friend since High School days plastered this on my Facebook page.  This was taken about a year or so after I was licensed.  Back in the days when I sported a beard and mustache, and professional photography was my trade.

OK fellow bloggers!  The challenge has been issued!  Care to post unflattering pictures of yourself from "the Olden Days"? Can't be any worse than the above!

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

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Radio time

This weekend was a bit out of the ordinary for me. I actually got to spend some time behind the radio, Friday, Saturday and Sunday! This was probably due to the fact that I got our weekly grocery shopping done Thursday night in anticipation of the Nor'Easter that visited us on Friday. Plus the fact that I pretty much stayed put and did not venture out much.

In addition to working just a tiny bit of DX, I also engaged in several nice rag chews this weekend, of which a couple were 2X QRP. I didn't work any new countries, but did get Senegal, Nicaragua, and Providencia Island among others in the log.

15 Meters seemed to be open on Saturday and a for a little bit on Sunday. I really didn't hear much of anything on 12 Meters and didn't hear anything on 10 Meters, either. 17 and 20 Meters were their normal selves.

I also played with both rigs this weekend, the K3 and the KX3.  I am noticing that I am running into more K3s on the air than I have in the past.

I have so many things that I want to accomplish. I need to finish that last 10% of organizing the shack. I would like to hook up the K3 and do some experimenting with WSPR. I'd also like to get started on building my Pig Rig.

So much to do, so little time!

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

Saturday, February 09, 2013

This is why .......

I am not a Weatherman.

It was snowing lightly, all day yesterday.  Actually, alternating continuously between snow, sleet and freezing rain.  I left work for home and even had a somewhat easy commute.  Everyone got scared by the ominous Nor'Easter forecast and must have left work early.  By the time I left for home, the roads had a mere shadow of the normal drive time volume of traffic. Interstate 287 was sloppy and local roads were worse as there was an accumulation of probably just under an inch of snow, sleet and ice. 4 Wheel drive came in handy on the local back roads.

After dinner, I decided to go outside and clear the cars and the driveway, the back deck and the front walk and porch.  It was heavy, slushy accumulated precipitation, but by the time I had finished nothing was falling from the sky. I thought to myself that maybe once again, the weather people had gotten it wrong.  Sometimes, it seems they tend to forecast the sensational, "worst case" event.  I thought that this might have been another one of those times.  So after a session on 30 Meters last night (see my previous post), I checked out the weather radar one last time for the night.  Our portion of New Jersey was at the extreme lower part of the storm. It appeared that within a short amount of time, all would be past us and the little accumulation we had gotten "was all she wrote".  I went to bed, smug, snug and happy.

The one thing I didn't take into consideration - counter clockwise rotation.

During the night, while I laid happily snoozing away, the storm did indeed move in a NorthEasterly direction. But at the same time, it was spinning in a counter clockwise direction, bringing around another bout of snow. So this is what I woke up to:


Six inches of fluffy, white powdery snow.






Not the nearly three feet of snow that parts of New England got slammed with, but enough to be a nuisance. Thankfully, my son Joey helped his Dad clear it all out.






It seems that Nemo (The Weather Channel began giving these Nor'Easters names) decided to finish off a branch from the maple in the backyard that Sandy had previously weakened.  You can see I lucked out here as the branch came very close to support line for the W3EDP antenna.  All my antennas made it through safe and sound.  I don't know how bad the winds got during the night; but they didn't howl loudly enough to awaken me from my sleep.  So either they weren't that bad; or I was just too tired be awakened by the noise!


The good thing is that the snow that fell last night was relatively dry.  I had already removed the heavy stuff, so that made digging out this morning a lot easier.  In all, it took me and Joey a little over an hour to get everything cleared away.

I am hoping that this was our "big snow event" for the Winter of 2013 and that we won't see too much more of the Wintery stuff.  We still have all of February and March to go, so I have my fingers crossed!

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




Friday, February 08, 2013

Sometimes, it just clicks

I don't know if it's like this for everybody; or if it's just me.

There are evenings that you can get on the radio and not hear much of anything and call CQ until you are blue in the face.  Then, there are other evenings when everything just seems to "click".

The was 30 Meters for me tonight.  I still had the KX3 attached to the antennas from using it last night in the 80 Meter Foxhunt.  So I decided (after shoveling snow) to come on down to the shack and give the tuning knob a twirl.

First off, I had two nice chats - the first was with Ken N0JP.  I called CQ and he answered.  When I was calling CQ, I was 579; but as our chat progressed I QSB'ed down to a 429.  Desiring to wrap things up with Ken before I disappeared totally, I gave my final.  Ken came back and told me that I had gone back up to 579!  Thank you, Old Man Murphy!

The second chat was with Mike AA9AA who lives in Wisconsin.  This was a 2X QRP QSO.  Mike was running a TenTec rig at 3 Watts to an Inverted Vee and my KX3 was attached to the 88' EDZ.  Signals were excellent - an honest 579 report both ways. There was a lot of QRM; but the KX3's passband filter tuning made short work of the QRM from my side.

After saying our 72's - I tuned around an heard OJ0H/MM calling CQ.  It turns out that this was a cruise ship down in the Caribbean, the M/S Kristina Katarina out of Finland.  This is the only second /MM station I have ever worked, the first being UR5FA/MM back in May of 2011.  Both were QRP contacts on my end and the QSO with UR5FA/MM was a 2X QRP QSO.  In any event, I worked OJ0H/MM on the first call.

Courtesy of QRZ.com

At that point I went upstairs to warm up a little as the shack is a bit chilly in the Winter. Although not quite as bad as last Winter when it was 58F (14C), it's still only 61F (16C) down here. After a while, my hands get cold.  Maybe I need to invest in some boat anchor tube gear for down here to keep me warm!

After a bit of a respite before the fireplace, I came back down and heard a watery, warbly but decently strong HK0/F6BFH.  It turns out that Alain was working from Providencia Island, which is located midway between Costa Rica and Jamaica.


As I was listening to Alain work stations, I happened to look over to Ham Radio Deluxe and I saw that he had been spotted on the DX Cluster.  I stumbled across him and was going to attempt to work him, but it's been my experience, more often than not, that once DX has been spotted on the Cluster, my chances usually range from slim to none. But throwing caution to the wind, I threw my call out and was very pleasantly surprised when Alain answered with a W2L?.  I put out my call quickly again and gave him a "579 NJ" report.  I was rewarded with the customary DXPedition 599 - which of course, if I really was 599, he would have had my call the first time.  But I'll take it any day of the week.

So I had two nice chats and two nice Caribbean QSOs.  Now, if I could only get down to the Caribbean (along with my KX3) to enjoy some of that warm weather!

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


Thursday, February 07, 2013

FYBO 2012

The "Freeze Your Buns Off" contest was held last Saturday.  And no, I did not get a chance to operate.  Well, actually I did try. I went out at about 3:00 PM local time and set up the portable station in the back of the Jeep in the driveway.  KX3 to Buddistick mounted on the magmount of the car, 7 Ah SLA battery that had been charged via solar panel.

I turned on the KX3 only to find 20 Meters had S9 noise all across the band.  That, and the fact that it was 30F with a wind chill caused me to just say "Nuts!" and forget about it for 2013.

So, instead I live vicariously through K6BBQ:



Thanks, Rem!

Oh, and by the way ....... they say it's a sign of good mental health when you can laugh and joke about yourself.  Take a gander at this (fake) news story about QRPers from The NoiseBlankers Website. Hopefully, it will make you smile - just a little bit!

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

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Comfy chair

I picked up the office chair that I had ordered from Staples on Saturday. It is their Lockridge Manager's chair which is currently on special. It normally goes for $89.99, but is $50.00 off for an online price of $39.99.

It is definitely filling the bill. I spent 90 minutes behind the key tonight hunting Foxes on 40 Meters. Not only did I bag two pelts, but when I got out of the chair to head upstairs, my back and hips gave nary a whimper. This sure is a far cry from that folding metal chair that I was using. When I would get out of that thing, I felt like I was ready for either a walker or a chiropractor.

Band conditions were so-so. Both Foxes were loud for a good portion of the hunt, but at times the QSB was tough to deal with.  I am also pretty sure both Foxes had high local QRN to deal with as each one was asking for multiple repeats of exchange information. Once again, persistence paid off and both Foxes were worked. Hats off to Paul K4FB and TJ W0EA.

I am going to be placing an order in the next few days with either Mouser or Jameco for some parts.  There are plans in the latest Sprat for a rather simple 40 Meter WSPR transmitter. I don't plan to get too involved with the mode, but it looks like a rather easy build, and I am itching to really homebrew something.

I haven't built anything in a while that wasn't pre-kitted. I enjoy the process of buying and gathering the parts. From the looks of the article, this seems to be a project that lends itself well to perf board construction. I already have an ample supply of NE612s, so this will be a purchase of various needed resistors and capacitors, depending on whatever is not already in my junk box.

The final cost should be way under what I have seen some kit prices going for.

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

Monday, February 04, 2013

Somebody gonna get this guy licensed?

Link sent to me courtesy of my good friend, Marv K2VHW:



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

Sunday, February 03, 2013

The Mail Bag

I received two e-mails, that I'd like to share - the first is from Andreas, IZ3NYT:

"Hi dr om,

I built a new beacon on 30 meters, I would like your participation, I hope you have fun. receive the signal if I'd like your QSL card.
the frequency is 10139,2 khz cw wpm 8, power 100mw.

The layout and the pictures you can see on my site http://iz3nyt.altervista.org/.

73 de Andrea IZ3NYT"

Keep a listen out for Andreas' beacon - this would be an excellent way to know if the band is open to Europe

The second e-mail was from Blaine KØONE, pointing me towards a new Website : MorseFusion.com.  They are touting themselves as a new way to learn Morse Code:

"You begin by listening to a novel (over 20 available) spelled out in English (not in code). Then you select which letters, numbers, and punctuation marks you want to gradually start hearing in code. Proper character speed and word rate are maintained during all stages of training."

and

"Throughout the learning process you focus your attention entirely on listening to a novel, NOT on learning Morse code. Learning takes place gradually and in the background."

Interesting concept - but not cheap. A subscription of $19.95 per month is involved.  But, if all other methods of learning the Morse Code have failed for you, this might be something you could look into.

I have to admit, the list of novels that have is intriguing. Classics such as "Pride and Prejudice", "Moby Dick",  "The Picture of Dorian Gray" (had to read that in High School) and books that are a bit more fun, such as "War of the Worlds" and "Tom Swift and his Wireless Message".

The Tom Swift and Hardy Boys books were staples of my youth.

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