Tuesday, April 26, 2016

KX3 - Buddistick Mojo is back

Now, for a limited time ....... considering how the sunspot cycle is dropping like a lead balloon through a pool of hot, melted butter.

But today was relatively decent.  I set up the Buddistick on the Jeep during lunchtime, hoping to hear or work a few NPOTAs. No dice, nothing heard, even though DX Summit said they were there. I did hear a few chasers on both 40 and 20 Meters. Not hearing the activators, I decided not to be a QRM generator to those who stood a decent shot.

So I went on up to 17 Meters where I heard MJ0KUC , the DXpedition to Jersey Island by the Charente DX Group.  Even though I have worked Jersey several times, I always try to honor the Jersey / New Jersey connection by making contact. The CW op behind the key was superb, handling the pileup deftly and expertly.  He was loud to me - 589/599 depending on the QSB so I decided to give it a shot.  I put out my call a few times and finally heard "W2LJ HI LARRY".

Talk about being surprised - no one else's name was being used!  Coming back to my desk, while I still had a few minutes of lunchtime left, I decided to Google "MJ0KUC" and when the page came up, the surprise vanished.  My expert CW op was none other than Bert F6HKA - it just had to be!  We have QSOed before multiple times, so when we hear each other's call on the air, we both exactly know who is behind the key.

That was so very cool!  Thanks, Bert, for the highlight of the day!

The other DX QSO of the day was with 9Y/K2HVN, Bill in Tobago.  QSB was tougher on this one, but we got the exchange completed, and I'm in the log.  From there, I spent another 20 minutes or so unsuccessfully trying to bust the 7Z1JA pileup for Saudi Arabia.  Again, the station was decently loud to me, but no such luck.  The Buddistick didn't have THAT much mojo in it today!

Truly, band conditions are becoming tougher and tougher.  The ease with which I was able to work DX for the past few seasons is rapidly disappearing. But, it's encouraging to know that all things related to Amateur Radio propagation runs in cycles, so the day will come again (someday) when DX with 5 Watts will become easier.

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

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Broke the 100 confirmations mark today!

NPOTA, that is:

I actually have about 1/2 a dozen more that haven't been confirmed yet. According to LotW, those stations have not uploaded logs since their activations.  A few were a while ago, so I guess it's possible that maybe they won't.

While working a few today, it was extremely embarrassing and saddening to see so may out there have no clue on how to handle themselves in a pileup.  Guys ..... YOU HAVE TO LISTEN!

Throwing out your call sign ad nauseum without taking a moment to listen is the number one earmark of lid-dome. Seriously, if you send out your call ten times without taking a breath, how are you going to know if the activator is calling you back? By the time you've stopped sending your call, the activator has worked someone else and is calling QRZ again (and everyone else in the pileup has taken note of your call sign - you can count on it!). DON'T BE AN ALLIGATOR!  You know, all mouth and no ears! Throw out your call once - maybe twice max, and then open up those ear holes and listen!

Which leads to a second and related problem.  If you can't hear the station you are trying to work, you have NO business sending out your call, in the first place.  If you can't hear the station well enough to know that he's answering someone else - or worse, is in QSO with someone else; but you keep sending your call anyway ..... bad scene, man, bad scene.  You've marked yourself as a QRM generator and no one likes those. Don't rely on the Cluster. Just because DX Summit says Joe Ham is on 7.034 MHz at NPOTA NP256 ..... if you can't hear him, then don't even try.  It's a waste of your time and everyone else in the pileup is going to think you're an idiot.

Now everyone makes an honest mistake now and then, and that's OK,  But you can tell when someone has no clue as to what they're doing. And frighteningly, it seems to be becoming more and more common.

It's OK to be excited and enthusiastic. It's not OK to be reckless or use poor operating practises. Use common sense, read the DX Code of Conduct and you'll be OK.

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

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A few thoughts about RC08.

First, propagation was good that morning.  Here's an image from the Reverse Beacon Network showing some of the skimmers that heard me calling CQ:

Actual stations in California, Saskatchewan and Alberta successfully completed QSOs, so my reach was even farther than the skimmers would indicate.

Secondly, I was surprised by the local ambient noise level.  I was sitting at approximately the middle of a sand spit jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean, and I still had an S5 noise level.  I thought it would be way lower than that.  There were a few weak stations that I know were trying their hardest to work me.  I apologize for not being able to dig you out of the noise. Even though the Hook is commercially powered up for the Coast Guard station at the tip, most of the National Park Service buildings along the length of the Hook were still closed as the "season" hasn't started yet.  The service buildings that were open were solar powered. I just expected less noise - certainly not S5 on 40 Meters. My ambient noise level at home is lower than that!

I came home with a sunburn.  It was sunny and there was not a cloud in the sky and I completely forgot, or paid no mind to the fact that the UV rays from the sun would be bouncing off the water to all directions. I was only out for about 90 minutes or so, and I got red.  No big deal, as it wasn't painful or anything like that, but something to keep in mind should I head back for a re-activation later this year. If I do go back, it will be in the Autumn, after tourist season is over so as to avoid paying for parking.  What can I say? I'm as cheap as any other Ham!

Lastly, it came to my attention the other day that Cheesequake State Park is actually part of the National Park System's New Jersey Coastal Heritage Trail (AA17), so that's yet another NPOTA activation that will take place later this year.  Perhaps as early as next month.

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

Sunday, April 17, 2016

It was an NPOTA weekend .....

in more ways than one.

I worked about 5 or 6 new entities between Friday night and Saturday, so I am getting really close to my personal goal of working 100.  The bands have been good the past couple of days, after totally stinking during the middle of the week, so that was a good thing.

I have lived relatively near Morristown National Historical Park my entire life. I think I've been there once before NPOTA.  Yesterday, I decided to take Marianne and our dog, Harold up there for the afternoon, as dogs are welcome there.  It was a beautiful Spring day, Marianne had an extremely rare Saturday off; and I wanted to do something with her.  It seemed like a good opportunity to enjoy the gorgeous weather, walk the dog and get some good exercise in for ourselves. It's because of NPOTA that I discovered that dogs are welcome there. If I didn't see that while I was up there, activating the park, I wouldn't have known otherwise.

Much to our surprise, when we got there, we found out that a Revolutionary War re-enactment was taking place:

The highlight of the day was when one of the re-enactors came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder. He pointed to the American flag that is embroidered on the left sleeve of my jacket and he said to me, "Kind sir, a question, please. It appears that you have a United States flag on your coat; and yet there are so many stars?  Certainly more than 13!"

I answered, "It's a long and sometimes bloody story, and I don't think we have time to go through it all, but I would like to thank you and your fellow soldiers for giving birth to the finest Nation on Earth."

He chuckled, and I chuckled at our impromptu time travelling scenario. In the end, it was great NPOTA day, even though this one didn't involve Amateur Radio.  So hats off to the ARRL for reminding me about some of the really cool places that there are to visit around my QTH.

In the evening, I decided that I would go out early Sunday morning to activate Sandy Hook, which is part of the Gateway National Recreational Area - RC08.

I used the Jackite pole and my homebrew mast holder and the PAR END FEDZ 40/20/10.  In a little over an hour, I made over 40 contacts on 40 and 20 Meters.  Bext DX was Alberta, Saskatchewan and California.  Not bad for 5 Watts, and if at all possible, the PAR will be my preferred antenna for future activations.  

I would have stayed longer, but I had somewhere to go with my daughter Cara, so I made due with the time I had.  It was a bit brisk while I was there, but it was sunny and clear.  If you click on the bottom photo, you just might be able to make out the New York City skyline in the distance, on the horizon.

Sandy Hook was my third activation, and I hope to do at least two more in New Jersey - the Pinelands and the Appalachain Trail in the Northwest part of the state.  When we go up to Lake George this Summer, I also hope to spend one day at Saratoga and activate HP42 while I'm in the neighborhood.

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

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Never heard Heard

I saw on Facebook this morning, that many were thanking the VK0EK expedition for the ATNO and were thanking them, in general, for a wonderful DXpedition. I would suspect they have gone QRT.

And I would guess I'm in the minority as I'm not in any of their logs.  In fact, I never even heard them decently well enough to work them.  There were a couple of times that I could tell they were on a given frequency, but they never loud enough that I would be able to hear my own call come back to me, on the off-chance that they would have heard me.  It didn't seem right to just add to the QRM.

Am I disappointed?  You're darn tootin' I am!  Working VK0EK would have been an ATNO for me and I sure as heck would love to have them in my DXCC tally.  But I'm not depressed about it.

It all goes back to that post a few weeks ago about balance.  Yes, I do not have Heard Island as an entity worked. However, the sun is still shining, the birds are still chirping, our solar system is still plowing its way throughout the galaxy.  I still have to go to work tomorrow and earn a living.

And while I didn't work them, and life goes on, I still applaud their effort.  It's not easy to go to a remote island near Antarctica, and brave the elements and hardships to provide the rest of us Amateur Radio ops with a bunch of excitement and fun.

Thank you Team VK0EK - even though I'm not in your log - thank you for a job very well done, indeed!

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

Sunday, April 03, 2016

A popular misconception

I saw this on Facebook:

Along with this comment:

"Why do we always congratulate the QRP operators...?!?! The ones who REALLY need congratulating are the guys/gals who smash the headphones to their head, desperately trying to make sense out of the distant RF they're hearing to make the QSO. The "skill" in QRP operation is not so much the operator employing it, but the operator trying to pull it out of the mud!"

So let's examine this for a bit ..... is this true?

A lot of times ..... yes.  A lot of time the credit should go to the stations that pull out our sometimes weak signals. And for these times, we offer a hearty "Thank You!"

However, there's a popular and stubborn misconception, or premise here at work here, if you will:

"QRP = Weak Signal"

Many times, this IS the case, but many times IT IS NOT.

This is where propagation and band conditions come into play, my friends.  And if you've spent any time at all on the HF bands, you would know better than to make the above statement, because a weak signal can be produced by any station. It's not necessarily an indicator of how much power they're running.

Many have been the times when I've had problems pulling a 100 Watt or better signal out of the muck. This could be due to the fact that the station I was trying to work was in the skip zone, the band on which we were working was only "so-so" that day, or for a plethora of other reasons.

Many have been the times when other QRPers have literally blown the cans off my ears with their 5 Watt signals (N9NE comes to mind, on a regular basis). So in the end, you really can't "'judge the book by its cover", nor make assumptions about the station based on the loudness of its signal.

The station that's pinning your needle just might be a QRPer, while the station that you can barely hear may be running a kilowatt.  It's all in the antenna, the band, and the ionosphere, and how all these elements are interacting at the moment.

So what's the lesson to be learned?  

1) Don't be afraid to try and work the weak ones.  I have been guilty of this myself.  There have been instances where I thought "Oh, this guy is never going to hear my 5 Watts!", only to find out that he was running 100 Watts, or better ........ but for whatever reason, he was hearing me much better than I was hearing him.

2) Propagation is not always reciprocal. (This is #1 in reverse.)  Just because the station you are hearing is 20 dB over 9 doesn't necessarily mean you will be heard equally as well at their end.  There may be a high background noise level on their end that you don't know about.  Yes, it IS frustrating as all get out, but don't beat yourself up because the "loud one" didn't hear you. Sometimes, it just works out that way.

3) Power is relative, but it's not an absolute. So as I've said so many times before, you should just forget that you're a QRPer. You're just another fish in the Amateur Radio sea. A smaller fish for sure, but just another fish. And sometimes, just sometimes, the smaller fish gets away with snagging the bait and swimming away to play another day, while the big fish gets snagged by the hook and ends up on the dinner plate.

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

Friday, April 01, 2016

Hanging it up

After 11 years of blogging about Amateur Radio, QRP and CW, I've come to the conclusion that everything that needs to be said has been said.  I've run out of ideas and new ways to express the old ones. 

So with this blog post, this will be the end of "QRP - Do More With Less".

It's been a good run and I'd like to thank all of you out there who have been faithful readers over these past 11 years, but I think it's time to hang it up.

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

April Fool!
Didn't think I was going away that easily, did you?  Naah, I enjoy this too much and will keep on going, the Good Lord willing and the creek don't rise!