Friday, May 26, 2017

Rain

Has it been raining a lot lately!  Rain, rain, and more rain. Last night, it was pouring "cats and dogs" when I went to bed. After a few minutes, I heard some rumbles of thunder (the first of the season) in the distance and I decided to head down to the basement to unhook the antennas.  A few moments after I had climbed back into bed there was a very bright flash, and the house shook from the vibrations of the thunder clap!  One of those times that I'm certain I prevented static damage.

Earlier in the day, I was able to work Sean KX9X/7 while he was operating from Devil's Tower, KFF-0920 in Wyoming.



I had gotten home from work and sat down with the tablet for a few minutes after I had put dinner in the oven. I saw his Facebook postings and that he was QRV on 14.064 MHz, so I ran down the basement and tuned in.  His signal was about 449 with some QSB, but by turning off the KX3's pre-amp, I was able to tone down the background noise and hear Sean's signal more clearly.  It was enough that I was able to work him and get him in the log.

This weekend is a long weekend in the US, as on Monday, we honor the lives of our military men and women who gave their lives in service to our nation - Memorial Day.  The weather outlook for the weekend is pretty gloomy, with a chance for rain every day except tomorrow.  On Sunday, I was hoping to go and activate one of NJ's many parks for Parks On The Air. I would prefer to do that from a picnic table instead of from inside my car.  Rain is forecast for the morning and evening, with perhaps a break in the afternoon. I'll have to see how it plays out. Monday looks to be a washout.

On an encouraging side note, I found a place here at work where I think I can set up during lunchtime and resume my daily QRP sessions (once the weather dries out).  I got in really early this morning and decided to investigate the various parking lots around the buildings on campus.  The main parking area is underground, which doesn't do me a lot of good. However, I found that the lot also extends "up" and that if I park up there, it would be pretty much like operating at our old location. Not scenic, by any means, but in the open without many obstructions.  I can just imagine it now, as building Security patrols the parking lots ..... the first time they see the magloop, should I decide to bring and deploy it. LOL!

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

Monday, May 22, 2017

Saving up!

As Hamvention weekend was coming to a close, I have decided that I am going to make my best effort to attend FDIM and Hamvention in 2018. If I put a little $$$ aside each week, I should have ample funds come the beginning of the year.

Now that my two kids are older, I really want to attend FDIM to meet as many of you as I can; as well as all the great folks I've worked over the years in the various Sprints, etc.

So, to you FDIM veterans out there - I take it that the event is still taking place at the Holiday Inn in Fairborn?  When's the best time to reserve a room?

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

Friday, May 19, 2017

Them QRP'ers ..... they show up EVERYWHERE!


Thanks to Tom Medlin W5KUB for keeping me informed and entertained today!

Speaking of which ...... Tom is providing a great service, keeping those of us who can't make it out to Xenia informed and feeling like we're still in the mix.  Traveling out there and setting up an operation like his is a labor of love ...... but it ain't cheap!  If you go over to his Website and click on his "Live Video" link, you'll get a pop-up which will allow you to enter into a raffle to help defray his production costs. The prize is a really neat antenna analyzer, which I sure as heck wouldn't mind winning - so I threw a few bucks his way ..... and I hope you might consider doing the same.

By the way .......... if there are any of my regular readers at Dayton and you happen to have a picture of you, or someone you love (or even a total stranger for that matter) wearing either a Skeeter Hunt shirt, or a "QRP, when you care to send the very least!" shirt - please send me a copy!

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

Saw this little guy on W5KUB

While trying to keep an eye on Hamvention via the W5KUB live video, I saw this little guy out of the corner of my eye, which made me sit up and take notice.  In all the talk about all the QRP radios out there; and all the kits, I never seen this one widely discussed before:


A QRP transceiver designed and produced by Chris, M0NKA in Great Britian.  It's official name is the mcHF Radio, which stands for "Mega cheap HF Radio". Cool!  That's Carl, WD8VXS who is walking around with it and is being interviewed by W5KUB.

It's an all band, all mode radio that will do up to 10 Watts out up to 30 Meters and then about 6-7 Watts on the bands higher than that. It has the sound card built in, has a USB port for easy firmware updates, or for hooking up to your computer and has a touch screen.


It can be purchased several ways:

1) Just the boards - you supply the parts - about $35
2) All the boards and all the parts - about $270
3) All the boards and all the parts, BUT with the SMD components already pre-installed, (No price mentioned during the interview)

The case can be gotten from a source in China.  About $80

For a lot more detail - you can go to the Website, here - http://www.m0nka.co.uk/  There's also an M0NKA Facebook page.

I don't know why this little fella hasn't garnered more press within the QRP community, especially within the kit building community.  Maybe it has and I'm just woefully uninformed?

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


Spreading the word

Hoping we can get this to spread like wildfire!  I saw the link on Chris KQ2RP's blog and am embedding the video here - QRP Night ... the night before Field Day.

Let's make this happen!



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

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Lessons learned the hard way


You'd have thunk that after being an Amateur Radio op for some 39 years now, and a dedicated QRP'er for about 14 years now that the "slogan" shown immediately above would be like second nature to me. But no, I still fall prey to the occasional troll, especially the species that insists that "The guy on the other end of the QRP QSO is the "hero" who does all the heavy lifting". While I agree that the receiving station is an invaluable part of the QSO - isn't that true for EVERY contact, not just the QRP ones?

Calmly explaining that signal strength is a combination of power, antenna and propagation falls on deaf ears with these folks. It's power, power, power and more power, and that's it.  When you counter with the addition of  the word"skill", that usually gets even more laughs from these folks. "How much skill does it take", they ask, "to shoot out 5 Watts out of a piece of wire?"

Thanks to Steve Yates AA5TB for answering that question in a recent discussion I became involved with on a social media site.  Steve put into words, what we all know; but sometimes fail to enunciate. Steve countered with (and I'm paraphrasing) that the skill comes in in knowing your equipment, understanding propagation and understanding antenna theory enough to put all three of those elements together in order to get the communication through is a reliable and efficient manner.

Eloquent and to the point!  So the next time you're baited - feel free to use the words you've read here and "Keep calm and move away from the troll".

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

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Wish I was going to Dayton ....... err, Xenia

Maybe the better terminology would be, "Wish I was going to Hamvention" and leave it at that.

PREDICTION: Attendance will be up significantly this year as the new venue is a big draw.

New venue or old, I wish I was going.  It's been 20 some years now since I last made a trek to Dayton.  Various things have taken precedence - work, marriage, offspring, etc.  I think the last time I was to Dayton was the final year before the switch over to May. I do miss it.

Not that I'm looking to buy anything, because I'm not. Well, at least nothing major, anyway. What I do miss is the trip out and back with local friends and meeting up with far away friends for a few days.

I'm ashamed to admit this - I've been writing this QRP and CW blog for 12 years now and I've never been to Four Days in May! How lame is that? And watch, by the time I'm able to make it, FDIM will become a thing of the past.

That's what happened with Atlanticon.  The several years it was held, both Joey and Cara were in their toddler years.  I could have taken time off; but my wife also works full time. With no one to watch the kids, attending Atlanticon was not a possibility.  When my kids became old enough were I could have left them alone until Mom got home from work, Atlanticon had gone the way of the Dodo.

Sorry to be such a "Debbie-Downer", but I see Facebook posts of good friends making their way out to Ohio and my gray matter takes me back to Memory Land and the good times I had in days of yore. I would dearly love to meet my many QRP friends, Skeeter Hunt friends, QRP Fox hunt friends, and NPOTA friends who I have come to know, oh so well, but have never met face-to-face.

Wait a sec ...... come to think of it, I have a commitment on Saturday morning that would have precluded my going this year, even if I could.

But I still wish I could.

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

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Solving the final loop problem

One of the major issues that I've had with my home brewed magloop antenna is the base.


The first iteration was a totally home brewed base made out of PVC. It ended up being unusable as the antenna would pivot sideways at the two points indicated by the yellow arrows.  An accidental tug on the coax or a good stiff breeze would create havoc.

The second edition involved removing the PVC base and using the mini tripod that came with my Buddistick Deluxe package.


I took the center column out of the tripod and slipped the 1/2" PVC of the loop frame into the hole. It worked well, but as its name implies, it's a mini tripod. Even with the legs extended all the way (as shown in the photo above at Morristown National Historical Park), it was still very short and it occupied a very small foot print.  This solution was better, but not ideal as the whole affair was still entirely too top heavy and if I wasn't careful, or if it was too breezy ......... havoc ensued, again.

Wanting a better solution, I went to the Magnetic Loop Antennas page on Facebook and asked for opinions. Ido Roseman 4X6UB suggested going to the hardware store and purchasing a construction light.  These are halogen lamps that usually come with a stand.


I went to Home Depot this morning and asked to be directed to the construction lights. Much to my delight, in addition to the lights mounted on stands, they also sold just the tripods.  I bought one of the Husky brand tripods for $19.00 and brought it home.  What you can't see on the photo above is a little box at the top of the stand that allows for quick mounting of the lights.  The quick mount is held on by four screws. Removing the screws and the quick mount box leaves a hollow tube that is just wide enough to slip 1/2"PVC into with no trouble.


So what I have now is a very sturdy base that still collapses down compactly enough to fit into the stuff sack that I keep the un-assembled loop in. A little bit heavier package than I used to have; but still totally and conveniently portable.

Kudos to 4X6UB for the wonderful tip!

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

Thursday, May 11, 2017

HW-8


It was fun hooking up the HW-8 (courtesy of Dave KD2FSI) to the 4 States QRP Group antenna tuner and playing around on 40 Meters last night.  I only made a couple of contacts; but they were solid and easy.

I was surprised by two things:

1) How little I have forgotten since I had the HW-8 I had originally purchased and built.  Knowing where the controls, the settings, the peculiarities were like second nature (not that it's a complex piece of equipment. It's not) - like riding a bike, you never forget.

2) The bandspread and selectivity. Yikes!  Compare to the KX3 and other, more modern rigs the bandspread on the HW-8 is very tight. Meaning a little twitch of the VFO knob goes a long way. Maybe 40 Meters was very crowded last night with the NAQCC Sprint going on, but it sounded so crowded,  kind of like my old Novice days on the bands.  I guess with the KX3 you get more "twiddle room" between signals - and I've gotten used to that.

In all, it was a joy to use again; and I am going to be using it more and more as time goes on.  This will definitely be my SKN rig from here on out; and maybe, just maybe, I'll take "The KB9BVN Challenge" and will see if I can get WAS with this 'lil pup.

Thanks again, to good friend Dave Hackett KD2FSI for graciously re-uniting me with a relic from my Amateur Radio halcyon days. With apologies to Thomas Wolfe, "Sometimes you CAN go home again."

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

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Worse than trying to bust a pileup to North Korea

Can you imagine that? Can you imagine when someday, North Korea joins the rest of the world and finally allows its citizens to have access to Amateur Radio? Can you imagine what that pileup will be like?  All the Honor Roll guys who will finally have the chance to "have 'em all"? Can you imagine that headache?

I can.

Last night I attended a workshop for "Financial Aid for College" put on for the parents of Juniors at my son's high school. I came home with a headache about the same that I imagine I would have gotten from trying to bust a P5 pileup.  Deadlines, forms, EFCs, FAFSA, merit scholarships, etc, etc, etc,  Oy! It's enough to make my head spin!

When I finally got home around 9:00 PM, I was in no mood to head down the basement to tackle the completion of my 4 States QRP Group antenna tuner.  Hopefully, I'll get to that tonight after dinner and mowing the lawn. Once that's done, I'll put my HW8 on the air for a bit to give the new tuner a workout.  The HW8 takes a 1/4" mono headphone jack for the key input, so I'll have to make up a cable so that I can use my AA0ZZ EZKeyer with it. Maybe I can use that combo for the NAQCC Sprint, which is tomorrow (Wednesday) night. Oh yes, I forgot, the NAQCC Sprint requires a straight key for a better multiplier.  OK, one less cable to make.

At a time when folks are leaping into SDRs and panadapters and other hi-tech goodies, I seem to be going "retro".  Hey, whatever floats your boat, right?

That's another thing - I have to get out the "publicity e-mail" for the Sprint tonight, as well. Sometimes I feel like I have too many irons in the fire, or that I'm burning the candle at both ends AND the middle.

On the "feeling good" side of the coin ....... a few months ago, I lost a 32 GB USB Flash Drive.  I had blog photos, Web site HTML files, Tech class material, Skeeter Hunt stuff - just about everything that was near and dear to me regarding Amateur Radio on it, in one convenient place.  It had fallen out of my pocket and I thought it was lost forever.  Nothing was irreplaceable, as all the content exists on various other computer hard drives at home.  It was a pain in the you-know-where to try and re-assemble all of that, though.

Last night, while getting out of the car, I stooped down to pick up my work backpack, which had fallen off the rear seat and onto the rear floor during the drive home.  As I was looking down, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the Flash Drive in that little space on the floor betwixt the driver's seat and the driver's door. Hallelujah!  What a great feeling to have all that information back. Tonight I am going to copy the contents of this USB stick onto my wife's 3 TB external hard drive for insurance sake.

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


Monday, May 08, 2017

Doctor, my eyes !

It was good to melt some solder yesterday.  Other than building the magloop and soldering some PL259s, it's been way too long since I've done any serious kit building.

But I have to tell you .......... my eyes!


My eyes are not what they used to be. The last "seriously big" kit that I built was probably my K2, back in 2004, 2005?  Not exactly sure which year it was - and it appears my memory is fading as well as my eyes! LOL!  I mean, I've built other kits since then, but nothing as intense as the K2 experience.

Anyway, back then I wasn't wearing bifocals yet.  My eyes have definitely gone downhill since then. Bifocals are great for reading, but suck seriously when it comes to kit building. The "close" part of the bifocal lens is useless for the kind of closeup vision needed for soldering and for reading component values. For reading component values I used a magnifying glass, but for soldering? It was easier to just take off my glasses and rely on my own myopia.

So it was a hilarious routine.  Glasses on to read the manual, then pick up the magnifying glass to read the component value.  Put down the magnifying glass to re-check the manual.  Glasses off for the installation and soldering of the component. And so forth, and so forth, and so forth .........

I think I spent more time taking my glasses on and off than soldering! It made for an interesting afternoon of juggling.

Sadly, I think SMD would be pretty much out of the question for me, now. Not that I would be incapable of it; but I think the frustration factor would make the experience joyless, and that's part of the reason we build things, right?  Not only to end up with a functioning piece of equipment; but also to have some fun in the process.

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

Sunday, May 07, 2017

This is May?

For the 7th of May, I would be expecting warmer temperatures. The last week has been on the chilly side and rainy, not very May-like at all! This time of year normally fills my head with ideas of heading out to a park and setting up the station in the nice, warm sunshine.  Today, I was happy to stay indoors, where it was nice and warm.

I purchased one of those 4 States Crickets and am looking forward to building it and getting it on the air. However, I need to do something about a transmatch first.  The KX3 has the built in autotuner, and while I have an Emtech ZM-2 tuner, that stays in my portable ops backpack.

A while back I had purchased, also from the 4 States Group, one of their 4-S Tuners.


I realized I needed a good QRP antenna tuner for my various QRP transmitters and transceivers; and this seemed to be a very good little unit that would fit my needs, nicely. Today was a good day to sit down at the bench and do some building.

It's not a difficult kit to assemble, but at the same time it might surprise you.  This is a kit that's a hybrid between "standard" kit building and homebrew.  I say that, because while the kit comes with a printed circuit board/top cover, it's a bit different from what you might be used to.


There are no through-holes, just pads that are reminiscent of Manhattan style construction.  But since the pads are not hard wired together, but are connected by circuit board traces, the 4 States Group refers to this as "Pittsburgh Construction".

The first step was building the main inductor. It looked more complicated than it turned out to be.


The rest of the components went on easily enough. It kind of reminded me of my old days at Sinar Bron when the first SMD circuit boards came out in the studio strobes that we sold. At the time, we had no SMD devices to repair them with, so we took regular discrete components and just soldered them to the SMD pads. You do what you have to, right?



In just a couple of hours, most of the work was done. 


This photo doesn't show it, but I got the two polyvaricon capacitors mounted and all that's left for me to do is construct the rest of the enclosure, which are pieces of circuit board material which will solder together. The final steps shouldn't take too long and then it will be on to the Cricket.

This little unit will get a workout. Besides the Cricket, I have various other monoband QRP transceivers and transmitters that will now be able to be hooked up to the W3EDP.  The plan is that this unit will stay in the shack and the Emtech will stay in the backpack.

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

Friday, May 05, 2017

A very nice article

As posted by Sean KX9X on the Facebook NPOTA page:

https://rootsrated.com/stories/hamming-it-up-on-the-trail-the-story-of-alabama-s-ham-radio-hikers

Granted, I kind of glossed over the article quickly, but the author seemed to take the time to get the details correct.  And any article that goes out of its way to put Hams, QRP and the Great Outdoors in a good light is always a winner as far as I'm concerned!

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