Friday, July 21, 2017

Bad advice from the Internet

In my most humble opinion, the Internet and social media have been a boon to Amateur Radio. Never before has learning and Elmering become so easy and widespread.  There is sooooo much good information out there on antennas, equipment, operating procedures and practises ...... it almost makes me jealous that we didn't have this back when we were Novices in the "dinosaur days".

But there's a down side, too.  Just as there is a lot of good information out there, there's also stuff that makes me go like this when I read it.


And this happens particularly when it comes to the topic of learning Morse Code. I realize that when it comes to learning, that people are like snowflakes - no two are alike. But I know bad advice when I see it, and there's plenty of it out there.

I think that for the vast majority of people, using gimmicks or visual associations for learning Morse Code characters is a very, very, very bad idea.  I know that the Morse Code is a huge obstacle for some people. Back when I was a teenager of 16 years, I had such tremendous problems learning Morse, that I gave up on it myself for several years. If I had the Internet back then, I probably would have followed some bad advice that would have been offered to make learning Morse Code "easier". Looking back on it, that was exactly my problem, even without having the Internet.  A well meaning person gave me a Morse Code chart - all the letters of the alphabet, and the numbers printed out, alongside their Morse equivalents. It became a crutch.  My brain just couldn't make the audio to visual to brain connection quickly enough; and I gave up.  It was only about 5 years (5 years! 5 wasted years!) later that an instructor gave me the ARRL Morse Code cassette set with the admonition to LISTEN, that I was able to learn the Code successfully.

In the end, using visual associations such as charts or tables, counting dits and dahs, or any kind of mental associations (D = Dog did it)  or other quickie learning gimmick actually slows you down in the long run. Sure, it may have helped one to get to the minimum 5 WPM level quickly, but after that, these methods hang around your neck like the proverbial albatross.  Because once you get to the 10 WPM level, you will reach a plateau - and until you unlearn those bad habits, you won't advance any further. Maybe the best analogy is that the Morse Code characters have to become as automatic to you as hitting the brake pedal on your car when you see the brake lights on the car in front of you come on. You don't think about it, you just do it!

As I eventually learned, the best method to learning the Morse Code is by listening. Not looking ....... listening.  I think the best method is to combine both the Koch and Farnsworth methods.  The Farnsworth method would have the student listen to Morse Code characters sent at a speed of about 13 WPM, but spaced out at a speed of about 5 - 8 WPM.  Using the Koch method in combination with this would be to introduce the similar characters in bunches, at the same time, i.e., first learn, e, i, s, h, 5 first and get comfortable with those before moving on.

But above all, it is important to imprint the sounds in your brain. Anything which can come in between the ear and brain is going to make things much harder once you've reached the point where you've learned the characters and you're training to increase your speed.

In another post, I'll go into some of the resources available for learning Morse.  I haven't looked into these in a while, and I'm certain some good stuff has become available since I last looked.

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

Thursday, July 20, 2017

On this day, 48 years ago


Here men from the planet Earth 
First set foot upon the Moon
July 1969, A.D.
We came in peace for all mankind

Neil  A. Armstrong     Michael Collins     Edwin E. Aldrin Jr.
Astronaut                Astronaut                  Astronaut

Richard M. Nixon
President, United States of America

To read about the communications systems that the Lunar Module employed, here are two good links from the NASA Archives: https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/19720023255.pdf and https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/20090015392.pdf

The S-band transceiver was the primary transceiver used for TV, telemetry, biomedical data, and voice communications from the Lunar surface. It had an output power of  750 mW (QRPp!).  That signal then went to the S-band power amplifier, which boosted the signal to an outstanding "QRO" signal of 18.6 Watts.

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

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Doing some housekeeping

You may have noticed (or not) that the blogroll to the right has shrunken a bit.  I removed a couple of blogs that no longer have valid links (can no longer be reached). I also moved a few blogs that have been inactive for a year or more down to the dormant blogroll.  Anytime that these become active again, I move them back to the top list. I also removed a couple links that no longer had valid URLs; and edited some where the URLs changed.

If you  know of any blogs focusing on QRP, CW or portable ops that are worth following and that I don't have listed, either send an e-mail to w2lj@arrl.net, or leave a comment in the commbox. I'll give them the once over and will add them if they seem like a good fit.

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

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Just noticed something

The graphic for Windows 10 Mail:


Do you see it?

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

Monday, July 17, 2017

FOBB 2017 - ICYMI

Just in case you missed it - THE Summer QRP Classic - The Flight of the Bumblebees is on!  The event is on Sunday, July 31st from 17:00 to 21:00 UTC.


To get a Bumblebee number, you have to first to to the Bee database to see what's been assigned:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1r0ICCSjbErmIfRQz2U7hZJkSccuQ5ukHEtVXzmOF5eM/edit#gid=119767365

Send an e-mail to ARSBumblebees@gmail.com and be sure to include your first name, call sign, the field location you plan to operate from and your three top choices for a Bee number.

Keep in mind that you are encouraged to participate in the FOBB as a home station - but only Field Stations can have a Bee #.

After you've sent KI6SN your request, be sure to keep an eye on the roster at the link above. That's where you will be able to determine what number you've been assigned.

The rest of the rules can be found at http://arsqrp.blogspot.com/2017/07/announcing-ars-2017-fobb.html

FOBB is, was, and continues to be the best Summer Outdoor QRP event, bar none. It's the equivalent of the Masters, or Wimbledon or Tour de France of the QRP Summer contest season. Get out there, get some sunshine and some breeze in your hair and have fun!

I can hear wings buzzing already!

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

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Back from the Lake

As I type this, massive depression is setting in as the last few hours of my vacation week are coming to a close. Tomorrow, it's back to the Old Grind.

Last week was spent at our customary place at Lake George, NY.  The weather was iffy, with rain and thunderstorms at the beginning and end of the week. Sandwiched in the middle was some good weather.  I didn't head out for my customary QRP session at the top of Mount Prospect until Monday, this time. Usually, I head out there on Sunday and take part in the QRP-ARCI Homebrew Sprint, but this year I was content to spend Sunday doing my best imitation of a couch potato.

When I went up there on Monday, I brought the magloop along and set that up.  Immediately, I knew something was wrong.  I was having a very hard time getting a loud background noise "sweet spot", which indicates a good match.  Removing the top of the capacitor enclosure, it became obvious that if I turned the tuning knob in one direction, all was well. When I tried to tune in the opposite direction, the capacitor shaft would not turn at all.  Argh!  One of the two set screws on the reduction drive had come loose!

And of course, of all the tools that I carry in the Jeep, a complete set of hex wrenches is not included. I put the magloop away in its carrying sack and broke out the Jackite pole, my drive on mast support and the PAR 10/20/40.  I had that up and on the air in a few minutes, but the bands seemed dead. I had no luck calling CQ and I wasn't heard on 17 Meters by J68GD, who was loud, but called CQ in my face when I tried to answer him.  Obviously, this was another instance when propagation wasn't reciprocal.  I went back to 20 Meters and was hunting around when all of a sudden it got very windy. My ARRL mini log books were flying all over the place and the Jackite was doing its best impression of a Hawaiian Hula dancer. I decided to call it quits for the day, and head back to the cabin.  On the way back, I stopped by a small hardware store in Lake George Village and picked up a good hex wrench set.  When I got back to the cabin, once again I removed the top of the capacitor enclosure. The one set screw was tight and was right as rain, but the other needed about a 1/4 turn to get it snug. I gave it an extra bit of torque to make sure it was tight, but not to the point of rounding off the set screw.  Right away, I was able to turn the tuning knob in both directions and see that the capacitor shaft was moving, also. Lesson learned - always have the proper tools close by!

Although I didn't make any contacts, later that night I logged onto the Reverse Beacon Network website and plugged in my call sign to see if I was being heard.  I was!  Good signal to noise reports all up and down the East coast, into the Mid-west and even out as far as Saskatchewan, Canada. I was getting out, I just wasn't getting any takers.

The end of the week turned rainy, damp and chilly.  Thursday afternoon was spent largely in the cabin. Once again I decided to set the loop up in the cabin.  I wasn't hearing all that much, except on 20 Meters, where I was hearing some DX. US1GCU was calling CQ, so I gave Leo a call and got an answer.  To the 599 that I gave him, I got a 579 in return.  A few minutes later, I heard a loud UR4EZ calling CQ.  Sent my call again and was answered immediately. Victor gave me a 579 and I gave him a 599.  Both Ukrainians were very loud.  I was very pleased to receive the 579 reports as I never mentioned to either Leo or Vic that I was running QRP power and that I was using a magloop antenna indoors. And since the unsolicited 579s were received instead of "compulsory" DX 599s, I will take it that I was given RSTs that were honest and somewhat accurate.

Again, this magloop continues to amaze me.  It boggles my mind from time to time that it gets out so well and that I receive the signal reports that I get. Again, this is not an every day antenna; but it sure makes a nice antenna for vacation and portable ops when there are no trees around; or you don't want to mess around with trees on someone else's property.

This morning was the Sussex County Amateur Radio Club's annual Hamfest at the Sussex County Fairgrounds in Augusta, NJ.  I think that without a doubt, this is the largest Hamfest in New Jersey. Luckily, I was able to attend as some years it occurs on the Sunday that we are in Lake George.  I made the trip up to Augusta with Marv K2VHW.  I didn't have plans to buy much of anything. I did come home with some CR2023 button batteries for Harold's LED collar that we use when we take him for walks after it gets dark.  I also came home with a little Radio Shack travel alarm clock that I picked up for $2.  I set it to UTC and put it in my backpack.  It will serve well as my official portable ops logging clock. It is only about 2 X 3 inches and maybe 3/4 of an inch deep, so while it is very small, the display takes up a large part of the front and is easy to read.  There's even a button that you can push to light up the display for reading it in darker conditions.

There were lots of things on tables that I was absolutely salivating over, especially this Brown Brothers straight key / paddle combo.


The gentleman selling it was firm on the price and was more than I was willing to spend. And when it comes right down to it, while I always wanted one of these, I have so many wonderful paddles and straight keys already - how many can you have? And what good would it do to have it just to collect dust on a shelf.  I can't imagine using this primarily instead of my Begali or N2DAN Mercury paddles.  Collecting is nice if you have money to burn, but that's never been the case for me.

Besides, I will be adding one more key to my collection at the end of the month - a W2WK Marconi Straight Key.  I'd rather have one of Bill's straight keys than the Brown Brothers combo, any day.

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

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Spirit of QRP

Recently, the South Plainfield Amateur Radio Club sent a press release to our two local town newspapers, to let them know how we did on Field Day.  Mind you, we were operating NJ2SP as 3A Battery, which meant we were operating QRP, that is, 5 Watts output on all modes.

We had a total of 544 contacts, 308 of which were made with Morse Code, 230 were made with voice and an additional 6 were made using PSK31.  We made contact with 41 states (we used states in the press release as the general public would be scratching their heads over "sections", and I'm not sure how many sections we worked), and 4 different DX countries - Canada, Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands.

We had our best year ever for SSB contacts, and I attribute this to the fact that Dave KD2FSI finally got Marv K2VHW's tri-band beam tuned up properly and that helped us immensely.  As one of the two CW ops, it warmed my heart to look at the logging computers to see that the phone stations were actually keeping up with the CW stations somewhat. It's no fun to sit at a microphone and announce your call sign over and over, while not being heard by anyone at the other end. It's doubly not fun to be successful behind the key while watching your friends behind the microphone get frustrated because they don't have the proper tools at their disposal.

Which allows me to segue to another, but related topic.  There are many in our QRP community who think that taking advantage of antennas other than wires or verticals is somehow "wrong". To them, QRP is a minimalist thing, only.  QRP power to the simplest of antennas is all they want, or all they need.

As a sub-niche in the QRP world, that's fine.  Go at this any way you want.  But to look down on, or denigrate other QRPers who take advantage of beams and towers, beverage antennas and full wave loops is ludicrous.  To many, including myself, the Spirit of QRP is taking that 5 or 10 Watts of RF power and doing the most you can with it.  If I had acreage, you'd be darn tootin' that I'd have full wave loops up and all the wire that I could manage to hoist into the air.  If my XYL was amenable, and I could afford it (another subject entirely), I'd have a 40 foot tower with a Hexbeam atop it in a heartbeat. Would that make me less of a QRPer?  Certainly not!

Do you disdain those who use coupons to stretch the most they can out of their food budget?  Would you scoff at a person who got creative with left overs in order to not waste food or money?  Do we applaud people who find new and innovative ways to recycle items so as to protect our environment?

I think you can see where I'm going here.  The Spirit of QRP is taking that low power and using the most efficient equipment and antennas that are available to you under your circumstances and having the maximum amount of fun that you can have with it.

End of story.

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

Friday, July 07, 2017

No K2B or K2C on CW last night

So, I did not end up getting an all CW Clean Sweep on the 13 Colonies event this year. After I got done with my chores last night, which was around 9:00 PM, I went down the basement, turned on the rig and laptop and started up Log4OM.  The Cluster function allows me to filter by band, by mode, or by band and mode.


I started out just by mode, CW and saw that K2B and K2C were not on any of the bands using Morse Code.  For the heck of it, I switched on over to SSB and sure enough, both Colonies were represented on the phone bands.  I decided to take a listen in, just for kicks.

K2C, Rhode Island was on 80 Meter SSB and was calling CQ, and was very loud and clear.  And apparently, very lonely. I nearly fell out of my chair!  He was actually calling CQ!  In my mind, I thought that Rhode Island would have been inundated under a tsunami of folks trying to get a QSO in.  Rhode Island is one of the tough ones for regular ol' WAS, let alone 13 Colonies.  I was surprised that the op had not much in the way of takers.  I listened in on a few QSOs just because I loved the guy's (whomever he was) New England accent.  We tend to think of it as a "Boston accent", but in reality that intonation exists throughout a lot of New England, not just Boston. One chaser thanked him for the QSO and the time that he must have spent on the radio all week and he answered, "No, thank YOU! We loved being heah, handin' out QSOs."  Gotta love that accent!

K2B, Virginia was on 20 Meter SSB. An unlike K2C, he was busy, quite a bit busy and again, that surprised me.  Virginia is not one of the "rare ones" in any way, shape or form.  I don't know how much time the K2B ops were able to get on during the week; but from last night, it sounded like there were quite a few Hams desperately needing Virginia for the sweep.

He wasn't the loudest, but was completely readable in NJ with a lot of QSB.  That made sense to me as I think 40 Meters would have been the better band for a NJ to VA QSO at that time of day. Understandably, with the event coming to a close, you want to hand out as many QSOs as possible and go out with a bang.  I would have chosen 20 Meters also, were I behind the rig in Virginia.

There were so many chores that kept me off the radio this past week.  It was only about a day or two ago that I thought of keeping DX Summit on in the browser of my smart phone and checking that, from time to time.  If I had been clever enough to think of that from the beginning of the event, I'm willing to bet I would have stood a much better chance to get a CW Clean Sweep.

So as those Brooklyn Dodger fans used to say, "Wait 'til next year!"

Paying attention to social media, it appears a lot of folks were unsuccessful working the British bonus station GB13COL.  I myself only heard them once and they were only a whisper above ESP level at that.  But apparently, they had a grand old time.  They posted the following to Facebook:

"Well another year over for GB13COL, and everybody in the team thoroughly enjoyed themselves yet again in the ever popular 13 Colonies Special Event. The team managed to work 89 unique DXCC entities and approximately 3,000 logged QSOs using SSB, CW, DStar and Digital modes. Please check the GB13COL QRZ page to see if you have been logged or not.

The guys would like to thank the people who took the time to thank them for being there and trying to get them in to our Log. Facebook along with the clusters proved very popular to chat to us live and see where we were operating at any given time. Band conditions were certainly not favourable to the USA, with most of the openings occurring during 10pm to 5am local UK times. This has left some of us very tired, especially after dismantling the equipment after the last night shift.

Typically, we had the odd issues due to close proximity of RF equipment, the occasional power outage and internet connection drop outs. But these were all overcome in the spirit of Amateur Radio and a useful tool kit.

We hope to be part of the Special Event again next year.

All the very best, Ray de G0VLF & Team GB13COL"

In the end, most (but not all, it seems) folks, from 13 Colonies ops to the very last chaser, seemed to have fun - and that's what this is really all about.

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


Thursday, July 06, 2017

Typical

As the 13 Colonies Special Event comes to a close tonight for 2017, I am seeing typical comments on social media.  Those who got a clean sweep are elated and those who haven't ........ well, let's be charitable and say they are writing posts that are way less enthusiastic.

To be sure, I posted to Facebook my own quandary about my experience with K2B's abrupt disappearance from 40 Meters last night; and someone answered by letting me know that parts of Virginia were experiencing severe weather last night.  Heck, that would sure explain that! And with discretion being the better part of valor, I highly commend the op for pulling the big plug and making self preservation a top priority.

Having worked this event several times now; the complaints somewhat amuse me.  Yes, we would all like to have that "Clean Sweep" certificate hanging nicely framed on our shack walls; but sometimes things preclude that result.

1) Propagation - which is in the pits this year as we plummet towards the bottom of the sunspot cycle.

2) Participation - we can all bemoan the fact that the Colonies that we so desperately need aren't on the air enough, but you have to remember ....... these folks are all volunteers.  They have lives, things happen and they can't be on the radio 24 hours a day the week of Independence Day.  Did you participate in Field day for more than just a couple QSOs or a couple hours?  Did you put in a lot of time behind the mic or key?  How did you feel after that? A bit tired or exhausted? Imagine doing something similar for an entire week!

3) Experience - this one kind of goes hand in hand with point #2.  Listening to these pileups, it is quite apparent that some of the ops can deal better with pileups than others.  But again, these guys are volunteers.  They are graciously giving up their time and we should be happy enough with that.  I'll tell the complainers one thing right now - if you think that handling a Special Event pileup is such a piece of cake, then you should try it sometime.  I'm willing to bet that, if you've never been in the situation before, hitting that wall of noise of 1,000 Hams calling you all at once, all at the same time would probably incline you to wet your pants, or otherwise soil yourself.

The event ends tonight at midnight and I have a lot of non-radio things to get accomplished this evening. I doubt I am going to get much of a chance to hunt down, much less work, K2B and K2C. Will I be disappointed? Yep.  Will I be devastated? No. because after all, whether I work 'em all or not, the sun will still come up tomorrow and I'll still have to go to work tomorrow.  The world's still going to turn on its axis and orbit around the sun. No is going to care much that I didn't accomplish a personal goal.

And with all that said, thanks to the organizers and operators behind the radios of the 13 Colonies. In spite of the peeing and moaning of some, you have yet again done a phenomenal job of putting another fantastic special event into the books.

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

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Dang !!!

Finally saw K2B spotted on 40 Meter CW. Raced (literally) down to the shack and joined in on the fray. No luck.  I heard John K3WWP work them, so somebody I know got in the log. I thought I was a cinch, given enough time,  but then they suddenly went QRT. Just like that. No "73", no "QRT", no nothing .... there one second,  gone the next.  Strange.

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

Bushwhacking

On Monday and Tuesday, I kept the cell phone tuned to DX Summit to keep tabs on K2B, K2C and K2F to see if they would ever make their way over to 40 or 80 Meter CW.  They may have, but not at times that coincided when I checked.

In the meantime, I kept busy both days doing some serious bushwhacking.


I don't know what it is about the soil in South Plainfield, but if you don't constantly keep at the weeds and brush, it turns into a jungle.  I spent both days pulling weeds from my yard and cutting back vines and overgrowth from my neighbor's yards that had been encroaching into mine.  I also had a serious war with some mulberry bushes that started growing along the chain link fence along one side of the yard.  Mulberry bushes are hardy and huge and grow like weeds. The berries are actually pretty sweet and make great pies; but when they grow in an inconvenient place, they just become an eyesore.

The ulterior motive behind this, in addition to keeping the backyard looking neat and well groomed, was to clear the path for replacing the coax to the HF9V.  That will get done in a few weeks, when the first Saturday opportunity comes up. The next few weekends will be otherwise occupied; but I think I will be able to get it done before August begins.

Technically, there was enough time to get it done yesterday, but alas, W2LJ is not a Spring chicken any longer. I was too tired out by the two day effort to want to bother messing with routing RG-213. Besides, this time I have a plan to keep it elevated above ground, so that there will no longer be potential for lawn mower "accidents".  I have some garden fence stakes that I am going to pound into the ground at regular intervals along the back white fence, and I will cable tie the coax to them so it becomes elevated.  Once the coax reaches the side perimeter chain link fence, I can just cable tie it to the horizontal top rail and can pretty much run it all the way to the shack.  It will lay on the ground for about the last 20 feet or so before actually entering the house; but it will be so close to the foundation that it will almost be impossible to nick it with the lawn mower.  I plan to also re-purpose the 80 Meter coaxial stub that I made for Field Day as new feed line for the W3EDP antenna.

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

Monday, July 03, 2017

Independence Day - 2017

What the day is all about:


Happy 4th of July to all!

On a side note, the Governor and NJ Legislature have reached a budget agreement. State offices will re-open Wednesday and beaches and parks will be open tomorrow - while I'll be doing yard work.

And yes, I got sucked into the 13 Colonies event again this year. but this time I will not succumb to the temptation of using a microphone to get a clean sweep. All I am missing is VA, RI and MD. To whomever was behind the key tonight at K2D in CT, thank you for the QSO and thanks for the neat surprise of hearing "Hi Larry" coming back to me.

I even managed to work WM3PEN for the bonus and worked the NJ station on 160 Meters last night. THAT was definitely cool!  If I get the remaining three states, I will be a happy camper, but I would truly like this to be an all CW Clean Sweep.  If I don't get it because of lack of CW activity by the remaining states, I will be disappointed; but not devastated.

Have a safe and Happy Independence Day!

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

Saturday, July 01, 2017

$*^@#* New Jersey!

It would apear that my plans to activate a POTA tomorrow are foiled. Not by the weather and not by a conflict with other commitments. No, this is a case where the elected state representatives, who purport to be adults can't come to an agreement on the state budget.  As a result, the government of the State of New Jersey has shut down.  This means that all State Parks are officialy closed until a budget agreement is put in place.

W2LJ's POTA Plans

1) Beautiful weather - check.
2) No conflicts - check
3) Ample free time - check
4) Morons who run the state ensuring that the state parks are open -  ............

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

Yet another reason for when Cara and Joey are finished with college - bye, bye New Jersey!