Tuesday, August 22, 2017

One down, one to go

Yesterday was the day of the Great American Eclipse.  I wasn't thinking too much about it; as I was at work, where my desk happens to be in a room with no windows. I wasn't anticipating much of a view. Around 2:44 PM, when totality for NJ reached the peak of approximately 75%, I wandered out to the lobby, where I saw a bunch of people just outside the building, looking at the sun with eclipse glasses, cell phone cameras and the like.

It just so happened that there was a light to medium cloud cover which totally obscured the Sun, at times. The silver lining to these clouds was that, when they got thin enough, you could see the Sun/Moon do their tango for a few seconds without even squinting or straining your eyes in any fashion. So I got to see the great eclipse of '17. 

I don't much remember the 1979 eclipse; but I do remember the 1972 eclipse pretty vividly.  I set up the 4" refracting telescope that I owned at the time, to do a projected view onto a white screen. I took pictures and I know that I still have those, somewhere - probably mixed in with all my Apollo program ephemera and miscellania.

The post title has to do with antennas, once again. The "One Down, One to Go" title means that this Saturday, I am hoping to replace the coax to the W3EDP antenna. This is a much shorter run than the Butternut.  The W3EDP is anchored by a second floor window which is more or less directly in line with the window that serves as my entry point to the shack.  I am anticipating that a run of coax probably no longer than about 30 feet will be required.  I am looking to replace the RG-8X with the LM-213 that I purchased to serve as coax stub filters for Field Day 2017.  I figure I can always buy more coax for a replacement filter next year. In the meantime, the band pass filters that I ordered from QRP Labs arrived yesterday.  I will build those over the Winter and will combine them with stub filters, if necessary, next Field Day. With the W3EDP coax replaced, both antennas should be set for the next decade or two barring any critter damage.

Oh, and by the way, Hans Summers has announced that the QCX transceiver kit, which I originally posted about on August 3rd, is now ready for ordering and shipping. Here's the link, so you don't have to scroll all the way back to August 3rd: https://shop.qrp-labs.com/qcx

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


Monday, August 21, 2017

2017 NJQRP Skeeter Hunt - my sincerest apologies!

Thank you to all who participated in the 2017 NJQRP Skeeter Hunt yesterday. So far, from the log summaries and soapbox comments that I have received, it would seem you all had fun despite the crummy band conditions.

I apologize for not being able to participate and work many of you this year. I was stuck on I-95 yesterday for almost 10 hours, returning home from Virginia where we took our son Joseph on a college visit. I thought I might get home in time, early enough to catch the last part of the Hunt; but it was not to be.

Please remember that log summaries and soapbox comments are due NO LATER than Midnight, Sunday Night September 3rd.  You can send them to w2lj@arrl.net. Each log summary received will be answered by a confirming e-mail - so if you don't hear from me within a day or two, please try again!

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

Monday, August 14, 2017

Don't try this at home!

Before I go into today's blog post, I have to mention that for Catholics, today is the Feast Day of St. Maximilian Kolbe, SP3RN. St. Max was a Franciscan Friar who was interned at Auschwitz during WWII.  After three prisoners escaped, the Camp Commander responded by sending 10 prisoners to their deaths by starvation.  One prisoner plead for his life as he had a wife and children.  Upon hearing this, Fr. Max asked to take that man's place.  His request was granted and he was the last of the 10 to survive. Maximilian was injected with carbolic acid to end his earthly life on August 14th, 1941.

Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

Catholic Hams have fondly and unofficially taken St. Max on as our patron saint, the patron of Amateur Radio operators, worldwide.

St. Max, ora pro nobis!

They say that confession is good for the soul - so I will confess. Yesterday, I replaced the coax running out to my Butternut HF9V.  The coax has been there for umpteen years since I put the vertical in place in 1999, about a year before my son Joey was born. It's been a while now that I've wanted to replace the coax and last Autumn, I purchased some 9913 from DX Engineering, My good intention was to run that coax out to the antenna before last Winter began.  You know what they say about good intentions.

Yesterday, the weather for the chore was about as near perfect as it gets. It was sunny, warm, but not hot, with a slight breeze and low humidity.  I began by putting on the work gloves and pulling up the old coax. It's been such a long time since I put that coax down; and I was mortified by what I discovered.

Connected to the Butternut's matching stub was a barrel connector and then a 100 foot run of LM-213.  At the end of the 100 foot run was another barrel connector and a 25 foot run of some more LM-213. Then, as if that wasn't bad enough - there was yet another barrel connector and a final 25 foot run of RG-8X leading directly to the operating bench.

What the heck was I thinking?!?  This was coax hack job of the century! I still can't believe that I did this; and if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I would never have believed that I could do such a sloppy, piecemeal job. The only thing that I can think of was I was so tapped out after purchasing the Butternut, that I just used whatever coax I had on hand to get the job done. 

All those barrel connectors! All that loss!  I must have had an ERP of about 2.5 Watts! It seems a miracle that I made any QRP contacts at all, let alone all the DX and states I have worked with that cockamamie set up. I am truly amazed at what a lousy job I did - EXCEPT in one respect.

When I removed the electrical tape covering up those barrel connectors and their accompanying PL-259s, they were as shiny and new looking as Day One. And I owe that to an article I read somewhere, way back when, maybe it was on QRP-L.  When I made those connections, I first wrapped the coax and the connectors with electrical tape.  Then, I covered that with a layer of plumber's putty. The plumber's putty was followed by a final layer of electrical tape.  After some 18 years, the connections were bright, shiny and there was NO sign of any water intrusion, whatsoever. And considering the coax was laying on the ground through some very harsh Winters and at least three major Hurricanes, Floyd, Irene and Sandy, that's pretty darn good.

There was one section where the jacket of the LM-213 got chewed up pretty badly from lawn mower hits.  To prevent that, this time I elevated the coax as it ran along the back fence.


I used garden fencing stakes, spaced out at about 5 foot intervals and I cable tied the coax to the stakes to keep it off the ground and away from the angry blades of my coax eating lawn mower. Once I got to the chain link fence running along the side perimeter of the yard, I then cable tied the coax to the top tube.  My new run of one piece of 150 feet of  RG-9913 is safe and sound from gasoline powered lawn tools!  There's only one barrel connector, where the terminus of the coax meets the Butternut's matching stub. and you can see that little lump in the picture, above.  Now maybe I'll get a bit more of that precious 5 Watts into the antenna and out into the aether.

Later on, in the afternoon, after getting home from my monthly volunteer stint at the soup kitchen, I soldered on the PL-259 to the radio end of the coax.  I plugged it into the KX3 and was happy to see a VERY easy match made by the autotuner on all bands.  Maybe a 1/2 to one second "BRRRRP" by the relays in a few cases, and in the rest, there was no match needed at all.

There's peace of mind knowing that I now have a proper run of low loss coax out to my vertical.  I'm also going to change out the coax to the W3EDP.  That's a straight forward exchange, and I figure that as long as I'm doing one, I might as well do both. I'm happy to state that the coax currently running to the W3EDP is not a hack job conglomeration like what was running out to the vertical !

I'll NEVER do that again and like they say on all those shows on TV = "Don't try this at home!"

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least! (using good coax!)

Sunday, August 13, 2017

SOTA envious

I have to admit that I am more than "sorta" envious of those Hams who activate the SOTA summits. I look at photos like these from Steve WG0AT, and I'm just beside myself, admiring the beauty of the landscapes and the tenacity of those who go to these places.





Yeah, there are summits in New Jersey (EVERY state has a few), but they're nothing like these. Well, according to geologists that I have read, the Appalachians were once taller than the Himalayas at one point, but that was about a bajillion years ago. What we call mountains here on the East coast are mere hills compared to the Rockies. I've been fortunate enough to visit the Rockies and even come close to the Alps in Switzerland, so I can affirm that comparison.

Instead, with the limited time that I have to devote to portable ops (employed full time with a mortgage and two kids going off to college soon), I resort to POTA and NPOTA (when it was active) for my outdoor venues of operation.

Because those opportunities present themselves so seldom, I like to take the moment to enjoy the place that I am operating from. No long hikes to summits with beautiful vistas of multiple states present themselves to me; but in the parks that I do go to, I am surrounded by nature and beauty all the same. There's something special and wonderful about being bathed in sunshine and fresh air, and seeing trees, and listening to the sound of the breeze rustling through their leaves, while at the same time watching and listening to brooks, streams, rivers, wild life and what have you. Whether you're perched on a mountaintop or operating your QRP gear from a picnic table in the local city park, I would hope that all portable ops mavens take the time to enjoy the beauty of their surroundings and not dismiss that beauty for the tunnel vision of just chasing QSOs. Portable ops should be about way more than just a bunch of QSOs. Heck, I can do as much from my cinder-block-walled-in bunker of a basement shack.

Don't miss the forest for the trees!  Take the time to smell the roses. Take a moment to breathe deeply, enjoy the fresh air and Nature in all the glory of your surroundings! Life is precious - enjoy it and revel in the moment. And should you not make any QSOs, don't be disappointed. You had the opportunity to go and be somewhere that is beautiful, and that is far more precious than just making a few contacts on the radio.

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


Thursday, August 10, 2017

SEQP

Darn!  I'll be at work - maybe I can sneak out during lunch hour ........ http://hamsci.org/solar-eclipse-qso-party




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

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

If you are the owner of .......

a Yaesu 857D, 817ND, or an Icom 706/703/7000 and are interested in using them for portable operations - this site might be worthy of your consideration: http://www.portablezero.com/

As a confirmed Elecraft owner, I have no skin in this game; but am always willing to do whatever I can to promote portable operations.

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

My fist is BAD!

Last night, I was asked to run the monthly county ARES net. After that I attended our Assembly's Knights of Columbus 4th Degree meeting. A pronouncement has come from K of C HQ in Connecticut which has not gone over well with the membership. I won't bore you with the details, but the meeting was interesting.

When I returned home, I went down the basement to add a link to the Skeeter Hunt roster on the Skeeter Hunt Website. While I was doing that, I decided to join in on the monthly NAQCC sprint. A few weeks ago, I received my W2WK straight key, so I decided to take it for a spin.

The key is a beauty, a sight to behold.  The action and feel are superb. My fist is not.  Sadly, I've gotten so comfortable with paddles and keyer that my "manual" fist has atrophied.  It improved a little bit as the night went along; but I have to publicly apologize to the NAQCC members who worked me last night. You know your fist is bad when you feel yourself grimacing while you're sending. I think that if you looked up the word "ugly" in the dictionary, there would have been a picture of me behind the key last night.

I am terribly sorry for my crummy fist and the torture I put you through.  I need to practice more and hopefully, by next month's sprint, I will sound a whole lot better. When you've hit rock bottom, there's no place to go but "up".

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

Monday, August 07, 2017

Multiplying like rabbits!

It seems like there's never been the bonanza of QRP radios available like there are today. What follows is not an accurate timeline, just impressions upon my memory. For years, you had the Ten Tecs and the Heathkits, the SGC and QRP Index radios and various homebrew rigs. Then came the Sierra's and the Small Wonder Labs offerings and then Elecraft burst onto the scene.

IMHO, ever since Elecraft, it seems like there's been a non-stop parade of introductions of commercially available QRP radios. And this is a good thing.  More people are tossing there hats into the ring, and the offerings are becoming numerous. Competition is a good thing and the various models are a benefit; as no one radio will fit everyone's taste, style or operating habits.

This is the latest one I've come across, offered by Appello-funk out of Germany - the Aerial-51 SKY-SDR




Here are the specs according to their Website:

This 11-band All-Mode QRP transceiver is manufactured in Europe and combines SDR / DSP "Direct Conversion" technology with ease of use.

The device does not require a computer to operate, has almost all the characteristics of a "large" SDR transceiver and is thus particularly suitable for demanding QRP  and portable radio operators. The future-oriented RX is equipped with all common DSP functions, eg user-definable (extremely steep) filters,  noise reduction (NR), noise blanker (NB), adjustable AGC, and audio equalizer.

The built-in BANDSCOPE shows 24 Khz above and below the QRG and also works with TX.
An outstanding feature is the "differential ADC" or "differential DSP"  It provides very low noise on reception, which is particularly noticeable on the lower bands 160-40m.

The SKY-SDR transceiver is also characterized by a clean TX.  It comes with hand-held microphone, voice processor, audio equalizer, VOX, SWR & Power Meter, built-in keyer (A / B mode) and dual-mode CW (CW / CW reverse).  AM, FM and DIGI modes are also supported.  The device has a USB CAT port (with FTDI), LINE IN / OUT for DIGI Modes, and an I / Q output for computer monitoring.

Perhaps the only QRP radio with built-in band scope.

This and other unique features make it the most interesting QRP radio in the world.

Aerial-51 "SKY-SDR" 350 mA / 310 mA without illumination
TX Power Consumption : 1 to 2A
Dimensions: (WxHxD) 147x60x107mm (without buttons)
Weight: 580g

GENERAL TRANSCEIVER SPECIFICATIONS Technology Solid State SDR-DSP Direct Conversion
Frequencies / Bands 1.8 MHz to 54.0MHz 160, 80, 60, 40, 30, 20, 17, 15, 12, 10, & 6m Bands
Modes AM, CW, DIGI, FM, LSB, USB CAT: USB2 (FTDI Chip) Digital Modes JST, PSK, RTTY, SSTV, etc.
LINE IN / OUT 3.5mm Jack
Output Power 5 Watts (typical) (foldback protection for high SWR)
Antenna 50 Ohms (nominal) BNC Connection
Voltage requirements 10.5vdc (min) to 15vdc (max)
Fuse : 3.15A, 250V, Slow Blow
Current Drain RX: 350mA; TX:

First impressions - it seems to be almost an exact copy of the LNR LD-11 radio. The specifications and similarities are strikingly similar, in many areas. However, the LD-11 claims to output as much as 8 Watts, while the Aerial-51 claims to output 5 Watts, max. Despite the difference in output claims, I'm wondering if they're the same radio in slightly different housings.





The Aerial-51 is priced at 739 Euros, which translates to $871 US.  The LD-11 from LNR is priced at $790, but seems to be out of stock at the moment.

The other thing which caught my eye was the statement, "Perhaps the only QRP radio with built-in band scope." My mind immediately went to the mcHF radio, which has a nice, full color waterfall display.  Perhaps, "one of the few QRP radios with a built-in band scope" would have been more accurate.

Like I said, so many rigs to choose from - we QRPers have never had it so good!

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

Plans

I think I have mentioned this before. A quote from Robert Burns, "The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry".

That described my yesterday. My plan for the day was to replace the coax to the HF9V with the 150 feet of RG213 that I had purchased from DX Engineering last Autumn. I was just about to get started when my wife Marianne called out, "Larry, there's something wrong with the washing machine!" Sure enough, she had loaded the machine and was about to start a wash cycle, and it filled partially and then just ........ stopped.  Dead in its tracks.

Step 1 - Cancel the cycle and get the water out of the machine.
Step 2 - Remove partially wet laundry to a basket so that my XYL could take it to the local laundromat.
Step 3 - Breakout the laptop and Google and YouTube.

These machines are so sophisticated these days with microprocessors, control boards and touch panels.  Gone are the days when all you had was mechanical timers that regulated and controlled the wash cycle. Luckily, through Google, I found a YouTube video which described how to run a diagnostic on the washing machine.  It boggles my mind to even write "run a diagnostic on the washing machine."

Anyway, I did that and got a F51 error which seemed to indicate a problem with the rotor position sensor, whatever the heck that is. An accompanying article suggested unplugging the machine for two minutes to clear out the capacitors on the control board in order to reset the microprocessor, and then run a wash cycle, as a first attempt to fix the problem.

I grabbed a few dirty pieces of clothing and tossed them in the machine along with some detergent. Fingers crossed, I closed the lid and punched the proper buttons. Everything worked!  It seems the problem is solved with the exception that the spin cycle seems a bit louder than it used to. A new rotor position sensor runs about $100, so if it eventually gives out and we get the same error again, I'll order one of those and will give it a go.

Needless to say, figuring this out and then carefully monitoring a couple wash cycles took a big chunk out of my afternoon. On the bright side, while waiting for a cycle to get done, I walked over to the other side of the basement where my shack is and I put a PL259 one on end of the RG213. Putting a PL259 on RG213 is extremely simple. I found these instructions found on eHam to be most helpful. They were written regarding installing a PL259 on LMR400 - the procedures are the same:

"Any standard PL-259 fits LMR-400 exactly, and perfectly without any modification to the cable or the connectors.  I've installed hundreds of these on LMR-400s and use ordinary Amphenol 83-1SP PL-259s.

You *don't* peel back the braid of LMR-400 for this operation, where'd you hear that?  That won't work at all.  The correct procedure is the same as installing a PL-259 on regular RG-213/U.

The braid must remain in place exactly as it was originally, and the only thing you strip is the black vinyl jacket.  Leave the braid right where it was, under the jacket and tightly braided over the foil.  The best way to prepare the LMR-400 cable end is with a sharp (new) single-edged razor blade, cutting through the vinyl jacket, braid, foil and dielectric all in one single slice and leaving only the center conductor, stripping all else (with a single cut) back about 3/4" from the end of the cable.

Now, you have a copper plated aluminum center conductor sticking out and the rest of the cable fully intact.

Now, measure back 1/2" from the edge of the vinyl jacket and use much less pressure to strip only the jacket, and leave the braid, foil and dielectric intact.  This only takes gentle pressure, not the several pounds the first "strip" requires.

Pull off the jacket.

Push the PL-259 over the end of the cable so the center conductor protrudes through the end of the center pin and when you hit an obstruction, that will be the cable jacket hitting the internal threads in the PL-259 body.

Rotate the PL-259 body clockwise while applying gentle pressure to the connector, and it will screw itself on to the cable jacket.  About four full rotations are required to fully assemble the connector on to the cable, and when you're done, it won't twist on any more, and you'll see the braid showing through the PL-259 body solder holes.

This entire process takes fifteen seconds if you know what you're doing.  It can take forever, and never come out right, if you don't.

WB2WIK/6"

I am hoping and praying that the weather next Saturday is good and will allow me to get this done. As of right now, the forecast is for a cloudy day, but with very low chances for rain. I'll take it. If I can that done and the coax on the W3EDP exchanged out, I will be happy camper.

This morning, I had to chuckle when I read John K3WWP's diary entry for yesterday. He was writing about his DX Streak QSO for the day:

"Sun Aug 06 2017 8:50PM - It doesn't get much harder than this. I hate to make a DX station work so hard to get me in their log, but some folks have a tremendous amount of patience and will stick with someone till the QSO is complete. They will put other station trying to break in 'on hold' so to speak and continue to work with the one station till he is in the log or it becomes hopeless. That pretty much describes what happened between me and SP5ELA on 40M a little while ago. It must have taken about 2-3 minutes for him to get my call, but he didn't give up. I guess I must have sent my call about 30 times before he got past K3W and finally sent K3WWP TU 559. Thanks to him, the DX streak goes yet another day."

What caused me to laugh was when I saw the station he was trying to work, SP5ELA and then going back to his words - "but some folks have a tremendous amount of patience".  I had to send him an e-mail basically telling him that, being of Polish descent myself, I'm not sure if it was a matter of patience so much as it was probably more of a matter of stubbornness! I've always been told by my grandparents that stubbornness is a trait common among the Poles. And I find it true with myself, once we start something, we're not likely to give up on the task, no matter how long it takes!

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



Friday, August 04, 2017

23 years under his belt!

As my regular readers know, I often mention John K3WWP here in the pages of this blog. No doubt, I'm a fan of his. John is a "QRPer's QRPer".  His whole Amateur Radio career revolves around QRP, Morse Code and simple wire antennas.  He is dedicated to showing that you do not have to have an overly elaborate set up to enjoy Amateur Radio; and that in fact, it can be done with very moderate or even meager means. He is dedicated to showing how much fun and rewarding all this can be. If there was ever anyone who deserves to be in the QRP Hall of Fame, without a doubt, John Shannon K3WWP deserves to be there.

Tonight, John will embark on trying to begin his 24th year of making at least one QRP CW contact s day.  Allow your mind to wrap around that.  It's easy to read it, it's easy to say it. But take some time to think about that. That is over (not sure how many Leap Days are in there) 8,395 daily QRP QSOs in a row, completed.

Over 8,395 days uninterrupted. That's quite the feat when you take into account all of the multiple solar lulls, CME's, solar flares, bad weather, equipment mishaps, and personal circumstances that could have easily ended this streak early on. Nevertheless, John endures and persists through it all, and continues to make the QSOs - with 5 Watts, or less. I'm sure this streak will never be equaled or surpassed. It will probably never make the Guiness Book of World Records, or even be acknowledged by those outside the QRP Community.  But it's there and we know, for a fact, what can be done with QRP.

So the next time someone tells you that QRP is a joke, or it's a waste of time, that it's a matter of luck and not skill; or that all the success is totally due to the receiving station, OR that "Life's too short for QRP" ....... stand fast and unwavering and think of John K3WWP. Chuckle quietly to yourself and move on, knowing that the power and worth of QRP and CW have been more than adequately proven - over 8.395 times in a row.

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

Thursday, August 03, 2017

New kit offering

From QRP Labs (Hans Summers - with whom I've had the pleasure to work on the air) - a 5 Watt Transceiver Kit.

Yeah, I know what you're thinking, "5 Watt transceivers have been done to death!".

Well, look at this one!




And here's the features:

* Easy to build, single-board design, 10 x 8cm, all are controls board-mounted
* Professional quality double-sided, through-hole plated, silk-screen printed PCB
* Choice of single band, 80, 40, 30, 20 or 17m
* Approximately 3..5W CW output (depending on supply voltage)
* 12..15V supply voltage
* Class E power amplifier, transistors run cool… even with no heatsinks
* Good 7-element Low Pass Filter to ensure regulatory compliance
* CW envelope shaping to remove key clicks
* High performance receiver with at 50+ dB of unwanted sideband cancellation
* 200Hz CW filter without ringing
* Si5351A Synthesized VFO with rotary encoder tuning
* 16 x 2 blue backlight LCD screen
* Iambic keyer or straight key option included in the firmware
* Simple Digital Signal Processing for a CW decoder, displayed real-time on-screen
* On-screen S-meter
* Full or semi QSK operation using fast solid-state transmit/receive switching
* Frequency presets, VFO A/B Split operation, RIT, configurable CW Offset
* Configurable sidetone frequency and volume
* Connectors: Power, 3.5mm keyer jack, 3.5mm stereo earphone jack, BNC RF output
* Onboard microswitch can be used as a simple straight Morse key
* Built-in test signal generator and alignment tools to complete simple set-up adjustments
* Built-in test equipment: voltmeter, RF power meter, frequency counter, signal generator
* Beacon mode, supporting automatic CW or WSPR operation
* GPS interface for reference frequency calibration and time-keeping (for WSPR beacon)


All for $49 - and available for later this month.  This looks like a great project for the budding, incoming young Ham.  Keep this one in the back of your minds, Elmers!  Lots of opportunities to teach soldering and kit building skills, CW, and operating techniques among other things. The actual Webpage is found at http://qrp-labs.com/qcx.html

While I was there, perusing around, I purchased his passband filters for 80, 40, 20 and 15 Meters. Those will be used next Field Day in conjunction with the coaxial stub filters for even more isolation between our stations. Lots of good stuff available at QRP Labs!

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