Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Special Net tonight

The local Repeater Club, for which I am Secretary, is having a special net tonight, and I will be the NCS. Maybe a little back story is in order, first.


We used to have a weekly "Wednesday Night Information Net" for many years. The last iteration was run by our club President at the time, Jeff N2VHV. Jeff had COPD and when it became difficult for him to run the net, at times, either Rodolfo N2HRG, Pete KD2ARB or myself would pick up the slack.

When Jeff finally passed on, the net kind of went into "hiatus" mode, as no one really was able to make a weekly commitment. At a recent club meeting, we decided to try to revive the net, and I volunteered to serve as Net Control. However, I have SPARC and ARES commitments on three out of four Wednesdays a month, so the club agreed it would be a monthly, instead of weekly, net.

So far, in September and October, we've had decent, but not stellar participation. I am hoping that tonight will be different. Borrowing from the Catholic custom of November being the month in which we remember those who have gone on before, I decided that tonight's net will be a "Silent Key Net". Members who participate will be invited to share a special memory or story of one of our club members who have gone on to "The Shack in the Sky". For those who are newer to the club and are not familiar with any past members, they will be asked to share a memory or story about someone who may have played an important part in their time as an Amateur Radio op.

I am hoping that this will make the net a bit more personal and meaningful, instead of something that's perhaps a bit too routine and dry. I try to present a topic for discussion for each session, and I am hoping one that "hits home" will draw more into participating. I have sent out club e-mail notices for the past couple of weeks in order to let every member know what will be happening tonight. We'll see it it generates a bigger turnout.

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Winter is settling in ...... early!

While talking with W3BBO last Saturday evening, during our weekly gabfest, he told me how Erie, PA had already received 7-8 inches of snow that day. While it's been downright chilly, wet and nasty in Central NJ, we haven't seen any snow - yet. Not of Erie proportions, but I see that we're expected to see about 1-3 inches of the fluffy stuff here between Wednesday evening and Friday.

It's rare that we get snow in these parts before Thanksgiving. I hope that doesn't foretell a long, cold, snowy winter.

But, in the event that is does, one has to be prepared. I have a PLETHORA of kits, just waiting to be built this Winter. How many I will get to is anyone's guess, but I would like to get my 40 Meter QCX and my Bayou Jumper done this building season.

In that vein, I saw one of these posted for sale on the Interwebs:


It's a Mustel G600 microscope/camera thingy that amplifies/enlarges the view of what's beneath it. As you can see, in the picture, they have it aimed at a circuit board. On Amazon, this model goes anywhere from $50 to about $70. The ad I saw on the Interwebs was selling them for $37.00.

I figured, "Oh, what the heck". Even if it turns out to be an under performer, it may help these old eyes check for solder bridges more easily and help identify component color codes and value numbers more easily. It's not like I have a spare $37 to throw away; but if it does half the job it is advertised to do, it will be a big help. The company that is selling them it called Gear Best; and this is the first time I've dealt with them. We'll see. I'll let everyone know how it performs and if I bought a pig in a poke (it wouldn't be the first time!), I'm not too proud to own up to it.

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

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Gratification!

It's not often that you wake up on a Saturday morning and experience something exciting that warms your heart to boot. Today was one of those mornings. Today was our club's monthly Volunteer Examiner Session.

We had three unlicensed people come in to take the Technician Class license exam. All three passed; and that in itself was gratifying. As usual, when a candidate passes the Tech exam, they automatically get an invitation to take the General Class exam. We tell the candidates, right off the bat, that if they haven't looked at the General Class License Manual, to expect to only get about 30-40% of the questions correctly answered. The important point is that they will have seen the exam, and when they study to upgrade, they'll have a better feeling on areas they may need to especially concentrate on.

The first two candidates did as expected and were pleased to go home with their CSCE (Certificate of Successful Completion of an Exam), hoping their call signs would show up in the FCC database some time later this week.

Our third candidate was special - he got 33 out of 35 answers correct! Not only did he earn his Technician, but also his General in the same sitting. Hoping that lightning would strike a third time, we encouraged Doug (his name) to give the Extra exam a shot.  He was hesitant at first, but then decided to give it a go.

Before he started, he asked to use the rest room and we found out a bit more about him. Doug's an engineer by profession, so that says a lot right there. But we also found out that he was a lapsed Ham. He got his ticket in high school way back in the 60s. His call sign was WB2GVE and he had upgraded to Advanced class before career and family pre-occupied his time so much that his license lapsed.

As soon as I heard that he had an Advanced Class license I had a gut feeling that he would pass the Extra this morning. In my 40 year career as a Ham, the Advanced Class exam was by far THE toughest of them all. The Extra Class exam was a cake walk, by comparison. It's a little tougher now that they did away with the 20 WPM Morse Code requirement; but it's still easier than the Advanced.

Doug came back in, sat down and got to work. About a 1/2 hour later or so, he sighed and handed in his exam and answer sheet. He was not optimistic; but I was. A few minutes later, I was able to tell him that he did indeed earn his Extra with some room to spare. To say that he was elated is an understatement. He was flabbergasted and the whole exam team was beaming from ear to ear.

With the exception of a couple of us, this was our (my) first time that a person has gone from unlicensed to Amateur Extra in one sitting. I'm sure it wasn't as gratifying for us as it was for Doug; but it was sure darn close!

And there's icing on the cake! Doug lives in South Plainfield, so he was heavily encouraged to join SPARC, where he will be welcomed with open arms. Icing on the icing (or maybe ice cream on the cake)? He's interested in QRP !!! Now THAT went a long way to make my morning!

And....... all THAT came after finding out last night that SPARC came in 4th Place, Nationwide, in our classification for Field Day.


So, without even so much as touching a key, or twiddling a knob, it's been a very good Amateur Radio weekend, so far.


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


Thursday, November 08, 2018

QCX Field Day

I saw this post of Facebook the other day:


It's so cool that they used two QCX transceivers for Field Day. Can you imagine how long they could last on a deep cycle marine battery or a solar panel?

My question is - I wonder where they got their Field Day results from?  The December 2018 edition of QST is not out yet - not even digitally. That's the only place that I know of where the scores are published.

It will be interesting to see how SPARC did this year. We had less Qs because we did a lot more "Elmering" this year. That's a big part of what the South Plainfield Amateur Radio Club is all about - so if our score suffered, we're okay with that.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least1

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Old habits die hard

Even though it was a long, tough day at work, and anywhere from 9:00 to 9:30 PM seems to be my bedtime anymore - I gave in and joined in on the inaugural session for the 2018/2019 Winter Fox Hunt Season. I had a successful evening, which of course, is now going to encourage me to participate in the rest of the season.

40 Meters seemed to be in decent shape and Jerry N9AW was the first Fox that I found. He was the "upper" Fox, located between 7.040 and 7.050 MHz. He had a decent signal from the get-go. I called him a few times before he worked me, but eventually made it into his logbook.

Mac NN4K was a bit harder. I heard some familiar call signs that I knew were hounds and tuned down 1 KHz. Mac was indeed there, but weak - ESP weak. I could tell he was there and that was about it. So I hunkered down and kept listening. Slowly his signal rose, and he also changed from working split to working simplex. I threw out my call, thinking it was going to take a long time to work him, if at all. Much to my surprise, I actually heard my call sign come back to me. We completed the exchange and Fox #2 was in the log!

My "nemesis" was there again, using his scatter gun approach, but the tight filters on the KX3 really helped tune him out. Thursday night is the 80 Meter hunt. Now my appetite is whetted enough to give that a go and see what happens. Dave N1IX is one of the Foxes. He's a superb operator, "A1" in every sense - AND he is located in New Hampshire, which should be very do-able for 80 Meters.

I'm actually kind of looking forward to this, now.

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

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Election Day 2018

To my readers in the USA:


These brave men, and many more men and women just like them, have been defending your right to vote since 1775.

Honor them - go cast your ballot.

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


It was 40 years ago this month .........

that I took and successfully passed my Novice exam and earned my license.

I had previously told ya'll how I wanted to become a Ham in high school, but ultimately gave up the quest for a while, as I couldn't learn the Morse Code. In October of 1978, I was reading the weekly Amateur Radio column, "Calling CQ" by Bob McGarvey (sp?) in the Sunday New Brunswick Home News Tribune. In that particular column, Bob announced that there would be an Amateur Radio class conducted once a week at nights, at North Brunswick High School.

I signed up for it and attended, faithfully. Memory fails me as to how long it lasted, but 8 weeks seems to be about right, as we started in September and the exam was in November. The two teachers were excellent and it was their method of teaching and explaining that I follow today when I conduct a Technician class along with Marv K2VHW. The one teacher that I remember in particular for being extra especially helpful was Ed O'Donnel K2YJE (SK). I probably owe the fact that I got licensed to Ed.

The license manual that we used was this one, "Tune In The World With Ham Radio", which I still have in my library today - and actually still refer to it from time to time. It was written in a "Ham Radio for Dummies" kind of style and made all the concepts easy to understand.


Morse Code was learned via the ARRL Morse Code tapes. I really stuck with it this time and for whatever reason, it was far easier for me to learn the Code than when I first tried. Looking back, I think that maybe it had something to do with the fact that I had no visual cues. There were no pre-printed out alphabet/character charts to look at or refer to. I learned simply from what I heard. And maybe, just maybe that was all the difference in the world avoiding the eye-ear-brain sequence and just going with the ear to brain sequence.

On the night of the exam, we were all pretty nervous. The instructors used the now famous "Novice Test Trick". Basically, they began by telling us how that they knew how nervous we were so there was going to be a five minute Morse Code "practice exam" that would allow us to get our our jitters out of the way.. "Just listen to the Code and try and copy along", they told us. This way we'd be more at ease when the actual exam began.

They played the QSO tape and we all copied it. They came around, looked at our chicken scratch copy and smiled and announced, "You all passed!" There was no multiple choice. You copied what you heard and you had to get at least one minute's worth of solid copy. Only then the written test was given. Again, my memory fails me as to how many questions that had on it, although I think there were 35 questions. And my failing memory is also telling me it was a multiple choice test, not fill-in-the-blank.

The big difference back then was that they didn't grade it immediately and you didn't know whether  you failed or passed. The instructors mailed all the exam materials to the FCC and you had to wait for a letter from the Government. In my case, that took about six or seven painstakingly long weeks.

I was at work at the camera store that I was employed at, at the time. It was late afternoon, close to closing time when my Mom called to tell me that the letter from the FCC had arrived. I asked her to open it shutting my eyes and crossing my fingers. "Your call sign is KA2DOH" she told me. "What was that?", I asked. I was so apprehensive about what she was going to tell me that I didn't even hear my call sign correctly!

But I had done it! I was a Ham! I had to build my receiver which was a Heathkit HR-1680, first, before I could get on the air. But get on the air I would - and I'm still there, 40 years later. And at least for me, it's as exciting now as it was back then.

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

Monday, November 05, 2018

A side benefit of being a Ham

Kit building and homebrewing have been a big part of my Amateur Radio career. Tinkering with electronics and the mechanical aspects of building kits has always been fun. In fact, that was what led me to a 20+ year career in electronics repair in the professional photographic industry.

Even though that chapter of my life has closed. the skills seem to remain. A week ago, my wife Marianne was opening the dishwasher when the handle cracked off in her hand. We were able to get the thing open and emptied, but the latch wasn't working well enough to keep the machine tightly closed for a wash cycle.

One YouTube video later, it became obvious that replacing the latch AND handle would be the easiest way to get the repair done. I ordered the part and replaced it yesterday. It was definitely NOT the most complex repair I have ever made in my life. I still give Amateur Radio credit though, because it's been through Amateur Radio that I learned not to have fear of, or have qualms about taking things apart and putting them back together again. And because of that, I probably saved a decent amount of money in the process.

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