Friday, September 18, 2020

Don't get discouraged!

 When it comes to head copying CW.

This post is directed at the relatively new to CW folks out there. I HOPE there are some relatively new to CW people out there, reading this right now. And for those of you who are new to CW or maybe new to faster CW, I know how easy it is to become discouraged with copying CW in your head. I've been there myself ...... I know.

I started out in my Novice days copying EVERYTHING down on paper, word for word. Looking back on it, that was a ridiculously easy thing to do at 5 WPM. But when you are new and wet behind the ears, that was a Herculean task.  Eventually, over time as my speed increased and I upgraded to General, I changed to just writing down just the "important stuff" - you know ... Name, QTH, RST, age ..... that kind of thing. 

When I became an Extra after mastering 20 WPM, I still kept at that practice. But as I tried to ever increase my speed, I realized that I had to leave writing behind if I wanted to continue to make progress. I had to break the habit of writing stuff down and get into the habit of just copying stuff n my head, because writing stuff down does two things:

1) It takes time

2) It is distracting.

I have no idea how the military and professional radio guys used a typewriter to copy! I have a hard time chewing gum and walking at the same time. Copying AND typing - no way, that's not for me! It's all I can do to just keep things right in my head.

I think the biggest fear of relying solely on head copy is missing something and getting all bolluxed up. Personally, that caused me to freeze up from time to time and start missing a whole bunch of stuff. You miss one word, then two, then three, then whole sentences and the next thing you know is you feel like Charlie Brown from "Peanuts"!


The key ...... and I think is the hardest part to master,  is to just relax and copy the best you can. Miss a word? Don't panic! Miss two words? Again - don't panic. Forget about what you missed and get yourself concentrating on what's coming at you in the moment. Panicking only makes you miss more and more.

As an example - last night I saw my friend Bob W3BBO spotted calling CQ on RBN. I ran down to the shack in an attempt to start up a QSO with him, only to find I had been beaten to the punch. By the time, I got downstairs, got the radio tuned to 3.560 MHZ and the earbuds in my ears, Bob was already in QSO with Ernie AA2YK. Instead of shutting down, I decided to "copy the mail" and I did it all without writing a single thing down! 

Did I miss a few words here and there? You betcha! But I didn't let that bother me. In very quick order I had to mentally force myself to stop and re-start copying again. I had to break the cycle of worrying about what I had missed, ignore it and just go on from where I had left off. And once you can do that, you'll find that it works, every time! I listened in on their almost 30 minute rag chew and enjoyed listening to two good Morse Code fists.

If I had to do it all over again, I think I would have started relying on head copy a lot sooner than I actually did.  I still write the necessary details down for logging - time, name, call - but that's about it. The rest I just copy in my head and now it seems as natural as falling off a log. It makes the entire CW experience a lot more enjoyable.

72 de Larry W2LJ

QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Thursday, September 17, 2020

QRP Afield this Saturday

 Courtesy of KE1L on QRP-L:

September 19, 1500Z-2100Z (11am-5pm EDT) 
Bands: 160 through 10, no WARC bands or 60 meters 
Modes: CW, voice, digital 
Exchange: RST, S/P/C, NEQRP number or power level Full rules follow 

More info at https://www.newenglandqrp.org/qrp-afield-2018/ (that link is current despite the 2018; it was already on the ARRL contest corral before I took over as administrator so we're sticking with it for this year) 

QRP Afield, sponsored by the New England QRP Club, is the original QRP contest for field operation. It was first held in 1994. The next oldest, QRP To The Field, was first held in 1995; it was originally sponsored by the NorCal QRP Club and is now run by the administrators of QRP-L. This year Shirley Dulcey KE1L has taken over as the contest administrator of QRP Afield. 

QRP Afield is always held on the third Saturday of September. Most years, that makes it the last QRP contest of the summer. In years when that Sunday falls on September 21 it can instead be the first QRP contest of the fall. In many years it is concurrent with the Chowdercon informal social gathering of NEQRP; the organizer of that event has not yet announced whether it will happen this year. 

In the recent past we haven't posted a clear definition of a field station. That's a question that is certain to arise because of the COVID crisis. I found this from 2014: 

Permanent Location: Any location using commercial power AND/OR permanently installed antennas Field Location: Any location using battery/solar/natural power AND temporary antennas. That means that your backyard, front porch, patio, or other similar location qualify as a field station IF you use temporary antennas and portable power. Further rule starting this year: 

QRP field stations must follow the ARRL Field Day definition for qualifying for the battery powered classes. In other words,no fossil fuel generators. QRO field stations can use generators, though they rarely enter QRP Afield. This is mostly meant to cover POTA or IOTA activations or stations participating in state QSO parties that might make some contacts in QRP Afield. 

Recommended frequencies: CW near 1810, 3560, 7030 7040 and 7122, 14060, 21060, 28060 SSB near 1910, 3985, 7285, 14285, 21385, 28885 Digital modes on their customary frequencies 7030 is now the primary QRP spot on 40, but some older crystal-controlled radios may be operating on 7040. 7122 is a gathering spot for slow-speed CW. 

Exchange: NEQRP members: RST, S/P/C, NEQRP number Non-members: RST, S/P/C, power 

If you would like to become a member, see https://www.newenglandqrp.org/membership/. NEQRP membership is free and open to all radio amateurs with an interest in QRP. There are no location restrictions, though all of our in-person gatherings are in New England. 

Scoring: One contact per station per mode per band 
New clarification for 2020: all voice modes count as one mode 
New clarification for 2020: all digital modes count as one mode 
QRO at a permanent location: 1 point per contact 
QRO at a field location: 2 points per contact 
QRP at a permanent location: 5 points per contact 
QRP at a field location: 10 points per contact 

Multiplier: S/P/C, once per BAND (not per mode) 
All three modes (CW, voice, digital) count the same for scoring 
No bonus stations 

Logs: Email to mark@buttery.org; send Cabrillo files (preferred) or text Include the summary sheet from https://www.newenglandqrp.org/qrp-afield-2018/ If you must, mail logs to the address on the site. Email is preferred Logs must be received by October 20.

The weather forecast for my QTH for Saturday is mostly sunny, with a high temp of 65F (18C) for the day. I have my annual physical scheduled for the morning. Hopefully, after that's over I can quickly complete my normal weekend chores and get on the air from the backyard for a bit.

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

Saturday, September 12, 2020

This looks interesting!

 

Tracking Our Next Solar Cycle
The Sun goes through regular cycles of activity approximately every 11 years, and tracking these cycles is a key part of better understanding the Sun and mitigating its impacts on human technology and astronauts in space.

Join scientists from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for a special episode of NASA Science Live on Tuesday, Sept. 15, at 3 p.m. EDT as they discuss predictions for the upcoming solar cycle. The public can send questions during the event using #AskNASA on Twitter or by leaving a comment in the chat section on Facebook.

If you have the time and are available, this looks like it may be well worth it. I will even try to listen in the background from work.

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

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Been a while

 Since my last post. A lot has been going on.

First off, I totally FUBARed my QCX 40 circuit board while attempting to remove T1 in order to rewind it. I obliterated some traces and solder through holes. It may not be so, but I'm writing it off (for now) as a loss due to my impatience and for working on it while I was too fatigued to be doing so. I'm not getting rid of it, or tossing it out - just putting it on the shelf for now.  I learned some valuable lessons, so it was not a total loss and I will carry those forward when I begin building the QCX+ 20. One lesson is to ditch the Weller soldering station that has been my standby for the last umpteen years; and going with the one I purchased from Circuit Specialists. This soldering station will allow me to control the temperature more precisely, so that if I do have to perform some re-work, I won't burn things up..

That's going to be a while, though. I published the 2020 NJQRP Skeeter Hunt Scoreboard the other day and that can be seen here.

Composing the Soapbox is next and that's going to take me a while. There were over 130 log summaries sent in, the majority having comments and many having photos as well. It's going to take me a while to get that published. For instance, I worked on it for a couple hours tonight; and I've only gotten through the first 16 entries. That's a little bit more than 10%, so I've got a good bit of work ahead of me.

This is the part of the Skeeter Hunt that is my favorite, right after operating, of course. Being able to let the QRP world know what the participants used, how they set up, describing the fun they had - for me, this is the icing on the cake. That being the case, I want to do it right and give it the effort it deserves. I also truly believe that the Soapbox section is what makes Hunters come back year after year.

I don't get rid of them, either. If you go to www.qsl.net/w2lj, you can see the Soapbox comments going all the way back to the beginning in 2012. I enjoy going through them myself from time to time to see how the NJQRP Skeeter Hunt has evolved.

72 de Larry W2LJ

QRP - When you care to send the very least!


Saturday, August 29, 2020

Almost there!

 


I got L1 and L4 wound and installed and T1 wound and installed on the QCX40. T1 did not turn out as picture perfect as Hans' construction manual, but I'm 99 and 44/100ths % sure that I got it wound and installed correctly. Tomorrow, I'll try and finish up and perform the smoke test.

I must admit, if I had to do T1 over (and who knows, I may have to yet!) I would not wind it as one continuous winding with loops between the windings. If I end up having to do it over, I would do each winding separately.  As long as the winding are done in the same sense, for example, all wound counter clockwise and all the first windings going under, then it works out the same as Hans' method. 

This past week at work was a bear with a lot of late nights and hard days. At 63, I don't bounce back as easily as I used to when I was younger. Because of that, I am trying to do as little as possible. Kit building is more like play than work, so I'm taking the opportunity to get some rest and have some fun at the same time.

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

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Debating

 I keep debating in my head whether or not I should post about this - but I think I have something of value to offer here, so I am going to go ahead. What's that old saying? "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!".

This post is going to deal with questions - specifically questions asked in our Amateur Radio community.

Last weekend I asked a question in a comment on Facebook. It was a popular Amateur Radio related topic page - which shall remain nameless. Admittedly, I didn't read the original post too well. It was lengthy and I kind of just glossed over it. My fault 10000% and I freely admit it - and I freely admitted it on the Facebook page. However, the question I asked seemed innocuous enough and I expected a three, maybe four word answer. That's all it would have required.

Instead, I got pilloried for even bothering to ask. "Didn't you read the post? AND YOU STILL ASKED THAT QUESTION?  SERIOUSLY? Do you know how many times we get asked that? Do you know how FRUSTRATING that is?"

That's not the word for word diatribe I received, but you get the gist. When I tried to explain why I asked what I asked, it got even worse. I responded (as I will explain below) and for my efforts, someone thought it was cute and funny enough to post this image of a crying towel.


I tried to explain that questions are a part of life. In my own life, I get asked a million questions a day - I know, that's an exaggeration, but it feels that way sometimes. People don't read and people don't listen. Sometimes they're tired, sometimes they're hurried and in a rush, sometimes their minds are focused on other weighty matters. It happens.

But that is NEVER is an excuse to be rude or condescending. One of the hallmarks of excellent Customer Service and just polite human behavior is to answer questions courteously and with a smile.  Even if you're screaming in your mind and ripping your hair out in your mind because it's the millionth time  ...... be kind.

One of the things that drives me crazy the most is when someone, particularly an Amateur Radio neophyte, will ask a very simple and easy question about something and someone answers with "RTFM", or says something like "How did you pass your test?". Is it so hard to give a courteous and polite answer? If you don't have the time to give a detailed answer then suggest a publication or location where they can find the answer and perhaps gain a little knowledge in the process. There's NEVER an excuse for being rude.

If you're frustrated and tired of hearing the same question over and over ...... grow a set and get over it, or better yet keep your mouth shut. If you're in a place or doing something that you really enjoy but part of that involves answering questions from maybe hundreds of people ..... well, that's life and part of what you got yourself into.  Always remember that other old saying, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen."

Be kind. Always. It's a good rule to live by.

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

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Interesting review

 https://swling.com/blog/2020/08/lets-hit-the-field-with-the-new-lab599-tx-500-discovery-qrp-transceiver/?fbclid=IwAR2loU8Ub1VIdzapMpxbSBxEqx8Ms9ZRY4DucaWgpthHNgSm0HwLoYRVilQ

The lab599 TX-500 Discovery 500 QRP Transciever - initial thoughts on the part of Tom Witherspoon K4SWL (who I've worked on the air many times). Tom authored a good write-up and I encourage you to read it.

The rig looks like a real winner - although it seems a bit strange how they chose the 6 pin connector to hook up a CW keying device - and the fact that you'd need to devise your own connector cable to hook up a set of headphones or ear buds is a"different approach" to say the least.

It's nice to see that more and more companies are making products and kits for our market. It would seem that QRP is indeed alive and well - perhaps more than ever (even if Ol' Sol ain't exactly cooperating right now).

72 de Larry W2LJ

QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Here it is Wednesday

 and I'm already contemplating the weekend.

There's so much to get done! I need to get the oil changed in the Jeep, get the grocery shopping done, get the lawn mowed and some bushy overgrowth cut back.

BUT ....... what I really want to get accomplished this weekend is to finish, or at least nearly finish the QCX 40 and that means tackling T1 with its multiple windings and loops. I've read the instructions a couple of times already and will again before the weekend. Winding T1 in the QCX reminds me a lot of winding the main transformer in the Emtech ZM2 tuner, which I built years ago and is still a mainstay in my portable ops backpack. That wasn't all that difficult and I keep reminding myself of that as I get closer to taking on this task. I still have the L1 and L4 toroids to build and install and I want to get those dome before the weekend, so I can devote my attention entirely to T1. It looks like a more daunting task on paper than it will probably end up being in practice.

Inside my head, I still feel like I'm in my 20s. But from time to time, it's easy to realize that even though I "feel" like I'm in my 20s in my head, the truth is starkly different. Back in those days, my eyesight was better and I could put together a kit without much more aid than a really good light source. Now I need magnifiers, and all the other help that I can get. Back in my salad days, I would have put together this QCX in an evening; or perhaps two. I can remember working on Heathkits until 2:00 or 3:00 AM and then getting up at 7:00 AM the next morning to get going to work. These days, I'm between the sheets by 9:00 or 10:00 PM at the latest, and if I'm not,  I really feel it the next day.

My Mom always used to say to me, "Larry, don't get old." and I always used to answer her, "Mom, there's not much I can do about that.".  I now know what she meant. We spend our younger lives wanting to have the "freedoms" that we believe come with adulthood. Sometimes, it turn out that they're not quite cracked up what they seemed to be.

It's been a busy week at work, so far three days in. I've been coming home not wanting to do much other than "vegging out", but I have been working on the Skeeter Scoreboard. I've gotten over a hundred log summary e-mails so far, and I've tallied up the first 50 or so into the spreadsheet. The Scoreboard will be published over Labor Day Weekend; and I'll put out plenty of notice about it when the time comes.

Keep in mind there are still two big events coming up in the 2020 Outdoor QRP season - the Peanut Power Sprint and the Leaf Peeper Sprint. I'm looking forward to those, even as they mean the close out of the season. Every August we get a day or a couple of days that have that "first kiss" of cooler weather that remind one that Autumn and Winter are on their way. The past two mornings have been in the upper 50s (around 14C) as I've headed out the door to work. Those temps have definitely reminded me that the changing of the seasons is on the way in just a few short weeks, and that my beloved Summer only has a short time left.

72 de Larry W2LJ

QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Monday, August 17, 2020

2020 NJQRP Skeeter Hunt

 NJQRP Skeeter Hunt Day 2020 arrived much as it did for 2019 - gray and gloomy. But this year, there was a difference - rain was added to the mix and there was no clearing come mid morning. I fully intended to set up outside on the patio table under the big umbrella anyway. I went out there around Noon to wipe the table dry, and to get the antenna up. As I was standing there, wiping down the table, water kept dripping down off the umbrella and onto my back. "Oh, this is NOT going to work" was the thought that entered my mind. I don't mind cloudy, I don't mind humid, I don't mind cool (it was only 66 F at the time), but I DO mind wet.

The decision was made to operate from the shack. There went the X4 multiplier and the home brew antenna bonus up into a puff of smoke. However, I'm not in it to win in any case. As Contest Manager, I consider myself ineligible. I do like to put forward the best effort I can, though.

The bands seemed plenty busy once starting time rolled around. 40 Meters was best for me. I worked a few on 20 Meters, but signals were very weak. QSB was terrible on both 20 and 40, but at least the signals were louder on 40 and I was able to deal with it.  I tried listening and calling CQ on both 15 Meters and 80 Meters for a bit, but it seemed that both those bands were about as inhabited as Robinson Crusoe's island. No one there but me - not even Friday.

I came upstairs at about the halfway point for a needed "Nature's Call" break. Wouldn't you know it? As I looked out the living room window, the rain had stopped and the sun was trying to break through the clouds. I was tempted to quickly set up for doing the second half from the backyard, but it occurred to me that that would be a scoring mess. Even though my score doesn't count, how do you score a 1/2 home operation and a 1/2 backyard portable operation? As it turned out it was the wise choice. By the time the closing bell rang, the gloom and spritzing rain had returned for an encore performance

At 2100 UTC I had finished up with 30 QSOs in the log. Not my best effort by any means, but still a lot of fun. Thanks to all who participated and made the Skeeter Hunt possible. I may do the background work to get it going, but you guys are the ones who are the wind beneath its wings. Without you there's no NJQRP Skeeter Hunt, and for that I am eternally grateful. MY reward in all of this is hearing stories about how you folks had a good time. There's so much un-cool stuff happening in the world today and we need to get a break from it, even if it's just for a few hours. If I can help bring some enjoyment to people's lives for even a little while - it's all well worth it.

For the next two weeks, I'l be collecting log summaries and on Labor Day weekend, I will publish the 2020 Scoreboard. Certificates and soapbox will follow as soon as I get the chance and time to work on them. 

2021 will mark the 10th running of the NJQRP Skeeter Hunt. I have to think of something special for the occasion.

72 de Larry W2LJ

QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Saturday, August 15, 2020

NJQRP Skeeter Hunt - tomorrow!

 Tomorrow, Sunday August 16th is the 9th running of the NJQRP Skeeter Hunt.

Over 270 of you have signed up for Skeeter numbers, so there should be lots of activity out there. Our fingers are crossed that the Propagation Princess will be in a good mood and will cooperate. This is an all time record number of Skeeters - NJQRP thanks each and every one of you for participating. It's not too late to sign up for a number, I'll be issuing them right up to about 10:00 AM EDT tomorrow for any late comers - just send an e-mail to w2lj@arrl.net and I'll send you an e-mail back with your Skeeter Number for 2020.

If anyone is fuzzy about the rules, please visit http://www.qsl.net/w2lj - the rules are easy and not cumbersome. The exchange is easy and the main goal of this exercise is to provide ample fun - no jumping through hoops here.

Lastly, in these COVID times, please remember to stay safe. Back yard operations with a temporary antenna and a power source other than your home's commercial mains count as portable for the Skeeter Hunt. No need to go off into the public if you feel safer at home. If you do venture out, please keep yourself safe by observing your area's restrictions (i.e facial coverings, social distancing and above all Common Sense). We at NJQRP want to have you all back next year for the 10th Anniversary of the NJQRP Skeeter Hunt.

Go out there, be careful and have fun! Hope to hear you and get your call signs in the log!

72 de Larry W2LJ - Skeeter # 13

QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Friday, August 14, 2020

Decisions, decisions

My Weller WTCPT soldering station is going nigh on about 35 years old or so. I got it as a Christmas present from my parents back in the days when I was Service Manager at Sinar Bron. Each of us in the department had one and we used them every day, of course. They are like Timex watches in that "They take a licking and keep on ticking!"

My tips are getting old and worn and it's getting a bit more difficult to find new ones. And when you find them, "They ain't cheap". So I had to do some soul searching. Do I buy new tips, or is it time, perhaps, for a new soldering station?

I was looking at the 75 Watt station available form Circuit Specialists. 


It's only $33 plus shipping.  It also comes with a hearty recommendation from Bob W3BBO, who has one. As tempting as it was to order one, I decided to go on eBay where I found some WTCPT tips. With shipping, three brand new tips came close in price to  (but still below)  the new soldering station. I may regret my decision, but the Weller has served me for so long and for so well that I'm going to take the gamble and bet that the handle will continue to work for the foreseeable future. A replacement handle is about $99, give or take a few $$$. If it ever kicks the bucket on me, then I'll look for something new.

I was looking at reviews of newer Weller soldering equipment on eHam and was concerned with the comments. It seems that they're not being made like they used to, so I am going to hold on to my relic from the past - for the time being, anyway.


A relic holding on to a relic - works for me!

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

Monday, August 10, 2020

W3BBO to the rescue! Once again.

 I mentioned in the previous post how it's QCX toroid time. I had mentioned to Bob W3BBO that as excellent as Hans Summer's assembly manuals are - they differ from Elecraft in one important way.

When you're ready to wind a toroid in an Elecraft kit, they generally start off the step with something like this "Cut off a 12 inch piece of the supplied magnet wire". In the QCX manual, Hans just gives you the toroid nomenclature and the number of turns. I'm not a rocket scientist - how much wire do I need without cutting too much and wasting some - or cutting it too short and REALLY wasting some?

Bob W3BBO had the answer, as always.  Go to W8DIZ, Diz Gentrow's Website at kitsandparts,com. He has a toroid page complete with winding info.

Take for instance - L4 on the QCX 40. It's a T37-2 toroid and you need to wrap 16 turns on it. Simply go to https://www.kitsandparts.com/xtoroids.html and you will see that you need a 10 inch length of magnet wire. Easy peasey, lemon squeezy! 


This is the stuff you automatically know when you are a home brewer par excellance, which Bob W3BBO is and I am obviously not. Thanks again, Bob - for pulling my fat out of the fire. In thanks, I will pay it forward and pass your tip to others out there who may need it. (I'm probably alone in that regard).

72 de Larry W2LJ

QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Progress!

It was a pretty busy weekend with a lot a lot of "stuff" going on.

Saturday began with our "new normal" VE testing session in the Clark, NJ Municipal Building Parking Lot. Months ago, pre-Covid, we used to chuckle when we'd have three candidates and maybe ten VEs show up on a Saturday morning. Now, we need every VE we can get. These outdoor, socially distanced exam sessions require that many VEs and more, in order to maintain integrity and reasonably quick paper flow. We seem to be getting better at it each month and we've been getting good feedback from the candidates / new licensees.  It will be interesting to see how we're going to do this once colder weather arrives in 3 or 4 months.

The rest of the day was occupied with grocery shopping, cleaning, lawn mowing and various other little things that needed my attention. I set up a new Wifi range extender/repeater in the house as I was contending with a few dead spots, and I also want to set up a Webcam to accompany my weather station so that when I check into Weather Underground, I can visually see what the weather is like at home when I'm not there. I also do most of the cooking on weekends in order to give Marianne a break in that department.

The second Sunday of each month, I volunteer along with our Church group at a local soup kitchen. They've resumed, as they were halted for the last few months. Instead of giving our guests a "sit down' meal, we're giving them a complete take out meal, as we don't have enough indoor space to accomodate social distancing requirements. That eats up a bit of the day, but there was enough time before Mass and after soup kitchen to work some more on the QCX.


At this point, I'm pretty certain I'm more than 1/2 way done. I finished getting all the resistors in, the two RF chokes, all the electrolytics, the potentiometers, the trimmer cap, the transistors and the voltage regulator. I also got the power inlet, the pin headers and the three test points installed. Of all the components installed so far, those three singular test points were the biggest pain in the butt. You can't bend the "lead" to keep them in place - so you have to find a way to support them from underneath to keep them in place while you solder.  You can't use a finger to hold them in place as they get hot when you solder them in.  They're also shorter than some of the surrounding components and that doesn't help matters.

The solution that I worked out was to use the foam strip that the ICs came on. I placed that on top of each pin after I inserted it, carefully inverted the circuit board and then soldered each pin in place, while the foam supported the pin from underneath and prevented it from moving laterally, or moving away from the circuit board. Once again - never throw anything away that's excess before the kit is complete. You may never know when things like a piece of IC foam or even a clipped component lead might come in handy for something on down the line.

The next step is the toroids and the main transformer T1. I have no problem with toroids. I'm a toroid veteran from my K1, K2 and their respective auto tuner builds. But just because I'm a veteran doesn't mean I'm complacent about it. It was after dinner when I finished for the evening. I want to work on the toroids when I'm a bit fresher. Maybe I'll attempt them during evenings this week, taking my time and going slow.

The long range weather outlook is not looking great for my QTH for next weekend. I'm sure it will probably change between now and then, but right now the forecast for next Sunday (Skeeter Hunt Day) is for showers and perhaps a 1/4 inch of precipitation. If that is indeed the case, and things don't change, I'll probably end up setting up in the back yard under our big patio umbrella instead of going to the park that I usually go to. I did this a couple of years ago and it worked fine. The only problem is that situation would preclude me from using a home brew antenna for the event. There's just not enough space for my portable W3EDP that I use on Field Day, and I'd probably end up deploying the PAR End Fedz, which I've used in the past. I could conceivably use my EARCHI end fed, but the total length of that is 50 plus feet, while the PAR is around 39 feet, which is much more suited to the limited space I'll be dealing with.

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

Friday, August 07, 2020

Idiot !!!!!!!!

 Of all the bone-headed, idiotic things that I have done ....... I realized that I have missed the deadline to send in my Field Day results to the ARRL!  I feel like such a moron.

I've let down my fellow SPARC members. Argh!

72 de Larry W2LJ

QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Dreams

Ever since this COVID-19 thing has been front and center, my friend Marv K2VHW has been running what has been come to be known as the "Middlesex County Chat Group Net" each evening at 8:00 PM on the Middlesex County OEM repeater.

It's a Health and Welfare Net with local Hams keeping in touch with each other. If anyone needs something, it's our chance to help out. But beyond that, it's also a general discussion net, where any and all topics can come up. It's also been kind of an Elmer net. We've discussed radios, antennas, how to route feedlines, etc. 

Over the past few weeks, our discussions have been drifting towards the International Space Station, tracking satellites, the stars, planets and astronomy.  Tonight's session seemed to linger particularly on astronomy.

When I was a mere youngster, that was my dream - to be an astronomer. As a product of the "Space Age" I was thrilled by all things connected to space and space flight. I built a 6" Newtonian reflecting telescope when I was about 13 -14 years old. I wanted to spend my life unraveling the mysteries of space.

That was when math hit, and my dream died. My Mom often told me how my great grandfather (or was it my great, great grandfather?) was a professor of mathematics at the University of Kiev. That gene missed me completely. Mathematics might as well have been Greek to me, as I comprehended neither. Mathematics, however, IS the language of astronomy. Without the proper affinity for mathematics I was reduced to never becoming anything more than an avid stargazer.

Such are the things of life, but I guess I'll always wonder "how it could have been."

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

Isaias

It's been all over the news. A little storm blew through here on Tuesday - Tropical Storm Isaias. 

Fortunately, the W2LJ household fared very well. We lost power a couple of times, maybe for about a 1/2 hour each time, but no more than that. My weather station recorded only about 1.3 inches of rain at my location and a maximum wind gust around 20 MPH. The lot on which my house resides is surrounded by some pretty tall trees, so I'm sure they break up and affect the wind coming at my weather station.

I say that because while I only had some twigs and a few minor branches fall out of my two trees, the greater part of South Plainfield saw more damage than my block received. There were roads closed with major limbs down in the streets and taking down power lines. Many homes are without electricity and the local power utility is saying it may not be until next Monday that power is restored everywhere.

Somerset County, which is our neighboring county and the one I travel through to get to work fared much worse. Lots of trees down and many traffic lights on State Highway 22 are out of commission. In fact, the highway (eastbound) was closed Tuesday afternoon because of downed trees and power lines. My commute home was a lot longer that evening as I was forced to take several detours throughout the county.

My son Joseph texted me at work when power went out for the first time. He also told me there was a wire coming from the house that was down in the driveway. I immediately thought it was the mains wire from the house that had snapped from the utility pole. Power came back on shortly, so that proved my initial thought was incorrect.

When I got home in the evening, it turned out that the wire was an old length of cable TV cable that was left hanging on the house from when we switched from Direct TV to Verizon FiOS service. I cut it down and discarded it. Interesting stuff - it looked like regular 75 Ohm TV coaxial cable, but it had an extra wire running down the length of it. You could see and feel a raised "hump" where that extra wire was placed.

Both Amateur Radio antennas made it through unscathed. In fact, the Butternut came through all the better. There were some overhanging branches from my neighbor's yard that were coming close to the vertical and would brush against it from time to time. It seems they didn't make it through the storm and must be laying somewhere in my neighbor's back yard. Except for one grabby vine, my Butternut is free and clear. I'll snip that vine with my tree pruner this evening, if it's not raining when I get home. Otherwise, that will go on the "To Do" list for this weekend.

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

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Cool stuff!

I just watched a pass of the International Space Station, as it passed in the Northwest to Southeastern sky. It was cool to be talking a bunch of local Ham buddies on a local repeater while watching. We also saw two dimmer satellites pass over, as well. I wonder if either of those two was perhaps an OSCAR.

This afternoon, I watched the splashdown of Dragon Endeavor as it gently landed in the Gulf of Mexico, While it reminded me of Mercury/Gemini and Apollo days, it was also apparent how far we've come since those days. The live TV from the communications airplane circling the recovery area made watching the deployment of both sets of parachutes possible. And after splashdown, it wasn't the US Navy responsible for recovery, it was a private commercial operation. As the spacecraft was bobbing in the ocean, there was live, high definition TV from inside, showing the two astronauts working on their touch screens going through their checklists. In days of yore, tbe first glimpse we got of the returning astronauts was when they were maneuvered into a raft by Navy scuba divers.

On the Amateur Radio front, I got more done on the QCX today. I installed the diodes and about 75% of the resistors.


In my younger days, I'd have had this done by now - but I'm taking my time. Plus ...... there's Harold, my faithful Beagle. For some reason Harold will not come down the basement steps. When I go down the stairs to work on the QCX, he sits at the top stair, waiting for me to come back up. It may seem stupid or overly sentimental , but I don't like to leave my buddy alone for too long on days when I'm home from work. So I go for small bits of time. Maybe I'm just a sucker, but I know I won't have Harold forever, so I like to spend as much time with him as I can.

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

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Reminiscing

Last night, I installed the last of the capacitors onto the QCX 40 printed circuit board. I got those new magnifying glasses the other day and they really helped make things easier. I was able to read the capacitor nomenclature without resorting to the "microscope". The added light form the magnifying lamp helps tremendously.

A word to the wise (for what it's worth). I saw the magnifying headset in an ad on Facebook. Almost everything I view on Facebook is somehow Amateur Radio related outside of posts from friends, so the ads that pop up are mainly related to electronics. I liked them as soon as I saw the ad, but was not enamored with the price, so I did a search for the same type of headset on eBay. Got one for less than half of what the company on Facebook was charging. Moral of the story - always look around.

As I finished soldering in the last cap, i was hit with a wave of nostalgia. I got to thinking of my Heathkit "Glory Days" back in the 80s and early 90s. I built so many Heathkits, I was able to join their Master Builder Club which came into being very close to their demise. In no particular order, these are the Heathkits that I can remember building. There may have been a few more:


My very first Heathkit was one of their VTVMs.

Then came a flurry of Amateur Radio Kits:


The HR-1680 was my Novice receiver.


Who didn't have a Heathkit Cantenna Dummy Load (filled with toxic PCBs)?


The HW-8, my first QRP rig.


The Heathkit HD-1410 Keyer - VERY popular


My Amateur Radio coup de grace build. The SB-104A with macthing speaker/power supply and auxiliary VFO.

And there were also some non-Amateur Radio builds of neat stuff:



Had this alarm clock for many, many years.


The GR-70 scanner which had all the local repeaters programmed in.

And then, in my audiophile years - rack mounted stereo equipment:


Graphic equalizer


125 Watt per Channel Power Amplifier

Stereo Pre-amplifier

I spent a lot of money in those years - hey, I was working, single with no commitments at the time. I melted a lot of solder, got a lot of solder burns (along with the scars to prove it). But most of all, I had a blast building each and every kit.

There's a lot of great kits to be had today.  Some are questionable, some are downright excellent and come with instructions that actually outshine the Heathkit manuals - but there will never be an equal to what we knew as Heathkit.

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




Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Coming up in August

and something you might really like to pre-register for - Eric Guth of "QSO Today" fame is sponsoring a virtual Ham Radio Expo the second weekend of August.


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

Monday, July 27, 2020

Some good news ..... some bad news

First the good news. I got more capacitors soldered in to the QCX 40 Meter kit.


They're almost all in. Just a few more to go and then I move on to other passive components.

The other good news is that this arrived in the mail today:


The 20 Meters QCX+ kit arrived!

The bad news is that I ordered a QCX enclosure from BaMa Tech over the weekend. The bad news is NOT that they are no longer available. The bad news is that DHL has suspended shipping outside of Europe because of Covid. So I will get the enclosure ...... eventually, but only God knows when at this point.

Lastly, the magnifier lamp arrived from Banggod last Friday. I hooked it up today before soldering tonight and it really made a big difference for me during my build session tonight. It's great to have the extra light and the magnifying lens does a fantastic job.

72 de LarryW2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Friday, July 24, 2020

Looking forward to the weekend

No progress on the QCX last night. I have a Bible Study group that meets on Zoom on Thursday evenings, where I help to facilitate. That took up a good chunk of the evening. Afterwards, I did run down to the shack to see if I could hear either of the 20 Meters QRP Foxes last night. I am batting 1000% failure on that, this summer.

On the bright side, three nice things happened. The first is that the magnifying lamp that I ordered from Banggood arrived yesterday. I'll get that installed either tonight or tomorrow - I really, really, REALLY need the extra light. The other nice thing was that, while I couldn't hear either 20 Meter QRP Fox, during a switch to 40 Meters to make sure my antennas were working, I heard and worked K1ZT who was activating a park for POTA. I was kind of surprised that someone would be in a park close to 9:00 PM, but then it dawned on me that he was probably camping.

The third nice thing that happened is that I got an e-mail from QRP Labs yesterday that my 20 Meter QCX+ kit shipped yesterday from a "USA Source" and that I should have it in a few days. Yay!

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Pig Out! If this was a baseball game

you'd hear the following over the public address system:

"Ladies and Gentlemen - stepping up to the plate to pinch hit for the Flight of the BumbleBees are the Flying Pigs!"

Yes ...... there IS something happening this Sunday to satisfy you avid, outdoor QRP enthusiasts. The Flying Pigs Amateur Radio Club International has hastily put together an event - called the "Pig Out"

Here are the basic rules as posted by Brian KB9BVN on Facebook. The official rules will be posted tomorrow - most likely on the Flying Pigs website and/or http://www.qrpcontest.org

Preliminary rules and info: This is a 4 hour fun event on Sunday July 26 2020.

Object: Work as many CW contacts as possible; Multiplier points for working Flying Pigs and working Flying Pigs not at their home QTH.

Contest period: 1700 to 2100 UTC

Bands: 40, 20, 15, and 10 meters CW only.

Exchange: If FPqrp member using normal Home QTH station, send RST and FPqrp# and X2; i.e. 559 NR1234 "x2" else if FPqrp member using Field station, send RST and FPqrp# and "X5" ; i.e. 559 NR2345 "x5" else send RST and Power; i.e. 559 5W Entry

Categories: None

There is only one power levels: QRP - no more than 5 watts

Scoring: Score is number of QSOs per Band with/without FPqrp# and Field multipliers

Special bonus points: None

To Enter: Post your score via the AUTOLOG (at qrpcontest.com) within 15 days of the event (July 26, 2020).

Gotta hand it to the Flying Pigs for putting together something at the drop of a hat!

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

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

It's a start

 Confucius opined that every journey begins with a single step. I took my first step tonight. In between running the South Plainfield ARES/RACES Net and participating in the NNJ ARES/RACES COMMEX Net, I soldered in the 28 pin IC socket, a 14 pin 74ACT00N quad NAND gate, and six LM 4562 op-amps on my QCX 40 printed circuit board.


No big deal, but at least I'm going in the right direction. 

I can't wait for that magnifying lamp that I ordered from Banggood to get here. A bit of extra light and some magnification will be just what the doctor ordered.  I received an email that it was shipped today.  If I'm lucky,  maybe it will be here by the weekend.

I also bought one of these from eBay today:


I have a very simple one, like you see for sale at Hamfests all the time (in fact, that's where I got it). However, it just doesn't do the trick for me. This version has different diopters and has two LEDs, and this one is designed to be used with glasses (which I already have). It should be here Monday.

On another note,  blogging via a phone is a pain in the posterior. 

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

Cleaning up the Blogroll

I spent a little time cleaning up the blogroll. I've a few more to move, but basically ..... anything that's been dormant for a year or more gets moved to the bottom list of "Dormant, But Not Forgotten" blogs.

The active ones still outnumber the dormant ones, but it's getting close.

What saddens me as I go through these are the number of friends who are now Silent Keys. I'll keep their blogs listed as long as they are still available on the Web, in part to honor their memory; but also to be able to share their words and wisdom to the next generation of Hams.

Some of the others are from Hams who have either lost interest in blogging; or have lost interest in Amateur Radio in general. While that concept is foreign to me, I understand that it happens. People move on.

It takes a certain amount of dedication to do this for a prolonged basis. It also a challenge to try and keep the ideas somewhat fresh and not a rehash of the same ol', same ol'.  I am probably guilty of that to the nth degree, myself.

Currently, we're in the middle of a heat wave here in Central NJ, as are many other parts of the country. The coolest space in the house is the basement. While it's remarkably chilly down there in the winter time, it's a refreshing oasis right now. If things go well and no unexpected events turn up, I hope to start melting solder on that virgin QCX printed circuit board tonight. I may not get a lot done each night, but like the turtle in that famous fable, "Slow and steady wins the race".

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

Monday, July 20, 2020

This thing is a life saver!

I began the process of building my 40 Meter QCX kit tonight. It's been a while since I have attempted to build a complex kit. One thing that became apparent is that my eyes are not what they used to be. Granted, the light here in the dining room table is not the best. One chandelier hanging above the dining room table really isn't up to the task, but I went with what I had. While the main build will be done down in the shack, I wanted to inventory the parts up here because there is more space and less of a chance that anything would get lost.

Another big difference is the manual. No doubt that Hans Summers went out of his way to produce a SUPERB building manual .........but. It's on the computer and not a printed out hard copy. I do not have the ink to print out a 141 page manual. So I am going to have to get used to not "checking off" each step as I go along, like I used to in Heathkit and Elecraft Manuals.

Welcome to the 21st Century, W2LJ!

The good news is that everything that's supposed to be there, is there. There were a few extra capacitors of values that were not listed in the parts manual, but they're not going anywhere just in case.

And speaking of capacitors ....... the print on them is infinitesimal! It was not too long ago that I was able to read those tiny characters with only occasional help from a magnifying glass. That's not the case anymore, so thank God for the person or persons who came up with this concept:


Due to the glare, you can't see the capacitor on the surface of the white board, but look how nicely the numbers printed on the cap pop out on the screen of the magnifier. This made a potentially frustrating chore a relative breeze!

Again, due to failing eyesight and less than ideal lighting, I had to resort to using a VOM to measure the resistors. The colors were hard to distinguish and the meter made that chore relatively painless, as well. The magnifier/microscope thing would probably have worked well here also,  but I didn't think of bringing it upstairs until faced with identifying the capacitors.

I filled four egg cartons with parts in the order as they appeared on the parts list of the manual. Of course, being as OCD as I am, I will re-check each value before I install it. But I am looking forward to melting solder - maybe as early as tomorrow evening!

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

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Inspired

I was inspired by Bob W3BBO's success in completing his 20 Meter QCX+ kit. So much so, that I am going to start my 40 Meters QCX kit that has been sitting in the shack for over a year now. But before I begin that, I wanted to get my O'scope completed and running. Mr. Procrastination (yours truly) started this a long time ago. I only had a few components left and decided to finish it today.


The only thing I had to solder in today were the slide switches, the signal input jack and the headers on the LCD Board and on the main board. When I got to soldering the headers on the LCD Board, I came to realize I was shorted two male 2-pin headers in the parts count.

So what do you do? You go to the junk box, of course! I had a spare six pin header that was extra and left over from some previous kit, and I was able to break off two 2-pin sections, trim them to the proper length and install. Worked like a charm!

Another lesson learned ...... don't EVER throw anything extra away. You never know when it will become useful.

One thing I noticed though. In the testing procedure, you are asked to measure for a test voltage at a test point - and then, if it reads OK, solder a short on two points on the board.  How come I can make a solder bridge when I don't want to - but can't seem to WHEN I HAVE TO?

I ended up soldering a discarded component lead across the two solder pads in order to create the necessary short.

With this little kit completed, I think I will start inventorying parts on the QCX tomorrow night. I think I have enough egg cartons to hold everything.

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

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Home again.

 We're back from our Lake George vacation. Before we left this morning,  I was able to grab a neat photo (at least in my mind).

I call it,  "The Lake,  First Light,  the Moon and Jupiter. "


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

Friday, July 17, 2020

This is not an advertisement

as I don't do advertisements. But this is something I saw mentioned on-line and purchased from Banggood:

https://www.banggood.com/DANIU-Flexible-Desk-Large-33cm33cm-5X-USB-LED-Magnifying-Glass-3-Colors-Illuminated-Magnifier-Lamp-Loupe-p-1592702.html?rmmds=myorder&cur_warehouse=USA


The one I had down in the shack finally gave up the ghost a couple of months ago. The bracket holder part gave out and the lamp crashed to the floor and the magnifying glass part shattered into a couple different pieces.  

I looked for a replacement on Amazon, but was not impressed with the prices. This one came in at under $30 and seems to be a good deal. This will come in way handy in order to build my QCX 40 Meter kit and my QCX+ 20 Meter kit.

As I get older, the old peepers ain't what they used to be. This will help.

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


Wednesday, July 15, 2020

COVID-19, the NJQRP Skeeter Hunt, Common Sense and You

I was initially surprised today, when I read on QRP-L that Rich Fisher KI6SN has decided to postpone the date for the 2020 Flight of the Bumblebees. After some consideration, I guess I should not be surprised. COVID-19 does seem to be making a rebound in some states, and Rich's home state of California is one of them.

In some ways, the Skeeter Hunt and FOBB are very similar. But in some important ways, they are not. And I think those differences are what is leading me to keep the NJQRP Skeeter Hunt on schedule for August 16th, 2020.

As with FOBB, the NJQRP Skeeter Hunt encourages portable operations. For the Skeeter Hunt, portable operations also include working from the safety of your own back yard. If your state, county or town has parks that are open and you're comfortable with going to one of them - that's great.  If you prefer the safety and seclusion of your own back yard - as long as you use a temporary antenna that's not part of your regular home shack antenna system - the Skeeter Hunt classifies that as a "portable op". I set up on my patio in my back yard back a few years back when there was a threat of rain. I used my Jackite to support my PAR END FEDZ and spent the whole four hours at my patio table.

However, if you do choose to operate from a public venue, then it is expected that you will follow all the safety dictates requested of you by your local government. If that includes masks where social distancing may not be possible, then you are expected to comply with those requests.

The bottom line is that I expect all Skeeter Hunters to use common sense. Have a good time, but at the same time do everything you have to do to curtail the spread of the Corona Virus. Wear face coverings if you need to - maintain proper social distancing where needed and bring along hand sanitizer if equipment is going to be shared in groups.

If the current crisis disturbs you to the point that you want to operate from home using your everyday shack - that's fine too. The idea behind this little sprint is to have fun - that's it ........ have fun. And you can easily do that while adhering to all the safety rules we are under during these current times.

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

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Not much activity

I took the KX3 and the AlexLoop to one of the picnic tables here at the place we're staying here at Lake George. The view is nice; but the airwaves weren't as nice as the view.


I sat at the table for what felt like an eternity, twiddling the dial, changing bands, looking for someone, anyone to work. Calling CQ netted nothing. Finally on 20 Meters I heard YV5DTJ, Carlos from Venezuela who was booming in, I called him several times; but this was one of those instances where propagation was not reciprocal. You send your call and you get a "CQ" in your face enough times, you take the hint.

A little further on down the band I heard LZ3ND calling CQ. Nowhere as strong as YV5DTJ, but calling and calling with no takers. So I decided to give it a shot and ....... BINGO! Got answered on my first call. Go figure.

Nikolay was the only QSO of the day. I figured with it being summer time and some people on vacation, the bands might be a bit busy. Nope, they were deader than a door nail. Maybe more towards evening time they get busier? I remember during my Novice days that it seemed like finding an empty spot on the bands any time during the day was a chore. Back then, if the band was a dead as they are now, we would have attributed that to an intense solar storm.

So with the bleak outlook of activity looming over my shoulder, what did I do? I did the only thing a sensible Ham would do - I purchased another HF rig! I went online and ordered a 20 Meter QCX+ to go with my 40 Meter QCX (which is still in the box). Someday, I'm going to have a lot of solder melting to do. Hopefully soon. But for now, this week at least, I'll ply the bands every afternoon - looking for someone to QSO with.

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

Monday, July 13, 2020

Alex Tune

Earlier this year, I bought my Alex Loop from Peter NN9K. I've brought it along to Lake George and have used it both Sunday and today. There was not much going on, on the bands this afternoon, but I did work Anthony KB8BBK who was activating K-1955 Guilford State Park in Ohio.

The purpose of this post is to talk a little bit about the Alex Tune, which I purchased a bit after I got the Alex Loop. It was reviewed in a recent issue of QST, so I'm not going to go into this deeply.


The idea is that the Alex Tune unit clips onto on of the PL-259 connectors of the AlexLoop coax of the main loop. You tune the capacitor for max receive noise and then hit your tune button (or otherwise generate a carrier) and fine tune the capacitor while watching the LED for maximum brightness. When you hit that, you're in like Flynn.

This unit is ideal for QRP radios that do not have an SWR readout as part of their display. For some of the monoband kits, the minimalistic kits, the HB1B and others, the Alex Tune unit is ideal. If you're using an Elecraft radio, like the KX2 or KX3, it is actually easier to tune the capacitor for max noise and then watch the SWR display on the KX2 or KX3 and fine tune for minimum SWR. Yesterday and today, I was able to tune the Alex Loop for a 1:1 or 1.2:1 SWR pretty easily by keeping an eye on my KX3's display.

I don't regret purchasing the unit as it will come in handy when I use something other than my KX3. But if you're radio has a built in SWR meter, and you don't intend to ever use anything else, then you can save some money - use what you already have in your radio.

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

Sunday, July 12, 2020

This is too good not to share

Words posted by Wayne Burdick N6KR to the Elecraft KX email reflector. They are too good not to share:

"On second thought, I think I'll take the stairs."

by Wayne Burdick, N6KR


I have a friend about my age who got into amateur radio only a few years ago. Like many of us, he was enthusiastic about the technology. Intrigued with DX.

I showed him my station; we talked endlessly about gear. Later, I helped him put up a simple wire antenna.

Then, when his license arrived, he dove straight into FT8 and didn't look back. Within days, he'd worked all states, then DXCC. He'd bag a few rare ones over a light lunch, then pat his laptop on the back and congratulate his software app for its near-mythical ability to extract weak signals out of noise.

Within weeks, he'd mastered everything there was to know about this glorious new hobby.

Point. Click.

In this new world order, those of us who took the longer, slower path to ionospheric enlightenment -- and who still occasionally enjoy making waves by hand -- often fail to explain why.

I had failed to explain it to my friend. Even as hints of his boredom crept in, creating an opening, the best argument I'd made for trying CW was that he could do it without a computer. Coming in a weak second was the notion that CW was the original digital mode. For obvious reasons, I didn't bother with the classic argument about CW's signal-to-noise advantage over SSB.

I had all but given up.

Then, in a moment of delayed clarity, I decided on a different approach. I invited him to a weekday brunch. A bit of an escape. He willingly took the bait.

On the appointed day, arriving at his workplace, I bypassed the lobby's glistening elevators and climbed the four flights of stairs to his office. I insisted we take the stairs down, too.

"Why?" he asked. "And how'd you get up here so fast?"

I pointed out that I always chose stairs, when possible. That's why I wasn't out of breath. We hustled down, jockeying for position, and emerged on the ground floor invigorated by the effort.

"So, where are we going?" he asked. We'd been to every overrated twenty-dollar burger venue at least twice.

I replied that we'd be going someplace we'd never tried. My kitchen.

When we arrived, I put him to work chopping onions and broccoli and squeezing oranges while I whipped eggs into a froth and grated Swiss cheese. We ate our omelettes outside, in full sun and a cool breeze.

"What's for dessert?" he asked. "Isn't there a frozen yogurt place a two-minute drive from here?"

I had something else in mind. Back in the kitchen, I handed him a water bottle, then slipped on a small pack I'd prepared earlier.

We walked a mile or so through my neighborhood, admiring the houses' varied architecture, ending up (as planned) at a local park festooned with blackberry bushes. The most accessible branches had been picked clean, but with teamwork and persistence we were able to gather several large handfuls of fat, ripe berries, which we devoured on the spot.

We'd been poked and scratched but didn't care.

"Doesn't brunch usually end with champagne?" he wondered aloud, admiring his wounds.

Not this time. I pulled out two bottles of craft beer that I'd obtained from a neighbor in trade for repairing his ancient home stereo. Carlos had spent years crafting an American pilsner to die for, sweating every detail, including iconic, hand-painted labels.

My friend accepted the bottle, then tried in vain to remove the cap. Not a twist-off.

"Opener?" he said.

I handed him a small pocket knife, an antique without extra blades. He soon discovered it could not be used to remove the cap directly. He looked at me with a bemused expression, no doubt wondering what I had up my sleeve this time.

I pointed out that we were surrounded by white oaks, a species known for its hard wood. He got the message, smiled, and began hunting. Within seconds he'd collected a small fallen branch. I watched as he used the knife to fashion a few inches of it into a passable bottle opener. We popped the caps, toasted his new-found skill, and traded stories of misspent youth.

"Oh, one more thing," I said.

I pulled a KX2 out of my pack, along with two lengths of wire. Of course he knew everything there was to know about Elecraft, and me, so he wasn't surprised when I also pulled out the rig's attachable keyer paddle. We threw one wire in the closest tree and laid the other on the ground.

He didn't have to ask whether I'd brought a laptop.

We listened to CW signals up and down 20 meters, open to Europe at the time. As he tuned in each station, I copied for him using pencil and paper. He'd learned Morse code, but only at very slow speeds.

After making a contact, I set the internal keyer speed to 10 words per minute and dialed power output to zero, for practice purposes, then showed him how to use the paddle. He smiled as he got the hang of it. Sending the full alphabet was a challenge, but he got there. The KX2 decoded and displayed his letters, providing confirmation.

We'd blown through his allotted lunch break by a factor of three, so it was time to go. We coiled up the antenna wires, packed up, and walked back. As I drove him back to his employer, we made plans to get together again for a weekend hike.

I could have just dropped him off, but we went back into the lobby together. Out of habit, he stopped in front of the elevator. We watched the illuminated floor numbers flash: digital and predictable eye-candy.

"OK," he said. "I get it. This CW thing. It's slow, doesn't always work, and takes years of practice."

"Like hunting for your own food, or carving your own tools," I added.

"Or cooking from scratch. Or brewing your own beer. Or building your own radio. But you use more of your senses. Not just your eyes, but your ears. Your sense of touch."

I nodded. Listening; feeling. That was the radio I'd grown up with.

"Of course it's harder to work DX with CW than with FT8," I reminded him, playing devil's advocate.

"Is that what matters, though?" he asked, with a sideways glance.

A longer discussion for another day.

"Your call," I said.

He gripped my shoulder and smiled, then aimed a forefinger toward the elevator's glowing, ivory colored UP button, gilded in polished brass.

The path most taken. The easy way.

Point. Click.

"On second thought," he said, "I'll take the stairs."


*************************************************************

Geez, not only can this guy design superb radios, he can write really darn well, too!

On a personal note, I operated in the QRP ARCI Homebrew Sprint this afternoon. While most would not consider my KX3 to be a kit radio, it was, in as much as a KX3 can be considered a kit - it was not factory built - so ...... whatever.

Anyway, I used the AlexLoop. We are up here at Lake George. I also brought the Buddistick along in a last second impulse move as I was packing the car. Yeah ...... I brought the whips, the coil, the base ..... and no coax. So the AlexLoop it is for the week.

I made 6 QSOs. Not great, but actually more than I expected. There didn't seem to be a ton of activity that I was hearing. I was hearing more SKCC Weekend Sprinters than I was hearing QRP stations, but I'm glad that I got what I got. The AlexLoop tuned pretty easily to a 1.2:1 or better SWR on both 20 and 40 Meters. I made five contacts on 40 and one on 20 Meters.

According to RBN, I was being heard pretty decently when I called CQ.


It's a decent antenna .... I'll give it that. I'd still rather have a full sized dipole or even a shortened end fed wire, but it met my expectations. I wanted to travel light with out a lot of "stuff" and I want to be able to set up and take down quickly. I didn't want to ask permission to toss a wire into a tree, either.  It is what it is. I'll play around with it some more. Maybe there's a few surprises in store.

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

Friday, July 10, 2020

Sent in my log

To Ken Villone KU2US for my 13 Colonies certificate. Actually, I like the way they have it set up. Fill out a form, generate a pdf, print it out and mail it in. What can be easier than that?

If I was a coding genius, or even a coding simpleton, I'd figure out a way to do something similar for the Skeeter Hunt. But alas, my computer skills are only rudimentary. I can surf the Web, send and receive e-mail, work and manipulate spreadsheets and a few other things. Other than that, I'm a fish out of water.

This spring and summer have been dry. In fact, the lawn has gone brown and crunchy in spots and has for the most part gone dormant. Today may make up a bit for that. We've been visited by Tropical Storm Fay and we've gotten a whopping 2.80 inches of rain today. That's probably more than we've had in the last couple of months.

On another note, I've decided that for when we head up to Lake George this year, I'm going to go minimal. Instead of dragging the knapsack along with everything in it, I'm just going to bring my day bag along containing the KX3, battery, ear buds, extra key, and clock. The antenna will be the Alex Loop. Maybe I can give it a real workout that week and really see what it's capable of.

My good friend Bob W3BBO received his QCX+ kit yesterday. I think I'm going to be putting in an order for one myself, soon. I'm pretty sure I'll be ordering one for 20 Meters to go along with my 40 Meter QCX kit. I don't have much time for melting solder lately, but I need to make time.

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

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Not the Clean Sweep I had hoped for

I came home from work last night and was sitting and watching the daily reports of mayhem and calamity on the TV ....... you know, the evening news broadcast, when HamAlert chimed off on my phone. K2B had been spotted!

My heart sank a bit when I saw it was 40 Meters all right, but up in the phone band. Thinking that it may be a case of "now or never" I reluctantly plugged the microphone in and waited for a "QRZ?". As soon as I heard it, I threw out my call and much to my surprise, I heard my call sign coming back to me. The YL op at K2B and I both exchanged "59+". I made it - the 13th Colony worked; but I still wanted to bag Virginia using CW, just like all the others.

A few hours later, my phone chimed again. K2B was on the air in the CW portion of the band on 20 Meters. I ran down to the shack and plugged in the ear buds. I could hear some of the stations working K2B, but not K2B itself.

A little while later, K2B was finally spotted on 40 Meters. Here was my chance! I ran downstairs, went to the frequency spotted and heard K2B all right - at about an RST of 339, 449 if I was feeling particularly generous. I tried calling several times; but no dice. It seemed every time I called I got another "CQ" right in my face.  I even boosted the power to QRO levels. Still nothing,

It's funny how propagation changes on a band over a short time  Earlier in the evening, my QRP SSB contact earned me a "59+". A few hours later, even 85 Watts couldn't make myself heard - to the same state on the same band!

Just when you think you have it figured out ..... you realize that you don't. To paraphrase that song from the 90's. "One night on 40 Meters makes a hard man humble ........".

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