Thursday, December 13, 2018

Better late than never

You know that old saying, "He's a day late and a dollar short"?

That's me.

I'm a day late in posting this, but it's relevant to all of us Amateur Radio operators, especially the DXers among us. For 117 years ago, on December 12th, 1901 a single Morse Code "S" was transmitted via radio from Poldhu, England to St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada.


You can argue all day about who actually invented radio, but it was Guglielmo Marconi who first succeeded in proving that radio signals could traverse the Atlantic. His detractors, "The Experts" of the day, came to a "consensus" and insisted that radio waves could only follow the curvature of the Earth and would be limited to a range of 200 miles or less.

Marconi believed different and was able to prove them wrong.

You can read more about this, if you want, on the History Channel page for December 12th - https://bit.ly/2zWRsCV

I wonder what Mr. Marconi would think of modern QRP'ers, with our ridiculously short antennas (compared to the miles of wire he thought necessary) and our measly 5 Watts?

I think he'd be beaming and would be the prime SOTAteer.

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

Friday, December 07, 2018

QRP Field Day is not as hard as you might think!

There was a post on the 4 States QRP Group e-mail reflector, where one of the members asked if anyone from the group was interested in doing an all QRP Field Day effort.

It's really not that difficult a proposition and I heartily encouraged them to do so. SPARC and NJ2SP got started doing Field Day in 2014. A bit of background - we were founded in April of that year. Planning for Field Day only two months later doesn't leave you with much time, does it? I opened my big fat mouth and suggested that we just go to the local park, throw some wires in the trees and go from there.

Wow, did that take off!


That year we entered under the 2A Battery banner. We came in 3rd place in our category, 39th place out of ALL 315 stations running 5 Watts that year, 16th place out of 97 in our Division, and 7th place out of 44 entered in our Section.

I fully suspected that even with that great inaugural performance, the club would want to go QRO in 2015. To say I was surprised when they made it known that they wanted us to stay QRP would be an understatement! We've had a blast every year and 2017 was THE banner year for NJ2SP so far.

2017 saw us end up in 2nd place in our category, nationwide and 8th place out of ALL 321 stations running 5 Watts. 4th place out of 98 in our Division and 2nd place out of 36 in our Section.

In 2018 we placed a greater emphasis on "Elmering" and PR for Amateur Radio, in general. As a result, we didn't place as well as 2017. But hopefully with a few new members that we have introduced into our fold,  2019 will allow us to do all that AND get fannies behind the mic and key in order to get those QSO totals back up again.

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

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Elecraft's 20th Anniversary

It's hard to believe they've been around for that long. To celebrate Wayne Burdick N6KR was interviewed on Bob Heil's "Ham Nation" Web show.  Here's a link:

https://twit.tv/shows/ham-nation/episodes/379?autostart=false

I haven't watched it yet, but will do when I get a chance.

I'll never forget that Field Day some 17 or 18 years ago when Bob W3BBO brought his brandy-new K2 to our PARC Field Day outing. One look and I knew I had to have one of them puppies for myself some day.

After a K1, a K2 and briefly a K3, I have settled on my KX3 as the day-in/day-out rig for W2LJ. It's equally hard for me to believe it's been over six years since I made that choice.

Where does the time go?

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

Monday, December 03, 2018

All is quiet

on the Amateur Radio front - sadly.

I've been to busy with other "nonsense" to give radio the time it deserves, lately. In fact, last week I missed both QRP Foxhunts. On Tuesday because my son was involved in an MVA (no one was hurt - just car damage - thank God!) and I just didn't have the heart to get on the air that evening. Thursday night I attended an ARES Connect webinar. The weekend was spent doing house chores and starting to get the house ready for Chrsitmas - decorating the outside, inside and all that jazz.

However, during my weekly Skype session with W3BBO, I decided which kit I am going kick off the 2018/2019 Winter Building Season with.


It's a cheapie little o'scope kit that I purchased from Bangood about a year ago. I know, I know - you're all thinking, "But Larry, you get what you pay for!" And that's true. I don't expect much from it. But if I can use it to trace signals on circuit boards, it will have been worth it.

Besides, it doesn't look very complicated and should go together rather quickly. Just what I need before jumping in with both feet with my QCX and Bayou Jumper.

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Thanksgiving 2018


To all my Amateur Radio friends,

May this Thanksgiving holiday bring you peace, love, happiness, warmth. comfort and joy. And may it bring you some pretty good turkey, too!

Of all the things I am thankful for this holiday, and there is lots to be thankful for - I am especially thankful for all of you who read this humble blog. Amateur Radio is a big part of my life and it would not be half as enjoyable as it is, without all of you sharing this experience with me.

May God continue to bless you all, in the days, weeks, months and years to come.

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

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Tips for the budding QRP DXer

I've posted about this before; but maybe it's a good time to bring this subject up for the newer QRPers out there who want to get their share of DX.

You may have heard rumors that working DX as a QRPer is dang near impossible; or a Herculean task at the very best.  That's a rumor spread by those who don't know any better. I will admit, though, that working DX as a QRPer during the valleys of the sunspot cycle IS more difficult than when Ol' Sol is sporting a lot of freckles. But it can be done, you just have to be smart about it.

1) Use the best antenna you've got at your disposal, whatever it is.

2) Know when to cast your net. And that's what this post is all about. This coming weekend will be a VERY good time to cast your net.


The CQ WorldWide DX (CW portion) Contest is this weekend. Even if you're not a contester; or dislike contesting in general - this is still a great way to boost your countries worked total. When the sunspot cycle is at its peak - stations have been known to complete DXCC in one weekend! Don't expect that this weekend - even though NASA has confirmed that we are now on the upward leg of Cycle 25, it will be a few years before conditions become primo again. But that doesn't mean you can't have fun and work a lot of countries right now.

The exchange is easy, RST and your CQ Zone. That's it - no hellishly long exchange or serial numbers to have to remember.

Know when to jump in with QRP. This is the key to success. My advice is that unless your code speed is very good - and I'm talking 25 WPM or faster - you might want to avoid jumping in until Saturday evening at the earliest.  If you jump in at the sound of the starting gun, you're going to be hearing a lot of buzz saw sounds, and you'll probably be sitting at your bench with ????? floating all around your head.

The beginning hours of the contest is the province of the Big Boys and the Contest Pros.  Yes, you'll find stations to work and copy, but make things easy for yourself. Get to harvesting when conditions are in your favor.

So when are conditions in your favor? Experience tells me late Saturday night into Sunday - ESPECIALLY on Sunday. The previously mentioned Big Boys and Contest Pros have had ample time to work each other and now they become sharks. From the second half of the contest until the end, they're so hungry for new contacts (in order to bump up their QSO total) that they will take time to listen for less than 599 signals, and less than buzz saw code speeds.

This is when you go hunting.  Twiddle the dial a lot and listen for signals that you're comfortable copying and make your move. Don't try to send any faster than your comfortable with. You'll only mess up the exchange and will probably get asked for numerous repeats. Just send steady, copy-able code - the smoothest you can, and you'll be just fine. And even though you may not have a 599++++++ signal at the receiving end, you'll get you share of DX.

The main thing is, have fun and enjoy yourself, and watch your DXCC tally grow in the process.

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


Monday, November 19, 2018

Thanksgiving humor

This Thursday is Thanksgiving Day in these United States of America. It's my favorite holiday because with the exception of the Black Friday nonsense (which has nothing to do with Thanksgiving) there's no hype like there is for other holidays. Just family, friends, food and togetherness with a big dose of thanks to the Almighty tossed in for good measure.

So I'll begin this week with a pun, courtesy of the ARRL - taken from Jeeves, who appeared in QST for many a year:

Courtesy of the ARRL and QST

Oh! Another thing to be grateful for, pre-Holiday! This coming weekend is the CQ WWDX CW contest, so during this week, there should be plenty of stations in exotic DX locations setting up, getting ready and testing out antennas and equipment. Keep an ear peeled for ATNOs!

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

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Unadulterated bragging

Some more Field Day results - the ARRL 2018 Field Day results are in the database.

As mentioned in a previous post, SPARC came in 4th for our category 3AB, Nationwide.


In our NNJ section, we came in 4th out of a total of 39 stations that participated in Field Day (all classes and categories)


AND, out of ALL the 2018 Field Day stations that utilized 5 Watts of output power - there were 276 - SPARC came in 17th


So all in all, NJ2SP placed well. However, no resting on laurels! I need to come up with a better antenna solution for the CW station, so that we can surpass 400 CW QSOs in 2019 and boost our total even higher.

Maybe a home made hex beam?

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

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Stymied

I am stymied, perplexed and confused.

I had signed up to attend an "ARES Connect" Webinar tonight, to introduce ARES District Emergency Coordinators (DECs) and Emergency Coordinators (ECs - I am the EC for South Plainfield, NJ) to "ARES Connect". ARES Connect will be the new, online platform for reporting, scheduling and communicating about ARES activities.

I guess the Webinar was supposed to originate from ARRL HQ tonight; but because of our impending first Winter storm here in the NorthEast, the Webinar has been postponed for two weeks, until November 29th.

Huh?

I thought that advantage of a Webinar was that it could be held anywhere and at any time, You know, attend a class from your home in the comfort of your PJs. Right? So if that's the case, why would the instructor(s) or facilitator(s) have to be in an office? As long as the material is in their computer(s), just dial into the company hosting the Webinar, or somehow connect to the proper IP, right?

Or am I missing something? There MUST be more to this than my simple mind thinks there is.

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

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!