Saturday, December 31, 2005

A Done Deal!

2005 started on January 1st at 0141 UTC with a Straight Key Night QSO with Bob WB8QLA. 2005 wrapped up with a QSO with Jim W4QO on December 31st at 0217 UTC. 365 days of at least one QRP CW QSO a day. The year ended with a total of 1778 QSOs on all the HF bands, save for 12 and 10 Meters.

It's hard to believe that I reached my goal! Band conditions have been so crummy this year. There were times during Coronal Mass Ejections, when radio conditions were all but in a black out; that it seemed that I might have gotten farther using smoke signals instead of RF. But the Morse Code and CW just never let me down. CW and Morse Code did get through when nothing else could have!

There were several highlights to my Amateur Radio year; but three stand out in my mind:

1) The completion of "QSOa Day" for 2005. I had no real idea of the complexity of the task. Juggling family obligations, social schedules with propagation, band conditions and operating time seemed daunting at times.

2) Working SPØPAPA on April 9th. This was a special event station operating in Poland, celebrating the pontificate of Pope John Paul II the weekend of his funeral. All of my grandparents immigrated to this country from Poland. By birth I am an American, by ancestry I am a Pole. John Paul II and this QSO meant a very great deal to me.

3) The one that got away! In July I came THIS close to working Iraqi station YI6ZL. He heard my QRP signal through the pile-up and came back to me with "W2L?" looking for the rest of my suffix. Unfortunately, I was creamed by a W4 station who obviously couldn't understand what "W2L?" meant! Completing that QSO with Iraq on 5 Watts and beating out a humongous pile-up would have been sweet!

So now it's officially 2006 via Universal Coordinated Time. In a half an hour, I'm going to put the kids to bed; and then head down to the shack and Straight Key Night to get it all started, all over again. At times, life is good!

73 es a very Happy, Healthy, Joyous and Prosperous New Year to you all!
de Larry W2LJ

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Two nights to go!

Two more nights! Tonight and tomorrow night and I will have completed my goal for 2005 - at least one CW QRP QSO a day for the entire year! As of last night, I have made 1773 QSOs this year - all of them CW - all of them QRP - all of them on either my K1 or K2 or Rockmite 40.

Tonight is the 40 Meter Foxhunt and it is raining here in New Jersey. That may mean my neighborhood power line noise problem might have disappeared for the night. I am anxious for 9:00 PM to come by so I can join in on the hunt; and maybe even hear the Foxes this time!

What's the goal for 2006? Beat the QSO total for 2005. Maintain my "QSO a Day' pace for as long as I can. Finish unfinished projects. Operate portable from the great outdoors more.

Happy New Year to all!

73 de Larry W2LJ

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Christmas 2005

Christmas Day 2005 has come and gone, even though the Season officially lasts until January 6th, Santa was very, very good this year to my wife and kids; and he was especially nice to me, Ham radio-wise, this year.

Through a hint from my wife, Santa brought the 2005 Christmas Key, a miniature ornament sized; but fully functional straight key. This lil' key is an object of beauty to a veteran CW op. It's perfectly sized for portable operations; but will probably end up never leaving the house! It is surprisingly stable and does not "walk" when being used upon my bench.

Through a hint from my Mom, Santa also brought a Hi-Mite for 15 Meters. This is a great little rig from Dave Benson K1SWL and Small Wonder Labs. It's based upon the famous RockMite series; but includes a VFO so as to be more flexible than the crystal controlled, single frequency RockMites. My Mom was fascinated that a radio kit could arrive in such a small envelope. I explained the situation to her and told her that I would show her one of my Rockmites so she could see just how small a radio can get. As I grew up she remembered the days of the big boat anchors with tubes that glowed. She came to recognize that radios were getting smaller through the various transceivers that I had owned throughout the years; but she wasn't quite ready to believe how small these Small Wonder Labs wonders really are.

Finally, through a hint from my sister, Santa brought a copy of the new ARRL book on basic radio concepts. It's a good book to have, even for a seasoned Ham like myself. I've never been a technical wizard of the likes of Dave Benson K1SWL or Steve Weber KD1JV. Maybe by reading this book and becoming even more comfortable with the basic principles, I can at least begin to understand more thoroughly the genius behind the masterpieces they offer.

All in all, it was an especially good Ham radio Christmas. I had not seen the likes of one of these in a few years. Mind you, I enjoy getting the customary shirts, PJs, and other more traditional "Dad type" of presents; but it was an extra special treat to find a few Ham radio items under the evergreen.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Being the Fox

This past Tuesday evening, I was honored to have had the opportunity to be the Fox in the QRP-L 80 Meter Foxhunt. Fortunately for me, 80 Meters has been nice and quiet this Winter, relatively QRN free. The way 40 Meters has been this season, I have not had any success on that band let alone volunteer to be a Fox!

The anticipation was sweet; and I was awarded with a fabulously good time. Propagation was good; and I was able to work stations as far away as New Mexico. The discipline among QRP operators is outstanding! I announced I was working split, listening 1 kHz up, and I think I was pretty much able to work everyone I heard. I've been told that there were a ton of stations fighting to work me towards the end of the hunt. It was gratifying to find out that my 5 Watts gets out so well!

Once I established a nice rhythm, I was able to work stations at a very nice clip! Once I would announce the call of the station I has chosen to work; the other "hounds" ceased calling and allowed for uninterrupted exchanges. By the end of the 90 minutes (which absolutely flew by!) I had 48 stations in the log, with one dupe contact.

I deeply thank all the Amateur Radio Stations that worked me; as well as those I didn't work, but tried anyway. Also, I deeply thank those on the Foxhunt Committee who sponsor and organize this really super fun activity.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Friday, December 09, 2005

Back in business!

I am back in business - and have been for a week now. As you can see from the picture, my tree had a haircut. The top 20 feet were removed to provide less of a strain to the trunk. The tree is in pretty good health but has been weakened due to damage by squirrels and carpenter ants. The tree straddles my property and that of my neighbor. Neither of us wanted to get rid of the tree outright; we just want it to be safe. Neither of us needed branches falling on our kids; or even worse.

The center insulator for the G5RV is now at the very highest level this tree can now give me - 20 feet. It used to be at the 30 foot level and the tree itself used to be about 40 feet high.

It was hilarious getting the antenna rope back into the tree. I was using this thing called a "hyper dog" trainer which is basically a glorifed sling shot for tennis balls. The device was intended to allow you to chuck tennis balls for great distances; allowing your dog to chase and fetch the tennis balls, wearing itself out in the process.

I took a tennis ball and cut a slit into it. I took the antenna rope and tied it though a large ferrite bead. I inserted the bead and two, one ounce lead fishing weights inside the tennis ball. I then proceeded to attempt to shoot the tennis ball over the limb I wanted, taking the antenna rope with it. The tennis balls ended up flying well; but going in every direction except the one I wanted. Frustrated, I just took the tennis ball in my hand and just chucked it, bare handed.

It went where I wanted it to go on the first try.

In any event, my G5RV is back up. It's 10 feet lower than it used to be; but at least it's not lying on the ground anymore!

73 de Larry W2LJ

Thursday, December 01, 2005

A sad event

I had to come home from work during lunchtime today, to bring down my G5RV. Hopefully, it's only temporary. The maple tree that it is anchored to has become old and it's upper branches weak. It is a danger in a high wind situation. The tree will be topped, that is the top 15 feet or so worth of branches are going to be trimmed off and hauled away.

I won't have a good idea of what I'll be up against until I get home tomorrow night ...... maybe. To make matters worse, there is a wind advisory posted for the NorthEast for tomorrow. I was hoping to have this done tomorrow and then spend part of Saturday getting the antenna back up in the tree or maybe put some masting up if there's not enough of the tree left.

I hope it can be done soon. This leaves me with only the Butternut HF9V. Don't get me wrong - it's a fine antenna; but now I have no back up. I'm getting too close to finishing off "QSO a Day" for 2005 to have things loused up with less than a month to go just because of some tree surgery.

73 de Larry W2LJ

MOCADing - 11 months in.

As mentioned previously, at the beginning of this year, I made a resolution. Not something unrealistic, like losing 25 pounds (which I should do) or to give up smoking (which I don't do anyway). No, my resolution was to get on the radio every single blessed day of 2005, and make at least one QRP CW QSO. My motivation greatly enhanced by the fact the North American QRP CW Club offered it's "QSO a Day" award around the same time I began to contemplate undertaking this task. Talk about timing!

It's December now, and eleven months have passed with, so far, a QRP CW QSO being made each and every day. I have come to learn a few things:

First - This goal, while obtainable, seemed a lot easier to achieve than reality has borne out. I really didn't take into account the declining solar conditions at the bottom of the sunspot cycle. I didn't think that there would be nights when a QSO with someone within the state of NJ would seem like the greatest DX I have ever worked! There were evenings this past January and February, when the ionosphere was sooooooo screwed up from Coronal Mass Ejections, that a QSO with a guy some 30 miles away from me was as difficult as working the DXpedition on Kure Atoll this past fall. Luckily, I was able to work the guy 30 miles away - I never really even heard the guys on Kure all that well.

I didn't take into account things like school plays, recitals, civic meetings which eat up a huge chunk of evening "free time" (a term I use VERY loosely!). Getting home late some evenings and then running down to the basement shack got me operating when a lot of other guys were calling it quits for the night. I know we all need our sleep because we have to go to work tomorrow; but hey! I'm trying to accomplish something here! And I have found, quite remarkably, that is indeed possible to nod off during the middle of a CW QSO. There have been a number of times that my neck snapped and my head jerked as I caught myself dozing off!

I kind of thought that summer vacation was going to be a problem; but it turned out not to be. We rented a cabin at Lake George and I was able to take my K1 along with the PAC-12 antenna; and made the required QSOs. My family is very understanding (for which I love them dearly - especially my wife, Marianne); and fortunately, so was George - the owner of Stepping Stones Resort in Diamond Point, NY. (An unabashed plug for George and Stepping Stones, who were and continue to be very, very gracious).

My brother-in-law's wedding in late July was another concern. That was a hectic two days; but it turned out I had to come home the night of the rehearsal dinner as I had to be home to let our dog Jesse out to do his "business" for the night and again the next morning. This allowed me to squeeze in my QSO in for that Saturday.

Second - I didn't realize how rewarding this quest would become. Not just for making at least 365 consecutive QSOs; but also for a lot of "fringe benefits". My code speed has increased significantly. At the beginning of the year, I was comfortable at the 16 - 18 wpm range; and I could copy at up to 30 wpm for short bursts. Now, in December, I am quite comfortable in the 20 - 25 wpm range and have no problems copying in the 35 - 40 wpm range for short amounts of time until my brain cramps. And I can tell that this spiral upward will continue if I keep at this. The only downside is finding guys who can keep up a QSO at these speeds. Sadly, they seem to becoming fewer and fewer.

I am very fortunate to have a lot of friends that I have met through Amateur Radio. Some like Bob W3BBO, I have met locally. But MOCADing has allowed me to have made friends that I know only from QSOs on the air. These are genuine friends, who I have come to know and have had multiple QSOs with. It is so nice to hear a callsign and know who it is on the opposite end before making contact. There was one instance in particular, that I recall especially. I was in QSO with Jim Stafford W4QO, relatively late one evening in September. From the basement, I was able to hear my son crying in his bedroom. I immediately dropped everything to go and see what the matter was. My five year old had had a nightmare and needed some TLC, which he received. About twenty minutes later, after Joey was securely tucked back in bed, I went back to the shack to fine Jim - on frequency - patiently waiting! He was wondering what the matter was and was relieved with the explanation. He was actually on the verge of reaching out via the telephone to make sure there was no dire medical emergency. Other than the brotherhood of Ham Radio; where could you find that kind of concern and camaraderie?

And there are plenty of others like John AE5X and Gary K8KFJ, who I have come to know from working during QRP Sprints. It's always nice to run into them on the air, only to hear a "Hi Larry" come from the other side! Bob KB2FEL originally from NY and now from WV is also a good contesting "buddy". He always has a great signal and a friendly attitude. Then there are great guys like Geoff W1OH who took the time to send me information on great vacations destinations like Prince Edward Island. Then there are Tom KB3LFC and John K3WWP who I have come to know through the NAQCC and on the air. Also, there is Charles W2SH, who I found out, doesn't live very far from me. I have also come to know Lloyd K3ESE from the air and through a QRP club we both belong to, the Flying Pigs QRP Club International. Lloyd's political views and mine are like oil and vinegar - they DO NOT mix; but LL is a superb CW op. His fist is excellent and he is a joy to copy. His enthusiasm for QRP, CW, building and operating portable know no bounds. Did I mention Lloyd's sense of humor? - definitely quirky; but always amusing and funny.

Third - I have increased my knowledge of propagation. I have come to know what all these solar numbers and indexes actually mean; and I can know ahead of time whether or not it is going to be an easy go on a particular day. Directly responsible for my knowledge is Paul Harden NA5N. Reading his "plain language" articles and postings to the QRP e-mail reflectors has taken a complicated science; and has made it much more understandable.

I fully expect to make my goal; and make another 30 more QSOs to finish off December. The NAQCC is doing the award thing again in 2006; and I may actually try again. You may or may not be able to reach the goal; but I will guarantee you one thing. The attempt is truly an adventure and a learning experience; both at the same time.

See you on the air,
73 de Larry W2LJ