Sunday, July 30, 2006

FOBB 2006 - The Happy Recap

It was a beautiful day for operating outdoors! It was sunny and in the high 80s and low 90s. It was a good day to be a "bee" in this year's edition of The Flight of the Bumblebees.

As planned, I headed on over to Cotton Street Park in town. This park is tucked away in a residential neighborhood and is harldy ever crowded. Today was no exception. The whole time I was there, I saw maybe two or three other people walking though.

The first order of business was to get the antenna erected. Just this morning, I made up a NorCal Doublet, a portable lightweight antenna intended for QRP field trips. When I got to the park, I went to the pair of trees I had scoped out yesterday. I tied the end of a ball of twine to three, 1 ounce fishing weights. I made a slit in a tennis ball and tucked the weights inside. Then I threw the tennis ball up over a branch in the best Tom Seaver impression that I could muster. Sucess! I got the line over, hooked it on to one end of the doublet and pulled it up, up, up, until it arrived at it's resting place about 25 feet above the ground. I pounded a tent stake into the ground and anchored the end of the antenna support "rope" to that. Then, I went over to the other tree at the other end and saw that the lowest branch was about 35 feet up off ground level. Several tries got me nowhere, as the angles seemed a bit tight and all too narrow for a thrown tennis ball. A slingshot would have been just the ticket; but they're illegal in New Jersey. So I decided that for today, the antenna would be configured as a sloper. 25 feet up on the high side; and down to about 8 feet up on the low side. I used my QRP toolbox as a "make do" step stool to tie the antenna off at the low end.

I hooked up the feedline to my 4:1 balun and then hooked that up to the K1. The antenna was no problem on 20 Meters for the K1. The autotuner handled it in less than two seconds. I set up the rest of the station; put a towel down on the ground to sit on and got down to business. 20 Meters was open nicely and in the end, I worked about 23 station on 20 Meters. The K1 did not like the antenna as much on 40 Meters. The tuner took a lot longer to find a match; and when it did, I could see by the K1's power out meter, that it had folded the output down a touch. In the end, I worked about 11 stations on 40 Meters. For next time, I am going to experiment wih making the dipole legs a bit longer and shortening up on the feedline. I have a feeling I was losing power in the feedline on 40 Meters. I did manage to work my very good friend, Bob W3BBO on 40 Meters. That was the highlight of my day; and getting a good signal report from him made it all the better.

Using this kind of antenna in a portable situation was a first for me; and I would categorize it as an unbridled success. I am very happy with the results. I worked stations all over the eastern 2/3rds of the country. About the farthest west I got was South Dakota. I had no problems working into Texas, Florida and up on into Canada.

At about 4:45 PM, I started cleaning up - about 15 minutes early. I took great care to clean up and leave no trace whatsoever that the park had been used for an Amateur Radio operation that day. It was a fun time; and biting flies notwithstanding, I'm looking forward to Flight of the Bumblebees 2007! Next year, a small portable folding camping table and a collapsible nylon chair are musts. It's tough sitting on the hard earth for almost 4 hours!

For the record ..... here is the equipment rundown that I used:

Elecraft K1 - 4 band transceiver (40, 30, 20 & 15 Meters) with built in auto-tuner.
LDG 4:1 balun
NorCal Doublet - 44 foot wire doublet made from ribbon cable.
Vizkey mini paddle.
Panasonic 12V 7Ah sealed lead acid battery.
Pair of non-descript Walkman type headphones.

An extra battery was charging via solar panel - ready to go if need be.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Friday, July 28, 2006

Flight of the Bumblebees

This Sunday, the Adventure Radio Society is putting on their annual "outdoor" contest, The Flight of the Bumblebees. The object is to go somewhere, preferably by walking, hiking, cycling, canoeing, etc; and set up a portable outdoor QRP station. Under these conditions, you try to work as many stations as possible. The stations out in the field are "bees" and are assigned a number. I'm number 57 and as of right now, there are 257 Hams who have signed up to act as "bees".

I will be going to a park here in town and will be setting up station using my K1 and a NorCal doublet, which I will hopefully be able to get up in the trees in the park. Failing that, I'll have my Buddistick vertical as a back up. Power will be provided by a 12V 7 Ah sealed lead acid battery. It will be connected to a solar panel; and I'll have another as back up.

The contest runs from 1:00 PM to 5:OO PM on Sunday, which is only four hours and is about my limit for a Sprint. It's going to be a hot one, with temperatures predicted to be in the 90s for the next five days!

I missed Field Day; as it was a washout here in New Jersey. So I'm really psyched up for this event. I don't know how many QSOs that I'll be able to complete; but I'm sure going to have fun! Maybe I'll even get some photos taken for the "ARS Sojourner", the on line e-zine of the Adventure Radio Society.

Hope to work you Sunday afternoon!

73 de Larry W2LJ

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Another pelt

I joined in on the QRP-L 20 Meter Summer Foxhunt tonight and bagged one of the two "Foxes". I worked Juan KG4FSN who hails from Florida. I was fortunate enough to work him on my first call to him. He was 579 here in NJ and he gave me the customary QRP 559.

I say that I was fortunate to work Juan on my first call; because by rights, I probably shouldn't have turned on the radio at all. There have been thunderstorms rolling through all evening. It so happened there was a lull; and I found Juan and worked him very quickly. Immediately after, I pulled the plug and disconnected everything; but it looks like the lull has signalled the end of the storms, as it has been relatively quiet ever since.

But, since there's no sense in taking chances, the station will remain quiet for the rest of the evening.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Enjoyable QSO

Last night, I had the good fortune to work Ray Beliveau K1EJA who lives in Biddeford, Maine. One of the reasons the QSO was so enjoyable was the great signal that Ray had into New Jersey. Ray was between 589 and 599 depending on the QSB. What is absolutely amazing is that Ray's antenna is a dipole that's only 10 feet up! In addition to that, Ray had turned down his Kenwood TS-570 to 25 Watts out for the the night, to insure that there would be no RFI complaints from any of his neighbors.

So all of you folks out there with difficult antenna situations, take heart! 25 Watts out to a dipole practically on the ground; and Ray had a walloping signal into NJ. Just goes to show you that the old adage, "A compromise antenna is better than no antenna" is truer than true. Get whatever wire you can, up as high as you can. Be patient and you'll get out! No reason that you can't enjoy Amateur Radio even if you're stuck using attic antennas.

Then to make an otherwise nice evening even better; I got an e-mail from Ray a few minutes after our QSO. It was just a follow-up as the band changed and we both disappeared into the dust. In his e-mail, Ray mentioned how my fist was easy to copy. I was using my Bug !!!!!
I guess I'm getting halfway decent using a speed key; and not making people's ears bleed anymore! As a side note, I am finding myself using the Bug more and more. I use it pretty exclusively in ragchews and conversational CW now. About the only time I resort to the paddles and keyer are for the ARS and Flying Pig and QRP-ARCI Sprints. For the NAQCC Sprints, I still use a straight key.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Zarqawi's Surprise

Courtesy of my former boss, Jim Bellina. Thanks, Jim!
(If you attended Catholic school pre-1970s, then you just gotta love this!)

73 de Larry W2LJ

Monday, July 24, 2006

John K4BAI

Thanks go to Bob W3BBO for sending this link about John Laney, K4BAI.

John is a frequent participant in just about every QRP Sprint that I've ever entered. In any event, John is one of the nicest guys I've ever met on the air. The article just confirms in my mind the class act that John is.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Squeezed in a QSO & Random Thoughts

Another night of some pretty bad thunder storms. From about 4:30 this afternoon to almost 8:00 PM it was pretty much one, long drawn out thunderstorm with bouts of very heavy rain. The lightning bolts were landing very, very locally on the drive home from work. In fact, I saw one touch down in someone's backyard while I was waiting my turn at a stop sign. THAT makes you sit up and take notice! About 9:30 PM it calmed down enough where I was able to squeeze in a QSO. I had a nice ragchew with Bob W8SX in Dayton, Ohio. We spent the half hour comparing notes on our efforts to build ATS-3 radios from Steve Weber. QRN on 40 Meters was pretty gruesome with all the electrical activity in the atmosphere. I pulled the plug for the night and no more than 30 minutes later, the lightning and thunder started up again!

I want to get the internal auto tuner for my K2. I came to that revelation yesterday; probably after reading a bit more about it on the Elecraft e-mail reflector. I currently have an LDG AT11-MP which works very nicely; but I think I want to make a change. I like the auto tuner in my K1 and I think the KAT2 would be a little quicker than the AT11-MP. The KAT2 has double the memories, too. Don't know what I'm going to sell to raise the funds, though. Maybe I'll sell the AT11-MP and will use my Emtech ZM-2 QRP manual tuner for a bit, while I raise the remainder of the needed funds and then build it.

I have really come to enjoy using a Bug for conversational CW. The keyer and paddles are nice for QRP Sprints; but I really like the personality that using a Bug gives you. I have found the key to generating better code with a Bug is to keep your hand VERY relaxed and not tensed up. The second that I lose discipline and let my fingers tense up is the second I start sending lousy code. It's a challenge; but it's fun at the same time.

I'm happy with the number of hits my Website has been getting lately. It seems like the counter has been rolling through a century of hits about every week and a half or so. I put a lot of me into that Webpage; so it's gratifying to see that people find it interesting; or at the very least NOT a waste of time.

The Mets won again tonight, beating the Houston Astros 7-0. John Maine, a rookie for the Mets, pitched a 4 hit shutout. This has been a very fun season and the games have been interesting, even when the Mets lose. Back in the mid 80s and early 90s, my cousin and I used to have season tickets to all the Saturday home games. We have kind of fallen out of touch; and I miss not having anyone to share my passion for NY Mets baseball with.

Work was a bear this week, with trying to catch up after being away for a week's vacation. Hopefully, I'll be caught up by the end of next week. Right now I'm up to my behind in alligators. I need these two days off.

Like the header says, tonight it was random thoughts. I'm getting beat and am going to turn in. I think I'll take the 2M HT up with me to listen to while I try to fall asleep. Sometimes, some of the local repeaters get some interesting conversations going into the wee, small hours of the night.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Foxhunt success - finally!

I was finally able to hear the two QRP Foxes tonight! It's only about the 6th or 7th week of the summer season; and this was the first evening that I actually heard the two ops acting as Fox!

I heard Don NK6A very weakly up at about 14.060.44 MHz. First he was listening up about 2 MHz. He was working a lot of guys and I was calling him often. At one point he sent "W2L?"; so I know he heard me, but when I came back from sending my call again, he was starting a new CQ, unable to copy me.

I went down low to find John K4BAI. He was working around 14.052.00 MHz or thereabouts. John is one of the best contest ops that I know. He was working simplex and I was able to nab him the second time I called. John's ears must be bionic; because he picked me out of the muck and actually gave me a 569 report. QSB was bad; but at peaks John was the 579 I gave him.

One Fox in the log, I went back up to listen for Don again. This time he was working simplex and calling CQ - often! Fortunately, his signal was coming up nicely from the ESP level that it was before. This time it took about 3 trys; but I finally had a QSO with him, thereby grabbing his "pelt" also. He was an honest 559 and that's the report he gave me.

It's nice to break out of my slump and actually work someone for a change! It's been depressing up until now - tuning around every Thursday night and hearing next to nothing. I hope this is the start of a good run for the remainder of the summer hunt season.

73 de Larry W2LJ

July NAQCC Sprint

Last night I participated in the NAQCC Sprint for July. It was a good time; and I heartily recommend that you join us if you've never tried contesting before. The atmosphere is fun and friendly. You'll find a whole range of Code speeds; from beginner to experienced contester.

I made 23 QSOs in the hour and 45 minutes in which I operated. I was disappointed in the lack of activity on 20 Meters. I only got 5 QSOs in on that band; and I thought there's be more. 40 Meters was once again the most active band. Plenty of stations to be worked there; but the noise (QRN) was tremendous! By the end of the contest, I was getting weary of all the static crashes in my headphones. Probably wasn't too good for my hearing, either!

I heard only one solitairy station on 80 Meters; and that was John K3WWP. John was a tough copy - I believe I only gave him a 449 report. On 40 Meters it was a totally different story! There he was a good 579 to 589. This is the loudest I have heard John in an NAQCC Sprint yet.

The high point of the evening was that these QSOs put me over 1000 QSOs in the log for 2006. Now that my "QSO a Day" streak has gone by the wayside, I'm still on track to complete my other goal - 2006 in 2006. I'm hoping that between regular ragchewing and all these QRP Sprints that I participate in, I'll have accomplished this at the end of the year.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Doing my part to keep Amateur Radio alive.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Maintaining Radio Silence

No radio tonight! For the past two or three days we have been under the influence of a pretty vicious heatwave. Today, temperatures rose past the 100 degree mark in Central NJ.

Tonight, however, a cold front is pushing through and as a result, we have a severe thunder storm watch on until 1:00 AM Wednesday morning. It's a pretty wild display of lightning tonight. Definitely not Ham radio weather!

The upside is that for the rest of the week, hight temps will be in the mid to upper 80s. Even though that is warm; it will feel refreshing compared to the past few days!

Summer ...... you gotta love it!

73 de Larry W2LJ

Lousy fists

Today, QRP-L has been brimming over with a discussion on the topic of lousy fists. If you're reading this blog, you're probably a Ham and already know what a lousy fist is. For the uninitiated, an explanation is in order.

The way a person sends Morse Code is known as his "fist". In the days before electronic sending devices, all that were widely available were mechnical devices, the straight key and the semi-automatic key (or as it is better known, the bug). The timing and rhythms were all determined by your brain and the physical characteristics of your sending hand. Perfectly sent code was the goal; but in all practicality, only a very few sent "perfect" code. The rest of us mere mortals did the best we could. Like everyone's unique fingerprints, each operator had a distinct accent or "fist". The real good ops could tell, after a while, who was sending just by listening to the "fist". They didn't need to listen for a callsign.

But I digress. The discussion on QRP-L evolved from a question as to how do you tell someone who sends Morse Code really badly, that they in fact ....... stink? This is a hard question to answer. I would tend to handle the situation delicately. You never know, but the lousy fist you are working might be due to arthritis, old age, Parkinson's disease or some other malady or disability. Do you really want to go off on a guy only to find out he's handicapped in some sort of way? You'd not only be rude; but you'd come off looking the fool. Remember, you don't know the circumstances at the other end of the QSO - don't make brash assumptions.

The other thing about lousy fists is that what do we really expect now these days, anyway? In the year 2000 when the FCC determined that the code test for all Amateur Radio licenses would be 5 WPM, what did folks expect? We have no more Novice class or entry level license. There are no tests for 13 or 20 WPM speeds anymore. You have newly licensed Tech +, Generals and Extras who are literally being thrown into the fray on CW bands with only 5 WPM experience! It's not like in past days, when as a Novice you were segregated into a subband where you could practise and perfect the art of sending Morse Code until you were good enough to be able to handle 13 WPM. That's all gone.

By the same token, there are probably a lof of Hams bemoaning the lack of quality fists who didn't raise a hand in protest when the FCC announced its NPRM to dissolve the need for the higher speed tests. They are reaping what they sewed. Their lusty dreams of lowering the requirements to gain an avalanche of new licensees didn't quite work out as they had envisioned. Unfortunately, the rest of us who saw the folly and demanded that standards not be lowered have to pay their piper now, too.

In the end, if you really feel the need to tell someone their fist is terrible; it's probably best to do it privately via an e-mail or a QSL card. Try to keep it positive, kind and offer assistance. Or, if that's too much of a bother you can always just not work a person you're not comfortable copying. It might seem selfish; but you DON'T HAVE TO respond to every CQ you hear, and in turn you don't have to answer each and every single person who answers your CQ. As a last ditch, if the guys with the terribly rotten bad fists have trouble getting other Hams to work them, then they'll eventually figure it out. The power of the hint can be a powerful thing.

If none of those suggestions appeal to you, there's always the Q-signal QSD. I'll let you go look that one up.

73 de larry W2LJ

Monday, July 17, 2006

July Run For The Bacon

Last night was the July edition of the monthly "Run For The Bacon" a two hour QRP CW Sprint that is sponsored each month by The Flying Pigs Amateur Radio Club International. I was having a good time despite getting a late start - my kids wanted me to finish a book I have been reading to them each night before bed this week. I got on the air at 9:15 PM EDT and was having a little bit of success searching and pouncing on 20 Meters and then 40 Meters.

Then I decided to sit on a frequency and call CQ and try to do a "run". I found a clear frequency on 40 and proceeded to do just that. I was having a good time. I had a mini pile-up going and I was getting into a good rhythm. My goal was to make at least 30 QSOs for the night and possibly break the 1000 point barrier. Just as I was answering Tom, KA2KGP and was starting to give my exchange - the power went out! The lights in the shack got dim; then got real bright and then went out altogether. A few seconds later they came back on and I tried resending my exchange to Tom. Just as I got a few letters out, the power died again; and this time for good!

I never found out the reason; but I did hear fire engines travelling nearby, with their sirens wailing. I guess maybe there was a transformer fire on a local utility pole or something. My entire street was without power as well as the two streets on either side of me that run parallel with me. The streets that run perpendicular to us still had power. That seemed very strange to me as I though the entire neighborhood would have been on the same grid. By the time I got back from a little drive to try and determine the area affected, it was late and I didn't even think of getting out my 12V sealed lead acid battery that I use for portable ops. The thought to do that actually occurred to me this morning as I was driving into work. Duh!

So I settled for 18 QSOs for about 45 minutes worth of operating. These kind of things always seem to happen when you're having a grand time! By the way, power turned back on at 6:30 the morning. As with all the rest of you in the States, we're going through a pretty good heat wave here in NJ. It will be in the 90s all this week. Not a great time for the electricity to go out! It does, however, make you mindful and thankful for the conveniences we have today. The house I grew up in had no air-conditioning to speak of. Living through intense heat waves is not new to me; but it's amazing how fast you become accustomed to having central air conditioning in your house!

73 de Larry W2LJ

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Streak is Broken .... Time to start her up again!

My family just got back from a week at beautiful Lake George, NY. I took the K1 and Buddipole with me, fully intending to keep my "QSO a Day" streak alive during vacation. Last Sunday, I made a couple of contacts during the QRP-ARCI Summer Homebrew Sprint. It was a rough go as I was painfully reminded of the difficulties I had last summer. It seems the place where we vacation is located in some kind of RF blackhole. Not only is HF communications extremely difficult; but even finding a spot to find cell phone service can be an excersize in futility.

Monday forced me to make a decision. I spent close to an hour in the afternoon calling CQ with no takers, as well as depleting energy from the smaller gel cell battery I had brought along. Charging up the battery was easy enough as I had brought along my solar panel. However, I got to feeling badly about the possibility of spending so much time away from my wife and kids trying to scare up a daily QSO. To me, the point of the vacation was about being together with them and enjoying each other's company. I therefore decided to end the streak and not worry about making contacts for the week. My family is much more important to me than radio!

So on July 10th the streak of making at least one CW QRP QSO a day since January 1, 2005 came to an official end. In it's place however, I was able to witness my wife and son and daughter have a blast during our week spent at Lake George, NY. I know I made the right choice. Years from now, when my kids are grown up and married and on their own; I don't want them to remember me as a Dad who couldn't tear himself away from his radio to be with them.

Time to start a new streak!

73 de Larry W2LJ

Friday, July 07, 2006

Sage Advice

This was on QRP-L today. Tony Luscre K8ZT was answering a question posed by Kurt Loken AE6UJ about the feasability of working DX on 5 Watts. Tony is a Master QRPer and his response was so thorough that it deserves to be posted! (I have not listed the countries that Tony mentions in his post as it would fill up so much space. Needless to say, it is full of juicy DX!) This just goes to show, folks, QRP works and it works well. It will work even better for you if you have a plan. Here's a good one:
Kurt, I have worked the countries listed below with
5 watts or less. As others have said there are a
number of keys to successful QRP operations.

Here are some of my favorites::

1. Operate as often as possible
2. Operate during major DX contests
3. Good Antennas
4. Good Timing
a. Knowing when to try working each area of the globe
(learn about propagation!)
b. Knowing when to answer the calling station in pileups
c. Knowing how to answer the calling station in pileups
5. Know your rig. Learn how to--
a. make sure you are zero beat on the station you
want to work
b. effectively work Split
c. use Filters and/or DSP
6. Learn good operating from observing others
7. Persistence- do not be discourage if you do not
have immediate success
8. It is not the distance that is hard it is the
specific country (due
to activity level from that spot)
9. Use a computerized log that will allow you to
track your progress
10. Live a long life with plenty of years with
Sun Spot Maximums

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

First Sprint I've ever won!

I arrived home from work today to find an envelope in the mail from John Shannon K3WWP. Inside was a certificate for placing first in last month's NAQCC Milliwatt Sprint. This was the first time I've ever won a sprint of any sort! Not the biggest event, to be sure, but a nice feeling, nonetheless. Thanks for the certificate, John!

Here's how it shook down:
Call   QSOs  Antenna
W2LJ 10 G5RV @25'
KI4DEF 7 88' dblt @53'
*WB8LZG 8 dipole @30'
AB9CA 8 inv v @30'
K3WWP 4 ~110' attic rndm wire
VA3RKM 3 dipole @18'
KA2KGP 3 40M dipole @30'
*W5TVW 3 33' vert @??'
KL7V 3 40M dipole @50'
WA5HDL 3 ?? @ ??'
N0TK 2 40M attic dipole
K4KO 2 40M dipole @35'
KB3LFC 1 ~110' rndm wire @20'
N9AKF 1 120' random wire @20'
N4UN 1 40M dipole @30'
KD2MX 1 300' ef rndm wire @3

73 de Larry W2LJ

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy Birthday U.S.A. !!!!!

Two hundred and thirty years ago a very radical concept was conceived. This concept, this idea, was never heard of before on the face of the earth. It was the belief that the people of a new nation were the best ones to determine their course in the future. The people .... not a king, not an emperor or monarch would head the government and would control the nation's destiny.

These men also believed in God and they believed upon relying on His wisdom and providence to guide them on the right path. Today, that would probably get them in a whole bunch of trouble. These men believed their God bestowed upon every human being certain inalienable rights including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Two hundred and thirty years ago, these men signed a document expressing these ideals and declared the bonds which united them to their Mother country were set asunder.

Two hundred and thirty years ago, today, the United States of America was born. The last and best hope on the face of the earth for freedom and liberty. God willing, and with His help; may the United States remain that shining beacon to the rest of the world for another two hundred and thirty years (and many more).

Happy Birthday, United States of America !!!!!!

73 de Larry W2LJ