Saturday, August 30, 2008

A fascinating read

I an currently reading David McCullough's fine work, "John Adams". Early American and Revolutionary War history is one of my passions. John Adams has always been a fascinating historical figure to me; and this book makes him my favorite personality of that era.

John Adams, in my humble opinion, is THE "Founding Father". If it were not for his talent, timing, fortitude and vision, this nation would be nothing of what it is today. While we have strayed far from his vision, I think on the whole he would be pleased to see we remain a strong, vibrant nation some 232 years later.

What is amusing as a result of reading this book, is the realization how much hot air and baloney is the argument of today's extreme Left regarding the "separation of Church and State". Their idea that it was the Founders fervent wish to push religion out of the public square is ludicrous to the point of being laughable.

It is apparent, after reading volumes like this, that our Founders realized and depended upon the benevolence of "The Creator" or "Providence", or if you simply prefer - God. They were not religionophobics, rather, they realized the importance to the nation and society the values and morals that came with believing in and relying upon the Almighty.

What they ardently desired, was that the United States would not become like England and found a state religion. They believed in allowing multiple religions to coexist and prosper in peace. And they did not believe that it was necessary to remove religion from the public square for this to happen.

May God be willing, that our nation will return to this view; and not become the secular state that so many seem eager for us to become.

73 de Larry W2LJ

It works!

I stopped by Lowe's on the way home from dropping my two children off at a birthday party; and I picked up a piece of PVC that's 2 inches in diameter by 2 feet long.

I removed the 1.5 inch diameter piece that I previously had attached to the angle iron and replaced it with the larger. Viola' !!!!

As you can (hopefully) see from the photo to the left, the Black Widow crappie pole slides right into the PVC and is held nicely upright.

This should now allow me to make more frequent use of my NorCal doublet when I set up QRP portable. The PVC cost me all of two bucks and change; and the angle iron was about the same. So for under $5, I have a neat holder for my Black Widow crappie pole, which I purchased from Cabela's a few years ago for $19.99. I went on their Website this past week and they still stock them; but I don't remember what the cost is - I think they're still about $20.

So, if I have a couple of trees on either side, I can have a nice flat top dipole - if not, I'll carry along two tent pegs and set up as an Inverted Vee.

BTW, it was very hot and muggy here in NJ today. About 85 degrees with lots of humidity. Real August weather, which up until now has been abnormally cool and dry. From the extended forecast, it's looking like September weather in August and August weather in September!

73 de Larry W2LJ

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

No controversy today

20 Meters was booming in at lunchtime today. I heard and worked (very briefly) G3RGD, Ray from Birmingham, England. He gave me a 559 and them moved onto W8FU. Ray was loud into NJ. I don't know what he was running; but he was 599+. It's not often that I hear an English station so loud.

I heard a lot of Europeans - this was all around 1700 UTC or so at the lower end of 20 Meters. EA4s, G3s, SM3s, etc. Maybe the sunspots are coming back?

Which has me thinking portable antenna set ups again. Today, I was using the Hamstick and I'm seriously considering using the NorCal Doublet more. I dragged the 20 foot Black Widow crappie pole out of the basement and stuck in the back of the car. Below is what I used to support my Buddipole back in the day when I had one.

As you can see, it's a piece of angle iron, which I sawed off to a point on the earth end. Attached to it with two hose clamps, is a piece of PVC pipe. The Buddipole mast just slipped into the pipe and was held upright. Unfortunately, this pipe isn't a big enough diameter to allow me to slip the Black Widow in. I'm going to have to make a trip to Lowe's or Home Depot for a slightly bigger diameter piece of pipe. I hope I won't have to buy a whole big length of it for just the relatively short piece I need.

Here's another shot of it; but not in the ground. Not that great a photo; but you get the idea.

The only disadvantage that I can foresee is that I'll have to carry a small sledge so I can pound this thing into the ground. But the upside is that a doublet at 20 feet or so (probably set up as an Inverted Vee) should outperform the Hamstick on the car.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Sunday, August 24, 2008

CB Lingo

I had my Alinco HT turned on last night, on my nightstand, listening to some of the local Hams chatter away as I was drifting off to sleep. I heard something that instantly had me wide awake, listening.

A very minor thing; but it stuck out; and I feel the need to offer some advice, or perhaps a word of warning.

Two Hams were conversing, one from South New Jersey, the other from Philadelphia. The New Jersey Ham asked the Philadelphia Ham, "What's the personal over there?" To his credit, the Philadelphia Ham came back with, "My name is ........" I was anxiously waiting someone to come on the air to make a big stink out of it. Perhaps, it was the lateness of the hour, and the incident went unnoticed.

Please ......... no!

All of you, don't get offended; or rip me for being snobby or elitist. I welcome everyone to Amateur Radio. Whether your first fledgling steps towards the hobby have been as an SWL or a CB'er - makes no matter to me. You're all welcome with open arms!

But please, all you ex-Citizen Banders out there ..... please leave the CB lingo behind. We have enough of our own vernacular that gets used and abused all too often as it is. The CB stuff just smacks of ...... well, I'm not sure just what.

You're more likely to be abused by some know-it-all elitist out there who feels that he has been anointed "The Guardian of Amateur Radio" - God knows, we have our share. Don't give someone who is not versed in holding their tongue well, the ammunition they need to possibly embarrass or make you feel bad on the air.

And to all of you "Guardians" out there - please engage your brains before your mouths. Let stuff like this slide and instead of criticizing, instruct the person the correct way, quietly on the side. I cringe at the thought of someone discouraging a newcomer. We need all the newcomers we can get - not drive them away.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

E-mail reflectors

I subscribe to a lot of them, all related to either QRP or CW. As you can imagine, as a result I get a ton of e-mail everyday. I use the "Delete Key" a lot to sift the wheat from the chaff. Every now and then, though, you come across a real gem.

I came across such a gem today on the Straight Key Century Club reflector, which was posted by Milt K4OSO. It's titled:

NEW CW OPS - 8 reasons for not getting on the air

Copy skills get better with time and practice. Nerves is certainly a factor at first. The answer to nerves is exposure. Get on the air and practice those skills. After all, you're not copying vectors for a brain exploration surgery……just fun stuff. What if you do miss some? Eh?

Who cares? Everyone does! If you show me an op who sends flawless CW, I'll eat my hat. Even keyboarders make mistakes. Its what you do when you make one that is the measure of an op. A good op corrects his mistakes. When you glide past mistakes it leaves the other guy guessing.

Accuracy transcends speed! Accuracy is absolute, while speed will increase/improve over time. What you DON'T want is to get faster at sending poorly. Fast and poor are an awful twosome. Practice sending well, at a speed which is comfortable for you. You WILL make mistakes,…just correct them and move on.

As many have suggested, by writing down the parts of a typical exchange/qso, you will be better able to get through a qso. Its really funny how few comments are directed to spelling. Spelling
slows us down and trips us up in many qso situations. When you practice off-air, its fine to use a sheet of text, but I find that sending as if in a qso is much more helpful. Practice this by sending out of your head. You'll get used to sending off the cuff and your spelling will improve tremendously. If ragchewing is your goal, keep your exchanges short, at first. Don't try to say too much in one exchange. That way, it will give you time to think about what you'll say next, and will slow the other op down as well. That will make his transmissions easier to copy. Keep it casual, and don't let it become hard work.

Keep a hand towel at your operating desk. My palms sweated on my first date too but, it didn't stop me. Remember, no one can see you! Try PRETENDING you're as calm as a cucumber. Think of yourself as a "take charge" op who can handle any situation. As an op thinkest, so shall he be on the air.

One particular activity that improved my confidence and ability to handle most situations was learning traffic handling on the Maryland Slow Net. Net speed was maximum 10 wpm (and flexible), the instructors were patient and considerate. That training gave me the confidence I desperately needed. I'm now an Instructor/NCS on that Net and watch the transformation of new ops from tentative and unsure to ops who would be welcomed on NTS traffic net throughout the country. Its easy and painless and proceeds at the new op's own pace. Even if you don't become an active traffic handler, the training is invaluable for learning general operating practices.

Bull Crap!!! Everyone expects new/inexperienced CW ops to be somewhat tentative, make some mistakes and miss some copy. They expect it because THEY PERFORMED THE SAME WAY WHEN THEY WERE NEW/INEXPERIENCED. Some well-meaning ops, in an attempt to sooth the nervous new op will say, "Aw, no one will notice your mistakes" Bull crap! Of course they notice them! They'd have to be idiots not to. BUT, no one cares about a your mistakes. This is a hobby,…..a means of having fun. It WILL be fun if you stop agonizing over it. The amount of fun you have at CW is inversely proportional to the amount you worry about it.

That's fine if you like spending your time procrastinating. "He was gonna get on the air tomorrow" would make a unfortunate epitath. "He really enjoyed his ham radio hobby and his CW" is a much nicer one. I waited until I was over 60 to finally get started in Ham radio. I often think of how much fun I could have had over the years if I had just bitten the bullet and jumped in. Now, I'm trying to make up for lost time. But, we all know that's impossible.

Ok….use whatever you're good with, and develop your skills on the others at your own pace. Whatever you do, don't try to assuage your fist into a type of key that frustrates you. Learning new skills, while not easy, should be fun. Measure your progress in small chunks. Don't set your goals too far ahead. You must be able to see progress. If speed improvement is your goal, measure it one word per minute at a time. Don't try to go from 5 wpm to 10 wpm. That's doubling your speed!. It would be like me trying to go from 35 wpm to 70 wpm. Never happen,…..go from 5 to 6. Then to 7, and so on….


Golden words of advice from relatively new Ham who practices what he preaches. If you ever get the chance to work Milt K4OSO in an actual on the air QSO, you will be working a quality CW op! (I know, I've had the pleasure!)

73 de Larry W2LJ

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Great Website !!!

I was using Windows Live to do some searching on the NorCal Doublet, when I ran across this Website:

If you've ever done QRP outdoors, or are thinking about doing some QRP outdoors, this Website is a "must read" as far as I'm concerned. It's chock full of useful information; and if for one second you think that WD8RIF doesn't know what he's talking about - just check out his "Event Reports" section.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Thursday, August 14, 2008

St. Maximilian Kolbe

In the calendar of the Catholic Church, August 14th is the day that the Church honors and remembers the life of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr.

The following short biography appeared on the Catholic Exchange Website:

As a child, Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941) had a deep devotion to Our Lady. On one occasion he had a vision in which Mary offered him either a white garment, symbolizing purity, or a red one, symbolizing martyrdom. “I choose both,” the boy replied. His heart was transfixed by Our Lady. Later he prayed that when he died, he would be blessed with departing life on a Feast Day of the Blessed Mother.

Maximilian entered the Franciscan Order at age thirteen, and was ordained a priest in 1918. After serving some years as a humble parish priest, Fr. Kolbe was named director of one of the largest Catholic publishing firms in Poland.

To better “win the world for the Immaculata,” St. Maximilian’s friars utilized the most modern printing and administrative techniques. This enabled them to publish countless catechetical and devotional tracts, a daily newspaper with a circulation of 230,000, and a monthly magazine with a circulation of over one million. Maximilian started a shortwave radio station and planned to build a motion picture studio — he was a true “Apostle of the Mass Media.”

Following the German conquest of Poland in 1939, he (like many priests) was arrested, but soon released. Maximilian devoted himself to helping Jewish refugees. When the Nazis discovered this, he was again arrested and sent to Auschwitz in 1941. There he tried to set an example of faith and hope for the other prisoners.

When a prisoner escaped from camp, the Germans chose ten men at random and sentenced them to death by starvation; one of them was a Polish sergeant, Franciszek Gajowniczek, whom Kolbe had befriended. Fr. Kolbe left his place in the ranks and asked permission from the commandant to take Gajowniczek’s place. The shocked German officer agreed, and Kolbe and nine others were taken away to die. Maximilian helped the others prepare for death. He was the last to succumb, dying on August 14, the eve of the Assumption.

In addition to his priesthood, Father Kolbe was also an Amateur Radio operator. His callsign was SP3RN and the picture above shows him at his station. He is credited with keeping many of the world's Amateur Radio operators informed about the atrocities committed by the Nazis prior to the outbreak of World War II.

Because of his exemplary life and because of his devotion to God and to his fellow man, Fr. Kolbe was canonized as a Saint of the Catholic Church by Pope John Paul II in October of 1982.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Something is not right

I was listening to a conversation on 2 Meters tonight on the way home from work. I heard something, that were I drinking coffee, would have caused me to do a spittake. That's the term for the comedic tool where you see someone who is surprised spew out whatever beverage they happen to be drinking at the time.

A Ham (who will remain nameless) was describing how much fun he's been having with his Yaesu FT-817 and how he loves making 5 Watt contacts ...... yadda, yadda, yadda. So far, so good.

The he went on the describe how he hasn't used the radio much lately because the current sunspot lull is making QRP contacts so hard. OK, I don't really agree with that assessment; but I can see how for someone else it might have some merit.

THEN came the kicker ..... he continued on to say, and I quote "It's hard enough making QSOs with 600 Watts from the home station".

Really? ..... Really?!?

I was about to jump in and question that; but he had arrived at his destination and shut his mobile station down.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Monday, August 11, 2008

An investment of "self"

A friend and I have been privately corresponding over the past week about the decline of the retention of "Newbies" to Amateur Radio; and the increase in the popularity of QRP. We have been engaging in philosophical arguments as to whether not the two phenomena are somehow linked.

Personally, I think that the explosion of the popularity of QRP and the decline of "Newbies" staying interested in Amateur Radio are totally non-related and are 180 degrees apart in the spectrum.

My personal opinion is that for many, QRP hearkens back to the "Golden Age" of Amateur Radio. The tradition of building, homebrewing, operating on a shoe string is very akin to Amateur Radio of the 20s, 30s and 40s. Back in those days, it was very rare for a Ham to open up some boxes, plug a few things in and get on the air. Back then you had to scavenge, scrounge and build. Getting on the air was the end step of an entire process. Back then, after you took your test, you waited six weeks or more for your license to come and you used that time to make final preparations. When you got on the air, you knew how and why your station worked. Heck, you built most of it yourself, including the antenna. Fortunately, there still seems to be a large segment of the Amateur Radio population that shares that ethic and wants to enjoy it, again.

Today things are different - radically different. Without getting into arguments, the process today is more akin to this:

1) Take a multiple choice test
2) Find out your results within 15 minutes of completing your exam
3) Go to the FCC Website within a week and get your callsign.
4) Use that week to order and receive a fancy new "box" and antenna from HRO or AES.
5) Open the boxes, plug a few things in and get on the air.

Where's the romance in that? Where's the anticipation in that? Where's the pride of a "job well done" in that? Where's the "magic" in that? Is it any wonder then, that so many of today's new licensees are losing interest?

Amateur Radio was so popular way back when; and retained its newly licensed because they had made a major investment of "self". It WAS harder back then! It took a lot of effort, discipline and self motivation to study, scrounge, build and get on the air. The words "instant" and "gratification" hadn't even been linked together yet! After all that study, building, effort, blood, sweat and tears, you would have looked like a bloody idiot to go through all that only to say, "Nah, this isn't for me".

Today's "plug and play" society makes it easier to walk away. The "investment of self" has turned into an "investment of money". Open some boxes, throw some stuff together and get on the air. It turns Amateur Radio into a (yawn) "been there, done that" kind of thing. And even the 'investment of money" isn't a total loss; because if you find out that Amateur Radio isn't your "thing", then there's always eBay.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Looking forward to things

It's not a good thing to always wish for the time to pass quickly. I wonder how many of us realize we are wishing our lives away when we concentrate so hard on wishing for the arrival of the next weekend or the next holiday or the next vacation.

However, that being said, I really am looking forward to next weekend. Going against my own advice, eh? But there are two events coming up that I have been looking forward to for a while.

The first is the QRP-ARCI SK Memorial Sprint, which is an annual event to honor all the dedicated QRPers who have gone on the the "big shack in the sky" ahead of us. This is a four hour Sprint and I'm hoping the weather will be good enough to allow operations from the backyard. Instead of the PAC-12 (or perhaps in addition to it) I would like to set up the NorCal Doublet as an Inverted Vee using my 31 foot Black Widow crappie pole as a center support.

The second event occurs a few hours later, which is the NJ QSO Party. I've "fooled around" in this contest in years past; but have never made a serious effort. I'd like to give it a go this year as a true QRP entry just to see how I stack up.

In addition, this coming Tuesday night is the NAQCC Sprint for August. That will serve mightily well as a warm up for the weekend's events.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Friday, August 08, 2008

Broke the pileup!

'Twas not "exotic" DX; but it was a rather rare entity; and the pileup was HUGE! When I went out to the park today at lunchtime, I found a buzz saw of stations at 14.042 MHz. Going down one, I heard VO2A the DXpedition to Paul Island (NA-205), off the coast of Labrador in Canada.

There were a ton of Europeans calling, EA3, G3. UA9, HA5 were among some of the prefixes I heard. Labrador isn't so far from New Jersey in terms of the world of DX; but I thought I'd give it a whirl.

And about 10 minutes or so in, I managed to break through, putting 5 Watts into a Hamstick which was nestled in some tree limbs because of where I had parked the car.

The K1 doesn't have "true" split capability; so I had to set the K1 to the transmit frequency (where I was guessing that VO2A was listening) and I used the RIT control to tune "down 1" where VO2A was transmitting, so I could hear him. There's also a XIT feature on the K1 which will allow you to do the same thing, but basically the other way around; but I haven't really figured it out yet.

Soon after I worked VO2A, it started showering; so I packed up and headed back to work early. It was a portent of things to come as we had a pretty bad thunderstorm with some very hard rain later in the afternoon.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

I guess it's just me .......

Maybe I'm stupid ...... maybe I'm blissfully ignorant ..... maybe I just missed the bus.

I received an e-mail today from a Ham I've known for a while; but never had the chance to meet face to face - opposite ends of the country and all that. He was writing to me to tell me that he finally had QRP all figured out; and how really, really difficult it actually is!

Sigh - heavy sigh.

It really isn't. At least I don't think it is.

I never seem to lack for QSOs. I don't always have one; but I do more often than not. There are times my CQ's go unanswered (more on this in a bit) ; but there are more often times that I get a response. There are times I get a 339 or 449 report; but then there are just as many times that I get a 589 or 599 report. In fact, a few minutes ago, I worked Yuri RW3QO in Russia on 40 Meters. He gave me a 589.

Maybe it's all in the attitude. My attitude is not so much that it's QRP. My attitude is that it's Amateur Radio and I just happen to be using 5 Watts. Geez, if I got discouraged about my power out and became obsessed with always using 100 Watts or better, I would have never gotten through my Novice days. I guess I didn't know any better then; and I still don't know any better now!

And by the way ..... I'm sick and tired of hearing the QRP "rules". You know, the ones the "experts" tout:

NEVER call CQ while operating QRP.
ALWAYS expect that your signal will be weak on the receiving end.
ALWAYS use a slower code speed to make yourself understood.
ALWAYS keep your QSOs short, NEVER expect to be able to have a rag chew.
NEVER start out your Ham career using QRP.

Sheesh - I think I've broken all those rules about a million times over! I call CQ a lot; and I get a lot of answers. Look, odds are your signal is going to be loud somewhere. Why not call CQ? Even if you end up working the guy across town; it's still a QSO.

Always weak on the receiving end? What a bunch of baloney! I can't tell you how many times I've worked Todd N9NE only to have my earphones blown clear off my head! I wrote him once that I felt like the radio studio engineer in that episode of "The Little Rascals" who always had his headphones blown off when Spanky would drop a lightbulb near the microphone. And Todd is not the only 599+++++++ QRP signal that I've had the pleasure to receive - not by a long shot.

Slow code speed to be understood better? That just doesn't make sense to me. I don't think code speed has anything to do with being understood just because you're QRP. The only time code speed enters into the picture is when the receiving station can't copy as fast as you're sending.

Short QSOs? Criminy - I've had plenty of rag chews that have lasted an hour or more while running QRP. Another bit of hogwash.

Never start your Ham career using QRP. I laugh at this one the most. Back in the day, most of us Novices had flea power radios and crappy antennas. We might have put out 35 Watts or so; but by the time we loaded up the bed springs we were probably only putting out 2 or 3 Watts. Of course I'm exaggerating here; but you get the idea. The idea that you HAVE to run 100 Watts to get your instant gratifications is immature and idiotic.

Well. so much for my evening rant - probably just another sign of my ignorance of how "it really is".

73 de Larry W2LJ

Sunday, August 03, 2008

10 Meters was open

I didn't get a chance to get on the air on Saturday; but I saw several postings to various e-mail reflectors touting the fact that 10 Meters was open on Saturday. This was also confirmed to me by Bob W3BBO who participated in the North American QSO Party over the weekend; and he made 46 QSOs on 10 Meters.

Today, after an afternoon full of yardwork, I got on the air for a bit and decided to tune around the 10 Meter band. It was so quiet, there wasn't even much static or white noise. Then at 28.028 MHz I heard AF4OX calling CQ. I answered back; and Bob and I had a nice chat for a little bit.

It was nice to have a QSO on 10 Meters for the first time in I can't really remember when. Maybe this is a sign that propagation is starting to improve. More than likely, though, it's not so much that 10 Meters is always dead. It's probably more that we all ASSUME 10 Meters is dead when it really isn't; and we're ignoring a valuable resource that is available for us to use, if only we would.

73 de Larry W2LJ