Thursday, April 30, 2009

Very nice!

I don't know for sure if the sunspot number being 15 today had anything to do with it; but 40 Meters was very nice tonight.

I made contact with GØKDJ, Jim in Cheshire, England; but we had a hard time because of heavy QRM. A little further bit down the dial, I had a solid QSO with Nick EU3DN in Brest, Belarus. He have me a 579 and he was about a 589 here in New Jersey. Not bad for just under 5 Watts!

Then a little farther up the band, I settled in for a nice ragchew with Sam, N4SAM. I've worked Sam many times before; but didn't realize it because I was used to his KL7V callsign. Sam moved from Oklahoma to Alabama fairly recently and changed to a "4 Land" callsign to end the confusion. I guess no matter where you live, if you call CQ with a KL7 prefix, you're bound to cause a small pileup of hungry Alaska hunters!

I had to bug out on Sam kind of suddenly as I heard my cellphone ringing upstairs. That could mean only one thing; and I was correct - it was someone calling from work. One of the electricians was looking for a Cisco switch module that had to be installed and I had to guide him to the right spot to find it.

Even with the QSO cut short, I'm not complaining. It was nice to have the band on such good behavior tonight. Maybe ol' Sol will perk up soon; and this will become the rule rather than the exception. We can always keep our fingers crossed!

73 de Larry W2LJ

And lead us not into temptation ....

And Hoo Buddy, am I ever tempted!

Introducing the Baby Black Widow Portable Paddle, which debuted on the QRP e-mail reflectors today. This is another offering by Jerry Haigwood W5JH. There are two models available, one for the KX-1 and one for the Hendricks PFR-3. Jerry says that this little beauty can be used with any portable radio, however; and I can see how. I surmise it would just be a matter of leaving off the vertical piece which holds the phone plug. The price is right, too! Only $46.50 (shipping included) to domestic addresses - DX orders would be a bit more.

I wish I could justify the need for a set. There are so many things on the wish list and so little funding. I guess I have to start buying lottery tickets!

Oh, by the way, for all the details on these paddles and to order a set for your very own, click here. (Jerry takes PayPal!)

73 de Larry W2LJ

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


I saw a post on one of the QRP e-mail reflectors that started off with:

"It is time to part with the best rig I've ever owned."


Then I had a "V8 moment" and realized the guy must be going through some hard financial times or something. I mean seriously, unless you HAD to ... who would sell the best rig they've ever owned? If you're a serious operator, your rig becomes an extension of you. Over the years you come to know the "ins and outs", the little idiosyncrasies and all the "neat little cool things" that made that piece of equipment your favorite. Another thought came to mind that maybe he's selling with the hopes of using the money for another rig that might be even better. I guess I'm just a "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" kind of guy. I'd be VERY hard pressed to sell or switch from what I considered to be "the best rig I've ever owned". It would have to be a lead pipe cinch, in my mind.

In another vein, has it been hot here the past few days! We've blown the heat records out of the books here in New Jersey! Ever since Saturday, it has felt more like July than April. What was really interesting was to watch Steve WGØAT's QRPTTF video on YouTube. I was one of the stations that he worked on Saturday. Well, let's put it this way, I didn't get enough of his exchange for me to count it as a valid QSO on my end; but obviously Steve heard enough of my exchange to count me. What floored me was that at the moment he worked me, he had ice coating the multiband coil of his Buddistick, while at the same time I was dying for a cold drink in that hot, sunny park! We blew past the heat record on Sunday by 10 degrees; and I think today was the hottest of the heat wave. Fortunately, the weather is supposed to change tonight with some rain and thnderstorms blowing in. Tomorrow is forecast to not get out of the 60s.

Oh, by the way, the North Dakota QSL card came today - thanks to WØBTW. I have all 50 now and will be assembling a package to send up to the League over this coming weekend; so I can finally have the WAS QRP CW certificate to frame and hang on the wall. I'll hang it next to my first WAS certificate that I earned (mixed) as N2ELW so may moons ago. You know, back then, if you told me that I'd do WAS again someday with only 5 Watts of power, I probably would have looked at you like you had two heads!

73 de Larry W2LJ

Monday, April 27, 2009


Ham Radio publications come; and Ham Radio publications go.

In my "brief and recent" (relatively speaking) Ham Radio career, I have seen 73, Ham Radio and Ham Radio Horizons go by the wayside. Others have staying power; such as CQ and QST, which are perhaps the "Grandaddies" of Amateur Radio publications. I am sure there have been others that have come and gone way long before I even came to know what Amateur Radio was all about!

Recently, we saw WorldRadio make the metamorphosis from hard copy publication to an online version; or E-zine. This seems to have been a major success with the publication going from a "newsprint" type of publication to one which now includes color; and now has the "feel" of being right on par with CW and QST. But, for your reading enjoyment, there are other Ham Radio E-zines which are just as every bit as high quality and professional as WorldRadio; just perhaps not as well known.

One that I've mentioned before is "The K9YA Telegraph". This was perhaps the first independent Ham Radio E-zine that I was introduced to. I have been a faithful subscriber since January 2004. It's free; but don't let that fool you for a nano-second. In the 5 plus years that I have been reading this monthly E-zine, I have never failed to have been delighted with the content of this publication. This is truly a professionally, well put together E-zine which highly reflects the dedication to the hobby that the staff clearly holds.

Another that I've just recently been introduced to and have just recently subscribed to us HAM-MAG which is produced in France. This E-zine has been published for a while; but an English version was just introduced this year. Again, another professionally well done product put out for free by fellow Hams like you and me, who clearly love this hobby.

And although, these two are club related; and not really intended for the "general" Ham public (no pun intended) I cannot fail to mention the Bacon Bits Quarterly which is published by the Flying Pigs QRP Club International. Also right up there is the SKCC Centurion, which is the monthly newsletter of the Straight Key Century Club. These are not your Grandpa's newsletters, which were probably mimeographed jobs sent to him in the mail; or handed out at a meeting. Both of these club newsletters are highly polished, professional looking publications that are on the leading edge of non-commercial Ham Radio publications. They alone are well worth the price of admission to these two organizations - oh, did I forget to mention? No dues for either - both the Flying Pigs and SKCC are free to belong to. How do they manage to put out such high quality work? The "love and dedication" of their membership.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Everything works

OK; so I'm paranoid.

I'll admit that I was bothered by making no contacts yesterday for QRPTTF. Even though I was certain that all my equipment is OK; I still had to check it out today. So after mowing the lawn and performing a few other chores, I set up the K1 and PAC-12 in the backyard to reassure myself that nothing was broken.

As soon as I attached the coax to the K1, I could tell the difference. 20 Meters had way more signals on it than I was able to hear yesterday. I even worked a couple of Florida QSO Party stations just to be sure; and had no problems being heard on the first call.

I did do two things differently than yesterday; but neither in and of themselves (or even together) should have made the difference. First, I used three aluminum sections between the feed point and the multiband coil instead of two. This got the coil and the whip higher into the air. Second, I used my more robust home made radials other than the ones that came with the PAC-12. The commercial ones are made of ribbon cable; mine were made from 22 gauge speaker wire.

I would hazard a guess, then, that the location I was at yesterday was pretty much an RF black hole. You run into those, sometimes, when operating portable. I should have known better; but it's always nice to know that it's not a hardware problem - just a software problem (operator's brain).

73 de Larry W2LJ

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A foretaste of Summer

It felt like July here today in Central New Jersey. I'm not sure what the high temperature was; but I think I heard 86 Degrees being bandied about on the local FM broadcast station.

Unfortunately, HF propagation was nowhere near as "hot" as the ambient air temperature. As planned, I spent a little time at Roosevelt Park in Edison, NJ in the vicinity of the fountain that was constructed as part of the WPA during the New Deal, in accordance with this year's QRP To The Field theme.

It was me, the K1 and the PAC-12. My wife and kids came along; but they meandered off to the main part of the park. I set up under a shady tree and commenced being disappointed. It was a good thing that I have used all the equipment in the past few weeks to my prior satisfaction, because if I had used everything for the first time today, I would have been convinced that something was broken.

Process of elimination tells me that if I know the equipment is working; then the bands must have been "broken"; or perhaps I was just in an RF black hole. I've never operated from this park before; so I can't say for sure that it's a good location.

I only heard a few stations. I heard K7TQ on 20 Meters and I heard WA9S on 40 Meters and KJ4AOM on 40 Meters also; and that was about it. I tried working each with no success. From KJ4AOM, I got a "sri"; so I know he heard at least something! And what was really strange to me was that I could not hear Bob N4BP. He's always on during these contests and he's always 599 here in NJ. If I can't hear Bob, then something is definitely "up".

I brought along my BlackBerry from work; so I could keep an eye on QRPSPOTS. I should have known conditions were bad when I saw no postings there, whatsoever. Then, I came home to find mixed results being posted on the QRP e-mail reflectors. Some guys seemed to have good outings and others seem to have been skunked, like me.

So maybe it was the ionosphere; maybe I was in an RF pit. Whatever the reason, the silver lining is that I was out in the fresh air for a while on beautiful day, enjoying (even with no contacts) the greatest hobby in the world. You can't beat that with a stick!

And to borrow (and modify) an old saying about fishing:

"A bad day of Ham Radio is better than a good day at work!"

73 de Larry W2LJ

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Unintended results

I got on 40 Meters tonight, with the full expectations of participating in the SKCC monthly sprint, which I have not done in a long, long time. Around came 0000 UTC, the appointed time, and 40 Meters seemed strangely quiet in and around the SKCC frequencies. That's when I had a Homer Simpson "Doh!" moment. The sprint was LAST night! What a dolt I can be!

So as not to be a total loss, I started calling CQ and was answered by Jim WA2RDR out of Jackson, Michigan. And fortunately for me, it turned out to be one of the nicest QSOs that I have had in a while.

Jim, it turns out, is quite the tinkerer and homebrewer. He got his ticket in 1947 when he was still in high school. During our conversation, he was using a 1963 vintage Clegg radio that was originally manufactured for 6 Meter AM. Jim modified it to work on 40 Meter CW. He was running 25 Watts to a 100 foot center fed doublet that he has up about 25 feet. His signal was strong, crisp and clear. His fist was steady and true.

We talked about his projects, we talked about mine. We talked about our mutual love for CW and 40 Meters. In all, it was a wonderful conversation that lasted an eyelash under an hour.

If I had not gotten the night wrong; and had participated in the sprint, I would have missed out on a very pleasant QSO with a fellow Ham. Even though we're a "few" years apart in age, we both love the same things about Amateur Radio. I look forward to hooking up with Jim on the air in the not too distant future.

Nights like these are what the magic is all about.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


When I went "strictly" CW QRP back in 2003, there were several goals that I wanted to accomplish.

1) Re-earn WAS

2) Re-earn DXCC

3) Earn the 1,000 Miles Per Watt Award

4) Re-earn WAC

I've been successful so far by earning the 1000 MPW award for a QSO with Kwajalein Atoll back in 2004. I have 90 DXCC entities worked; so I'm close there. As far as WAC goes, I just need Australia (or New Zealand) and I'll be good to go.

As far as Worked All States goes, that a done deal - almost! I have QSOs with all 50 states using QRP and CW; and as I found out the other day, I have 49 QSL cards. To my chagrin, I am missing North Dakota. Argh! I went through my log and have had several CW QRP QSOs with ND; but to date, no card.

So on Sunday, I sent out cards to two stations complete with SASEs. I am hoping that either will be kind enough to send back a QSL card. One of the stations was quite active in the QRP Sprints; and I used to work him a lot. But I have noticed of late, that I have not heard him in any of the events that I used to regularly hear him in. I hope he hasn't lost interest in radio; or has given up the hobby. The other contact was just a normal ragchew. If I hear nothing soon; then I'll just have to slug it out and work another North Dakotan, someday. Problem is that they are not exactly "a dime a dozen" as it were. Best chance might not be until Sweepstakes in the Fall.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Monday, April 20, 2009

Lousy Weather and Flying Pigs

It was a crummy day today, weather-wise.

It felt more like February or March, rather than April. It was rainy and very chilly, with high temperatures only around 45 degrees. The rain seemed to becoming at you horizontally, too. Just the right angle to get you soaked to the bone and definitely not outdoor radio weather.

I wish I could say there was a bright side; but there wasn't. However, I did have fun last night participating in the Flying Pigs monthly QRP Sprint, the Run For The Bacon. I made 20 QSOs in about an hour. It wasn't my best effort by far; but it was the first time I have joined in on the fun in a long time. It was nice to work a lot of old friends and to work some new ones, too.

By the way, if you've never heard of the Flying Pigs QRP Club, International - then where have you been? You should immediately go here and check it out. It's a ton of fun being a Flying Pig and the price is right - it's free! Piggies are known for having fun, being great builders and homebrewers and for being great QRPers in general. The Piggies have their own e-mail reflector; and they definitely do not take themselves too seriously.

If you're wondering what the "Mission Statement" of this fine organization is, well here it is:

No Dues, No Rules, Just Fun - and if we don't like it we fix it!

What more could you ask for than that?

While you don't have to be a member to take part in the monthly Run For The Bacon, please consider joining and jumping into the fray. The RFTB is held the third Sunday evening of every month from 9-11 PM Eastern Time. (Your local time will vary, of course).

73 es "oo" (oink, oink for all you non- Pig types)
Larry W2LJ

Sunday, April 19, 2009

And then there were three ....

The weatherman was only partially right about today's forecast. It was a lot cooler than yesterday. It only got up to about 60 degrees, which was a far cry from the high temperature of 78 degrees yesterday. But on the other hand, he was wrong about the rain. It turned out to be a very sunny day; and the cooler temps made it a good day for antenna maintenance.

I have been limping along with my Butternut vertical for a while. The center conductor of the feed stub broke free from its connector; and I was using a make fix jumper to keep the antenna usable. Today I got the chance to expose some new copper on the center conductor and solder on a permanent piece of wire to extend to the feedpoint. The feed stub is some non 50 Ohm type of coax that Butternut supplies; so it was not as easy as just hooking up coax to a SO-239 connector. A check with my antenna analyzer proved I still have a decent match on all bands; and now the Butternut is officially back up to snuff.

My end fed "Inverted L" Zepp that I put up a few years ago was also giving me fits and starts throughout the winter. I cut a bit back on the 300 Ohm twinlead that I use to feed it, just enough to expose new copper. I soldered on two new ring connectors and attached it to the balun I am using to transition the twinlead to coax. I had originally intended to pound a copper grounding rod into the soil to provide a ground. Unfortunately, I was only able to go down about 2 feet before I hit a layer of clay; so I ended up attaching a 60 foot piece of wire to the ground connection to act as a counterpoise, instead. Hooking up the antenna analyzer showed a 1:1 match at around 3.560 MHz which is actually perfect for 80 Meter CW. The K2's autotuner gets a match on all bands. The reason I have this up in the air is that it runs on a different axis than the G5RV, so it allows me to get a little directionality going. Just as a "final" check, I got on 30 Meters and called CQ and got an answer after just a couple of calls. When I got a decent signal report from the Ham in Ohio, I was satisfied.

As always, "Ol' Reliable", my G5RV (which is my mainstay) is doing fine and needed nothing to be done to it. However, I was taking another look at the maple tree that it is being supported by to see if there's any chance I might be able to get that apex up another 5 feet or so. Right now, it looks like probably not. The branches all the way at the top still look a little too skinny after the cutting back they underwent a few years ago. In another year or two, it might be do-able. However, even so, it's nice to know now that I can switch between three antennas at any given moment to try and get the job done as needed.

Last night was productive, too! I made new dividers for the aluminum case that I carry my K1 portable station in. I had some old clear plastic down in the basement that had come out of some picture frames (it was used instead of glass). Using a single edge razor blade, I was able to cut pieces to the sizes that I needed. Unfortunately, one thickness was too flimsy; so I took two identically sized pieces and glued them together with Duco cement. They proved to be sturdy enough; and I was very happy that I was able to use materials that I had scrounged up instead of having to go out and buy something.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Saturday, April 18, 2009

QRP TTF - To The Field

This appeared on the QRP reflectors today - from NA5N. Next Saturday will be QRP TTF.

QRPTTF – The Great Depression*
* Referring to the sun, of course
Saturday, April 25 1500Z thru April 26 0300Z

Other contests on April 25:
SP (Poland) DXRTTY contest
Helvetia contest
Florida and Nebraska QSO Parties


Date: Saturday, April 25, 2009
Time: 1500Z April 25 thru 0300Z April 26
Right Coast Time: 1100 – 2300 EDT (UTC –4 hrs)
Mid-west 1000 – 2200 CDT (UTC –5 hrs)
Mountain Time: 0900 – 2100 MDT (UTC –6 hrs)
Left Coast Time: 0800 – 2000 PDT (UTC –7 hrs)
Theme: Operate “in the field” from a WPA project or CCC Camp. Details below.
Bands: 15M 21.060 (if/when open), 10M 28.060 (Wishful thinking), (Calling 20M 14.060 Freq.) 40L 7.030 – 7.040, 40H 7.100 – 7.110, 80M 3.560
NOTE: 40L and 40H are considered two different bands for QRPTTF.
Bands not listed, like 160M, 1296 MHz moon-bounce, permissible
Mode: CW only
Power: QRP (5 watts or less)
Exchange: RST + Class + SPC
Class: W = WPA station
C = CCC Station
F = Field Station
H = Home Station
SPC = State/Province/Country abbreviation
Examples: 579 C NM (that might be me)
or 579 F PA (of course, that would be Ron Polityka)
Categories: Single Op, Multi-Op, Club (includes multi-station)
Scoring: QSO pts: 1 point for each QSO per band
SPCs pts: count once per band
Multiplier: 1 = Home station
2 = Field Station
3 = WPA/CCC Station
Scoring: QSO points times SPCs per band times multiplier = total score
Summary Sheet: Download from
(or email and I'll send you one)

DISCUSSION: QRP To The Field (QRPTTF) is a contest intended to promote fun and operation “in the field.” If at all possible, pack up your gear and set up somewhere without a roof over your head and get on the air. Grab a friend or two and make an outing or camping trip out of it. Bring your dog.

THEME: This year's theme is to operate from or near a 1930s “New Deal” WPA project, CCC Camp, or CCC project. I recommend you do an internet search for “WPA” or “CCC” along with the name of your state or county. There are gobs of WPA/CCC websites or local historical societies listing WPA/CCC sites and buildings. All state parks are WPA projects. The WPA built
court houses, post offices, schools, college dorms, city parks, bridges, dams, etc. Many CCC camps still exists as other things, along with building county roads, irrigation canals, diversion ditches, water wells/windmills, forest fire lookout towers, stock corrals, and marinas, to planting
grasslands and forests. If your local neighborhood park has some funky 1930s art-deco looking statue or something, it's probably a WPA art project. Never mind miles of city sidewalks marked “WPA” or “FERA” (Federal Emergency Relief Act, precursor to WPA). If all else fails, ask a local
around 80 years of age or older – he'll know. The list really is almost endless. Virtually every town in America has something built by the WPA or CCC.

As always, safety first. Many WPA buildings (court houses, post offices, schools) are still in use as public buildings. Other WPA schools and buildings are now privately owned (or abandoned). Seek permission to use or advise authorities if needed to keep Homeland Security from thinking you're a sleeper cell. (Ooops, this email just got nailed by an NSA computer). You do not need to be exactly on the WPA building or project; use common sense. Operate near the location as best you can (within line of sight) and sufficient to stay out of trouble!

THE LOUSY BANDS: Between our anemic sun, lousy propagation, crummy bands, RTTY, other contests, etc., it sometimes gets rough for us QRPers to break through the mess. Especially later in the afternoon or early evening when we're left with only 40M. Us QRPers need a break!!! On recent contests on 40M, 7.030/7.040 seems to be trashed, while I've always noticed the 7.100-7.120 portion of the CW band is quiet as a mouse with maybe 1-2 QSOs. Therefore, for this year's QRPTTF, I am declaring the HIGH end of 40M CW (approximately 7.100 – 7.110 MHz) as a separate band. Stations and the SPCs worked above 7.100 (40H) count as a separate band from the normal confused 7.030/7.040 (40L) band. Hopefully this will allow us to work more stations and serve as an experiment for future QRP activities.

OTHER CONTESTS: Work and help out those CW stations participating in the Nebraska and Florida QSO parties. Nebraska operates around 35 KHz above the band edges; Florida just below the QRP calling frequencies. Their exchanges are RST+SPC (almost like ours). Give them a contact and put another station in your log as well.

CQ: The recommended CQ for this contest is “CQ TTF” since other contests are ongoing.

A FIRST TIMER? SLOW AT CW? If you've never worked a contest before, or find the 35 word per minute exchanges of other contests intimidating, try QRPTTF. It's pretty low-key and built for fun. If you hear a station calling “QRP TTF,” give a call. Don't be afraid to say “PSE QRS”
(please slow down) if he's too fast for you. If you miss an element of the exchange, don't be afraid to ask for a repeat (“SPC?” or “QTH?”). We all fail to get the exchange at times. Often, by listening to a QRPTTF station working another, you can learn the exchange before you call. These are all tricks to help you with your code speed and get on the air. Remember, we want to work you as much as you want to work us!

Good luck and have fun, regardless of where you choose to operate from.

Courtesy of Paul NA5N

If you've never QRPed out of doors before, you are missing a treat. If the weather is nice (and maybe even if it isn't) consider giving this a shot. I Googled "New Jersey WPA" and I found out that there is a fountain in Roosevelt Park in Edison, NJ that is a WPA Project. I must have passed that fountain a million times in my lifetime; and I never even new. Now it looks like it's going to be my destination next weekend. The fountain is called "Light Dispelling Darkness" and was constructed in 1937 by sculptor Waylande Gregory.

See? You learn something new everyday!

73 de Larry W2LJ

Friday, April 17, 2009

Boo! Hiss!

Another beautiful day today; but no lunchtime QRP. Today at work, we had a "walkthrough" of the new building by the big corporate bigwigs from Manhattan. I didn't want to stray too far because it's been my experience that, for some reason, you're never noticed when you're where you're supposed to be - but you're ALWAYS noticed when you're not where you're supposed to be!

So even though I'm entitled to an hour for lunch, discretion seemed to the better part of valor and I ate at my desk. All was not lost, however, as I spent "my hour" on the ARRL Website going through the QST Archives searching on QRP. Much to my surprise, there were 22 pages worth of hyperlinks to .pdfs and other resources. The very first articles on QRP started appearing in QST back in 1927!

Of course, the quantity of QRP related articles started exploding in the mid-80s. It was funny reading some "Letter to the Editor" from Hams complaining about QRPers with that old "the receiving station does all the work" line. I guess if that's the case, then those letter writers wouldn't have believed how many 599 RST reports I've had to give out to other QRPers.

In any event, if you're an ARRL member, make sure to mosey on over to the QST Archives and do some searching for yourself. I must have printed out 5 or 6 different articles that I really wanted to take a better look at, including a few construction articles.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Thursday, April 16, 2009

First for 2009

It was as I thought last night. It turned out to be a wonderfully beautiful day here in Central New Jersey. It was sunny; and at lunchtime it was well into the 60s. And the day was "un-hectic" enough that I was able to take lunch; and spend that time in a park near to work.

Out came the K1 and up went the Hamstick on the Explorer's roof. I heard Merlin KDØV calling CQ on 14.058 MHz and decided to put out my call. Luckily, my RF made the trip to Waseca, MN and we were able to have a nice QSO.

Merlin was using a K2 at 4 Watts to a G5RV. His signal was 579 at peaks. Unfortunately, there was heavy QSB throughout the QSO and the signal waxed and waned. Merlin and I exchanged the pertinent information as well as FISTS and SKCC numbers. I was given a 559; and was happy with that out of the Hamstick.

Merlin's callsign sounded familiar to me; as well it should have. Just a little over a week ago, Merlin submitted; and I approved his application to become an SKCC Centurion. I don't think I've ever worked a Centurion so close after approving their application as this.

Tomorrow promises to be sunny again; and even warmer tomorrow. Temps are expected to go into the low 70s. I am hoping that the workday will be calm enough once again, to allow me to head out to the park again tomorrow. Maybe this time, I'll set up the PAC-12 and see what happens.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Harbor Freight

Got home from work today to see that my parts drawer arrived from Harbor Freight.

It was very reasonably priced, only $14.99 plus S&H. The construction is from a different plastic than I'm used to; but it will do the job. It has 40 drawers plus a larger flat one across the bottom. I will use this to store electronic components, of course. I don't have a big "junk box" right now; but in time, if I need to, I will buy another.

Speaking of the junk box, I have three broken VCRs down the basement that I have to take apart and scavenge for parts. I don't know if there's anything in them that will actually be useful; but I'm willing to take a look.

Getting back to Harbor Freight .... I haven't bought much from them; but when I have, I've been pretty happy with my purchases. The aluminum case that I tote my portable QRP station in came from them; and I've been very happy with that. I think this parts drawer will be a winner, too.

When I was working at my old job, when I used to perform repairs on professional photographic studio lighting, we had one whole wall of the shop lined with drawers like this. I think the area they occupied was about 6 feet high by 10 feet wide. We stored everything in those! ICs, resistors, capacitors, inductors, were all neatly stored and each drawer was labeled.

On a completely different note, the weather forecast for tomorrow and Friday is sun with temperatures in the 60s. A bit of spring in the air; and perhaps a bit of QRP in the park at lunchtime? I sure hope so.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Monday, April 13, 2009

31 years ago

A lot of things have changed since I was a Novice, some 31 years ago.

Back then, 2 meter rigs were crystal controlled for the most part. You had to buy crystals for the repeater pairs that you wanted to operate on.

Transceivers were "the relatively new kid on the block". Most everyone I knew was still using separate receivers and transmitters.

There were several Ham Radio magazines that are no longer with us. Ham Radio, Ham Radio Horizons, 73 Magazine are all gone now.

Heathkit was alive and doing well. In fact, my first receiver was a Heathkit HR-1680 that I built all by myself.

The WARC bands didn't exist for us. The HF bands were 160, 80, 40, 20, 15 and 10 Meters - that's all she wrote!

Popping a radio into your car and going mobile was nowhere as simple as it is today.

QRP was still defined as operating with less than 100 Watts.

Except for the Novice license which was "VE'd", you had to go to an FCC location to take your exams. Today, the Novice and Advanced licenses don't really even exist anymore.

Postage was WAY cheaper; and just about everybody QSLed back then!

If you moved out of your callsign district, you had to apply for a new callsign.

Cable TV was pretty much in its beginning phase, also. There were lots of TV antennas on roofs that were TVI magnets!

Electronic devices were heavier and bigger. You could easily get a hernia if you decided that you wanted to buy an HF power amplifier.

Probably 99 and 44/100ths percent of logging was done by hand. The PC craze hadn't even been thought of yet.

The callbook was as big as a telephone book and you could subscribe to periodical updates. And there were two callbooks - DX and domestic. Not everyone had both.

Hamfests were definitely better, there were more of them; and it was all good Ham stuff. If you had described eBay to one of us back then, we probably would have thought you were crazy. The equivalent of eBay back in those days were the "Yellow Sheets".

The nearest equivalent of a cell phone back then was a 2 Meter repeater that had an autopatch connection.

The local newspaper had a Ham Radio column every Sunday; and the guy who wrote it belonged to one of the clubs I belonged to. I think his name was Bob McGarvey or something like that. He's an SK now.

Back then, we had never even heard the term HOA or CCR. About the only guys who had a tough time with antennas were guys who lived in apartments.

I could go on and on. Were things better back then? In some ways, yes; and in a lot of ways - no. Things were just different.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Happy Easter - Szczęśliwy Wielkanoc

Why do you seek the Living among the dead?

When the sabbath was over,
Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome
bought spices so that they might go and anoint him.
Very early when the sun had risen,
on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb.
They were saying to one another,
"Who will roll back the stone for us
from the entrance to the tomb?"
When they looked up,
they saw that the stone had been rolled back;
it was very large.
On entering the tomb they saw a young man
sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe,
and they were utterly amazed.
He said to them, "Do not be amazed!
You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified.
He has been raised; he is not here.
Behold the place where they laid him.
But go and tell his disciples and Peter,
'He is going before you to Galilee;
there you will see him, as he told you.'"

Happy Easter !
Sretan Uskrs
God påske
Xristos voskrese
Buona Pasqua
Joyeuses Paques
Frohe Ostern
Páscoa Feliz
Felices Pascuas

73 de Larry W2LJ

Friday, April 10, 2009

Thoughts on 30 WPM

I have been listening to my "homebrewed" 30 WPM Morse Code practice CD that I made using G4FON's Koch Trainer for a couple of weeks now. I listen for about 15 minutes in the car on the way to work in the morning; and then for about 15 minutes on the way home from work at night.

I have noticed that, at this speed, I am actually hearing entire words now, instead of just individual letters. In fact, I may miss a letter or two; but the word still "pops" into my mind after I hear it completed.

Strangely enough, I have also noticed that if I listen too intently and try to concentrate on the individual letters, that I get all bollixed up and start missing things. If I just listen, carefully - but not TOO carefully, then the words just start to flow. As I've said so many times before, when talking or writing about learning Morse Code, the number one, most important thing to do is relax and keep loose.

Right now, I would estimate that I am copying accurately around 60% to 70% of the words being sent. I am thinking that this is the time to make a new practice CD at either 35 or perhaps 40 WPM. I have always found, throughout my Ham career, that if I let myself get too comfortable at a certain speed, then it becomes harder to get over the hump to the next higher level.

My ultimate goal is to get comfortable at the 40 WPM level. Why? I really have no idea, other than it's something I want to do. Maybe like Sir Edmund Hillary said, "Because it's there".

73 de Larry W2LJ

Good Friday

Good Friday is a quiet day at our home. I have the day off; and will spend the day quietly doing chores around the house. Later this afternoon, the kids and I will head off to Church for the 3:00 Veneration of the Cross service. I have been asked to read the first reading, which is from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.

After the service (or maybe before, if I get the kitchen cleaned) I'll help Joey and Cara color some Easter Eggs.

Since today is a day of quiet prayer and reflection, I probably won't be spending much time, if any, on the radio. However, I was made aware of a really cool Website. It's a little bit wacky; but I think you'll enjoy this Finnish Ham's page entitled "OH6DC - Handmade CW and QRP". In particular, make sure to check out the pages of "Strange CW Keys" and "Homebrew QRP".

73 de Larry W2LJ

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Much Ado About Nothing?

You be the judge.

On QRP-L appeared the announcement that the Feld Hell group is moving their "watering hole" to 14.063 MHz, which is just 3 KHz away from the QRP "watering hole" of 14.060 MHz.

"...After much discussion, the Feld Hell club has decided to move the recommended 20 meter calling frequency for Hell Modes to 14.063 MHz (from 14.074.) This is being done to avoid the growing number of digital signals at 074..."

Of course, the normal QRP-L melee' ensued with a variety of posts following. These ranged from the "Chicken Littles" (The sky is falling!) to the "Alfred E Newman's" (What .... me worry?) all chiming in.

Is there anything to worry about? Perhaps; and then again perhaps not.

Feld Hell itself is a transmission mode that is VERY narrow. I highly doubt that such a narrow band mode would cause the demise of the 20 Meter QRP "watering hole". What IS troubling, however, is that the Feld Hellers are moving down because THEIR old "watering hole" of 14.074 is being encroached upon by other digital modes.

Could this be the beginning of a Domino Effect? It could very well be; and I would hate to see 20 Meters become like 40 Meters, where you almost have to go down below 7.030 MHz to escape the digital signals on a busy weekend.

I think a very amicable and friendly note to the Feld Hellers would not be an entirely bad thing to do. Making them aware of our presence now, in a friendly manner, is a lot better than being told later that "No one ever told us that this was going to be a problem!"

In the end, though, we have to remember that no one group "owns" a frequency. They have a right to 14.060 as much as we have a right to 14.063. If this were a perfect world (and Lord knows, it ain't) then we should all be able to get along without a problem. But since it isn't a perfect world, I am hoping (probably against hope) that the resulting attitude won't mostly be "QRPers be damned!" by them and "Feld Hellers be damned!" by us.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

I got nuthin'

Hooboy! Today was a long day at work. We finally moved from the construction trailer to our new building. That was nice. But I ended up staying late, waiting for a Cisco switch to be transported from one of our facilities in Manhattan to our building. I had to prep it and get it ready for install.

I didn't get to leave work until about 8:00 PM; and when you start at 7:00 AM, that makes for a long day! It was a strange day, too as we had some snow showers; and it was very windy; but the sun managed to peep out around 4:00 PM. It surely did not feel Easter-y today.

Once I got home, however, there was a nice little surprise waiting for me. The LC Meter kit that I had ordered from Jackson Harbor Press arrived in the mail today. You can take a look at it by clicking here.

The price was very reasonable, to my mind, and it should be a very useful tool as I become more and more involved in homebrewing simple circuits.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Monday, April 06, 2009

So sayeth the naysayers

QRP is dying! So sayeth the naysayers. Yet every time I turn around, it seems like some new kit, doo-dad, or other QRP thingamajiggy is being introduced.

These two new kits that I am about to bring to your attention are definitely beyond the realm of thingamajiggies. These look to be superbly crafted kits.

The first was brought to my attention by Nick VK1AA from (you gotta love this!) Spit Junction, Australia. It's a through hole kit for a 5 Watt output 40 Meter all mode SDR (software defined radio) transceiver.

The link to read more is:

Hook this puppy up to your computer and sound card and it looks like you have a winner here! If you were thinking of getting into and dabbling with an SDR - this looks like a good and affordable way to go. This one won't break the bank - looks like fun - and will get you involved on "the cutting edge". Certainly not your Grandpa's radio!

The other new kit introduced today comes from Doug Hendricks QRP Kits and Steve Weber. They are offering a kit that comes close to the performance of the recently offered PFR-3 trail friendly radio. This one however, is a dual bander (your choice) and is more of a home base station type of radio. It has a digital readout and an actual rotary tuning knob! 13.8 Volts in will get you 5 Watts out. It has a built in keyer capable of reaching a blazing 40 WPM. It has RIT, AGC and draws only 55 mA on receive (no signal) and 550 to 750 mA on transmit. To read more about this one, please go to:

Both of these kits are reasonably priced; and from my viewpoint, it looks like you get good "bang for the buck" in either case.

I wouldn't mind having either kit (or both!). For those of you who love to melt solder ...... those income tax refund checks should be arriving soon, no?

73 de Larry W2LJ

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Calculated Score

Here's my calculated score from my effort in this year's QRP-ARCI Spring QSO Party:

QSO points = 175 (29 QSOs with members, 15 QSOs with non-members)
S/P/C's = 34 (20M = 5, 40M = 12, 80M = 17)
Power Multiplier = 7 (I used 5 Watts output)

Calculated score = 175 X 34 X 7 = 41,650 points

I'm sure that's nothing compared to the die hard QRP contesters. When all is said and done, I'll be darned lucky if I finish in the top 50%; but I had fun, and that's all that counts.

73 de Larry W2LJ

QRP ARCI Spring QSO Party

I did manage to get on the air for a few minutes today between Church (today is Palm Sunday), grocery shopping and other things to occupy my attention.

All in all, I managed 44 QSOs with my best DX being HP1AC in Panama. I've worked Cam many times and almost never fail to hear him at some point or other during a QRP ARCI event.

I hate to sound like a broken record; but once again, one of my pet peeves occurred yet again today. Amateur Stations coming on air and transmitting without first sending a "QRL?". Now I understand that I'm QRP and there's a VERY good chance that neither station heard me calling "CQ QRP". But does that excuse them from transmitting without sending out a "QRL?" Maybe to them, the frequency DID sound unoccupied - but I was taught that you ALWAYS send a "QRL?" before engaging your key.

In my mind, there was no excuse for F3OW to start calling CQ; or for KØGSV to start calling "CQ MO QP" without the obligatory "QRL?". It's a simple matter of courtesy and it takes what? A minute or less out of your operating time to listen for other stations on the frequency.

There's a few more hours left to the contest; but I've got dinner in the oven (veal parmigiana); and I think I'm done contesting for the day. Tomorrow is the monthly Adventure Radio Society Spartan Sprint; but one of my favorite TV shows is on at the same time - "24". If it wasn't a serial, I'd watch it as a re-run; but I've been very faithful, catching every episode since January.

The only other show that I watch is also on Fox - "Lie to Me". I enjoy that show very much also. In this case though, each show is a stand alone episode; and I can afford to see that as a re-run without losing the timeline.

Speaking of TV ..... even though baseball season is about to start up again, I rarely sit down to watch a game on TV. I prefer to listen to games on the radio. WFAN in NYC is the flagship station of the Mets, and they're a clear channel station. I have no problems getting reception from only 30 miles or so from their transmitter; and I can do other things while carrying a small "transistor radio" (Remember when we called them that?) around with me; so I can keep tabs on every inning of every Mets game.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Double the fun!

Got some solder melted on the MRX-40 tonight and also managed to work 32 stations in the QRP-ARCI Spring QSO Party. A little bit tough when someone answers your CQ and you're in the middle of soldering a component in!

As suspected, 40 Meters was once again clogged with RTTY signals down all the way to about 7.035 MHz. But luckily, it was clear enough around 7.030 MHz.

80 Meters was great! A bit of QRM and some QSB; but this was my "money" band as I made a majority of my contacts there. The contest runs right up until 8:00 PM tomorrow night; so maybe I'll get a chance throughout the day to try for some 15 and 20 Meter contacts.

It's not helping that the sun spot number hasn't gone up in a long, long time.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Saturday, April 04, 2009

What's that old saying?

Hope springs eternal ...... or something like that?

It's late Saturday afternoon; and I've begun melting solder on the MRX-40 receiver project. I look at the circuit board and see the two DIPs there and say to myself, "Maybe it'd be a good idea to mount those ICs in sockets".

Buoyed by that fact that a lot of guys on QRP-L have been relating how their local Radio Shacks have started stocking "parts" again, I decided to take the gamble and visit my local neighborhood RS. If the truth be told, I haven't been in there for much more than watch batteries; or some heat shrink tubing over the past few years

I walk in and see these big parts bins. There were a couple there before; but now there are more. So now I'm getting psyched - maybe, just maybe, they'll actually have what I want! Of course, one of the sales associates comes by to ask me what I'm looking for; and I'm sure he's secretly hoping that I'll say "cell phone". When I answer, "8 pin dip socket" his eyes glaze over. So then I said, "Umm .... I'm looking for a socket for an 8 pinned IC". Immediately two lights shine in his eyes - the light of recognition (he figured out what I meant) and the light of pity.

"We don't carry many ICs or sockets", I am told, "What we have is in this drawer; and if we have any sockets, they'll be in there". Needless to say, there weren't any.

So it looks like I'll be soldering the ICs directly to the PC board. There's not much risk involved. I doubt very highly that I am going to fry either one; but it would have been a nice touch. I guess this means another order to DigiKey for some various parts - some common transistors, resistors and capacitors and other various parts to begin to re-stock my junk box. I'll also need to visit the Harbor Freight Website to look for some of those 24 drawer parts bins. I could use a couple of those.

How did my parts stock get so low? I donated a bunch last year to a guy in Texas who was getting a bunch of underprivileged kids involved in electronics and Amateur Radio. I figure it's worth whatever I pay out now to re-stock. An e-mail from him a few months ago related the fact that three of his charges actually got licensed.

And speaking of Radio Shack and cell phones ..... do they have a TON of those! The only place that I've seen more types of cell phones was the Verizon store when Marianne and I changed providers and signed up for a family plan last fall. If I had wanted a cell phone, well ..... Radio Shack would definitely have been a good place to be.

In between things this afternoon, I jumped on 20 Meters and made a few contacts in the QRP-ARCI Spring QSO Party. Not a lot of involvement from what I was hearing. Maybe tonight things will be better on 40 Meters - if there isn't a lot of RTTY signals blowing away the band.

Isn't there something in the Bible about that?

73 de Larry W2LJ

Friday, April 03, 2009

Added a new blog and another tip!

I added another blog to the blogroll to the right. You may have noticed it by now; but in case you haven't, I have added Julian Moss G4ILO's blog.

Julian has a blog that is entertaining to read; and is educational as well. And I love to read about Ham's experiences in countries other than the USA. Julian commented on my "Code Practice" post that he also offers code practice software called MorseGen. I have downloaded it; and am in the process of making a code practice CD of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" by using the "Input Text File" feature.

Oh, by the way, it's available at no cost - the right price for most Hams that I know.

In the mail today was an envelope waiting from Far Circuits. Yes, my PC board for the MRX-40 receiver came today. This promises to be a busy weekend. I really hope I get some time to melt some solder!

If you get a chance, the QRP-ARCI Spring QSO Party is this weekend, also. I'm sincerely hopeful that I will be able to send some "TU 599 NJ 4488" out into the aether this weekend. Last time I made a decent effort at a QRP-ARCI QSO Party was last spring, I think. I only managed to work about three hours or so and ended up with over 100 QSOs. Unfortunately, I never got around to sending my log in. If I get the chance to participate this weekend, I won't make that mistake again.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Featured Website

When my friend Bob W3BBO mentioned that his next homebrew project was going to be the 40 Meter Tweeter receiver, I did a Google search on it to get a look see. I don't know if this is the Website that Bob got his information from; but this is a cool Website; and I thought it would be nice to share.

Entitled "Simple Home-Built Radio Projects" this site, by Rick KE3IJ proves him to be a Ham after my own heart. First off, "simple" is my speed; and second, my projects usually come out looking like the example he has on his first page!

By the way, I have to comment on the speed of DigiKey. I ordered the last of the parts I need for my MRX-40 receiver project on Sunday - some NE612As and some LM380s and a few capacitors. Not a huge order by any stretch of the imagination; but they arrived yesterday! Wow! I should also receive the Far Circuits PCB in a day or so. I should be melting solder soon!

73 de Larry W2LJ

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Deep Solar Minimum

From our friends at NASA (confirming what we Amateur Radio ops already new!) :

April 1, 2009: The sunspot cycle is behaving a little like the stock market. Just when you think it has hit bottom, it goes even lower.

2008 was a bear. There were no sunspots observed on 266 of the year's 366 days (73%). To find a year with more blank suns, you have to go all the way back to 1913, which had 311 spotless days. Prompted by these numbers, some observers suggested that the solar cycle had hit bottom in 2008.

Maybe not. Sunspot counts for 2009 have dropped even lower. As of March 31st, there were no sunspots on 78 of the year's 90 days (87%).

It adds up to one inescapable conclusion: "We're experiencing a very deep solar minimum," says solar physicist Dean Pesnell of the Goddard Space Flight Center.

"This is the quietest sun we've seen in almost a century," agrees sunspot expert David Hathaway of the Marshall Space Flight Center.

Quiet suns come along every 11 years or so. It's a natural part of the sunspot cycle, discovered by German astronomer Heinrich Schwabe in the mid-1800s. Sunspots are planet-sized islands of magnetism on the surface of the sun; they are sources of solar flares, coronal mass ejections and intense UV radiation. Plotting sunspot counts, Schwabe saw that peaks of solar activity were always followed by valleys of relative calm—a clockwork pattern that has held true for more than 200 years.

The current solar minimum is part of that pattern. In fact, it's right on time. "We're due for a bit of quiet—and here it is," says Pesnell.

But is it supposed to be this quiet? In 2008, the sun set the following records:

A 50-year low in solar wind pressure: Measurements by the Ulysses spacecraft reveal a 20% drop in solar wind pressure since the mid-1990s—the lowest point since such measurements began in the 1960s. The solar wind helps keep galactic cosmic rays out of the inner solar system. With the solar wind flagging, more cosmic rays are permitted to enter, resulting in increased health hazards for astronauts. Weaker solar wind also means fewer geomagnetic storms and auroras on Earth.

A 12-year low in solar "irradiance": Careful measurements by several NASA spacecraft show that the sun's brightness has dropped by 0.02% at visible wavelengths and a whopping 6% at extreme UV wavelengths since the solar minimum of 1996. These changes are not enough to reverse the course of global warming, but there are some other, noticeable side-effects: Earth's upper atmosphere is heated less by the sun and it is therefore less "puffed up." Satellites in low Earth orbit experience less atmospheric drag, extending their operational lifetimes. That's the good news. Unfortunately, space junk also remains longer in Earth orbit, increasing hazards to spacecraft and satellites.

A 55-year low in solar radio emissions: After World War II, astronomers began keeping records of the sun's brightness at radio wavelengths. Records of 10.7 cm flux extend back all the way to the early 1950s. Radio telescopes are now recording the dimmest "radio sun" since 1955. Some researchers believe that the lessening of radio emissions is an indication of weakness in the sun's global magnetic field. No one is certain, however, because the source of these long-monitored radio emissions is not fully understood.

All these lows have sparked a debate about whether the ongoing minimum is "weird", "extreme" or just an overdue "market correction" following a string of unusually intense solar maxima.

"Since the Space Age began in the 1950s, solar activity has been generally high," notes Hathaway. "Five of the ten most intense solar cycles on record have occurred in the last 50 years. We're just not used to this kind of deep calm."

Deep calm was fairly common a hundred years ago. The solar minima of 1901 and 1913, for instance, were even longer than the one we're experiencing now. To match those minima in terms of depth and longevity, the current minimum will have to last at least another year.

see captionIn a way, the calm is exciting, says Pesnell. "For the first time in history, we're getting to see what a deep solar minimum is really like." A fleet of spacecraft including the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), the twin STEREO probes, the five THEMIS probes, ACE, Wind, TRACE, AIM, TIMED, Geotail and others are studying the sun and its effects on Earth 24/7 using technology that didn't exist 100 years ago. Their measurements of solar wind, cosmic rays, irradiance and magnetic fields show that solar minimum is much more interesting and profound than anyone expected.

Above: An artist's concept of NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. Bristling with advanced sensors, "SDO" is slated to launch later this year--perfect timing to study the ongoing solar minimum.

Modern technology cannot, however, predict what comes next. Competing models by dozens of top solar physicists disagree, sometimes sharply, on when this solar minimum will end and how big the next solar maximum will be. Pesnell has surveyed the scientific literature and prepared a "piano plot" showing the range of predictions. The great uncertainty stems from one simple fact: No one fully understands the underlying physics of the sunspot cycle.

Pesnell believes sunspot counts will pick up again soon, "possibly by the end of the year," to be followed by a solar maximum of below-average intensity in 2012 or 2013.

But like other forecasters, he knows he could be wrong. Bull or bear? Stay tuned for updates.

73 de Larry W2LJ