Thursday, July 30, 2009

Taking up the challenge & other things

You know how you mean to do things; but "stuff" always happens?

"I'm going to lose that 10 pounds ....... really!"
"I'm going to start working out more ...... really!"
"I'm going to stop smoking cigarettes ........ really!"
"I'm going to finally paint the house ........ really!"

And so on, and so on and so on.

I don't smoke; and our house has vinyl siding. I could stand to lose some weight and get more exercise ........ but as Hams, I bet a lot of us say, "I'm going to get on the air more ........ really!"

I've come across an event that is giving me an impetus to get on the air a lot more. The gauntlet has been thrown down by my friend Jim Stafford, W4QO. But the gauntlet has been thrown down not only to me; but to all QRP ARCI members via the Worked ALL ARCI Challenge.

And the "challenge" is quite simple, actually. Get on the air over the next 5 months and exchange as many QRP ARCI membership numbers as you can. The person who collects the most will win a $100 Elecraft gift certificate! How cool is that? The way I look at it, is even if I don't win (and I probably won't), there will be a lot fun in trying my best; and if it gets more of us on the air - that's a good thing. So if you run across me on the bands from here on until the end of the year; please put up with me when I ask you for your QRP-ARCI membership number. Hopefully you have one!

Second thought on my mind as part of the FOBB post mortem brain storm. Carrying the station around in the metal case I bought from Harbor Freight is not ideal. It may be very protective; but it's a mild pain in the butt to walk around with, what in essence, is a small handheld suitcase.

I've taken to the idea of acquiring a decent sized rucksack/backpack and carrying the gear in there. The only problem is that I don't want to wrap the K1 in a towel or bubble wrap and have it rattling around in the bottom of the pack. I would like to compartmentalize all the various pieces of equipment and carry them that way. Those plastic tubs that deli meats come in at the grocery store are ideal for most things; but are too small for the K1. It's going to take a bit of searching finding the ideal container for the radio. But I like the concept of fitting about 4 or 5 containers in a pack and carrying everything safely and conveniently.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Monday, July 27, 2009

88' EDZ antenna

The 88' EDZ (Extended Double Zepp) antenna that I made out of zip cord for the Flight of the Bumblebees worked well enough that I have added it to my portable antenna arsenal. It loaded easily using my Emtech ZM-2 antenna tuner. It was so simple to make and took all of about maybe 15 minutes.

I made mine from a 75 foot roll of 24 gauge Radio Shack speaker wire. I took the roll in the backyard and using my 100 foot tape measure, I determined where the 44 foot point was from the end of the roll. I marked this point with a very small tie wrap. The purpose of the tie wrap is to prevent the wire from splitting past the 44 foot point when you make the "legs" of the doublet. You could simply mark the wire at this point, split the legs and tie a knot with the legs at this point and achieve the same effect. I chose to do it this way, and right behind the first tie wrap, I put a second, not only as a reinforcement; but also to hold a fishing swivel which serves as a center support "hanger". The rest of the roll becomes the feedline. At the end of each leg I also tie wrapped another swivel to serve as insulator/"rope" supports. At the radio end, I bared about an inch worth of wire and tinned it with solder. This goes through the holes of the binding posts of the ZM-2 quite nicely.

Now let's face it, this antenna will be used for outdoor QRP contests; or for times when I will be operating outdoors for at least a couple of hours. Using the crappie pole as a center support; or finding at least one tree as a center support is not for those "lunch hour" sessions when time is of the essence. For times like these the Buddistick, PAC-12 or Hamsticks on the car roof are a better option. But in my mind, if you have the luxury of time on your side; then nothing beats a wire dipole/doublet up as high as you can possibly get it.

The beauty of the Zip Cord 88 as I will call it from here on, is that it is cheap, it's easy to make; and it's VERY light. And you won't have a heart attack if something should happen to it (forget it and leave it behind, etc.).

In the near future, I will try to take some pictures of the construction and will add them to the "Portable Ops" page of my Website.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Sunday, July 26, 2009

FOBB 2009 - Post Mortem

I had a good time; and in the end, that's all that counts.

Things started out as I thought they would. I ended up finishing my morning event at about 12:15; just as I thought and posted last night. I got home, changed and headed to the local park, instead of heading out to Washington Rock; which ended up being a GOOD thing. Explanation later.

This year, I brought along a little camping table which made operating a touch easier. It was easier on my back not to be hunched over sitting on the ground operating.

I set up the zip cord 88' EDZ with the Black Widow as a support. It was OK; but as I eyed the trees around me, I thought I might be able to use one of them as a center support. The trees in this park are huge and the lowest branches are at the 30 foot level (I wish I had some of these in my back yard; or lived next to this park!). I took some twine and tied it to a 1 oz. fishing sinker and stuffed it into a tennis ball. I heaved it up into the tree and crossed a sturdy branch the first try! I got the center of the EDZ up easily; at least 10 feet higher than the crappie pole would have provided.

The ends were another story. The next available trees had lowest branches at about the 35 to 40' level. I tried a few times with the tennis ball; but was unsuccessfull and didn't want to waste a lot of time, so I used the antenna as an inverted Vee. Note to self .... acquire a good sling shot for next year.

I hooked the zip cord "feedline" up to the ZM-2 antenna tuner and took the K1's autotuner off line. I tuned the ATU for loudest received noise and then maximum power out as per the K1's power out display. I heard signals on 20 Meters; but they were all down in the mud. As a backup, I brought the Buddistick along and hooked it up also. Same thing - all the signals were in the mud.

I worked a few stations; but wasn't setting any personal records or burning up the band. I was thinking of packing it in; but decided to try 40 Meters. The antenna loaded up easily on 40 and I had a QSO with AA2YV in Rochester, NY for a bit. After signing with Bill, it was the point at the halfway point of the contest; and it seemed that conditions started to improve for me. I kept bopping between 20 and 40 Meters and ended up working 12 stations - 9 states and 8 Bees.

About a half hour before the official end of the contest, I heard my buddy, Bob W3BBO on 40 Meters. I tried to work him and thought I was going to; when all of a sudden his signal, which was 559, QSB'ed down to ESP level. I figured with only 15 minutes left, I would pack it in, clean up my area and head home. As it was, the static crashes were becoming louder and louder and when I took my headphones off, I could hear distant rumbles of thunder.

When I got home, the sky was that old familiar lead gray color. The thunder was getting louder and it was starting to rain. If I had been operating at Washington Rock, I probably would have gotten stuck in the torrential downpour that had begun. Marianne and the kids arrived home at that point, an just after they made it indoors, we saw a bright flash and heard a viscious crack of thunder. Marianne told me that she had smelled something funny and I went to the front screen door to take a whiff. It smelled like the incense they use at Church on Christmas and Easter. Knowing that incense comes from tree sap, I immediately realized what had happened. That lightning bolt had struck a nearby tree and the sap had exploded and was burning off and bubbling.

Sure enough, a tall pine tree the next block over was on fire.

I called 911; and was told that someone had already called it in. The Fire Department arrived within minutes and put the flames out. That tree is the tallest in the neighborhood and in a way, I'm surprised that it hasn't been struck by lightning before. I'm glad that I had disconnected the antennas from the home station before I had left for the park. And it also turned out to be a good decision to stop early and get the antenna down and put away before it could become a hand held lightning rod!

73 de Larry W2LJ

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The best laid plans ......

do often go awry.

I planned to go to early Mass in the morning, so that I could be up at Washington Rock tomorrow by Noon; to set up and be ready to start Bumblebeeing precisely at the 1:00 PM start of FOBB. However, this afternoon I was asked to participate with my brother Knights of Columbus in a ceremony at church tomorrow, honoring a Deacon on the 10th anniversary of his ordination. That starts at 11:00 and probably won't be done until Noon or a little after. Then I have to go home and change, etc. etc. etc.

I probably won't make it to the Rock until 12:30 or 12:45 if I'm lucky ........... so I will either get a late start OR I can simply operate from a park here in town, where travel time is nil. I will probably wait and see what the weather looks like tomorrow. It's supposed to be hot; but if the sky is gray and threatening, I'll go to the local park. If it's sunny, I'll try and make it to the Rock and just deal with the late start.

I'm not the only one by any means, who has his plans go haywire. For an interesting read on W1PID's attempts to make some PSK31 contacts from the field, take a look here.

73 de Larry W2LJ
Bee #2

Friday, July 24, 2009

Zapped out

Wow! What a week!

As much as I was able to recharge "my batteries" last week up at the Lake, that's how much in one short week they have been depleted again. Work was a madhouse this week; and today was especially bad. I had a whole bunch of networking equipment to prepare for installation tonight. My partner and I thought we'd get it all done and have the last hour to "cruise" a bit and get the chance to catch up on paperwork. That's when "The Phone Call" came and we were informed of another work order for another 15 routers, switches, firewalls that had to be completed before day's end. Problem is, we were notified at 2:30 PM! We hustled and got it done, with only about a half hour's overtime. The company does NOT like to pay overtime in these economic conditions; but seems to expect super human performance nonetheless.

Anyway, it's a good thing that the Flight of the Bumblebees is on Sunday and is not a weeknight event. I am so pooped that I don't think I have the energy to create a dit or a dah tonight. Plus the fact that the sky is starting to turn that lead gray color doesn't help. My dog is kind of restless right now; the way he normally gets before oncoming thunderstorms. Looks like we might have one in a few.

The weather is supposed to be sunny and hot tomorrow. The kids have a swim meet in the AM; but I think in between chores afterwards, that I will have time to fabricate my 88' EDZ zip cord antenna that I plan to use on Sunday. Everything else is ready to go. I have my K1 travel kit ready and on standby (as always). Inside the car are the Buddistick, the PAC-12 and my Black Widow crappie pole with my homebrewed support, plus a bunch of other assorted portable antenna stuff.

I am really looking forward to operating outdoors on Sunday. Please take the time to participate in the FOBB and especially listen for Bee #2 - that would be me, W2LJ. Hopefully I will be able to give you a good signal report from Washington Rock. As of right this moment, according to Weather Underground the weather forecast is:

Partly sunny with scattered afternoon showers and thunderstorms developing. Highs in the upper 80s. Southwest winds 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 40 percent

So it looks like I'll have to also bring along a cooler with some cold water and hopefully the thunderstorms will hold off until after 5:00 PM!

73 de Larry W2LJ

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


I really know that there's not a whole lot going on in my Ham world, when I am struck by a lot of the silliness that goes on in Ham Radio e-mail reflectors. Normal operating or building or whatever focuses my attention on other things; and I usually don't notice the silliness - I just delete it.

But tonight, being stuck inside because of more rain; and not much doing on the bands, I spent more time than I should have, on the computer, reading e-mail.

Some of the hot topics of the day in some of the reflectors I subscribe to?

1) Whether or not it is proper to use AR or K after calling CQ using Morse Code.

2) People becoming upset by some of the mnemonics used to remember the resistor color code.

3) What kind of backpack you should carry your portable station in.

4) What to use / acquire as a good but inexpensive signal generator.

Topics 3 and 4 caught my interest; and I followed them with interest and actually learned a thing or two. Topics 1 and 2 seemed to be a bit ........ trite. It doesn't seem to me that the topic of what prosign to use after calling CQ in Morse should take more than maybe two or three messages to hammer out. Silly me - guess I'm strange! Of course, then it had to devolve into a discussion of "I'm right - you're wrong - I know the protocol better than you - nyah, nyah, nyah!"

Topic 2 got really silly as someone objected to a word used in one of the mnemonics. Yes - one word caused angst. It wasn't an epithet or a derogatory term, it was just a word. If you don't like THAT word, just use another that starts with the same letter. It can be done, you know! Another Ham dismissed the use of mnemonics altogether with the canard, "Real hams don't use charts or memory aids". Geez, pardon us mere mortals from having to use memory aids! I hate whenever the term "real Hams" starts getting bandied about; unless it's in jest, of course. And you could tell in this particular case that it wasn't.

Needless to say, tonight I used the delete key a lot.

The thing is, as I've said before, I should have gotten busy building something or perhaps doing something else altogether, like starting to read a new book perhaps. Maybe the real frustration lies within myself for getting sucked in to the silliness; and having wasted time. Bad enough I noticed it and paid attention to it - even worse that I'm writing about it!

73 de Larry W2LJ

Sunday, July 19, 2009

And that's the way it is......

I cannot let the day pass without noting that tomorrow, July 20th is the 40th anniversary of the first Lunar Landing. Even though it's been noted on so many Ham blogs; and so many other places on the Internet, it is a very important date to me.

I grew up hooked on the Manned Space Flight program. I distinctly remember watching on TV the launches of Alan Shepherd's and John Glenn's Mercury flights. I remember the "grown ups" worriedly talking about John Glenn's troublesome heat shield on Friendship 7. I remember vividly Ed White's spacewalk on Gemini 4, as well as Gemini 5's "Eight Days or Bust" Mission, the rendezvous flights of Gemini 6 and 7. Who can forget the "angry alligator" Agena docking vehicle on Gemini 9 where the docking cover would not open? I also remember Gemini 8 and how Neil Armstrong calmly and cooly handled the locked maneuvering thruster problem and brought the vehicle down to an early, but safe splashdown in the Pacific.

When Apollo came about, I was a bit older and somewhere I still have cassette recordings of all the audio from CBS's TV coverage. In a box, in plastic bags, are safely tucked away the NY Times, NY Daily News and Newark Star Ledger from July 20th, 1969. As a 12 year old, I was glued to the TV that Sunday July afternoon and evening, when Neil and Buzz landed the Eagle on Tranquility Base, and then left the friendly confines of the LM to walk the Moon's surface. I still remember those ghostly B&W TV images like they were broadcast only yesterday.

I followed all the Apollo missions with zeal and I was wounded when NASA's funding was cut and Apollo 18, 19, 20 and 21 were scrubbed. I must have had every Revell space model there was, and I was into customizing them to make them look as realistic as possible. I remember that back in those days, you could write to NASA in Washington, DC and they would send you reams and reams of "NASA Facts" about the Manned Spaceflight Program - for free! I have the Mission patches of all the Gemini and Apollo missions mounted and framed on my shack wall.

And I watched and listened to Walter Cronkite through all of that. He and Wally Schirra were staples of my boyhood. They fueled in me a hunger to learn more about space and things technical. During my High School years, I had built by hand my own 6 inch Newtonian telescope. My dream was to study astrophysics and become an astronomer. Unfortunately, I do not have the flair for mathematics required for that; but instead the curiosity about technical things led me down other paths - Ham Radio being one of them.

When I heard the news the other day that "Uncle Walter" had died, it seemed fitting that it should be this time of year - around the anniversary of Apollo 11. For me and a lot of others, Walter was NASA and Apollo every bit as much as the astronauts themselves were.

I love keeping abreast of the Shuttle Missions and the progress of the International Space Station. But there will never, ever be quite the excitement and thrill of those early manned spaceflights. Those were the days!

73 de Larry W2LJ

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Back from the Lake

The family and I are back from a terrific week spent at beautiful Diamond Point, NY, which is right on the shores of Lake George.

The weather was fine, for the most part, with rain only last Saturday upon our arrival and yesterday evening into this morning, which turned partly sunny and dry for the return trip.

I got a few chances to get in some QRPing in. Tuesday night, I set up the NorCal Doublet on the Black Widow crappie pole behind our cabin; but only got a chance to listen for a bit, with no time for any transmitting. 20 Meters was jumping with European stations! Bulgaria and the Czech Republic were booming in at 599 plus!

Wednesday evening towards dusk, I set up the Buddistick and worked Portugal, CT1POP on 20 Meters and a station on Long Island on 40 Meters, K2MMO. I was distracted from having any meaningful QSOs as I was once again pressed into doing more of a Ham Radio demo for curious fellow vacationers, which was fine by me. Working the Portuguese station was a real hit; and they were amazed that this could be accomplished with only 5 Watts of power.

The next day, I took my gear across the street to an open field behind a barn (with the owner's permission) and set up the NorCal Doublet on the Black Widow again. I was able to get it to tune up on 20 Meters quite nicely; but had no success on 40 Meters. The SWR was too high and the K1 kept rolling back the output power to between 2 and 3 Watts. While the Buddistick handled both bands easily, if I want to use a doublet, I am going to have to find an alternative to the NorCal Doublet. Maybe an 88 ft EDZ made from speaker wire might do the trick. This is something I will have to research further.

My operations on Thursday were mid-day; and there was a disappointing lack of activity at that time (from about 1600 to 1830 UTC). Also, I closed down early as I got word of a severe thunderstorm alert that was activated until 8:00 PM that evening. It turned out to be a bust; but about only 40 miles or so south of us, golf ball and quarter sized hail were shown on the 10:00 PM news.

On Monday, we had taken a cruise to Lake George's "Narrows" to see the many islands that are there, most of which are owned by the State of New York. It was neat to see how many folks take camping vacations on these islands. That would be the ultimate QRP camping vacation! Can you imagine sending your QTH as "an island in the middle of Lake George, NY"? That would be so cool!

73 de Larry W2LJ

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Summer Doldrums

How can he be in the Summer Doldrums? First of all, it's only been Summer for a few weeks; and it certainly hasn't been hot enough in the NorthEast to be in the doldrums!

But, alas, I am in the Summer Doldrums anyway - at least the Summer QRP operating doldrums. I have been anticipating this time of year since the icy blasts of Winter. I scouted out a park near work and have been more than ready to spend many a lunchtime getting some quality "QRP in the Park" time in.

There's a monkey wrench in every plan; and a fly in every ointment. It has been so busy at work; that I barely get time to wolf something down at my desk - let alone get out of the building for a few precious moments!

With the economy in the stink hole that it's in; I am very happy and glad that I have a job - please don't get me wrong. BUT, a few minutes of QRPing everyday would go a long way towards warding off all the extra stress that's been accumulating lately.

I get in to work - blink my eyes and it's lunchtime! And just as I get ready to leave for an hour, an e-mail arrives in the "in box" or a phone call comes in with some sort of emergency that begs to be handled immediately.

How did we ever do things before computers and cell phones and BlackBerrys? These are supposed to be modern conveniences that make our lives easier. I seriously think that maybe they're just modern INconveniences!

73 de Larry W2LJ

PS: Can vacation come fast enough?

PPS: Re: my last post about Washington Rock and FOBB. If you get a chance, Google the term "Middlebrook Encampment". Very interesting history that happened pretty much in my "back yard"!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Getting ready for Bee time

It isn't until the end of the month - a few more weeks until "The Flight of the Bumblebees"; but I have been putting some thought in to what venue to operate from.

Several suggestions have been made to me via e-mails; and they include the following:

1) High Point State Park
2) Hacklebarney State Park
3) New Jersey Palisades
4) Allamuchy State Park
5) Batsto Furnace

These are all great suggestions! They are beautiful and scenic areas of New Jersey. The place I think I have settled on, however, is much closer to home. I am planning to operate from Washington Rock State Park.

Washington Rock is located in Greenbrook, NJ on the first ridge of the Watchung Mountains. It offers a 30-mile panoramic view of the Raritan Valley, and was a valuable lookout point for General Washington in June of 1777 during the first Middlebrook Encampment and the Battle of Short Hills.

The park is pretty close to home; maybe a 20 minute drive, tops. It offers trails, picnic tables to operate from; and enough space (the park is 52 acres) that I won't get crowded out. Plus there's lots of trees for me to sling a dipole or an end-fed wire in.

I am really looking forward to FOBB this year and am already putting a bug in the ear of the Big Guy to please make sure that it's a sunny, pleasant, rain free day that Sunday!

73 de Larry W2LJ

Sunday, July 05, 2009

MIQRP Sprint

I totally missed the boat last night! I ended up working maybe, 8 or 10 stations.

First off, I missed the start time by almost an hour. Calculating UTC in my head; and taking into account for DST is something that should be old hat by now. I always mess it up!

I got on and by then, 20 Meters was starting to close; so I blew a great opportunity there. I jumped down to 40 Meters and was getting in a groove when I got the call that it was time to leave for fireworks.

The next town over, Piscataway (which I have mentioned many times here) always has their fireworks ON the 4th. Not early like a lot of other towns do. We went last night and camped out on the grounds of a company in an industrial park not far away from the high school where the event is actually held. The show was magnificent! I saw a lot of fireworks types that were new and that I have never seen before. The show started around 9:30 and lasted over a half hour and the Grand Finale was just that - grand!.

The traffic going home was relatively not terrible; but was still annoying enough. We got home around 10:30 or so; and I turned the radio on again but did not hear any "QRP TEST" activity. Oh well, at least I didn't waste the time doing something stupid - the fireworks display was well worth it.

After doing some chores today, I made a 44 foot doublet out of 24 gauge speaker wire as described at "Field Deployable Antennas". Pretty much the same identical antenna as the NorCal Doublet; but a little sturdier and robust. The ribbon cable used in the NorCal Doublet just feels like I'll break it if I handle it too roughly. Anyway, I hope to take this with me up to Lake George when we go up there later this month, along with my Black Widow crappie pole. I'm hoping to put it up in back of the cottage and leave it up all week, hopefully. Hopefully between this and the PAC-12, I'll get a chance to play a lot of radio this year and make a decent amount of contacts.

73 de Larry W2LJ

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Friday, July 03, 2009

Happy Birthday USA!

The burgers and hot dogs are on the grill and smelling great! Families and friends are getting together. The community pool is a hopping place. Parades are marching down Main Street in countless communities across this great land. Old Glory can be seen just about everywhere you look; and all over fireworks are screaming through the air with loud bursts, sending out their glorious reports.

Happy Birthday, America!

233 years ago, our Founding Fathers started upon a course of history, that until then was pretty much unknown and unheard of. That a colony should dissolve the bonds that held it to the stem of its parent country was certainly not the norm; or the accepted practice of the day.

But in a skiff made of parchment paper, they embarked on a perilous journey that would end years later with those 13 (more or less) united colonies recognized as a new nation - the United States of America.

Many of the ideals of those brave and courageous men and women still hold forth today. Hard work, self reliance and a belief in your neighbor and faith in the Almighty can take you just as long a way today as 233 years ago.

My best wishes that you all have a safe, wonderful and glorious 4th!

73 de Larry W2LJ

PS: Pssst! On a radio note - don't forget that tomorrow night is the Michigan QRP Club's annual July 4th CW Sprint! Here's the link.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

W O W !

When I called home and spoke to my wife today, while I was at work, she informed me that I had received a "huge box from some foreign country" in the mail. I had to scratch my head on that one for a few seconds; but then I realized it was my QSL cards from Gennady UX5UO. They came after only three (not 4) weeks.!

When I got home from work, I was like a kid on Christmas morning. I opened the box and saw, without a doubt, that these are the most beautiful QSL cards that I have ever had in 30 years as a Ham. They are a touchdown ..... a home run ..... a GRAND SLAM home run!

The workmanship is EXCELLENT (capitals intentional) and the entire process was completely hassle free and satisfying. The paper stock is substantial - not "paper thin" and flimsy. The glossy finish is the perfect touch; and I am so glad that I spent the few extra bucks and went from the "economy" to the "luxury" category.

I am telling you right now, I will NEVER go anywhere else for QSL cards other than UX5UO. Fantastic quality at a more than reasonable price. How can you argue with that?

73 de Larry W2LJ