Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Delightful lunchtime QSO

The bands seemed to be in decent shape this lunchtime, with low background noise levels.  According to SOTA Watch, there were a few activations that I wasn't able to hear, and Ed WA3WSJ was out and about, but he was on 20 Meters. A pathway on 20 Meters from NJ to PA is a very rare occurrence.

While twiddling the dial, I heard Bob K9OSC calling CQ in the 20 Meter QRP neighborhood.  Bob lives in Fridley, MN and had an excellent signal in NJ.  QSB varied his RST between 599 and 559, but even so, with the low background noise, Bob was "Q5" copy the whole time.

Bob was using his K3 to a homebrewed rotary dipole.  His aerial enabled us to have a very enjoyable 20 minute 2X QRP QSO. If you get the chance, look up K9OSC on  I think you'll be blown away like I was.  A very good operator, a very good station, a very good rag chew.

Thanks, Bob and I sure hope I hook up with you again!

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

You can't work 'em if you can't hear 'em.

The snow plows came through to clear our street.  Even so, they never really plow the entire street. They clean it up for sure, so that you can travel safely down the road, but there's always that snow plow residue on the sides of the street. So, until the snow melts substantially, I can't park on the street, as I usually do, there's just not enough room to park and still have space for other cars to get by.  That means I have park in the driveway. Since I generally get home last, I have to get up and move my Jeep when my wife Marianne has to leave for work at 5:00 AM (I've mentioned - she's a nurse).

So this morning, after moving my car for her, I made some coffee and headed down into the shack. I had about a half hour before I had to shower, shave and get dressed for work. I figured that maybe, just maybe, I'd hear K5P, as this is their last day on the island, I believe. And sure enough, there they were on 80 Meters, calling CQ!  And from the rate they were answering stations, you could tell they were listening for ATNOs - stations they had never worked before (which would have been me!).

They were decently loud - about 559 with QSB on 3.530 MHz with QSB.  Even so, this was the best I've heard them throughout the entire DXpedition. I put the KX3 into "Dual Watch" mode, so I could figure out where they were listening, and then I fired up the KXPA100 to 90 Watts and jumped into the fray.

Then some idiot proceeded to come onto their QRG (the frequency they were transmitting on) and began to send an non-ending string of S9 dits, totally obliterating them.

"You can't work 'em if you can't hear 'em."


72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Monday, January 25, 2016

How fast it can go downhill.

I went out to the Jeep today during lunch.  The parking lots are clear, but there is snow, snow everywhere! Big heaping mounds of it.

Anyway, I had my cell phone on, and lo and behold, both K5P and VP8STI were spotted all over the place.  A lot of good it did me. I couldn't hear either DXpedition well, on ANY band they were spotted. And sadly, that's the way it's been for me for the entirety of the K5P DXpedition.  Today on 15 Meters - the reports were "Booming In!" and "Loud", and I got all stoked - only to hear them at about 0.5,0.5,9.  They were so weak as to be unworkable. VP8STI?  I heard them decently well for the first time on 20 Meters yesterday afternoon at home. They were all of about 559 to me.  With the pileup wide, wild and wacky, I didn't even see the point of throwing my hat in the ring. I was too tired after all the snow shoveling anyway, so if that removes me from the ranks of avid DXers, so be it.

I decided to go to 20 Meters and call CQ near the QRP watering hole. I was answered by Will K9FO who was a solid 599. I got the same report in return. Just as I was ready to settle in for a nice lunchtime QSO, the Propagation Princess threw a hissy fit and destroyed what could have been a really nice 2X QRP conversation. On the next go round, I had QSB'ed so badly that Will had flipped on the afterburners (all the way to 100 Watts) so that I could hear him come back to me. And I did, but just barely. I had gone nil to him. And thus ended another potentially nice QSO.

Stupid Propagation Princess. What do I have to do, ply her with flowers and chocolates?

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Not much radio this weekend.

Worked one NPOTA station yesterday. Another three or four today. The preferred tool this weekend was the snow shovel.

We got a total of about 20 inches, or 50 cm. Glad it's over. The antennas are still up, even through some pretty fierce winds, so I can't complain.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Some friendly NPOTA (and portable ops, in general) advice

If you've never done any type of portable operating and you're intrigued by NPOTA, and are thinking of activating a park or entity, there are several things that you need to do. To a lot of QRPers, this will all be "Elementary, my dear Watson", as so may of us are used to taking our radios to all kinds of off-the-beaten-path locations.  But if you've never left the friendly confines of your Home shack before, here are some things to consider:

1) Scope out the entity or park before "Game Day". Know where you're going to operate from. Is there an out of the way place where you can set up, or will you be right in the thick of things?  Are there any prohibitions/releases/permissions needed?  You want to know about these things and get them out of the way and taken care of before Activation Day. There's nothing as disheartening as showing up and having a Park Ranger come up to you and say, "You can't do this, because (insert any number of reasons) .........". And, while we're on the subject of Park Rangers ......... I know this is so basic as to almost be insulting, but I'm going to mention it anyway. No matter what else happens during your activation, PLEASE ..... at all times be  cooperative, courteous and respectful to NPS employees. They're just there doing their job. It's important that we present Amateur Radio operators and Amateur Radio operations through the best lens possible. Don't ruin things for your future brother and sister Hams by being rude, pushy, or by having an attitude.

2) Know your equipment, know your antennas.  Know what works, what doesn't. Take what you need (with backups), but leave the fluff at home. If you've never done a portable operations gig outside of Field Day, then you need some practice.  Portable operations are not quite the same as Field Day. Close, but not quite the same.  First off, your activation more than likely won't be for 24 hours, so you're going to have to consider power.  Power is the most important thing.  4, 5 or 6 hours at the 100 Watt level?  You're going to need to bring heavy, fully charged deep cycle batteries with you. 4, 5 or 6 hours at QRP levels? Life gets much easier. Smaller, lighter SLAs or better yet, feather-weight lithium ion batteries will serve you well.

Second, you may very well be "it".  Solo ... a party of one.  So that means all the work will be performed by you. Make sure your setup will be manageable by you, alone without any outside help. Don't be overly ambitious. There's nothing wrong with just tossing a wire into a tree and going "au natural". If you can manage elaborate that's all well and good, but this is supposed to be enjoyable for you, too. The KISS* principle is a good one to remember and it applies to NPOTA and portable ops in general, very, very well.

Antennas.  Unfortunately, there is no "one size fits all" solution, but the idea is to make a lot of contacts. You don't want to spend all your precious time setting up aerials to get on the air, so go with antennas that are relatively easy to set up quickly. Operating stationary mobile from the car?  Hamsticks, Buddisticks, Buddipoles, screwdriver antennas are all good choices.  Operating away from the car?  End fed wires, Buddipoles, Buddisticks, dipole antennas, and the Alex Loop are all good choices, but again, your environment (presence of trees or not?) and/or park rules will be a big factor in deciding what you can or cannot use.

Logging. Logging is one of the most important aspects of NPOTA, and you really can't be casual about it.  So far, in the early moments of NPOTA, it appears as though this program is quite the huge hit. It's not unusual to tune across the HF bands and hear pileups taking place. All these NPOTA chasers want credit for their time and effort. It's your duty as an Activator, to do your best to record the QSOs as reasonably accurately as you can. Bring an accurate watch with you, preferably one that can be set up to display UTC time.  For the actual task of logging, whether you bring along your laptop, or log on your cellphone (Hamlog is excellent for this!), or even log using plain ol'  paper and pencil, you need to perform this task efficiently and well. Keep in mind that you will need to upload your logs to the ARRL's Logbook of the World.  This is how Activators and Chasers get credit.  If you're not already on LotW,  then you need to send in for a password and set up an account. If you're already an LotW user, you will need to download and install the latest version of Trusted QSL. This will allow you to set up locations for your account other than "Home" using the NPOTA entity designators as location names. THIS IS IMPORTANT! If you do not upload your log using the NPOTA entity designator as your location, neither you or your chasers will get credit for all your effort.  Believe me, you do not want hundreds of e-mails from angry NPOTA chasers asking you why they didn't get credit for working you. Not that that would ever, ever happen!  ;-)

If your NPOTA activation will be your first solo portable experience, go to a local park away from home and try your setup there. Some people would recommend setting up in the backyard, but it's way too convenient to just walk back into the house if you've forgotten something. When you're away from home, even if it's a short distance, and you discover you have forgotten something vital, you are way more than likely to never, ever forget it again. Don't feel bad about making a checklist for yourself. Checklists are very, very good things.

3) Know yourself. Know your limits. Everyone would like to go hiking and activate that trail, or activate that park in the middle of the beauty and solitude of Nature .....but if you can't walk to the corner mailbox without getting winded - you're not going to activate a SOTA peak or a mountain trail.  If you need to, find a place with a parking lot (gives you the option to operate from the car if you're not the outdoors type or if the weather is bad), picnic tables (if you're only somewhat the outdoors type) and "facilities" so your activation can be an enjoyable, exhilarating experience that you will want to repeat, and not look back upon with dread. You're most likely to enjoy your outing if you're comfortable, so dress appropriately, bring along water (and snacks if you need to), bring along some type of folding chair if you think it will be required.

4) Bring your cell phone and one of whatever VHF. UHF, VHF/UHF handheld(s) you may own. God forbid you sprain an ankle and need help, it just a call way, via telephone call or a repeater contact. The cell phone has an added benefit. If you are lucky enough to have cell service at your chosen location, you can log onto DX Summit or DX Heat and you can self spot your activation. You can quite literally go from calling CQ to pile up conditions within seconds. If you do self spot, please make sure to put "NPOTA" and your entity designator in the comments portion of the spot.

I really hope the above doesn't scare you off or deter you. It wasn't meant to, it was meant to bring some common sense ideas to be considered by new, or less experienced portable operators. Once you've left the shack and have gotten into the Great Outdoors, with your radio providing you with fun and companionship, I guarantee that you will be smitten and will want to go out and do it again, and again, and again, and again.

One last caveat. I am by no means an expert on portable ops. I'm not a SOTA Mountain Goat, nor a W1PID nor a WG0AT nor a N7UN, nor a K0JQZ for that matter.  I'm just offering basic advice based upon my own limited experience. The comment box is always open, so please feel free to add to what I have written here; or correct me on anything I may have gotten wrong. We all learn when we share.

I've posted this video before, but to see how simple, easy and fun and successful this can be, here's the YouTube video that Sean Kutzko KX9X posted about his activation of Pigeon Key in Florida.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

*KISS = Keep It Simple, Stupid!

Monday, January 18, 2016

NPOTA - Brrrrrrrrr!

Of course, W2LJ picks one of the coldest, windiest days of the Winter season (so far) to do an NPOTA activation. Of course!  But it was a blast (of cold air) nonetheless - even if I still haven't warmed up some hours later.

We got a light dusting of snow yesterday, which was a prelude to today. It was sunny and clear, but the winds were blustery and our high temperature for the day was reached last night at Midnight. Ever since then, the temperatures have been dropping. As I type this, it's currently 16F (-9C) outside. While I activated NPOTA, it was 24F (-4C).

I headed out at 11:40 AM to the Washington-Rochambeau National Historical Trail TR23, which we know as Old Raritan Road in Scotch Plains, NJ.  I wanted to set up at the historic  Frazee House, but that part of Old Raritan Road is currently blocked off for repaving.  I settled for operating at the entrance to the Ashbrook Country Club golf course in steady.  It's right on the trail, as you can see from the photo above. At the entrance to the golf course is the remnants of a cannon that was used in the Battle of Short Hills in June 1777, as seen in the photo below.

Set up was easy, I've done it so many times at lunchtime at work that I could do it in my sleep. The cold made things a tad more difficult, though; but I was ready to get on the air at Noon (1700 UTC), just as I had planned.

I started out on 20 Meters, using the Buddistick.  It really helps to bring a cell phone along on these kind of outings. Having a smart phone enabled me to go onto the DX Summit Website and self spot. Within a few seconds of sending the spot, I was busy handling QSOs.  There was never a really deep pileup, but there weren't many lulls either.  When a lull hit, I used the opportunity to either change bands, or turn on the car to warm it up a bit.  As an experienced QRPer, and being used to working weak signals, you get into the mindset to avoid as much background noise as possible. While I was operating, the engine was off. I would rather be a bit cold than miss another QRPer because of engine noise.

After 20 Meters, I operated on 17 Meters for a while. I had wanted to use 18.086 MHz, but I could tell that was pileup territory for one of the DXpeditions.  So I "QRL"ed on 18.072 MHz, and not hearing any answer, I camped out there for a while.

When the Jeep interior cooled down as to start becoming uncomfortable (I'm ALL about comfort!), I took the opportunity to warm the interior up, and to switch from the Buddistick to the 40 Meter Hamstick.  I get a better match with the Hamstick, only 1.3:1, which is lower that the 1.8:1 that I get with the Buddistick.  I still have to work on finding the ideal combination of arms and whip length for 40 Meters on the Buddistick. 40 Meters was as productive as 20 Meters.  Most of the QSOs were made on those two bands, although 17 Meters was not a slouch by any means.

I called it a day at 3:00 PM (2000 UTC) just as I had planned.  In the end, I made 88 QSOs, which is actually way better that any Bumblebee or Skeeter outing that I have had, and is not bad for 5 Watts to less than full sized antennas. My best DX was California, Arizona, Puerto Rico and two stations from Belgium.  I worked a few of you readers that I know from here, and I thank you heartily for those Qs. I also worked my best friend and Ham Radio mentor, Bob W3BBO. I worked QRP notables Steve WG0AT, Guy N7UN, fellow QRP Fox hunter Chris KQ2RP, and I also worked Kay Craigie N3KN, outgoing President of the ARRL.

But the best QSO of the day was when I worked Dave KD2FSI, who I logged for at Jockey Hollow on Saturday.  This was perhaps Dave's second or third CW QSO, maybe?  It was a blast to be there and to hear his fist on the air!

All the QSOs have been uploaded to LoTW. I can't wait to activate another NPOTA entity. The bug has really bit now. As the seasons change, and the weather gets warmer, the strategy will change from antennas mounted on the Jeep, to perhaps wires tossed in the trees.  The best is definitely yet to come!  Thank you Sean KX9X and the ARRL for sponsoring this great program!

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Another good NPOTA day!

But today's activity was as a chaser.  I worked the following today:

KM1CC - 40M CW - SS03 - Cape Cod National Seashore
K2JB - 40M SSB - BF03, TR10 - Cowpens National Battlefield, Overmountian Victory National Historic Trail
N1IMW - 40M SSB - WR23 - Lamprey Wild & Scenic River
WA3LAB - 20M SSB - NM05 - DeSoto National Memorial
NJ1F - 40M CW - AA15 - Kate Mullany National Historic Affiliated Area
AB2AH/P - 40M SSB - MP03 - Gettysburg National Military Park
AD0DX - 20M CW - TR07, TR11, TR14 - Oregon National Historic Trail, Santa Fe National Historic Trail, California National Historic Trail - a 3-fer!
KM1CC - 40M SSB - Just to say "Thank You" for the earlier contact.
N0TA - 20M CW - MN28 - Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument

I was going to activate TR23 - the Washington - Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historical Trail next Saturday. However. looking at the long range weather forecast on Weather Underground, they are currently calling for 1 - 2 feet of snow from next Friday into Saturday.  I'm sure that will probably change, but in any case, I have decided to activate the trail tomorrow.

W2LJ will put TR23 on the air tomorrow from 1700 - 2000 UTC.  I will be operating QRP CW, in and around the QRP Watering Holes, mainly on 20, 17 and 15 Meters. (14.060 MHz, 18.086 MHz, 21.060 MHz) I will try 40 Meters if I can get a wire up in a tree, depending on where I set up.  I may end up working from the Ashbrook Gof Course parking lot which is right on the trail, so it might just be the Buddistick and the 40 Meter Hamstick on the Jeep roof.  I will try to spot myself on the major DX Clusters as well as QRPSPOTS.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Had a wonderful time today

My good friend Dave Hackett KD2FSI, fellow South Plainfield Amateur Radio Club member, decided to conduct an NPOTA activation.  Yesterday, Dave posted on Facebook that he was going to travel up to Morristown, NJ to activate Morrsitown National Historical Park, HP28.  I asked (tongue-in-cheek) if visitors would be welcome, and Dave answered in the affirmative, so I knew I had to get up there today.

If you saw Dave's setup, you would swear that you died and went to Ham Radio heaven.  Dave recently purchased a minivan, which has become a custom outfitted portable communications center. Dave has hand crafted a wooden bed frame, with storage underneath that allows him to cart along everything he needs for portable Amateur Radio operations. If the need arises, Dave can operate quite comfortably from either inside or outside the van. He is equipped for just about any eventuality that you can think of, and if need be, he can "camp out" in semi-luxury as needed.  I should have taken pictures for this post, but I was so excited about helping to activate an entity for NPOTA that I plumb forgot!  (See my update below)

I got to the park shortly after Noon.  It's been years since I've been up to Jockey Hollow and I took a few wrong turns.  I ended up driving through Harding, NJ. Wow! Talk about seeing where the "1%" lives. What estates!  But I digress.

I got to the Jockey Hollow parking lot and Dave was already good to go.  He had his hybrid homebrew/commercial Buddipole on a painters pole at about the 15 foot level.  He had just finished conducting a run when I drove up, so he was ready to take a break and stretch his legs for a bit when I arrived. We chatted for a bit while I admired his set up.  Dave was using a Yaesu at 100 Watts off a deep cycle marine battery, and it was doing him in good stead.

Shortly after, we got back down to business.  Dave folded down the seat, so I could set next to him (very comfortably) on his padded bed frame/bench seat/storage cabinet. I offered to log for him while he took the microphone. Dave called "CQ NPOTA" for a bit and we had a few bites.  Then I decided to whip out my cell phone, bring up DX Summit and spot him on the cluster.

Quite literally, all Hell broke loose!  It was like standing next to a dam when it decided to burst. We were at the business end of a pileup and were having the time of our lives.  A little over an hour later, Dave decided to take another break, so I operated station KD2FSI for a few more QSOs, while he stretched his legs.  When things quieted down, we both took a break to discover that we had made over 100 QSOs in that short amount of time.  We worked all up and down the East coast and as far West as Arizona and New Mexico.

While Dave was operating solo, he also worked into Canada, the Netherlands and Belgium, I believe. It was a great time and I'm very grateful to Dave that he let me be his wingman for the day. As far as Amateur Radio goes, Dave is still considered a "rookie" as he is licensed for less than three years. Let me tell you, Dave is no rookie!  Dave has taken to HF operating like a bird to the air or a fish to the water.  He is completely at home behind the microphone for phone operations and behind the keyboard for digital operations.

And, oh yeah, he's also learning to get comfortable behind the key for CW operations. I'm hoping that he'll really be comfortable by Field Day!


Dave posted some photos to the SPARC Facebook page, so I am going to do a little cross posting here, so you can see his wonderful set up.

Dave's minivan parked on his homebrew mast holder.  The mast is an extendable painter's pole. I'm guesstimating about 15 feet high.  His Buddipole is a hybrid of homebrew and commercial W3FF parts. By his outing yesterday, it was obvious that Dave's concoction is a huge success!

From the back of the minivan looking forward.  Dave's laptop is sitting on his handcrafted bedframe/storage unit. As you can see, it also serves as a desk.  He had only a thin cushion on it, as he was not spending an overnight at the park. For sleeping purposes, Dave has a much thicker and comfortable memory foam pad that his son gave him for Christmas.  This thin pad was just the thing for using his bedframe as a bench when Dave was running stations while I logged for him.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

So what will it be?

This Winter has been very, very odd in New Jersey.  We've had the warmest December on record, courtesy of the Super El Nino that's occupying the Pacific Ocean.  Christmas felt more like Easter around here. Now, the El Nino and the Polar Vortices are doing battle with one another, each treating the Jet Stream like some kind of atmospheric Ping-Pong ball.  One day it feels like Spring, and then 24 hours later we plunge into the single digits.  Then we start a cycle of warming up until the next blast of Arctic and Siberian air takes hold of us.

So what will it be for FYBO 2016?  The contest announcement was made yesterday, and the rules for the 2016 edition can be found here -

I wonder what the weather will be like on February 6th? Will I get a X1 or X2 multiplier or will I get a X5 or X6 multiplier? It will be interesting to find out! This could very well be a day where the high temperature for the day occurs early in the morning, only to get colder, and colder as the day progresses. I think it will be super important to keep a thermometer at the operating position this year.


I had a great lunchtime QRP session today. It's cloudy and cold with the threat of snow showers, but I didn't let that deter me. As and added incentive, last night I re-lubricated my Buddistick whip with WD40, as it had been getting rough sliding when deploying and storing. Last time I did that, I had a great session the next day. WD40 must be the much maligned "antenna grease", because today I got the same result.

I had a nice little QSO on 20 Meters with Woody WZ4L in Smyrna, TN. Last time we QSO'ed, we were both barely audible to each other. Today Wood was 589 into NJ using 3 Watts to a loop! I got a 559 in return.  After hanging it up with Woody, I worked Ted HI3TEJ on 17 Meters.  Then, for the coup de gras, I worked Mauro HC2IMP in Guayaquil, Ecuador on 15 Meters.  5 Watts from NJ to Ecuador!  Yes, I know he's in the Andes and yes, I know he probably has a monster antenna which made this QSO possible - but 5 Watts from here to there - wow, just wow!

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Friday, January 08, 2016

So sad

I was browsing Facebook today when I saw this sad post (not verbatim) in the Amateur Radio group. "I am leaving the hobby after 10 years. I am tired of having people tell me that unless I have thousands of dollars of equipment, and lots of land for antennas that I am not a "real Ham" (I hate that phrase!).  Have a nice life."

I feel badly for this individual, and I suspect there's more going on here under the surface.  But, if that's the definition of a "real Ham" then I'm not one, either ...... and I've been at this "Ham Radio thing" for 38 years now.

I am not going to insult anyone's intelligence by feigning that I don't own expensive Amateur Radio equipment.  I do.  But when you look at my shack compared to a lot of others out there, mine is relatively modest.  No, I'm way beyond two tin cans and a wire, but I'm also do not own enough equipment that would equal the GDP of a small nation.

In the same breath, let me say that I do NOT begrudge anyone from owning enough equipment that would equal the GDP of a small nation. Hey, if you are wealthy enough, and you're not ignoring the basic needs of yourself or your family in order to fund your hobby - more power to you.

The second part of his definition is nearer and dearer to my heart, though.  I have never been in a situation where I felt I could put up the kind of antennas that I would like to have.  At both my QTHs, the one in East Brunswick, where I grew up, and the one in South Plainfield where I currently live - both are typical NJ suburban lots that are 50 feet wide by 100 feet long. (15M X 30M).

I had a G5RV here in South Plainfield that took so may twists and turns that it looked like I was playing the three dimensional chess board from Star Trek. Everything I have has to fit on my property, even the radials under by Butternut have twists and angles to them.  I'm not complaining, just stating the facts. Do I wish I had plenty of land where I could lay out a classic Beverage antenna for 160 Meters - or even put up a half wave dipole for 160 Meters?  You're darn tootin' I would.  But I don't, so I'm not going to shed tears over it. As bad as my case is, at least I can have outdoor antennas. A lot of people have to live with a lot less than I have, and I think about that every time I am tempted to complain or feel sorry for myself.

In the end, you make do with what you have.  I'll probably never make DXCC Honor Roll, but I am closing in on 200 countries worked. Given the antennas that I have (and had), I think that's a pretty fair accomplishment.

The bottom line is that you can't let another person dictate to you what something as wide in scope as Amateur Radio..... is. Amateur Radio is many things to many people.  My excitement over working Australia with 5 Watts might make you yawn.  Your excitement over having your 100th message passed this month might earn just a shrug of my shoulders from me.  Are either of us wrong?  No, both of us are enjoying what we like best in a hobby that has enough room for everyone!

So the next time someone tells you that you're not a "real Ham", just smile and walk away. Anyone who truly thinks they know what a "real Ham' is, is just kidding themselves, anyway.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Today was not so decent

I went out at lunchtime again today.  This time, it looks like either my casting technique was the pits, or perhaps I used the wrong bait.  In any case, I got skunked. Twiddling the dial uncovered no exceptionally strong signals, and calling CQ was fruitless today.

I didn't hear any NPOTA stations, but according to DX Summit, there was one in the phone portion of the 20 Meter band.  To be honest with you, I don't bring the microphone along with me on these lunchtime QRP sessions.  I guess I should start. As it is, I bring along my Palm Micro paddles and one of my Christmas mini straight keys.  I guess I should pop the microphone into the bag, as it's looking like the majority of these NPOTA activations will be on SSB.

So far, I've worked 15 different NPOTA stations. LOTW shows that I have 9 confirmations, or a 60 percent confirmation rate, if you will. I was hoping that the confirmation rate would be higher than that. Not sure if it's just a case of some activators not sending in their logs to LOTW yet, or what.

My friend Dave KD2FSI might be heading up to Morristown to activate Morristown National Historical Park HP28 this weekend. Morristown National Historical Park commemorates the sites of General Washington and the Continental army’s winter encampment - Jockey Hollow - during the period from December 1779 to June 1780. It was here that they survived through what would be the coldest winter on record.

Maybe if I get some time this weekend, I can go watch or log for him for a while.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Another decent lunchtime

and not all what I expected, actually.  I had been seeing notices on the e-mail reflectors and Facebook, about how there was supposed to be another CME headed right for Earth, possibly causing HF disruptions and all that.

Yadda, yadda, yadda.

It turned out to be a productive session with QSOs on 20, 17 and 15 Meters.

I worked Tom K3Y/7 (WB7EUX) in Oregon, for a 17 Meter trans-Continental QSO.  Then, on 20 Meters,  I worked Dennis WA2USA who was activating NPOTA HP13, the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park.  That was followed by another brief 20 Meter QSO with Dave N9ZXL, who did not have a good copy on me.  I ended by going on up to 15 Meters, where I had another K3Y QSO, but this time with K3Y/KP4 - Pablo (KP4SJ) in Puerto Rico.

The weather was warmer at lunchtime, also. The outside temperature was somewhere around 30F (-1C), and the interior of the Jeep is black. With the windows closed and the interior absorbing the sunlight that was prevalent today, it was actually comfortable in the Jeep today.

On a different note, I saw where Ramsey Electronics has abandoned the hobby kit market.  I've put together a few of their kits over the years.  I suppose with "thru-hole" components becoming more and more scarce, they felt it just wasn't a viable concern for them anymore. Still, it's sad to see another kit outlet go by the wayside.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Monday, January 04, 2016

A shock to the system!

After an abnormally warm November and December (December was the warmest since records have been kept), Ol' Man Winter had decided to kick New Jersey right in the kisser!  It was downright frigid for my lunchtime QRP session this afternoon.  Ok, so it wasn't as frosty as the Winter of 2014/2015, but today's 30F (-1C) felt like a slap in the face after the balmy Autumn/beginning of Winter that we enjoyed.

Thank the Lord that the Buddistick takes less than a minute to set up.  After I plopped it on the Jeep roof, I was able to quickly take refuge in the unheated, but wind-less confines of the Jeep interior. When the weather turns colder, all of a sudden coax and paddle cables and ear bud cables become a lot less pliable, and tasks that take even a few seconds feel like they take longer!

I was on the air in a matter of just a few minutes.  Both 15 and 17 Meters seemed "meh" after a quick dial twiddle, so I resorted to calling CQ on 14.062 MHz after a "QRL?" brought no responses. My first contact was a 2X QRP QSO with Tim KD8GZ, who sent a most gracious e-mail to me immediately after. Thanks, Tim!

The second QSO was with Jim W9JDH.  Both QSOs were short, as QSB and QRM were not our friends today - but any contact is golden as far as I'm concerned. Just knowing that my 5 Watts of RF is travelling and that the possibilities are open and endless is what this is all about.

However, the weather did bring to mind some words for NPOTA activators in the colder parts of the United States- especially those who are not used to doing portable/outdoor activations. These words are not mine, but are the words of the Arizona ScQRPions who sponsor the Freeze Your Buns Off event.

"NOTE: This is a fun contest, NOT an episode of Survivor. Be aware of the temperature and the possibility of cold injury! PLEASE be careful."

And these words are sound advice.  If you're not used to doing this kind of portable work, use common sense. Stay out of the cold - seek shelter if you can. Hey, for a lot of these NPOTA locations, as long as you're on the property, it counts. There's nothing wrong with working the event from the inside of your car on the site's parking lot. For the colder climates - above all - stay warm and stay dry!

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Sunday, January 03, 2016

NPOTA Update

Worked five more today, in amongst going to Church, taking down the Christmas Tree and taking down the outside decoratons:

KØBAK - RC08 - SSB - Gateway National Recreation Area
AA8CH - TR04 - SSB - North County National Scenic Trail
W9OO - MN78 - SSB - Pullman National Monument
K4INC - MP04 - CW - Guilford Courthouse National Military Park
KV4T - NP30 - CW - Hot Springs National Park

It appears I've worked two entities twice already, but that's fine with me. This is going to be the classic "work first, worry later", as I've uploaded all ny NPOTA QSOs into LOTW, but it appears some of the activators haven't yet. So far, only five of the fourteen NPOTA QSOs that I have made have been confirmed via LOTW.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you cae to send the very least!

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Guys who build stuff

Yesterday, after getting my fill of NPOTA stations, I was in the shack getting ready to pull the switch for the evening. It was just then that I heard a weak CQ on 3.652 MHz, from WT2W who lives in the Syracuse, NY region. It turned out that Jim was using a homebrewed transmitter modeled after a 1929 Hartley Oscillator.

Jim was putting out all of about 2 Watts to his antenna, but it was enough to garner him a 569 report from me.  His signal was a little chirpy and a tiny bit raspy, but it was still pleasant to listen to and fully copyable.  Shortly after our QSO, Jim e-mailed me the above photo.  I know how satisfying it is to build a kit and have it work.  I can only imagine how much more satisfying it must be to build something from scratch and have it work.  I'm not the greatest scratch builder, but the few times I have and have had the finished product work were enough to make the ol' shirt buttons pop.

Another friend who is into building from scratch is my good buddy, Bob W3BBO from Erie, PA.  As mentioned before, Bob is my Ham Radio mentor, and I've learned so much from him that I don't even know where to begin.  Here are some photos of a series of regen receivers that he's been homebrewing.

Now does he do nice work, or what?  Very nice work, indeed! I know that Bob has been conversing with Dave AA7EE, who's listed on the blog roll to the right. As far as I'm concerned, Dave's one of the Master Builders. His creations come out looking so good as to be museum pieces, in my humble opinion.

I wish I had an nth of the talent that these guys have.  My creations always seem to come out looking more like something Dr. Frankenstein would have created.  Functional, maybe, but definitely not pleasant to look at.

This afternoon, I worked three more NPOTA stations:

AC9FL - SSB - TR55 - Ice Age National Scientific Reserve
N4MJ - CW - BF04 - Fort Donelson National Battlefield
KS4YT - SSB - NP30 - Hot Springs National Park

Sadly, my SSB pileup breaking skills are nowhere near my CW pileup breaking skills.  It's going to be interesting to see if they improve as the year progresses.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Friday, January 01, 2016

New Year's Day

Is always a kind of lazy day at the W2LJ household. Marianne and I are not big party-ers and in fact, last evening, we had to wake up to watch the ball drop in Times Square on TV.  We were both fast asleep quickly after.  Our two kids were up later than we were, talking with their friends online.

I got on for a bit last night for SKN.  I don't know if it was just bad band conditions with the remnants of that CME lingering; or perhaps it was my atrocious bug fist. I made no contacts last night.

During the day today, I did a bit better. I worked five different NPOTA activations (6 QSOs):

N8XX - TR04 - North County National Scenic Trail
W1BXY - NS76 - Weir Farm National Historic Sight
NC8IN - NS55 - Ninety Six National Historic Sight
NR3P - SS01 - Assateague Island National Seashore
KK4ZUU - BP02 - Mnasassas National Battlefield Park
K7UPJ - NS55- Ninety Six National Historic Sight

I just realized now that I worked NS55 twice. Basically, I was dial twiddling, working the ones I could hear decently.  There were a few others, but QSB was so bad on 20 Meters at times that I bypassed a few, thinking conditions would get better.  They didn't, and going back to try and work those again, I found them to be gone. Sometimes the Propagation Princess is a cruel mistress!

Only N8XX and NR3P were CW, though. I had to break out the microphone and resort to SSB for the others.   As Yoda would say, "A disturbing trend in The Force, I sense".

As mentioned in an earlier post, the 2016 NJQRP Skeeter Hunt will be featuring NPOTA - but let that be just a foot note.  I would hope that a lot of you who read this blog regularly will step up the plate and activate NPOTA entities using CW (and QRP).

Remember, it doesn't have to be an elaborate set up, with multi ops and crazy antenna installations that last all day.  This NPOTA program was tailor made for portable QRP ops!  Go to one of the entities, throw a wire into a tree, or perhaps break out the Buddistick, Buddipole, Alex Loop - what have you. Get on the air for a few hours and hand out some contacts!

Also, remember that this is a year long celebration.  There were a bumper crop of NPOTA activations on the air today. It seems that everyone wanted to be active on "Day One", but there are 365 days left (this is a Leap Year, don't forget).  So get out there and have some fun.  That's what this is all about - going outdoors, setting up and having some fun.

This is OUR specialty, guys!  Let's show them how it's done!

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!