Thursday, January 26, 2017

Had to post!

Saw this on the "100 Watts and a Wire" Facebook page - too funny not to share!

KUDOs to Andre Vorreiter


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

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Skunked again - sort of.

I got on the air last night, in my 62F (16C) shack in order to participate in the 40 Meter QRP Foxhunt.  These hunts have been deplorable for me this year, with hardly any success.  Last night was no different.  The Foxes were NK6A in California and KV2X in New York.  I didn't hear either one of them - although W1AW/KP4 was absolutely booming in to NJ.

Instead of turning the radio off and running upstairs to warmer quarters and an episode of MacGyver on MeTV, I decided to participate for a bit in the NAQCC 160 Meter Sprint.  Just for grins and giggles, I did the search and pounce thing for better part of a half an hour, and also called CW for about 15 minutes or so.

Although my W3EDP tunes up on 160 Meters, thanks to the dazzling auto tuner inside the KX3 (I'd swear that thing would tune up a strand of wet spaghetti), I was probably sending RF into the HF equivalent of a rubber duckie antenna.  Even so, with 5 Watts I made 10 contacts, ranging from Maine, down to North Carolina and as far west as Michigan.  Not a band burner in any sense of the concept; but satisfying enough for an evening that looked pretty bleak, Foxhunt-wise.

What was also satisfying is that, thanks to a great suggestion gleaned from Facebook, I successfully stowed away my magloop antenna.  A few weeks ago, I went onto the DIY Magloop page and asked for suggestions on how the various members stored and carried their loops.

One of the suggestions was a stuff sack - a nylon bag with a draw string that normally you would use to stow away a sleeping bag or other camping equipment.  I went to Amazon and purchased this in the 25" (63 cm) version.

It's made by Liberty Mountain.  The longest piece of the antenna fits with room to spare, and the coiled up loop of LMR400 went in very nicely.  It doesn't look like as picturesque the above photo, as I'm not stowing away a sleeping bag - but it will serve its purpose very well.

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

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Delinquent in posting

I began 2017 with a pledge to post more often, and there's one resolution already shot to Hades!  But I do have a reason for my lack of blogging activity. I've been battling a crummy case of sinusitis the past two weeks. I'll spare you the gory details, but it's been accompanied by a bad, hacking cough,  As a result, I've been staying out of the chilly basement shack. Staying out of the shack limits me severely as to what I can talk about.

I did get these through the mail, though - so I'll post two images:


I could be picky and say I actually participated in 10 activations, as one of those was under the NJ2SP call sign of the South Plainfield Amateur Radio Club - but only 9 under my own call.

A few folks have been bothered by the price of the certificates, However, if you consider the IT, publicity and staff man hour costs that it took to make NPOTA such a success, it's really not that much.  The amount of enjoyment I received throughout the year from NPOTA makes the cost of these two pieces of paper a mere pittance in comparison. Also, you have to consider that this is probably a "once in a lifetime" event.  I highly doubt that I'll make it to the National Park Service bicentennial.

I did receive something very recently from Rich G3CWI at SOTA Beams that I'm very excited about, I hope to play with it this coming weekend and I'll be posting about it real soon, so stay tuned!. This stupid sinusitis is definitely a drag.

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

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

To help with your NPOTA withdrawal

There IS a Parks On The Air program that has been up and running for a while.  In the USA, POTA is part of the World Wide Flora and Fauna program, which is international in scope.  Like NPOTA, WWFF was devised in order to get Amateur Radio ops off their duffs and into the Great Outdoors. I love their catch phrase - "Make nature your shack!"

POTA is the United States arm of WWFF and POTA encompasses not only NPOTA, but State Parks as well.  So if NPOTA was difficult for you as an activator, POTA should be easier as it will include many places that were not part of POTA.

Take for instance, the Great Swamp Wildlife Refuge (KFF-0454)  here in NJ.  I drive through it every time I go up to HP28, Morristown National Historical Park (KFF-0746), which is part of NPOTA.  Since the Refuge is administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, it was not part of NPOTA - but it IS part of POTA. My favorite portable operating spot, Washington Rock State Park, is also part of POTA (KFF-1635).

Activation requirements for WWFF are a bit stricter. For a valid activation, WWFF requires 44 QSOs, while NPOTA required only 10.  Happily, according to my good friend Greg N4KGL, POTA also requires only 10 QSOs for a valid activation. A good day's worth of portable operations should cover you. If you're bound and determined to work towards Activator awards, then you have a good program here to fill your heart's desire.. Me? I'll just be happy to have the "excuse" to go out and put some NJ parks on the air.

I've only just registered and have not looked into all the details about how to upload logs and stuff; but I am bound and determined to put some parks in New Jersey on the air this coming Spring and Summer for the chasers that are really into this.

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

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Portable operations antennas

So with all the NPOTA operating and other portable operating that I've done over the years, you might think that I've become some sort of expert on portable antennas, right?

Nope - not even close.

I have become "expert" enough to tell you that there's no "one size fits all" or all purpose antenna that will work in every situation.  That antenna continues to be the "Holy Grail" or "Golden Fleece" of Amateur Radio.  It is rumored to exist and is still being searched for.  Some will tell you that they possess it, or a reasonable facsimile, thereof.

In my mind, it's a myth, a fairy tale, a legend.  I have found that in every situation, all portable antennas will work well, some better than others. It all depends on the situation and the circumstances of that particular day or event.

Do you have trees available?  Awesome!  I think back on Day One, the Good Lord knew that someday, radio would be discovered, and that our species of hobbyists would be spawned. So He created trees.  "The World" seems to think that trees were created for the purpose of shade, food, converting carbon dioxide to oxygen, as well as a source of wood.  We Ham Radio operators know better - that trees were created to hold our aerials up in the sky, away from the ground,  and that the other services that trees provide are just side benefits.

If you have trees available at your location, put them to their intended purpose ....... get wire in them, as high as you can get it.  Whether it be a dipole, doublet, end fed, zepp, or any other kind of wire antenna, get it up as high as you can.  Of course, for portable operations, you want to keep the antenna as uncomplicated as possible, while still maintaining the ability to work as many bands as possible. In my experience the W3EDP or an end fed wire connected to a 9:1 UNUN will give you the most bang for the buck.  These can be used as verticals or slopers. And if you have enough real estate and feedline, they can even be stretched between two trees, as high as you can get them.  In the five years of the NJQRP Skeeter Hunt, my best year was accomplished using a W3EDP strung between two trees in a horizontal configuration, about 40 feet up, or so.

But what if there are no trees; or only one tree?  If there's only one tree, then I would suggest using said arbor as a support for a sloper - again. getting the end up as high as possible.  If there are NO trees, then you have to become creative and a bit more flexible.  If you're at the top of a mountain, you might try taking an end fed and just allow it to dangle off the side of the peak. If that's not practical, or you're bothered by heights like I am, and will go nowhere near the edge of a cliff, then you have to resort to something else.

That something else might be something like a portable vertical. Portable verticals can work very, very well. But to work very, very well you need to lay down a radial field or use a counterpoise. When I used the PAC12 antenna, I used to lay down a set of 8 sixteen foot lengths of wire, arranged around the antenna in a wagon wheel fashion.  It worked well, but could become a nuisance if the radial wires became entangled.  Care had to be taken during storage to make sure that didn't happen. Also, the radials will work the best while being elevated, even if that means just an inch or two off the ground, which means some sort of radial support also becomes necessary.

If you operate from your car .... if you can operate from your car, the radial problem becomes much, much easier to deal with.  Put your vertical on a magmount and allow your vehicle to become the ground plane.  I was only so-so pleased with my Buddistick until Bob W3BBO recommended this to me.  After I abandoned using the Buddistick counterpoise wire, and let my Jeep fulfill that function, my Buddistick literally began to soar!  Over the years, I have worked over 60 countries and just about all 50 States using 5 Watts or less.  Having a huge hunk of metal under that vertical makes all the difference in the world.

That being said, does it work on ALL bands well?


The Buddistick on the roof seems to work well for me on 20 through 6 Meters.  If I want to hop on 40 Meters from the Jeep, I resort to a Hamstick.  The Hamstick, on that same magmount, works exceedingly well.  I suppose I could get the Buddistick to work decently, but I would need to add extension arms and figure out whip length.  It seems easier to just plop the Hamstick on for 40 Meters and the Buddistick for 20 - 6 Meters.  I have fiddled around with the Buddistick enough to find a tap setting that will allow me to work 20, 17 and 15 Meters without changing the physical configuration. The autotuner in my KX3 compensates as needed for each band, and minimally at that.

So what do you do, if you're away from your vehicle, there are no trees, and no way to support a wire with a portable mast; and you don't want to mess with a vertical and radials?  This is where a magloop can come into play.  The magloop is the newest antenna in my portable ops arsenal, and I have to admit that for a long time, I was doubtful of its capabilities.  But (there's always a but) I remained intrigued by the idea of having something like that and hoped against hope that the stories I had been reading were not just wishful thinking.

So far, I have found that the claims seem to have some truth to them.  From the limited use I have given my home brewed magloop, I have been quite pleased as well as surprised.  I have easily hopped the Atlantic several times with 5 Watts as well as crossing the Continental US to the west coast.  What has surprised me about the loop is that the noise floor, while using one, is so low that you may think you have it tuned wrong.  The incoming radio signals seem to jump out of nowhere and are quite loud. But using a loop takes some getting used to.  You have to teach yourself how to find the "sweet spot", which means turning the tuning capacitor for loudest ambient band noise. In an environment where there may be lots of traffic or people talking, that means resorting to using earbuds or headphones.  Once you carefully tune for that loudest band noise, though, means you are there - flat SWR.  But you have to be careful, though, because the tuning is very sharp and if you're even a tiny bit off, the SWR can be sky high.  If you're going to be frequency hopping a lot, this is a major pain.  Also, the tuning capacitor works best with some sort of reduction drive. As I've mentioned before, tuning can be tricky until you're used to it, and without the reduction drive, it can be difficult to find that noise peak.

The bottom line is that, if you're going to do a lot of portable operating, you really should have at least three or four options at your disposal. There is no situation where one antenna where work in all cases, either due to lack of set up time, real estate, available antenna hanging resources, etc.  Once you've gotten some experience under your belt you will be able to size up the situation and will be able to determine what option will work the best for that given day.

Always keep in the back of your mind the equation, "MOE = A + R + T" . That is, Maximum Operating Enjoyment becomes an art. It is a mixture of Antenna Efficiency  Resources and Set Up Time.  The desired outcome for an enjoyable outing is always using the most efficient antenna you can, using the resources you have at hand, with the minimal amount of set up and tear down time. After all, the idea is to be on the air making contacts, not silently cursing antenna wires or trees under your breath while simultaneously elevating your blood pressure.

A word of warning, though ..... this will become a lifetime endeavor and you will be constantly perusing the Internet and Ham publications looking for that "all purpose, all in one antenna".  I doubt that you or I will ever find it, but as they say, "The fun is in the journey, not the destination."

Have fun and see you on the air from the Great Outdoors in 2017!

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

Monday, January 02, 2017

Happy New Year !!!

Fervent wishes from W2LJ to all of you for a happy, healthy, prosperous and joyous 2017!

My resolution for 2017 is to get back into the blogging spirit. It seems too many things otherwise occupied my attention in 2016.  My post total for the year wasn't a low - but almost. Only 2006, my second year of doing this, had a lower post total.

Not that I am an Amateur Radio expert or anything like that; but I'd like to get back into the swing of things with sharing with you folks.  It keeps my head in the game.

I also have to find a new place to operate from during lunch break at work.  We relocated from the building we were in to a new destination about 10 minutes farther on down the road.  The bad thing, radio-wise, is that this location has an underground parking deck.  It's very nice that my Jeep will be protected from the elements, but not good at all for trying to generate RF into the aether.  I will have to Google map the are to see if there's a near by park or some kind of open space that I can utilize without eating up too much operating time.

That's it for today. I am going to post in the next day or two my impressions about my experiences with portable antennas during NPOTA.  Nothing I haven't covered before; but something I'd like to write a bit about again.

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

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Wow ..... just wow!

I'm not sure how to even begin this post. Yesterday, the final day of NPOTA was such a good day, there was no time to be sad or mourn its end. If NPOTA was the gift of a great big cake to Amateur Radio in 2016 - then December 31, 2016 will go down as the icing on the cake.  It was definitely one of the best days in Amateur Radio that I have ever had. If it wasn't the best, it was right up there in the Top 10 .... maybe the Top 5.

As stated in my earlier post this week, my intention was to come full circle and to end NPOTA as it began, with activations of both the Washington-Rochambeau Trail (TR23) and Morristown National Historical Park (HP28). The day started sunny and a bit cold as I made my way up to Morristown.  I haven't been up there since last May, and since I take all back roads to get there, I was using my TomTom GPS unit to guide me there. About 1/3 of the way there, the TomTom gave up the ghost.  Rebooting and resetting did no good.  The map screen was nothing but a blank, white screen.  Fortunately, I was able to retrace my steps without getting lost.

I set up in the parking lot and set up my 40 Meter Hamstick on the Jeep roof and the magloop right next to the Jeep. I was intending to start out on 40 Meter CW with the tried and proven Hamstick in order to get the 10 minimum QSOs that are needed for a valid activation; and only then switch over to the magloop for 20 Meters, as I really haven't used it enough to be confident in it as a proven performer.

After getting everything set up, I made myself comfortable and self spotted my activity on both DX Summit as well as the NPOTA page on Facebook.  I was rewarded with 38 QSOs on 7.038 MHz and then called CQ for a bit until the activity died out.  Then I switched over to the SSB portion of the band in order to find an empty frequency.  My goal was to work Dave KD2FSI who was staying in nearby Morris Plains. Dave and I have a history as far as NPOTA goes.  When he activated HP28 last January, I drove up to lend him some assistance.  Together, we both coached several fledgling members of the South Plainfield Amateur Radio Club during an activation of TR23. And when Dave would activate an NPOTA entity during his travels throughout the year, he kept me abreast of his agenda and gave me several ATNOs.

To work Dave on the last day of NPOTA would have been a privilege and an honor.  Gladly, it came to fruition; and I was able to have a brief sideband contact with him on 7.220 MHz (gladly, I thought enough to bring the microphone along, which turned out to be very important). After working Dave, I turned my attention to 14.061 MHz and the magloop.  With the 6:1 reduction drive, it seemed to take forever to find a noise peak, but eventually I did.  After carefully turning for peak noise, I hit the auto tune button on the KX3, thinking that I would "clean up" and lingering SWR. The auto tuner clicked and clacked for about a millisecond as I was already there - the KX3 showing me that I had a 1:1 match.  Now the proof would be in the pudding, Was my home brew magloop as good as advertised; or would be just a waste of my time and money?

The magloop turned out to be a great performer, way beyond what I thought was possible. With only 5 Watts, I was getting great signal reports from California, Idaho, Montana, Colorado, the Azores and Italy! Wow! Something that I built from scratch actually worked and it ended up costing me substantially less than a commercial unit. To say that I was pleased would be an understatement. I was more akin to walking on air.

Then then next hour even topped that!  Much to my surprise, Dave KD2FSI drove up next to me and parked in the space next to mine.  I got out of the Jeep and greeted him and we had ourselves a very nice time talking and discussing NPOTA and the day's events.  

While we were shooting the breeze, we both noticed a group pf people a little bit over in the same parking lot.  They had set up tables and had some drinks and some food that they were enjoying.  One of the women from the group came up to us and asked what we were doing and was my magloop "Some kind of antenna?"  We explained NPOTA and Amateur Radio and that's when she invited us over to join her friends for a warm drink and to explain to all of them what we were doing. It seems they were a group of Norwegian descendants who usually get together, either on Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve to enjoy some food, drink and fellowship outdoors.  They gave Dave and me a hot cup of Glug, which was a mixture of red wine, almonds and raisins.  While we sipped we gave a good talk about Amateur Radio, NPOTA, the ARRL and the National Parks System as well as a few points about Emergency Communications.  They thanked us and we thanked them and then Dave and I headed back to our cars. He left to get back to Morris Plains, and I packed up to head back home to TR23.

About a 1/2 hour later, I arrived at the Frazee House in Scotch Plains, which is right on the Washington - Roachambeau Trail; and it was the same place I activated the Trail from during the NJQRP Skeeter Hunt.  When I activated TR23 last January, I did it from the entrance to the Ashbrook Golf Course.  It was open yesterday and I didn't want to cause any commotion, so I came back to the Frazee House which is only a couple of minutes farther down the road.

This time I decided to use another arrow from my antenna quiver,  I also brought along my Joplin ARC antenna launcher and I got a line over a tree and made use of the PAR ENDFEDZ 40/20/10.

I ran the coax into the Jeep through a crack in the window and got down to business.  I ran off a bunch of QSOs on 40 Meters and was about to switch over to 20 Meters when I noticed out of the corner of my eye that a vehicle had pulled up next to me.  This time, it wasn't another Radio Amateur. This time, it was a member of the Scotch Plains Police Department.  I guess I called some attention to myself, being the only car there, in an otherwise empty place.   I got out of the car and walked a step or two to his rolled down window. I introduced myself and gave the spiel about NPOTA and how Raritan Road is part of the Washington - Rochambeau Trail, which he knew.  What the Officer didn't know was that the trail is part of the National Parks System and he was very surprised by that. Then he told me about how his grandfather was a Ham, that in fact W2KKG was his call sign.  We talked a bit, shook hands and he went on his way; and I returned to the Jeep for 20 Meters.

20 Meter CW proved to be a disappointment. Even with self spotting, I garnered only about 15 QSOs before the activity petered out, way too soon in my opinion.  I sat there, with KX3 calling CQ, debating whether I should pack it in and go home.  It was getting to be around 2:30 PM EST, and I only wanted to be out until around 3:00 PM as I had a previous commitment at 5:00 PM and I had to get ready for that. Wanting to get a least a few more Qs in the log; so I decided that I would give 20 Meter SSB a shot.  With the deep cycle battery, I could boost the KX3's output to 10 Watts. The PAR was up in a tree about 50 feet up or so, so I figured, "What the heck!".  I didn't even bother to spot myself, I just hooked up the microphone and started calling CQ on 14.340 MHz, figuring that what would be, would be.

Much to my surprise, about 60 QSOs later, the pileup ceased.  With 10 Watts, I had worked all up and down the East Coast, across to California and Washington State and even up into Alberta, Canada. In all, there were only 1 or 2 instances where I had to repeat anything. It was pure bliss!

As it started becoming overcast and dusk started settling in, I packed everything up and headed home. I was in another world, walking in rarefied air. NPOTA turned out to be everything it was chalked up to be; and more.  Thanks to Sean, Norm and all the ARRL staff who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make NPOTA the success that it was. I have never been more proud to be a Life Member of the ARRL.  Friendships that will last a lifetime; and new memories that will last a lifetime are the direct results of NPOTA. It just doesn't get any better than this.

Later, I was talking with my good friend Bob W3BBO on Skype, as we do just about every Saturday evenming,  I had worked him earlier from HP28 and we talked about our QSO a bit more in depth and about the day in general. Bob stated that, in a way, he felt bad for me.  As he tuned around 20 and 40 Meters, it seemed like it was just wall-to-wall NPOTA. He told me that he was sure I should have been at home boosting up my entities worked total. I told him not to feel bad, as not only had I worked a couple new ones via Park to Park QSOs; but there was nowhere in the world that I would have rather been - handing out QSOs as an Activator on the last and best day of NPOTA.

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