Wednesday, January 30, 2019

FYBO this Saturday

The AZsQRPions are sponsoring the annual FYBO contest this Saturday. Do I really need to explain what FYBO stands for? I guess for any new readers from outside the USA, it means (charitably) "Freeze Your Bottom Off."


Here in the USA, we usually use other more descriptive words in place of "Bottom", but this is a family friendly blog, so I'll keep it clean.

Funny that this contest should be dreamed up by a bunch from Arizona. We northern QRPers are so gullible!

The rules in their entirety can be found here - http://azscqrpions.org/FYBO

But here are the bullet points:

1) The contest runs from 1400 to 2400 UTC

2) It's a QRP contest, but both CW and SSB are allowed.

3) Exchange RST, State/Province/DXCC Country (SPCs), first name, power out, and Temperature (Fahrenheit) at OPERATOR'S POSITION. Indoor stations must report INDOOR temperature.
Example: 579 AZ Frosty 2W 40F

And always, FYBO comes with this admonition - (my paraphrasing) "This is not an episode of  SurvivorMan. Have fun, but don't be stupid!"

The high temperature around here on Saturday is supposed to be around 36F  (2C). I'm not a fan of cold weather at all; but maybe I'll venture forth for an hour or so. After all, it is Groundhog Day. If the furry little rodent is brave enough to come out and test the cold weather, maybe I will, too.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least1

Monday, January 28, 2019

Happy Anniversary

to me!

January 28th, 2019 marks the 40th anniversary of my very first QSO as a Novice, way back in the Stone Age. We tapped out messages on rocks, you know! Well. actually .... we only used rocks when it was too wet to send smoke signals, or the drum skins were broken.

Seriously ..... although I passed the test back in November of 1978 and got my license the last week of  December 1978, it took a while for me to put my station together. My transmitter was a used Drake 2NT from Burghardt Electronics that my parents gave to me for Christmas that year. I had to build my Heathkit HR-1680 receiver, put up my antenna (or what I called and insisted was an antenna), and figure out how the whole mish-mosh went together. After the licensing class that I took was completed, I had no Elmer. I was on my own and learned by trying things, making mistakes, fixing them or trying something else. Looking back at it, it's a wonder I didn't fry myself, or the house.

I was working at the North Brunswick Camera Center Annex store in New Brunswick, NJ at the time. Since I had to work on Saturdays, Monday was my day off. That was kind of neat because having Sundays and Mondays off, it always felt like a long weekend, even though it wasn't.  So when I made this first QSO on a Sunday afternoon, I had the whole rest of the day AND Monday to keep at it and make some more. Those were the days!

To be honest with you, I don't remember if that first QSO was a result of me calling CQ or me answering a CQ. All I remember was how nervous I was, making that first solo flight all by my lonesome.



I certainly don't remember the QSO lasting 20 minutes, but exchanging the basics at 5 WPM probably took that long! After getting that first contact under my belt, the following QSOs got easier and easier.

A couple of things:

I see KA9CIH states he was running 90 Watts. I guess that was Watts input, because of memory serves me correctly, Novices were limited to 75 Watts output back in those days.

Look at that 10 cent stamp! I think the price of a 1st Class stamp either just went up to 55 cents; or it will be very soon. Paper QSLing is becoming way too expensive!

Adam was 14, I was 21 at the time. I wish I had started out when I was his age. Better late than never, I guess.

Here was my QSL card at the time:


That was homebrewed by yours truly, as well. The poor attempt at drawing was mine (Apologies, Mr. Schulz!), but the typesetting was done with Letraset. Letraset was letters on transfer sheets. You would line up the letter on your work surface (what the commercial art world calls a "comp") and you would rub the back of the Letraset page with a stylus and the letter would adhere to the comp. After you got all the lettering done and the "comp" was finished, you would take it to a print shop, where a lithographic negative would be shot and that would be used to make an offset printing plate.

It seems so primitive now in the day and age of computers and desktop publishing - but that was the process 40 years ago.

I looked up Adam's name on QRZ and it would appear that he's no longer licensed. KA2DOH eventually became N2ELW and later W2LJ. Still going strong, 40 years later with no intention on quitting anytime soon!

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

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

It warmed up yesterday

and the basement shack was a balmy 60 F (15 C), but I decided to give the 40 Meter QRP Fox Hunt a whirl with the magloop, anyway.  I was able to locate Wayne N4FP in Florida rather easily and worked him without a problem. Physically rotating the loop to where I could hear him the loudest, helped tremendously.

Drew K9CW in Illinois was a different story. He was weak, VERY weak, no matter which way I oriented the loop.  But since I had discovered where he was hiding, I decided to run to the basement shack to see if I could hear him any better there.

Using the Butternut HF9V,  almost as soon as I sat down, I caught him on a QSB peak and completed the exchange for the second pelt. After that, he faded away and I was able to hear him no better than on the loop. So I cannot conclusively say that the HF9V outperformed the magloop in this case. I just may have been fortunate to have caught him at just the right time with the HF9V. For all I know, he might have come up just as loudly on the loop. There was no way I was able to make a direct A to B comparison.

One thing I will say, though ....... the loop is much easier to tune now. I took one of the sidereal drive "extenders" from my telescope and fit it onto the shaft of the tuning capacitor of the loop. Before I just had a plain ol' vanilla knob. The "extender" is long enough to remove any hand capacitance effect that my body previously presented, throwing off the setting once I removed my hand. Now I can tune for loudest background noise, and lowest SWR and nothing changes when I remove myself from the equation.

Before


After


I was pleasantly surprised at what a difference this extension proved to make.

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

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Plans derailed by chores and the weather.

My melting solder plans for this long weekend became derailed by other chores and the weather. By the time chores and other obligations were finished, Saturday and Sunday evaporated, leaving only Monday for my build day.

However, the temperatures dropped as predicted on Sunday and yesterday's high temperature was only 14F (-10C) and that was only for a very brief period of time. Most of the day was in single Fahrenheit digits. That meant my basement shack was at a crisp 56F (13C) which was too cool for these arthritic hands and fingers to deal with.  I did get a few minutes on Saturday to inventory and organize the components of the kit I am going to work on, though. That was some progress, at least.

While it supposed to warm up today, it will be cold again this evening. I've decided that for the 40 Meter QRP Fox Hunt tonight, I will set up on the dining room table and will use the mag loop. I've done that one time before during the last Winter season and had success. We'll see how it goes tonight.

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

Friday, January 18, 2019

"Oh, the weather outside is frightful!"

Well ...... not right now; but it will be.

We've had some snow showers this morning, which have not amounted to much more than a nuisance as I had to deal with a bunch of idiot drivers this morning on the commute into work. The BAD weather is supposed to hit tomorrow afternoon into Sunday morning.

It doesn't sound as bad as it may end up, as only 3 to 6 inches (7.5 - 15 cm) of snow are forecast, with that even changing to rain Sunday afternoon. The tricky part is that as the precipitation ends, and the front moves through, the temperatures are supposed to drop faster than the proverbial lead balloon. By Sunday evening, we will drop from the upper 30s F (3-4 C) to a low of around 4F (-15 C) or thereabouts. That means all that moisture on the ground is going to flash freeze before it has a chance to evaporate. Come Monday morning, the roads and sidewalks will probably be pretty treacherous.

The company that I work for does not take off for Martin Luther King's Birthday. However, the company that I work at DOES close the building for Monday, so I have to burn a vacation day. With how busy things have been at work, I am not disappointed!

I have no pressing plans for the weekend, except for getting on the air and melting some solder. First time in a long time that I may actually get to enjoy these activities!

Actually, that's not totally true - I cannot tell a lie. I did get on 80 Meters last night for the Thursday Night 80 Meter QRP Fox Hunt.  I did bag two pelts last night; but I have to tell you ..... every time I think I have a handle on propagation, it kicks my butt.

Both Foxes were in Georgia - John K4BAI and Jim N4TMM. They're not all that far from each other. I mean, with regard to how far both are from NJ, they're basically in the same neighborhood. Jim N4TMM was 579 for pretty much most of the night. So...... you would think - the two of them being in the same state and all - K4BAI should be somewhere around 579, also - right?

No, silly rabbit!  John was 559 AT BEST and the QSB on him was horrendous. One second he was there, next second, poof!  I managed to make contact with him towards the end of the hunt. It was a struggle, but John's more-than-excellent ears got me into his logbook. Indeed, a testimony to him and his operating prowess - not mine in the least.

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

Friday, January 11, 2019

This is a real treat!

A professionally done documentary (about 10 minutes long) about Field Day and Amateur Radio in general in Fort Wayne, Indiana - from 2017.


Personally, I think they overplay the "weak signal" aspect of low power operating. So many people do this that it becomes a psychological handicap. Sure, QRP signals are generally not as loud as 100 Watt signals - but it's not like they're microscopic in comparison. And if the propagation is right, the guy on the receiving end might never know - unless you tell him. 

On the whole, though? Nicely done, gentlemen ...... nicely done!

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

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

40 Meter QRP Fox Hunt

was last night and I got skunked.

The Foxes were K4BAI in GA and K3ESE in MD.

When I saw on the Fox Hunt e-mail reflector that one of the California Hounds had pelted the MD Fox, I knew I was in trouble. The band was long - way long.

I never heard a peep out of Maryland and John K4BAI in Georgia was nothing but a mere ESP whisper all night. You can't work 'em if you can't hear 'em.

90 minutes of my life that I'll never get back, but as "they" say - "A bad day at QRP is better than a good day at work.", so there's always that.

Always look on the bright side. Right?

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

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

North American QSO Party - NAQP CW

Thanks to John Laney K4BAI for posting a reminder on the CWOPS e-mail reflector.

This weekend is the NAQP CW contest. As you all know, I don't consider myself an avid or even semi-avid contester, but this one is generally fun.  The exchange is simple - your name and state. It doesn't get much easier than that! Even if your CW speed isn't the greatest, this should be relatively easy copy.

If you're working on your Worked All States Award - whether it be just starting, almost finishing, or somewhere smackdab in the middle, then this is a good one for you. There's generally a lot of participation and you just may be able to find the "elusive" states on the airwaves this weekend.

The rules are here - http://ncjweb.com/NAQP-Rules.pdf

To help fulfill my goal of getting on the air more this year, W2LJ plans to put in an hour or two, handing out that very NOT elusive "NJ" to anyone who so desires it.

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

Monday, January 07, 2019

OK, so I'll be Captain Obvious

I've mentioned many times on this blog how I came to be an Amateur Radio operator and how I built my first receiver, a Heathkit HR-1680. Suffice it to say, I've been building kits for the last 40 years. And in all that time, I've inventoried, separated and organized components the tried and true way - muffin tins. This was the method I read about while devouring books on "How to Become a Radio Amateur" in my younger days. The older Novice License Manuals from pre-1070s invariably had chapters on how to construct your own first simple receiver and simple transmitter, and they always showed the sorted components neatly organized and laid out in recommended muffin tins.


I think that at one time or another, we've all used these; whether they be the real nice ones, like the one above, or even the cheapie disposable aluminum ones. Each muffin tin offers a dozen little compartments for separating out resistors, transistors, ICs, capacitors, etc. Right?

Muffin tins present a problem, however. If you're building something other than a simple kit which can be done in one sitting, muffin tins can present a disaster. They can be accidentally tipped over, spilling their entire contents onto the shack floor (or the floor of wherever you do your kit building). There's nothing more frustrating and aggravating than crawling around on your hands and knees looking for parts (AND hoping against hope that you find them all!) because you, or maybe even a pet came by and knocked the tin over.

One time, while I was building a kit, my knee hit a tin as I was getting up out of my chair. Not only did some of the parts land on the shack floor, I think a couple SMD components got launched into orbit. I never found some of them and had to order replacements via Mouser or Jameco or Digikey. Not only was it frustrating, which was bad enough, but then there was added expense and delay time to deal with.

The solution to this came to me one year while I was coloring Easter eggs with my two kids. Egg cartons!


It had never occurred to me to use egg cartons! Duh! Captain Obvious strikes again!

They have the same number of twelve little compartments, but ........... and here's the BIG BUT ........ you can close an egg carton when you're not actually working on your kit! So if you (or your cat or dog or hamster or gerbil) accidentally bump into your parts container, they may get a bit disorganized - but they'll remain safely "locked" inside. No more crawling around and muttering expletives under your breath while looking for that lost resistor or diode!

I'm sure most of you who are reading this are probably thinking, "Is he really THAT dense? NOBODY can be THAT dense, can they?" And I'll have to answer you, "Yes. Yes they can; and yes I am." But on the off chance there's someone out there as badly off as me; I'm hoping I can save you a bit of frustration, time and expense.

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

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Getting ready for Maker's Day

Once again, in 2019, the South Plainfield Amateur Radio Club will be participating in Maker's Day. Our goal this year is to offer a variety of rather simple electronic kits to the participants. We will be concentrating on soldering and kit building skills - not necessarily laser focused on Amateur Radio, although we plan to offer a lot of Amateur Radio "side content". We feel that if one knows how to solder well and can develop the skills to follow basic instructions, then the sky is the limit.

We still have some left over 4 States QRP Group Simple Code Practice Oscillator kits that we will offer for construction. In addition to those we are offering other kits - a clock, a digital volt meter/thermometer, an FM wireless microphone, and a simple electronic organ, among others. These were selected mainly for ease of construction and also because their cost fit within our meager budget; and also because they will be something "neat" and semi-useful for the builders to take home with them after construction is completed.

We got together last night as a group and built one of each kit. We came away with some thoughts.

1) We need to do some "pre-work" on a couple of kits. As we only have 45 minutes to an hour scheduled for build time with each Maker's Day participant, we decided that we would pre-mount and pre-solder any IC sockets.  This will make sure that the builder can complete the kit in the allotted time, while still having the ability to solder other components.

2) We need to author our own instruction sheets. The instruction sheets that came (not all kits had them!) were a bad mixture of Chinese and English. Because most of our group are experienced kit builders, we were able to figure out what went where and it wasn't a problem. I'm thinking that our own instruction sheets will make things easier not only for the builders; but for those from our group that were not able to attend the buildathon last evening.

Maker's Day is not until March, but we don't want to be scurrying around like chickens with our heads cut off at the last minute. We will remember "The Five Ps" - Proper Pre-planning Prevents Poor Performance!

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

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

New Year thoughts - this 'n that

First off:


Best wishes for a very happy, healthy and joyful 2019 to all my friends who read this blog. May the coming year be filled with great DX, ATNOs, wonderful rag chews and lots and lots of fun.

The family went out for dinner last night. We got home around 8:30 PM local time, which was already 0130 UTC. I came downstairs and flipped on the KX3 thinking that I would hear a lot of SKN activity. There seemed to be some, but most of the signals seemed on the weaker side and there didn't seem to be as much "wall to wall" activity as I was used to hearing on other SKN nights. Maybe it was because I didn't sign on right at 0000 UTC. I don't know. I eventually worked another Ham right in my own town - Lou WB2QNU. His grandson was in one of our Technician classes a few years ago, while he was a Senior at South Plainfield High School.

Unfortunately, he was one of the ones that didn't pass, but it was quite understandable. He was so busy with Honors and Advanced Placement classes while simultaneously holding a position on the school's gymnastics team. It was a wonder he found time to eat and sleep, let alone find time to study for a Technician license. I asked Lou if his grandson ever got his ticket and he told me "No, he's in the military now". Too busy with Air Force stuff - but the time will come, eventually. If he has a Ham Radio future, it will come, eventually.

I got on the air this morning to take part in the QRP ARCI New Year's Day Sprint which took place from 1500 to 1800 UTC. I got on at about 1600 UTC. Again, not a lot of activity. I guess everyone was too pooped to pop after celebrating New Year's Eve.  In the final two hours, I made six contacts. Three on 20 Meters and three on 40 Meters. There would have been a seventh, from WA6OEF on 20 Meters, but just as we was giving me his exchange, he was covered up by a digital op. No warning, just digital QRM, out of the blue, covering up WA6OEF (grumble, grumble).

Yesterday, another goodie arrived from Gear Best. It's a magnetic circuit board holder, and again, it was one of those things that looked intriguing and was priced so low as to not pass up. If memory serves me, it was around $10 (US).




The four magnetic posts hold the board up high enough so that there's ample room for most  components when the board is upside down for soldering. There's probably not enough clearance if a heat sink needs to be installed, but most times those can be added later. This unit comes from the Netherlands. You can find it on the Gear Best site or at http://store.eleksmaker.com/index.php?route=product/product&path=100&product_id=212  The board is big enough to hold a circuit board just slightly bigger than a QSL card.

It's a balmy 53F (12C) here in South Plainfield today; but the weather prognosticators are saying that won't be the case for long. Soon, frigid air is supposed to be arriving, with Winter making a comeback.

For 2018 I can tell you that at W2LJ, according to my weather station:

The record high temperature was  97F - 36C
The record low temperature was 10F - -12C
The average humidity was 73%
We received 64.77 (164 cm) inches of rainfall - way above the normal 42 inches (106 cm) for this area. It was a very wet year.

According to WeatherUnderground, which stores my weather station's reports, the largest wind gust in 2018 clocked in at 28.6 MPH (46 KPH). I would have suspected a higher reading as close as we are to the Atlantic Ocean, but then, we had no hurricanes come through this year, either. I and my antennas are grateful for that! I have come to learn by observation, that just a little breeze can move things around a lot. When the tree limbs really start swaying, the wind speed indicator reads a lot lower than I would have expected.

Goals for 2019?
Build my QCX and get a few more kits done that have been backing up here.
Get on the air more.
Increase our CW QSO total at Field Day.
Blog more often than I have been. But I want to write about meaningful stuff, not just drone on to fill space. So hopefully, I won't become just a rambler.

Once again, thanks to all of you who read this on a regular (or even not so regular) basis. I hope you'll find it informative, interesting and even entertaining in the year to come.

Happy 2019!

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