Thursday, November 28, 2019

Thanksgiving 2019

Here in the U.S. of A., we are celebrating Thanksgiving Day - a day set aside (officially) by Abraham Lincoln back in 1863. We were in the midst of our bloody Civil War, but yet President Lincoln realized the many blessings that God has bestowed upon our Nation.

It is a day to take stock and to be thankful to our Creator for what He has given us - material objects, certainly but most importantly He has given us life, liberty and the right to pursue happiness. Personally, while I am grateful for all the material stuff - house, warm clothes, good food - I am most grateful for the love of family and the friendships and good relationships that I have the honor to partake in and enjoy. I am grateful to those who have had a hand in forming me and making me what I am today, I only hope that somehow I can pay that forward, and make a positive difference in other people's lives.

Thank you, dear readers, for reading this blog and continuing to be a source of inspiration. I hope that I can do this for many years to come and somehow increase the enjoyment that you get out of this greatest of hobbies.

On an Amateur Radio note. the QRP Foxhunts are "postponed" for this holiday week. If this were the NFL, this would be our "Bye Week". Instead of 40 and 80 Meter Hunts, Charles W2SH orchestrates a 160 Meter Foxtravaganza on Tuesday night. Everyone gets on and is "Fox and Hound" all at once. Everyone tries to work everyone and just have fun.

I loaded up the W3EDP, which is not really meant for 160 Meters, but ends up being better than nothing. I worked five stations, from Maine to North Carolina.

The map only shows three dots, but the stations worked were W2SH, N2RK, KK4R, K1WHS and NC4RT.  The local noise level is quite high, so half way through the event I started switching over to the Butternut HF9V for receive. Surprisingly to me, it served very well as a receiving antenna on 160 Meters and I was able to hear more stations with it, than the W3EDP, which were covered by QRN.

It was a good time and I look forward to the next one, which will be held Christmas week.

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

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Elmering .... mentoring .... it goes both ways.

It was brought to my attention this week that my signal from my mobile VHF/UHF rig has been ..... crap lately. So I switched over from the antenna I was using to this little Comet dual band magmount jobbie. The difference became apparent to me immediately -as I was able to access a certain repeater that I had not been able to, for a while. I thought it was a problem at the repeater site .... stupid me!

So I began looking for a replacement in the DX Engineering catalog, and I decided on the Diamond AZ507RSP with the accompanying Diamond K702M mag mount. And then I really noticed the cover:

And it struck me, we ARE all Elmers; but not only in the classic way, that you are used to thinking about it.

You think of the classic Elmer scenario - an old timer takes a newbie under his wing and shows him the ropes. And that is something that those of us who have some experience should all do. But in thinking about it - the reverse is also true.  When you mentor somebody, don't be closed to the idea of learning a new trick or two from the person you are mentoring.

It has been my privilege to teach Amateur Radio classes and get new people into this hobby. It has also been my privilege to be a Volunteer Examiner and get new people into the hobby that way. It has been my privilege to pass on some of what I've learned over the years to these folks.

But in return, it has also been my privilege to learn from some of these new Hams. I have gotten new ideas and have looked at old things in new ways and have been inspired to try new techniques and methods from the very people that I have been "Elmering".

So don't be afraid to take the opportunity to be a mentor or an "Elmer". Don't ever think that you have nothing to offer; because I can guarantee you - you most certainly do. And don't be in the least bit surprised to find out that the person you are "Elmering" will be able to allow you to see things in a fresh, new way that you were never aware of before.

"Elmering" - mentoring - it's a two way street!

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

Friday, November 15, 2019

80 Meter QRP Fox hunt and the coming weekend.

Last night was the second 80 Meter QRP Fox hunt of the season. I did not fare as well as last week. I made it into Ed N9EP's log - twice. Again, the first time I worked Ed, he faded into the QSB. I worked him again some 9 minutes later and heard the confirmation of our exchange. My apologies to my fellow hounds for the dupe.

The other Fox was Tim KR0U in Colorado, who I successfully worked in the 40 Meter Hunt on Tuesday night. No joy this time. Tim was a whisper most of the night, occasionally coming up to a 339 or so when propagation permitted. I did hear him all night, but this was one time when persistence didn't pay off!  I called and called right until the closing bell, but could not make myself heard. It's frustrating as all heck when the Fox is calling CQ and you answer him and he calls CQ again, right in your face.

"I can hear him, how can he possibly NOT hear me ?!?" is a question that I often ask myself and probably a lot of you out there ask that, too. Such is the life of a QRPer. There are a couple things that you have to keep in your mind (and remind yourself, if you're me!) when you enter into the QRP game.

1) Propagation is NOT reciprocal. Just because you can hear someone; doesn't always mean the return trip is guaranteed. I am not enough of a propagation expert to explain why this is, I only know it to be true from life experience.

2) Sometimes QRN at the other end can be the problem. I can't tell you how many times, as a hound, that I have read where Foxes, in posting their logs, have apologized for high levels of noise at their end. If the local noise floor is quiet, all things being equal, I might make it into their logs. But if my signal is only about S4 or S5 and their noise level is S6 or S7, I'm not going to make it, am I?

Sometimes, that's how QRP rolls. You throw the dice, you take your chances. If things don't work out, don't get your undies all into a knot. There will be other times.

Next weekend is the CQ WW DX contest. I'm not into contesting these big contests. I'm a fan of the QRP Sprints that call for a shorter effort. What I like about these contests - this one and ARRL DX is that they allow me to experiment. I like to get on the air after the initial feeding frenzy is over. I like to lower my power to only a Watt or two, or perhaps QRPp and see how many DX stations I can work with uber low power.  Another thing I like to do is twiddle the dial, looking for countries I have never worked while running at QRP power levels. Maybe this year, I'll set up the magloop and see how many DX entities I can snare using only that antenna.

I'll come right out with an admission.  100% totally dedicated QRP'ers  (for whom this is like a religion) will find this admission ugly.  They'll probably want to tear my QRP-ARCI membership card into shreds for this, but here it is:

If I come across a country I that have never, ever worked before and it is an ATNO (All Time New One) - the dial on that KXPA100 is going right up to 90 Watts or so in order to try and add that country to my DXCC total.  Call me a heretic - declare me anathema - I don't care. I'm still a tiny bit enough of a DXer to try and claim as many as I can before I leave for The Big Shack In The Sky.  I know I'll never make Honor Roll. Admittedly, I'm not dedicated enough for that, but if an opportunity presents itself, I'll do everything I can to take advantage of it in order get a "new one" in the log book.

Have fun this weekend!

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

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Persistence pays off

Persistence is a virtue that you will need in order to become successful in QRP. Admittedly, some days it comes easier than others - especially when Ol' Sol has some freckles on his face. On those days, it can seem like fishing in a barrel. On the other days when it's hard, you can choose to either walk away, or keep your fanny firmly planted in the chair in front of the radio.

There have been plenty of times that I have taken either course of action, but last night the 40 Meter QRP Fox hunt was a "keep your fanny firmly planted in the chair" kind of night. That was surprising, actually. When I turned on the KX3 about 10 minutes before the hunt started, I was greeted with a quiet noise floor. About S1 with the Butternut, maybe an S unit higher on the W3EDP.  My initial thought was "Oh boy, the Foxes will be easy to hear tonight!"


The first Fox that I was able to hear was Tim KR0U, or "TC" as he was calling himself last night. Tim says that T and C are his two first initials. However, I think that it should stand for "Top Cat" because he is such a superb Amateur Radio operator.  But I digress.

I heard hounds calling in the upper half of "the woods" so I began listening about a kHz down. Slowly, I was able to discern that it was Tim they were working. I waited until he got louder - first ESP, then a whisper, and then eventually workable.  At about 40 minutes into the hunt, I became confident that I would be able to hear him if he answered me. About 5 minutes later, I got into his log.

I hate useless calling. I define useless calling as calling the Fox when conditions are such that you would not be able to hear him/her answer you. Why bother calling at that point? Chances are you're only going to QRM some other hound who has a legitimate shot at that point. Courtesy dictates not shotgunning it blindly, and only trying when you have a real chance yourself. Too bad more people don't heed that advice.

Once Tim was in my pelt bag, I went down to the lower half of "the woods" to listen for Jerry N9AW in Wisconsin. There is usually a pipeline between NJ and both WI and MN. It seems I hear stations from those two states as if they were down the street. Last night, someone dug up the pipeline and threw it on the trash heap.

The only way I was able to tell where Jerry had situated himself was by tuning around and listening for hounds working him. Again, I found some and I tuned about one kHz down to listen for N9AW - this time there nothing, nada, zilch. It was as if Jerry was a submariner and had rigged for silent running.

At that point, it was nearly 10:00 PM local time. I was tired from a very long day at work. The temperatures outside were dropping like a stone as a cold front with Arctic air was rushing through and it was starting to become chilly in the shack. I was really, really, REALLY tempted to throw the Big Switch, and go to bed and get under the nice warm blankets.  But for some insane reason, I decided not to - persistence kicked in.  Stubborn, insanely optimistic persistence had kicked in. Half of my brain was saying, "This is hopeless, you're never going to hear him, go get warm!"  The other half of my brain was saying "Be patient and stay the course!"

It turned out that listening to the latter half of my brain paid off. All of a sudden, with only about 10 minutes left in the hunt, propagation changed and Jerry popped out of the silence - and not just ESP, but loud enough to work  It was as if a curtain had been lifted, so I fired off my call a few times and I was pretty sure that I had grabbed the second pelt for the night. It was very difficult to be certain, though, as other hounds were calling him over, and over and over - right on top of me (Jerry was working simplex). Those last few minutes were like a shark feeding frenzy

Once the hunt ended, Jerry upped the Watts a bit and he sent "W2LJ UR IN THE LOG". I was thrilled to hear those dits and dahs! Thank you, Jerry and thank you stubborn, insanely optimistic persistence for keeping me in the chair!

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

Monday, November 11, 2019

Veteran's Day 2019

Happy Veteran's Day to all of you who have served. My utmost and heartfelt thanks to you for keeping us safe .......... and free!

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

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Field Day 2019 postmortem

Personally, Field Day 2019 was pretty much a disaster. Coming down with a stomach ailment in the middle of the night, making you feel like the Grim Reaper has a hand on your shoulder while standing on a banana peel was no fun. I didn't get to operate nearly as much as I has wanted to; and our QSO total was down as a result. Fortunately, Marv K2VHW and Bob WB2UDC and Bill W2AOF did take up some of the slack. Our results weren't as bad as I had thought they would be.

Field Day is not a contest; and the South Plainfield Amateur Radio Club doesn't consider it to be one or operate it that way. We operate it as an emergency preparedness exercise and we try to push ourselves to our limits to see what we are capable of were we ever truly needed. So in that regard, we do like to see how we fare against other stations in our categories.

How we compared in the standings:
Top 11% all Field Day stations
Top 50% of 3AB stations
Top 10% of all 5W stations
Top 20% of Hudson Division stations
Top 24% of NNJ Section stations

Not bad, but not as well as we usually do. We're already making plans for 2020.  We may go with the Hexbeam for the SSB station from the get go, instead of relying on the "iffy" Mosley.  I am thinking of going with the MFJ-1982LP for the CW station instead of the W3EDP next year. And I definitely want to get a dedicated 160 Meter antenna going for the overnight QSOs for next year.

And I firmly resolve to stay away from anything that contains mayonnaise or any suspect cream donuts in 2020!

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

Friday, November 08, 2019

Every now and then

something happens that just makes your day!

I got an e-mail from Andre WI9AJR asking me to check out Page 83 of December QST.  Well, as a Lifemember and part of a captive audience, it seems like just about every Ham I know gets their QST before I do!  So I did the next best thing - I checked out the online digital edition and this is what I saw:

Two Skeeter Hunters, Andre WI9AJR and his son Etienne WI9EJR both passed their Extra exam upgrade on the same day. Father and son Extras !!! How cool is that? The fact that Etienne is wearing a NJQRP Skeeter Hunt t-shirt is just icing on the cake.

Way to go guys! Congratulations and I look forward to hearing you in the 2020 Hunt next August!

In the same edition, were the 2019 Field Day results. As I expected, NJ2SP wasn't quite up to snuff this year - but still, we had a respectable score.

A few of us came down with some kind of stomach thing and we were definitely not up to our "A Game". 2020 will be different - just wait until next year!

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

So how did the 80 Meter QRP Fox hunt go?

Quite well, actually. In fact, better than the 40 Meter hunt.

I had fears though. For 80 Meters my W3EDP is my antenna of choice. However, there is SOMETHING in the neighborhood that is giving me S9 QRN on 80 Meters with the W3EDP, right around the QRP frequencies (as luck would have it). I can hear much better with the HF9V, but I think I can be heard better when I transmit using the W3EDP.

Last night, it didn't seem to matter, though.  I was lucky enough to QSO with both foxes, even though conditions weren't the best from the beginning. Twiddling the dial, I came across the "upper fox" first.

Before I go any further, let me explain that terminology to those of you who have never taken part in a QRP Fox hunt.  The 80 Meter fox hunt playing field is from 3.550 MHz to 3.570 MHz, with the "half point marker" being 3.560 MHz, the QRP watering hole.  One fox hides in the upper half, and one in the lower half.  It's the same for the 40 Meter hunts. The "woods" are from 7.030 MHz to 7.050 MHz with 7.040 MHz being the "half point marker". One fox is the "upper fox" and one fox is the "lower fox" - or that's the way it's supposed to work. Sometimes they trick us up, or due to a DXpedition or some other thing, they may hide in the same half.

As I was saying, I was twiddling the dial and came across the "upper fox" which was Drew K9CW. He was fairly weak; and for IL to NJ on 80 Meters, I expected him to be a bit louder. I stuck with it though, and after numerous calls I finally made contact at 0226 UTC.

With over an hour left in the hunt, it was time to go look for Jim N0UR, who should be the lower fox. He WAS the lower fox, but was barely audible. That was surprising, because Jim is a lot like Todd N9NE. Whenever I hear either of them, I usually have to lower the AF Gain or they will both routinely send the ear buds rocketing out of my head. Jim started coming up and I worked him at 0235 UTC, but dang it! QSB kicked in just as I handed it back to Jim for the end of the QSO. Did he hear me? Did he ask for fills? Do I cross my fingers and hope I made it into the log? What's a hound to do?

I decided to sit there and listen for a while. As I heard other friends work Jim, eventually the string of hounds started to peter out. Around 0300 UTC or so, Jim started calling "CQ Fox" over and over and over again with no takers. Feeling pretty sure that I wasn't going to deny anyone else a QSO, I decided to go for an insurance contact.  This time at 0305 UTC, I was able to hear Jim from start to finish!

Both foxes posted their logs to the q-fox e-mail reflector this morning, and I was able to confirm I was in both their logs. The funny thing about last night is the way it ended. For most of the night, I really had to strain my ears to hear both Drew and Jim. It was pure delight when a "tuner-upper" came up on Jim's frequency while I had my AGC turned off! But for the last ten minutes or so from about 0320 to 0330 UTC, BOTH Jim and Drew came up to solid 599s. They both would have been easy pickings in the last ten minutes, but who knew the bands would change that way?

The best advice that I can give to anyone contemplating on joining in on the QRP Fox hunt fun is to work them as early as you can. If you're not sure you made it into the log, try again a second time only if the fox is lonely and is calling CQ with no takers. Sometimes there are hounds calling right up until the very end of a hunt and it's not cool to deprive someone of what may be their only chance just for your insurance QSO. That's when you just have to cross your fingers and hope for the best.

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

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Fox Hunt season started last night

The 2019/2020 Winter QRP Fox Hunt season started last night - and I almost forgot!

I had a class that I was teaching that lasted a bit longer than anticipated. I got home around 8:30 and sat down on the couch to relax a for a few minutes. A few minutes turned into a lot of minutes. Around 9:15 PM, I realized that the season's first 40 Meter hunt was probably in full swing.

The foxes were Drew K9CW in Illinois and Kevin W9CF in Arizona. Twiddling the dial, I was able to soon pick up packs of hounds, so I had a decent idea of where the foxes were. All I could do was wait and see if the bands would change so I could actually hear the foxes!

It wasn't long before Drew popped out of the background where I happened to be listening and became audible. I sent my call and he answered me. I sent my exchange; but I never heard a "QSL" as the QSB kicked in. The next time I heard Drew, he was working another station. Did I successfully work him? Or was he looking for fills that I missed, resulting in a busted QSO?

Decisions, decisions! Do I work him again and possibly annoy him with a dupe: or do I cross my fingers and hope that I appear in his log?

I went to the other end of the band where I heard the other pack of hounds to listen for Kevin. Nothing. After several minutes of bending my ears, I decided to go back to Drew's frequency. He was louder this time, so I decided to try something a bit different. I lowered my power to 1 Watt and sent out my call again.  This time, I heard the exchange from beginning to end - a fox pelt was in the log!

I never did hear Kevin, not even a whisper. I guess 40 Meters just couldn't handle the New Jersey to Arizona haul.  This morning, when Drew posted his log, I saw that I had made it - actually both times! Even though I didn't hear his "QSL", he mentioned that two other stations besides myself had worked him twice, once at a lower power, so for the record he only reported the QSOs made with lower power.

The band was pretty quiet last night on both antennas. I heard Drew equally as well with the HF9V as the W3EDP. I worked him on the HF9V. Tomorrow night is the first 80 Meter hunt. In the past few years, I have fared much better on 80 Meters than 40 Meters. It will be interesting to see how this season pans out.

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

Monday, November 04, 2019

So I did it!

I replicated Dave KD2FSI's mast holder solution.

That is a 3 foot section of 2 inch PVC and a PVC coupler to serve as the guying collar.  I drilled three holes to accommodate the CamJams at more or less 120 degrees from each other. I didn't have a protractor to measure it exactly, so I had to eyeball it.

The CamJams come in sets of two, so in reality, I could have made four holes, 90 degrees apart from each other, but I've always been taught that the triangle is the sturdiest and strongest geometric shape that there is, so I went with that.

The Jackite fits in nicely and the CamJams actually take up enough space to eliminate a lot of the "play" between the inside diameter of the PVC and the outside diameter of the kackite. So far, this has come in under $20.00.  The CamJams were $7.48 per set of two, the PVC pieces were about $3.00.

The local sporting goods store did not have the tent pegs that I wanted so I ordered them from Amazon:

I had an Amazon gift card that my sister had given me for my birthday, so these didn't cost me anything. It was $7.00 for a package of 10, so if I had to purchase everything, this still would have come in at just about $25.

A much more "elegant solution" (my old boss at Sinar Bron, Ulrich Krahenbuhl liked that phrase - he was an engineer) than what I was using and a much easier way to insure the Jackite is as vertical as possible.  Thanks again, Dave!

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

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Zombie Shuffle let down

The Zombie Shuffle was somewhat of a let down this past Friday night. Granted, I got a very late start. The event begins at 4:00 PM local time and runs till Midnight, local time. Due to a series of events, I was not able to get started until 8:00 PM local time.

I was not prepared for the lack of activity. 20 Meters was absolutely void of Zombies, which was actually not all that surprising considering the hour. I was mystified by the lack of activity on 40 Meters. It was dead - pun NOT intended. I called "CQ BOO" for quite a while and received nary a reply. I checked RBN and I was getting out, so it seems like there were no Zombies on the band to engage in a QSO.

I got all three (Yay - 3!) QSOs on 80 Meters. One was in reply to a CQ and the other two were answers to my CQ. I ended up with a paltry score of 10, 659 points - which is inconsequential. I wasn't in it to win it, I was in it to hopefully score a bunch of QSOs to fatten up the log book. I remember past Shuffles when it was common to work 20 - 30 stations in just a couple of hours. This was tough business just pulling 3 out of the aether. I finally gave up when I actually did start nodding off at the key.

I am sincerely hoping that this is just the result of bad propagation and not due to a lack of interest. The Zombie Shuffle, sponsored by Paul NA5N and Jan N0QT is one of the most fun and light-hearted QRP Sprints on the calendar. It would be a shame to see its popularity fade.

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

Friday, November 01, 2019

I can always count on KD2FSI

Dave KD2FSI read my blog post and watched the video about the mast support that I posted the other day. He sent me a message on Facebook:

"Hey Larry,

I just finished reading your blog and watched the attached video about anchoring Jackite type masts and thought I would share a picture of my setup before you run out and buy ratcheting straps. 

I use cam-jam cord tighteners; they are lite-weight, easy to adjust and you don’t need hose clamps to attach straps to your PVC holder pole. I also use heavier tent stakes with a nail type head that can be easily pushed in or hammered in if necessary. This setup works great in grassy fields, but not so well on a rocky mountain tops or sandy beaches or any other place where you can’t drive in stakes. And that is why I came up with my pack frame mount. "

Dave was a software engineer by profession, and he has the ability to "think outside the box" that I only wish I had.  To me, he's like the MacGyver of Amateur Radio.  I look at his solutions to things and always end up thinking, "Why couldn't I think of that!" He has a gift, he truly does.

This looks like a less bulkier solution than those ratcheting straps.  I can use Dacron antenna rope that I already have, and a search online revealed that my local Home Depot keeps the CamJams in stock. I'll need to go and buy a new piece of PVC, anyway. For the life of me, I can't find where I put mine.

I emptied the back of the Jeep of all my radio paraphernalia when I moved Cara to college. I thought I put all of it back, but I can't find the mast holder!  I looked in the shack, I looked in the shed in the backyard - I have no idea where I put it. And it's not like it's a tiny thing, either. You'd think it would be easy to spot.

It's probably in the same place where all those socks go that are missing from the clothes dryer.

On a totally different note, we had a wild night last night! It was rainy yesterday and we had a high temperature of 72F (22C).  In the very late evening, I would say around 10:00 PM local time, an Arctic air mass started moving down out of Canada.  I had disconnected the antennas thinking we might get some bad thunderstorms. In fact, I got messages on the cell phone that we were under a severe thunderstorm and tornado watch until about 1:00 AM.

No thunderstorms, but some rain and some very gusty winds.  The weather station was reading sustained gusts over 25 mph.  How do I know this? I didn't sleep well at all with the wind howling past and shaking the windows. I couldn't sleep, so I would check the weather display from time to time rather than just toss and turn in bed.

So today, I feel somewhat like a Zombie from the lack of sleep, and that's very appropriate!  Tonight is NA5N's Annual Zombie Shuffle - hope to hear you on the air tonight. If I can manage to stay awake, that is!  Both of my antennas stayed up even though the wind tried hard to knock them down. The question now is, will I be able to stay up tonight; or will I just nod off at the key?!?

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