Thursday, December 31, 2020

Good-bye 2020!

 Hey, 2020 ....... I wish I could say it was nice knowing you; but it wasn't.

For the most part this was NOT a fun year. Yeah, there were some good times and some highlights, but if my 2020 was a sports highlights film, it'd probably last under a minute.  Not to say that I'm not grateful. I am - but not to 2020. So instead of droning on and on with negatives, let's just say that .........

I'm grateful to God that my family has been preserved from COVID. Even though my wife is a nurse and has seen many patients with the virus, she has been spared. Just goes to show that PPE and a lot of prayers on her behalf work!

I'm grateful that I am considered an essential and that I have worked throughout. Except for our annual summer vacation in July, I did not miss a day of work. For that I am grateful, even though a lot of those days were hard on this body and sapped me of any reserve energy to engage in Amateur Radio - even on the weekends. I spent most of those trying to recuperate from the previous work week!  Most days this year, I was in bed by 8:00 or 9:00 PM - the "advantage" of approaching "old manhood". Ergo, my participation in the QRP Fox Hunts has been virtually nil this year. While the Hounds and Foxes are busy pounding out exchanges, I'm typically already sawing wood at start time.

So for 2021 - my wishes - hopefully we'll see:

More Hamfests - 2020 robbed us of those. They fell like dominoes - one after another right before our very eyes.

A little more spare time and energy in which to pursue portable ops and some POTA activations in the coming year.

Better weather on key weekends. Both FOBB and the Skeeter Hunt were marred by wetness from the sky in 2020. Can we please have better weather on those two weekends for 2021, Lord? Please?

As above, a little more energy and spare time to get a few kits built. I still have that QCX+ for 20 Meters that I haven't even opened yet. I'd love to get that started soon. I royally screwed up my QCX 40 by working on it when I shouldn't have. Building a kit when you really should be resting is not a good idea - and it showed. In 40+ years of Amateur Radio and kit building, this was my first and most disappointing utter failure.

The chance for our beloved radio clubs to actually meet in person once again. These ZOOM meetings are okay as far as they go; but it would be nice to actually get a chance to see good friends again - in person.

Field Day! Good ol' Field Day like it's supposed to be ....... out in a hot tent, staying up all night, swatting at mosquitoes and other nasty bugs - pounding brass to the point where I hear it in my sleep for the entire next week. I never thought I'd miss Field Day - the REAL thing -  as much as I did this year!

VE Exams being conducted back to where we used to ...... inside a building and not outside in a parking lot.  Our situation worked well, mind you, but we were dependent on good weather and no matter how well things went, they were still a challenge. At least when you're inside a building, you don't have to worry about strong breezes or gusts of wind blowing papers around all creation.

Not Amateur Radio related ....... but I'd love to be able to go back into a sit-down-eat-indoors restaurant. I never thought I'd miss that as much as I do. Not that we did it very often pre-2020, but I do miss the times that we were able to.

I hope and pray that 2021 is a better year for all of us - from this blog to God's ear - or eye, whichever.

Happy New Year's Eve!

72 de Larry W2LJ

QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Wednesday, December 30, 2020


 35 smackers to apply for a new license, renew a license, apply for a vanity call, renew a vanity call, etc.

Makes me glad I renewed both W2LJ and NJ2SP in 2020. I won't have to fork out dollars until 10 years from now. Seriously, I can live with the fee - but I really felt it should have been waived for first time license applications.  Just my .02, or perhaps just my $35.02.

72 de Larry W2LJ

QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

This is wild!

 A YouTube vide by K6ARK as he uses a micro-Pixie on a SOTA summit: I'm not a big YouTube watcher; but this was posted by various people on Facebook, and I'm glad I took the time to view it. It's worth sharing here.

I would love to do stuff like this!  

I need to get off my butt and do more portable QRP ops in 2021. It seems that every time I try to, something comes up and the opportunity goes towards getting something done at home ....... the joys of home ownership! 

Lots of Amateur Radio goals I'd like to accomplish in 2021. I just have to set my mind to them.

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

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Caveat Emptor

 Stealing these days isn't limited to grand larceny or "porch pirates" stealing your Amazon packages off your front door step. There's a lot to be found everywhere.

Take for instance, this item I saw on eBay:

The logo at the bottom of the circuit board material (circled in red) says it was made by the QRPGuys, but the seller is in China! Last time I looked, the QRPGuys were based out of California. I mean, I guess it's possible that someone in China bought a gross of these things and is re-selling them. Or maybe they ARE made in China for the QRPGuys - but I don't think the QRPGuys gave their permission for their logo and name to be used for selling this item by anyone but them. I might be wrong, but something about this doesn't pass the "smell test".

Looks guys, if you have to cheat and clone someone else's ideas and designs, at least have the decency to not use their name and logo!

I checked the QRPGuys website and this item is still available from them for just a few buck more. If you're going to buy one, at least get it from the source!

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

Friday, December 25, 2020

Merry Christmas!

Joyeux Noël.

Frohe Weinachten.

Feliz Navidad.

Buon Natale.

Feliz Natal.

Vrolijk kerstfeest.

Crăciun fericit.

Wesołych świąt Bożego Narodzenia

From my house to your house, wherever it may be:

A Very Merry and Blessed Christmas to you and yours!

72 de Larry W2LJ

QRP - When you care to send the very least!


Thursday, December 24, 2020

Christmas Eve 2020


Behold! Fear not! I bring you tidings of great joy!

For today in the City of David, a CHILD IS BORN to us, a Son is given to us, and the government is upon His shoulder: 

And His name shall be called, Wonderful, Counsellor, God the Mighty, the Father of the world to come, the Prince of Peace. 

His empire shall be multiplied, and there shall be no end of peace: He shall sit upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom; to establish it and strengthen it with judgment and with justice, from henceforth and for ever

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

Sunday, December 20, 2020

An early Christmas gift

 I had sent a Tweet to Jeff Davis, KE9V that it was time to re-publish "A QRP Christmas" which is a favorite of mine - no .... it would be fairer to say it is THE favorite Amateur Radio Christmas story of mine.

Jeff surprised me by granting me permission to share it with all of you. Perhaps you've read it before - it's so very worth reading again. And perhaps there's a new bunch of QRPers who have never read this before. It is presented here, as KE9V sent to me to share with you! Thank you, Jeff!

A QRP Christmas

Jeff Davis, KE9V

"A foot of new snow and it's still falling, this is getting bad," Tom muttered to no one in particular. Just then Stella walked in with a sad look on her face and Tom knew right away.

"The kids aren't going to make it, are they?" he asked. "No," she answered, "I just got off the phone with them and the roads are all closed."

Great! Two days before Christmas, and the world had come to a halt.

Tom gave his wife a hug and said, "Well Mother, we might as well get over it, nothing much we can do now but wait this thing out." In the 50 plus years since the couple bought the house they had weathered many winter storms, but this would be the first Christmas without the kids and, now, the grandchildren. Nature could be cruel, but at least they had plenty of food and firewood, and there was ample gas for the generator in case the power went off. "I think I'll go see if the repeater is still on the air," Tom said as he headed to his ham shack over the garage. Being a radio amateur had its advantages, and emergency communication was one of them. He fired up the VHF set, and--sure enough--the local repeater was alive and busy. Several folks in the community needed assistance, and snowmobile deliveries were being organized accompanied by hams to maintain communication.

As with many things, people take communication systems for granted until they're suddenly unavailable. Two years earlier, with the proliferation of cellular telephone technology, Middletown decided it no longer needed Amateur Radio to assist during emergencies. A few months later, the river overflowed its banks during a massive rainstorm. Lightning wreaked havoc on the power grid and even cellular telephones were overloaded or knocked out altogether.

With one loud clap of thunder Amateur Radio was back in the disaster communications business in Middletown. The Town Council went so far as to give the Middletown Amateur Radio Club access to a county building to serve as a communications headquarters and monthly meeting spot.

Stella walked up the stairs to the radio shack with a hot cup of coffee for Tom. She figured he'd be spending quite a lot of time on the air during this snow emergency. She was wrong. Tom wasn't all that fond of 2-meters, really. He'd always been a CW op. In fact, for years he never even owned a microphone for his HF gear. To him, ham radio was and would always be, CW.

His high school print shop teacher had convinced him to get his ham license in 1939. A few years later, Uncle Sam took note of his radiotelegraphy talents and made him a Navy radio operator aboard the USS Missouri. He served from 1941 until the end of the War and even was present aboard the Missouri for the formal Japanese surrender.

Not long after the War, he married his high school sweetheart, Stella, and started what would be a 40-year career at the telephone company. They had three children and still lived in the very house they'd bought brand new as a young couple in 1947.

Tom was a tinkerer, and he'd built several transmitters and even a few receivers. But he was a serious brasspounder and could handle 30 to 40 WPM with ease. His station was always as clean as his signal, and any piece of equipment he built was a work of art. It wasn't good enough just to work and look good--it had to be perfect. Other members of the local radio club poked fun because Tom had a habit of making sure that even the screw slots on anything he built were aligned in the same direction.

He didn't buy his first commercially made gear until 1961--a Hallicrafters SX-140 receiver with a matching HT-40 transmitter. That was the only store-bought equipment in his shack until over a decade later, when his best friend died suddenly. His friend's widow gave Tom all the equipment in her husband's shack, including a complete Collins S-Line. That gear took a special place in Tom's heart and shack, not so much because it was the "ultimate station," but because it had belonged to his closest friend.

After retiring in 1986, Tom quit building equipment. He maintained several skeds with on-air friends from around the world. Saturday nights were his favorite, for it was then that he met with a large number of old Navy radio ops on 7.030. He really enjoyed those rag chews! But, one-by-one, the gang started to dwindle as more and more of his buddies became Silent Keys. It depressed him so that when his main receiver quit working in 1993, he didn't bother to fix it. K9NZQ was off the air for the first time since World War II.

Stella was worried enough about her husband's depression that she told the kids about the problem. They chipped in and bought him a brand new 2-meter FM radio for his birthday thinking that would cheer him up. Tom listened to the local repeater every day, but he rarely transmitted. It just wasn't the same.

She had hoped that having all the kids and grandchildren at the house again this Christmas would perk Tom up and chase away the lingering blues but now the weather had ruined that plan.

"I think I'll go out and make sure the generator still starts," he said as he passed through the kitchen. "The power lines are beginning to ice up."

Once he was out the back door, Stella took the opportunity to quickly and carefully wrap her gift to him. One of his friends had suggested to her that she buy Tom a kit for Christmas. Taking his suggestion, she ordered a small QRP CW transceiver kit he'd recommended. She didn't know if he would like it, but with this weather she was especially glad it had a arrived a few days earlier. Like it or not, at least he would have something to open on Christmas morning.

Day turned into evening and somehow the power stayed on. More snow was falling outside. The TV was calling it some sort of record snowfall for central Indiana. When Tom said he was going to bed and it was only 6:30 PM, she decided it was time.

"Let's go ahead and open our presents now, and not wait two more days" she said, handing him the gaily wrapped box. He didn't really want to open presents, now but he didn't want to disappoint Stella, knowing that she was still upset about the kids.

"All right, let me go get yours first," he agreed. In a few minutes they were opening their presents. She seemed to really like the bread making machine. He was more than a little surprised as he opened the little QRP kit.

"There now," she allowed, "that will give you something to do for a few days and it will keep you out of my kitchen." Tom knew he'd been underfoot lately. "You're sending me to my room without pie?" he said with a smile.

"Go on with you. I'll bring pie up to you as soon as the coffee quits brewing," she said as he headed back to the shack with the little box in hand.

By the time she walked in the shack, pumpkin pie in one hand and hot coffee in the other, Tom had unpacked the box, sorted the parts and was halfway through the instructions. She was happy to see he at least looked interested and left the room with her fingers crossed that this might cheer him up.

He didn't leave the shack until nearly midnight. By then, he had half of the components soldered to the main board, and he had wound several coils. "If the power doesn't go out," he muttered, "I could have this thing running by Christmas!"

The next morning he awoke at 7:30 AM, two hours later than usual. Stella already had the bacon frying when he walked into the kitchen. A quick look out the back window revealed yet another foot of fresh snow had fallen last night. He was glad to see blue sky and sunshine and hoped that meant the worst was over. After breakfast he was back in the shack, soldering pen in hand.

Tom was genuinely impressed with the little kit. The instructions were clear, and it looked to be of high-quality. He had already convinced himself, though, that he would never make a contact on 40 meters with less than 3 W. Nonetheless, he was happy to have something to keep his hands and mind busy. And it was a good thing that he'd kept up that dipole so he could see if this radio actually worked.

By 7 that evening, the kit was nearly finished. He was ready to apply power and begin initial testing. Stella knew that her decision to buy the little kit was a good one when he asked if she'd mind if he ate supper in the shack. By 11 PM Christmas Eve, the kit was finished. He plugged in the headphones, hooked up the antenna connection, and applied power.

The noise level jumped, and he knew things were working when he moved the VFO ever so slightly and instantly heard a QSO in progress. "Now, that's a good sign," he said to himself. He pulled off the headphones and headed upstairs to tell Stella the good news. But she was fast asleep. It was midnight. No point in waking her up now. He slipped back to the shack and put the headphones back on.

73 ES MERRY XMAS OM DE W5WBL he heard as one QSO completed. Tom moved a little higher in the band until he heard a strong station in QSO with a VE6 in Vancouver. He was more than a little impressed with the sensitivity of the receiver. After listening to a few more QSOs he continued moving up the band until suddenly, he heard a familiar call sign.

CQ CQ CQ de XE3HHH XE3HHH XE3HHH K. Tom almost couldn't believe it. Here was his old friend Miguel in Mexico calling CQ. He listened as Miguel called several more times with no reply. Thinking it silly to even try, Tom grabbed an old straight key and plugged it in. It was the first time in years that he had even touched a key. "This will never work" he thought as he tapped out XE3HHH XE3HHH XE3HHH de K9NZQ K9NZQ HW CPI OM?

Tom's jaw dropped when almost instantly Miguel came back. K9NZQ de XE3HHH FB OM I THOUGHT YOU DIED HI HI MERRY CHRISTMAS AMIGO. The two chatted for nearly an hour until Miguel had to go.

After the final 73, Tom sat back in his chair and rubbed his chin. He couldn't help but smile when he thought of just how much fun this day had been. Building the little kit and actually working an old friend just seemed to make his day complete. He would have bet half his retirement pension that there was no way to work Miguel with less than 3 watts. He knew some guys who worked QRP regularly, but he had always assumed that actually making contacts was a pretty rough and risky business. At least he never thought it would be that easy.

He was about to shut down the rig and go to bed when he heard a loud CQ just off the frequency where he worked Miguel. It was KL7DD. Tom reached for the key figuring he'd get in another quick QSO--or at least make the attempt--then go to bed. KL7DD turned out to be Joe in Point Barrow, Alaska. Joe also was ex-Navy, so the two hit it off right away. What started off to be a "quick" contact turned into a two-hour QSO. Joe only had trouble hearing Tom a couple of times. The little QRP rig was holding its own and making a believer out of Tom in the process.

Four contacts later, Tom was exhausted. About the time he shut things down and headed for bed, Stella walked in. "Merry Christmas!" she exclaimed. "What time did you get up? I didn't hear you get out of bed?"

Tom wasn't sure how to tell her he had been up all night 'playing radio' so he just replied, "early."

"Well, I've got breakfast ready," she said as she walked back down the stairs. He was still thinking about the contacts he made last night when he sat down at the kitchen table. "You know Mother," he said with a smile, "this might have been one of the very best Christmas's we've had in a long, long time. After breakfast, let's call the kids, but then I need to be back in the shack by noon because I told a guy that I would meet him on 40 meters to help him check out his new antenna..."

No doubt about it. K9NZQ was radio active once again.

A QRP Christmas by Jeff Davis, KE9V
Copyright 1998 © All Rights Reserved

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

Friday, December 04, 2020

Crummy year ......right?

 In a lot of ways. COVID, friends and family affected. Social distancing, jobs lost, businesses closed, Hamfests cancelled, the debacle that was Field Day - a pretty bleak year.

Wildfires out West, the antics of "protest groups", election year insanity, Churches being torched in Europe and all the craziness our European friends (heck, our world wide friends!) have had to deal with.

But this December 21st - maybe just a little something we can look at in the evening sky, that might just remind us of another celestial event that took place some 2,000 years ago.

Saturn and Jupiter will come close enough in the evening sky to become what astronomers call "a conjunction".

OK, so maybe it won't be as bright as the Star of Bethlehem, but maybe it will be enough to remind us that the Universe is bigger than our problems and that hopefully, the insanity will soon abate a bit. I'm not crazy enough to think it will stop completely, but Hope springs eternal.

72 de Larry W2LJ

QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

2020 - what's next?

 I suppose you've all heard this from other sources by now; but yesterday, November 30th was the last day for Universal Radio - a popular Amateur Radio store here in the USA. The owners, Fred and Barbara Osterman have decided to retire, The brick and mortar store closed with EOB yesterday, but I've read where Universal Radio will remain online for just a little while longer in order to sell whatever existing stock may be left. 

I've ordered from Universal Radio several times in my Ham Radio career. Never had a problem, they always provided quick service at a great price. They will be missed.

In the "One Door Closes, Another Door Opens" department, it was announced that "Radio Shack" had been bought by Retail Ecommerce Ventures (REV). There are no plans for any physical neighborhood stores, such as the ones many of us grew up with. This will be an Internet enterprise exclusively. Plans are to make Radio Shack a seller of consumer electronics - phones, computers, etc. They probably won't delve into parts like the old Radio Shack, so it's probably still a good idea to look for your PL-259s elsewhere.

CQ WWDX CW was this past weekend, as you all know. I did not participate much except to turn on the radio and listen ...... mostly. It was good to hear 15 Meters open. When I tuned in, the band was open mainly to the Caribbean and South America. I did work HC2CRG in Ecuador with 5 Watts. Even though I've been in this hobby for 42 years now, it still amazes me that my RF can traverse from NJ to such far away places that I have never been to or seen.

On the flip side, I tried for close to an hour to work John K4BAI, who was operating as PJ4A in Bonaire. What a bittersweet experience! He was 20 over 9 here in NJ and I could just not make myself heard! Even when there was an ebb in his pileup, I would send my call only to get another CQ as a response. The W3EDP and the HF9V yielded the same result - nada.  I suppose if I turned on the KXPA100 and cranked it up to about 90 Watts, I could have worked him in a NY minute- but that just went against my QRP grain. I've worked Bonaire and Curacao many times before - it was never a case of it being an ATNO. I just wanted to give a friend another QSO for his total.

Being satisfied with having worked Ecuador, which was more distant, I turned off the radio before becoming too frustrated. That's part of the QRP game - learning when to hold 'em and knowing when to fold 'em.

72 de Larry W2LJ

QRP - When you care to send the very least!