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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Long night

Last evening, I finished the last two of four FEMA courses on the Incident Command System (ICS) and the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and the National Preparedness Framework (NPF) that I needed to take for an Auxiliary Communications Workshop being held in October.


Description:

This class is designed for those auxiliary emergency communicators and groups who volunteer to provide backup emergency radio communications support to public safety agencies. Typically, this includes amateur radio and Radio Emergency Associated Communications Team (REACT) communicators, but may include other volunteer emergency communicators.


Volunteer emergency communications operators/groups, using amateur radio, have been providing backup communications to public safety for nearly 100 years. Event planners, public safety officials, and emergency managers at all levels of government utilize their services. Often, amateur radio services have been used when other forms of communications have failed or have been disrupted. Today, nearly all the states/territories have incorporated some level of participation by amateur radio auxiliary communication operators into their TICPs and SCIPs.

This course focuses on auxiliary communications interoperability, the relationship between the COML and the volunteer, emergency operations center (EOC) etiquette, on-the-air etiquette, FCC rules and regulations, auxiliary communications training and planning, and emergency communications deployment. It is intended to supplement and standardize an operator’s experience and knowledge of emergency amateur radio communications in a public safety context.

It's a two day event, held over the weekend of October 24th and 25th at the Middlesex County Fire Academy.  Looks to be interesting. My registration was received and accepted pending my sending in the certificates of completion, which I sent in this morning.

The FEMA courses were comprehensive in scope. Each was designed to be completed in about 3 hours and I came in slightly under that amount of time - maybe two and a half hours or two hours and forty five minutes each.

I crammed two in last night (which wasn't wise) as each evening for the rest of this week is booked with other activities. I was pretty bleary eyed for that last exam, but was pleased when I got the e-mail that I passed.

FEMA offers a lot of free, on-line independent study courses.  You can look them up at https://training.fema.gov/is/crslist.aspx?all=true

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

Monday, July 27, 2015

Getting stoked!

Last night, I ran across this video that Steve WG0AT made after the inaugural 2012 NJQRP Skeeter Hunt:


Can't wait for August 9th. Don't forget to sign up for your Skeeter number - we currently have 128 Skeeters waiting to take wing. Make sure to join 'em!

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

The part of life that bites

Today, I learned in an e-mail that a member of the VE team that I work with, Bob Conroy KB2VMG became a Silent Key this past Saturday.


I have only known Bob for a little while, but he was the type of person that it was very hard not to take a liking to. He had a great sense of humor and a quick smile. He was a fellow Elecraft enthusiast and was an all around Ham, interested in rag chewing, chasing DX, operating all modes, etc. - and very knowledgeable about all of it.  And he always had a good story to share whenever he saw you.

I knew that Bob wasn't feeling the greatest and had recently taken a sabbatical from work. I was hoping that was to take care of some nagging medical issues, and then get back on track. I had no idea that he was as sick as he was.

Although I didn't know him as well as I would have liked, I will miss KB2VMG very much, and I will mourn not only him, but for the deeper friendship that could have been.

Prayers for Bob and his family as they navigate through this difficult time.

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

Sunday, July 26, 2015

FOBB after action report

The weather held off! For the duration of the Flight of the Bumblebees, I was not bothered by rain, lighting, or thunder. In fact, one really couldn't ask for better weather! Throughout it was warm, in the upper 80s (32C), but where I was located there was a light breeze, and I was in a shady spot.

I went up to Washington Rock State Park, a favorite QRP operating haunt of mine. The trees are tall, there are plenty of picnic tables and not too many people to classify as "crowded". I arrived at about 12:20 PM EDT and promptly launched the antenna line. Once again, the Joplin MO ARC pneumatic launcher did not dissapoint. I easily shot a line over a tree at what I would estimate to be was the 60-65 foot level.


You can see the gray jacket of the coax running up to the PAR END FEDZ which was the antenna of choice for the day. I didn't put up the NorCal, but I think I will for the Skeeter Hunt.

As with any of these QRP Sprints, the activity level was low from the beginning. Before it got busy, I was joined by good friend and fellow SPARC member Dave Hackett KD2FSI who brought me a cup of Dunkin' Donuts coffee and a cinnamon roll.  After finishing off his coffee, Dave asked if I would mind if he set up his portable station. I was estatic to have the company!



Dave set up his gear for for 6 Meters and also tried for some JT65 contacts while I played Bumblebee. It was great to have the company, as four hours can be a long time when you're alone. Dave and I are hoping to make a trip to High Point before Summer ends for a SOTA activation.

Of the 35 QSOs that I ended up making, all but seven were on 20 Meters. I don't know if there was a severe lack of activity on 40 Meters; or if I just couldn't hear what activity may have been there. I had almost an S7 background noise level on 40 Meters, which astounded me. I was in the middle of a state park on battery power and the RF hash was worse than at my house in my suburban neighborhood!


When I took this photo of my KX3, there was no signal present on frequency, at least none that I could hear!

20 Meters, was the "money band" but was full of QSB. At times, various stations, such as NK9G, K4BAI, AB9CA, KX0R and NM4T would qualify as "the loudest station on the band" only to totally disappear from ear shot within a very few short minutes, only to come back strong again at a later time.

Despite that, it was a good time.  And as Dave KD2FSI said, "If it was easy, it wouldn't be fun." and he hit the nail on the head with that one. My disappointments were not making 40 QSOs, a personal goal I had set, and not being able to work Kelly K4UPG, fellow QRP Polar Bear. I heard him several times on 20 Meters, but couldn't make myself heard. Maybe next time I'll try a flare gun.

We're now 2/3rds of the way through the Summer Trifecta. SYBO and FOBB are in the books. On to the Skeeter Hunt!

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


Friday, July 24, 2015

FOBB 2009 - Redeux for 2015?

I just noticed that FOBB this year falls on the same date as it did in 2009 - July 26th. The weather forecast for this year is almost the same as 2009, as far as I remember  - starting out clear with a chance of a thunderstorm towards the end.


And that FOBB was memorable as I headed home 15 minutes early with the sounds of thunder rolling in - quickly.  Shortly after getting home, the storm worsened and the skies opened up. Our neighbor's tree took a direct lightning hit. Here's a photo I took that day:


As you can guess, that tree is no more. The Fire Department successfully put out the fire, which isn't the easiest thing to do, as pine sap is pretty flammable, and the flames were pretty high up. The tree lasted another year or so before dying off completely and eventually had to be cut down.

I just hope that weather for FOBB 2015 (unlike the date) isn't a repeat of 2009. Typical Summer day around here - sunny to start, with a 50/50 shot of a boomer near the end. Hopefully the bad weather will wait until after the entire four hours are done, and I'm safely home. I can deal with the temps of near or just over 90F (32C) - but truly, lightning is no Ham's friend.

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

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Comprehensive kit provider listing

as compiled by Neal W2NDG:

http://radiokitguide.com

I'm also adding it as a permanent link in the links section.

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

More wallpaper

These came in the mail while we were away. When I finally have all 14 QSL cards (each Colony plus WM3PEN) I have in mind an idea for a nice framed display.




Thanks to Ken KU2US and ALL the 13 Colony ops, plus WM3PEN for putting on a super fun event. Kudos to GB13COL too, even though I didn't work them. Heck, I never even heard them!

I did the clean sweep in 2013 but never sent away for the certificate. I wasn't about to let that happen again!

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

Decisions, decisions

Today during lunch time, the bands once again seemed to be crappy.  I wasn't hearing very many signals on 20 Meters and only one loud one on 17 Meters, an Italian station whose call escapes me at the moment. It was another day of being handed skunk pelt.

So I spent most of the time calling CQ, and not being answered. Oh, and shift the red dot from MO to NJ.


My mind was drifting as the KX3 was keying. I began thinking about FOBB and antennas this weekend. I need to get to the park early, at least an hour ahead of time. I think that in addition to the EARCHI, that I am going to also sling the NorCal Doublet between a couple of trees.  I haven't used the doublet in a couple of years now and in fact, I think the last time I used it was when I was using the K1 as my portable ops rig. If there's not much activity - which I am hoping won't be the case - then maybe I can do some "doublet vs. end fed wire" comparisons, even if it's just reception comparisons.

My NorCal Doublet was built following the building instructions found on the NorCal website, with the exception that I have used light gauge speaker wire instead of ribbon cable.  In the past, I fed mine to my Emtech ZM2 tuner and then coax to the radio. I could also possibly just feed it directly to the KX3 using one of those binding post to BNC adapters to see how the KX3 autotuner will handle it. The KXAT3 is a very wide range tuner that I swear would match up to a strand of wet spaghetti, and it should handle the NorCal easily.  But you always have to keep in mind that just because an antenna is matched doesn't necessarily mean that it's efficient, and that's another discussion for another time.


Or, I could also possibly run it to an 4:1 LDG Balun that I have and then run some coax to the KX3.



Hopefully, however, the bands will be so good and the activity level will be so high that I won't have to entertain myself by doing antenna experimentation.

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

I'm going out on a limb

and creating more work for a QRP friend, Steve Fletcher G4GXL, over at QRP-ARCI (as if he doesn't have enough to do already - sorry, Steve!).

But did you know that if you're a paid up member of QRP-ARCI, that you can get QRP Quarterly as a .pdf file, sent to you?  Yes. you can! And it's real easy to do - here's the actual snippet from the QRP-ARCI Website:


Personally, I think this is fantastic and I offer kudos to Steve and QRP-ARCI.  I already get QST, CQ and the K9YA Telegraph in digital format, and now I can get the "Best of the Best" in digital format, too.

I know a lot of you prefer to have actual paper in your hands, but I like being able to have all four publications easily with me on my tablet. It takes up a lot less physical space, and I don't have to store back issues after the fact. And I've read so many books on my kindle and via the kindle app on other devices that swiping, enlarging, and dragging motions are almost like second nature to me now.

I suppose the fact that we save some trees in the process is a bonus too. Although, selfishly, I'm all in for the convenience! As far as storage goes, I have a dedicated USB memory stick where I already store back issues of the K9YA Telegraph. There's plenty of space on there for issues of QRP Quarterly.

Yes, I know there are downsides to digital formats of magazines. Of course, you need "juice" for the device's battery, and it's not as easy (or possible) to share or donate old issues to libraries or friends. But again, IMHO, these "cons" are minor compared to the "pros".  Whether we like it or not, it's more economical for the providers not to have to purchase paper, ink, binding, postage, etc. I would never say that actual paper publications will disappear forever, but this is (to use an overused phrase) "the wave of the future". And besides, if you're as old as I am (or older) who can forget the astronauts in "2001: A Space Odyssey" reading their news on a tablet like device.  Back in the 60s, when the movie came out, we all thought that would be so neat. That time is now, baby!

On another topic, remember how I mentioned in yesterday's post about FOBB that the weather forecast for Sunday would probably change between yesterday and then? It already has! Now it's looking like only clouds with no rain forecasted until well after FOBB 2015 is in the books. Looking better and better for heading out to Washington Rock State Park.

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

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

FOBB - Change of plans?

This Sunday is the 2015 Flight of the Bumblebees, the summer outdoor QRP sprint sponsored by Rich Fisher KI6SN and the Adventure Radio Society. My original intention was to operate from Washington Rock State Park, in Greenbrook, NJ. However, as of a few minutes ago, this is what the weather forecast for Sunday is looking like (according to WeatherUndergound):


Of course, the best chance for thunderstorms almost directly coincides with the FOBB. Just my luck!   But the chances are at best 50/50 - so I guess it will depend on what the skies look like around Noon.

If the skies are dark and foreboding, I will probably go to Cotton Street park, which is just a few blocks from home. That way if it starts thundering, I can get home rather quickly.  If the skies are bright, I'll probably take a chance and head over to Washington Rock.  Since the park is on the first ridge of the Watchung Mountains, there's a height elevation that I don't mind taking advantage of.

Weather is always volatile and ever changing in New Jersey this time of year. I need to caution myself that this forecast will probably change about a half dozen times between now and Sunday. Unless it turns out to be a very bright, sunny and cloudless day (which could happen), I'll probably end up making one of those last minute "gut feeling" decisions.

The last time I went to "The Rock" was last Autumn for QRP To The Field. I didn't make a lot of QRPTTF contacts, but I made a lot of contacts, some decent DX included. I really would like to do both FOBB and the Skeeter Hunt from there.

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

Monday, July 20, 2015

Sometimes you just want to scratch your head

I went out to the Jeep today during lunchtime. Could it be that because it's 94F (34C) outside that 20 Meters was hopping? It felt like there was more activity on the air today than there was all of last week at Lake George. 

In about 20 minutes I snared the following - all on 20 Meters:

KB9ILT who was operating from SOTA peak W8V/PH-007. Google revealed to me that that's Red Spruce Knob in West Virginia.

Next I worked Bill ZF2EZ on the Cayman Islands for a 2X QRP QSO. Signals were pretty darn nice. Bill was a good 579 here in NJ when QSB stopped trying to spoil all the fun.

I finished up by working Gary KT0A who was on SOTA peak W0D/BB-094, which is a summit in the Badlands Region of South Dakota. Gary. whom I have worked from numerous peaks was 449 and I am pretty sure that's what I got in return. QSB wasn't as kind to me during this QSO as it was with the others.

The elevation here in Warren, NJ is nowhere near what it was up in the Adirondacks. And considering I was using the PAR END FEDZ, which as been a trooper of a performer for me in the past, I would have thought that I would have heard much more than I did. I am guessing it was just the flukiness of band conditions and propagation. But then, nobody ever said this stuff was logical.

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

Saturday, July 18, 2015

We're back from Lake George

and now it's time to settle into the mundane routine of worklife, I guess.

This came just before we left, but we were so busy, I didn't have time to scan and post:



Some 7 months after my application, but at least it came in one piece, undamaged and without a crease or fold mark. I have the 400 prefix endorsement somewhere down in the shack.  I'll attach it before I frame it.

And now that we're back, that's going to be my next project, or order of business - clean out the shack. Currently, it looks like a bomb hit it. It's hodgepodge of mess piled upon mess. I want to get everything back into order again so that it no longer looks like one of those places you see on those "I'm a hoarder." TV shows.

My Amateur Radio success at Lake George was pretty "so-so". I made few contacts, but they were generally pretty good rag chews. Only one piece of DX during the week and that was with OH2XX from Finland on 20 Meters towards the end of the week.  The PAR END FEDZ worked well in the tree. Next year, I think I'll switch to the EARCHI instead. It tunes up easily on more bands.

You can tell we're definitely on the downside of the solar cycle.  Good days with lots of activity and lots of DX heard are becoming fewer and more far in between. I think the days are coming when a good QRP DX contact will be to the opposite coast!

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

Monday, July 13, 2015

Success with the EZ-Hang

Rather than constantly going to parks nearby our Lake George cabin in order to operate, I decided to try something new this year. I decided that I would hoist the PAR END FEDZ into a tree behind our cabin. However, since the Jeep was pretty much packed to the brim coming here, I didn't want to bring along the pneumatic launcher. So I decided to resurrect my home brew EZ-Hang. I put a new (but very inexpensive) Shimano closed faced spinning reel on it, and I put new latex bands on the launcher part.

The pine is at least 50 ft (16 meters) tall. It would be a good support. I never had much success with the EZ-HANG before, but figured I had nothing to lose in giving it another shot. Much to my surprise, I had pretty good luck with it today. I got a line up in the tree right about the 35 foot (12 meters) level, after a bit of practice. I use a 1 Oz lead fishing weight as the projectile. The weight is tear drop shaped and I always used to place the weight in the pouch with the blunt end facing me and the end with the eyelet facing forward. Today I changed that so that the weight in the launching pouch was pretty much straight up and down. This lead to truer flights, and better control.

The PAR is now up there, and will remain there until I have to take it down later this week. I got on 20 and 40 Meters for a bit this afternoon, but band conditions seemed pretty crummy. A look at my solar weather box afterward confirmed "that it wasn't me" which is always the first thing I think when my luck is bad. Funny how I always give credit to conditions when the bands are good, but tend to blame myself when they're bad.

Oh well, tomorrow is another day. When I get on, I will be self spotting myself on QRPSpots, so check it out from time to time.

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

Sunday, July 12, 2015

SYBO ..... not so hot.


Once again, we have made our annual trek up to Lake George. But for Scorch Your Butt Off, I decided to head up to the summit of Mt. Prospect to operate. Mt. Prospect is about 6 miles from where we stay, on the opposite side of Lake George Village.

My initial set up was at the picnic grounds at the summit. I had launched a line into a pine and was about to hoist the PAR END FEDZ, when a swarm of angry black flies decided that I had too much blood and proceeded to initiate an involuntary contribution.

Not wanting to spend the next couple of hours in Nature's Blood Bank, I retreated to the parking lot. I set up the PAR with my newly repaired Jackite pole, using my home brew mast mount to keep it upright and straight.

It was a trade off. I ditched the flies with their demonic taste for blood by taking refuge on a mountaintop parking lot. Picture this ..... a black, tarred surface at a high elevation, with the hot sun bearing down out of a cloudless sky. I might as well have operated out of a toaster oven. According to WeatherUnderground, the temperature was 87F, but factoring in the humidity, it felt like 91F. Actually, it felt much hotter than that, but the "official" 91F is what I used for my exchange.

So then, why the post title " SYBO ..... not so hot"? There was no lack of heat  and humidity, but there was a dearth of activity. Mind you, there were plenty of SKCCers overrunning the QRP "watering holes" for their Week End Sprint, but not many QRPERS taking part in SYBO. At least not that I heard. I ended up working three. Marc W4MPS  in North Carolina (SPARC's Field Day guest), the ever present Jim W4QO in Georgia, and Randy K7TQ in Idaho.

Other than those three, it was pretty much "CQ WES" all over the place. And since I don't carry a straight key in my portable ops pack, I really couldn't participate. I sure hope there's more activity for FOBB and the Skeeter Hunt.

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

Friday, July 10, 2015

Scorch Your Butt Off

Coming this Sunday - Scorch Your Butt Off!


What FYBO is to February and the colder states, SYBO is to July and the hotter states.  For some of us, who live in "temperate climates" (4th Grade Geography kicking in) we do well in both sprints.

For all the rules and regulations, please go to http://www.qsl.net/sybo/Scorch_Your_Butt_Off/SYBO.html

The forecast for Central NJ is for a high of close to 90F, so maybe I'll get an X2 multiplier. Who knows? But wherever you are, I encourage you to participate, have fun and be safe. Stay hydrated!

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

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

You know that saying?

"Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good."

That sure describes me with the luck I've been having lately with customer service. First, it was Elecraft supplying the knobs I needed for my KX3 at no charge. The second stroke of great customer service came today (actually the other day), but I'll explain.

You may remember that I mentioned that I broke my 31' Jackite pole on Field Day, trying to free the W3EDP when it got caught up in a scrub pine during setup. I broke the very top section that supports the tip piece. Drew W2OU mentioned to me that replacement sections were available through the Jackite Website. I kind of knew that, in the back of my mind, but had forgotten. Drew jogged those bits and bytes in my gray matter, so I placed an order last week.

I got the customary affirming e-mail, informing me that my shipment would arrive on 8-12 days, as I had opted for the lowball, economy shipping. What can I say? I'm cheap AND on a budget here! Actually, if you count only business days, the shipping tube arrived on Monday, only about three days after I had placed the order.

I had a CERT meeting tonight, and after I got home, I decided to retrieve the Jackite from the back of the Jeep, where it lives, in order to install the replacement piece. Much to my surprise, not only did I receive the piece I ordered, but a new tip piece was also included. And, bonus, bonus, bonus, bonus, the new tip piece is longer than my original tip piece by about 6 inches! So my Jackite pole is not only in working condition again, but it's also about 1/2 foot longer than it used to be. Wow - great customer service from Jackite - faster shipping than expected and a free piece to boot.

Maybe I ought to go out and buy some lottery tickets!

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

Monday, July 06, 2015

Conditions sucked yesterday

Apologies for my bluntness, but it is what it is.

After completing a bunch of yard work, I got set up for the QRP-ARCI Summer Homebrew Sprint. All I heard was a bunch of nothing.  I ended up working K4BAI and N4BP and that was it. Discouraged, and thinking that it might be my portable antennas (which performed just fine for Field Day last weekend), I left the park early and came home. The HF9V and the W3EDP antennas connected to the shack KX3 weren't hearing any more or any better, so I guess it was just a bad propagation day.

So this morning, I noticed a post from another Ham in the Facebook Field Radio group. He didn't have any luck either in his own personal portable ops trip yesterday. He was wondering whether it might be his antennas or a case of an unacceptable SWR ........

So of course, someone had to pipe up with "Try a 100 Watt radio next time. Life is too short for QRP."

That just burns my biscuits. So I fired back with, "Propagation sucked yesterday, and can we do without the "Life's too short for QRP" line? Not only is it untrue, but it's really overused."

A bit later, I got a pang of conscience, feeling that I might have been a bit harsh with that line, so I added, "I've got nothing against QRO (use it myself sometimes). I have been at this Ham Radio thing since 1978 and have been 99 and 44/100ths % QRP since 2003. I'm not trying to make it a "religion" or force anyone into it, but I still get amazed and shake my head sometimes as what 5 Watts will accomplish. But still ...... whatever peels your potato. If you like QRO, fine - QRP, fine - CW, fine - SSB, fine - digital, fine - there's room for all of us. The more the merrier."

Really, there's no reason to ever demean or diminish what someone likes about Amateur Radio. Even if for the life of you, you can't understand why someone would like to spend hours chasing after some little island in the middle of nowhere, or why someone chases signals that you can't even hear with your own ears, or why someone just won't give up on an old, antiquated form of transmission that was invented over 100 years ago and has been dumped by just about everyone else in the world, or why some people seem to get together for hours just to kibbitz about old times or enumerate their aches and pains, or even why someone would "waste" their entire weekend working a contest while simultaneously "clogging up the bands".

If it's what you like, then that's all that's important - and don't let anyone tell you different.

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

Saturday, July 04, 2015