Thursday, January 29, 2015

It's been a while

It's been a while since I really made an effort to use the ol' Vibroplex.  I gave the contacts a decent cleaning today and gave it a whirl in a QSO with Art K8CIT. I don't think I sounded terrible - and I hope Art didn't think so either. I could use some more practise, though, and I will continue to use it more often.

I haven't run this piece in a long time. It's from my old webpage on how to adjust a bug:

Using a bug is a real fun part of using Morse Code.  Adjusting one properly so that it works right for you and doesn't frustrate the heck out of you is easy; if you take your time and work methodically. Refer to the photo below for reference.


The first thing you do is to back off all the adjusting screws quite a bit.  Not all the way; but far enough out so that everything is nowhere near being set.  Once that's done you want to adjust the action of the pendulum.  Unscrew "A" - this is the pivot point for the pendulum.  Slowly tighten it. You'll know you have it adjusted correctly when the pendulum moves from side to side freely with no binding; but, at the same time, you can move the finger pieces up and down with your fingers and feel very little or no play.

The next thing you want to do is to adjust screw "B".  Allow the pendulum to hit the damper.  Screw in "B" to the point where you can either see or just perceive the pendulum has touched the damper.  Stop there and secure the screw with the knurled lock nut.  It is important not to move the pendulum too far away from the damper or else you will not be able to reliably stop your "dits".

The next thing you want to do is adjust the  left trunnion screw -  D.  This will control the amount of side to side travel of the pendulum.  For smooth code this gap should be very small.  I take a piece of ordinary printer paper, fold it in half to double it and adjust the spacing so that the paper will just slip between the point of the screw and the pendulum.  This results in a very small amount of side to side travel.  The end result is a nice and clean transition between "dits" and "dahs".  I do the same thing for the amount of spacing for the "dah" contact at C.  I turn that trunnion screw in so that the paper slips in the gap easily with no binding, then I lock the set screw in place to keep the setting.

The next thing you want to do is adjust the "dits" making part of your bug.  This is done by adjusting "E".  When "E" is adjusted correctly, you should be able to swing the pendulum to make "dits"; and get 10 to 15 "dits" before the pendulum dampens out and comes to a rest.

"F" controls the tension of the "dit" action.  I find it best to tension the spring about half way.  Hopefully, if you follow this guide and play around a little bit and experiment, you will find the "sweet spot" that will allow you to send really glassy smooth Morse Code.

Sending with a Bug is just as much fun as sending with a keyer and paddles.  However, sending with a Bug allows you to add a little personality.  Listening to CW sent with a keyer sounds sterile compared to that sent with a Bug.

If you need to slow down the speed of your Bug to a point that's even slower than what you can get with the weight(s) positioned all the way to the end of the pendulum, then clip a clothes pin or a few alligator clips to the end of the pendulum.  This will slow down a Bug to an effective speed as low as 13 words per minute or so.

In my opinion, you know that your bug is adjusted properly when you can send characters like X, Y, Q, C, F and L with little effort, and they sound good - or at least recognizable in my case!

Here's a great video that shows you how to do it, also:


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

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The storm that wasn't

By now, most of you have heard that, at least in the New Jersey area, "The Blizzard of 2015" has turned out to be a big bust. The forecasters were warning us of 18-24 inches (45-60 cm), plus. Instead what we actually received was about 4 inches (10 cm).

I am one of the ones who is not disappointed. I would much rather have the weatherman tell me I am going to get 24 inches of snow, and only get 4, as opposed to the other way around. Meteorology is an art, even to this day. To anyone who is forcing the weather people to eat crow today, I say, "Let's see YOU try it for a while!". I am hearing so many people say, "Oh yeah, I knew from the beginning it wasn't going to be that bad."  Yeah ..... right.

Listening to New England stations coming through Echolink on the local repeater, I understand they are getting hammered, as predicted. Stay safe, warm and dry, my friends.

Even though we didn't get the snow, we did get the cold and the winds. Not gale force winds, but when I was out there shoveling snow, I was chilled to the bone. And the whole time I was removing snow, I was dreaming of something like this:



Thanks to Sean KX9X for posting this.  Some portable outdoor QRP in a nice, warm sunny location is EXACTLY what the doctor ordered, right about now.

On a side note, the office was declared closed for the day last night, when the ominous forecast was still hovering over us. So when the snow stopped this afternoon, having some time available, I went out and switched the coax from the EDZ over to the W3EDP. Much to my relief, the W3EDP hears fine again! It loads up easily on every band and the KX3's auto tuner handles it with nary a whimper.

As it turns out, the coax problem on the W3EDP was entirely may fault. When I went to disconnect the coax from the balun at the end of the W3EDP, I noticed to my horror, that I had never sealed the connection. It's no wonder that water got in there. This time, I double coated the connection with tape, added some plumber's putty over that, and added a final layer of tape.  If the W3EDP plays as well as I think it will, I may just end up taking down the EDZ this Spring and keeping the W3EDP as my primary wire antenna.

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

Monday, January 26, 2015

Don't be an alligator!

Listening to the local Skywarn repeater, one thing is striking me.

When you check into any kind of emergency net, whether it be Skywarn or anything else ..... don't get chatty. Make your report or make your communications. Net Control does not need your life story.

Get in, say what you have to, and then make way for other reports.

I cannot believe some of the inane chit chat that I am hearing.

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

Sunday, January 25, 2015

#*&!*$@

Friday night into Saturday, we received about 3 inches (7.5 cm) of snow.  And unfortunately, it was the wet heavy stuff. And much to my dismay, my 88' EDZ was a casualty.  It's still up in the tree, and it still loads up, but the support line snapped and it's down to about the 20 foot (6 Meters) level now at highest, and the one leg is extremely droopy! Luckily, a branch on the way down caught it, so I am not completely without it, but I am sure the performance had degraded somewhat.

I am taking a couple of leftover-from-last-year vacation days off from work at the end of this week, and was planning on rectifying this situation. However, Mother Nature may be throwing us an additional 1 - 2 feet (30 - 60cm) of snow at us tonight through Tuesday. So I may not be able to do anything about this problem until Spring - or at least until a majority of the snow melts.

The good news is that I use the Butternut about 90% of the time. anyway; and with fingers crossed, it's still running like a champ! But just knowing that my "backup" is now compromised is an annoyance.

UPDATE: Talking with my buddy, Bob W3BBO, a good idea popped into my head. This coming weekend, I am going to attempt to disconnect the coax from the EDZ, walk it back along the house and connect it to the W3EDP. That wire is still secure at the 30 foot level. That will hopefully result in a wire antenna that works well.

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

Friday, January 23, 2015

Is the QRP community close knit, or what?

QRP is fun.  That's why I do it. But one of the side benefits of QRP (and there are MANY), is the people, the QRP community. Since becoming a dedicated QRPer, I have made friends with so many really fine people. I can't begin to tell you of how many friends I have that I have never met face to face. And I maintain closer friendships with some of these people than with other folks I actually "see" on a regular basis.

To emphasize this point, here's a story that one of those friends, Jim W1PID, posted on QRP-L today:

An hour ago I got a call on my cell phone. The caller ID said New Jersey. Must be a telemarketer I think, so I don't answer. A few minutes ago another ring from the same number. It's Guy N7UN. 

"HI Jim... this is Guy N7UN... did you call me?" 

I explain that I got a call from him that I didn't answer. Well... turns out he's doing a SOTA activation on the highest mountain in Maui! 

"You gotta rig?" I ask. 

"Ya", he says." I'm on 14.062."

"OK, I'm going to the shack." 

So I just had a QSO with Guy in Maui.  Wow and Mahalo!

 Haleakala Crater, Maui's highest peak, it rises over 10,000 feet above sea level. KH6/MA-001

I am sure there are other hobbies which provide tight knit friendships, but I've never experienced that until I joined the QRP community. You folks are the best!

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

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Re-did my tallies

Before the 80 Meter Fox hunt began (I only nailed one Fox, AA4GA, Lee in Georgia) I decided to update my list of DXCC entities worked using QRP. After working RI1ANT the other night, I realized my list was last updated on 12/30/2012!

So I went through my log book and much to my surprise, I discovered that between then and now, I have added 27 new DXCC entities, worked via QRP, to the list! I now stand at 151 worked. And a majority of the new ones were lunch time QSOs, worked using the KX3 and Buddistick from my Jeep. So much for low power and compromise antennas, eh?

I will have to fire off my spreadsheet off to Ed WA3WSJ, who is the new Awards Manager for the QRP ARCI. I qualified for their QRP DX Award a long time ago when I qualified for the ARRL's QRP DXCC, but I never applied. Now I guess I'll get the basic award along with a 50 country endorsement. And the great part is that since I am a paid up QRP ARCI member, the award is free, unlike the ARRL award. Cool beans!

Now all I have to do is update the tally on my "Operating" page on the blog. I'm definitely not too good with tables in HTML. Ugh.

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

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

W2LJ's 2014/2015 Fox Hunt Results so far - I suck.

In a word .... eeeeeeew.

The tallies were posted yesterday, before last night's 40 Meter hunt.  This is where I stood:


I worked only one of the 40 Meter Foxes last night after coming home from class, and that was Greg AB7R in Washington State.  The other Fox was Tom KV2X in NY State. I see a couple of East coast Hounds worked him, but very early in the hunt, before the band went long. I was teaching at that point, so propagation worked for AND against me last night. Still, I maintain my .500 batting average as I am now "9 out of 18" after last night.

These are the 80 Meter standings, which are still accurate, as the next 80 Meter hunt is tomorrow night:


A .687 batting average on 80 Meters.  Not sure why 80 Meters is doing better for me, but it is. I'll have to go back and take a look at last year's results, but if memory serves me correctly (and it most likely doesn't!), I did just the exact opposite last year - better on 40 Meters than 80.

Hold on a sec, let me go look.

Yep, I was right.  Last year, I ended up with a .800 batting average on 40 Meters and only a .725 batting average on 80 Meters. Wait .... what?  Wow! I just realized that not only are my band results flip-flopped from last year, but I'm doing terribly this year compared to last. Man, if this was the majors, I'd be heading down to AAA ball.

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

Ring that school bell!

Our second Technician License class started last evening. This time, instead of being open to just the "public", this one is primarily intended for the Clark, NJ CERT Team. Drew W2OU, Marv K2VHW and yours truly met with, introduced ourselves to, and began the process of instructing 15 potential new Hams.


It's always fun and exciting to be with a group of people who show genuine interest in Amateur Radio, as was the case last night. All of these folks showed enthusiasm and curiosity and an eagerness to learn.

 That's Marv K2VHW on the left and W2LJ on the right. 
Notice the coffee cup - gotta have cup of coffee before class, after a long day at work!

We will become "buddies" over the course of the next seven Tuesday evenings, and hopefully after that, we will add more people to the ranks of Amateur Radio.

And if the teaching gig isn't enough, I was thinking of home brewing a magnetic loop this winter. My line of thinking is that I could build one for let's say 40-10 Meters. From what I understand they're not huge. Then, when it gets really frosty in the basement, I could just set the loop up on the main floor and operate temporarily from the dining room table or something like that.  Just a thought, though, as funds are kinda tight.  I have some spare coax (enough for a loop), and I think the only expense at this point would be the tuning capacitor. It doesn't need to be one of those expensive vacuum jobs, so maybe I can find something reasonable on eBay.

My inspiration for this has been Greg, N4KGL. I've been following his posts on Google+ and through his blog.  He seems to be having so much success with his loop that it seems like a worthwhile endeavor. That, and the fact that I feel like building something.

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

Monday, January 19, 2015

I've Discovered a New Law of Propagation and Band Activity

The conditions of the bands and the amount of band activity will be inversely proportional to the amount of chores on W2LJ's list. The more chores, the better conditions - the more free time, the crummier the conditions.

And you should all take that to heart, because generally, I'm a pretty busy guy.

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

Friday, January 16, 2015

2K Miles per Watt

I came down to the shack against my better judgement. I had this gut feeling that I might tune across something good tonight, but it's frosty down here as the temperature outside is falling like the proverbial lead balloon. The temperature at the W2LJ operating position is an uncomfortable 55F (13C). Heck when FYBO is held in a couple of weeks, there will be guys in the South and Southwest who will be operating outdoors in warmer temps!

But I digress.

I turned the KX3 on and heard Mikhail, RI1ANT in Antarctica calling CQ on 14.009 MHz. He was warbly and only about 559 - but I figured "What the heck?". I've worked him before but not QRP. I sent out my call twice and got answered - first shot!  That's 5 Watts over 10,578.9 miles according to QRZ or 2115.78 Miles per Watt.

Cool! Very cool - cooler than the temps down here!

RI1ANT courtesy of QRZ.com

After working Mikhail, I QSYed over to 30 Meters and worked Claus, CP2BT in Bolivia. I tried calling a few times on the HF9V with no success. The EDZ ended up doing the trick. I'll have to check my records, as I am not sure whether or not this was the first time for Bolivia with QRP. My gut tells me "no".

These QSOs made my night - heck, they made my day! I can go to sleep a happy camper. My gosh, it doesn't take a lot to make me happy!

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

Thursday, January 15, 2015

On being a smart aleck

or as the elite would say - on being facetious - "Great minds think alike!" More about that later.

A week or so ago, George K2WO sent me a link to a "QSO Today" podcast featuring Dan Walker WG5G who may be the only QRPer to hold DXCC Honor Roll.


The podcast is an hour long, and I finally got a chance to listen.  It's very interesting, very entertaining and very informative, but at one point, my ears absolutely perked up. Dan was talking about his equipment, about his station and about his approach. When I heard, "My approach is that I forget that I'm at 5 Watts, I just jump into a pileup, like I'm any other operator."

http://www.qsotoday.com/podcasts/wg5g?utm_source=getresponse&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=eric_4z1ug&utm_content=[[rss_title]]

Wow! Not that I would dare to put myself in his class, but I wonder how many times I have stated that here, and in other places. It's nice to know (tongue FIRMLY planted in cheek) that I share a philosophy with the incomparable WG5G. And it's a very important one. I think that forgetting that you're QRP is the only way to become an effective QRPer.

If, in the back of your mind, you limit yourself by thinking that you're at a disadvantage - you immediately put yourself at that disadvantage. Of course, when you're QRP,  life is not going to be as easy as it would be if you were running serious power. And I'm not going to lie to you and tell you that it would.  But you're never going to come to your full potential as a QRPer if you constantly think yourself into a small box.

I've often stated - it's not the power - it's the skill and the know how that make a great operator (although BIG antennas will help!). And that's true in any case - QRP or QRO. I can tell you without reservation that the journey to that end (becoming a great operator) is a blast. I will most likely never get there, but I will have fun all the way.

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

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

ARRL needs to lighten up

So .... the ARRL rejected the idea, out of hand, for the new "Jeeves" cartoons for QST. It appears they don't want any cartoons in QST and they don't want "to look to the past". As I've said in my comments, I think this is so LAME that I cannot believe it! It's thinking like this makes me regret my decision to become an ARRL LIfe Member, so many years ago.

No humor? No look to the past? I think "The Old Man" is spinning in his grave at this line of reasoning. Did any of you at HQ ever read his editorials? You are aware, I'm sure, of the Rettysnitch and the Wouff-Hong?  Do you think those inventions of his were NOT stabs at humor? Do you think his editorial letters were deadly serious 100% of the time?

I think the leadership at the ARRL needs to come off its high horse. I also think you guys are starting to take yourselves way too seriously. To say that you are above humor and that you are above living, enjoying and celebrating your past is to put yourselves on a pedestal so high, that no one even wants to bother looking at you.

QST was always looked upon as "THE" Amateur Radio magazine. Jeeves, Phil Gildersleeve, the humor, friendliness and "folksiness" all helped to put you there, so many years ago. I admire your endeavor to maintain that leadership role, but I think your approach is off. And dare say it,  I think HPM would agree.

My Mom, God rest her soul, always told me "Never let your head get too big and never forget where you came from." That advice has served me well throughout the years. I offer the same sage advice to the ARRL, at no charge - compliments of a thoroughly disappointed Life Member.

Before I close this post, one last thought about looking upon the past, and what it can do for you. Hey ARRL, have you looked at NASA's "spacecraft for the future" - the Orion?  Does it remind you of something from the past, like perhaps the Apollo Command Module?  It appears that NASA didn't think that a concept from the past couldn't be made to work well again, and perhaps even better!

Bravo for them, and shame on you.

Footnote: This rant is NOT a knock on the "worker bees" who actually do the work, and produce QST from month to month. They do an outstanding job, for which I am forever grateful. The policy makers, from whom they take their direction and get marching orders from, IMHO, need to wake up and smell the coffee - perhaps, just a little.

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


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

This would be great!

Jeff Murray K1NSS of Dashtoons fame, posted the following on Facebook today. This would be awesome if it were to come about - and YOU can help make it possibly happen.

From Jim Massara N2EST:

"Eric Nichols, KL7AJ, and I are pitching the idea of returning Gil's classic "Jeeves" character in new cartoons to the pages of QST as a Rip Van Winkle character -- the hobby's changed, but he hasn't. We think it would be a great way to celebrate the League's centennial by connecting the hobby's past to its future. If you like the idea, email QST managing editor Becky Schoenfeld, W1BXY at bschoenfeld@arrl.org and tell her so -- and share this post of a sample cartoon in as many places as possible."


Jeff goes on to comment further:

 "Fellow ham cartoonist/QSL artist Jim Massara N2EST and his partner in crime Eric Nichols KL7AJ are promoting the idea of a returning Gil Gildersleeve's Jeeves to the pages of QST. I think it would be swell to see Jeeves back where he belongs, trying to keep up like the rest of us geezers. It's a grand tradition. Many classic newspaper comics were carried on by other artists far far after the originals passed on. We grow up with cartoon characters like Jeeves, and they become little parts of of lives, and the continuity can be a small but real comfort."

Back to W2LJ - If I am not mistaken, 2015 is the Centennial of QST. I, for one, would love to see this. I am going to send Becky an enthusiastic e-mail. I hope you'll do the same.

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


Friday, January 09, 2015

It really does work.

When I got home from work last night, the temperature outside was 10F (-12C).  My basement shack was a relatively balmy 57F (14C). Just before it was time to go downstairs for the 80 Meter QRP Fox hunt, I changed from the "regular" sweatshirt that I was wearing to a "hoodie" type sweatshirt.

I plugged the earbuds into my ear holes, and pulled the hood up. I was able to remain comfortable, not quite toasty warm, but comfortable in the shack for my duration of the hunt.  I do have to admit that once I nabbed the second Fox of the night, Randy NC4RT at about 0244 UTC, I shut everything down and hightailed it upstairs. But as the tip was given freely to me last winter, I pass it on to those who may also need it.  If your shack is semi-unheated, as is mine, covering your head makes all the difference between shivering and operating comfortably.

It looks like the coldest weather of this round has left us. It actually warmed up overnight and was 20F (-7C) when I woke up this morning, but snowing. Until the next Vortex comes to visit (and I'm sure there will be more!) the basement should warm up to the low to mid 60F range (15-17C) and playing radio down there won't be so bad, at all.

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

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Coming this May!

I was surprised, honored and humbled when I was recently approached by Nelson De Sousa KD2CYU, President of the Tri-County Radio Association and was invited to come and give a talk about QRP at one of their club meetings this coming year. The invitation came out of the blue, and to say that I was flabbergasted is an understatement, to say the least.

The TCRA, which was founded in 1934, is home to the W2LI repeater. So we're one letter apart from each other, call sign-wise. How cool is that? Tri-County refers to the fact that the club is located in the area where the NJ Counties of Middlesex, Somerset and Union come together. This is a VERY active club and they pride themselves that they are a radio club - not a repeater club, even though their W2LI repeater has great coverage throughout the area. They have not one, but two meetings a month, conduct VE sessions, do Fox hunts (the radio-directional finding type), and engage in many other activities. Whew! They do a lot!

First contacted via e-mail and then by telephone, Nelson and I had a nice chat the other evening. QRP seems to run deep in the roots of TCRA, with a lot of past members having been or current members  being avid QRPers. We spoke with each other for about a half an hour, and agreed that I will come and speak at their meeting on Monday, May 4th.

Between then and now, I hope to put together an interesting Powerpoint presentation concentrating mainly on portable QRP operations. They say you should talk about what you know, so I should be on terra firma here.

I'd like to cover Parkpeditions, SOTA outings, and of course, operating from your car during lunch breaks!  Really, I'd like to talk about any excuse for packing up your gear, getting out into the sunshine and operating from the great outdoors. I hope to put in an especially good word for the classic outdoor QRP exercises - Freeze Your Buns Off, QRP To The Field, the Flight of the Bumblebees, QRP Afield, the Sizzle Your Buns Off Sprint and of course, the Skeeter Hunt.  Can't get away without pushing the Skeeter Hunt, can I?

I've done a bit of public speaking in the past, and of course, I've been involved in teaching Amateur Radio license classes.  But this is different. This is spending some time with your peers (who I have the greatest respect for), many of whom have way more experience than I do, talking about my favorite aspect of the hobby. Pray that I don't screw up!

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

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Being grateful

A conversation has started on the QFOX reflector amongst the Hounds and Foxes. We're sharing with each other what our antenna situations are.

Myself, I am using a Butternut HF9V which is ground mounted and had about 55+ radials running from underneath it.  I also have an 88' EDZ which is up in the trees somewhere between 25-30 feet (8-9 Meters) up. My W3EDP is still up there, but I need to change the coax. Still haven't done that, but will, someday.

If you look at the standings in the Fox hunts, come the end of the seasons, you will find W2LJ firmly ensconced in the middle or just below the middle of the pack. I suppose if I had more wire up, higher - that could possibly change.  But what I have is what I have, and for that, I am grateful.

There are a lot of Hams out there who would consider what I have to be the "best antenna farm - ever". These guys live in places where their antenna possibilities are either severely limited, or perhaps not allowed at all. Some may even be restricted to operating portable 100% of the time, from their cars or local parks, perhaps.

So I am always mindful to be appreciative of what I do have - particularly when I find myself falling into that "wish I had more" rut.  It may not be as good as what a lot of others have, but it's also a lot more than what a lot of others are forced to live with.

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

BTW - To all my Orthodox friends out there - Merry Christmas!

Wow!



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