Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Mag loop success!

After Sunday's discouraging outcome,  I decided to give the mag loop another little workout tonight during the 40 Meter QRP Fox hunt. Even though I'm dog tired after a long day at work,  I had enough energy to give it a shot.

I must say that I'm getting pretty darn good at putting it together.  It's getting to the point now that I can be on the air within 5 minutes. I do need to get a better tripod, though. My little Buddistick minipod doesn't offer enough stability.

At any rate,  tuning the capacitor was once again a breeze, and I found Todd N9NE rather quickly. He had a great signal, as always;  and he's such a great op that it wasn't hard to figure his split.  I got him on my second or third call. What's nice about the loop is that I was able to rotate it for maximum signal strength from Todd. He was his usual strong 559 and I received the same in return.


Even though I usually have a pipeline to Todd in Wisconsin, it was nice to have another success with the loop. I'd still rather use a conventional antenna whenever possible, but it sure is nice to have another reliable RF arrow in the quiver. After some 39 years of "More wire ....... and the higher, the better!", it's hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that a 3 foot diameter loop at no more than a few feet off the ground works at all, let alone that it seems to work well. Physics and results don't lie, I guess.

Conventional wisdom isn't so conventional - again.  Maybe I need to go search for some of that "unconventional" wisdom.

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

Monday, March 20, 2017

Bands were crappy yesterday

Saturday was a very busy, busy day for me.  I was determined to do "not much of anything" on Sunday, as a result of that busy-ness. It was still chilly in the basement; so I brought the magloop upstairs to do a little experimenting

First off, in my mind, the loop has proven itself as a viable performer on 20 Meters.  I have made several trans-Continental and trans-Oceanic QSOs with it.  However, I have not used the loop much on 40 Meters, or any of the other bands at all, if I remember correctly.

That said, I was itching to log some QSOs, so I started out on 20 Meters, where my previous success had been.  I was disappointed as I didn't hear many signals; and the ones I did hear were weak and watery.  On the bright side, I was able to find the "sweet spot" on the tuning capacitor as easily as I did before and it was pretty easy to bring the SWR down to about 1.2:1.

So I hopped to 40, 30 and 17 Meters, respectively.  On each band I was able to find the "sweet spot" on the tuning capacitor with ease.  The background noise would peak very easily and some careful tuning back and forth resulted in very respectable SWRs on each band.  But again, 17 and 30 Meters seemed to both be pretty dead.

40 Meters had a few loud signals; but it seemed everyone I heard was already in QSO. I wasn't able to hear anyone calling CQ.  Because of that, I called CQ on both 20 and 40 Meters.  No answers on 40 Meters, but there was a very weak answer on 20 Meters.  I could tell that a station was calling me; but I just could not pull them out of the background noise.  Whoever that might have been, I apologize.

In all I spent about 45 minutes playing around, mostly just band switching to see how quickly I could tune the loop after band/frequency hops.  Even with the 6:1 reduction drive installed, it was not long at all before I was ready to go after making a change.

Here's an RBN map of where my CQs were being heard:


Disappointed by the band conditions, I headed down to the basement shack to see if perhaps it was the antenna instead of the band being dead.  Nope - the Butternut HF9V and the W3EDP weren't hearing any better, if at all.  Just another one of those days of when you want to get on the air; but there's just not much doing.

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

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Stella !!!!


Not done yet. For now, due to the storm sweeping in tropical warmth in the upper troughs, the precipitation has changed from snow to sleet and ice pellets.  As things wrap around, we should go back to snow within a few hours. So far, 7 inches on the ground and the antennas are still up; but the winds are starting to increase.

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

Monday, March 13, 2017

Tomorrow


I "just" make it into the 18-24 inch area.  The boundary between us and less snowfall will be the Raritan River; and I'm north of it.

The reminds me of a snow event back sometime in the mid 80s when I was living in East Brunswick. We got rain; but my sister and I were in her car and we crossed one of the bridges over the Raritan and it was like driving through a door - rain on one side, snow on the other.

Weather can be a funny thing.  I just hope my antennas escape, unscathed. I never worry about the Butternut; but I'm always checking the wire during events like these.

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

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Another cold weekend

Another cold March weekend in New Jersey.  The trees are budding, and the daffodils are quite sad as thry are being blanketed with snow.  We got just a coating yesterday, but the possibility is emerging for a MAJOR snow event this coming Tuesday.


Budding trees


Snow on the gound (not much ....... for now!)


Very disgruntled Daffodils!

And this morning, when I woke up, it was a very brisk 15F (-9C) outside.  Not my favorite time of year, by any means. It seems Nature is playing a game of tug-o'-war with Old Man Winter; and he's in no hurry to give up and go!

To warm my heart and to remind me of what's shortly to come, I received this certificate via email from the WWFF/KFF folks:


I am hanging on for dear life to the fact that soon, this cold weather will be just a bad memory, and that I will be in a park somewhere in NJ activating POTA entities - with the sun on my face and the breeze in my hair and a song (to the tune of CW) in my heart.

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

Sunday, March 05, 2017

C-c-c-c-old !!!!!

It seems surreal that just two Sundays ago, I was sitting in Washington Rock State Park making QSOs at a picnic bench. The temperatures were in the 60s (18C).  Today, I woke up and the thermometer read 8F (-13C). The temperatures took a nose dive on Friday and this weekend was frigid.  So instead of doing much operating, I spent Saturday and a bit of today cleaning the shack.

I'll admit it, I got sloppy and lazy the last few months. But on top of that, it seems the rest of the family used my little area of the basement as a dumping ground for cardboard, Christmas wrapping stuff and other effluvia.  I spent the day cleaning, tossing and organizing, and ended up filling up five large garbage bags.  I also cut up about a dozen cardboard boxes and consolidating them for our bi-weekly recycling pick up tomorrow.  I can now sit in my shack again without being totally disgusted with myself!

Here's a video tour of the somewhat cleaned up W2LJ shack:


I apologize for the video quality as it's not the best; and I'm still getting used to this.

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

Friday, March 03, 2017

QRPTTF 2017 announced!

Today, Paul Harden announced the theme for QRP To The Field 2017 - "A River Runs Through It" or, as he also refers to it - "Rivers On The Air".

http://www.zianet.com/qrp/qrpttf/2017/ttf.htm

To quote Paul:

Qualifying River: To avoid any confusion defining a river, creek, stream, canal, etc. – if it has a name, it qualifies, whether or not there's water in it when you arrive.  This would include dry river beds and arroyos (with a name) common in the Southwest.  Operate from near the river as safety or local facilities allow.


This year, QRPTTF falls on Saturday, April 22nd. It runs 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM Local Time (so it varies from time zone to time zone).

The name of the river is a required part of the exchange, but you're welcomed to shorten it to something manageable - so something like the "Chattahoochie" won't be so daunting on CW.

There's no shortage of rivers, creeks and streams near me, so finding a suitable location to operate shouldn't be a problem.  QRPTTF is one of my most favorite events of the year and is the kick off to the Summer QRP Outdoor Operating season.  Once QRPTTF rolls around - you know Winter is definitely over!

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

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Warm!

February 19th and it was warm!  It felt more like a Spring day than the middle of Winter; as it reached a high of 68F (20C).So what does a relatively young man's fancy turn to when it warms up like this? Why, Amateur Radio of course!  In particular, portable QRP operating.  Too nice to stay cooped up inside, right?

I decided on a very impromptu activation of Washington Rock State Park, which is designated as KFF-1635 in WWFF (World Wide Flora and Fauna nomenclature). Probably not my brightest idea as it's the ARRL DX Contest weekend; but I decided to head out, anyway.  Before heading to the park, I had to stop by Dick's Sporting Goods to pick up some fishing swivels (with clasps).


I use these to attach the "bullet" of my Joplin ARC Antenna Launcher to the fishing line. This allows me to quickly detach the projectile and attach in it's place the Mason's twine that I use as support rope during these activations.  A package of a hundred (a lifetime supply) cost all of about $5.

I got to the park and it appeared that everyone else from Central NJ had the same idea that I did! There was a small crowd at the park. It's very popular, because as I've mentioned before, Washington Rock is located on the first ridge of the Watchung Mountains and provides an unobstructed view of the NJ Shore and the Piedmont.  On a clear day, like today, it is even possible to see Manhattan and Staten Island with the help of binoculars or a telescope.  This is why General Washington used this spot during the Revolution.  By going up there at night, he was able to clearly see the campfires of all the British troop encampments.

But I digress.I found the last empty picnic table and claimed it by placing my equipment on top. Then I got to the business of hoisting the antenna.  Again, the Joplin ARC Launcher made this an easy task. I become a better shot each time out and once again, the "bullet" cleared the tree and went exactly where I wanted it to go.  The PAR END FEDZ 40/20/10 went up easily and within minutes, I was on the air.  Actually, I arrived at the park at about 1850 UTC and was calling CQ by 1900 UTC,

I really like the PAR END FEDZ 40/20/10, as it deploys easily and with the KX3's autotuner, it also loads up and seems to get out really well on 30 Meters and 17 Meters in addition to the three bands it was designed to operate on.

I started out on 40 Meters with no takers, despite spotting myself on DX Summit as well as the WWFF/POTA Facebook page.  That was a disappointment, as I was hoping for a decent amount of local activity.  At that time of the day, DX from Europe (and thus any contest QRM) is minimal, so I was hoping to work folks along the East coast and up into Canada. After about 20 minutes or so of no answers, I went up to 20 Meters.

Calling CQ POTA in the midst of the ARRL DX Contest was probably pure folly, but I did get answers. I worked S52A, EA8KW, S50Q, C6ARU, FY5KE and CO2JD at various points.  They were probably wondering what the heck "KFF1635" was. I think they probably just wanted the "599 NJ", but that's neither here or there.  They were QSOs made from the park; and they count whether they were looking specifically for me or not.

17 Meters yielded contacts with KG5CIK, WR2E and WB2MKX, both of whom were in New Jersey.

30 Meters was good for two contacts. One was with KA9CFD and the other was a half hour or so rag chew with N1KW, Bob in IL.  Bob was also enjoying the warm weather in Illinois and was in his back yard, using his K2 at 10 Watts straight off a solar panel - no battery.  I really enjoyed the QSO with Bob and it's made me anxious to try out the solar panel that I bought from Harbor Freight last October.  I purchased a voltage controller from Bangood, and once I wire it up, I should be able to get a good and steady 12 Volts on a decently bright day - more than enough to power the KX3.

After the rag chew with Bob, I realized I had been at the park for close to two hours, so I decided to pack up and head home while there was still plenty of light.  I did have a few people come up to me, asking me what I was doing. I was able to give Amateur Radio, QRP and portable operating a couple of good plugs.

With that, I'll close this post with a very short and hastily made video that I took just prior to tear down.  I apologize for the quality - Steve WG0AT has nothing to worry from me as far as video expertise goes. But maybe, just maybe, if I keep this up, I can get better at that, too.  Lord knows, I've come a long way from my first attempt at portable QRP ops!


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

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Interesting

It appears that in September of 2016, the ARRL formed a committee, looking into the possibility of petitioning the FCC to create a new entry level Amateur Radio license.  At this point, they are looking for membership input.

So if you're a member of the ARRL, please log in to their Web site and take a survey, by clicking here.

Personally, some of the best times I have had in Amateur Radio occurred when I was a Novice.  I learned so much, most of it by the Amateur Radio School of Hard Knocks.  So, I was very saddened when the FCC ditched the Novice license.  I thought this was an excellent way to enter the Amateur Radio world, with the focus on operating in the HF bands, not just VHF/UHF.  Not that there's anything wrong with VHF/UHF, but I think opening up the world of the HF bands is the way to go, keeping interests piqued and offering endless possibilities.

It will be interesting to see how this all pans out and if anything comes of it.

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

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Had to post!

Saw this on the "100 Watts and a Wire" Facebook page - too funny not to share!

KUDOs to Andre Vorreiter


LOL!

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

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Skunked again - sort of.

I got on the air last night, in my 62F (16C) shack in order to participate in the 40 Meter QRP Foxhunt.  These hunts have been deplorable for me this year, with hardly any success.  Last night was no different.  The Foxes were NK6A in California and KV2X in New York.  I didn't hear either one of them - although W1AW/KP4 was absolutely booming in to NJ.

Instead of turning the radio off and running upstairs to warmer quarters and an episode of MacGyver on MeTV, I decided to participate for a bit in the NAQCC 160 Meter Sprint.  Just for grins and giggles, I did the search and pounce thing for better part of a half an hour, and also called CW for about 15 minutes or so.

Although my W3EDP tunes up on 160 Meters, thanks to the dazzling auto tuner inside the KX3 (I'd swear that thing would tune up a strand of wet spaghetti), I was probably sending RF into the HF equivalent of a rubber duckie antenna.  Even so, with 5 Watts I made 10 contacts, ranging from Maine, down to North Carolina and as far west as Michigan.  Not a band burner in any sense of the concept; but satisfying enough for an evening that looked pretty bleak, Foxhunt-wise.

What was also satisfying is that, thanks to a great suggestion gleaned from Facebook, I successfully stowed away my magloop antenna.  A few weeks ago, I went onto the DIY Magloop page and asked for suggestions on how the various members stored and carried their loops.

One of the suggestions was a stuff sack - a nylon bag with a draw string that normally you would use to stow away a sleeping bag or other camping equipment.  I went to Amazon and purchased this in the 25" (63 cm) version.


It's made by Liberty Mountain.  The longest piece of the antenna fits with room to spare, and the coiled up loop of LMR400 went in very nicely.  It doesn't look like as picturesque the above photo, as I'm not stowing away a sleeping bag - but it will serve its purpose very well.

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

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Delinquent in posting

I began 2017 with a pledge to post more often, and there's one resolution already shot to Hades!  But I do have a reason for my lack of blogging activity. I've been battling a crummy case of sinusitis the past two weeks. I'll spare you the gory details, but it's been accompanied by a bad, hacking cough,  As a result, I've been staying out of the chilly basement shack. Staying out of the shack limits me severely as to what I can talk about.

I did get these through the mail, though - so I'll post two images:


and 


I could be picky and say I actually participated in 10 activations, as one of those was under the NJ2SP call sign of the South Plainfield Amateur Radio Club - but only 9 under my own call.

A few folks have been bothered by the price of the certificates, However, if you consider the IT, publicity and staff man hour costs that it took to make NPOTA such a success, it's really not that much.  The amount of enjoyment I received throughout the year from NPOTA makes the cost of these two pieces of paper a mere pittance in comparison. Also, you have to consider that this is probably a "once in a lifetime" event.  I highly doubt that I'll make it to the National Park Service bicentennial.

I did receive something very recently from Rich G3CWI at SOTA Beams that I'm very excited about, I hope to play with it this coming weekend and I'll be posting about it real soon, so stay tuned!. This stupid sinusitis is definitely a drag.

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

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

To help with your NPOTA withdrawal

There IS a Parks On The Air program that has been up and running for a while.  In the USA, POTA is part of the World Wide Flora and Fauna program, which is international in scope.  Like NPOTA, WWFF was devised in order to get Amateur Radio ops off their duffs and into the Great Outdoors. I love their catch phrase - "Make nature your shack!"


POTA is the United States arm of WWFF and POTA encompasses not only NPOTA, but State Parks as well.  So if NPOTA was difficult for you as an activator, POTA should be easier as it will include many places that were not part of POTA.

Take for instance, the Great Swamp Wildlife Refuge (KFF-0454)  here in NJ.  I drive through it every time I go up to HP28, Morristown National Historical Park (KFF-0746), which is part of NPOTA.  Since the Refuge is administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, it was not part of NPOTA - but it IS part of POTA. My favorite portable operating spot, Washington Rock State Park, is also part of POTA (KFF-1635).

Activation requirements for WWFF are a bit stricter. For a valid activation, WWFF requires 44 QSOs, while NPOTA required only 10.  Happily, according to my good friend Greg N4KGL, POTA also requires only 10 QSOs for a valid activation. A good day's worth of portable operations should cover you. If you're bound and determined to work towards Activator awards, then you have a good program here to fill your heart's desire.. Me? I'll just be happy to have the "excuse" to go out and put some NJ parks on the air.

I've only just registered and have not looked into all the details about how to upload logs and stuff; but I am bound and determined to put some parks in New Jersey on the air this coming Spring and Summer for the chasers that are really into this.

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

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Portable operations antennas

So with all the NPOTA operating and other portable operating that I've done over the years, you might think that I've become some sort of expert on portable antennas, right?

Nope - not even close.

I have become "expert" enough to tell you that there's no "one size fits all" or all purpose antenna that will work in every situation.  That antenna continues to be the "Holy Grail" or "Golden Fleece" of Amateur Radio.  It is rumored to exist and is still being searched for.  Some will tell you that they possess it, or a reasonable facsimile, thereof.

In my mind, it's a myth, a fairy tale, a legend.  I have found that in every situation, all portable antennas will work well, some better than others. It all depends on the situation and the circumstances of that particular day or event.

Do you have trees available?  Awesome!  I think back on Day One, the Good Lord knew that someday, radio would be discovered, and that our species of hobbyists would be spawned. So He created trees.  "The World" seems to think that trees were created for the purpose of shade, food, converting carbon dioxide to oxygen, as well as a source of wood.  We Ham Radio operators know better - that trees were created to hold our aerials up in the sky, away from the ground,  and that the other services that trees provide are just side benefits.

If you have trees available at your location, put them to their intended purpose ....... get wire in them, as high as you can get it.  Whether it be a dipole, doublet, end fed, zepp, or any other kind of wire antenna, get it up as high as you can.  Of course, for portable operations, you want to keep the antenna as uncomplicated as possible, while still maintaining the ability to work as many bands as possible. In my experience the W3EDP or an end fed wire connected to a 9:1 UNUN will give you the most bang for the buck.  These can be used as verticals or slopers. And if you have enough real estate and feedline, they can even be stretched between two trees, as high as you can get them.  In the five years of the NJQRP Skeeter Hunt, my best year was accomplished using a W3EDP strung between two trees in a horizontal configuration, about 40 feet up, or so.

But what if there are no trees; or only one tree?  If there's only one tree, then I would suggest using said arbor as a support for a sloper - again. getting the end up as high as possible.  If there are NO trees, then you have to become creative and a bit more flexible.  If you're at the top of a mountain, you might try taking an end fed and just allow it to dangle off the side of the peak. If that's not practical, or you're bothered by heights like I am, and will go nowhere near the edge of a cliff, then you have to resort to something else.

That something else might be something like a portable vertical. Portable verticals can work very, very well. But to work very, very well you need to lay down a radial field or use a counterpoise. When I used the PAC12 antenna, I used to lay down a set of 8 sixteen foot lengths of wire, arranged around the antenna in a wagon wheel fashion.  It worked well, but could become a nuisance if the radial wires became entangled.  Care had to be taken during storage to make sure that didn't happen. Also, the radials will work the best while being elevated, even if that means just an inch or two off the ground, which means some sort of radial support also becomes necessary.

If you operate from your car .... if you can operate from your car, the radial problem becomes much, much easier to deal with.  Put your vertical on a magmount and allow your vehicle to become the ground plane.  I was only so-so pleased with my Buddistick until Bob W3BBO recommended this to me.  After I abandoned using the Buddistick counterpoise wire, and let my Jeep fulfill that function, my Buddistick literally began to soar!  Over the years, I have worked over 60 countries and just about all 50 States using 5 Watts or less.  Having a huge hunk of metal under that vertical makes all the difference in the world.

That being said, does it work on ALL bands well?

No.

The Buddistick on the roof seems to work well for me on 20 through 6 Meters.  If I want to hop on 40 Meters from the Jeep, I resort to a Hamstick.  The Hamstick, on that same magmount, works exceedingly well.  I suppose I could get the Buddistick to work decently, but I would need to add extension arms and figure out whip length.  It seems easier to just plop the Hamstick on for 40 Meters and the Buddistick for 20 - 6 Meters.  I have fiddled around with the Buddistick enough to find a tap setting that will allow me to work 20, 17 and 15 Meters without changing the physical configuration. The autotuner in my KX3 compensates as needed for each band, and minimally at that.

So what do you do, if you're away from your vehicle, there are no trees, and no way to support a wire with a portable mast; and you don't want to mess with a vertical and radials?  This is where a magloop can come into play.  The magloop is the newest antenna in my portable ops arsenal, and I have to admit that for a long time, I was doubtful of its capabilities.  But (there's always a but) I remained intrigued by the idea of having something like that and hoped against hope that the stories I had been reading were not just wishful thinking.

So far, I have found that the claims seem to have some truth to them.  From the limited use I have given my home brewed magloop, I have been quite pleased as well as surprised.  I have easily hopped the Atlantic several times with 5 Watts as well as crossing the Continental US to the west coast.  What has surprised me about the loop is that the noise floor, while using one, is so low that you may think you have it tuned wrong.  The incoming radio signals seem to jump out of nowhere and are quite loud. But using a loop takes some getting used to.  You have to teach yourself how to find the "sweet spot", which means turning the tuning capacitor for loudest ambient band noise. In an environment where there may be lots of traffic or people talking, that means resorting to using earbuds or headphones.  Once you carefully tune for that loudest band noise, though, means you are there - flat SWR.  But you have to be careful, though, because the tuning is very sharp and if you're even a tiny bit off, the SWR can be sky high.  If you're going to be frequency hopping a lot, this is a major pain.  Also, the tuning capacitor works best with some sort of reduction drive. As I've mentioned before, tuning can be tricky until you're used to it, and without the reduction drive, it can be difficult to find that noise peak.

The bottom line is that, if you're going to do a lot of portable operating, you really should have at least three or four options at your disposal. There is no situation where one antenna where work in all cases, either due to lack of set up time, real estate, available antenna hanging resources, etc.  Once you've gotten some experience under your belt you will be able to size up the situation and will be able to determine what option will work the best for that given day.

Always keep in the back of your mind the equation, "MOE = A + R + T" . That is, Maximum Operating Enjoyment becomes an art. It is a mixture of Antenna Efficiency  Resources and Set Up Time.  The desired outcome for an enjoyable outing is always using the most efficient antenna you can, using the resources you have at hand, with the minimal amount of set up and tear down time. After all, the idea is to be on the air making contacts, not silently cursing antenna wires or trees under your breath while simultaneously elevating your blood pressure.

A word of warning, though ..... this will become a lifetime endeavor and you will be constantly perusing the Internet and Ham publications looking for that "all purpose, all in one antenna".  I doubt that you or I will ever find it, but as they say, "The fun is in the journey, not the destination."

Have fun and see you on the air from the Great Outdoors in 2017!

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



Monday, January 02, 2017

Happy New Year !!!


Fervent wishes from W2LJ to all of you for a happy, healthy, prosperous and joyous 2017!

My resolution for 2017 is to get back into the blogging spirit. It seems too many things otherwise occupied my attention in 2016.  My post total for the year wasn't a low - but almost. Only 2006, my second year of doing this, had a lower post total.

Not that I am an Amateur Radio expert or anything like that; but I'd like to get back into the swing of things with sharing with you folks.  It keeps my head in the game.

I also have to find a new place to operate from during lunch break at work.  We relocated from the building we were in to a new destination about 10 minutes farther on down the road.  The bad thing, radio-wise, is that this location has an underground parking deck.  It's very nice that my Jeep will be protected from the elements, but not good at all for trying to generate RF into the aether.  I will have to Google map the are to see if there's a near by park or some kind of open space that I can utilize without eating up too much operating time.

That's it for today. I am going to post in the next day or two my impressions about my experiences with portable antennas during NPOTA.  Nothing I haven't covered before; but something I'd like to write a bit about again.

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