Solar Cycle 24: How Low Can We Go?

A flat lined Solar Cycle 24 – from

Gee, I guess the bottom of the cycle could go on longer than I had first thought. Its OK because 40M is still quite good – and the noise level in the wee hours of the morning is a low S6 – which means I do have a relatively quiet QTH. I do get some RF hash from the neighborhood, but only for certain hours – usually when people are binge watching mind numbing TV. I killed my TV more than 12 years ago and have never missed it. I also got rid of my car, and don’t miss it a bit. A young woman at the hardware store was very impressed that I get around on my bike. Its nice to see young people who value such things – if I had to do it all over again – there are just a few things I would do differently – and I would have gotten rid of my car years earlier. Funny how easy it is to live without something that used to be a way of life. In fact, I will go as far as saying by getting rid of these “modern conveniences” – it has forced me to see things around me that I would just take for granted. But as always, I digress.

New Solar Charging arrangement at KY6R  soon to be properly mounted

I initially thought using a solar charged battery for my QRP pursuit would result in less noise, but I’m not so sure, and the real reason to do this is to get used to not always having electricity – in fact, getting my pinkie toe in the “living off grid” pool.

Aspens turning color in our recent Colorado – Utah and Nevada trip

Its funny, but the Fall Colors have everything to do with the sun and photosynthesis. I don’t know what it is – but seeing the Fall colors is one of the most relaxing, satisfying feelings that I have ever experienced. It doesn’t matter whether the tree or bush or shrub is landscape planted or natural / native. To me, its the magic of the change, the weather and the sights and smells of Autumn. Lately, there is a sort of toasted smell out side – of the fallen leaves getting dried out. Ironically, that also means its a dangerous time when the “Diablo winds” kick up – but I am hoping that we are over that for this year. My guess is they might return one more time. Southern California – with their “Santa Ana winds” is experiencing their rough fire season right now. Soon the rainy season will be here, but just this fleeting moment in time is a highlight of the entire year.

Black cats and witches . . . 

Trick or Treat! She is missing her Crystal Ball!

I’ll take the Halloween Treats with such nice weather and fall colors – and leave the high fire danger and Diablo Winds for another time. If I only had a crystal ball, a lucky rabbits foot – or whatever else I could use to predict or better yet – influence the future.

A bike stop along Moraga Way to take pictures of the changing fall leaves

Now what was this blog post about? Oh yeah – the Solar Cycle. Hey – its all about the sun, so I suppose I have been in a dream state all weekend – a trance even. I didn’t even need to go to a yoga class to get “in the zone” . . .




Autumn, Glorious Autumn in Northern California

This weekend was the most beautiful of the entire year – and we are only just starting Fall here in NCAL

I grew up near the Delaware Water Gap on the Jersey Side – in Newton, NJ. Fall colors were superb, but alas – the Fall season was very short – it seemed to only last 4 – 6 weeks, and then either a big rain or the cold weather would come in – and we went from glorious Fall to Winter. It got grey pretty quickly. Snow was actually a treat – it kept the scene interesting. The East Coast Peaks out about now. My giant Chinese Pistachio tree is days away from bursting out in a neon Orange. I’ll post photos then. We don’t hit our peak here for a couple weeks – maybe the beginning on November.

Orchard Nursery in Lafayette has the best Autumn happenings going on

Quite the cool and even creepy gourd . . . 

The Spooky Ghost Circus is underway here in Lamorinda

Happy Black Cats – 50% off even . . . 

We are only just getting started – stay tuned – some amazing Fall colors are on their way


Solar QRP Station at KY6R

20W solar panel with PWM charge controller and 12v 7 ah battery

One of the good parts of the blackout this week was that it finally got me to get on the stick with solar powered Ham Radio. With the KX-3, I can easily switch to a solar charged battery and get my station “off the grid”. Well – at least the radio, anyway.

These items were purchased on Amazon:

Its great – I can see what the solar panel is putting out, and the charge-controller ensures that the battery is charged correctly, and of you add a load it regulates that as well. Today I set it up just to see what was happening at each device, and I used my Fluke DVM as a load – to see how the Charge – Controller read out jived with the DVM.

I just have to create a power wire that goes from the battery to my Anderson Powerpole DC distribution panel.


Indian Summer in Northern California

The stunning autumn colors and weather in is full force in Northern California

It was quite the week – but we woke to just a stunning day here near San Francisco. The air is clear, the skies are blue, the sun is warm but with that fantastic coolness in the air that makes the combination “luscious”.

Under the “big top” at Orchard Nursery in Lafayette, California

After a day of great exercise riding our bikes – we stopped in at Orchard Nursery in Lafayette – a “must see” place at Halloween time.

Classic Fall scene

We bought a Nyssum Salvatica tree – or Tupelo – which makes this our third in our front yard.

The theme at Orchard was a sort of “spooky circus”, and it was really great fun

The Apple Harvest is in . . .

Cool cats ready for Trick or Treating . . . 

They had a golf game with pumpkin pie – very funny . . . 

The leaves steal the show . . . 

Ahhhh – tobacco sunburst – the color of that mandolin that just might end up in my hands . . . 

Yes, I even have decorated my bike with this cool pumpkin skull blinky light ornament . . . 

This guy really cracked me up

Special effects!

Our solar charged Halloween lights that actually helped us a lot during the Blackout

A summer “whirlygig” gets its last sun and shadows . . . 

The seasons have changed now – and there is no looking back. While we get that PITA “Diablo Winds” weather for a week or so in October, they pass and then we have a solid month or two of heaven. I’m hoping we are past the “changing winds” and marching towards Winter. I look forward to our rainy season – but for now – I’m really enjoying this “Indian Summer”.

Just How is America Being Made Great Again?

Performing a quick noise test during the [SAD] PG&E induced power outage

Our power was out this week for about a day and a half. We were prepared and went about our lives quite well. In fact, there were two standout good things about this man made “emergency” – we made sure we were very well prepared, and I was able to test the bands on my KX-3 while there was ZERO power on in my neighborhood. Lets talk about the noise test first, then the preparedness aspect and finally, why I ended up being really angry at PG&E – (when at first I wasn’t).

It turns out that the most “fair” time to do a noise test is in the wee hours of the morning. With ZERO power on in my town, the noise level on 40M was S6, and that was low enough to hear pretty much everything. In fact, the KX-3 sounded less noisy than S6. I was running from a couple 6V lantern batteries. Once the power came back on, the noise level at the same time in the middle of the night – was S7 – and that is with my switching power supplies. Its close enough to the battery that I’m satisfied with my stations as is. I did find at various times during the day, people do switch on “something” that causes S9 or S9 +20 noise. I’m guessing its some kind of plasma TV next door – because its mainly during the night hours when someone would be watching TV. I have only checked 40M – it seems that 80M is not ffected – I can check into the Mission Trail Net on 75M without the same noise level.

My wife Kat ordered these excellent water jugs from our local CERT team

After the recent earthquake in Southern California, I purchased an ICOM ID-91, and like it – I have been using it each Wednesday evening to check into our local CERT Net. I also am signed up for a Winter CERT preparedness class, and I will join the local team. It just so happens that last Saturday, we picked up these new blue water jugs – and we filled them up when we heard PG&E were going to turn off the power. As it turned out, we had water, gas and cell service during this blackout, so all we had to worry about was night lights and keeping the fridge doors closed.

The wonderful “Luci Light”

My wife and I went to REI and picked up a couple of these Luci inflatable lights. They are solar chargeable and they will provide excellent light for many hours and even charge your cell phone.

So, the great news – we were very well prepared. I even put up halloween lights outside that are solar charged – so we had outdoor lights that provided a nightlight effect when going to the bathroom at night. The moon was almost full – so even though having a completely dark suburban town is a bit eerie, we did just fine.

Now the bad part. When I first heard about this idea to shut off power, I was hoping it would have been a more “surgical” operation, like some of the other power companies do – companies who have invested in their infrastructure and have the ability to automatically fail over, shut off power, and do it only where the problems are. We had ZERO breeze here in Orinda, at least down in the flats. Apparently, there was 70+ mph winds on Mt. Diablo and Mt. St. Helena. OK – well, sure, turn off the power. But then I read that PG&E had $100 million in a fund that they charged customers for – to modernize their power grid – and they spent it on CEO and others bonuses and raises. All of a sudden, I wasn’t the “good citizen” willing to take it on the chin as I first was.

I live in Silicon Valley – and there is absolutely NO good reason why our power grid should be so antiquated and unsafe that the power company has to shut power off in such wide swaths. We did just fine – but felt terrible for the local businesses – for God’s sake – if Amazon hasn’t killed small retail business already, PG&E will help finish them off. Soon – we will only be able to buy stuff from Amazon – but I digress. There are people on medical devices, hourly workers who won’t get paid for a couple of days, and others who did not do as well. It cost the area $2.5 billion, so this is really serious stuff.

Jim Carrey’s Trumpian Halloween Painting

When I did check the internet, this “Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight” horror that is the Trump and Giuliani Clown Show sure made for some interesting “entertainment”. I love how these buffoons screw up and remind me of the movie “Dog Day Afternoon”.. What schmucks!

I was wondering if the fucking world has gone out of its collective mind . . .

So – this week did get me down a bit – broken government, crumbling infrastructure – and I am wondering How Has America Been Made Great Again?

The KY6R Para40Set

This is the Wheatstone Bridge that I will mount a QRPGuys Paraset40 QRP rig in

Steve Weber, KD1JV designed a great regenerative solid state “Paraset” spy radio kit, and it sells for only $40 on their web site:

I also purchased an end fed wire antenna tuner, because both of these units will fit inside the Wheatstone Bridge box. I will run the rig from several “D” batteries – also inside the rig.

If I can get the meter to be an S Meter this will be the coolest sky radio I can build!

I have asked if maybe Steve or one of the engineers who designs kits for QRPGuys could work up a mod where I can use the Wheatstone bridges meter as an S Meter. That would be too cool . . . . If it could only be used for power out – that would be OK, but not as cool as an S Meter.

What is so cool about this kit is that it does stay true to the original tube version in that it is a regenerative receiver (i.e. SW-3), but solid state. Because it has two crystals for use on 2 frequencies, I’ll bypass the digital display – or at worst not expose it above the original face plate.

The Wheatstone bridge has all of the right controls for the rig and tuner, and I believe I can turn one of those spst switches into a Morse code key – so it will be self contained and battery operated and use the same antenna the original Paraset used – basically and End Fed Zepp that uses a counterpoise.

I purchased the Wheatstone bridge for $70 shipped, so the whole shebang will end up being under $150, which I think is a great deal.


The Paraset QRP Radio

Paraset “Spy Radio” – Photo by Elliot – N6PF

The Paraset radio’s were used during WWII by The Resistance in discreet locations around Europe – especially in France. They were small and as portable as you could get. The antenna used was usally an end fed wire that was easily thrown into a tree or other support.

I found a nice video about building your own Paraset, by Graham, G4VUX (SK):

I agree with Graham’s mention at the end that a solid state version would be a lot better – as much as I love tubes, the high voltage power required for a tube version is not something I want to do.

QRP Guys sells a 40M Solid State Paraset Kit:

Photo from web site

Schematic from web site

This $40 kit is pretty much perfect for my needs. The antenna tuner is an additional $30.

Wheatstone Bridge – laying in my basement

I have this Wheatstone Bridge paying in my basement, and will use the box and several parts – binding posts, knobs, meter, etc for the rig. I will find someone who I can order a powder coated chassis plate that will fit into the wooden box. Maybe I can even find some pre-painted black anodized aluminum – which would be very easy to drill and cut myself. Heck – by combining the controls from the rig and this tuner:

I would add the EFHW Sota tuner and incorporate the cool Wheatstone bridge’s meter for (hopefully) receive. The combination of controls from the rig and the tuner means I might just be able to completely re-use the black metal plate that is already fitted to the Wheatstone Bridge.

OK – my goal now is to have this built before Thanksgiving – when I will be able to use it in the field.