QRP as Work/Life Balance

At my company, work/life balance is a frequently discussed subject.  Although the software engineers probably have the worst time of it, it's an issue that most of us face.  Late nights and weekend work are the norm for a lot of my coworkers.

I believe that people who have problems with work/life balance have made a choice -- for their careers, for money, or for personal satisfaction -- that can often lead to resentment in hindsight.  I've been that guy, but that's not how I operate today.  These days, I find I'm able to put in my best work by breaking up the work day into periods of intense focus, with occasional breaks where I do something else -- anything but work.

I love my job.  I get to play with cutting edge hardware that's changing the datacenter industry.  I get to work with and learn from wicked smart people.  More importantly, I get to spend most of my time doing the stuff I'm good at doing.  

If you work with me, you'll often see me eating lunch at my desk.  Those are the days when you likely won't see me later that afternoon.  I'll block off an hour on my calendar, grab my backpack, and head out to the nature trail that runs around the perimeter of my office campus. 

My bug-out bag: radio, antenna, tuner, rope, and everything else I need to make a few contacts on my break. 

My bug-out bag: radio, antenna, tuner, rope, and everything else I need to make a few contacts on my break. 

There's this one spot on the trail where there's a nice tall tree, with branches that are just right for catching a rope thrown with a lead weight on the end of the line.  In short order, I can have an end-fed wire antenna up about 40 feet in the air in a sloper configuration.

60 feet of copper clad steel, supported in the top branches of that blurry tree in the background. 

60 feet of copper clad steel, supported in the top branches of that blurry tree in the background. 

Once the antenna is in the air, I attach the near end to the 5:1 transformer needed to bring the wire's impedance down to a range that my tuner can easily cope with.  I tie this end off to another tree at eye level so that the whole antenna is off the ground.

I really like this antenna.  It's simple, easy to set up, and can be set up in a variety of configurations: sloper, inverted L, or even hanging out the window of a tall building.  As with all end fed antennae, it works better if you attach a counterpoise to provide a reasonable ground plane.  Here, I'm just using a long piece of wire clipped on to the ground  terminal of the transformer.  The counterpoise runs in the same direction as the antenna wire.  Some brief tests indicate it doesn't really matter which direction the countepoise runs.

After the antenna is deployed, I connect a 50 foot length of coax to the antenna and run it along the ground to my operating position -- about 35 feet from the antenna.  The long coax acts as a second counterpoise, which means there's RF on the shield of the coax.  That's OK, but I've found it sometimes does funny things to the sidetone of the radio.  For this reason, the coax has a series of toroid chokes on the radio end, effectively damping any stray RF before it gets into the radio. 

The counterpoise (red alligator clip) is attached at the bottom of the transformer. 

The counterpoise (red alligator clip) is attached at the bottom of the transformer. 

The rig I keep at work is a heavily modded YouKits HB1B 5-band CW-only transceiver.  It was built by Hanz, W1JSB, under his excellent RadioSet-GO brand.  The rig contains almost everything needed to get on the air quickly: 4Ah of battery, integrated touch paddle and keyer, and other major improvements on the stock HB1B.  It covers the 40, 30, 20, 17, and 15 meter bands, and can also receive single sideband in a pinch.  It spits a whopping 4 watts into the antenna.

The "everything in a Pelican case" philosophy behind this radio means I don't have to carry, remember, or set up a bunch of peripherals.  All I technically need is the radio and an antenna, and I'm good to go. 

If I could add one feature to this rig, it would be a built-in tuner.  I doubt there is room in the tiny enclosure to add the needed boards.  Instead, I carry the excellent battery powered LDG Z817 tuner, and connect it inline.  I only need to touch it when I change bands.

Working conditions.

Working conditions.

Elapsed time from walking out the office door to first CQ is about 15 minutes.  This leaves me the better part of an hour to wrangle a Q or two out of the ether.  I almost always make at least one contact, usually two.  40 and 15 meters are the most reliable bands for me.

So far, my farthest contact using this setup has been Iowa.  Most of my contacts have been within a few hundred miles of the office.  I'm used to hunting DX contacts thousands of miles away, but so far, that hasn't happened using this portable QRP setup.

A sample of where I was heard today.

A sample of where I was heard today.

That's actually just fine.  To me, it's still pretty damn amazing that I can sit on a rock with this tiny radio and talk to people two time zones away, with the ionosphere as the only suppoting infrastructure.

Once I've made a couple of contacts, it's time to pack up and get back to work.  Tear down time is about ten minutes.   

After sitting in nature, talking to distant old men using patterns of beeps (Morse Code, y'all), I feel refreshed and relaxed.  I can look forward to spending the rest of the day staring at a computer screen, because I've given myself time to unplug and do something totally different for a while. 

Everyone creates balance between work and downtime somehow.  I think a lot of folks do it in a multitasking fashion: work for a bit, browse YouTube or read the news, alt-tab back to work for a bit, and so on.  My own experience is that if I do it that way, I lose the flow of what I'm doing for work, and the little bursts of personal time aren't that rewarding.  Playing radio is a nice counterpoise to the focused (and highly instrumented) work periods I enforce for myself.