Sunday, March 24, 2019

Maker Day 2019

I haven't posted for a while. There hasn't been much going on with W2LJ to post about .... until now.

This past weekend was Maker Day Weekend in New Jersey, with Maker Day activities happening at various locations around the state. The South Plainfield Amateur Radio Club pitched in and joined the effort at the same location as last year - the JFK Memorial Library in our neighboring town of Piscataway, NJ.

We gathered at the library at 9:00 AM our goal was a bit different this year. We wanted to emphasize soldering and kit building skills, so we purchased a variety of different kits that would interest a wide variety of people.  As last year, we wanted to feature kits that had a relatively low parts count, so that the kits would be relatively easy to build, and could be completed within a reasonable amount of time.

To that end, we scoured Bangood's offerings (there are literally thousands of inexpensive electronic kits available online there, and other places) and bought some digital clock kits, some voltage/temperature meter kits, some LED flashlight kits, wireless FM microphones and 8 note electronic organ kits and we also had a decent number of code practice oscillator kits left over from last year.

The day went like a whirlwind! I was busy from 10:15 AM to close to 4:00 PM helping to build kits and instructing proper soldering technique. I have to say that some of the participants really picked up on soldering, and their work looked almost professional, even though this was their first exposure to soldering irons and solder.

In addition, these "kids" (for the most part the participants were young, but there were a few "close to 20 somethings" and even one parent participated.) learned what different components looked like, the difference between ceramic and electrolytic capacitors, and even a little bit about the color code on resistors. We taught them about the indents on the ends of integrated circuits and the flat side of transistors.

I helped out with 2 and 1/2 code practice oscillators, two clock kits and one electronic organ. Much to our delight, everything that was built worked, with the exception of one dud. We didn't have time for too much trouble shooting, as we were booked for time slots right up to the closing bell. We had about 5 building stations ready to go at all times, with an hour allotted for each kit. In the end, I think we had twenty first time builders take advantage of SPARC being there.

In addition to the kit building, we had a video on "An Introduction to Amateur Radio" going in loop fashion throughout the duration. We also had "Ol' Reliable" Dave KD2FSI set up an HF station. He had his Yaesu hooked up to his AlexLoop and was able to pick out quite a number of FOC stations doing their thing on 20 Meters. Dave set up a big 24' monitors and had CW Skimmer going on his laptop so that visitors could see Morse Code being displayed before their eyes in real time. As always, Morse Code still draws and fascinates people - ESPECIALLY younger people!

I couldn't stay to the very bitter end, but I'm pretty sure the library staff was happy that we were there again. It was a very successful day and I'm so proud of all the SPARC members for the time and talent that they donated.

We learned some tings in addition to what we learned last year; and I'd say we're probably pretty certain to return for Maker Day in 2020. It's gratifying to share what we've learned about electronics and building with the rest of the world - especially the younger world.

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

Monday, March 11, 2019


During one of my last few Skype sessions with Bob W3BBO, he commented on how this blog has gotten depressing as of late., with all the SK notices.

Sorry to say that I have one more, and I would be very remiss if I didn't post it. One of the QRP Giants is no longer with us.  The Rev. George Dobbs G3RJV, Founder of G-QRP has passed away, early this morning.

I never met the good Reverend, or had the chance to speak with him and shake his hand. I've read many of his articles and it was obvious that here was a man "who knew his stuff".

This was the e-mail, posted to QRP-L by Ken Evans, Past President of QRP-ARCI. It was sent to him by Graham Firth G3MFJ:

"I’m sorry to have to tell you, but George Dobbs, G3RJV died early this morning. He was taken to hospital a few days ago with pneumonia, and an infection, but he didn’t respond to the antibiotics. He was 75. His wife JoAnna was with him when he died. He had suffered from dementia for some time, but was still taking as much interest in the running of the G-QRP Club until recently."

RIP, Reverend Dobbs.

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

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Hank Greeb N8XX - SK

I don't like posting these; but Hank was a fixture in the QRP world.

It was reported recently that Hank had suffered a heart attack and then a stroke somewhere around the February 16th time frame. At that time, he must have expected a full, but slow recovery, as he thought he would be off the air for about a year. Sadly, it was announced that he passed away yesterday.

Hank was a stalwart QRPer and participated in just about every QRP Sprint that you can think of. The only one that he didn't partake of much was the NJQRP Skeeter Hunt; but that was always because his annual family reunion occurred the same weekend. Every year he sent me an e-mail with his regrets.

Hank was also a fixture in NPOTA and POTA.

Hank was outspoken and I will miss his e-mails to the various QRP and CW reflectors, complete with his "Shucky durn" and "Corn Whiskey" lingo. Hank was a chemist by trade, I believe - and a true gentleman by nature.

73 Hank, we will miss you. Say "Hi" to Ken WA8REI for us.

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

Monday, February 25, 2019

Posting just to post

Is something I will not do. I know there has been a dearth of activity on this blog the past few weeks; but that's just because I have not been very active radio-wise. I will post when I think that I have something of value to offer, not just to have you read empty words.

LAST Saturday, February 16th, I attended a conference on Amateur Radio in Public Health and Medical Services Emergencies. It was help at Cooper Hospital, in Camden, NJ, which is the home of Campbell's Soup, the Battleship New Jersey and the NJ State Aquarium.

Tim AB2ZK drove us down the 50 or so minute ride to Camden. I was a bit apprehensive about attending as I had a flare up of tendinitis in my left ankle and I was pretty uncomfortable. But Tim offered a ride and the ankle was beginning to feel better, so I decided to give it a shot.

I am glad I did. There were excellent presentations by AREDN (Amateur Radio Emergency Data Network) who provides the equipment needed to set up an emergency mesh RF domain. You're probably asking yourself, "Exactly what on earth is THAT?"

I may be explaining this incorrectly, but a mesh network is kind of like a private, little closed Internet domain. By adapting routers to use the microwave frequencies in the Amateur Radio bands, we can create a little independent Internet style domain which will allow the transfer of data - e-mails, SMS as well as regular messages, pictures, etc between an emergency site or multiple associated sites and an EOC without having to rely on the regular Internet - especially when that becomes over clogged and over worked with traffic. And let's face it - when the fecal matter hits the rotary oscillating air current generating device, the Internet and cell phone networks are among the first casualties.

It's not as expensive or complicated to set up as you might think; but it IS helpful to have someone who is familiar with computer networking if you seed to get a domain set up with more than just a few access points. You can click on the AREDN link that I have above to get more information.

There was also a good talk on NVIS antennas given by Joe Everheart N2CX, one of the co-founders of NJQRP. Joe gave a good talk on what will work in order to make HF usable in an emergency when you needs to communicate with stations pretty much in just your local area.

There are a couple of other presentations that made me wonder why they were included, but that's par for the course, I guess. In all, it was a very informative day with a lot of good information made available to us who are involved in AUXCOMM.

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

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Ken Louks WA8REI (SK)

I was shocked last night, when I saw a post to the Flying Pigs Facebook page by Brian KB9BVN, that Ken WA8REI had become a Silent Key.

Ken, being the avid QRPer, had contacted me many times over the years in QRP Sprints and just plain old QSOs.  I particularly enjoyed when we would rag chew when Ken took his RV to the Upper Peninsula in Michigan and he would tell me how cold it was; or how much snow was on the ground, or how beautiful the foliage was in the Autumn.

Ken introduced me to; and got me involved in the QRP Polar Bears, where another SK, Ron  WB3AAL was also quite active.

It was always a treat to run into Ken over the years and his call sign appears in my log many, many times. I will miss the cheeriness and friendliness that he was able to pass on - even through his dits and dahs. Ken was good people.

Kenneth Alan Louks (Obituary)

Kenneth A. Louks of Freeland, Michigan passed away February 10, 2019 at the age of 71.

Ken was a life-long resident of the Saginaw area. After graduating from Buena Vista High School in 1965, he entered Western Michigan University and obtained a bachelor’s degree in sociology. Ken served in the US Army from 1970-72 and was stationed in Stuttgart, West Germany where he was assistant to the Chaplain. Upon his honorable discharge, he was employed by the US Postal Service from 1972 to 2002, reaching the level of Mail Processing Manager at the Saginaw USPS facility.

Ken had a strong Christian faith and was past member of Sheridan Avenue United Methodist Church, Auburn UMC, and presently was a member of Hopevale Church. He enjoyed the Christian fellowship of all members at these houses of worship.

Ken was a gifted keyboardist from his youth and throughout his life. Ken was organist at Auburn UMC and part-time organist at Sheridan Avenue and Swan Valley UMC over the years. Ken also taught piano from his home. Even after a stroke at age 60 rendered his left hand paralyzed, Ken still played his electronic keyboard, recording and sharing his music, which were often arrangements of favorite hymns. Ken also played the dulcimer.

Ken loved his Lord and his country and was proud of his service in the Army. He enjoyed traveling our scenic country, either in his RV or Tahoe, often stopping at the homes of relatives or his ham radio buddies. He loved nature, and loved visiting relatives whether they were in Saginaw, Mayville or Florida.

Ken’s favorite hobby was amateur radio. Licensed in 1965 as WA8REI, he was very active on the air until his death. Ken loved to operate his radio, using Morse code, from wilderness areas as well as from his home. He made loyal friends on the air all over the world.

Ken was predeceased by his parents, Ferris and Donna Louks. He is survived by his brothers David (Kathryn) Louks, Paul (Vicky) Louks, a dear aunt G. Elaine Fox, and many treasured nieces, nephews and cousins.

Honoring Ken’s wishes, there will be no formal funeral service. His wish was for his friends and relatives to remember him in their hearts and give all thanks and praise to God for our time of grace. Also per Ken’s wishes, he will be cremated, and his remains interred at Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly, Michigan at a later date. Those planning an expression of sympathy may wish to consider Hopevale Church of Saginaw

73, Ken!  May you always have good DX and great propagation - RIP, my friend.

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

Friday, February 01, 2019

Speaking of FYBO

It was 57F in the basement shack last night for the 80 Meters QRP Fox Hunt. A shirt, sweater and hoodie sweatshirt made it semi-comfortable.

The band was really quiet with nary a static crash to be heard. Randy NC4RT in North Carolina was robust in standing out from the quietness. Dan N7CQR in Oregon was at ESP at best all night. I could tell when he was keying his transmitter; but that was about the best I was able to hear him. 80 Meters was just not having it for an NJ to OR QSO.

Rather than sit in the chill until 10:30 PM local, I decided that discretion was the better part of valor and pulled the big switch early. Heading upstairs to the warmth was probably the better decision as I've been plagued with some minor back spasms the past couple of days. They're not bad, just bad enough to be annoying. Getting out from the chill was probably the better idea.

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

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

FYBO this Saturday

The AZsQRPions are sponsoring the annual FYBO contest this Saturday. Do I really need to explain what FYBO stands for? I guess for any new readers from outside the USA, it means (charitably) "Freeze Your Bottom Off."

Here in the USA, we usually use other more descriptive words in place of "Bottom", but this is a family friendly blog, so I'll keep it clean.

Funny that this contest should be dreamed up by a bunch from Arizona. We northern QRPers are so gullible!

The rules in their entirety can be found here -

But here are the bullet points:

1) The contest runs from 1400 to 2400 UTC

2) It's a QRP contest, but both CW and SSB are allowed.

3) Exchange RST, State/Province/DXCC Country (SPCs), first name, power out, and Temperature (Fahrenheit) at OPERATOR'S POSITION. Indoor stations must report INDOOR temperature.
Example: 579 AZ Frosty 2W 40F

And always, FYBO comes with this admonition - (my paraphrasing) "This is not an episode of  SurvivorMan. Have fun, but don't be stupid!"

The high temperature around here on Saturday is supposed to be around 36F  (2C). I'm not a fan of cold weather at all; but maybe I'll venture forth for an hour or so. After all, it is Groundhog Day. If the furry little rodent is brave enough to come out and test the cold weather, maybe I will, too.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least1

Monday, January 28, 2019

Happy Anniversary

to me!

January 28th, 2019 marks the 40th anniversary of my very first QSO as a Novice, way back in the Stone Age. We tapped out messages on rocks, you know! Well. actually .... we only used rocks when it was too wet to send smoke signals, or the drum skins were broken.

Seriously ..... although I passed the test back in November of 1978 and got my license the last week of  December 1978, it took a while for me to put my station together. My transmitter was a used Drake 2NT from Burghardt Electronics that my parents gave to me for Christmas that year. I had to build my Heathkit HR-1680 receiver, put up my antenna (or what I called and insisted was an antenna), and figure out how the whole mish-mosh went together. After the licensing class that I took was completed, I had no Elmer. I was on my own and learned by trying things, making mistakes, fixing them or trying something else. Looking back at it, it's a wonder I didn't fry myself, or the house.

I was working at the North Brunswick Camera Center Annex store in New Brunswick, NJ at the time. Since I had to work on Saturdays, Monday was my day off. That was kind of neat because having Sundays and Mondays off, it always felt like a long weekend, even though it wasn't.  So when I made this first QSO on a Sunday afternoon, I had the whole rest of the day AND Monday to keep at it and make some more. Those were the days!

To be honest with you, I don't remember if that first QSO was a result of me calling CQ or me answering a CQ. All I remember was how nervous I was, making that first solo flight all by my lonesome.

I certainly don't remember the QSO lasting 20 minutes, but exchanging the basics at 5 WPM probably took that long! After getting that first contact under my belt, the following QSOs got easier and easier.

A couple of things:

I see KA9CIH states he was running 90 Watts. I guess that was Watts input, because of memory serves me correctly, Novices were limited to 75 Watts output back in those days.

Look at that 10 cent stamp! I think the price of a 1st Class stamp either just went up to 55 cents; or it will be very soon. Paper QSLing is becoming way too expensive!

Adam was 14, I was 21 at the time. I wish I had started out when I was his age. Better late than never, I guess.

Here was my QSL card at the time:

That was homebrewed by yours truly, as well. The poor attempt at drawing was mine (Apologies, Mr. Schulz!), but the typesetting was done with Letraset. Letraset was letters on transfer sheets. You would line up the letter on your work surface (what the commercial art world calls a "comp") and you would rub the back of the Letraset page with a stylus and the letter would adhere to the comp. After you got all the lettering done and the "comp" was finished, you would take it to a print shop, where a lithographic negative would be shot and that would be used to make an offset printing plate.

It seems so primitive now in the day and age of computers and desktop publishing - but that was the process 40 years ago.

I looked up Adam's name on QRZ and it would appear that he's no longer licensed. KA2DOH eventually became N2ELW and later W2LJ. Still going strong, 40 years later with no intention on quitting anytime soon!

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

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

It warmed up yesterday

and the basement shack was a balmy 60 F (15 C), but I decided to give the 40 Meter QRP Fox Hunt a whirl with the magloop, anyway.  I was able to locate Wayne N4FP in Florida rather easily and worked him without a problem. Physically rotating the loop to where I could hear him the loudest, helped tremendously.

Drew K9CW in Illinois was a different story. He was weak, VERY weak, no matter which way I oriented the loop.  But since I had discovered where he was hiding, I decided to run to the basement shack to see if I could hear him any better there.

Using the Butternut HF9V,  almost as soon as I sat down, I caught him on a QSB peak and completed the exchange for the second pelt. After that, he faded away and I was able to hear him no better than on the loop. So I cannot conclusively say that the HF9V outperformed the magloop in this case. I just may have been fortunate to have caught him at just the right time with the HF9V. For all I know, he might have come up just as loudly on the loop. There was no way I was able to make a direct A to B comparison.

One thing I will say, though ....... the loop is much easier to tune now. I took one of the sidereal drive "extenders" from my telescope and fit it onto the shaft of the tuning capacitor of the loop. Before I just had a plain ol' vanilla knob. The "extender" is long enough to remove any hand capacitance effect that my body previously presented, throwing off the setting once I removed my hand. Now I can tune for loudest background noise, and lowest SWR and nothing changes when I remove myself from the equation.



I was pleasantly surprised at what a difference this extension proved to make.

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

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Plans derailed by chores and the weather.

My melting solder plans for this long weekend became derailed by other chores and the weather. By the time chores and other obligations were finished, Saturday and Sunday evaporated, leaving only Monday for my build day.

However, the temperatures dropped as predicted on Sunday and yesterday's high temperature was only 14F (-10C) and that was only for a very brief period of time. Most of the day was in single Fahrenheit digits. That meant my basement shack was at a crisp 56F (13C) which was too cool for these arthritic hands and fingers to deal with.  I did get a few minutes on Saturday to inventory and organize the components of the kit I am going to work on, though. That was some progress, at least.

While it supposed to warm up today, it will be cold again this evening. I've decided that for the 40 Meter QRP Fox Hunt tonight, I will set up on the dining room table and will use the mag loop. I've done that one time before during the last Winter season and had success. We'll see how it goes tonight.

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

Friday, January 18, 2019

"Oh, the weather outside is frightful!"

Well ...... not right now; but it will be.

We've had some snow showers this morning, which have not amounted to much more than a nuisance as I had to deal with a bunch of idiot drivers this morning on the commute into work. The BAD weather is supposed to hit tomorrow afternoon into Sunday morning.

It doesn't sound as bad as it may end up, as only 3 to 6 inches (7.5 - 15 cm) of snow are forecast, with that even changing to rain Sunday afternoon. The tricky part is that as the precipitation ends, and the front moves through, the temperatures are supposed to drop faster than the proverbial lead balloon. By Sunday evening, we will drop from the upper 30s F (3-4 C) to a low of around 4F (-15 C) or thereabouts. That means all that moisture on the ground is going to flash freeze before it has a chance to evaporate. Come Monday morning, the roads and sidewalks will probably be pretty treacherous.

The company that I work for does not take off for Martin Luther King's Birthday. However, the company that I work at DOES close the building for Monday, so I have to burn a vacation day. With how busy things have been at work, I am not disappointed!

I have no pressing plans for the weekend, except for getting on the air and melting some solder. First time in a long time that I may actually get to enjoy these activities!

Actually, that's not totally true - I cannot tell a lie. I did get on 80 Meters last night for the Thursday Night 80 Meter QRP Fox Hunt.  I did bag two pelts last night; but I have to tell you ..... every time I think I have a handle on propagation, it kicks my butt.

Both Foxes were in Georgia - John K4BAI and Jim N4TMM. They're not all that far from each other. I mean, with regard to how far both are from NJ, they're basically in the same neighborhood. Jim N4TMM was 579 for pretty much most of the night. So...... you would think - the two of them being in the same state and all - K4BAI should be somewhere around 579, also - right?

No, silly rabbit!  John was 559 AT BEST and the QSB on him was horrendous. One second he was there, next second, poof!  I managed to make contact with him towards the end of the hunt. It was a struggle, but John's more-than-excellent ears got me into his logbook. Indeed, a testimony to him and his operating prowess - not mine in the least.

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

Friday, January 11, 2019

This is a real treat!

A professionally done documentary (about 10 minutes long) about Field Day and Amateur Radio in general in Fort Wayne, Indiana - from 2017.

Personally, I think they overplay the "weak signal" aspect of low power operating. So many people do this that it becomes a psychological handicap. Sure, QRP signals are generally not as loud as 100 Watt signals - but it's not like they're microscopic in comparison. And if the propagation is right, the guy on the receiving end might never know - unless you tell him. 

On the whole, though? Nicely done, gentlemen ...... nicely done!

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

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

40 Meter QRP Fox Hunt

was last night and I got skunked.

The Foxes were K4BAI in GA and K3ESE in MD.

When I saw on the Fox Hunt e-mail reflector that one of the California Hounds had pelted the MD Fox, I knew I was in trouble. The band was long - way long.

I never heard a peep out of Maryland and John K4BAI in Georgia was nothing but a mere ESP whisper all night. You can't work 'em if you can't hear 'em.

90 minutes of my life that I'll never get back, but as "they" say - "A bad day at QRP is better than a good day at work.", so there's always that.

Always look on the bright side. Right?

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

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

North American QSO Party - NAQP CW

Thanks to John Laney K4BAI for posting a reminder on the CWOPS e-mail reflector.

This weekend is the NAQP CW contest. As you all know, I don't consider myself an avid or even semi-avid contester, but this one is generally fun.  The exchange is simple - your name and state. It doesn't get much easier than that! Even if your CW speed isn't the greatest, this should be relatively easy copy.

If you're working on your Worked All States Award - whether it be just starting, almost finishing, or somewhere smackdab in the middle, then this is a good one for you. There's generally a lot of participation and you just may be able to find the "elusive" states on the airwaves this weekend.

The rules are here -

To help fulfill my goal of getting on the air more this year, W2LJ plans to put in an hour or two, handing out that very NOT elusive "NJ" to anyone who so desires it.

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

Monday, January 07, 2019

OK, so I'll be Captain Obvious

I've mentioned many times on this blog how I came to be an Amateur Radio operator and how I built my first receiver, a Heathkit HR-1680. Suffice it to say, I've been building kits for the last 40 years. And in all that time, I've inventoried, separated and organized components the tried and true way - muffin tins. This was the method I read about while devouring books on "How to Become a Radio Amateur" in my younger days. The older Novice License Manuals from pre-1070s invariably had chapters on how to construct your own first simple receiver and simple transmitter, and they always showed the sorted components neatly organized and laid out in recommended muffin tins.

I think that at one time or another, we've all used these; whether they be the real nice ones, like the one above, or even the cheapie disposable aluminum ones. Each muffin tin offers a dozen little compartments for separating out resistors, transistors, ICs, capacitors, etc. Right?

Muffin tins present a problem, however. If you're building something other than a simple kit which can be done in one sitting, muffin tins can present a disaster. They can be accidentally tipped over, spilling their entire contents onto the shack floor (or the floor of wherever you do your kit building). There's nothing more frustrating and aggravating than crawling around on your hands and knees looking for parts (AND hoping against hope that you find them all!) because you, or maybe even a pet came by and knocked the tin over.

One time, while I was building a kit, my knee hit a tin as I was getting up out of my chair. Not only did some of the parts land on the shack floor, I think a couple SMD components got launched into orbit. I never found some of them and had to order replacements via Mouser or Jameco or Digikey. Not only was it frustrating, which was bad enough, but then there was added expense and delay time to deal with.

The solution to this came to me one year while I was coloring Easter eggs with my two kids. Egg cartons!

It had never occurred to me to use egg cartons! Duh! Captain Obvious strikes again!

They have the same number of twelve little compartments, but ........... and here's the BIG BUT ........ you can close an egg carton when you're not actually working on your kit! So if you (or your cat or dog or hamster or gerbil) accidentally bump into your parts container, they may get a bit disorganized - but they'll remain safely "locked" inside. No more crawling around and muttering expletives under your breath while looking for that lost resistor or diode!

I'm sure most of you who are reading this are probably thinking, "Is he really THAT dense? NOBODY can be THAT dense, can they?" And I'll have to answer you, "Yes. Yes they can; and yes I am." But on the off chance there's someone out there as badly off as me; I'm hoping I can save you a bit of frustration, time and expense.

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