Sunday, March 11, 2018

Maker's Day

Yesterday was New Jersey Maker's Day, and I previously mentioned, the local venue was the John F. Kennedy Library in Piscataway, NJ. The South Plainfield Amateur Radio Club was asked to participate, and we came up with a plan, and did. Participate ......that is.

The plan was to acquire 20 Simple Morse Code Practice Oscillator Kits from the 4 States QRP Group and to make them available free of charge, to any youngster of reasonable age who was willing to build one (with parental approval, of course). This was to be a totally mentored project, with a SPARC member sitting one on one with the builder, guiding them through the entire process. Our goal was to teach basic kit building and soldering skills, perhaps a little electronics theory and work in some interest in Amateur Radio in the process.

The kits were acquired through donations from a local business and the Boyle Family Education Foundation, a local concern that donates to causes that further the education of local youth. SPARC members provided the tools, the soldering stations, the know how and the passion for passing on knowledge and love for our great hobby onto a younger generation.  From past experience, we knew that kids are fascinated with Morse Code - simply because it's different. That's why we picked the 4 States QRP Group kit. It had a small number of components, it's easy to build in a relatively short amount of time, and it left each builder with a memento of the day.

To say the day was a rousing success would be an understatement. Our section was one of the most popular and the most visited. We were right up there with the robotics display.  In addition to the actual kit building, Dave KD2FSI had his rig set up to a 24 inch monitor and had his laptop running a program (Fldigi, I think) that was decoding actual Morse Code being sent on the air. Dave set up his AlexLoop and was monitoring the BERU contest on 40 Meters. Kids and adults alike got a kick out of seeing the code made understandable for them, live and real time.

We had a reception table where SPARC members took requests for kit builds and there was plenty of ARRL material about Amateur Radio available to anyone who wanted it. Our Section Manager, Rob Roschewsk KA2PBT came down for the morning and even served as a mentor for a kit build.

Even though the kit was a simple, through hole build, we allotted an hour for each. We took into consideration that the youngsters would probably have no soldering experience and that learning how to solder would be part of the process. We had four stations set up, so we planned to get four kits assembled per hour, with five hourly time slots to fill up the day.

From start to finish, everything went very well. There was a small glitch in that a number of the kits were missing some screws, but a quick run to Home Depot by yours truly took care of that situation. The ratio of kits that worked right off the bat to those that needed some TLC was about 50/50. In one incident, a transistor was soldered in backwards, in another the battery contacts were reversed. The code practice oscillator was rugged enough to withstand these mishaps, and once corrected, they buzzed away, quite happily.  There were of course, the expected cold solder joints and those were corrected, my failing eyesight notwithstanding. The number of solder connections on each circuit board was low enough so that when I had to, touching up every solder connection in a kit took less than a minute.

As we were breaking down and cleaning up at 4:00 PM, the person from the library responsible for putting on Maker's Day came by and told us how pleased she was with our participation.  Not only were we invited to come back next year, but we were also asked about the possibility of running a Technician Licensing Class some time later this year, at the library.

So all in all, Amateur Radio had a nice showing at Maker's Day. Our next project is to make ourselves available at a Boy Scout Merit Badge Fair in April. And the beat about spreading the word about Amateur Radio goes on!

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

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