Posts Tagged ‘SPARC’

Taking things for granted

Before I start this post, I want to dispel any rumors that all W2LJ does at Field Day is take photographs. Here are two of yours truly actually pounding brass and adding points to the NJ2SP Field Day total - courtesy of Mario KD2HPF.

Field Day, or perhaps better said, the end of Field Day often causes me to wax nostalgic. That definitely happened this year, and a large part of it was seen in that video which I posted yesterday. Watching Marv K2VHW working ZL4TT in New Zealand brought back me back, in an instant, to something that happened to me, as a  newly licensed Amateur Radio operator so many years ago. 

A little context - Bill W2AOF, our Club President, spent a month with friends in New Zealand earlier this year. When he got back, he filled us in on the details of the trip. He had a great time, got to see a lot of wonderful sights, got to eat good food and spend quality time with good people. Yet, there was a price to pay, and I'm not referring to the monetary expense. Sure, there was that, but there was also an expenditure of time. 

With all the technological advancements we've witnessed over the last century, getting to New Zealand from New Jersey is comparatively easy compared to 100 years ago. Back then, the ocean voyage took weeks. Flying by air is a snap compared to that, but even that takes time. You don't often think about it, but even flying on a commercial aircraft, going at speeds never dreamt of by the seafaring ships of the old days, it still takes the better part of a day (around 18 hours) to get from New Jersey to New Zealand.  And in the middle of the overnight, in the wee hours of Sunday morning, with 5 Watts of power to a hunk of wire hanging in the air, we made that trip and back in seconds, the whole conversation taking a few minutes!

I was struck by that, once again. I wish Bill had been there. He had left a few hours earlier to make sure the A/C was working properly in his home as well as to get some much needed rest. Had he been there. Bill is the kind of guy who would have been taken aback and would have experienced that "Wow factor" of what had just been accomplished. We communicate with all parts of the world. There is really no place too far that our radio waves can't reach. But how often do we let that soak in? How often do we get annoyed when that DX contact isn't made. How often do we take our radios and our hobby and all the physics involved for granted?

I guess I'm one of the lucky ones, as I had a similar experience happen to me back in 1979, and I'm sure it's been related somewhere earlier in this blog. But I like to think about it, it's an enjoyable memory and I'll re-tell it again.

I passed my Novice exam sometime back in October/November of 1978. The actual paper "ticket" came in the mail the last week of the year. I didn't even get on the air until the end of January of 1979, as I was busy putting my station together, and building my Heathkit Novice receiver kit that I had gotten as a Christmas gift. I upgraded to General in July and I worked my first DX contact with a Ham in Germany shortly thereafter.

Later that year in October of 1979, my best friend and I decided to take a trip up to the White Mountains in New Hampshire to do some photography. We were two young budding photographers who were working together at a local camera shop and we both needed a road trip. We got our much needed time off and eventually made it all the way to Maine, specifically Bar Harbor. From there we decided that we would follow the coast as we made our way back to New Jersey. 

That meant a side trip to Cape Cod, and on the way out to Provincetown for some authentic New England clam chowder we came across a sign indicating that we were approaching the site of Marconi's Wellfleet Station.  I had to stop. We were in my car and I was the driver, so what I say goes .....goes. Right? What newly minted Amateur Radio operator would not want to visit a Marconi site? 

Not my image, but this is what you see when you visit. ^ This site is part of the National Park's Cape Cod National Seashore entity, so it is well maintained and there is a plethora of history to read about. This is what it looked like back in the day:

A few of the cement pylons that anchored the legs of the antenna towers were still there when I visited. Most had washed away into the sea as a result of beach erosion.

But it was the sea that struck me the most, which is a strange thing to say as I was born, bred and continue to live in New Jersey. I've seen the Atlantic Ocean and it bays hundreds, if not close to a thousand times in my time here on earth. But that time was different. 

I had not yet traveled to Switzerland, and would not experience air travel to Europe for another nine years, but standing there, for a VERY long time, where history had been made, just staring at the ocean, looking out upon all that water as far as my eye could see, was an experience unlike any other I had ever had. All I could think of was the radio waves from my Drake 2-NT and my MorGain multiband dipole, flying over all that water to another Ham in Germany. And her radio waves (she was an XYL) travelling back to my Heathkit HR-1680 receiver in a matter of seconds.

That water looked like it would never end. I knew that it did. I knew that on the other side of that vastness was Europe and the rest of the world. To contemplate my radio signals covering all that distance made me feel so tiny, but also filled me with awe at the immensity of Creation at the same time. 

We get so busy on Field Day and the rest of the year with making contacts, conducting ragchews, running nets, competing in contests, speaking into microphones, banging away on keys, typing away on keyboards that we forget to notice what is really happening. It's the magical part of Amateur Radio that never grows old for me and I hope I never take it for granted.

Long winded, I know, but thanks for staying with me!

72 de Larry W2LJ

QRP - When you care to send the very least!

On a scale of 1 to 10

Today was about a 30 - maybe even more.

The day started sunny and bright. As soon as I walked outside at 7:00 AM, it was easy to tell it was going to be a hot one. Summer! I love it!

I set out one of my 12 Volt SLA batteries on a patio chair in the backyard and hooked up one of my small solar panels to get it charged up.  I had used the battery as a power source so I could program the Juentai VHF/UHF radio in the house, as well as to do some test transmissions.  At 20 Watts out, I depleted the battery rather quickly, so I took the opportunity to use sunny days both yesterday and today to get it back up to full capacity.

I had gone to Mass on Saturday evening, so I used the quiet time (and "cool" morning) to install the Jeuntai into the Jeep. I mounted it "sideways" to the front console in the Patriot, where the transmission gear shift stick is. This is a really lousy photo, but it will show you what I mean:

I had to go to Home Depot to get some shorter sheet metal screws. The ones that came with the unit were about 3/4" long. I put my hand up and in behind the housing/fairing and could not feel anything vital behind my proposed mounting area, but I still wanted shorter screws. I got some 3/8" ones that did the job magnificently. The unit will sit a few inches from my right knee, but it is completely out of the way and non-interfering with the operation of the car. Not that I use it that much, bit it's great to have VHF/UHF in the car again.

Shortly after, I went down the basement shack to see if I could work any lighthouses during International Lighthouse and Lightship Weekend.  The bands were terrible!  I managed to hear and work one - W8F, the Fort Gratiot lighthouse at Port Huron. Michigan.  QSB was terrible, but I gave Stan a 579 and he gave me the same.

Then at 1:30 PM, I left to take a short drive over to Dave KD2FSI's house. Dave was hosting the South Plainfield Amateur Radio Club's Digital Rookie Roundup effort.  He had his two Yaesu's hooked up and raring to go. He also had on display a Heathkit transciever that he recently bought at the Sussex County Amateur Radio Club Hamfest in July.  Talk about pristine!  Dave "lifted the hood" and let us take a look inside - it looked like it was built yesterday. It is immaculate, and looks like brand spanking new. And on the table next to it was an HW-8.

The bands were as terrible at Dave's house as they were at mine (surprise!). There wasn't a lot of Rookie RTTY activity, so Dave graced us with demos of PSK31 and the other digi modes and we had a great time shooting the breeze. Marv K2VHW and Drew W2OU were there in addition to a couple of Dave's neighborhood friends.  I think between Dave, Marv, Drew and I, we gave his friends a good enough rundown on Amateur Radio that they could have passed the Tech test had we given it to them!

I had to leave at around 3:30 PM as I had promised my son Joey and my wife Marianne that I would accompany them to the community pool this afternoon. They've made use of the pool a lot this summer, and I haven't - so I promised I would go today. As I was leaving Dave's house and saying my good-byes, Dave says to me, "Make sure you don't leave without your radio." All I could do was shoot him a "?????" look.  "The HW-8 ..... it's yours."

I was speechless. He had said that he had read somewhere (guess where?) that the HW-8 was my first QRP rig and that I had very much regretted parting with it years back.  He had his son scour eBay for a good deal and acquired it for me.  I was still speechless.  I managed to croak out a "Thanks, Dave - you shouldn't have". But that is soooooooo inadequate. Dave has a heart of gold and as much as that HW-8 means to me, Dave's frienship means even more. I can't ever re-pay his generosity, but that sure doesn't mean that I'm not going to try - somehow, someway, someday.

As you can see, the rig is in pristine condition, besides the writing on the power supply, there's not a mark or scratch on it.  Whoever had it made one modification that I can tell, they traded out the original RCA connector that was used for the antenna connection with an SO-239 - so that's perfect! This baby is going to get a lot of use. Yes, it's a HW-8, but I now have one back in my hands, and it's also a testament to the generosity of a great Ham and better yet, a great friend.

I did go to the pool with Marianne and Joey and even went in the water. I stayed at the shallow 3 foot end as I never learned how to swim as a kid.  Even so, Marianne, Joey and I stayed there for about two hours, enjoying the cool water and we played a game of catch with this "Wubba" pool ball (small, soft, floats, unsinkable) that Joey had purchased when we were up at Lake George.

The evening was rounded out with a delicious dinner of grilled Teriyaki chicken, baked taters and corn, all consumed while leisurely sitting around the patio table in the back yard. We were able to enjoy the cooler evening air and each other's company.

So, yeah, on a scale of 1 to 10, today was about a 30 - heck, maybe even a 50!

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

National Night Out

National Night Out was celebrated at Veteran's Park in South Plainfield, NJ last night. The police, fire department, rescue squad and office of emergency management were all there. And so was SPARC.

We had several setups going in order to be able to demonstrate to the community the various aspects of Amateur Radio - hobby aspects in addition to emergency communications aspects.

I had my KX3 going to the PAR which was held up by my Jackite pole. Dave Hackett KD2FSI had a VHF/UHF station going, as well as his JT65 setup going, and was successfully working DX stations. Dave also had his satellite antenna out for display.

I had the distinct pleasure of having three QSOs while people watched. The first was with Jim WB0ZWW in Anthony, KS.  Jim was using his KX3 so it was a 2X QRP KX3 QSO. But what made it special was that Jim just started using QRP power levels today - so I ended up being one of his first QRP QSOs.  Conditions on 20 Meters were decent and we had a close to a 1/2 hour rag chew.

The next QSO was with W8DIZ, Diz from Flying Pigs fame. Diz was using a QRPp rig, and I was his first NJ QSO. Hearing that, I lowered my power from 5 Watts to 1 Watt and got a good signal report back from Diz. Not having gone milliwatting in a long time, I lowered my power to 500 mW. Diz gave me a 449. Not bad for 1/2 Watt to an end fed antenna in a park, being lifted by a Jackite pole!

My last QSO was with John K3WWP. I explained to him what we were doing in the park and how he was helping me demonstrate Amateur Radio. John surprised me by telling me that today was the anniversary of the start of his QRP QSO a Day streak, and that I was his first QSO inaugurating the beginning of his 22nd year of the streak.  Wow - what an honor and a privilege.

Dave's satellite antenna came in handy later on in the evening as there was a very nice pass of the ISS. It was a good elevation - about 56 degrees and it came shortly after sunset, so the space station was very bright.  Dave aimed his satellite antenna and we were easily able to hear packets coming down from the ISS. That was cool!

But the capper of the evening was a landing by the NJ State Police NorthStar helicopter. This is the helicopter used for various NJ State Police activities, but is most famous as the premier NJ Medivac Helicopter.

All in all, it was a very pleasant evening, and I was proud to be able to represent the South Plainfield Amateur Radio Club once again.

By the way, according to the Reverse Beacon Network, this is where my signal was being heard:

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

Field Day 2015 – Comprehensive Report

Most of the South Plainfield Amateur Radio Club showed up at Spring Lake Park at 10:00 AM or a little beforehand. There was enough pre-Field Day organization that we all pretty much knew what had to be done and what our roles were. Set up went well:

First - set up the antennas, and organize the tent - our "home" for the next 24+ hours.

South Plainfield Amateur Radio Club - NJ2SP - 3A - NNJ

Battery - all power provided was from solar charged batteries. No generators were used or fossil fuels burned to generate RF for the weekend.

Ron N2LCZ helping with the "tower" guys.

In addition to helping up with setting up antennas, Ron devised and built a network so that we could link the logging computers together. No small feat under the conditions we were operating under. N2LCZ is truly SPARC's resident Computer Expert (in addition to his yeoman's work as Club Secretary).

Notice the ominous looking sky - it was a harbinger of what was to come.

Dave KD2SFI (black t-shirt) putting together antennas for GOTA and VHF/UHF.

Dave Hackett KD2FSI, was our Field Day Committee Chairman this year. Dave was the "gasoline" in our Field Day "engine". Dave may be recently licensed, but he's already built up a good knowledge of what will work and what won't. He's got an enthusiasm for Amateur Radio and Field Day that is positively infectious. Dave is the kind of guy that makes you can't wait for the next operating event. If I was putting together a DXpedition to a very rare and exotic locale, Dave would be #1 on my short list of Hams who absolutely had to be part of the crew.

We had the tri-band beam set up on an extension ladder tower affair designed and constructed by our own Philip DeFort, KD2HPG.  Phil is a graduate of our Technician class from last Autumn. In addition to his mechanical contributions, he also added to our score by making some of his first on-the-air contacts as a Ham. He brought along his teen-aged son (also named Philip) who is now serious about getting his own ticket.

Here's a photo of Phil making some of his first contacts.

In addition to the tri-band beam, we brought back the EARCHI for another year. We had a ten meter dipole for GOTA and some VHF/UHF antennas built by Dave KD2DSI. We also had a W3EDP antenna up, which was built for the SSB station in anticipation that 20 Meters would probably close for the evening at some point.

We got through set up high and dry and were on the air promptly for the 2:00 PM EDT Field Day start. And that's when things started to go wrong. First, the winds kicked in and then it started raining buckets. It ended up being the soggiest Field Day that I can remember. In addition, it was pretty chilly all day. I was wearing a t-shirt with a sweat shirt on top, and resorted to adding a jacket as temperatures fell and humidity increased to 100%.  There were several times during the night when some of us went to our cars and just sat for about a half hour or so with the heaters on in order to get warm and dry out for a little bit.

Soon after the start, it became apparent that something was drastically wrong with the beam. The KX3 took a long time to find a match and even when it did, the antenna was not performing as expected. My Autek antenna analyzer showed the driven element was somehow resonant way out of band, so we switched the SSB transceiver over to the W3EDP and limped along for the weekend with that. Unfortunately, the W3EDP didn't perform much better, as I think there may have been a balun problem there. We would have been better off using Marv K2VHW's G5RV as we did last year, but it was already raining buckets and I wasn't about to risk pneumonia just to get another antenna up into the trees.

But even with the antenna mishaps, there were bright spots. Marc Sullivan W4MPS, who is a good QRP friend from North Carolina was in town to visit his daughter. He came by the Field Day site with his wife for a quick visit to say "Hello" before heading to his daughter's house. He came back by himself shortly after the starting gun sounded for a longer visit. And Marc's presence was truly a God-send because right around that time, the digital station was having some RFI problems which was causing their laptop to freeze. They needed some clamp on ferrites, which I had at home. Marc volunteered to keep our CW station busy while I was off fetching the ferrites and doing some other things.

Thank you,  Marc W4MPS for helping out!
In the photo of Marc W4MPS, the guy in background in the rain poncho is SPARC's own Mario KD2HPF. Undoubtedly due to his experience in Scouting, Mario was about the only one with proper foresight to come properly attired for the weekend.  Mario was also a graduate of our last Technician class held in Autumn, along with Phil KD2HPG. Mario was active in the Rookie Roundup and he was active again for Field Day. In addition to being a valuable part of the set up and tear down teams, Mario put in a lot of chair time at the 6 Meter station. He was our mainstay in keeping an eye open for any openings that may have occurred on that band. Mario had a Go Pro with him, and I think there's a video of him calling CQ on 6 Meters kicking around somewhere on the Web.

It was a long chilly night, but it was made bearable by visits from friends from our two neighboring clubs, the Electronic Testing Society of NJ, and the Raritan Valley Radio Club. So many showed up, that it's hard to remember them all and I beg pardon if I forget to mention any - but special thanks to:

Pete KD2ARB for the pizzas, Dave W2OIL and Dan KC2YRC for the home made brownies, the hot coffee and the help with tear down at the end. Marty WB2BEW donated the use of his pop up canopy, kept us company when it got lonely, and was just an all around morale boost. Marty is good people and it was good to have him with us. Same goes for Craig AC2FE, who came in the evening to keep us company for a while.  And Hank N2MU who was not only a friendly visitor, but also a critical thinker who helped us iron out some technical glitches. Again, if I left out any K2ETS or W2QW members, or any other visitors who showed up, I apologize, but my brain is still a little addled from the weekend.

On Sunday, around Noon, Mayor Matt Anesh and councilman Rob Bengivenga showed up at the site. We gave them the nickel tour and explained the operation and its purpose to them. The mayor was by last year, so he was familiar with Field Day, but Councilman Bengivenga was not. 

Yours truly talking antennas with Councilman Bengivenga. 

Marv K2VHW, SPARC President, explaining Field Day and the equipment with the Mayor and Councilman.

And wouldn't you know it, when the dignitaries appeared, the skies brightened up and the sun came out! I was joking around with Mayor Anesh that had we known that he was bringing better weather with him, we would have invited him over on Saturday!

And once again, South Plainfield's Finest parked one of their cruisers by our tent to serve as a little bit of an extra added deterrent against any possible mischief during our overnight stay. Police Chief Parker has been very accommodating towards SPARC, and as the SPPD takes on the role of OEM, we look forward to working with him. I didn't notice it, but fellow SPARC member, Tim Halloran AB2ZK pointed out to me the cruiser's official designation number. 

Car 73 - how appropriate!

So even though it was cold, wet and miserable, and we had antenna problems, and band conditions for Field Day weren't as good as they were in 2014, I think it's safe to say we all had a blast, and that SPARC is eagerly looking forward to Field Day 2016. We're going to remedy our problems and we'll be back, ready to once again take on whatever Mother Nature and Old Man Murphy dish out to us.

Drew W2OU working the digital station.

Drew Moore W2OU is our AC Log expert, fellow CERT member from Piscataway and a very valued member of SPARC.  Drew is a "Ham's Ham" and is a fun guy to be around and to just sit around and shoot the breeze with. Drew is also an ARRL official, so it's nice to have a little bit of the League with us all the time.

Tim AB2ZK and John AB2VE sharing a laugh during a lighter moment.

Tim AB2ZK was our "food guy" this year. Tim ran out Saturday night at 10:30 PM in the chill and pouring rain to bring us some hot sandwiches. He's always got a joke or quip up his sleeve exactly when one is needed. He was in South Plainfield's first CERT class and was a graduate of our first Technician licensing class back in 1995.  John AB2VE helped me set up the W3EDP and the EARCHI antenna. When I was getting a bit frustrated with the way the wind was blowing around the antenna lines I was launching, John kept me focused and on target. John is a veteran member of the South Plainfield Rescue Squad and is a very good friend to have.

W2LJ explaining the KX3 and the CW station to some visitors.
Lastly, two more SPARC members that I want to mention. Wayne Grennier N2LRE is our Vice-President. He's also our publicity guru who gets and keeps SPARC in the town's local publications. There are so many times that friends come up and say, "Hey Lar, I saw your picture in the Observer about that Amateur Radio thing you're involved with." Word of SPARC gets out because of Wayne. I wanted to snap a Field Day photo of him, but he was too busy flitting around with his camera, getting photos of the rest of us!
And our President, Marv K2VHW. Marv saw the need for a new Amateur Radio club in South Plainfield and did something about it. He's our navigator as we sail through uncharted waters. He has a good sense for what's good for the club and he's not afraid to try new things or to listen to a new opinion. SPARC is what it is because of Marv's leadership. We will forever be indebted to him. He keeps us engaged and active - and if a club is going to succeed, that's exactly what you need.

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

Getting ready for Field Day

"Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the radio is so delightful .... And since we have nowhere to go .... let it rain, let it rain, let it rain!"
That may very well be the tune we'll be singing this Field Day 2015. And we're supposed to be luckier than a lot of our fellow Hams in NY, CT, MA and PA. Our little patch of Central New Jersey should see just under an inch of rain, while some of those other spots are supposed to see a lot more. And it will all be a matter of timing. Looking at WeatherUnderground, we just may luck out with the heaviest rain falling AFTER set up and ending BEFORE tear down. 
So the intrepid Hams from the South Plainfield Radio Club will do our best to stay high and dry as we put NJ2SP on the air for a second year.  This year, we will be 3A Battery with a GOTA station in the mix.  The Mayor and Town Council have already declared this week to be Amateur Radio Week in our town. The Proclamation was presented last Monday evening.
I wasn't there for the presentation - I was picking up Marianne from the hospital, but my buds were there!
In addition, the Office of Emergency Management procured a tent for us, so we should remain dry and comfortable despite whatever Mother Nature may dish out.
SPARC in the Park - Field Day 2015
Listen for us! We will have a KX3 for SSB, a KX3 for CW and FT-817 for Digital and I think a FT-897 for the GOTA station, which will use call sign KD2FSI. Our antennas will be the EARCHI EFHW for CW, a Tri-band Yagi (using a 20' extension ladder as a tower), and a W3EDP for the lower bands for SSB.  The GOTA station will have a 10 Meter beam for its use.
We will be operating totally from battery again this year. No generator, except for a short while that will power a TV monitor that we will be using for an "educational event". We have local Boy and Girl Scout troops heading over for a lesson on radio. We also have ARRL and Town dignitaries scheduled to visit, so it will be an eventful weekend.
I really should have taken Monday off from work - hindsight is 20/20.
72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Did you participate in Field Day 2014

and submit a log to the ARRL?

You can check to make sure they received it, and if there were any discrepancies with the class/category that you claimed.

Go to:

Scroll way down to the bottom of the page and download the PDF.

Even though we got an e-mail confirmation when our log was submitted, I double checked to see if the log for NJ2SP was there. You can call me paranoid, but I just wanted to make sure our inaugural Field Day effort gets counted amongst the masses.

It's there.

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

SPARC Lives!

I guess you could say that tonight was the first, formal meeting of a new Amateur Radio club. The newly formed South Plainfield Amateur Radio Club (SPARC) now lives.  Up until now, we were an “informal’ club, a loosely knitted confederation of Amateur Radio operators who gathered under the CERT umbrella to provide community service to our town.

But now we have a formal constitution and by-laws and we now fall under the banner and protection of the South Plainfield Office of Emergency Management.  Our major purpose is to provide communications and service to the OEM and the town of South Plainfield, NJ. The club documents were signed by the charter members, of which yours truly, is one.  I was appointed to be Trustee of our Club Callsign NJ2SP., which really is just a continuation of what I had been doing.

 Signed constitution – charter members – founders

Our secondary purpose is to highlight Amateur Radio to the public, as well as to try and introduce Amateur Radio to the youth of our town and the surrounding area.  One of the ways we hope to do that is by sponsoring a prominent Field Day effort in a very public park in town.  Since time is short, it was decided to put forth as simple an effort as possible, so we will be doing a two station QRP setup – one station SSB and one station CW.  Since I seem to be the “QRP Guy” in town, I was made Field Day Committee Chairman. Yikes!

It looks like we’ll be using my two KX3s and some simple wire antennas.  While South Plainfield has its share of parks, there are two in particular that have very high visibility. The first is Spring Lake Park, which is actually part of the Middlesex County parks system.

That gazebo to the left in the picture would offer a nice shelter in the even of inclement weather.  The other possibility is Putnam Park,  a municipal  park which has the advantage of being at the intersection of two major roads in town. It sees a lot of traffic and has lots of tall trees, also. The only disadvantage is the lack of a shelter. We would have to procure some kind of tent, canopy, or other portable shelter.

Time is short, and this is definitely going to be a “fly by the seat of the pants” effort at this point.  The main goals will be to have fun and garner some publicity for SPARC and Amateur Radio in general. Since this looks like it’s going to be a QRP expedition on steroids, maybe I can get the other guys in town to be bitten by the “QRP Bug”.

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

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