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Saturday, August 29, 2009

SolderSmoke Podcast 114

A particularly big one. Not the one we heard.

Roman Forum, Sabina, Snakes! Wild Boar!
Amateur Engineering?
WSPRing again (cheap thrills?)
Trastevere flea and a return to 1995
Electric airplanes
Ether rediscovered?
Sir Douglas Hall
Sonya had The Knack

Jean Shepherd and "I, Libertine"

This provides a lot of insight into what Shep was all about:

Friday, August 28, 2009

Sonya had The Knack

Stewart, G3YSX, sent us an article that he wrote some time ago for the Crawley ARC. Thanks Stewart. (This is an abridged version of the article. ) Very interesting:

Sonya is the code name of Ruth Werner ne Kuczynski 1907 - 2000. Sonja is of interest here because her role in the GRU was as a clandestine radio operator. In her autobiography “Sonya’s Report” she gives a little insight into her work.

Trained in Moscow in the early 1930’s Soviet radio operators had to learn to build their own transmitters on site, using available materials. In rural China she and her accomplice (whom she lived with as husband and wife) set about building their first transmitter using receiver parts. There is an interesting story of how she had her real husband ship the transformer (a heavy 8 inch cube) up from Shanghai in the seat of a chair. Under the stresses of travel this nearly split from the chair which might have terminated her career as a clandestine radio operator before it started. This was the first of many incidents in which only luck prevented discovery of her activities.

Their first transmitter was a “three point” Hartley set, much improved by studying an amateur radio handbook of the time. It is not clear whether this was an oscillator, buffer, PA, whether she meant a Hartley transmitter that used three valves in parallel, perhaps that it was a single stage transmitter, with a two stage receiver in the classic paraset fashion. On the other hand it is known that she had a domestic set and it was not uncommon of them to be shortwave capable at that time. Building and setting up the transmitter must have been something of a challenge because she would not have had access to test equipment. In particular she implies that the transmitter was VFO controlled (presumably crystals were fragile and a security risk, both when making a boarded crossing and being on a fixed frequency). Under these circumstances getting setting set up on frequency must have been really difficult. I would imagine that this must have required her to find a reference frequency sent by control, net her transmitter and then send. Not easy with a power oscillator design and a receive that would be pulled by such a strong signal. The set had to be hidden when not in use. The Morse key was improvised out of a Chinese paperweight (actually a type of steel ruler) and a bolt and was dismantled during the day.

Antennas were not so much a problem because large outside receiving antennas were common. Ruth talks about asking permission from her landlord in Oxford to put up her antenna and receiving help from her unsuspecting host. From here text it seems that antennas were mostly long wires, although she talks about a “Fuch’s” antenna, a type that I am not familiar with.

In one house (in Warsaw I think) she started transmitting and this immediately blew the fuse for the house. She then had to quickly dismantle and hide the apparatus in the dark, lest her rented room be searched looking for the cause of the fault. In another apartment in Switzerland she had to close down and move sites (suddenly move house) because of EMC problems. Luckily (for her) one of her neighbours commented to Ruth that her husband (a Nazi) was sure that someone was operating a transmitter nearby which was causing interference to their radio receiver, and that he would organize a search later that week when he returned from a trip.

Ruth notes in passing that the absence of amateur radio traffic during the war was a problem because Soviet operators used to use it as a cover for their clandestine activities. It is not clear whether she was operating in the amateur bands giving the authorities too many Morse signals to monitor (unlikely because the non-amateur nature of the traffic would have been observed and reported by the radio amateurs), whether she was posing as a radio ham (again unlikely because of the tight regulation) or more likely, in my view, using our activities as a cover for both EMC problems and - to the unskilled – for strong local morse received on the shortwave bands.

In 1937 whilst operating out of Warsaw, Ruth talks of one evening when after setting up the transmitter, she caught here hand across the HT (two 120v batteries in series). She could not remove her hand without the help of an accomplice, by which time it was painfully burnt. She then got a hard time from her controller for failing to get a 50 group message out that night through extreme QRN. It later out that there had been a major solar even that night which had disrupted all radio communications. However she appears to have been working for the sort of organization that trucked no excuse, not even acts of

Ruth would typically transmit at night between two and four times a week. Messages were 60 to 500 groups. Assuming 20 WPM with perhaps 30% time allocated to repeats and other procedure transmissions would have taken at least 45 minutes. In practice however, due to the difficulty of copying, transmissions often took half the night. It is therefore very surprising that she was never caught. In particular, given the hard time that the GPO gave the amateur radio community during the late 1940’s when she was handling the Fuch’s traffic, it would be very interesting to know why they never found her station in rural Oxford.

Ruth’s autobiography, which is out of print, but available from East Sussex libraries, unfortunately lacks much of the detail that one would have expected from a western text written so long after the event. This is undoubtedly a result of the excessive secrecy intrinsic to the other side of the Iron curtain even so long after the events, and which was maintained despite the obvious duplicity of her employers. This is a pity, because it would have interesting but harmless after all these years to have read more technical detail about both the transmitters and the operating procedure used by these agents.

Stewart G3YSX

Thursday, August 27, 2009

WANTED: MEPT Grabbers in S. America, Africa, Asia

Dear Bill,

It Hurts!!.... You have abandoned us visual Beacon Anarchists for the Instant gratification of the WSPR crowd.

Hey, To refresh your memory, Your the one that got me started in this Visual MEPT World. I listened to your podcast and ordered some 10.140 Mhz Crystals and built my Model 1 MEPT transmitter. After that I was hooked. It has gone on to a model 2 and Now started on a DDS driven Model 3 which is all band and right now is crying out for someone to see it at 160 mW. It has made it last week to VK7ZL in Tasmania 8455 miles and ZL2IK in New Zealand 6917 miles. So, as you can see, I have been busy. One of the really extarodinary things is that we are doing this on 40 meters at 7,104,800 Hz. What would really help is to enlist some more monitoring stations with ARGO Spectrum Analyzers on their computers LISTENING. They are sorely needed in South America, Africa, India and the Far East. I have the belief that my signal at 160mW on 7,104,800Hz can be copied in all of those areas at different times of the day, almost every day. The reason it isn't is there is nobody listening and my little FSKCW signal
just keeps looking for a receiver to hear it.

My model 3 transmitter is a thing of beauty. It can work all bands from 160 to 10 meters. It is completely under the control of an Ardunio processor (A great product of Italy). It controls the frequency, the amount of frequency shift, and the CW keying. It is not quite ready for prime time yet. But work is being done on the controlling software and one of these days, It will be done. Then the visual guys will not be chained by a crystal to determine their frequency. They will merely command their Ardunio to control their Direct Digital Synthesizer to the desired frequency, select the desired mode of transmission and hook up the antenna.

So, Please Mr Bill, Don't abandon us visual MEPT beacon guys. We really need your voice and talents to keep the airways of our 100 Hz of spectrum alive and vibrant. You could hang an extra wire out the window and do both!

73 Dave
David R. Hassall WA5DJJ

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

G4KKI to Poldhu Marconi Site

Bill, G4KKI, recently visited the Marconi site at Poldhu, Cornwall. He took with him the book "Thunderstruck" by Eric Larsen. (He also took along SolderSmoke -- The Book). He has a nice slide show of the visit posted on his blog. Check it out:

Homebrew Hero: Sir Douglas Hall

Sir Douglas Hall is one of my homebrew heroes. When he passed away in 2004, a picture similar to the one above appeared next to his obit in several of the UK newspapers. I clipped that picture and taped it into my log book.

Here's a great web site with Sir Douglas's articles:

The intro from an old article by Sir Douglas in the in the UK magazine "The Radio Constructor":
The writer lives in Northern Rhodesia and his nearest neighbors are 25 miles away. The nearest town, cinema, doctor and electric light mains are 77 miles away by a road that is not always passable. Wireless is therefore supremely important but there are several problems in the design of a receiver suitable for these conditions. It must be very sensitive to provide reliable reception from Daventry (a transmitter site in the UK) under all conditions. And it must be very economical owing to the high cost of batteries in these parts. ------------------------------------------------------------
From "The Telegraph" (UK)

Sir Douglas Hall, 14th Bt, who has died aged 95, ended a full career in the Colonial Service as the last Governor of the Somaliland Protectorate; previously, he had for almost 30 years served in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia).

Hall's governorship of Somaliland was short. He was appointed with effect from July 11 1959; less than a year later, he and his wife flew out of the territory a few hours prior to the ceremony, on June 26 1960, that concluded the transfer of power to the new self-governing authority.

The time-scale had been set by the approaching end, after a 10-year period, of the Italian stewardship of the UN Trusteeship of Somalia to the south. If the Somalis of the Protectorate were to unite with their neighbours at the time of the independence of Somalia on July 1, the June 26 date had to be met.

Yet there was nothing over-hasty about Hall's management of the transition. Iain Macleod, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, wrote to him afterwards praising his "speedy command of the confidence of the people enabling the final transfer of power to take place so smoothly and yet so rapidly".

It was not only a grateful Colonial Secretary who voiced his appreciation. Mohamed Ibrahim Egal, the new country's first prime minister, wrote to Hall more than 30 years later recalling "the quiet, always helpful counsel you gave me at that momentous turning point in Somaliland's destiny".

Douglas Basil Hall was born on February 1 1909 (his eldest brother's 11th birthday), the third son of Captain Lionel Hall, an officer in the 4th South Staffordshire Regiment. The baronetcy, of Nova Scotia, was created for John Hall, of Dunglass, in 1687.

From Radley, Douglas Hall went up to Keble College, Oxford, and then in 1930 joined the Colonial Administrative Service. He soon found himself one of 12 cadets - "all bursting with energy," he remembered - bound for Northern Rhodesia, which until 1924 had been administered by the British South Africa Company. The group of cadets - including "three Varsity Blues, two oarsmen, one amateur pilot, one hunter, and a wireless enthusiast [Hall] who later developed into an expert in that field" - made the long sea voyage to Cape Town, and then the rail journey up to Livingstone on the Zambezi.

In those days, there were still people living in the territory who had actually known David Livingstone. In other ways, too, it was a world away from today: one of Hall's colleagues, for instance, had a private income sufficiently large for him never to bother about cashing his pay cheques.

Hall became a District Officer in 1932, and for the next 18 years worked sure-footedly within that colonial administrative culture that sought to balance a maximum of respect for local custom and practice - and, indeed, structures of power - with British notions of justice and development.

He proved as adept in remote bush stations as in such urban postings as Kitwe, where the development of the copper mines was bringing with it new forms of labour relations and new challenges in maintaining the trust of the local people. Here Hall won an early reputation for skilful diplomacy.

It was, though, life in the bush that he enjoyed the most, in particular going on tour. A District Officer was expected to maintain personal contact with the peoples of his district and this meant getting out, often on foot and for long periods of time, to tour the villages and settlements. Whenever possible, Hall was accompanied by his wife Rachel, who joined him in Africa in 1933, and by their young children. From time to time, the family also stayed with the Gore Brownes, whose house, Shiwa Ngandu, has since been immortalised in Christina Lamb's book Africa House.

Colleagues viewed Hall as a commanding figure, fair, respected and likeable. In his book African Sunset, Robin Short wrote that Hall "was the ideal to all of us of what a District Officer should be. In appearance distinguished, his manner was exactly the same to junior clerks as to senior officers, always equable and courteous. Always he seemed in complete control of every aspect of the work, of every corner of the Province."

Hall was promoted Senior District Officer in 1950, and in 1952 became the first Officer-in-Charge of the North-Western Province, which had been created in consequence of a report that Hall himself had produced. He was promoted Provincial Commissioner in 1953 and Administrative Secretary in 1954.

He was then Secretary for Native Affairs to the Government of Northern Rhodesia from 1956 to 1959 (Acting Secretary, 1958), working in the central administration in Lusaka. He proved an able speaker in the Legislative Council and later an important contributor within the Executive Council.

Although only 50, Hall was on the point of retirement when he was invited to go to Somaliland. He accepted - having (with some pride) wrung an exceptional agreement from the Colonial Office that he could draw his pension while earning his governor's salary, provided he did not build up a second pension.

Professing neither modernism nor tradition, Hall always did what he believed appropriate for the time, the place and the people. When it became difficult for the Somaliland Scouts to provide him with an ADC for all occasions, he appointed his personal assistant, now Betty Thom, to the role. A woman ADC without military rank was a rarity in those days, though as far as Hall was concerned he was simply making sensible use of a capable person.

On leaving Somaliland, Hall was still only 51. But he and his wife decided to settle at Ringmore, in Devon. He became a magistrate and then chairman of the Kingsbridge bench, and was a member of the Devon and Cornwall Police Authority from 1971 to 1979. He also took the opportunity to spend much more time on an interest that had begun when he was a schoolboy of 15: the design and making of wirelesses.

The design principle of these was of great interest to other enthusiasts. More than 100 articles, with circuit diagrams, construction advice and commentary on the electronic design principle, were published in the magazines Radio Constructor and Radio Bygones between 1964 and 1999. There is now a website called "The Ingenious Circuits of Sir Douglas Hall".

He could as easily have occupied himself re-designing cars, for which his enthusiasm was almost as great. He was life president of the Trojan Club, and for years a familiar figure driving around Devon in his open-top 1937 Bentley.

He was appointed CMG in 1958, and KCMG in 1959. He succeeded his brother in the baronetcy in 1978.

He married, in 1933, Rachel Marion Gartside-Tippinge, who died in 1990. Latterly, Hall, who died on April 8, moved to live near a daughter in Derbyshire. He is survived by a son - John Hall, who was born in 1945 and succeeds in the baronetcy - and two daughters; another son died in infancy.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Pico-Sats, Texas, Dubai, Balloons

Our man in Dubai, Ron Sparks, AG5RS, sent in this very interesting report on the very small satellites. Obviously lots of QRP relevance here:

Hi Bill,

I am attaching some news you may find interesting. If you remember last year I did an echolink => IRLP => 2m linkup to make QSLs on the Balloon Launch (BLT-24). Besides the usual repeater and video gear, we also had an interesting "hitchhiker" on the payload.

It was the functional engineering model of the BEVO-1 picosat. You can see pictures of the model and the balloon payload here:

This unit sent beacon information during the balloon launch and we tested it environmentally by doing so. Data on the sat itself is at:

A sister satellite was being prepared by my alma mater, Texas A&M, who then docked their sat with the UT sat and put them on the Shuttle mission STS-127. Photos are here:

All of this is part of NASAs DRAGONsat program. This is a new GPS system being developed by NASA.

I know that the satellite stuff is a little "far afield" for Soldersmoke, but you might find the connection to the Houston balloon community interesting. Those of us who get together and annually launch the balloon are without question Soldersmoke-ers with chronic cases of "the knack". It is fun for me to see that actually be useful toward a next generation replacement for GPS satellites.

All the best.
73 from Dubai, Ron AG5RS and A65BQ

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Back to WSPRing

Mark, K6HX, and Roger, G3XBM, are responsible for me going back to WSPR mode. Both have been blogging about the fun they are having with this mode. It was too hot in Rome to go out this afternoon, so, after a morning visit to the Trastevere flea market (where I got a US Robotics dial-up modem for my soon-to-be functional Satellite Pro computer (thanks Jeff!), I ensconced myself in the shack, and did the changeover from visual MEPT to WSPR. This mode provides instant gratification: almost immediately I was being picked up and reported by EI7GL.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

SolderSmoke (The Book) Reaches the Oregon Coast

Wes, W7ZOI, took the book with him on vacation and sent along this shot from the Oregon coast. I told Wes that I was really nervous when I saw his e-mail in my in-box. The book has sections about my "understandings" of various aspects of electronic theory. I worried that the e-mail would reveal that these were all "MIS-understandings." I was very relieved that wasn't the case! Wes provided an interesting bit of ham radio history/trivia: Around page 169, I have the iconic picture of Wes out in the winter woods somewhere, with a homebrew QRP rig in his hands. I remember seeing this picture as a kid. I found it inspirational: a stoic homebrewer, using his invention to communicate from out in the hostile wilderness. In his e-mail, Wes tells me that in that photo, he was actually in contact with another station. It was Lionel, VE6WG, up near Calgary. This photo was taken by K7IUN. Thanks Wes!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

VE7NSD: The Knack, personified

We've occasionally provided photos that seem to capture the essence of "The Knack." Here is another one. This is Stephen, VE7NSD, operating from his trailer out in the wilds of British Columbia. I found Stephen's story to be really inspirational. His first receiver was a Gillette Blue Blade! His first QSO was with Beaverton, Oregon! He took typing in 9th grade (the only boy in the class!) so that he could copy CW faster. Here is an excerpt from his page:

I started playing with radios in Roseburg, Oregon when I was ten. My Dad’s prospecting buddy Cliff, had been a Radioman in the USN and turned me on to building a crystal set using a Gillette Blue Blade for the detector. I built it but had no headphones and ordered some from the Allied Radio catalog. I felt like it took about 6 years for them to arrive, but it was probably more like 6 weeks. When the headphones finally came the xtal set didn’t work and so I started learning troubleshooting. Eventually, it worked fine and I experimented with a hunk of galena my Dad had in his rock collection.

From there Cliff gave me circuits for regenerative receivers and I built a few but none of them ever produced a usable output. All of my SWL listening had to be on the big console radio in our living room.

I can’t remember how I came to have an Arc 5 receiver for 80M, but that was my first real radio. It was probably a gift as I had no money except what I got from my paper route and all of that went to pay for the bike I used to deliver the papers. I started going to local ham club meetings and Bob Reese, W7TUI, became my mentor.

I read a copy of How To Become a Radio Amateur and started collecting parts to build the single 6V6 transmitter on the orange crate slat chassis. All of my parts had to be scrounged from the radios, TV’s and other electronic gear that was given to me. I built the power supply on a home bent chassis. I got it to work on out-of-band xtals but it had a mean chirp. W7TUI showed me how to add a VR to the power supply to feed the screen grid in the 6V6 and that cleaned up the chirp.

I was licensed as WN7VTZ in 1952 at age 12. My first QSO was with Beaverton, Oregon, with less than 10 watts input and feeding a random wire with no ATU. I suspect that there wasn’t much radiated power from that lash-up. Another buddy in Roseburg was licensed at the same time I was and we contented ourselves with cross-town QSOs.

I was the only boy in my grade 9 typing class. But, I was glad I learned to type. I could copy CW quite fast, much faster than I could write. The first time I sat down to my typewriter, put on the headphones, and put my fingers on the keys it was like magic. When my ear heard a di dah, my left little finger pushed a key. Di dah dah dah and my right index finger pushed a key. I could just sit there and watch the message appear on the typewriter paper. No effort required!

Read the full story on his page:

And check out his Wilderness Workbench site (complete with a real moose skin):

Sunday, August 9, 2009

SolderSmoke Podcast 113
August 9, 2009
The Ponticelli Astronomical Observatory and QRP Station
Mystery Sound -- Can you ID?
Even Farhan Fries Transistors
Google marks Tesla's birthday
Adventures with Google Ads
Spotting the Space Station from Rome (and from London)
Arthur C. Clarke's version of MAILBAG
Mystery beeps in SS111?

Space Hackers Video: IT'S BACK!!!!!

Hope this one doesn't get taken down. Great stuff from Turin, back in the day!

Tom's Receiver with Hybrid Cascode IF

I really like Tom's videos (and the receivers that are in them). Thanks Tom!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Micro-watt WSPRing by Gene, W3PM

Hi Bill,

As you know by your experience using 20 milliwatts, Weak Signal Propagation Reporting (WSPR) is an excellent mode to experiment with low power. A QRPp experimenter can received near instantaneous automated reports over the internet from hundreds of stations throughout the globe.

During the last few days, I have been experimenting on 30 meters with output powers as low as 20 microwatts. No one has spotted my 0.00002 watt signal yet, but K8CXM has spotted my 50 microwatt signal at a distance of 553 KM at 2332UTC, 05 AUG 09.

I used a 100 mW GPS timed beacon with a step attenuator to an indoor doublet for all the tests. All equipment is homebrew and the output power is verified with a HP-432A Power Meter. If you look in the WSPR on-line database the power is reported as 0.100 watt because it was too difficult to pull out and reprogram the beacon’s PIC controller chip for each change of power. In any case, there are no provisions to report power levels below 1 milliwatt to the WSPR database.

Other noteworthy spots:
100 uW - K8CXM, 2252UTC, 05 AUG 09, 553 KM
200 uW - AI4SA, 0530 UTC, 02 AUG 09, 333 KM
500 uW - NJ0U, multiple spots 31 JUL & 01 AUG 09, 716 KM
500 uW - K1JT, 1440 UTC, 31 JUL 09, 1215 KM
500 uW - W3HH, 1240 UTC, 31 JUL 09, 764 KM
5 mW - VK6DI, 2232 UTC, 05 DEC 08, 17,858 KM

A 6.5 meter auto tuned vertical with 50 ground radials was used for the VK6DI report. The vertical is disguised as a birdhouse support because I live in an antenna restricted neighborhood.

Of course all the credit goes to the receiving stations that no doubt live in a very quiet RF environment. The reports do not represent any records, but they may be of interest to other QRPp experimenters. .

Gene W3PM

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Sabina QRP Station and Astronomical Observatory

This year, in an effort to get the kids out of Rome, we rented a summer house out in the Sabine Hills, a beautiful area just one hour north of the city. The picture shows a typical scene from the region. I brought out my HW-8, a gel-cell battery, my VW solar panel, the pi-network antenna tuner I picked up at the Trastevere flea market last winter, and about 50 feet of AC zip cord. I threw the wire into a tree and was able to tune up on 20 and 40. First station worked was near Catania, in Sicily (close to where we stayed last month). Also worked Germany and Bulgaria. I hope to use one of the tall Roman pines (like the one in the picture above) to support a vertical wire.

I also have my telescope out at the summer place, and we used it last weekend to look at Jupiter. I couldn't see the recently discovered scar, but we got great views of the clouds, and the four Galilean moons. More to follow...

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Chuck Penson -- Heathkits, Nukes, and QRP

Back in my days as an anchor-ologist (a fan of old, heavy "Boatanchors" radios), I frequently consulted Chuck Penson's wonderful book about Heathkits. I was glad to see that he has developed an interest in QRP and is going to speak at CactusCon. Here is what the AZ Scorpion web site had to say about Chuck:

Chuck has a background in industrial archeology and a passion of the history of science and technology, with a special interest in nuclear weapons. He recently retired from the University of Arizona and now spends his time as the historian for the Titan Missile Museum in Green Valley Arizona.
He is the author of two books: "Heathkit--A Guide to the Amateur Radio Products" and more recenty "The Titan II Handbook: A Civilian's Guide to the Most Powerful ICBM America Ever Built."

Penson has been a ham radio operator since 1966 and currently holds an advanced class license. His other interests include renewable energy, astronomy, hiking and pizza. He lives with his wife, Kathryn, at their off-the-grid ranch in the desert west of Tucson.
Designer: Douglas Bowman | Dimodifikasi oleh Abdul Munir Original Posting Rounders 3 Column