Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Spring! Equinox! Sap in Vermont! Aurora in Norway! Birds singing in Rome!
SolderSmoke on Oprah. Program Schedule:
Special Report from MASSCON QRP Convention by Mark, NX1K
WSPR as a personal sunspot detector
Building the W3PM WSPR rig
Polyakov's "Russian Mixer"
BANDSWEEP: A low-frequency sweep by Chris, KD4PBJ
EMRFD on Direct Conversion and Direct Aversion
Faraday's toroid diagram
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
FB on your 20mW DSB WSPR DX! I've never actually been on the air
during the upside of a solar cycle. This is wicked exciting!
Thank you for the nice write-up on your Soldersmoke Blog, OM. I heard
back from Fabio this morning; he seems to be as excited as I am
(please see his message below). Italy is my fourth DX contact and
third country with 10mW. Two weeks ago I worked F5NBX twice and FM5LD
once. Again, all great fun...
I'm glad to hear of your interest in the Vladimir Polyakov's mixer. I
can attest to Vlad's claim about its resistance to SWBCI. So far, I've
used silicon and germanium diodes, MOSFETS, and even a saturating
inductor for the subharmonic, commutating switches.
I haven't mentioned it till now, but leading up to my Gigi
regenerodyne receiver, I built Polyakov reflexed 40m receiver that was
lots of fun. The RF input signal first passed through a simple BPF on
its way to the cathode of a triode, grounded-grid RF amplifer. The
amplified signal next passed through the Polyakov anti-parallel
diodes. The resulting AF signal was then re-injected into the grid of
the same triode (now working as a common-cathode amplifier). In
typical "reflex' fashion, the same tube amplifies first at RF and
again at AF. Looking at my notebook entry, I was able to "plainly
hear" a 1.0uVrms signal and in a week of operation I hadn't noticed
any SWBC breakthrough.
Actually, the subharmonic mixer was well-known by 1976, but I'd
never seen it used by hams at HF until Polyakov popularized the idea.
Our Eastern European comadres took a
liking to it right away but it took some time before it finally caught
on in the West.
By the way, I had a short email exchange with Vladimir a few months
ago. I'm pleased to report he's a really nice fellow. He happened to
mention that his first amateur radio transmitter was built using parts
that he salvaged from an abandoned Wehrmacht tank. It seems radio
components were extraordinarily hard to come by in those days.
Have fun, Bill!
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Fabio Ventrone
Date: Sat, Mar 27, 2010 at 9:16 AM
Subject: Re: IZ0PEC de AA1TJ/QRPp
To: Michael Rainey
Many many compliments for your qrpp station!
Really exciting to have qso in this conditions... It's actually the
first time I can connect qrpp oversea... Unbelievable, something we
can tell our friends forever!!!
I was transmitting with 4 el antenna and something more than 100w.
I will have to take back my 817 and try to call dx as you bravely did!!!
Best 73 qsl
Fabio de IZ0PEC
2010/3/26, Michael Rainey
> Dear Fabio,
> Thank you for your patience in copying my signal on 20m CW this evening. I
> had been calling DX stations for several hours but you were the only one to
> answer. My homebrew rig has an output power of only 10mW (0.010 watts). The
> distance between us is 8793km; nearly one million km per Watt!. The antenna
> here is simply an end-fed wire.
> I am amazed that you heard my 10mW signal in Rome. It's fantastic!
> Again, thank you for patiently listening for my weak signal, OM. It would
> not have been possible without your very kind efforts.
> Mike, AA1TJ
Sunday, March 28, 2010
I took a break from all the computer stuff and decided to melt some solder this weekend.
W3PM has a neat WSPR rig on his site. I decided to build at least parts of it. Today I put together the Colpitts oscillator. I really like this circuit -- it produces enough power to drive a diode ring mixer directly. Mine went together very smoothly. Sure enough, mine produces about 10 mW.
It was good to get back to solder melting. I used circular pads sent to me by Jerry NR5A. And parts sent by Jim AL7RV, and by Mike AA1TJ. EMRFD provided very useful background info on the circuit. I powered the prototype up with my Kempton Park power supply with the current limiting chip provided by Tony G4WIF. So it was a like a team effort. Thanks to all!
I'll try to get the next podcast out mid-week.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
SPRAT 110, Spring 2002, page 5. A short article by OM Rudi Burse, DK2RS.
This is the variation on the Polyakov Russian Mixer that I mentioned a couple of days ago. I'd been digging through piles of books and old magazines looking for this. My wife thought I'd gone nuts. (Well, nuttier than usual, actually.) It didn't help that I responded "The Polyakov Russian sub-harmonic mixer circuit with two band application!" when she asked what I was looking for. Of course, I should have known that it was in SPRAT. It just happened that the issue with this article was piled under a lot of junk on the workbench.
I really like this circuit. Ingenious. And now that I have come to understand mixers a bit better, I can appreciate this one more. Here's how I'dYou'll see in the comments attached to my last blog post that our man on the left coast, Steve Smith, gave that cute little Doug DeMaw/Vlad Polyakov receiver a name that might set American-Russian hamrelations back a bit: He called it "Vlad The Inhaler." Good one Steve! (But you might want to stay out of the diplo game!)
It occurred to me that with the installation of one little switch in the diode part of the circuit, we could turn this into a dual band version. Take a look here:
Check out "SolderSmoke -- Global Adventures in Wireless Electronics"
http://soldersmoke.com/book.htm explain it: With the switch closed, the signal from the LO "opens" one of the diodes on the positive peak, and it opens the other diode on the negative peak. So that RF signal from the antenna is getting sampled and mixed twice each cycle of the LO. The resulting complex waveform has sum and difference frequencies of RF+2LO and RF-2LO. With the switch open, you only have one diode sampling the RF, and it opens only ONCE each LO cycle. So the complex waveform that comes out of this single diode had frequencies of RF+LO and RF-LO.
This opens the possiblity of DC receivers for 80/40, 40/20, 20/10 meters, etc.
I guess a key adjustment in this circuit would be getting the LO level just right.
Thanks SPRAT! Thanks Rudi! Thanks Vladimir Polyakov!
Thursday, March 25, 2010
My e-mail inbox also had evidence of good HF conditions. Take a look at this from AA1TJ:
IZ0PEC de AA1TJ/QRPp
Thank you for your patience in copying my signal on 20m CW this evening. I had been calling DX stations for several hours but you were the only one to answer. My homebrew rig has an output power of only 10mW (0.010 watts). between us is 8793km; nearly one million km per Watt!. The antenna here is simply an end-fed wire.
I am amazed that you heard my 10mW signal in Rome. It's fantastic!
Again, thank you for patiently listening for my weak signal, OM. It would not have been possible without your very kind efforts.
Of course, the big question is what mixer circuit I should use. I'll probably go with an SBL diode ring, but while perusing the literature, I again came across "The Russian Mixer" of Vladimir Polyakov, RA3AAE. Michael, AA1TJ, is a big fan of this circuit, and has been talking about it on Radio Havana Cuba. What a cool circuit it is! Just two diodes in parallel, cathode to anode. RF from the antenna goes in one side, and the local oscillator signal is placed at the other end. The LO signal causes the diodes to turn on and off on voltage peaks, effectively chopping up the incoming signal, producing sum and difference frequencies. LA8AK's drawing of one version of this circuit appears above. (Obviously OM AK didn't like this configuration, but it gives you the idea.)
The really cool part is that because you have two diodes, the "chopping" takes place at TWICE the LO frequency. This happens because on a positive LO peak one of the diodes conducts, and then, on the negative peak, the other conducts. So it is as if the mixer gate is opening twice each LO cycle. This allows you to run the oscillator at half the operating frequency, with advantages for stability and for the effort to eliminate common mode hum.
A while back I saw (somewhere!) a clever use of this circuit. LO was running at around 3.5 Mhz. With the two diodes in the circuit, it was a 40 meter receiver. They had a switch that could remove the second diode from the circuit. By throwing this switch, the RX went to 80 meters.
Does anyone remember this circuit? Where did it appear? SPRAT? QQ? Tech Topics? I can't find it.
I had the impression that OM Polyakov was active in the early days of radio. But some Googling shows that he is of much more recent vintage, still active and listed on QRZ.com. Here he is:
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Steve, WG0AT, posed this question in the title line of his latest (excellent) video. I really liked the recordings of Marconi speaking in English. (I'd heard him in Italian, but never in English.)
So, was he one of us? I say yes. Definitely. Why? Because he very clearly had what we would call a shack. This is discussed in SolderSmoke -- The Book. When his mom saw that his tinkering with electricity had some potential (!), she had an attic room in the family home near Bologna configured as a workshop for her Knack-afflicted son. And there he tinkered. Just as we do.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Ok, can't stand it anymore....had to show off my workbench as well. BTW, will be making a presentation at Dayton Hamvention in May on "Building Your ." So if guys have any great ideas to pass along would love to hear them and include as possible. Am gearing this toward the beginner and focusing on basics, soldering equipment, tools, safety, the bench, parts accumulation, etc. Over the past two years have made pitches at Hamvention on Test Equipment and Station Engineering Manuals....always lots of fun.
73 -- Dino KL0S
Monday, March 22, 2010
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Further to the kind words of introduction you gave me as a “new homebrewer” in Soldersmoke 104, I’m writing to let you know about a little project of mine which I think you might appreciate…
I made a h/b keyer a while back and recently added the ability to send automated 3*3 cq calls (and cq FISTS calls).
On doing this, I realized how much I HATE the sound of machine generated CW – so mechanical and lifeless. I want to hear a real fist – preferably with some chirp and drift thrown in for good measure!
So – I’ve come up with an alternative – The FUNKY keyer!
It adds some random timing "jitter" to each automated cq call, to simulate the sound of a real fist on a straight key.
You can read all about the Funky Keyer on my blog, http://m0xpd.blogspot.com
The blog also documents some of the other outcomes of my personal puffs of solder smoke, including the “Funster PLUS” 40m CW Transceiver and the “Not-so-superhet” experimental valve receiver. There’s some operating stuff, including WSPR on 40 and 80m with my Softrock SDR and I was inspired by Soldersmoke to include some travelog – ZL, VR2, BY, HB, etc.
Hope you enjoy it.
Let me take this opportunity to thank you for all the enthusiasm and inspiration you continue to give us in Soldersmoke,
73 de Paul, m0xpd
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Today marks the Vernal Equinox, an important day for QRP radio amateurs. In the Northern Hemisphere, conditions usually start to improve. And this year's equinox is accompanied by higher sunspot numbers. So cheer up guys! Better conditions are on the way.
The equinox comes at 1732 UTC today, 20 March 2010.
Spring seems to be getting off to a good radio start here in Rome. My 20 mW WSPR signal made it across the pond this morning, 8289 kilometers to W3HH (see below). This was the first signal report of the day. I only seem to cross the pond around my local dawn -- never around sunset.
Date/Time TX station SNR PWR RX Station Grid km az
2010-03-20 05:44 I0/N2CQR -7 0.02 PE1DCD JO21fu 1262 334
2010-03-20 05:44 I0/N2CQR -20 0.02 DF6DBF JO31si 1116 342
2010-03-20 05:42 I0/N2CQR -17 0.02 PE1DCD JO21fu 1262 334
2010-03-20 05:40 I0/N2CQR -15 0.02 PE1DCD JO21fu 1262 334
2010-03-20 04:40 I0/N2CQR -29 0.02 W3HH EL89 8289 296
2010-03-19 21:22 I0/N2CQR -28 0.02 LA6TPA JP54rl 2512 359
2010-03-19 21:16 I0/N2CQR -30 0.02 LA6TPA JP54rl 2512 359
2010-03-19 20:54 I0/N2CQR -29 0.02 LA6TPA JP54rl 2512 359
2010-03-19 20:02 I0/N2CQR -29 0.02 G4KFK IO91pk 1457 321
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
From AA1TJ on March 8, 2010:
It was an exciting QRPp afternoon here on 20m. It started off well
with a ten minute contact with G3MJX. Tony was running 5w to a dipole.
I'm still using the breadboard, two-tube, 250mW (Gigi) station that I
wrote about last week.
KB0PCI in Minneapolis was my next contact. Wayne was using 5w to an
indoor loop. I thought that was pretty cool.
Things seemed to be going so well that I felt the urge to further
reduce my output power. Dropping back to 56mW, I soon snagged Jack,
W7CNL. He's out in Boise with 5w and a five-element Yagi. It was a
great contact with 579/539 reports.
After we signed I resumed calling CQ. Sometime later I heard my call
coming back at me; always a happy moment when you're running QRPp. But
wait...he's signing DH1BBO...Holy Toledo!
With a pounding heart I sent off a 559 report. Olaf came back with a
529 for me, and get this...he says he's running 300mW to a windom! The
first round was an easy copy for both of us, but thing got a little
rougher after that. Still, we were able to hold it together through
the finals for a complete QSO.
Again, my transmitter circuitry is right out of 1928; a
crystal-controlled, push-pull oscillator using a single, 3A5 (a
twin-triode introduced by RCA in 1942). The receiver uses a second
3A5. The first triode forms a crystal-controlled autodyne converter.
The second stage is a standard regenerative detector driving the
headphones directly. My antenna is an end-fed wire at 35'.
Anyway, it was one of those QSO's that I dream about; QRPp on both
ends from start to finish, wire antennas at both stations and an
ultra-simple rig from the days of yore. It was Olaf's first QRPp DX
contact ever, and 57mW now stands as my lowest USA-to-Europe contact
power (230mW was my previous best).
As for working a 300mW German station with a receiver made from a
twin-triode; I think it's a testament to what these little
regenerative detectors are capable of. I was awestruck at the age of
12 or 13; having built my first genny. I love 'em no less some forty
years later as they truly are a beautiful technology.
From AA1TJ on March 3, 2010:
Gigi worked AA7VW (running 5w to a Moxon) in Oregon today with 250mW.
I've been reading a bit of history here in preparation for my
presentation at MassCon next week. For example, I've traced the
crystal-controlled, push-pull transmitter (used in Gigi) as far back
as 1928. Cady and Pierce did their ground-breaking work on quartz
crystal-controlled oscillators in 1923, so it didn't take long for
hams to jump on this one. BTW, Professor George Washington Pierce
("G.W." to his friends) was a real character!
I send my best wishes to you and the family, Bill. The sap has just
started flowing here this week. It's Maple sugaring time in Vermont
again. Spring can't be far away now.
Here is a bio on Pierce: http://profiles.incredible-people.com/george-washington-pierce/
This all makes me want to reconsider my opposition to regens... Maybe they are NOT possessed.
Sunday, March 14, 2010
SolderSmoke Store on Lulu: http://stores.lulu.com/store.php?fAcctID=3999032
Saturday, March 13, 2010
Enjoyed very much listening to your adventures in the UK - I very much want to visit Faraday's lab!
When going to the next radio rally/hamfest, can I respectfully suggest the following:
A jacket or waistcoat with lots of pockets, the bigger the better. A backpack with some more bags inside. An idea also would be some kind of lock or restraint so that you could lock a full bag to a post or something out of the way in case you buy something heavy - I usually ask a stall-holder to look after a bag which they are often willing to do after I have made a reasonable purchase from them!
In one of the pockets put a small multimeter with a working ohms range - to test transformers, coils, valve heaters, etc. before purchase.
In another pocket put valve/transistor (or whatever you are interested in) data books or have a handheld thingy (iPhone, etc.) with a working Internet connection where you can look up such things.
In another pocket put a calculator (not needed if you have a handheld thingy) and a small notepad and pen/cil to make notes and work things out and compare prices from competing stalls.
A camera to take pictures of beautiful things you have no money for or intention of buying.
Some personal news:
Currently building a one-valve BC FM receiver - lots of fun. Recently built a MW 2-car-valve superhet which I listen to the on here in Brussels. I build them into Cuban cigar boxes my missus gets free from tobacco shops around the city and in airports.
The fridge broke down and I discovered it was the thermostat and so I decided - foolishly - to spare the money for the replacement part (unemployed) and build one from components I already had in the radio room. Big mistake. I have been fiddling with different resistor values, broken Veroboard tracks and recalcitrant 740 op-amps for weeks now. Managed to freeze an entire bag of perfectly good carrots! I think I am on the tail-end of the prototype development process now and the production model should emerge in a week or so. The missus was initially impressed but now, sadly, not so. C'est la vie.
I experimented with QRSS using a simple PIC-controlled single car-valve crystal-regulated transmitter and a crystal immersed in a large jar of water for temperature stability. I managed to get seen by various grabbers and so am moderately happy. WSPR might be on the boards next, if I can do it with a PIC and a valve...
Good luck with the RC aeroplanes - try and keep the propellor pointed away!
Nick on4Nic / m0NjP
PS Car-valves are designed to operate from 12V only - heater and HT. Great fun for fiddling around with and completely safe - so long as you don't break them or burn yourself on the glass!
Friday, March 12, 2010
Just finished listening to SS 121. Fascinating as usual. In no
- Microsoft is ending all support for Windows 2000 effective July
13th of this year. For us little guys there's only one impact, but
it's a doozy: no more security patches. My bench computer is still
Win 2k, so he'll either be losing his connection to the interwebs or
get replaced (don't think his little brain would take the current
Ubuntu release, but perhaps I'll give it a shot.) I'm a pretty tech
savvy guy so I've got no problem moving on, but I hate to toss
perfectly good hardware. Heck, I've got a 1965-vintage USAF surplus
VOM and a Fluke LED readout DVM on my bench (both relatively new to
me!) The scope, power supply and sig gen aren't much newer. I
think the odd duality of hams you pointed out (tech forward and also
sticks-in-the-mud) is another expression of an engineering mindset
that doesn't accept that the new must devalue the old.
- I'm starting to think the Sun has dropped life-cycle support for
HF, effective when I got my HF privileges. I'm following your weak
signal work with a lot of interest.
- I think I mentioned previously that I got to see the Babbage
Difference Engine #2 last fall. After hearing your Dobsonian
maintenance story using "API Grade Extra Virgin" olive oil, I thought
you'd be amused to hear that the BDE is lubricated entirely with corn
oil, which is apparently available in a variety of SAE weights. I
thought they should put a Bunsen burner under the drip pan and make
popcorn in there, but the docents weren't too impressed with my
- SMT: I got my first serious taste of SMT while building, of all
things, a Nixie clock. It had two large quad flat pack (QFP) chips.
They weren't involved in the processing (which was done by a proper
DIP packaged PIC chip) but were the HV drivers (apparently actually
intended for use in a plasma TV). The manual instructed me to tack
down the corners, verify the alignment of all the unsoldered pins,
then just heat 'em and solder 'em down, ignoring pin-to-pin shorts.
After soldering all the pins, it then said to lay a piece of
desoldering braid on top of each run of pins, and heat it until the
excess solder wicked up. I was dubious, to say the least. But to my
complete surprise not only did the clock work on the first try
(meaning all 80 pins had been soldered correctly) but the chips
actually looked pretty good, too. Still a bit nerve wracking!
- In the "keeping old computers working" department I just ordered a
solid state drive to replace the oddball 1.8" drive in the little Dell
I use for travel. It runs Ubuntu pretty well, but I have to have Win
7 on there for work reasons, so I'm hoping the SSD will speed up the
latter (and not blow up the former - Linux and new technology haven't
worked out well for me in the past).
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
On display was the very first electrical transformer. And guess what guys: It was a toroid! Here is a picture of it:
I found one of Faraday's drawings of the toroidal transformer and its windings. It looks a lot like the drawings of Doug DeMaw! I'll scan it and post it tomorrow. Off to work now.
Monday, March 8, 2010
Billy and I visited the RI a couple of weeks ago and got to sit in the famous theater.
I even got to stand at the famous desk on which so much new science was presented to the world. More on the RI (and Michael Faraday) tomorrow.
Sunday, March 7, 2010
In London, the places where famous people lived are marked with Blue Plaques. I knew that Marconi's name was on the list, but I had never actually seen his plaque. When we were up in London last month we were staying in Marconi's old neighbourhood (Bayswater) so and Billy and I decided to take a look. Video by Billy.
This house is mentioned in the book Thunderstruck by Eric Larson and in Peter Jensen's wonderful Early Radio. Marconi lived here as a young man. His mother took him to London in order to get patent protection for his wireless invention. The way in which Marconi's mom watched out for her son's intellectual property rights reminds me of the way Bill Gates' dad watched out for his.
Marconi's arrival in the UK was a bit difficult. British customs officers were apparently very suspicious of the strange device being brought in by the young Italian. One book hinted that they might have thought that Marconi was involved in some plot to kill Queen Victoria. During the inspection serious damage was done to Marconi's rig.
Saturday, March 6, 2010
Thursday, March 4, 2010
Here is Gernot's creation. Isn't that beautiful? Note the "Homebrewed by OE1IFM" markings on the boards. Truly inspiring stuff!
But there's more: A while back we had a blog entry on Jack Dunigan, 5X7JD. Jack is in Uganda, helping kids who are living with AIDS. Today, one of Gernot's WSPR rigs is scheduled to be delivered to Jack. So soon we should be seeing WSPRs out of Uganda.
You guys should check out Gernot's web pages on this project:
His site is filled with really interesting technincal info on this amazing rig.
I found this endeavor to be inspiring at many levels: There is obviously a lot of Knack here, and this is a very good example of what the "International Brotherhood of Electronic Wizards" can do.
Dale, G4IPZ wrote this review of the book:
It's not often that I've come across a book that combines the fun of Amateur radio along with understandable explanations of difficult technical concepts as well as being a damn good read.
This book not only achieves this but does it perfectly.
It's described on the back cover as "... the story of a secret, after-hours life in electronics." Why after hours? Well because the author, Bill Meara (N2CQR, M0HBR, CU2JL) is a diplomat, a consul for the United states of America, having been posted to such diverse locations as Rome, London, Panama, El Salvador, the Dominican republic and many other places.
During his career as a diplomat his hobby of ham radio and in particular QRP and home-brewing has followed him around the world.
He admits that he did take time out for a while on meeting his future wife and then marrying her. Then, as so many of us have done before, he began to be drawn back into the hobby; the warmth of the shack, where on a cold night, he could sit clutching a hot coffee, listening to the bands, talking to friends and surrounded by the smell of solder smoke.
During his years as a diplomat-ham he has spent much of his free time trying to understand some of the whys and wherefores of the circuits he was building, attempting to build and attempting to fault find when they didn't work. And so many of us have been right down that road!
And that explains what this book is; it's a form of diary of Bill's Eureka moments combined with an insight into his travels and life as a diplomat.
The technical range covered is quite large and despite all my years in electronics I found many of his eureka moments clarified some of my ingrained foggier thinking.
For example we all know how mixers work. Or do we? How many of us can actually explain what goes on even in the simplest of two diode balanced mixers? Most of us just accept that, by the black necromancy of radio in which we dabble, fearing the release the magical smoke at the wrong moment, it just mixes and that's that.
But Bill took time to ask, query and eventually, by making notes to himself, come to understand what was going on. And his explanations of mixers and other such subjects are indeed highly illuminating. He explains semiconductor principles (Do you really understand hole flow versus electron flow?). And how about resonant circuits for example? Bill explains these and much more in a refreshing new way along with capacitors, crystals, and a host of other often accepted but often not fully understood truths that we, as amateurs just take for granted.
This is an ongoing life's trip through the hobby which we all share with Bill, and remember that he is not a professional electronics engineer; he is a radio ham who wants to be more than an "appliance operator".
He enjoys tinkering and has stuck with some pieces of equipment for more years than I will mention but it hasn't stopped him working through the satellites and bridging the oceans on less watts than a nightlight.
And as well as his obvious love of his hobby, he introduces us to many of the other amateurs he has met on his travels and at his various postings. He paints a wonderful picture of the people that many of us may get to meet on the air but he's been lucky enough to meet face to face.
And as well as doing all this he also ventured into the world of Pod-casting and blogging, the outputs which has reached thousands world-wide on his SolderSmoke website.
I cannot recommend this book too highly and I found that it was one which I couldn't put down until I'd finished.
Dale Haines G4IPZ
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
When I was out in Dover (UK) last week the fellows in the Dover Construction Club alerted me to a problem that has been affecting their workshop, and that may be causing trouble in yours: black holes. Apparently through some strange quirk of quantum physics, small black holes are sometimes generated in electronics workshops. They cause parts and tools to disappear. The quantum element of all this is readily apparent: only those parts and tools that you REALLY need disappear. If you don't need a particular part or tool, it will not be affected. The guys out in Dover recently lost a variometer this way, and while I was there a telegraph key briefly disappeared into the quantum mist. In a variation of this phenomenon, very small black holes sometimes pop out of the quantum vacuum when small parts are dropped to the floor -- that's why you often can't find them! SMT parts are especially susceptible to this (obviously because some of the damn things are getting down to quantum scale) . I don't really know what can be done to counteract this problem -- if you have any suggestions, please post a comment.
On a related subject, Jim Miller sent us this:
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Mars Express carried the Beagle II lander to the red planet. I was in the UK when they made that brave attempt to put the probe on the surface, and shared in the disappointment when no signals came back. Later, I had the privilege of meeting Beagle II's creator, Colin Pillinger. Colin gave me signed copies of his wonderful books on Mars.
Here's some more info on Wednesday's fly-by (from ESA):
1 March 2010
ESA’s Mars Express will skim the surface of Mars’ largest moon Phobos on Wednesday evening. Passing by at an altitude of 67 km, precise radio tracking will allow researchers to peer inside the mysterious moon.
Mars Express is currently engaged in a series of 12 flybys of Phobos. At each close pass, different instruments are trained towards the mysterious space rock, gaining new information. The closest flyby will take place on 3 March at 21:55 CET (20:55 GMT).
From close range, Mars Express will be pulled ‘off-course’ by the gravitational field of Phobos. This will amount to no more than a few millimetres every second and will not affect the mission in any way. However, to the tracking teams on Earth, it will allow a unique look inside the moon to see how its mass is distributed throughout.
How will the ground teams make these tremendously sensitive measurements? Ironically, they will turn off all data signals from the spacecraft. The only thing that the ground stations will listen out for is the ‘carrier signal’ – the pure radio signal that is normally modulated to carry data.
Preparing for closest approach to Phobos
After the closest flyby, the work is not over. Mars Express will sweep past Phobos a further seven times before the campaign is complete. In addition to the tracking experiment, known as MaRS for Mars Radio Science, the MARSIS radar has already been probing the subsurface of Phobos with radar beams. “We have performed a preliminary processing of the data and the Phobos signature is evident in almost all the data set,” says Andrea Cicchetti, Italian Institute of Physics of Interplanetary Space, Rome, and one of the MARSIS team.
The MARSIS radar is already taking data
All photos from ESA.