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Wednesday, March 3, 2021

The SolderSmoke Team Talks to the River City Amateur Radio Communication Society (Video)

Pete and I had a great time speaking to this really nice California ham radio club (video of the event appears above).  Special thanks to club president Dr. Carol Milano, MD.  Wow, what an impressive person and ham radio operator she is:  https://www.qsl.net/kp4md/#New%20York

This club is doing a group build of a version of the famed Tuna Tin Two.    I mentioned that I had held the original TTT in my hands, and that Rex Harper had conducted a "Mojo Transfer Ceremony" that imparted TTT Mojo to my BITX17 transceiver (which was also discussed).  I promised to share the video of that momentous event.  Here it is: https://youtu.be/9RZRaFUtTcc

Thanks to Carol and the members of the RCARCS.  This was a lot of fun.  

Monday, March 1, 2021

A Frequency Counter for the Hodgepodge -- An Analog Solution to a Digital Problem

Imagine my dismay when I discovered that I could not use my $5 San Jian PLJ6-LED frequency counter with my Hodgepodge transceiver.    The problem is described here: 

This video describes my solution.  I took some pleasure in using an analog solution to solve a very digital problem.   I know this could have been fixed with one or two changes to lines of code, but I liked doing it this way.  This was all kind of fun, and it allowed me to use yet another bit of circuitry that was sitting idle in the shack.  That is the whole point of the Hodgepodge project.  

The best is yet to come.   Especially for those of you who like waterfalls.... Stay tuned. 

Novice Rig Roundup -- This Year in Memory of Bry AF4K


Bry was a good guy and one of our sponsors.  RIP OM.  And the Novice Rig Roundup was his thing. 

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Putting the Quarantine Hodgepodge Rig on CW (Video)

Putting this rig on CW posed a real Hodgepodge challenge: What did I have laying around that would let me do this? Then I remembered: Years ago I built a little 750 Hz audio tone generator. So I pressed that into service. I also needed a sidetone so I built a little RF-actuated circuit that turns on a piezo buzzer when I go key down. And I put a little DC monitoring device (recommended early in 2020 by the Ham Radio Workbench podcast) between the power supply and the rig. There is more to do! Stay tuned.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Jean Shepherd Goes to a Hamfest -- And Much More

Here is something nice to listen to in your shack...  

I hadn't heard this one before.  It is about Shep's teenage trip to a hamfest, but it also about his youthful enthusiasm for ham radio and electronics.  Many of us can identify with this very easily. 

He talks about what must have been a very early use of "blue boxes" -- the audio tone generators that allowed young miscreants (including the Woz) to make long distance phone calls for free. I wish I had gotten into this.  It sounds like fun. 

He talks about how painful it was to be on phone (AM phone) with just 2.5 watts homebrew, when everyone else was running a lot more power. 

And wow, they played a baseball game at the hamfest.   Phone guys vs. CW guys. 

I won't spoil it by telling you the results of the hamfest raffle.  

Update from the Wizard of Wimbledon -- "Always listen to Pete"

In a recent podcast, Pete mentioned that Leo Sampson (the young Brit who is rebuilding the sailing yacht "Tally Ho") should seal the deal with his girlfriend.   Well, it seems that "life coach" should be added to Pete's already impressive list of abilities (homebrew hero, pasta chef, guitar player, etc.)  A while back Pete gave similar advice to Jonathan, M0JGH.   This morning, Jonathan reported in, confirming that Pete's advice was completely correct.  A "mixing product" arrived early in the lockdown. Congratulations to Jonathan and his remarkably radio-tolerant wife.  It seems Leo should be shopping for a ring. 


Dear Bill and Pete

I hope that you and your families are staying very well during these extraordinary times.

I wanted to thank you both for the reminiscent shout-out during the last podcast, whilst you were suggesting that Leo Sampson of sailing yacht Tally Ho should "seal the deal" with his girlfriend. If our case study is indicative of his future prospects, he absolutely should do! Not only are we happily married but we welcomed a bubbly baby girl into our family at the start of lockdown. (I note that hams refer to children as “harmonics”, but wouldn’t mixer products be a more appropriate metaphor?) 

Apologies for my radio silence of late. Circumstances have allowed me the rare and special opportunity to take more of a lead with parenting, and so my soldering iron has only been wielded for maintenance purposes rather. Your discussion about the intrigue of distant voices emerging from homebrew rigs has whetted this CW addict's appetite to build something for SSB or even DSB, and likely for one of the higher bands...

I feel that I should briefly stick up for the art of CW, though. As a keen amateur musician the ability to communicate through rhythm will always hold a special charm, particularly when you consider that many of my regular EU chums on 40 and 80 are easily identifiable by their “distinctive fists”. I recall a true WW2 spy story in which a double agent, I forget which, was rather unwell but still had to be carried into the radio tent to send his CW whilst lying on a stretcher, otherwise the Germans might notice the absence of this distinctive fist and realize that the game is up!

73 from Wimbledon


Friday, February 26, 2021

EI7CLB's Ladybird Receiver (George Dobbs Design), and Voice over the Internet


I suggested that Tryg once again gather the parts to build George Dobbs's Ladybird receiver.  He should use the same wooden base.  That would be great.  

As for VOIP, I told Tryg that SolderSmoke got its start in a VOIP program  called Echolink -- Mike KL7R and I used to converse from London to Alaska.   Mike recorded one of  our conversations, and that became SolderSmoke #1.  I was using VOIP even before that -- from the Dominican Republic in the mid 90's I was connecting my Radio Shack 2 meter HT to an early VOIP program Internet  Phone or I-phone.  The company that made it was an Israeli firm called Vocaltech.   

Hi Bill,

Thanks for the recent emails and podcasts. I have attached a picture of my first radio - or at least what is left of it. I plundered it for parts down through the years as you can see. It is the build from the late Reverend George's "Making a Transistor Radio", the Ladybird book that really put the hook in me all those years back. I was probably only 11 when my late Grandmother and I went to Dublin by train (300 mile round trip) to Peats of Parnell Street to buy what components my pocket money could afford in order to build the first couple of stages of the radio, The wooden base was cut for me by a worker at a local furniture making factory here in Galway. He got a great laugh out of it when I told him I was going to build a radio - he kept putting the wooden blank up to his ear and joking: "I can't hear anything yet!". I will always remember it.

On another front I wanted to thank Pete and yourself for an entertaining and informative couple of podcasts. I made the leap a couple of months back and bought a set of boards for a uSDX (W2CBA version) but I may just use it as a receiver if I ever get around to building it. I don't know yet. The kit that Pete mentioned in episode #228 really got me excited. I expect you can imagine that my imagination is running riot at the moment.

Finally, I would be interested to hear about your take on half duplex VOIP apps such as Peanut. I realise that it is not 'real' radio to many but I have enjoyed several contacts with operators around the world with it and it has been quite satisfying. These ops that I have spoken with have often been infirm, elderly or have mobility issues. There are also a couple that are under HOA restrictions. One OM in particular lives in a retirement village and is a full-time carer for his wife. I think it is a good thing that they can still be involved in radio without all of the physical demands it might make on them or annoying their neighbours. It might, at least, it might be a worthwhile topic for discussion. Thanks again for an excellent Podcast. BTW, I am a bit of a guitar nut too - is that a Stratocaster that Pete is holding in the picture on the Soldersmoke Blog Page?

Right ho, time to put the kettle on. Tea is a vital component for operational efficiency in my radio world!


Tryg de EI7CLB

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Quarantine Hodgepodge Rig -- Part 1 (Video)

More videos to follow.  I have added features, and a transmission mode.  Stay tuned.  

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Awesome Video of Perseverance's Landing on Mars

When we watched the landing on February 18, Elisa kind of complained that they were using simulations -- like the rest of us, she has come to expect actual video of important events.  Well, now we have it.  Actual video of the parachute deployment, the decent, heat shield separation, dust from the Sky Crane rockets, the whole thing.   Wonderful!   See above. 

The full press conference is worth watching:

Here we learn that the placement of these cameras was inspired by the sports camera that enabled one of the NASA/JPL guys to watch his daughter's gymnastic back flip from her perspective.  As they discussed the images from the spacecraft,  I found myself thinking of my little Astrocam Estes rocket in the Dominican Republic, our kite-camera adventures in the Azores, and the key-chain video camera that Billy and I flew on a rocket in the Shenandoah Valley. 

We also learn that the parachute color pattern contains a hidden message... (see below for the solution, worked out by a fellow in France.) 

One of the JPL guys noted that we've all had a tough year, and he hopes that these images will bring some joy to people.  Indeed. 

And wow, there are microphones!  They show the mic in the press conference video, and they play audio of the sound of Martian wind. 

There was a nice shout out to Sojourner from 1997 (the year my son Billy was born).  

Someone cracked the code in the parachute coloration: 

and the JPL Coordinates

Monday, February 22, 2021

LA6NCA's German Military WWII Receivers, and a Luftwaffe Receiver with FAST QSY

Discussions of old military radio gear are dominated by talk of U.S. radios.   Yesterday in the comments section of the SWLing Post I found two interesting videos about German WWII equipment.  Above you can see LA6NCA's receivers.  Below there's a video of a Luftwaffe receiver with an amazing capacity for really rapid frequency change.  

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Bootleggers! Radio Criminality -- Some Jean Shepherd Stories

Thanks to Adam N0ZIB who alerted me to Shep's Cincinnati story about the stolen AM broadcast station.  I then found another YouTube video that had that story, but preceded by an even better tale of ham radio bootlegging.  

Adam found his story on this fantastic YouTube channel -- a collection of Shep stuff: 

Thanks Adam.  73  and EXCELSIOR! 

Perseverance gets to Mars with Parachute and Sky Crane

Perseverance under parachute canopy

Perseverance hanging from rocket-powered Sky Crane. 

We had another picture of a spacecraft parachuting to Mars: 
It was from the Phoenix lander in 2008: 

The Sky Crane picture is also awesome, but having spent some time under canopy, I am especially fond of the parachute photos. Dino KL0S and Kevin AA7YQ know what I'm talking about.  And Mike WA6ARA used to design and test parachutes for NASA at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  

My affinity for parachutes probably predates my jumping.  My Estes rockets usually returned to earth by parachute (sometimes they used the more economical "streamers").  And my grandfather had a little kite contraption that would send a parachute up to a kite where the device  would hit a cork on the line and release the parachute.  He used to attach a dollar bill to the toy parachutist for the kids in the neighborhood.  Decades later, my dad got one of these, and we frequently flew it during beach vacations.  So I like parachutes.   


Saturday, February 20, 2021

A Step Closer to the Elser-Mathes Cup? Ham Receives Signals from Mars


That is the antenna that Scott Tilley VE7TIL  used to receive signals from the Chinese spacecraft Tianwen-1 in orbit of Mars.  In a recent SpaceWeather article, Scott comments on the importance of SDR receivers in these deep space reception efforts.  

I've been watching the Elser-Mathes cup for a long time. I dedicated my book "SolderSmoke  -- Global Adventures in Wireless Electronics" to my kids, Billy and Maria, noting that they were both possible future winners of this most prestigious award.  Scott Tilley's work has put us a step closer to an award ceremony for some intrepid radio amateur. 

Here is a good article on the Elser-Mathes Cup: 

Scott was in the news last year for finding a zombie satellite: 

Friday, February 19, 2021

A Problem with the San Jian PLJ6-LED Counter

I had hoped to use this handy and cheap little frequency counter to add some glowing Juliano Blue to the frequency readout on my Quarantine Hodgepodge rig.   I've used these boards with my BITX20, my HA-600A,  and with my DX-100/HQ-100 rigs.  But guess what -- these boards do not work with the BITX40 module board that is the heart of the Quarantine Hodgepodge.  And the reason why is interesting. 

Here is what happens:  First, you plug in the IF frequency of your rig.  In my case 12 MHz.  You connect your VFO output to the signal input on the PLJ6.  You power up the PLJ6.  You then have to select one of two IF frequency options.  One of these options ADDS your IF frequency to whatever it detects at the signal input.  In my case, for a 7.2 MHz signal it would detect a VFO signal at 4.8 MHz. If it were to ADD this signal to the IF freq,  it would readout 16.8 MHz.  And it does.  But obviously that is wrong.  So you go to the other option -- this one SUBTRACTS the designated IF frequency FROM whatever it finds at the signal input.  So here we get 4.8 - 12 =  -7.2   Almost perfect right?  But here is the problem:  The PLJ6 can't handle negative numbers!  So it displays 000000.  Not helpful. 

Here is the manual: 

I didn't have this trouble with any of the other rigs because none of them required the use of negative numbers.  My BITX 20 for example had an IF of 11 MHz and has the VFO running a bit above 3 MHz -- so the PLJ6 just adds the IF to the VFO signal and Bob is my uncle.  Similar problem-free addition takes place with the other rigs. 

I found some discussion on this problem on the internet.  Here is one: 

Some of the respondents didn't seem to understand the problem.  Others hint that the ability to handle negative numbers was as some point in the code for the PLJ6 device,  and may somehow be accessible, but no further info is provided. 

I have already worked up a possible solution, but I'm interested in how you folks would approach this problem.   Any thoughts or suggestions?  I will reveal my solution in the days ahead.   

James West, Inventor of the Electret Mic, has THE KNACK

James West (r) with Gerhard Sessler (l)  Bell Labs 1976


For many reasons, this is a really nice story.  It is about a kid with The Knack, a kid who, like young James Clerk Maxwell, wanted to understand how things work.   It is also a technology story, the story of the invention of a device very important to us: the electret microphone. (Remember the earlier carbon mics in telephones?  I'll bet more than a few of our readers are guilty of stealing a few of those mics from pay phones.)  And it is a reminder of the benefits of helping kids who might need a mentor... or and Elmer.    

Thanks Hack-A-Day.  And three cheers for James West. 

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Phasors and the Propeller Analogy from Walla Walla University

We covered this excellent and very illuminating work before. As a follow-up, student Konrad McClure was kind enough to send me this video, which goes the extra mile with the propeller analogy. 

For me, the most interesting aspect of this is that it provides an explanation of the phase differences between upper and lower sidebands.   I need to study more about aliasing and the Nyquist criteria.  

Check out the video.  It get us a lot closer the an intuitive understanding;  math often falls short in this area. 

Thanks Konrad! 

Please send feedback to Konrad via the comment box below. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Put this Chart on the Wall Above Your Workbench


If you are like me and sometimes forget if R=E^2/P or E^2P, this chart will help. Very useful.  

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

My Current Rig: The Quarantine Hodgepodge


As I continue to Stay In The Shack,  last week I was looking for something to do. This is what I came up with.   

Left to right: 
-- Speaker
-- Ramsey-kit QAMP20 modified for 40. I now have two MTP3055V MOSFETS in there.  
-- BITX40 Module with a solidified VFO from a Galaxy V (note the knob from a Drake 2B!)
-- Power supply 

It puts out about 15 watts SSB.  I was bracing for attacks from the 40 meter waterfall police, but no, everyone said it sounds great.  I had four very nice contacts yesterday.  It was fun. 

Still to do:  Possibly a San Jian frequency counter to give some Juliano Blue glowing numerals for the frequency readout.  This would be a step up from the Juliano Blue sticky note and  corresponding piece of black electrical tape that currently serves as the frequency indicator. 

Monday, February 15, 2021

Jean Shepherd Works Through a Satellite in a School

Ah,  1975.  Obviously a very different time...  I'm not sure if Shep would fit in well in the classrooms of today.  There was bit of Rodney Dangerfield in his demeanor -- that would likely cause some trouble.
But this clip was fun.  Shep was right on target when he talked about how getting your ham license used to mean that you'd "mastered a technical art." 

The OSCAR satellite they were using was 2 meters up and 10 meters down.  There was a Heathkit HF transceiver with a transverter.  And a Simpson multimeter.  That mic was a Turner +3 

Thanks to Steven Walters for alerting us to this.  


Sunday, February 14, 2021

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