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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year! SolderCake!

This is just so good, I felt the urge to share it immediately with the SolderSmoke community. Thanks Tom, and Happy New Year to all!


Happy New Year!
I am yet another listener who discovered your podcast by accident and am now hooked. I also thoroughly enjoyed your book. Both take me back to the days of scrounged parts and burned fingers, building balanced modulators and an FM stereo transmitter that earned me an invitation to leave a great southern university.

To celebrate the new year, rising sunspot numbers, and your 120th podcast, I offer the attached photo of a Solder Cake. It features 120 rolls of 60/40 rosin core solder -- several brands and gauges. The cake actually weighs 123 lbs. because the roll holding the soldering iron at the top is 4 lbs. It has zero calories, but definitely contains lead! It should be baked at less than 370 degrees, or the icing tends to run.

Why would anyone have 120 rolls of solder? I don't remember precisely, but rumor has it that ebay and alcohol were involved.

73, and a wonderful new year to you and your family.

Thomas Keister M.D. N5RTF

Chinese HAMSAT HO-68

PA3GUO put together this nice video. Check out the large footprint of this relatively high-orbit satellite.

Mark, K6HX, has a nice recording of SSB QSOs through the satellite: K6HX HO-68

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

On the air, out in the woods... Plus, olive news

We were out in the Sabine hills this week. Things are starting to settle down out there: The Cinghale are, well, mostly GONE (see earlier post), and the gunfire is starting to die down. And the olives have all been shaken from the trees. All was going well, but my wife was worried that with temperatures dropping, she might find me frozen out at my front porch operating position, so she secured indoor accomodations for me and the HW-8. Wow, what luxury! My CW is back to normal -- the shivering had been a real impediment. On Monday and Tuesday I was on 80, 40, and 20 with the Heathkit. I managed to work seven stations using a far-from-optimal end fed wire with my flea market tuner. It was fun to work Russian stations -- UA6HNU was running a homebrew rig. It reminded me of the good-old days in which most of the Russian hams were running HB gear. Then, just as we were getting ready to head back to Rome, there was some icing on the cake: Near the top of the 20 meter CW band I heard KZ1H (see earlier post) all the way from Boston.

Next week, a better antenna goes up.

I got some questions about the olive harvest. It seems that the trees around are place are about 200 years old -- mere kids, considering that there are olive trees in the world that are 2000+ years old.

As for the harvesting process, the shaking machine vibrates the tree for about 5 seconds. The workers have a collection tarp on the ground to catch the olives. Then they have machine that reels in the tarp.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Stagnosald! (Italian flux)

For some reason I like the packaging for this Italian soldering flux. Sort of takes you back to the days when soldering was soldering, if you know what I mean. Now (somewhat ironically) we are using this flux for SMT soldering. On the left you can see the PA stage of my slowly-coming-together SMT SDR LINUX Compu-radio. As you can probably tell, I am struggling to keep a positive attitude towards SMT and SDR. Lately, even Linux has been giving me trouble. The problem here is clearly with the operator, not the equipment. The Softrock SDR kit is really excellent. I'm sure I will eventually get it working, but I think there will be a lot of geezer-like complaining about all this new-fangled surface mount, software stuff. Please, bear with me.

Glowbug Christmas

My "Mate for the Mighty Midget" receiver (with 6U8s)

Some excellent Christmas verse from Brad, AA1IP:

The Glowbugs' Christmas


T'was the night before Christmas
And all through the shack
Not a heater was glowing
In all of the rack.

Sitting totally silent and quiet that night
The old HRO shed nary a light.
The Johnson exciter and its homebrew final
Felt cold as leftovers, or seat-cover vinyl,

I drowsed at my workbench feeling tired and weary,
The print in the Handbook looked fuzzy and smeary.
I thought, "I'll make coffee", and groaned to my feet
When I heard a loud clatter outside in the street.

What the--? I wondered and turned on the lights
And there I beheld a wondrous sight:
A battered old van heaped high with components
And a grizzled old ham with a bagful of doughnuts.

I noted his callsign-- can't recall it today--
But a patch on the side read "FMLA".
I opened the door and hollered "Come in!
The coffee pot's heating, and we'll sit down and chin!"

He spoke not a word but whistled in Morse
A "GE OM", and "By golly, I'm hoarse.
Too many contacts, and hot rosin smoke."
I nodded and poured him a mug of jamoke.

He emptied the doughnuts in a pile on a plate
And explained in a whistle, "I'm running real late.
I've new 6L6s and fine 211s, 6146s and good 'SN7s.
And 866s and 0B2s, type 45s and mil-spec 807s."

"For the regennie crowd, 201s by the score
And good ol' type 30s and 19s galore.
I haven't neglected the passive-parts run
There's lots of good iron by old Thordarson."

I nodded and smiled, suppressing a chortle
As he reached in his pack and left me a 304TL.
He whistled, "I'm leaving, the coffee was great,
But I'm overdue in the neighboring state."

"Keep everyone building the rigs of their choosing
Or we'll lose the bands that we're lazy in using.
Transistors or tubes-- any project is fine--
Just keep on constructing and sharing on line."

He leaped to his feet and waved a gloved hand
As he sprang for the door and his rusty old van.
I heard him exclaim as he drove away from me,
"Merry Christmas, you Glowbugs, and to all 73!"


(With apologies to Clement Clarke Moore, who surely would have
been a ham had radio existed in his time. Alas, all he had
to build with was words.)

For new readers: the FMLA (Five Meter Liberation Army) appeared in a
series of short stories written by Michael N. Hopkins, AB5L (sk). If you have never
read these, you're in for a fun evening!

For QRP fans: the numerical references in the poem are for classic
vacuum tubes, several of which operate at QRP levels (whether or not that was the
original builder's intention) and (mostly) within the amateur bands.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Greetings from Lunar Orbit

I always liked the last, very inclusive line in Colonel Borman's 1968 Christmas Eve message.

"Wired" magazine also made note of the important Christmas Eve radio message (1906) from Reginald Fessenden: the very first "phone" transmission. Fessenden himself played the violin ("Oh Holy Night").

Merry Christmas from Rome! 73 Bill

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

An appeal from SETI

Now here is a charity that Knack victims might see as a good cause --

I'm Dan Werthimer, the Chief Scientist of the SETI@home project.

You've been identified as a SETI@home volunteer, and I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you for your efforts. I also want to preview our plans for 2010, and ask for your financial support.

SETI@home is a unique global collaborative project that uses spare cycles on personal computers to help search for signals of extraterrestrial origin. Our vision to embark on this grand search is over ten years old, and continues to engage volunteers such as you from all over the world.

In order to improve SETI@home in 2010 and accomplish our scientific goals, we are reaching out to our volunteers for financial support, as this venture is largely funded by individual donations.

Our goals for 2010 include:

  • Deploy and refine the Near-Time Persistency Checker (NTPCkr) which makes SETI@home more efficient in identifying candidate signals.
  • Develop a web based system that will allow volunteers to view, as well as help in the ranking of, candidate signals.
  • Expand the frequency coverage of our search beyond the current 2.5MHz band.
  • Improve how we identify and reject Earth-generated radio frequency interference (RFI).
With your financial support we can accomplish all these goals in 2010. We would greatly appreciate any donation amount you can afford, and your gift is tax-deductible.

Thanks again for your time and consideration of SETI@home. Your effort and donations are what make this venture possible.


Dan Werthimer
SETI@home Chief Scientist
Space Science Laboratory
University of California, Berkeley

PS: if you'd like to donate via check or wire transfer, please see instructions here.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Report from South Africa

Hi Bill

Africa "field QRP station"
Thanks for another great episode of your experiences - I'm tuning in from Africa while on my vacation Each December I make the trek from San Diego to Cape Town.
Then, my Dad (zs1xd) and I take the family out to a remote
location - and setup a field station. Around the camp-fire, under the Milky Way and no rf-pollution is a great way to hunt some dx and spend vacation time. This year
we selected a cabin located in a beautiful mountainous region about 100 miles north of Cape Town. 2 wheel vehicle will get you there and "just in case" , we
also took a capable 4x4 with.
I posted some pics and QRP HF operating notes here: http://k6wh.blogspot.com/

I'm following your Softrock SMT construction comments with keen interest and am glad you're finding the challenge - well - "not so much of a challenge"
I think it's so great that you're encouraging hams to jump into SMT.
I chuckled at your comment about "desoldering smt's" - Try de-soldering the Si570 SMT chip. I had the good fortune of measuring messing up the
"measure 10 x then cut once" when soldering this IC on the rxtx kit. Well - we know a mistake will happen, and when it happens, murphy's law will ensure
that it involves the most sensitive and tricky smt component on the board - hi.

It's a real trick, due to the contacts being under the chip (no pins like the other smts)
Well - try de-soldering that piece. And of course one realizes the mistake, only once the last solder joint has dried. Determined to correct the mistake there and then,
at 9pm while busy with the kit, I rushed off to the nearest radio shack to get some de-solder wick. Took me about 1 hr of patience, and careful "wicking" to suck
up all the solder underneath the chip - one contact at a time, (each desolder attempt, hoping the chip pops loose) - no easy task. I don't know of another easy way
than lots of patience, and a good magnifying glass.

I agree there is no greater reward than "homebrew" and with the advances in SDR tech, we're surely living in a wonderful age.

Once you get the SDR on-air, I'm sure you'll be blown away by the reception quality - sensitivity and especially the almost non-existent noise-floor.
(I'm not sure which model you're building, but I think all of Tony's designs are utilize the same Tayloe detector design which is very quiet)

I still can't believe the performance I get with the Softrock's kit - It's now become an antenna measuring instrument - While having fun with PSK QSO's and WSPR.
Of course, with the SDR one can adjust the output (via soundcard drive) to basically uW levels.

As we know, at these levels, each little bit of antenna optimization helps, and SDR+WSPR/PSK has become my "far field antenna measurement tool" of choice.

WSPR from Africa
Not too many stations active on WSPR on the African continent - Now that I've setup my Dad on DSL, I assisted him in activating his WSPR station in
Cape Town (ZS1XD). His antenna is a 20m homebrew 2 el yagi. I'm pointing it north during the evenings to see if n2cqr pops up in the log. Nothing yet, but I'm sure
one of these days, you may just be surprised. Keep watching for the Africa report :)

thank you again for such a great entertaining and educational program ...
73 - best wishes to you and the family from the tip of Africa.
de deon (k6wh)/zs

Monday, December 21, 2009

Technical woes: Linux, WSPR, SSSSS

Help me, help me! I want to get WSPR running on Billy's Asus eeePC. I have Ubuntu Easy Peasy running off a thumb drive. And I have the WSPR sofware package in in the machine. But I can't get WSPR to run. I click on it, and the machine asks me if I want to run the program. Indeed I do! But nothing. Help me Linux heads! What am I doing wrong? I've tried running it from the terminal using the instructions in K1JT's excellent manual (see, I have read the manual!) but the computer informs me that I need superuser privileges. Now what?

Also looking for feedback on the SSSSSSS problem. Was it better in SolderSmoke 119?


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Crossing the Pond to KZ1H

We were out the Sabine Hills this weekend and on Sunday afternoon I go on 20 CW with my trusty HW8. I made just one contact, but it was a GOOD one. KZ1H pulled me out of the noise and we had a very nice chat. My fist was not at its best, because it was COLD in those hills -- I'm arranging now to move the shack off the front porch and into the heated (I hope!) library.
Anyway, from the courteous way in which he persisted in copying my QRP signal, I knew that OM George, KZ1H, was a FB ham. Sure enough, when I plugged his call into Google this morning, I was taken to a site with the above picture of George in his younger days. Note the bug and the mill, and the homebrew transmitter. Here is George's story:

I grew up in Corona, Queens, NYC. I became interested in radio at the age of ten or so. My father bought an "Eilen" and I was introduced to Morse code. I met many hams around town (W2HDK, W2KAP, W2APT, W2KCD, W2JGV?). They were all very cordial and happy to show off their rigs.

In April of 1939 (age 14), I took my test at the FCC office at 641 Washington St, Downtown NYC and became W2MDE. My father bought me a Hammarlund Comet Pro (plug-in coils with shield cans). I built an oscillator/ transmitter using a type 59 tube.

I was invited to join the W2USA radio club at the 1939 NY World's Fair. W2KU was the Chief Op and my boss. We handled a lot of traffic for the fair visitors and kept the station on the air during the winter when the fair closed between summer sessions.

At 16, I graduated from high school and went to work for a large patent law office as a clerk. From there I went to work for Hazeltine in Little Neck, NY. I thought I might faint when I saw that my first check at Hazeltine was signed by Jack Binns, the radio operator who was the subject of the book "SOS to the Rescue".

At 17, I was made chief inspector of Hazeltine's first war-time production line and worked along side of Frank Hinners.

When I turned 18, Mr. Bailey of the ARRL became head of the Bureau of Scientific Research and Development in Washington, DC. He invited me to become a member of the Army Intelligence Service when I was drafted, which I accepted.

After the war, I attended the Cooper Union School of Art in NYC. I worked for PAA, Grace Lines, Andrea, Sperry Gyroscope, Varian Corp, and Global Systems. Much of my career has been in microwaves. I have been retired for 20 years and am still active on the bands. My present call is KZ1H.

I have been married to my wife Mildred for 53 years. We have three daughters, Jean, Janet and Diane.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Dale Parfitt, W4OP, Homebrew Hero

Yesterday, in my search for pictures of the Drake 2B, I came across VE3MPG's excellent interview with Dale Parfitt, W4OP. Dale and I crossed paths years ago: After I built my first version of Doug DeMaw's Barebones Superhet, I went out on the net and found a couple of kit versions of this receiver for sale. A few years later, I was working on one of them, and turned (as you do) to QRP-L for some advice. Dale came to the rescue and we started exchanging e-mails. After a while he told me that the version I was working on sounded familiar. Sure enough, he was the original builder! The story appears in SolderSmoke -- The Book.

Here is further evidence that Dale and I have similar tastes in receivers: Pictured above is his solid state version of the Drake 2-B. FB! I note that the dial scales are the same as the hollow-state version.

Here is the VE3MPG interview:

Friday, December 11, 2009

Mechanical Resonators

Mike, KC7IT, sent along this interesting article on the use of mechanical resonators in cell phones.

Somehow, this made me think of my beloved Drake 2B. The 2B uses an L-C filter at 50 kHz, but -- sure enough -- a quick visit to the e-ham review section showed that Henry Radio had a vailable a mechanical filter kit -- some of the 2Bs out there are apparently fitted with this device.
Check out the e-ham Drake 2B love-fest: http://www.eham.net/reviews/detail/3868 All of it true!

And of course, this all provides an excuse to put up a picture of the Drake 2B.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Fondness for Phasing

As the proud owner of a Hallicrafters HT-37, I have long had a fondness for phasing rigs. It took me a long time to figure out exactly how they manage to drop the carrier and one of the sidebands without the use of crystal filters. This was one of the technical understanding battles of my radio youth, and is detailed in SolderSmoke -- The Book. (See the upper part of the right column of this blog for details on how to get the book.)

I was reminded of all this by a link sent in by Jim, AB3CV. It is an EDN design note, and describes a simple modern SSB generator using two phasing networks, three IC's, and a handful of discrete components:

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Olive Interference

No, not from the digital mode. The interference was from the harvesting of real olives. We were out in the country on Tuesday (Italian holiday) and I was on the air with the HW-8. The backup alarm from the machine pictured above occasionally confused my copying of the CW. But it is a very interesting machine. It grabs the base of the olive trees with that rubber-covered gripping device, then it shakes them violently until all all the ripe olives are let loose. The ground shakes during the process. In spite of the QRM, 20 meters was sounding quite good in the afternoon, with many strong sigs from the USA, and one very stong VK6. Go sunspots!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

SolderSmoke 119

4th grade Morse code lecture. Listening to 40 meter CW in the schoolyard

December 6, 2009
4th Grade Morse lecture; SPRAT in the Pantheon; Cinghale shot
SSS problem and the gap in my teeth
STAGNOSALD! (Italian Flux)
Movie Reviews
Water on the Moon
Tyson the cat crashes both Ubuntu Linux AND WSPR 2.0
Building the Softrock 40: Comments on surface mount
WSPR hits 100k spots per day; my numbers

Saturday, December 5, 2009

WSPR taking over THE WORLD!

Conspiracy theorists often worry about plots to take over the world. I think they should add WSPR to their list of worrisome schemes. Just look at the above map. That represents just 24 hours of activity on only one band (30 meters).

Joe Taylor, K1JT, reports that on November 21, the WSPR system for the first time recorded over 100,000 reports in a 24 hour period. There are now more than 14 million reports logged in the WSPR system. That's a lot of signal reports!

I decided to check my own numbers: In a 15 hour period on December 3, my 20 mW HB DSB WSPR signal was picked up and reported 416 times. 18 different stations detected my signal and reported on the reception. My best DX was W3HH in Florida -- his rig decoded my sigs 4 times.

I'm making slow but steady progress with my Softrock 40 SDR rig -- I hope someday soon to be submitting reports myself. Right now I'm transmit only.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

SolderSmoke Book: Review, 10% off in December (HUMBUG is the code)

During the month of December, if you enter the promotional code HUMBUG when checking out at the Lulu web site, you will get 10% off.

For shipping from a printer in the U.S. (probably better for N. American buyers) Click here: SolderSmoke USA Version

For shipping from a printer in the UK, Spain, or the USA (probably better for UK and other European buyers)
Click here: SolderSmoke EU Version

Here is a recent review from the Big Apple:

This is a charming little book about ham radio. I know, I know, who uses the word charming and ham radio in the same sentence? Well, I did and I hope I never see the word used in this context again. But, that's the truth of it. Bill Meara is a charming guy and as might be expected, he wrote a charming book.

The book starts out by expressing the way many of us felt in our early years, filled with excitement and anticipation of the new and wondrous world of radio. And then, in the next breath, ponders how we, many of us mere children, ever survived the ordeal. Those were high voltage dangerous days before transistors! My favorite ‘early years’ story is about the power supply and the gift of the lightweight radio.

Many of the stories come from foreign countries where Bill has traveled as an employee of the United States government. These adventures give perspective to another important part of our hobby which is the camaraderie among hams and the things that are unique about us, no matter what part of the planet we come from. The stories from the Dominican Republic stand out in my mind. Particularly the Resistor Store and the Capacitor Store or if you wanted anything that involved winding wire you looked up a guy who hung around on a street corner. I think Bill was really impressed with the hams he met here. He writes with great excitement when describing some of these characters.

Not having an engineering background, Bill expresses, on several occasions, of being mystified by some popular explanations of electronic theory. Here I share common ground. I also had a problem with semiconductor theory and the common explanation of “hole flow”. As the author points out, it sometimes takes a library to understand these theories. Sometimes just one book doesn’t cut it. Bill’s explanation of semiconductor theory is as good as I’ve read anywhere. In fact, a lot of the technical asides were really excellent. I guess I didn’t expect them to be as in depth as they were.

Bill, the “Radio Fiend” also takes on a journey that requires him to get on the air with homebrew gear. The journey starts out with a failed direct conversion receiver and ends up years later with a DSB transceiver. I found this very interesting as well as entertaining.

SolderSmoke: A Global Adventure in Radio Electronics. is about us. I don’t think there is a ham alive that is not going to see himself within the words of this book.

Tom, ak2b

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Mars calling... SO LISTEN UP!

George, K8VU, alerted me to this wonderful blog that presents interesting bits of correspondence: http://www.lettersofnote.com/ This telegram from the Secretary of the Navy caught my eye. There is also a letter from Galileo, complete with diagrams of Jupiter's moons (his diagrams look just the ones I draw today). Also, check out the letter from Oppenheimer recommending Richard Feynman for a job at UCAL Berkeley: Feynman is described as being "a second Dirac, only this time human." (Poor Dirac. He was once having dinner with a close friend. In an effort make conversation, the friend asked, "Have you been to the threater lately?" Long pause, then the response: "Why do you ask?" )

SolomonSea SolderSmoke

As further evidence of the global reach of SolderSmoke, David, M0VTG, recently took the book all the way to Papua New Guinea. The picture above was taken aboard the Barbarian II while in the Solomon Sea. Eppa (on the right) is giving the book a thumbs up (but he doesn't seem quite sure about it). Thanks David! Thanks Eppa!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

New Overhead Photo of Apollo 11 Site

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter recently took this shot of Tranquillity Base. This was from 30 miles (50 km) up. Very cool.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

No Smoke, but stars, an HW-8, and one (dead) Cinghiale!

No podcast today -- we were out in the country. As you can see from the picture above, the question of just how big the Sabina wild boars really are has been answered. The one pictured above was shot today very close to our country place (neither Billy nor Maria did the shooting!) The hunters tell us that this one was considered a big one. As you can see, it is about the size of Billy.

I had the telescope out this weekend -- we were looking at the moon, Jupiter, Mars, and the Orion nebula. Also watched a satellite going over shortly before dawn. And one meteor.

I was on the air a bit, on the CQ WW DX contest. Worked about six stations. Was on 40, 20, and 15 with the HW-8.

I will try to get SS 119 out as soon as I can. I hope all you turkey eaters had a good holiday.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Electronics Animations

Oh man, this the kind of thing that makes my hand-drawn diagrams seem even more inadequate. If this is the new standard, I'm in trouble! Jim, K9JM, sent this to us. Thanks Jim.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

50 stations receive my 20 mW DSB Ubuntu WSPR signals

In less than a week of intermittent WSPR operations with the new Ubuntu WSPR 2.0, 50 stations have received my awesome 20 mW Double Sideband HB WSPR signal. (Am I still the only station in the world running WSPR DSB?) 49 of the stations have been in Europe. The only across-the-pond report comes from W1XP. Only once was my signal above the noise level -- that was with a neighbor, Andrea, IW0HK. Above you can see the screenshot of his reception of my signal.

You Linux-masters out there might be able to help me with a couple of things: WSPR 2.0 seems to stop running if I leave it alone for a few hours (maybe it opposes un-attended beacon operations!) And I also have what I think is an un-related problem: The computer (a Tecra 8100) goes into some sort of deep sleep mode (a coma really) if I leave it alone for a few more hours. I've tried playing with all the Ubuntu power managment and screen-save settings. And I've gone back into the bios and the set-up section on the computer to change the sleep modes, etc. No luck.

Happy Thanksgiving to all our American readers! We will be having turkey with all the fixings here in Rome today.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Harry Gets His Own Domain

You know a guy has made a real impact when all you need is his first name. Harry, SM0VPO aka G4VVJ is in that category. His web site has been a source of circuits, ideas, and inspiration for many years now. For his 2009 birthday, he got his own domain. Visit the site: http://www.sm0vpo.com

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

On Top Band at Age 12 and 1/4!

Gil sent me a link to the wonderful site of W8JI. The OM got his start by removing plates from the tuning cap of an All-American 5 broadcast receiver. Heart warming stuff for knack victims. Be sure to visit his Boatanchor page -- check out his DX-60. Doesn't that rig look a little bit TOO good? Are those regulation knobs? Or have they been juiced up a bit? (Mine don't sparkle quite so much.)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

"Industrial Revolution 2" Tinkering Gets Respectable

Bruce, KK0S, alerted me to this wonderful article in the Wall Street Journal. I liked the line about the "hackerspaces" being "like gyms, but with people milling iron, not pumping it."

Check it out:

Saturday, November 21, 2009

WSPRing with Ubuntu

Wow, the radio gods are are really helping me lately! Soon after receiving my new Ubuntu laptop, Joe Taylor, K1JT, released the first Linux version of his amazing WSPR program. And he wrote it for the version of Linux that I am using: Ubuntu!
Not only that, the new version includes a feature that I was most in need of: the capability of handling compound call signs. No longer am I signing on from Rome as N2CQR -- now the all-important I0/ is also displayed (see the above map). I had very little trouble getting Ubuntu WSPR running on my machine (and as you all know, I am a real Linux klutz). The new program also allows for periodic CW identification. Very cool. Here something I noticed: WSPR requires the computer clock to be accurately calibrated. With my old Windows machine I had to periodically tweak the clock using an on-line GMT clock. But when I went to check the accuracy of the clock in the Ubuntu machine, it was EXACTLY right. To the second. I wonder if Ubuntu Linux has a feature that automatically synchs the computer clock with GMT.
Here is what Joe says about the new software:

WSPR 2.0 is now available for download from the WSJT Home Page, http://physics.princeton.edu/pulsar/K1JT/
Click on WSPR in the left margin, then on the appropriate WSPR 2.0 link for your operating system. Installable binary packages are provided for Windows and for recent Debian-based 32-bit Linux systems. A recommended Linux distribution is Ubuntu 9.04.

Version 2.0 of WSPR introduces a number of new program features, including the following:

- User-friendly setup screen with drop-down selection of audio devices and CAT parameters
- Support for compound callsigns
- Fine adjustment of fractional time for transmitting
- Optional CW identification
- Tools for frequency calibration and automated frequency corrections for your radio
- A Tune button
- Direct on-line access to the WSPR 2.0 User's guide, WSPRnet, and the WSJT Home Page

Full details are presented in the all-new User's Guide, which is a "must read" if you want to use the new features. The manual includes a Troubleshooting guide. Click http://physics.princeton.edu/pulsar/K1JT/WSPR_2.0_User.pdf to read the manual.

Three cheers for Joe Taylor!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Radio, Douglas MacArthur, and staying young at heart

Art, KG6ZWD, sent this along. General MacArthur kept this poem displayed above his desk in Manila, and frequently quoted from it during his time in Tokyo. The radio part comes near the end.


By Samuel Ullman

Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind; it is not a matter of rosy cheeks, red lips and supple knees; it is a matter of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions; it is the freshness of the deep springs of life.

Youth means a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity of the appetite, for adventure over the love of ease. This often exists in a man of sixty more than a boy of twenty. Nobody grows old merely by a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals.

Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. Worry, fear, self-distrust bows the heart and turns the spirit back to dust.

Whether sixty or sixteen, there is in every human being’s heart the lure of wonder, the unfailing child-like appetite of what’s next, and the joy of the game of living. In the center of your heart and my heart there is a wireless station; so long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer, courage and power from men and from the infinite, so long are you young.

When the aerials are down, and your spirit is covered with snows of cynicism and the ice of pessimism, then you are grown old, even at twenty, but as long as your aerials are up, to catch the waves of optimism, there is hope you may die young at eighty.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

An amazing radio history book - FREE!

Robert, WP4PQV, sent us some links to a treasure trove of U.S. Navy electronics publications that have been placed on-line. My initial perusal of the collection took me to History of Communications in the U.S. Navy by Capt. Howeth. Here is one gem from this amazing book:

Emperor Tiberius ruled Rome from the island of Capri for 10 years, around 37 A.D., transmitting his orders by means of the heliograph.
3 This indicates that the Romans, at this time, used some form of telegraphic code in the transmission of information.

Here is the link:

The 1946 Navy Manual "Introduction to Radio Equipment" (and links to other books) can be found here:

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"From Atoms to Amperes" by F.A. Wilson

From Atoms to Amperes by F. A. Wilson
Published in 1989, Bernard Babani Publishing LTD (London, The Grampians, Shepherds Bush Road, London, W6 7NF)

I love this book. Mine is now held together by duct tape and crazy glue. Doug, WB5TKI, reports spotting a copy on sale on Amazon for $50 (go for it!). Here is a question for our British readers: Who is F.A. Wilson? There is almost nothing about him on the web, other than references to this and other similarly brilliant technical books. He was writing in the 1980s and 90s. What a great knack he has for explaining this stuff.
First sentence:
We are not physicists whose mission in life is to dig deeply into the mysteries of the universe but people wishing to know something about what makes electricity tick.

Explains in crystal clear terms the absolute fundamentals behind electricity and electronics. Really helps you to discover and understand the subject, perhaps for the first time ever.

Have you ever:

• Wondered about the true link between electricity and magnetism? • Felt you could never understand the work of Einstein, Newton, Boltzmann, Planck and other early scientists? • Just accepted that an electron is like a little black ball? • Got mixed up with e.m.f. and p.d. ? • Thought the idea of holes in semiconductors is a bit much?

Then Help is at hand with this inexpensive book, in as simple a way as possible and without too much complex mathmematics and formulae.

Monday, November 16, 2009


You can barely see George, W9EVT, down there in the back! And this is only one portion of his shack. Jeff, KO7M, alerted us to this masterpiece of radio architecture. Many more pictures here:


John, VK3AJG, sent us info on his new portable 80 meter DSB transceiver. Very nice. A welcome change from the usual NE602-based rigs. Double-A battery power and the use of a ceramic resonator are other nice features of this rig. GO DSB!
Details here: http://members.ozemail.com.au/~jgprice/80M-DSB.html

Sunday, November 15, 2009

SolderSmoke Podcast #118


In SolderSmoke 118:

15 November 2009

Trip to the North of Italy -- All the way to Trieste!

Playing with PSK-31 -- Shortwave Watching
I0/N2CQR wins CQ WW DX! (QRP, HB, DSB category)
New England Code Talker
Monitoring Apollo 11
Adventures in Surface Mount Soldering with Softrock 40

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Weekend Sale: Save 15% on "SolderSmoke -- The Book"

Just enter XMAS15 when asked for a promotion code. Valid through November 15. Save 15%

For shipping from a printer in the U.S. (probably better for N. American buyers) Click here: SolderSmoke USA Version

For shipping from a printer in the UK, Spain, or the USA (probably better for UK and other European buyers)
Click here: SolderSmoke EU Version

Friday, November 13, 2009

Final Report from the Maine Code Talker/160 QRP Rexpedition

Rex, W1REX, has a really nice article on this week's historic QRP expedition to the Maine coast. As you have read in this space, Michael, AA1TJ, challenged the mighty Atlantic with nothing more than the 15 milliwatts generated by his own voice. No joy this time, but we are sure that Michael will soon experience the same thrill felt by Marconi when that first, faint S was heard on the other side. Seab, AA1MY, overcame serious kite problems and fulfilled a long-held QRP ambition by working across the pond on 160 meters with less than 5 Watts. Congrats Seab! Congratulations to all the Rexpedition team members. It has been really fun to follow your adventure.

Read all about it here: (The link to the Rexpedition article is near the top of the page, but don't miss the wonderful kits that Rex is offering further below!)


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ham Monitored Apollo 11 Lunar Transmissions

July 1969. OM Larry Baysinger built a corner reflector (design sketch above) and used it to receive -- direct from the lunar surface -- the transmissions of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. He appears to have been the only amateur in the world to have done this. Knack to the Max! Well done Larry! Very cool.
More details (including recordings) here:

Spy Radio: "The Looking Glass War"

Dave in Ireland alerted me to some interesting radio content in the John LeCarre spy novel "The Looking Glass War." (I think presenting this excerpt is allowable under "fair use.") Dave reports that the radio they are working on is the one pictured above. It is a British B2, SOE Type 3. The instructor obviously has the Knack, but the student seems a bit shaky.

----- The Looking Glass War: -----

(Fred Leiser is the agent, Johnson is the radio expert who is also mentioned to be Ham op)

'You know the set then?' Johnson asked.
'The B2.'
'OK. Official title, Type three, Mark two: runs on AC or a six-volt car battery, but you'll be using the mains, right? They've queried the current where you're going and it's AC. Your mains consumption with this set is fifty-seven watts on transmit and twenty-five on receive. So if you do end up somewhere and they've only got DC, you're going to have to borrow a battery, right?'
Leiser did not laugh.
'Your mains lead is provided with adaptors for all continental sockets.'
'I know.'
Leiser watched Johnson prepare the set for operation. First he linked the transmitter and receiver to the power pack by means of six-pin plugs, adjusting the twin claws on the terminals; having plugged in the set and turned it on, he joined the miniature Morse key to the transmitter and the earphones to the receiver.
'That's a smaller key than we had in the war,' Leiser objected. 'I tried it last night. My fingers kept slipping.'
Johnson shook his head.
'Sorry, Fred; same size.' He winked. 'Perhaps your finger's grown.'
'All right, come on.'
Now he extracted from the spares box, a coil of multi-stranded wire, plastic covered, attaching one end to the aerial terminals. 'Most of your crystals will be around the three megacycle mark, so you may not have to change your coil - get a nice stretch on your aerial and you'll be a hundred per cent Fred; specially at night. Now watch the tuning. You've connected up your aerial, earth, key headphones and power pack. Look at your signal plan and see what frequency you're on; dish out the corresponding crystal, right?' He held up a small capsule of black Bakelite, guided the pins into the double socket - 'Shoving the male ends into the doodahs, like so. All right so far, Fred? Not hurrying you, am I?'
'I'm watching. Don't keep asking.'
'Now turn the crystal selector dial to "fundamental all crystals", and adjust your wave band to match your frequency. If you're on three and a half megs you want the wave-band knob on three to four, like so. Now insert your plug-in coil either way round, Fred; you've got a nice overlap there.'
Leiser's head was supported in his hand as he tried desperately to remember the sequence of movements which once had come so naturally to him. Johnson proceeded with the method of a man born to his trade. His voice was soft and easy, very patient, his hands moving instinctively from one dial to another with perfect familiarity. All the time the monologue continued:
'TRS switch on T for tune'; put your anode tuning and aerial matching on ten; now you can switch on your power pack, right?' he pointed to the meter window. 'You should get the three hundred reading, nearly enough, Fred. Now I'm ready to have a go: I shove my meter selector on three and twiddle the PA tuning till I get maximum meter reading; now I put her on six ----'
'What's PA?'
'Power Amplifier, Fred: didn't you know that?'
'Go on.'
'Now I move the anode tuning knob till I get my minimum value - here you are! She's a hundred with the knob on two, right? Now push your TRS over to S - S for send, Fred - and you're ready to tune the aerial. Here - press the key. That's right, see? You get a bigger reading because you're putting power into the aerial, follow it?'
Silently he performed the brief ritual of tuning the aerial until the meter obediently dipped to the final reading.
'And Bob's your uncle!' he declared triumphantly.
'Now it's Fred's turn...'

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

AA1TJ Code Talker on the Maine Coast

Apparently no voice-powered transatlantic joy yet, but we all know it is just a matter of time. And I think this will be something completely new in radio history! Great try guys! Keep at it!

From W1REX last night:

We started about 8:45 am this morning, because AA1TJ was too excited to
wait any longer! He shouted into his #2 can for a couple of hours until
I thought he was going to burst a vessel....and I'm not talking about
one of the many passing by out on the ocean. We thought that we had a
2-way QSO a couple of times but the returns were simple lost in the
noise. Michael ran out of steam....or breath...and none of us old-timers
could cut the mustard..or soup...or whatever was in the can.

Seab, AA1MY, launched the kite last night prepping for an attempt at a
160m record. He intended to operate on 1.811 and cross 'the pond' with a
minuscule signal but the bridle broke on the kite and it sailed away....
It could be on the other side of the pond for all we know, as it was
never seen again. He launched a back-up kit tonight and had it up there
into the lower stratus-sphere but needed just a little more height as
there was still some antenna wire on the ground...but alas, the wind
came to an abrupt stop and the flying kite came to an abrupt just a
short time later.

So to sum up todays results: ZILCH!

We want to thank EVERYBODY who kept an ear out for us today and hope you
have the time and patience to try it again tomorrow morning!!


We have more wire up on 20m and will attempt another across the pond QSO
starting at 8:00AM local time or 1300 Zulu. Mike has to pick up his wife
at the airport in NH so the attempt will terminate long about 9:30AM
local time. So we have another 90 minutes to try for the record and YOU
have another 90 minutes to be a part of it. Listen in at 14.055 MHz
starting at 1300 hours. Put your good ears on and listen sharp... Hope
you hear us AND we hope to hear you hearing us...

Seab will take another stab at the 160m record (MAINE weather
permitting) probably around 700AM local time 1200 Zulu. He is
heartbroken that his dead-cert kit took a powder and dashed his dream.
Little back-up kite and a sightly altered antenna farm hopefully will
come through for him. Give a listen over there on the other side of the

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

73 in the 70s

Mike, VK3XL, has been helping me track down the article that led to my traumatic failed teenage receiver-building project. He found this very interesting index for 73 Magazine articles. A quick look through the 1975-1978 period revealed several suspects, and hit me with a wave of nostalgia. What a great magazine 73 was! Sure, it was a bit wacky, but it had really wonderful technical content, at just the right level for truly amateur ham radio operators. Take your own walk down memory lane:

Monday, November 9, 2009

Transatlantic Team Heads to the Coast!

When it comes time to cross the pond, it seems only natural to head to the beach. That's what Marconi did (above we see his team struggling with a kite at Newfoundland). And that is what AA1TJ, W1REX, AA1MY and W1PID are doing today and tomorrow. Here is Michael's message to QRP-L describing the expedition. Good luck guys!

Some of the lads are heading over to the Maine seacoast on Monday
morning for what we're calling a "Rexpedition." W1REX was kind enough
to secure the use of his family's beachfront camp for us for a couple
of days. He explained the urgency to them, saying, "...a bunch of
radio-heads want to talk to Europe with the equivalent of a cellphone
with a dead battery."

Rex, Seab, AA1MY and Jim, W1PID, are going to arrive early on Monday
to begin putting up the antennas. I plan to show up in time for lunch;
hopefully after all the hard work is done. Seab wants to erect a pair
of half-wave phased verticals on 20m. I think the plan is to lift a
160m antenna using one of Seab's big kites.

Our hope is to cross the pond on both 160m QRP and with my
voice-powered 20m transmitter. The weather forecast looks great at
least through Tuesday. My "Code Talker" will be rockbound on
14.055MHz; same as last Thursday. We'll begin the voice-powered 20m CW
attempt the first thing on Tuesday morning (11/10/09). Again, the goal
is to span the Atlantic, but as always, I'll be very pleased to work
anyone that hears me.

By the way, last Thursday's voice-powered operation on 20m was a great
success. Altogether, I worked four stations and received one SWL
report. The best DX was W4FOA in Chickamauga, GA; a distance of
923miles. Tony reported that my 15mW signal was "an honest 579". W4OP
- located one hundred miles to the north of Tony - handed me the same
report and followed up with an amazing recording (you can hear it on
my website). Later in the day I received an email from AD5VC. Dana
reported that he clearly copied my callsign while listening on the LSU
club station (K5LSU) in Baton Rouge; a distance of 1375miles (nearly
half the distance between the Maine coast and London, England).

I thought these were remarkable results for 15mW into an endfed wire
at 35 feet. It makes next week's attempt from a saltwater QTH, coupled
with the low-angle of radiation with a spot of directional gain all
the more exciting.

So please keep us in mind come next Tuesday morning. I'm guessing Seab
will be operating 160m QRP on both Monday and Tuesday evenings.

Thank you,
Mike, AA1TJ

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Crossing the Pond... with the power of your voice

Michael Rainey, AA1TJ, has his eye on the North Atlantic. He's been thinking about maritime horns, and how far they could reach. He's built another kind of horn. I'm pretty sure that this one will soon take his voice and -- using ONLY the power of that voice -- send it across the mighty Atlantic. That's a pretty astonishing horn!

Yesterday Michael put a really nice message up on the QRP-L list. This is the kind of message that has earned him the title "Poet Laureate of QRP." Here is an excerpt:

I'm currently sitting at a desk on top of Vermont's highest mountain.
In the far distance I can see the Presidential mountain range of New
. Roughly twice as far away is the Atlantic Ocean. The other
night I spoke into a tin can, and the power of my voice carried a
message to the Maine seacoast where K1MPM heard me as clear as a bell.
I think this is absolutely magical. The present prospect of blowing
into a tiny horn and having this pittance of exhaled energy carry a
message back to England - when the bone shaking horn on the old Queen
couldn't carry to the horizon - is nearly beyond comprehension. I
know this is how everyone of us feels when we operate QRP.

Read the rest of Michael's message here:

Saturday, October 31, 2009

SolderSmoke Book Only $15.99 this weekend

Lulu.com is running a weekend "Rollback the Clock" Sale on the SolderSmoke book. 20% off! That puts the price of the U.S.-printed edition at around $15.99 Use the coupon code: FALLBACK when you are checking out.

For shipping from a printer in the U.S. (probably better for N. American buyers) Click here: SolderSmoke USA Version

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The two versions are identical, except for a minor difference in the paper used. That's why the prices are a bit different.

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Friday, October 30, 2009


"Hmm... I think I'll give ham radio a try."

Wow! The latest edition of COMPUTERWORLD contains a really inspiring article on ham radio by John Edwards, W6JE. I think this is exactly the kind of thing that could help bring computer enthusiasts into the world of The Knack. SolderSmoke is mentioned near the end of the piece. Thanks John! Nice work!
Here is the link:

or: http://twurl.nl/0rx1vm

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The D-104 -- A Completely Respectable Piece of Ham Radio Gear

Recently we have received some comments along the lines of, "Hey Bill, what's that chrome CB-lookin' mic doin' in your shack?" Having come into ham radio during the great Amateur vs. Citizen Band wars of the 1970s, naturally I was quite stung. Fortunately, an old magazine soon arrived with a photo (above) that should end forever any speculation about the D-104 being somehow "CB." The picture above is from the January 1952 issue of "The Shortwave Magazine" from the UK. G3ZI, L.S. Woollatt, is shown with his very fine station. With the exception of his two main receivers, all of this OM's gear was homebrew. Racks and racks of FB HB gear. If a chrome lollipop was OK with G3ZI, well, then I think that settles it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The GBT: Great Big Thing (Green Bank Telescope)

Oh man, imagine sitting there in the Faraday-caged control room in the National Radio Quiet Zone, in an area in which things are kept so RF quiet that only diesel vehicles are allowed... "Wired" has a very nice on-line article and photo spread on this magnificent antenna:

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Listen to "El Silbo" Voice-Powered Rig!


Michael, AA1TJ, has had more contacts with his voice-powered DSB rig. (Scroll down a bit for a look at the schematic and more comments on this amazing project.) Michael has posted two recordings of his signal (as received at distant stations). When I played these files, Ubuntu showed one of those semi-psychedelic groovy "visualizer" displays, complete with oscilloscope-like patterns; the signal looked FB Michael!
Have a listen: http://mjrainey.googlepages.com/elsilbo

Monday, October 26, 2009


I'm proud to report that in the category "Homebrew QRP Double-Sideband Phone, Western Trastevere" I think I'm the winner! I came in with massive point count of 7! And guess what -- ABSOLUTELY ALL of the reports I received were 59! Even when it seemed like I had to repeat my call 59 times!
The rig I used is pictured above. More details at:

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Genesis Q5: QRP and QRSS TX for $19.95

Nick,VK1AA, from GenesisRadio sent us a note about a new kit:

Q5 is our 1W 30m CW transmitter kit. Amongst other things, it is suitable for QRSS builders who wants to modify this baby for QRSS projects. I have already received number of reports from G's who made it to VE1 and they all praise excellent stability of this design.
It is only $19.95 -- that's less than you pay in some places for coffee and slice of cake!
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And the Q5 series will definitely meet your expectations: with forty quality components and a professionally manufactured circuit board, the Q5 will get you transmitting on crystal controlled International QRP frequencies running a solid 1 Watt in no time! Price: US$ 19.95 + postage.

For more information visit

Watch two-minute Q5 promotional "Hook 'em on" video produced by 12 years old Josh, VK2FJDX:

Saturday, October 24, 2009

SolderSmoke Podcast #117


In SolderSmoke 117:

24 October 2009
Climbing Monte Calvo + Horseback riding + Piggy-backs = LOWER BACK PAIN
Visit of Bob, W8SX, Soldersmoke correspondent in Dayton
AA1TJ's point contact adventures -- Backwaves and Backwash
AF Collins on Kindle -- "William" Marconi
Hans Summers and Turkish Piracy
RSGB Convention via Skype
"Air and Space" Aurora Article
My new, old Pentium III with Ubuntu (Thanks Jorge!)
Roadkill computing
CQ interviews Joe Taylor, K1JT
New Spart and new Sprat CD
AA1TJ's voice-powered transmitter (and some advice from Italy)
QSOs from Ponticelli: DK1HW/P (SOTA) and UN9GD.

"El Silbo": Michael Rainey's Amazing Voice-Powered DSB Transmitter

Oh man, the wizard of the Vermont hobbit hole has really outdone himself this time. Michael Rainey, AA1TJ, has posted a very interesting report on his experiments with voice-powered radio. I was, of course, delighted that he went with DSB. Check it out: http://mjrainey.googlepages.com/elsilbo

I don't mean to seem like I'm taking any credit for this, but I did provide Michael some technical advice on how to increase power output:

Michael: Obviously the Italian elements in the project were of critical importance. Some of them may have escaped your attention. I note that an olive can was involved... For further progress I think you should consider working in some of the other substances that help keep Italy going: cappuccino, Nutela, and perhaps some vino bianco...

Another thing: While you are shouting, be sure to use the proper gesticulations. I recommend that you go Neapolitan here -- they are the best. I'd say that before each CQ, you should put yourself in a Neapolitan frame of mind: imagine that someone has bumped into your car and that you and the other guy are arguing about who is at fault. This should generate at least 20 mW!

In boca a lupo! 73


Friday, October 23, 2009

Weekend Sale: Save 15% on "SolderSmoke -- The Book"

For shipping from a printer in the U.S. (probably better for N. American buyers) Click here: SolderSmoke USA Version

For shipping from a printer in the UK, Spain, or the USA (probably better for UK and other European buyers)
Click here: SolderSmoke EU Version

The two versions are identical, except for a minor difference in the paper used. That's why the prices are a bit different.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Great CQ Article on Joe Taylor, K1JT

The October 2009 issue of CQ magazine has a really interesting article on Joe Taylor, K1JT. Joe is a winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics. The article is by CQ magazine editor Rich Moseson, W2VU. I was particularly interested in the Joe's description of how his radio astronomy work led eventually to his creation of the WSJT and WSPR programs that many of us are now using. (Above you can see a WSPR report showing Joe's station in New Jersey receiving my 20 mW WSPR signal.)

CQ magazine has put a "Digging Deeper" article on Joe on its web site. It is not the full October 2008 magazine article, but the on-line article has much of the tech info from Rich's interview with Joe, and in some areas goes deeper. Great stuff! Here it is:
Thanks Rich! Thanks CQ! Thanks Joe!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Some Interesting QSLs from W7ZOI

Wes, W7ZOI, just put up on the web some QSLs from his collection. They are all very interesting. Take a look: http://w7zoi.net/qslcards/qsls.html I especially liked the "lemon QSO" card shown above.

While visiting the QSL page, I also came across the story of Wes's first encounter with homebrew ham radio. As a kid, he he would listen to a local 75 meter AM operator who was a hardcore homebrewer. On this guy's rig, "even the knobs were homebrew." Wes was listening with a crystal radio! What a great way to get started. More on this here: http://w7zoi.net/shack.html
Thanks Wes!
Designer: Douglas Bowman | Dimodifikasi oleh Abdul Munir Original Posting Rounders 3 Column