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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.
Designer: Douglas Bowman | Dimodifikasi oleh Abdul Munir Original Posting Rounders 3 Column