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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Amazing NASA site: Audio from Apollo Landings

Akshay, VA7AAX, sent me a link to a truly amazing site. NASA has pulled together a huge amount of data on all the moon landings, and they have made it very accessible. Included is a LOT of the raw audio of the communication between the spacecraft and ground. They even have the internal communications inside the lunar lander. If you guys are looking for something to put in your MP3 players (in addition to SolderSmoke, of course) this is the place to go. It is also a great site for audio to be played in the shack while building something. It is really inspiring. This morning I listened to the Apollo 11 landing.

I like the live.365 system for the audio -- you can listen to it in streaming mode, without waiting for a long download.

Here is the site:

Thanks Akshay! Thanks NASA!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

SolderSmoke Podcast #104

1 April 2009
Rome Marathon
Billy climbs Vesuvius!
Fixin' up old Toshiba laptop
Solar Power from Donuts and Tea!
Eldon's MEPT ET Phone home machine
More Catalan minimalism: The MOSquito
Book: Thunderstruck! Marconi history
Paul M0XPD new homebrewer, Funster 40, Paraset, and SDR
Preston WJ2V on REAL solder vacuum pumps
Ted AA5CK keys MEPT with iduino
Ken KG6PO on obit of TV pioneer Thomas T. Goldsmith
Art W2HQQ: "Man of High Fidelity" lacks knack
Scott KD5NJR on Sputnik 4, NASA comms
Alan W2AEW Don't smother MEPT oscillators! Books
Steve GOFUW Old Book recommendation. Building WARC rig
Jacki (XYL of KL7R) says hello from volcanic Alaska
Jeff KO7M Why FSK on QRSS?
Jim AL7RV Sends WSPR care package. (Thanks!)

Solder Smoke Cologne! New!

As mentioned in SolderSmoke 104. Check it out! Here is the link:

Solder Smoke -- From the Men at Work Collection

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Troubleshooting and Simulations

Alan, W2AEW, roams the Northeast USA as a Field Application Engineer for Tektronix. This week he sent me an e-mail with some words of wisdom about simulations and troubleshooting. Thanks Alan!

An excerpt from Alan's e-mail:

Funny you mentioned about LTSpice, and wanting to have that puff of soldersmoke whenever you place a component. It reminds me of something that I'd often tell new-hire engineers. Many times, engineers fresh out of school have never touched a resistor - they've often spent their entire education doing bookwork and simulations. I would always caution engineers about this, and try to illustrate that the simulation is only as good as the model you give it. If you ask the simulator to exercise the model in a way it wasn't designed for, it won't tell you that, it will just lie to you. YOU have to be smart enough to recognize the lie. For example, the simulator has no problem putting 10,000 amps through a 1N914A diode - it doesn't know that you'll let the smoke out of it! The simulator must be considered a tool, just as you VOM, scope, counter, finger, nose, etc. are all tools. Each can give you valuable information (and can lie to you). You have to learn to know what you can believe, and what you have to question - and you need to develop ways to look at strange behavior in a number of ways to figure out what is happening.

It reminds me of a story that Jim Williams wrote many years ago (you mentioned Jim Williams in a previous SS episode). He described how, as a child, he was playing with circuits at his neighbor's, and using his (neighbor's) oscilloscope to examine a circuit he was working on. He was getting all kinds of strange behavior, and couldn't make heads or tails of what he was seeing with the scope, VOM, etc. The neighbor (who was definitely afflicted with the Knack) came by and, with moistened fingers, probed around in his circuit for a few minutes. He then grabbed a small value capacitor and soldered it judiciously in the circuit, and everything worked fine. Jim was flabergasted and demanded an explanation. The neighbor said that he suspected that the circuit was oscillating at several hundred MHz, and used his finger's capacitance/loss/etc. to damp this behavior. He continued to explain that since the oscillation frequency was so high, the scope couldn't "see" it. Jim complained that this "wasn't fair"! The neighbor concluded the lesson about how important it is to not-only understand what our tools can do for us, but it is really more important to understand their limitations - because it is when we ask a tool to do something that it can't do, it often won't complain, it will lie. The same holds true for nearly every tool we use, and is a lesson well learned. This story is included in his chapter entitled "Should Ohm's Law Be Repealed?" in his book, "Analog Circuit Design: Art, Science and Personalities" from 1991.

Alan has a lot of great stuff on his web site. Check it out:

Friday, March 27, 2009

Marconi's Big Ears

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson has countless gems about Marconi. I thought I would share one with you this morning.

When Marconi was born on April 25 1874, an elderly gardener saw the new baby and exclaimed, "Che orecchi grandi ha!" ("What big ears he has!") Marconi's ever protective Irish Mom, Annie, took offense and replied:

"He will be able to hear the still, small voice of the air."


Thursday, March 26, 2009


Chris Trask, N7ZWY, recommended this book. I'm really enjoying it. Maybe too much: I was reading it on a crowded Rome bus this week, and was so absorbed by the chapter on Marconi's first efforts to transmit beyond line-of-sight that I didn't notice the pickpocket. He got my little radio receiver/MP3 player. The radio gods let me down that morning!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Homebrew CPU

Since we were talking about minimalist computing, I thought you guys would be interested in Steve's homebrewed CPU project, aka the Big Mess of Wires. Inspirational stuff! Check it out:

Monday, March 23, 2009

Minimalist Computing from New Zealand

My Toshiba Satellite Pro 400CS went toes up in 2006 after many years of service. It died with a horrible grinding sound from the hard disc. I tried to bring it back to life, and bought a replacement HD, but I never could get it going and the project got sidetracked... until an e-mail from Kevin, ZL3KE, (see below) got me back in the old computer repair business.

With long-distance help from Kevin I
1) Got a boot-able DOS disc, which got me to an A:
2) Partitioned and formatted my HD which got me a C:
3) Loaded DOS drivers for my CD ROM drive which got me a D:
4) Used the CD-ROM drive to load Windows 3.1 which really brought this thing back to life.

I usually dislike working on computers, but with Kevin's help and encouragement, this project was fun. And I can now use some old programs that I haven't been able to use since the advent of Windows 95, like my favorite astronomy program "Distant Suns." I'm also running ON7YD's excellent QRSS transmit program.

I always liked the audio features of this computer. With a bit of driver downloading, I now have sound. There are some nice audio clip files in this (birds chirping, machine guns, another gong!)
that may find their way into the podcast.

Any thoughts on what else I can do with this machine? Any other Windows 3.1 applications?

Here's the message from Kevin that re-started all this:

Minimalist/QRP computing

Friday, March 6, 2009 1:09 PM
To: soldersmoke
Hi again Bill,

I was amused to hear your comments about QRSS and the ever-so-slight
discrepancy between the number of transistors needed for Rx and Tx...

Maybe it's time to introduce the concept of the "QRP Computer" - using
older/slower hardware generally regarded as obsolete, but otherwise
perfectly serviceable and having a much smaller carbon footprint than the
latest 2.5GHz+ machines! This is something which I've been working towards
for some time.

I'm typing this on an old 233MHz Pentium laptop (Toshiba Satellite Pro
480CDT), with 64MB of RAM, a 3.8GB hard disk and an 800x600 screen,
running a cut-down version of Win98SE with all web integration (IE etc.)
stripped out. This will happily run pretty much all the radio software I
need without complaint (such as MMTTY for RTTY, MMSSTV for SSTV, Digipan
for PSK31, Argo, Spectran, IZ8BLY Hellschreiber, WSJT v4, etc).
Just about the only thing lacking is WSPR, which I would very much like to
run but I think it probably needs more resources than this machine has
(Joe Taylor, are you listening? ;-).

The rationale was/is to find the simplest, smallest, most bloat-free
programs to accomplish what is needed (minimalist computing, in other
words) - and it must all be freeware or similar - bells & whistles are
frowned upon, and definitely no commercial stuff allowed! I wouldn't say
I'm 100% there yet, but the journey so far has been interesting and

Although this was originally intended to be a dedicated machine for radio,
I now find myself increasingly using it for things like web-browsing and
email as I find the whole "no bells & whistles" experience quite
refreshing (I use Popcorn email and a minimalist, no-javascript browser
called "OffByOne" - my browsing needs tend to be fairly basic and I tend
to regard any website which uses Java/Flash etc. as not worth the effort).

I think Mike AA1TJ's quote on his "Reggie" page is quite apt here: "In
anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no
longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take

72/3, Kevin

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The MOSquito -- More Minimalism from Catalonia

Joan and Eduardo -- the guys who brought us the Flea -- have come up with another very interesting insect: The MOSquito. A single IRF510 does all the RF work. There is a computer involved, but it looks to me like it just does some audio DSP. The video is in Spanish, but all true Knack victims will be able to follow it. More info their web site:
Enhorabuena Joan y Eduardo!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Going Solar! Solar QRSS!

Bright sunny morning here in Rome. I was talking to Nigel, M0NDE, on Echolink and he mentioned his efforts to keep his new shack completely "off the grid." That got us talking about the video I posted yesterday (scroll down) about making solar panels from donuts and tea, and the next thing you know, I'm connecting my Volkswagen solar panels (see above) to my QRSS beacon. No longer will my 50 milliwatt transmitter be contributing to the destruction of the planet! I feel better already.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Homebrew Solar Panels from Donuts and Tea!!!!

So all you appliance ops out there using STORE BOUGHT commercial solar panels should hang your heads in shame!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Eldon's Acquatic "ET PHONE HOME!" Machine

Man, the authorities would DEFINITELY blow this thing up if they found it! Check out Eldon's innovative effort to keep the transistor count to ONE and to use mechanical means to generate his QRSS callsign. "COMING SOON TO A GRABBER NEAR YOU!"

Here is the e-mail from Eldon describing his creation. Using the saw blade was a nice touch!

Bill, In keeping with the spirit of QRP, QRSS and the minimalist HB challenge of ET-Phone-Home I have enlisted one of my single-transistor-nine-volt (2N3904) QRP rigs. With the best that I can measure, this system has a DC "input power" of 6.84mw into a 16 inch loop antenna of 30 AWG copper coated-steel MIG welding wire. On previous experiments, the Tx was easily detected from 1500 feet away from on my grabber. Longer DX experiments have not yet been conducted. Note as per the photos, I have cheated a little, the Tx rig that I selected to used, was from a previous project, and has an additional active element, a five volt regulator (LM7805) for oscillator stability and battery longevity (i.e the 9 volt battery voltage can decrease down to 7 volts and oscillator requires only 1.8ma before the Tx frequency goes unstable). Bill, The QRSS frequency modulation technique that I used is the same that I suggested for you to invert your FSK MEPT transmitter signal - for up frequency modulation - increase the "capacitance to ground at the collector" of the oscillator ( which I think cancels some of the normal colpitts crystal oscillator capacitance - and therefore the frequency goes up with increased capacitance ). My modulation requirement does not need a "gimmick" as you have used, because of my use of direct mechanical capacitance coupling (as described below). For modulation my system uses about 8 gallons of water in a 6 inch reservoir with trickle flow bypass regulation around a weighted falling piston, which pulls on a string, which turns the encoder. The piston is large "Whole Fancy Indian - Cashew - Premium Quality, All Natural" nut container ( obtainable from the actual Kirkland Costco store ) with Velcro (loops) Sticky tape wrapped around the top and bottom bulges providing the snug fit and trickle flow metering in the water column. About 8 lbs of weight was added to the nut container to provide the necessary potential-energy storage. This system of metering and energy storage provides for a run-time of about 10 minutes, before a mechanical reset is necessary ( note to potential builders, performance and timing formulas are not included within this document ). Following ET's example, the encoder is a 10 inch multi-cut rotating disk encoder - model number 9-32636 (only obtainable from Sears) augmented with "replaceable-movable-removable" coding elements attached with tape. Before the coding elements were installed on the modulation encoder, the system produce a QRSS "Saw Tooth" waveform (what else would you have expected?), which was initially used just for testing (see: the additional oscillator mounting hole on the substrate, closer to the pivot point ). Note, this encoder technique requires no actual physical or switch contact with the Tx. Only a ground and collector capacitor plates were extended from the colpitts oscillator to form the modulation active elements. I originally was planning to encode my own call - "WA0UWH", but the encoder blade could not hold that much data. A blade upgrade is being considered (i.e., 12 inch). For now, I have chosen something shorter and simpler to encode (as ET would have suggested), I will use my QTH as the name of the nearest major landing-site in my area with high intensity approach lights - SEA (Seattle International Airport), besides it was much easier to cut from PC stock - 5 dots and a dash. Note: the selected message can be shortened by folding the unused elements onto the center of the modulation blade (Note to self - other messages could be encode using the same elements and a similar folding technique, that is "ET" could be encode from the "SEA" elements ). The resulting modulation is not as square as traditional QRSS3 digital driven keyers, but, . . . it is very distinctive. The FIRST major modification to this system was the addition of a rolling cart for transport, I had to move the reservoir to a stairs where I could get above it, to pull up and reset the modulator piston, which by the way requires about a 20 lb pull for about the same duration as the run time (about 10 minutes). The NEXT major modification WILL BE a maximum flow (3/4 inch) tickle flow "bypass" pipe via a control "valve" to aid in the reset process ( for the European critics, I do not think this should be mistaken nor counted as an active QRP element ). This will make the resetting process go much smother, quicker, and should require much less external "arm strong" input power (question: where does the input power go?? warming the water??). The MEPT QRSS operation is simple; Raise the piston (lock it in place), Wind up the draw string around the pulley, Install the encoder disk, Release the lock, and then Wait for the DX grabber reports? Note: a complete set of construction, operation photos and grabber images will be added to my Gallery when time permits: NOTE: For others HB'ers interested in this project, Kits WILL NOT be made available. Bill, watch for my signal on the 30M grabbers - it should be very recognizable as my signal will have a bit of a "Saw Tooth", waveform component. More details may follow as the project progresses (to where, I am not sure, but I do know that this is enough of this!). Bill, It has been fun !! 73's - Eldon - WA0UWH - alias "SEA" Phone Home BTW: No actual grabbers were harmed while collecting data for this document, but a 30db attenuator was added to the antenna connection on my SA602 DC receiver for its near field overload input protection.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Mechanical Memory Keyers

Billy and I went to the Rome flea market this Sunday and picked up a clock motor that may become the core of a mechanical keyer for the single transistor QRSS MEPT beacon we've been talking about. Unfortunately ours is battery powered -- we couldn't find any wind-ups that had a second hand.

I got an intersting e-mail on this subject from Gene, K8EE:

Mechanical Memory Keyer

Monday, March 16, 2009 6:44 PM

Hi Bill,
Just wanted to let you know that I built a mechanical memory keyer
back around 1960. It was very similar to the one you suggested in the
last "Solder Smoke." I built it for the radio club to use on Field Day. It
It used a phonograph motor to coupled to a mechanical variable speed
. A circular piece of PC board was attached to the output of the
VS drive. Patterns were etched on the PC board for the CW
messages, one to call CQ, one for the contest exchange and one to say
"tnx QRZ ...."

Of course, the variable speed can be achieved with a D.C. motor instead of
the mechanical VS drive. Todays computer software can create much
better artwork to etch on the PC board.

Unfortunately, I threw the thing out in the trash a couple of months ago. I
wish I still had it so that I could send you a picture of it. Oh well. What's
done is done.

Tell the guys that it CAN be done and it HAS been done.

Gene Mayler - K8EE

Sunday, March 15, 2009

SolderSmoke 103: Piper Cubs and MFJ Cubs
In the SolderSmoke 103 Podcast:
15 March 2009
Beware the Ides of March!
Ostia Beach and Ostia Antica
248 Knights of QRSS. And Wizards!
ET Phones Home (with QRSS?)
Possible new grabbers in VK6 and Dubai
Telescope, Satellites...
REAL QRP QSOs on 80 and 40
Saving an old Toshiba Laptop
-- Piper Cubs and MFJ Cubs
-- Satellite QSOs
-- LT Spice and test gear
Gene W3PM listens from QE2, HB WSPR rig
Jim AL7V sending parts for my W3PM rig
Jim AB3CV's color burst Gnat
Jason NT7S on Tektronix guys and SolderSmoke
Kevin ZL3KE on old computers
Paul M1CNK's DDS 30-based QRSS beacon
Soeren OZ2DAK on exercise bikes to power beacons

Friday, March 13, 2009


Well, we're the Knights, right? So we should have a few wizards. Eddie, G3ZJO, should certainly be among those so honored. Above you can see his "G Beacon" MEPT transmitter. He uses two 555 chips to generate the G letter in Morse code. The longer chip on the bottom is (I think) the RF part of the transmitter. Ingenious. I also like his selection of frequency: 10140073 Hz. FB.

Eddie has a lot of other tricks up his sleeve, including the use of a Voltage Controlled Variable Oscillator driven by a PIC chip for a very simple WSPR transmitter.

These and other inventions can be seen on Eddie's YouTube page: (most seem to be done without audio).

Also check out his QRSS Beacon web page:

Thanks Eddie

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Heavens Above

So I'm sitting there at 5:30 am talking on Echolink to Jerry, NR5A, in South Dakota about his ailing Pixie soon-to-be QRSS transmitter. All the talk about getting on the air and emitting signals causes me to get the urge to fix my antenna.

On Monday, I'd noticed (via Blackberry) that my signal had disappeared from ON5EX's grabber. I could see a signal close to where I usually am, but it looked a bit different. On closer inspection I saw that EA6FNF had fired up a very nice 50 mw DFCW beacon on around 10140060 Hz. My signal was gone. When I got home I discovered a broken antenna wire. Once again, ON5EX and the internet had, in effect, relayed telemetry about the status of my QRSS system.

Fortunately I could fix this from the window -- no roof work was required. Skies were fairly clear on Wednesday morning, and as I looked up across the Janiculum Hill at Rome's pre-dawn sky, I saw a satellite going over from North to South. Of course, I wanted to know what I was looking at, so I turned to Chris Peat's very useful web site, Heavens Above. Very quickly, I was able to find out that it was either the Russian Okean O Rocket, or something called RADCAT.

Check out Heavens Above. Lots of great info on astronomy, satellites, and ham radio spacecraft:

The antenna was quickly fixed. I should be back on the Belgian grabber now. It was a good ham radio morning in Rome. Thanks Jerry. Thanks Chris Peat.

Monday, March 9, 2009

KO7M's Two Cubs (Piper and MFJ)

Jeff, Ko7M, travels around in this very cool Piper Cub. He has floats for it so he can land on water. He sometimes listens to SolderSmoke as he flies. Which brings us to his second Cub:

KO7M has built his first QRP rig!

Thursday, February 19, 2009 4:11 AM

Bill, what have you done... You are killing me out here... :) You may recall, I am ko7m out in the Seattle area and I wrote recently about flying around with soldersmoke playing over my aircraft audio system.

Well... I have been systematically listening to every soldersmoke episode from the beginning... Not a small task... :) I am currently up to episode 80, so I am closing in on the prize of being current.

BUT!! You have completely afflicted me with the need to build something... Most of my ham life however I have been mostly an appliance operator it seems though I built a lot of tube equipment in my younger years, burned a lot of fingers and once launched myself across the shack when I took hold of a 750 volt plate circuit.

Therefore, I am not up to the task of designing something from scratch, but ya know... I just HAD to build something and NOW, so I went with a kit. So, not exactly knack-ish but ya gotta start somewhere, eh?

I went with the little QRP transceiver from MFJ called the "MFJ Cub". I picked up a 40 metre version of this little gem, plugged in my MP3 player with my current episode of soldersmoke and started GENERATING solder smoke! This little kit went together very easily during moments when I had a few minutes to work on it.

Well, this evening (it is now 01:00 PST) I finished up with my last little bit of solder smoke generation and the little rig is done. Now for the REAL smoke test...

Since I don't have a current limiting power supply, I went with a little nine-volt battery for the smoke test. The little power LED lit up and I heard a pop in the headset, nothing was getting warm, so things looked good. We went to the full 12 volt supply and I went through the alignment process by first setting the product detector's operating frequency to fall within the CW filter passband. I then used my Icom receiver to set the VFO operating range since I don't have a frequency counter. I then peaked the receiver bandpass filter for best sensitivity and lastly set the BFO to the correct sideband.

For the transmitter, I first set the carrier offset to about 600 hz from the received signal and peaked the transmitter bandpass filter for maximum RF output. I only have a simple SWR bridge for indicating a relative output level forward and reverse. Lastly, I set the power output level to about what I estimate should be about one watt.

Whoo hoo! Pulled off the dummy load and plugged in the G5RV and antenna tuner and started tuning around the low end of 40 metres and there were signals everywhere. Nice receiver in this rig. The tuning is a little fast, but managable. Seems to be very sensitive. I happened to catch the end of a CQ call as I was scanning around the band and when he signed I gave him a call.

To my complete surprise, he came back to me and gave me a 459 report... From Japan! I bagged a JA1 on my first QSO on a rig I built myself (or at least assembled). There is nothing better, I tell ya! I attached a screen shot of the Solar Flux level for my first QSO.

So... I am afraid to say you have reinstilled the need to melt solder in me after an absence of over 30 years. It is a disease I tell ya! I have located copies of both Solid State Design and Experimental Methods, which are both on the way and I am eagerly looking forward to figuring out what the next project will be.

The knack is returning...
Kind regards,
Jeff Whitlatch - ko7m

The Kettering Group: Satellite Pioneers

A while back we were talking about the Italian brothers whose satellite observation work got them caught up in some international intrigue early in the space age. This morning I came across some web pages about The Kettering Group, a group if intrepid British lads who were in the same game. Heartwarming stuff. I wish my school had been like theirs! Read about them here:
More info here:

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Clockwork CW: The Path to Minimalist QRSS?

Well, maybe not using that one. But something like it. The idea -- mentioned recently on the podcast -- is to use a mechanical clock mechanism to generate the CW for a QRSS beacon. This would allow us to get the transistor count for our beacon down to one. For some odd reason, some of us find this appealing, especially when you consider that the transistor count on the receive side is in the tens or hundreds of millions. One is the magic number. You can see how this project brings together two of the biggest littlest recent trends in the QRP radio: QRSS and minimalist radio.
It's kind of scary when you Google something and are referred back to your own blog. That's what happened to me on this subject. Back on May 28, 2008, this was posted (by me!) as a comment to one of the beacon-related posts:

Hello Bill and Others:

A few years ago, a buddy had made a neat keying operation made by taking a
one RPM clock motor and had it rotate a printed circuit board disk that had
the callsign etched on it several times sequentially. Clock motors are
made to run continuously for years, and it stood up with just an
occaisional cleaning of the wiper arm with spray cleaner.
All the best to all!
73 de Lee Smith VE4ANC

This message from Lee was a response to a January 1999 question from me. So we are sort of re-inventing the wheel here.

Of course, there are some QRSS beacon circuits out there with VERY low transistor counts. Hans Summers has one on his site that used a bi-stable multivibrator to generate a pattern for QRSS. That would yield a total transistor count of 2 or 3. But we are going for one single transistor. And I kind think we should look for something that will allow for the transmission of callsigns.

Here's an e-mail exchange from the Knights of QRSS mailing list that may generate some ideas:

Re: [Knightsqrss] Junkbox + soldersmoke = pattern generator

Saturday, March 7, 2009 10:43 AM

Very nice idea Bill. After tiny solar mepts this could been our next QRPP/ET challenge .
73 de Paolo IZ1KXQ
--------- Initial Header -----------

From :
To :,"Soeren Straarup"
Date : Fri, 6 Mar 2009 21:48:55 -0800 (PST)
Subject : Re: [Knightsqrss] Junkbox + soldersmoke = pattern generator
It would be fun if the clock were a "wind up" type. And for extra credit: Power the transmitter with the energy from the same spring mechanism (or other wind-up device) that powers the clock!
--- On Fri, 3/6/09, Soeren Straarup <> wrote:

From: Soeren Straarup <>
Subject: [Knightsqrss] Junkbox + soldersmoke = pattern generator
Date: Friday, March 6, 2009, 3:30 PM
Hi list,
Hans Summers has made an astable multivibrator as pattern
Bill Meara has thought about making a analog clock.
Alan Yates loves my idea of an exercise bike pattern
Though i'm open for suggestions. No pics, pc or
any other programmable

Rules of design:
2) Should be in most junk boxes
3) Pattern should be easily changed (diversity, more
This is for a simple Pixie2 TX modified to be a QRSs TX.
Stability? SSShhh.
Vy 73 de OZ2DAK
Soeren Straarup | aka OZ2DAK aka Xride

Friday, March 6, 2009

Lots of Great Old Radio Books FREE!

Our man in Helsinki, Greg, OH2FFY, reports that "Armstrong: A Man of High Fidelity" is available free online. We talked about this book in a recent SolderSmoke. I checked it out and found the online version to be very easy to read. I suggest you click on the "flip" version -- you get a very nice display that is much like looking at a real book. Here's the link:
That link led me to Project Gutenberg where I plugged in the word "radio" and was instantly given a list of really nice old books, including the Radio Amateur's Handbook by A. Frederick Collins of Congers N.Y. (my home town). Here it is:
Thanks Greg!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Italians at the Forefront of QRSS

In SolderSmoke 102 I mentioned that Italians are playing an important role in QRSS. Alberto, I2PHD, is certainly one of the key people. His software is behind most of the grabbers that we all use. THANKS ALBERTO! Here's his bio:

Born in 1944, in Lucca, Tuscany, Italy. Got a Doctorate Degree in Physics at the University of Pisa. Since then worked for IBM, with various responsibilities. Radioamateur since 1966, active on most bands, from 160m to 23cm. Lately experimenting with 137 kHz, recently allowed in Italy with 1W ERP.

Studying and applying DSP and digital techniques in general. Author of Winrad, SDRadio, Spectran, Jason, Argo and Hamview, widely diffused programs for SDR (Software Defined Radio), spectral analysis and real time filtering of audio signals, received with a radio and routed to a PC equipped with a soundcard.

Despite the age, open to learn new techniques and theories. *Not* a tube (or valve, depending on the side of pond you are reading this) nostalgic.

73 Alberto, I2PHD

Home page

ET Phone Home! With Minimalist QRSS!

I knew that Alan Yates, VK2ZAY, was just the man for this project. Alan and I met up several years ago when Billy and I spotted and built his Trivial Electric Motor (we still have it, and occasionally fire it up to amaze visitors). On SolderSmoke 102 I mentioned the possibility of a one transistor QRSS transmit station. Obviously this would require some sort of mechanical keyer. I thought of a clock drive. Alan pointed out the in the 1982 Steven Spielberg movie, ET had used a saw blade as his mechanical modulator (see above). Alan also had some intriguing ideas of his own:

G'day Bill,
Thanks again for noticing my QRSS signal making it through to Europe.

Your talk about mechanical solutions for QRSS modulators immediately

made me recall "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial". The "Phone Home" device he
built had a modulator based on a sawblade IIRC - its been years since I
watched that 1982 classic.

One easy hack might be to use an AC synchronous motor out of a gobo
rotator (for example, I got one out of a fibre optic christmas tree that
expired from overheating). Its reduction drive results in a fairly slow
rotation which might drive a modulator plate. You could do the pickup
optically using a LED/photodiode (or transistor, or even an LDR I guess)
transmission pair. Electrical contacts would work too, but doing it
optically probably means it would have a longer life.

A tape loop system might also be practical and would allow long
modulations to be encoded at reasonable tape rates. A syncro-drive gobo
has to be turned fairly slowly and pushes the "density" of the data
fairly high so the mechanical or optical sensor gets harder to just
throw together. I am sure a clockwork driven disk could be made to
work, it just might have to be fairly large.

Mechanical readout might be a microswitch and holes in the plate, or
even using PCB material with the pattern on it (etched or masked), and a
brush contact. To minimise wear a brass small roller held against disk
with spring tension would work. Oxidation on aging might become a
problem - yeah the more I think about it I am liking optical better.

You can also do it electrically using a diode matrix which can be read
out with some counters. Of course that defeats the original purpose
which was to make a single transistor QRSS beacon with a mechanical

One completely insane idea that just occurred to me is to build a slow
mechanical oscillator (say driven by a Stirling Engine or a Curie Point
Pendulum heated by a small candle) and modulate the RF oscillator with
that. The mechanics or thermal system might directly effect the RF
oscillator frequency. Who will make the first candle-powered QRSS
beacon with thermopile PSU? :-)


Monday, March 2, 2009

Homebrew WSPR from W3PM

Recently I've been reading with envy the WSPR reports from K6HX. Mark tells how he walks into his shack each morning and is greeted with signal reports from around the world. Beautiful maps are presented, with lines arcing from Southern California to distant islands in the South Pacific. I burn with envy. I want to WSPR too! But I have no SSB gear for 30 meters, and unlike our beloved visual MEPT QRSS, WSPR requires SSB gear.

I had mentioned all this on SolderSmoke, and this morning Gene, W3PM, came to the rescue. He sent info on a really interesting and very simple SSB transceiver. Take a look at the block diagram. On transmit it is essentially a DSB rig with a filter at the operating frequency to knock down the unwanted sideband. On receive it is a Direct Conversion receiver preceded by a narrow filter that allows the WSPR frequencies through. It uses the familiar SBL-1 mixer. The filter has only one crystal. And --icing on the cake -- Gene built his version in modular form, with each module in an Altoids tin. Clearly, this is the WSPR rig for us!

Gene provides a very nice write up on his project here:

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Gil Cartoon of W7ZOI on the Mountaintop

Steve, WA0PWK, sent this one in. He found it in an old issue of "Hints and Kinks." Note the callsign on that FB HB portable rig. Wes tells me that this cartoon was actually a Doug DeMaw initiative. Doug took an older cartoon by Gil, W1CJD, and put "W7ZOI" on the rig. The drawing appeared next to a short article by Wes about an electronic keyer using a pair of 741 Op Amps. Wes also reports that his kids got a real kick out of it -- his son Ron was taking an elective printing course in Jr. High School at the time, and printed up a bunch of W7ZOI QSL cards featuring the modified Gil cartoon.

I thought that Steve, N0TU (now WG0AT !), would find this especially interesting.

SolderSmoke Podcast #102

For the podcast go to:

For the new SolderSmoke Store:

In SolderSmoke 102:

In the shadow of Vesuvius...
...then back to the "laboratorio."
QRSS musings:
1 transistor for transmit, 100 million for receive.
We need a low tech beacon generator -- maybe mechanical clock driven?
QRSS on "Hack-A-Day."
VK2ZAY QRSS booms into Europe.
Soul in the New Machine: Billy's oscillator.
ON5EX's grabber on SolderSmoke blog.
Italians at the forefront of QRSS.
T-shirt news: "Menus are for restaurants!"
"QRSS Ops Do it Very Slowly"
Using iGoogle for ham radio.
USENET is going strong!
Back on Echolink.
Minimalist Radio:
The Gnat! The NS-40!
I add a second transistor to my ET-1 (and hang my head in shame).
Jim, AL7RV, developing smoke generator for LTSpice.
Randy, K7AGE, sent Empire of the Air video -- Thanks!
Jim, K9JM, prescribes higher Q for regen rx. "Never will be a 2B!"
Rye, K9LCJ, "Low Space Means Fine Teletype."
Alan, W2AEW, Listens to SS while on the road with Tektronix.
Dave, W8NF, "Armstrong, A Man of High Fidelity." Indeed.
Mark reports W7ZOI releases new EMRFD software.
Jonathan, KB1KIX, Shep fan, has good Smith Chart stuff on his blog.
Jerry, NR5A, building a QRSS beacon.
George, K8VU, Dilbert has "utter social ineptitude."
David, VK6DI, moving East.
Paul, K3PG, took Willamette project on ski trip.
Steve, WA0PWK, Gil cartoon about Wes.
Designer: Douglas Bowman | Dimodifikasi oleh Abdul Munir Original Posting Rounders 3 Column