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Friday, December 31, 2010

Storm on Saturn (with radio waves)

There is a big and very unusual storm on Saturn right now. You can see it in the image above. It was taken by amateur astronomer Jim Phillips using an eight inch telescope. I've been out before dawn for the last two mornings trying to see the storm with my 6 inch Dobsonian reflector telescope. I get very nice views of Saturn and Titan, but I can't quite make out the storm. Conditions have not been great, and I'm not sure the storm was in view when I was looking.

The folks at note that it is generating some static:

Instruments on NASA's Cassini spacecraft are picking up strong bursts of radio static. Apparently, lightning is being generated in multiple cells across the storm front.

Space weather indeed!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Our New SolderGlobe >>>>>>>>>>>>>

I really like this little globe. The red dots record past visits. But the fun part is the flags and city names that pop up showing who is currently looking at the site. Very nice.

You can make the globe spin faster (or backwards) and you can tilt the axis of rotation up and down with your mouse. Give it a spin!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Halogen Lamps and Heat Guns to The Rescue!

Hi Bill,

Your recent success with baking your Sony Vaio gave me the courage to attack my flat screen monitor. The most expensive thing in my entire computer setup is my "LG" brand monitor. It's the only thing that I've purchased new. Everything else came from the curb, or the surplus store. However, it started going on the fritz a few weeks ago.

While browsing around the chat groups on the internet I found out that many monitors from the past few years have had bad capacitors in them. So I opened it up, hoping to find a blob of leaking chemicals near a cap. "It should be a quick fix" I thought. However, everything looked great. No bulging caps, or leaking chemicals. I then turned the circuit board over, and instead of seeing a shining city of perfect solder joints, I saw a cloud of grey. Practically every solder joint was cold.

This is where your laptop baking got me thinking.

I didn't have a halogen lamp handy, but I did have a heat gun. So I put the gun on the high setting, and very slowly passed it over the board. It left a gleaming trail of solder joints.

When I started to connect things back together again, I heard a rattling. It seems that I heated the board up enough to allow some components to completely fall out. Luckily they were through-hole components (nothing surface mount), and were easy to solder back in.

Once everything went back together... success!

One thing to note, at one point I got a nasty zap from one of the caps on the board (I'm assuming for the back light). Even though we're not working with tubes and CRTs anymore, you still have to take heed and discharge high voltage caps before working on anything!

-Keith VE3TZF

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Blue Light in Dark Ice

Down in Antarctica, the "Ice Cube" neutrino telescope was completed this month. It is an amazing piece of gear in an awesome location. Essentially, they use a 1 kilometer square piece of pure Antarctic ice as the detector -- when a neutrino hits a water molecule, it makes a bit of blue light and from this light the direction of the neutrino can be determined. But there is a problem: cosmic rays can create the same kind of blue light. So there's noise. They need a filter, right? Yes, and for this purpose they use... THE EARTH. They put the blue light detector at the TOP of the cube and look DOWN, down through the Earth! Only neutrinos get through.

For more details:

Friday, December 24, 2010

R/C Plane with Camera over New York City

This is really amazing. You should watch it in HD. 120 mile range? Maybe from the top of the Empire State building, right?

More info here:

Thursday, December 23, 2010

DXers: What is my path to VK6XT?

I've been looking with pride at the WSPR map (below) showing that my little beacon has been received by far-off VK6XT. He picked me up again this morning, again only once. That makes three days in a row, each day only one report. Each time VK6XT is the only station in the Oceania area receiving me. And each day the my signal makes the trip around 1025 UTC. Now, I'm not a skilled DX'er, but it seems obvious to me that we are dealing with grey-line propagation here, right?

The image above shows the view from the sun at 1025 UTC today. Obviously the day/night terminator is along the perimeter of the earth in this image. So, I guess my little sigs could have been travelling either short path over Northern Europe and down over South East Asia OR they could have taken the long trip down over South America, over Antarctica, and on to Perth. My guess is that the short path is more likely. In any case, as cool as it is, the map drawn by the WSPR system is not how the sigs actually travelled.

I hope you DX hounds out there will chime in and tell me if I'm on the wrong path here...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Payoff from WSPR

2010-12-22 09:28 N2CQR 10.140215 -28
FM18jv 0.2 VK6XT OF86td 18576 288
2010-12-21 10:28 N2CQR 10.140221 -28
FM18jv 0.2 VK6XT OF86td 18576 288

I know some of you guys consider WSPR kind of weird, kind of narcissistic, more like broadcasting than real amateur radio. I hear you. As creator Joe Taylor himself has pointed out, these are not really QSOs. But I have to tell you, it is very satisfying to walk into the shack, and, with coffee cup in hand check the WSPRnet screen to see who has recently received your little QRPp signal.
For the last two mornings, I've found VK6XT receiving mine. That's 18,576 kilometers covered by 200 milliwatts to a low dipole. In Western Australia my signal is 28 db below the noise (that means below the noise in a standard SSB passband). I see that I'm making the trip only once each day, at around the same time, and that VK6XT is the only Oz station picking me up. Very cool.

Here is Richard, VK6XT, the fellow at the other end of the path:

I was born in Christchurch, New Zealand in December 1954. Keen on shortwave as a boy, I went to Rangiora High School and met Gary Watson ZL3SV who sparked a lifelong interest in Ham radio. However Life intervened and it wasn't until 1976 in Wollongong, Australia that I first transmitted as VK2NNL.(after a brief fling on The illegal CB band). I upgraded and then returned to NZ to become ZL1OK from Rotorua. I became a DX hound and worked 256 countries for DXCC. The high point of my DX activities was in 1991 when I organised a DX-pedition to the Auckland islands. We operated as ZL9DX / ZL9YL and Kerry operated ZL9TPYon 6 metres. Always keen on home brewing and QRP gear I now work in Perth as a Design and Technology Technician. My ham radio activity is at present operating an Icom IC7400 to a variety of antennas 160m to 2m. . I am keen on the digital modes, especially PSK31, and spend my spare time on my hobby farm near Katanning(300 kM south of Perth).

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ham Radio Time Capsule at University of Virginia

Bert, WF7I has been sending us some great info from the University of Virginia's radio club. Listeners will recall his adventures in putting up and taking down the rhombic antenna. This week Bert sent in excerpts from his research on the history of the UVA club. This bit came from Lee, KD4RE. I know there are a number of "anchor-ologists" out there (fans of the Boatanchors i.e. big, old tube radios). I thought you guys would get a kick out of this. Oh, wouldn't you want to find a room like this one?

Back in 1971 a student named
Bill Hughes was Ham and knew I was a ham
and he wanted to get the UVA Ham radio club started up again. There
were a couple of other Hams around, Dave Wolfe who was Chief Engineer
at WTJU before me, has a 2-B receiver in the engineering (transmitter
room) at WTJU when in was in the basement of Humphreys.
(Yeah I have a lot of WTJU Stories..).. Anyway Bill told me he heard
that the last active ham radio club had been located over in one of
the ground rooms behind Varsity Hall (which has since been moved to
make room for Rouse Hall expansion) In those days it was the Air Force ROTC building. Anyway, the ground level had a brick floor and sort of an open portico and across the back were a bunch of rooms (all brick of course). well we came to the old door and saw open wire feeder remnants overhead We opened the door and it was like opening a time capsule - There in the room was mostly 1930s and 1940s vintage gear, I guess it had not been used since the mid 1950s (or early 1950s).

There was a rack with an AM transmitter in it, sort of a copper
colored paint on the front and on it was a piece of cardboard with the call sign W3VA. There were a number of old receivers in the
room I recall a National HRO with its plug-in coils there was and RME
receiver with a tunable preamplifier/selector as a separate box, and
several others. I am not sure but the DX 100 we had for a while may
have come out of there so that would have been late 1950s then...

For more UVA Radio Club history go to:

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Use coupon code: DEC21

Monday, December 20, 2010

AL7RV's Zenith Transoceanic from Vietnam days


Glad the junk box is providing useful. Enjoyed your Blog about the great Ham Radio day you had. I got the same feeling when my Paraset 350v power supply came alive without letting any of the all important 'smoke' out. I did get 'bit', and had a flashback to the days of my youth that involved my Weller Soldering gun and a GE tube manual. I tried to build every circuit in the back of the manual and got 'bit' by most of them. Heck the shocks keep our batteries charged right?

I'm side tracked on a project to construct a 455Kc BFO for a Zenith Trans-Oceanic 3000-1. I purchased the radio at the Tan Son Nhat BX/PX during my first month in country. (~68). The radio spent a year in Vietnam and a little over two more years in Thailand. Used to wrap my fatigues carefully around it and pack tightly in the center of my duffel bag. Held up pretty darn well.

I've dug the radio back out and am having a ball with it. It's helping me a LOT with my Spanish language relearning efforts. But I do lament the lack of English programming on shortwave today.

The Zenith became our main source for news rather then the much edited and heavily censored AFRN. I would patch the audio output of the radio into a spare MUX channel going off to another signal site and they would in turn patch it to other sites in Vietnam. I head stories that in some camps the local AFRN low power FM radio transmitter feed would be pre-empted with the BBC World News that was coming from my Zenith.

Hey, are you enjoying the cold weather! hihihihi...

73 -- Natchez Jim

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Computer Successfully COOKED!

I must say, this was one of the strangest repair jobs I've ever had: You may have heard the background: My wife's three year-old Sony Vaios 'puter suddenly came up with really serious graphics problems. A quick Google revealed that lots of computer have this problem (lots of brands... including Apple). We took the computer down to the Sony store and they got all legalistic on us. Yes, it was clearly the video card. Yes, Sony had agreed to fix the video cards. BUT unfortunately Sony had not put our model number on their list of computers that they would fix. So they wanted to charge us $400 to fix the problem. No thanks Sony! Goodbye Sony!

Inspired by the iFixit poster on the wall of my shack, I did some more Googling. Soon I'm reading messages from all around the world recommending that I -- in one way or another -- cook the computer. But why? Is the problem IN the GPU chip? Or is it in the solder connections between the chip and the board.

Gents, you'll be pleased to learn that this is a SOLDERING problem. Looks like NVIDIA used a bad mixture of soldering types. There is apparently little blobs of solder on the baord, and little blobs of solder on the chip. LOTs of little blobs. Surface Mount to the MAX! But they used two different solders and this causes the connections to fail far more quickly than they should have. Here are the details:
Enter the oven solution. The idea is to simply re-heat the chip and make the solder at the connections melt again!

YouTub presents lots of different ways of doing this. I like the idea of using a bright lamp to administer the heat. I used a 120 watt Halogen beam lamp. The kind that you see on lights for the backyard. I tested its heating properties on a chunk of 60/40 rosin core solder. At about 1/2 inch it melted the solder in 30 seconds.

I put the beam on the TOP of the chip and gave it about 30 seconds of burn. Then I administered some heat sink compound, vacuumed out the fan, and put the computer back together.

IT WORKED! That computer is now working just as it had before. This was a very satisfying repair, but there was no real troubleshooting, so it wasn't really up there with my favorite fixes.  You can check out if you want to learn more about fixing computers.

I'll put one of those cheap laptop coolers underneath it. I'm guessing that this thing will go for another few years.

Thanks to all who provided advice. Thanks to ifixit for the inspiration. Thumbs down on Sony. BOOOOO! HISSSSSS!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Should I Put My Sony Computer in the Oven?

In a recent podcast I asked for help with my wife's ailing Sony Vaios computer. The graphics card has gone toes up. Sony acknowledges that they had BIG problems with the NVIDIA graphics cards, but even though our computer has an NVIDIA graphics card and has all the symptoms that come with the NVIDIA graphics card problem, because our particular model is not on their list of affected computers, they won't fix it. (Mental note: Don't buy any more Sony computers!)

Anyway, KB1SNG recommends putting the mother board in the oven:

As crazy as it may sound, you could try putting the motherboard in the oven.
Many people (including myself) have tried this with success.
I did it a while ago, and I can't remember if this ( ) was the guide I used or not, but it should suffice. If I find the other link, I'll post it here.73,Nick LaPointe, KB1SNG

Rogier provides this useful info:

NVIDIA lost a lawsuit with regards to a faulty graphics Chip. Caused by the fact that when they started using lead free solder.
This new solder turned out not as heat resistant as thought and tends to break loose causing the chip to fail.
He continues:
Hmm that's a bold move to put the board in the oven.
On the other hand there is little to be lost and you might give it a try.
Thinking of it I rather apply the heat locally. Isolate the Graphics chip from the rest and apply a short blast of heat to the chip.
Perhaps with a hot air paint stripper....

So what do you guys think? Should I pop it in the oven? Or apply some heat? I kind of like the idea of fixing a problem caused by lead-free solder (yuck).

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Immediate Gratification: WSPR shows results very fast

So you build or modify a rig and you put up a new antenna and you then spend some time wondering if you're really "getting out," right? Well, wonder no more my friends! WSPR provides almost instant feedback on your work! Here is what the display looked like for my station a short time after I connected my modified transceiver to my new 30 meter dipole. Pond crossings were rare events before.

In my last post I asked if there were others running homebrew gear on WSPR. I am not alone! Paul, M0XPD, has put together a rig far more sophisticated than mine. Paul writes:

You ask if there are any others running h/b in WSPR...
My 50mW multi-mode beacon runs WSPR, DFCW and S/MT Hell on a 10-minute, frequency-hopping cycle.
It is entirely stand-alone - severing the umbilical cord to the PC gave me a really good feeling!
I'm currently working on a set of filters (BP and LP) to allow me to run on other bands (currently I'm on 30m).
Description on my blog:

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A good radio morning at N2CQR

Today I had one of those really good ham radio mornings in the shack. My objective was to add one more amplifier stage between the balanced modulator and the power amplifier in my Roman WSPR DSB Direct Conversion transceiver. First I had to take the balanced modulator (trifilar transformer and two diodes in a singly balanced configuration) off the board and move back, closer to the AF input jack -- I needed to make space for the new amplifier stage. For that stage I consulted Doug DeMaw's books and Wes Hayward's EMRFD. I went with a feedback amp using a 2N3904 in Class A.

With coffee brewed and with my Drake 2-B tuned to the very congenial DX-60 net (75 meters AM on Sunday mornings), I turned to the junk box. It was like meeting old friends! I pulled out parts that Michael, AA1TJ had sent me. I pulled out others that had been sent by Jim, AL7RV. I got out my box of isolation pads that Jerry Felts, NR5A had sent in. Soon the parts were glued and soldered to a board that already had an AF amplifier designed by Roger Hayward, KA7EXM and a PA that is my "Manhattan-ized" version of Tony Park's SDR rig PA. At the center of the board is little Colpitts oscillator that I took from a WSPR rig designed by Gene, W3PM -- earlier in the week Gene had posted a comment on this blog saying he was pleased to see my call on his WSPR screen. I wonder if Gene realized that he was seeing the signal from an oscillator from his design! The laptop was provided by a listener who prefers to remain anonymous -- thanks OM! Nearby, a copy of "Lid, Kid, Space Cadet" by Jeff K1NSS provided encouragement.

The rig passed the smoke test so I moved it over to the operating position and put it on the air. I got immediate gratification: the WSPRnet map right away showed my signal (now around 200 milliwatts) being received all round North America. You can watch this LIVE by going to Just plug N2CQR into the "Call" box and hit UPDATE.

I know that WSPR is not everyone's cup of tea, but I like it. It was fun to build this rig. While WSPR is almost exclusively a mode that uses store-bought equipment, I get a kick out of being one of very few ops using a homebrew transceiver in this mode. (Are there any others?)

Next steps: I need to figure out how to set up automatic switching (by the computer) from transmit to receive. And I want to make some PSK-31 contacts with this rig.

Thanks to all who contributed!

73 Bill

Friday, December 10, 2010

Need audio reports for Podcast 128

How did 128 sound? I did drop off the lows, but I used the same filter I used in 127.

10% off on SolderSmoke The Book

Now through December 31. Use coupon code PEARTREE when checking out.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Saturn and Rhea

After a long spell of looking almost exclusively at Jupiter and our Moon, I was very pleased to see that Saturn is now visible. It is up in the south-east just before dawn, to the upper right of VERY bright Venus. The Sky and Telescope screen shot is a good representation of what I saw. I was using a 6 inch reflector telescope. I could see Titan very easily, and I could also see Rhea by using the averted vision trick.
Above is a much better view of Rhea. This one was taken by the Cassini spacecraft last November. Rhea has been in the news recently because scientists have discovered oxygen in its atmosphere:

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Lynn Marsh, Boy Telegrapher, 1909

Note the steely-eyed look of determination and confidence. That's the same look that we see in the eyes of the 1925 radio builders (scroll down), and in the eyes of other knack victims.

Free Shipping on SolderSmoke -- The Book

Sorry, but this offer is for is U.S. only.

Monday, December 6, 2010

SolderSmoke 128 is out!

3 December 2010
Visit to Wright Brother's Kitty Hawk site
Antenna work on Veterans' Day
W4HBK's Pensacola Snapper
"Knackers of the World Unite" (even in the UK!)
Sky and Telescope Jupiter moons program
Listen to a meteor ping!
DSB DC WSPR transceiver
Other ham books on Lulu
Ubuntu Karmic Koala's Skyrockets
Movie Review: "Social Network"
LTSpice under Wine (in Ubuntu)
Forrest Mims
Broken laptop -- need advice
New puppy en route

I'll update the rss feed tomorrow.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Mark W8MOJ (aka "MOJ") is the artist who created the latest SolderSmoke theme music. MOJ has recently gone QRSS with Slow Feld Hell. Above you can see the results as captured by W4HBK's grabber. Note that MOJ is giving HELL to the N2CQR shark fins!

Some SERIOUS young radio builders

No appliance operators in this bunch! Dave Lucas alerted me to Tom Glover's wonderful site:

Ham Radio on NPR

Mike: KC7IT sent in this very nice quote from National Public Radio:

NPR's On The Media has a sweet little reference to
ham radio this week, in their report from a conference about Twitter. Listen to conference organizer Jeff Pulver, starting at 4:15:

BOB GARFIELD: .... sharing thoughts is something people do, fulfilling a primal human need for keeping in touch, even virtual touch, with other humans. Conference organizer, Jeff Pulver:

JEFF PULVER: When I was nine years old I was a very lonely person, and I – maybe I’m always lonely forever. But my - I went to my uncle’s office one day and he had this strange radio and he turned it on, and he says, “CQ, CQ, this is K2QQM calling CQ.”

And all of a sudden these squeaky voices started responding to my uncle. And I thought, this is pretty cool [LAUGHS], that these strangers are now talking to my uncle. And I became obsessed between the time I was nine to about twelve and a half. I taught myself Morse Code, electronic theory, I taught myself the rules and regulations all about amateur radio. In high school, junior high school, I would spend 40, 60 hours a week on the radio. And that was my lifeline. That was where I connected. And all I had to say is I was Jeff from New York, and it didn't matter how old I was, it didn't matter what I did for a living. I had this.

And now all these years later, 6 o'clock in the morning to 7 o'clock in the morning, every day, wherever I am in the world, I'm online. But instead of saying, CQ, CQ, I say, good morning. And a magical thing happens every day.


That was me too, way back in junior high on 2 meter AM with my Heath Twoer. Turns out Jeff's still active too. Nice.

73 de KC7IT

Homo Ludens!

Brought to our attention by Jim, AL7RV.
Check it out:

More QRPoetry from AA1TJ

This is actually prose, not verse, but it has a poetic element to it. It is not for nothing that we have called Michael "the poet laureate of QRP." Must be all that time up on the mountain. Whatever the motivation, we're always happy to get his messages, and we always find inspiration in them:

On the topic of QRP power levels; for me it all stems from the pair of "100mW" walkie-talkies that my brother and I found under the Christmas tree one year. I thought it was magical that we could walk around the neighborhood and still talk to each other. Then one day my friend and I was messing around and I heard some lady's (CBer) voice all of a sudden. It took a moment to figure out that she was talking to me (my first and last CB QSO). We only talked for a few moments but it left me wondering how far it might be possible to communicate with such low power. The electronics magazines I was just starting to read showed massive boat-anchor transmitters; none of which appealed to me. For me the excitement was trying to see how far I could talk with my MPF102 oscillator on 40m; and later, a similar xmtr made from a surplus 2N697 that I happened upon. It was around that time I first heard about tunnel diodes; exotic devices based upon the (still) mystical notion of quantum tunnelling. Of course, I dreamed about building a tunnel diode rig...a dream that would take 35 years to which I owe a huge debt to Seab, AA1MY...dunno if he knows to this day how big of a deal it was for me; which is why I was especially happy to see his, "with childlike joy and wonder" comment. Ditto for me. Speaking of which, last I showed my wife, N4KGL/p's QTH on the map located on his site "Nov 23rd Lunch Time QRP". We thought it was fun to progressively zoom out from the parking lot where he was operating yesterday. Right away the Gulf of Mexico appears. Of course, Vermont eventually comes into view. Scientific American that did a similar series of zooms in a book some years ago. It began with a couple lying on a blanket in a park. Some pages later you're staring back at this "pale blue dot" (to steal Carl Sagan's wonderful phrase). Something else comes to mind from Tom Wolfe's, The Right Stuff. Do you recall the passage where Lovell covers the Earth with his thumb? "At one point I sighted the earth with my thumb—and my thumb from that distance fit over the entire planet. I realized how insignificant we all are if everything I'd ever known is behind my thumb. But at that moment I don't think the three of us understood the lasting significance of what we were looking at." Dunno why, but QRPp feels a bit like Lovell's thumb. It gives me the same sense of vertigo displacement; a tiny signal sent from a tiny man located in a vast, oceanic, Universe. I remember saying so to my pal, Jim, W1PID, only last year in connection to my voice-powered CW transmitter. Hearing the dits and dahs return yesterday...looking at my puny transmitter...Wisconsin, Florida, Guadeloupe Island; bouncing these little ripples off the ionosphere...hearing the friendly replies...who would not be overwhelmed by the thought of it all? These little radios are just the launchers; pinkie fingers dabbed in the cosmic pool of Being. The Argentinian writer, Antonio Porchia, said, "Beyond my body my veins are invisible." Jim Lovell's veins radiated from beneath the thumb he so casually dabbed over the Earth. His veins radiated not just back to far away Earth - to everything that he loved - but in all directions; to places he'd never even dreamed of. I'd better sign now. I'm headed up to the mountain-top TV transmitter in a couple of hours... That's how it is here, Steve; QRO pays the bills, QRPp gives the thrills. :o) BTW, Dave, K1SWL, has already given a big thumbs-up to our RockMite contact! 73/72, Mike, AA1TJ

Saturday, December 4, 2010

SARA: The Society of Amateur Radio Astronomers

My recent experience listening to live on-line meteor pings led me to the web site of an organization that I used to belong to: SARA: The Society of Amateur Radio Astronomers. Knack to the max in this bunch. These people are going for the REAL DX! Check out their site:

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Forrest Mims on amateur science

Here's another dose of inspiration from one of our "Homebrew Heroes." Forrest Mims has been one of my heroes for a long time. A colleague yesterday gave me a copy of a recent article in Make about his ozone measuring device (build at home with Radio Shack parts!). With this device he was able to outshine NASA in the data accuracy department. Check out the article:

Here's another interesting article by Forrest on amateurs in science: Forrest Mim's article in Science

Cyber Monday extended through Tuesday!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Cyber Monday Sale for SolderSmoke!

Knock 25% off your Lulu purchases. Tomorrow only.

Don't just buy "SolderSmoke -- Global Adventures in Wireless Electronics"
but check out these other fine Knack-related publications:
("Lid, Kid, Space Cadet" "Sky Buddies" by Jeff K1NSS (Ian, G3ROO's amazing antenna book)
("Carl and Jerry" books -- scroll down a bit) (SolderSmoke and Bill's other book)

AJ4VD Solves the Barcode Mystery

The QRSS world was recently mystified by the sudden appearance of this monster on the European grabber screens. People quickly realized that it was a "QR barcode" -- kind of a souped-up version of the standard barcodes, this version holding more information. But what was the message? Scott Harden, AJ4VD, got on the case, and solved the mystery. Read about it here:
Scott is a very interesting fellow, and surely one of the younger "Knights of the QRSS." Check out his bio page:
Bravo Scott!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

More from Kitty Hawk

Kitty Hawk N.C., Thanksgiving 2010. Wright Brother's test site. The big rock marks the take-off point. You can see a reproduction of the monorail they used in lieu of landing gear. the white markers behind me show the distances covered on those first four flights. Off in the distance you can see the final, longest flight of that day: 852 feet. 59 seconds aloft.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving at Kitty Hawk

We spent a very pleasant Thanksgiving day with family out on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, in Kitty Hawk. Of course, we visited the site 0f the Wright Brother's famous first flight. I'll have more about this in the next SolderSmoke podcast. For now, let me share with you this interesting quote about the importance of play and toys (from Wikipedia):

"In 1878 their father, who travelled often as a bishop in the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, brought home a toy "helicopter" for his two younger sons. The device was based on an invention of French aeronautical pioneer Alphonse Pénaud. Made of paper, bamboo and cork with a rubber band to twirl its rotor, it was about a foot long. Wilbur and Orville played with it until it broke, and then built their own. In later years, they pointed to their experience with the toy as the initial spark of their interest in flying."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

SolderSmoke in Botswana!

Frosty, K5LBU, sent us this report from Botswana:

I just completed reading your book tonight. I had taken it with me on the Dxpedition to Botswana and while there Jay W5SL read it and enjoyed it very much. But what was so great in his reading it was to see a good friend of mine mentioned in your book. He was there with us and having a great time working the pileups. This person was none other than Gianfranco I0ZY. I have visited with him at his office and operated his great station in his home there in Rome. What a small world it is. I will be back in Rome to pick up a new Amplifier from Gianfranco. 73' Charles Frost Frosty K5LBU

We had a blog post about Gianfranco and his amplifiers last year. Check it out here:

Monday, November 22, 2010

Jupiter's Moons Utility

"Sky and Telescope" has a nice collection of on-line astronomy utilities. One of my favorites displays the positions of Jupiter's Galilean moons. It also gives you some nice heads up on the transit and eclipses of the moons. Its fun to play with the "+10 minute" button and see how they move around. The view you see above is fairly close to what I see through my telescope (but Jupiter's stripes are not quite so pronounced). You can get the utility for free -- you just have to fill out a registration form.

Friday, November 19, 2010

N8ZRY's Homebrew SSB Rig

A while back we had post about amateur RADAR. The wizard behind that project was Greg, N8ZRY. (I liked his quote: "Old radars do not die... they simply phase array.") Greg's latest project is the 20 meter SSB rig pictured above. It was recently featured on the Make blog.
Check it out here. Be sure to look at the YouTube video. Nice job Greg!

The Secrets of Success of the Pensacola Snapper

Bill, W4HBK, sent a nice note in response to my blog post describing his MEPT QRSS grabber receive station. You can see the peninsula he describes above.
Bill writes:
Wow, what a pleasant surprise. I do remember pulling you out of the noise while you were in
Italy and enjoying your reports from there. If there is a secret to my grabber it is a combination of environment and antenna. My neighborhood has underground utilities and is well away from town on a peninsula which juts out into Pensacola Bay. My main antenna is an inverted V 60' up in a tall pine tree for good low angle response and rejection of vertically polarized noise. About the only noise I hear is sferics. Thanks for the article. 73 bill w4hbk

Big Lulu Sale this Weekend: Save 20%

When you go to Lulu, don't just buy "SolderSmoke -- Global Adventures in Wireless Electronics" but check out these other fine Knack-related publications: ("Lid, Kid, Space Cadet" "Sky Buddies" by Jeff K1NSS (Ian, G3ROO's amazing antenna book) ("Carl and Jerry" books -- scroll down a bit) (SolderSmoke and Bill's other book -- the other one is available in .pdf)

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Listen up for METEORS!

The folks at have come up with something really cool. We are now in the final phases of the annual Leonids meteor shower. I can't see many meteors through my light-polluted skies (plus its COLD out there), but Spaceweather Radio has come to the rescue. They currently have on-line the audio feed from a receive station tuned to the freq of the The Air Force Space Surveillance Radar. It transmits 24/7 on 216.98 MHz. It is reported to be on of the most powerful transmitters in the world. You can hear the "pings" caused by the reflections of meteors. I've heard several as I typed this post! Be sure to visit the "how we do this page." I appears that there is ham running the receive station.

Occasionally I hear a longer tone. Could that be the reflection of a Low Earth Orbit satellite going over the site?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Balloons! Space Stations! Aurora!

My in-box seemed to have an outer space theme today. First, from Guanajuato, Mexico comes word that the radio club there is planning a second edge-of-space balloon launch. SARSEM ICARUS II is scheduled to go up on 20 November carrying a VHF/UHF repeater. SARSEM ICARUS I was obviously a big success. Check out the picture it took from 29000 meters up (above). Thanks Roberto!

A couple days ago we noted that the International Space Station would be visible over N. America this week. So far we have only one report of a sighting: Jim, AL7RV saw it from Mississippi. This morning Yahoo carried some pictures taken from the crew's cupola. This one shows some territory dear to our hearts!

Finally, carried this beautiful aurora shot from Tromso, Norway. It was taken by Ole Christian Salomonsen on November 14. Spaceweather notes that "a solar wind stream has been buffeting the earth's magnetic field." This probably explains why Maria and I could hear very few stations on 75 meters last evening. And 75 seemed totally dead yesterday morning.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

MAKE'S "Do More With Less" Contest

This from the MAKE blog this morning:

To promote the release of the Windows Phone 7, Microsoft is partnering with various websites, including MAKE, to give away a Windows Phone 7 to each site's readership. To be eligible, all you have to do is post a comment on the theme of "Do more with less" ...

Wow! This contest seems to be MADE for the G-QRP gang! (What is it? "It is vain to use more..." Something like that!) I think G3RJV could win this one!

This is all related to a quote from Buckminster Fuller, hence the image of the very cool stamp.

Details on the contest:

Ham Stuff at Lulu (with 10% off)

Here's an idea for making maximum use of your heard earned dollars or euros or whatever: When you go to Lulu, don't just buy "SolderSmoke -- Global Adventures in Wireless Electronics"
but check out these other fine Knack-related publications: ("Lid, Kid, Space Cadet" "Sky Buddies" by Jeff K1NSS (Ian, G3ROO's amazing antenna book) ("Carl and Jerry" books -- scroll down a bit) (SolderSmoke and Bill's other book)

Put them all together in one package to save shipping. Help your wife with the Christmas shopping!

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Monday, November 15, 2010

See the International Space Station THIS WEEK! showed this beautiful picture of an International Space Station fly-over. It was taken by David Blanchard near Flagstaff, Arizona on Saturday.

The space station will be visible from much of North America in the evening this week. has a very handy calculator that will let you know when and where to look. Just plug in your zip code:

(There is a global version of the calculator for users outside the U.S.)

Let's see how many SolderSmoke readers get to see the ISS this week. Please let me know if you see it.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

W4HBK's QRSS Grabber: The Amazing Pensacola Snapper

When we were in Italy, ON5EX provided my "go to" grabber. Because we were just one ionospheric hop away, and because Johan had a really excellent receive system, it seemed like my little signals were visible on his screen from dawn to dusk every day.

Now that we are back in the States, W4HBK's grabber is playing a similar role for me. His grabber consistently seems to pull in more sigs than most of the other North American grabbers. The above image is a sample of what you will see when you visit his grabber web page. (I'm also a big fan of the W1BW and VE1VDM grabbers -- thanks guys!)

My signal is the "shark-fin" pattern just a little below the middle of the screen. That's 20 mw to a 50 foot piece of AC line cord about 12 feet off the ground. And it is making the trip from Northern Virginia to Pensacola Florida very consistently. Thanks Bill!

Try taking a look at the Pensacola Snapper and see if you can spot my QRSS signal. My frequency varies from day-to-day (sometimes intentionally!). And lately Bill has occasionally been parking his receiver on 40 meters :-( But most days you will be able to see his 30 meter screen, with my shark fins menacing Pensacola. Please let me know if you see me.

Here is OM HBK and his bio:
Born: 1939, Pensacola, Florida

I was first licensed in 1954 as WN4HBK and upgraded to General in 1955 acquiring the call sign I've used to this day. My dad is responsible for my favorite suffix moniker. the Hot Biscuit Kid. I could really put away my mom's scratch biscuits!

My first station I built myself and consisted of super regenerative RX and a 6L6 TX.from designs in the ARRL Handbook. My dad was a radio mechanic for the Navy and taught me how to read schematics and solder. Later stations consisted of Hallicrafters S-38C, National NC-98, HRO-5 recievers and several Heathkit and Globe Scout transmitters. Boy, those were the days!!

After high school I entered college intending to become an antenna engineer but eventually gravitated towards a degree in Physics. This was pretty cool because it led to a career with NASA where I worked on the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle projectsall thanks to my early interest in radio.

Today I'm fully retired and living in Gulf Breeze, FL. just across Pensacola Bay from my hometown. My XYL (Anna) and I enjoy the local beaches in a variety of wayssurf fishing, beachcombing, hiking, painting (her) and photography (me). We are also enjoy gardening and winemaking.

My Amateur Radio interests are CW, DX, contests, antennas and digital modes.

Presently I am experimenting with QRSS and have a 250 milliwatt MEPT station on 10.140 MHzsend me an email if you copy my signal. I now have a grabber to present a spectral display of QRSS activity for other Hams worldwide to watch for their signals

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Hacker-Knacker-Maker Revolution gathers steam...

I got a bit of mail from Great Britain about the use of the word "knackers" in yesterday's post. I vaguely remembered that this word has anatomical connotations in the UK. But it just worked so well. I needed something that would rhyme with Marx's "Workers." And "Knackers" is kind of close to "Hackers." And we all have "The Knack." So, I made use of some artistic license. Apologies to our British cousins. I'm already on linguistic thin ice with them because of my use of the American pronunciation of solder. (The Brits pronounce the L -- to their ears, the American pronunciation conjures up an activity far removed from soldering.)

Anyway, the Hack-Knack-Make revolution continues. This morning I learned that the New York and Philadelphia Hacker-spaces will be featured on NPR's Weekend Edition this Sunday. (I'm jealous -- I want SolderSmoke to somehow get onto NPR. One listener suggested a letter-writing campaign...)

The poster shown above is for a documentary that is being done on all of this. Check it out:

Friday, November 12, 2010

KNACKERS OF THE WORLD UNITE! You have nothing to lose but your warranties!

The folks over at have come up with a Self-Repair Manifesto that readers of this blog will find inspirational. I like the line about "Repair injects soul and makes things unique!" Indeed. As of yesterday they were giving away free posters (real posters, not e-posters) in exchange for a Tweet (I got mine, and intend to put it up here in the SolderSmoke Shack.)

I find that a successful repair is almost as gratifying as a scratch-built homebrew project, especially if the problem was difficult to diagnose.

So, ifixit comrades: The SolderSmoke collective is with you! Up the Revolution!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Armstrong Memorial Transmissions

Here is the site for the Howard Armstrong 75th Anniversary of FM Transmissions:

Be sure to follow the links on that page to the Phasitron Transmitter page. Very nice workmanship.

Today only! 20% off Veterans Day sale on "SolderSmoke -- Global Adventures in Wireless Electronics"

Lulu is at it again. Just use the coupon code VETSDAY and get 20.10% off on your purchase of
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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

"She built her own oscilloscope at age 14." Homebrew Hero: Tatjana Van Vark

AJ8T sent me the link to the web site of this, our latest Homebrew Hero. I don't think she is a ham, but Tatjana definitely has The Knack. Check out that workmanship. The range of the projects is also quite astounding. It is so impressive that I really found myself questioning whether this could be for real. But it is.

When you look at the Enigma-like coding machine, note the cryptological challenge at the bottom. Tatjana won't release the tech details of this project until someone cracks the encrypted Haiku! Go for it!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

SolderSmoke Podcast #127

SolderSmoke #127 has been released! Get it here:

Topics covered:
Linux Ubuntu and Audio Quality.
Karmic Koala makes you EVEN YOUNGER
Reverse Culture shock, Woodpeckers, and the Washington METRO system
The smell of an old HT-37
75 meter AM
DaVinci Code QRSS rig on the air
Cul-de-sac astronomy with TWO telescopes
READING: SPRATS, Hot Iron, Sky Buddies, Wired
Jeri Ellsworth's homebrew transistors
Tatjana Van Vark's homebrew Enigma-like machine
Antenna work and hamfests on the horizon
Designer: Douglas Bowman | Dimodifikasi oleh Abdul Munir Original Posting Rounders 3 Column