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Monday, January 31, 2011

Great News! Internet outage!

Last week's snow storm knocked out internet service here.
It may be out for a week.
This motivated me to get back on the air.
I fired up my OLD HT37 and Drake 2B combo and have been
Having a ball on 20 SSB.
Every dark cloud has a silver lining.
No hay mal que por bien no venga!
Podcast 130 is done (via D104) and
Will be uploaded as soon as they
fix the fiber optic cable.
I'm sending this via Blackberry.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Tech Details on SolderSmoke's Theme Music

This will be discussed in the next podcast, so I thought I'd share some tech details on our theme music. From the artist, Maestro Moj:

Geeky details about the music:
In the homebrew spirit, I tried to make all the sounds with instruments which I had soldered
together myself. These were a Formant music synthesizer designed by C. Chapman from the Dutch/British "Elektor" magazine, circa 1977, and a FatMan synthesizer kit from PAiA Electronics. I play them through an ancient Kustom 200 guitar amplifier, which I've caused to smoke at least twice. The beginning is my K2 being powered on and tuned across 80 meters. I cheated and used a real gong at the end which a good friend went to the trouble of finding and buying in China, but I fed the sound through a PIC Polywhatsit designed by John Becker and described in Britain's "Everyday Practical Electronics," December 2001.
If anyone wants to sing along, it seems to me that the words are: " - Sol-Der Smo-Oke, - Sol-Der
Smoke (repeat over and over) "
Music, like all home-brew, is never truly done. Next time I'll try to get a theremin working
again - there's a radio-circuitried musical instrument!
If my grandson has kept the site up, there may be garage band music of his and mine on MySpace
under Mikeandtheceiling.
Mark "moj" Johnson

Monday, January 24, 2011

Our Kind of Contest: "Eight Pins, One Shot!"

Jeri Ellsworth has come up with a contest that will appeal to SolderSmoke fans: A design competition using 555 timers. Check it out:

Saturday, January 22, 2011

NASA NANO-Sail Found by Hams!

All is well with the Nano-sail spacecraft, and hams apparently helped find it:

“This is tremendous news and the first time NASA has deployed a solar sail in low-Earth orbit,” said Dean Alhorn, NanoSail-D principal investigator. “To get to this point is an incredible accomplishment for our small team and I can’t thank the amateur ham operator community enough for their help in tracking NanoSail-D. Their assistance was invaluable. In particular, the Marshall Amateur Radio Club was the very first to hear the radio beacon. It was exciting!”

The Marshall Amateur Radio Club confirmed deployment of NanoSail-D late Wednesay EST with reception of the 1200bps AX.25 FM beacon on 437.275MHz +/-10kHz Doppler. News Release: 19 January 2011 Huntsville, AL USA The Marshall Amateur Radio Club (@ MSFC) - WA4NZD late Wednesday afternoon confirmed ejection of the NanoSail-D sub-satellite. This loaf-of-bread sized spacecraft was carried to orbit late last year on an Air Force rocket as part of NASA's FastSat project. This is the first successful deployment of a satellite, launched from a satellite already in orbit .!. The only communication from the NanoSail-D vehicle is via ham radio with 1200 baud FM AX25 beacon packets. The WA4NZD team of N4PMF and WB5RMG, was listening on 437.275 MHz FM with the NanoSail-D Principal Investigator Dean Alhorn at the club station when the beacon was heard and susbequently decoded onto the screen. Please visit for pictures and more links to the NanoSail-D project. They are asking for telemetry reception reports from all over the world to help fill in gaps. The battery is expected to last for only three days. Marshall Amateur Radio Club NanoSail-D Dashboard NanoSail-D on Twitter

Friday, January 21, 2011

Voyager -- Still on the air after 33 years

The Baltimore Sun has a really nice article on the Voyager spacecraft, and on the guys who have been keeping them going for the past 33 years. Here's an excerpt:

You probably have more computing power in your pocket than what NASA's venerable Voyager spacecraft are carrying to the edge of the solar system. They have working memories a million times smaller than your home computer. They record their scientific data on 8-track tape machines. And they communicate with their aging human inventors back home with a 23-watt whisper. Even so, the twin explorers, now 33 years into their mission, continue to explore new territory as far as 11 billion miles from Earth. And they still make global news. Scientists announced last month that Voyager 1 had outrun the solar wind, the first man-made object to reach the doorstep to interstellar space.
Here's the link to the article:,0,278380,full.story

NASA Needs Our Help!

Kim Newton
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

NanoSail-D Ejects: NASA Seeks Amateur Radio Operators' Aid to Listen for Beacon Signal
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- Wednesday, Jan. 19 at 11:30 a.m. EST, engineers at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., confirmed that the NanoSail-D nanosatellite ejected from Fast Affordable Scientific and Technology Satellite, FASTSAT. The ejection event occurred spontaneously and was identified this morning when engineers at the center analyzed onboard FASTSAT telemetry. The ejection of NanoSail-D also has been confirmed by ground-based satellite tracking assets.

Amateur ham operators are asked to listen for the signal to verify NanoSail-D is operating. This information should be sent to the NanoSail-D dashboard at: The NanoSail-D beacon signal can be found at 437.270 MHz.

The NanoSail-D science team is hopeful the nanosatellite is healthy and can complete its solar sail mission. After ejection, a timer within NanoSail-D begins a three-day countdown as the satellite orbits the Earth. Once the timer reaches zero, four booms will quickly deploy and the NanoSail-D sail will start to unfold to a 100-square-foot polymer sail. Within five seconds the sail fully unfurls.

"This is great news for our team. We’re anxious to hear the beacon which tells us that NanoSail-D is healthy and operating as planned," said Dean Alhorn, NanoSail-D principal investigator and aerospace engineer at the Marshall Center. "The science team is hopeful to see that NanoSail-D is operational and will be able to unfurl its solar sail."

On Dec. 6,, 2010, NASA triggered the planned ejection of NanoSail-D from FASTSAT. At that time, the team confirmed that the door successfully opened and data indicated a successful ejection. Upon further analysis, no evidence of NanoSail-D was identified in low-Earth orbit, leading the team to believe NanoSail-D remained inside FASTSAT.

The FASTSAT mission has continued to operate as planned with the five other scientific experiments operating nominally.

"We knew that the door opened and it was possible that NanoSail-D could eject on its own," said Mark Boudreaux, FASTSAT project manager at the Marshall Center. "What a pleasant surprise this morning when our flight operations team confirmed that NanoSail-D is now a free flyer."

If the deployment is successful, NanoSail-D will stay in low-Earth orbit between 70 and 120 days, depending on atmospheric conditions. NanoSail-D is designed to demonstrate deployment of a compact solar sail boom system that could lead to further development of this alternative solar sail propulsion technology and FASTSAT’s ability to eject a nano-satellite from a micro-satellite -- while avoiding re-contact with the FASTSAT satellite bus.

Follow the NanoSail-D mission operation on Twitter at:

For additional information on the timeline of the NanoSail-D deployment visit:

To learn more about FASTSAT and the NanoSail-D missions visit:

- end -

text-only version of this release


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Rouges Gallery: Three Possible SolderSmoke mics

One of my New Year's resolutions was to finally, seriously pay some attention to the audio quality of the SolderSmoke podcast. With its roots in the scratchy Echolink connections between Juneau and London, audio quality has long been neglected on our show. With some funds donated by kind listeners (thanks guys!) I was this weekend shopping the internet for a suitable SolderMic. I ran into a lot of audio-fool snake oil. Wait a second, I thought, let's do some checks on the many mics I have around me here in the shack. I made comparison tests using three different mics (pictured above): my venerable D-104 chrome lollipop (with a transistor amplifier in the base), the dilapidated computer mic with improvised pop shield that I've been using for the last several years, and a Turner +2 mic that I gutted a while back (the original element was replaced by a cheap Radio Shack electret element, and the on-board amplifier was disconnected). (NOTE: It is a MYTH -- an ugly myth -- that the D-104 is CB gear. We debunked this hideous lie a while back. The D-104 is definitely ham gear! The Turner +2? Well, I don't know about that one. It does look a bit good-buddyish.)

At first, I thought the re-done Turner would win out. Then I thought the computer mic would keep its job. But then -- surprisingly -- the D-104 started to sound REAL good. The D-104 was especially good at keeping AC hum out of the signal -- that was a problem with the other two.

I found that I could get a very nice-sounding audio by running the D-104 audio through some EQ to knock down the little bit of hum that it did pick up, and to put about 30 db of attenuation on my now infamous SSSS whistles. I also used Audacity's noise remover.

So, the next SolderSmoke may come to you via an Astatic D-104. Kind of appropriate, don't you think? What do you guys think? Maybe I should post an audio sample to get some expert opinion before I chrome lollipop #130...

Monday, January 17, 2011

Sunday, January 16, 2011

What should I do with this thing?

Pretty cool, don't you think? I found this among the stuff that arrived from storage. I must have bought it at a hamfest sometime in the distant past. Note the miniature TUBES. Note the place of manufacture: BEAVERTON, OREGON. The internal construction is beautiful, with good shielding between each stage. It has a nice AC power supply. I have no real need for a 2 meter converter... So, what should I do with this? It seems to have the potential to become a QRP transmitter. Or maybe a DC receiver? Or maybe I should just turn it over to AA1TJ for conversion into something really surprising and marvelous.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Einstein and Lead-Acid Batteries

In "SolderSmoke -- Global Adventures in Wireless Electronics" we discuss the way in which Einstein's Special Relativity explains how and why transformers and coils work. I thought it was very cool to be able to see the role of Einstein's theory in our little toroidal transformers. Yesterday The New Scientist (perhaps the best science weekly in the world) brought news that we need to consider relativistic effects if we want to understand how and why our car batteries (and, I suppose, our gel-cells) work:

Thank relativity every time your car starts. Lead-acid batteries get about 80 per cent of their voltage from special relativistic effects.

Check it out (the NS story is short and gets right to the point):

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Some Tech Humor

Ron Barrett

Apparently Pluto's demotion from planet status might have been a bit unfair. Researchers say that the rival to Pluto that was discovered six years ago is actually smaller than Pluto.

And I thought this BBC skit on computer problems would yield a few chuckles from the SolderSmoke community. (For U.S. readers: Orange is a big ISP/mobile phone provider in the UK and elsewhere.):

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Grote Reber, Radio Astronomy, and Tasmania

Wow, the website of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a real treasure trove, with lots of ham radio info. Check out their page about ham radio's contribution to the exploration of the universe:

The picture above shows antenna that Grote Reber built in his backyard in Wheaton, Illinois in 1937. It is now on display at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory at Green Bank, West Virginia. That's quite an antenna! Imagine the neighbors' reaction.

NRAO has a page devoted to Grote Reber:
I had wondered what had drawn him to Tasmania later in life. Here's the answer:

In the 1950s, Reber sought a field that seemed neglected by most other researchers and turned his attention to cosmic radio waves at very low frequencies (1-2 MHz, or wavelength 150-300 meters). Waves of these frequencies cannot penetrate the Earth's ionosphere except in certain parts of the Earth at times of low solar activity. One such place is Tasmania, where Reber lived for many years. He died in Tasmania on December 20, 2002.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

ECHOLINK and WINE: Works very well

I've been away from Echolink ever since my eeemachines PC went toes up and wiped out the Windows XP operating system. Echolink had always been a bit difficult to get running, even under Windows, so when I returned the eeemachne to life with Ubuntu, I never really even considered trying to get Echolink running on it. There is no Linux version of Echolink. But then, yesterday, somehow I got inspired. Something told me I should give Echolink a try using the Linux WINE Windows emulator. After all, I'd found that LTSpice worked great under WINE. I went to the Echolink download site, and hit the button. Ubuntu Karmic Koala (the version I am using) automatically fired up WINE and put the new windows program in the appropriate place. Echolink started right up. That night I was able to check into the Sunday evening QRP group for the first time in years. It was great. Now I'm on Echolink in the morning, talking to hams in Western Australia. The cheers for Jonathan Taylor, creator of Echolink! And three cheers for Ubuntu (especially Karmic Koala)!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Arduino Documentary

Arduino The Documentary (2010) English HD from gnd on Vimeo.

Embedded controllers may seem a bit far afield for SolderSmoke. After all, I kind of gave up on surface mount, and have pretty much resigned myself to "hardware defined radios." (Someone sent me a picture of a T-shirt that kind of captured the sentiment: "I PROGRAM IN SOLDER!") But still, for a number of reasons I find Arduino intriguing. Aside from the amazing things you can do with this device, I like the homebrew, hands-on aspect of it. As you will see in the documentary, there is a real spirit of international collaboration in Arduinoland -- Italians, Spaniards, Colombians, Americans all working together on the project (the documentary itself is also available in Spanish). I also like it because it has its roots in Italy. So, even if you are not into embedded controllers, check out the documentary. I think you will like it.

SolderSmoke Podcast #129

January 8, 2010
SolderSmoke Podcast #129

Introducing Cappuccio (pictured above)
"On the Cover of the Hot Iron"
Old tech, new tech:
Hammarlund HQ-100
Lafayette HA-600 (A)
WSPR: VK6 on the grey line, also Wake Island, and Alaska
How I fixed a broken GPU chip using a light bulb!
EMRFD's cool mod of the SBL-1 Diode Ring device (from W6JFR)

Please send me reports on the audio quality. I made some changes...

Friday, January 7, 2011

Black Boxes No More! Cracking Open CPU Chips!

You guys have to see this. These guys have opened up some old CPU chips and have drawn the circuit diagrams for all the transistors. Then they made models of the circuitry. And they can runs programs on the models! From the site:

Have you ever wondered how the chips inside your computer work? How they process information and run programs? Are you maybe a bit let down by the low resolution of chip photographs on the web or by complex diagrams that reveal very little about how circuits work? Then you've come to the right place!

The first of our projects is aimed at the classic MOS 6502 processor. It's similar to work carried out for the Intel 4004 35th anniversary project, though we've taken a different approach to modeling and studying the chip. In the summer of 2009, working from a single 6502, we exposed the silicon die, photographed its surface at high resolution and also photographed its substrate. Using these two highly detailed aligned photographs, we created vector polygon models of each of the chip's physical components - about 20,000 of them in total for the 6502. These components form circuits in a few simple ways according to how they contact each other, so by intersecting our polygons, we were able to create a complete digital model and transistor-level simulation of the chip.

This model is very accurate and can run classic 6502 programs, including Atari games.

I had some technical (operator!) problems with Audacity this morning. Podcast 129 should be out tomorrow morning.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

10% Discount Coupon for SolderSmoke -- The Book

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Enter code READ2011 at checkout. (Offer ends January 31, 2011*)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Solar Flux Graph

The projected 2013-2014 peak doesn't look that great, but at least it appears that we are climbing out of the bottom of the cycle.

SolderSmoke Podcast #129 has been recorded and should be out in a day or so.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Propagation Improving

Yesterday was reporting that a big sunspot was coming around the solar rim. I guess it arrived! Last night my WSPR sig was picked up by VK6XT during what must have been a gray-line situation, but this time with me going into sunset. Then, just about all night I was being picked up by VK2DDI. So, there may be hope for this solar cycle. 2011 seems to be off to a good start!

Monday, January 3, 2011


I was pleased to find this report (above) on my screen this weekend. Wake Island.

This morning I saw that yesterday I was picked up by one of the world's most globe-trotting hams: Laurence KL1X (by his remote-controlled station Kl7UK).


Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Blast from the Past: THE HAMMARLUND HQ-100

I'm sitting here in the shack at 0645 EST on the first Sunday morning in 2011. Coffee is on. And so is my OLD Hammarlund HQ-100. I have it tuned to a friendly AM roundtable on 75 meters. And it sounds GREAT. Nothing like a receiver that is as broad as a barn door to let you appreciate that great AM sound.

This receiver and I have some history. I bought it in the Dominican Republic, probably in 1993, probably from my friend (now SK) Pericles Perdomo. It had suffered the ravages of the Dominican radio environment from both ends: I think I found signs of a lightning surge at the front end, and of a power surge at the AC input. The audio output transformer was bad also. This was one of my first tube-type renovation project. I had a lot of fun with it.

There are no crystal filters in this receiver. If you want to narrow it down, there is a Q-multiplier (so --yikes!-- this receiver is at least in part a regen). In its original configuration the Q multiplier doubled at the BFO, but I guess my anti-regen feelings were at work even then: I took the 100 kc crystal calibrator and put a 453.5 kc crystal in there -- so that calibrator now serves as the BFO. This seems much more civilized.

You can see in the picture that the clock is gone. Mine was in pretty sad shape when I got it. Plus I thought it looked kind of goofy in that otherwise very beautiful front panel. So I took the clock out, patched the hole, and gave the clock to a very grateful Hammarlund collector.

The AM really sounds great. I can see that I'm going to need a 75 meter dipole so I can match this receiver up with my DX-60 VF-1 combo.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

If You Could SEE The Night Sky at Radio Frequencies

Image courtesy of NRAO/AUI

SolderSmoke is mainly about radio, but we make frequent detours into astronomy. The picture above nicely combines the two fields. This is what the night sky would look like if our eyes received at radio frequencies! Here's how the National Radio Astronomy Observatory describes their image:

This composite picture shows the radio sky above an optical photograph of the NRAO site in Green Bank, WV. The former 300 Foot Telescope (the large dish standing between the three 85 foot interferometer telescopes and the 140 Foot Telescope) made the 4.85 GHz radio image, which is about 45 degrees wide. Increasing radio brightness is indicated by lighter shades to indicate how the sky would appear to someone with a "radio eye" 300 feet in diameter. The optical and radio skies reveal "parallel universes" containing quite different objects. The extended radio sources concentrated in a band from the lower left to upper right lie in the outer Milky Way. The brightest irregular sources are clouds of hydrogen ionized by luminous stars. Such stars quickly exhaust their nuclear fuel, collapse, and explode as supernovae, whose remnants appear as faint radio rings. Unlike the nearby (less than 1000 light years distant) stars visible to the human eye, almost none of the myriad radio "stars" scattered over the sky are really stars at all. Most are luminous radio galaxies or quasars, and their average distance is over 5,000,000,000 light-years. Radio waves travel at the speed of light, so distant extragalactic sources appear today as they actually were billions of years ago. Radio galaxies and quasars are beacons of information about galaxies and their environs, everywhere in the observable universe, ever since galaxies first formed. Investigator(s): J. J. Condon, J. J. Broderick, and G. A. Seielstad

Higher definition images and lots more info is available here: Three cheers for the NRAO!

So... Think BIG in 2011! Happy New Year and 73 to all!
Designer: Douglas Bowman | Dimodifikasi oleh Abdul Munir Original Posting Rounders 3 Column