Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Handiham World for 21 December 2011

Welcome to Handiham World!

Pat reads from AMSAT newsletter.
This is your last Handiham World for the year 2011, as we are closed next week.  It has been a pretty good year overall, with lots of good ham radio news.  The burgeoning sunspot cycle has helped make HF operating really fun again, and the recent reports of record numbers of amateur radio licensees have been heartening to those of us who are worried about the future of our hobby. I have my Google News page set up to show ham radio stories, and I'm always finding out about great, positive things our fellow amateurs are doing in their communities.  
This gets me to thinking about a recent post I came across on a ham radio mailing list.  It was a response to a previous post, scolding the original poster for not posting relevant material.  Actually, the original post was a rather pleasant report about how several candidates had passed their exams at a VE session.  You can guess that the original poster, feelings hurt, felt pretty unwelcome.  It really doesn't matter who was right or wrong about the relevance of the content. Most of the subscribers liked the original post and asked the poster to please stay on the list.  One thing for sure is that everyone felt a little less cheer after reading though all of that stuff.  Sometimes the same thing happens on the air, though less frequently, thank heaven.  
Let's see what it takes to stay positive. Sometimes it is necessary to be a bit more deliberate in what we do and say.  Will what we say to someone on the air or on an Internet mailing list actually solve a problem?  Is the problem so serious that it requires a comment?  Is there a tactful way to say it?  
Much of getting through one's day depends on knowing when to speak up and when to keep your counsel. In the vernacular, you might say, "Don't sweat the small stuff", or "Pick your battles."
It really makes very little sense to risk hurt feelings over who didn't bring a dish to pass at the club picnic.  On the other hand, it is definitely reasonable to call someone to task for illegal or unsafe behavior. Learning this kind of diplomacy is not something one does without some time and effort.  As a married man and a father, I have learned over the years that teamwork is more important than determining who is right or wrong in running a household. It doesn't matter who forgot to take the dog out or left the garage door open.  It will do no good to take the attitude that fixing blame for such things somehow earns points for you.  The positive thing to do is to take the dog out and close the garage door yourself.  If the problems persist, figure out a way to solve them, perhaps with a reminder on your family smart phones or computers.  
Let's practice!  Your club newsletter editor has made an error, listing the date of the club's flea market wrong.  Do you:
  1. Get on the club Internet mailing list and immediately complain about the newsletter, the editor, and the overall lack of quality in "this day and age"?

  2. Notify the newsletter editor politely about the error and offer to help get the word out about the correct date for the event?
Ha, ha, this isn't really all that difficult.  If you went with answer number one, you are probably going to be appointed newsletter editor when the other guys quits.  If you correctly chose the second answer, you are a positive problem-solver.  As a bonus you are seen as a team player and don't have to learn how to edit the newsletter on short notice!
We are on a roll here with positive news about ham radio every day.  Now let's all try to be positive problem-solvers behind the scenes, making amateur radio more fun than ever in 2012. 
For Handiham World, I'm...
Patrick Tice
Handiham Manager

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Handiham World for 14 December 2011

Welcome to Handiham World!

Butternut vertical antenna covered with a wintery coat of fluffy, white snow.
Wow, it's hard to believe that we are only a week and a half until Christmas and two and a half weeks until 2012.  My January 2012 QST arrived in the mail the day before yesterday, and it is sure to provide some good reading over the holidays. The theme of the issue is "DIY", or "Do It Yourself", and big letters on the cover proclaim:  "Winter...  The perfect time of year to build something!"
In case you have not been following the DIY movement, you will certainly want to catch the article by Allen Pitts, W1AGP, on page 75.  "The DIY Magic of Amateur Radio" gives an overview of what is going on in the world of creative "makers" who enjoy the challenge of building projects from scratch.  As Allen points out, there is nothing new about doing it yourself in amateur radio.  Most of us will eventually build something for the ham shack, even if it is a simple project.  Even the most impressive home-built project had its roots in earlier simple projects that allowed for a learn-as-you-go evolution of building skill and confidence.  
There are different reasons that motivate builders.  If you don't have much money in the ham radio budget, building your own antenna is a good way to get on the air and enjoy the process of figuring out what you are going to make, finding the parts, and learning to to make an antenna by actually making an antenna.  For that second project money might not be an object, and yet you might still decide to build your own project, because you can recall the fun and satisfaction of that first project.  Yes, building your own ham radio projects really does grow on you!  
Since there is a growing "DIY" movement out there that is not necessarily ham radio oriented, wouldn't it make sense to help those folks learn about ham radio and its long history of building?  That's what Allen's article is about, and it showcases a new 8-minute video available on December 27 through the ARRL's We  Do That Radio website.  I'll provide the link to the ARRL website story at the break. 
Kudos to ARRL for pursuing this line of marketing amateur radio.  There are many misconceptions out there in the General Public, and it is important to tell our story to set the record straight.  Finding new and creative ways to get the word out is simply part of the new reality of sharing amateur radio.  If you'll recall the post 9/11 days when emergency communication became a hot topic, amateur radio stepped in as a flexible volunteer-oriented way to augment existing public service communications.  Excitement grew around serving as emergency communicators, and there was a lot of growth in the new ham population.  The EMCOMM system evolved, too.  We now have a well-trained cadre of communicators whose focus is on that vital aspect of amateur radio.   Now it is time to move on to other interest groups, and makers are prime candidates for the exciting world of amateur radio building!
For Handiham World, I'm...
Patrick Tice
Handiham Manager

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Handiham World for 07 December 2011

Welcome to Handiham World!

Heathkit HM-102 SWR/Wattmeter poses with Icom gear at WA0TDA.
Image: A venerable and still useful Heathkit HM-102 SWR/Wattmeter poses proudly amid my Icom gear. These days, it is an occasional test instrument rather than a device that is used every day. 
Kits - electronic kits - have always been a part of my ham radio world since I was licensed as a teenager in the late 1960's.  Kits were around before that, and hearken back to the long tradition of amateur radio operators building their own equipment.  While not the same as designing and building one's own gear from scratch, kits do allow those who want to feel more vested in their radio equipment to enjoy the "hands-on" experience of assembling the radio and learning more about the layout and circuitry than if they had simply unpacked a new rig and put it on the air.  I can't think of a time when I haven't owned at least several kits.  Some of them have been transceivers or transmitters, while others have been accessories or test gear. 
The motivation for owning kits has changed through the years.  Back in 1967, when I got my Novice ticket, and a year later, when I upgraded to General, it was more important to me to find affordable gear so that I could just get on the air. Kits like the Knight T-60 transmitter filled the bill. Paired with a Lafayette receiver that drifted like a rowboat in a hurricane until it warmed up, this little station was the source of more on the air fun than you could ever imagine. I was already familiar with Knight-Kits, having built a two tube regenerative receiver, the "Span Master", while in high school. When I made the inevitable move to SSB, the Heathkit HW-100 was the kit of choice. It's 20 tube circuit was challenging to assemble, but I laid everything out on our family's ping-pong table in the basement and just followed the directions.  It worked the first time, and after alignment and installation of the case, provided my first really solid experience with phone operation, though I had plenty of fun working DX on CW. 
Over the years I built other kits, some of which were test gear that I still own and occasionally use today. Some kits, like a Heathkit SB-201 linear amplifier, were purchased assembled on the used market.  Later on I donated that amp to Handihams, having decided that high power wasn't really all that fun or useful. There are plenty of good used radios and accessories on the market, originally built from kits but working well today. 
Today's kit builder is motivated less by the need for economy and more by the desire to experience the fun of putting some of one's own effort into the station equipment.  However, there is an important new niche in amateur radio kits - that of simply offering equipment that isn't available any other way.  A third development is the evolution of superior kit radios that rival or best the already-assembled competition!  Cost does not necessarily enter into the decision making for any of these three kit builders.  
I was pleasantly surprised to hear from a group of kit builders here in the Midwest.  The Four State QRP Group has a kit building service and has built kits for hams who are blind or who just can't see well enough to complete a kit themselves. They do not charge for their service and would like to offer their services to our members.  This is an option for those who cannot build a kit on their own but who would like to experience the fun of operating with a transmitter that would not otherwise be available to them. A link to their website follows after my identification. 
But what about kits that can be assembled by blind hams?  One inquiry that intrigued me recently came from K9EYE, who would like to find a kit for a QRP A.M. transmitter that is possible to assemble with minimal soldering.  Pierre and I both remember as kids having electronics kits or "labs" that were designed to allow for experimentation with a variety of circuits.  Since they were designed with clip and plug connectors, they lent themselves to assembly by just about anyone.  For some reason you couldn't trust kids with hot soldering irons but wood burning sets seemed to be okay.  Anyway, we all survived to tell about it today!  But we would like to find some blind-friendly kits.  If anyone has sources or ideas, please let us know.  
For Handiham World, I'm...
Patrick Tice
Handiham Manager

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Handiham World for 30 November 2011

Welcome to Handiham World!

Cartoon couple driving a car
Ho, ho, ho, away your radio will go.
Yes, it is the holiday season again, and many of us (or our spouses) are thinking about shopping for gifts, stocking up on the special foods and treats and decorations and all the rest that goes along with this time of year.
But do you know what else goes hand in hand with the holiday shopping season?  It's the people who do their shopping without paying - the folks who steal.  
The reason I bring this up in the context of amateur radio is that many of us operate mobile, either VHF/UHF or HF or both.  Thousands of dollars worth of radio equipment may be in the car, and you certainly don't want to lose it to thieves. As a former policeman myself, I can tell you - and the experts will back me up on this - that the holiday season is an especially bad time of the year for thefts from vehicles.  The standard advice for anyone who drives a car and parks it in a public space is to keep packages and expensive accessories out of sight.  The car should be as plain and uninviting to thieves as possible.  Here are a few of the things I recommend:
If you own more than one vehicle, consider doing your Christmas shopping with the one that does not have the amateur radio equipment installed in it. This makes it much easier to turn that car into a "plain Jane" that will not attract any attention in the parking lot.
If you have accessories like transceivers or a GPS, get them out of sight. The GPS can probably fit comfortably in the glove box, but I recommend taking the transceiver out altogether and either leaving it at home or locking it securely in the trunk of the car while you are at home, not in plain sight in the parking lot of some shopping center where the bad guys can see that you are putting valuables in the trunk. I prefer using magnetic mount antennas that can quickly be pulled off the roof of the car and tossed in the trunk.
I have become somewhat of an expert in hiding wires under the passenger side floor mat. After taking out the radio and throwing it into the trunk, I can easily disguise the antenna feed line by simply coiling it up and placing it under the floor mat where it is completely out of sight. Any accessory plugs or wires for the GPS can also go under the floor mat or in the glove box prior to my leaving my own property.
Any time you purchase gifts, the time to place them in the trunk of the car is immediately upon leaving the store. Never place them on the passenger seat or anywhere else in the passenger compartment where they can be seen by anyone pretending to park their car nearby. It takes only a few seconds to break into a car and transfer these packages into an adjacent vehicle. Again, the idea is to make your car look as plain and uninviting as possible.
Never, ever return to the car and put packages in the trunk or anywhere else in the car and then leave the car in the same place and return to your shopping. The only time you should place packages in the car at all is when you're getting ready to leave. Anyone can see you putting packages in the car and break into the car, including the trunk, as soon as you are out of sight. If you must unload because you have just too much to carry and it is necessary to make a stop at the car to put packages in the trunk, I recommend that you do so and then drive the car to another part of the parking lot or a different floor on the parking ramp, park it again, and return to your shopping. That lessens the possibility of someone seeing you fill the car with packages and then leave, giving them time to break in.
Even if you have placed your antennas out of sight, don't be tempted to leave radios installed in the front of the car where they can be seen through the windows. Thieves may not know what they are taking, but they probably figure that whatever they get can be sold for a few bucks for drug money. You can't simply depend on a thief not wanting an amateur radio transceiver because they don't know what it is!
I have heard other amateur radio operators suggest that callsign license plates on a vehicle can attract thieves, but I have never found this to be the case. In fact, I think the general public probably thinks of them more as vanity license plates and I have even run into police officers who aren't familiar with call letter license plates. Maybe amateur radio operators are such good drivers that they never get pulled over!
Generally thieves who break into cars want to be able to do so quickly without being noticed. You can improve your odds of avoiding car break-ins by locating your car in a well lighted, busy part of the parking lot. I don't like parking next to blank walls or trucks or vans that hide the vehicle enough for someone to break in while remaining out of sight.
The name of the game is to avoid drawing attention to your vehicle with anything that looks expensive, flashy, or easy to steal. I can't emphasize enough how leaving packages or expensive radio equipment in plain sight can attract thieves at this time of year. They are out there looking for easy money, so you really have to be careful to make sure that your vehicle doesn't stand out as an easy mark.
Even when you park your car in your own driveway your radio equipment can be at risk. I recommend parking cars with radio equipment that you want to leave installed in a secured garage. Don't depend on car alarms to protect your expensive radio equipment. A car parked in the driveway can be burglarized in minutes while you sleep. If you have limited parking space, the car with the radio equipment should be parked inside and the car that must be parked in the driveway should be the "plain Jane" with nothing to attract thieves left in plain sight.
Of course no matter how careful you are, you can fall victim to thieves. You may want to consider insurance coverage for your radio equipment. Your existing automobile insurance may provide some coverage, but supplemental insurance is always available. This is a matter to discuss with your insurance agent. Sometimes relatively inexpensive transceivers, such as 2 m only mobile units, may not be worth paying an extra insurance premium. On the other hand, if you have a truck load of expensive radios that operate on multiple bands and that are difficult to remove from the vehicle when you go Christmas shopping, you may want to consider that extra insurance coverage!
As they used to say on the old Hill Street Blues TV series, "Let's be safe out there."  Timely advice for the holidays!
For Handiham World, I'm...
Patrick Tice
Handiham Manager

Early Winter Reading: Becoming a Ham (Part 11)

code key
Becoming a Ham - Part 11
By T. A. Benham (SK - formerly W3DD, a callsign which has been reassigned.)
Tom Benham, now a silent key but who most recently held callsign W3DD, was a ham radio pioneer, and being blind didn't even slow him down! Join us now as W3DD recalls more about satellites in the early days and his experience with a Senate investigation. 
The Teletype Episode
We were a very active part of NASA tracking for a couple of years and the teletype was our means of receiving messages about launchings. One night I stayed in the trailer all night because there was to be a launch about five A.M. We had fitted out the front part of the trailer with a couch, a hot-plate, coffee pot and other things for comfort. I was awakened about three in the morning by the teletypewriter coming on and typing something. Of course, I didn't know what it had written. Perhaps the message required a reply. If so, I would have to use the phone and find out what it was. After thinking about it for a few seconds, I got up, sat down at the machine and wrote, "If what you just sent requires a reply, ring the bell three times. If no reply is required, ring the bell twice." After a few seconds, the bell went ding ding. I went back to bed until five o'clock. A couple of days later, a man walked into my lab and said, "The office in Philadelphia sent me out here to find out what that monkey business the other night was all about." "What monkey business?" "That business about ringing the bell three or two times." When I explained it to him, he got a huge bang out of it saying "Gosh, wait until I get back and tell them that!" and he left. "Voices of the Satellites" got additions made to it during this period. We got the recording of Eisenhower's Christmas message broadcast from a satellite at Christmas 1959, telemetering signals from many satellites, John Glenn's flight in which he talked about the ice crystals, Russians talking back and forth between two space vehicles. As a matter of fact, the news people were out several times with cameras and recorders to watch and listen to the signals as we picked them up. We were not able to pick up satellite signals until they got above the horizon, so there was a delay of about two minutes after launch until the satellite was about 100 miles high before we made contact. In about 1963 we were monitoring a launch. We waited for the two minutes and then began to look for the signal. Several minutes passed with no contact so I went to the teletype machine and asked what happened. In two or three minutes the teletype machine wrote a very short message. I asked someone to read it. All it said was "splash." One time when I thought we would be able to hear the Russian astronauts talking from one ship to another, I invited a member of the University of Pennsylvania Russian Department to come listen. He did and we got a very good signal. Unfortunately, all they talked about was trivia about temperatures in the cabins, how their food was holding out, and such like. But it was interesting to us and he seemed to get a big kick out of it. An interesting but small contribution to the Space effort was made by Ham radio back in 1959. I mentioned that President Eisenhower provided a recorded Christmas message just before December 25th that year. The story has it that the message had not arrived in time for the launch. The vehicle was closed and launch was a few minutes away. A Ham, identity not known, rushed up with a recorder and equipment and said, "Hold it! let me radio the message to the receiver in the "bird". He set things up and sent the taped message to be stored aboard. I recorded the result when it was transmitted some time later.
The Summons
A rather amusing incident took place early in the satellite project. During the first couple of years, there was much conversation about the fact that the Russians had launched before we did. The project for launching was well under way in this country. Werner Von Braun, the German Physicist who was responsible for the development of the V1 and V2 rockets in Germany, was brought to this country at the end of the war and was making good progress organizing rocket development down in Alabama, but the red tape and time spent arguing delayed our program so that the Russians got ahead of us. There was much talk in the US Senate about why we were behind. There was an article published in one of the popular magazines telling what a good job Russia was doing. A Senate Committee was convened to investigate matters. The author of the article and I were subpoenaed to appear before the Committee. I got a small recorder and a few tapes to take with me to demonstrate what I had been recording and asked Corlies to accompany me. We were shown into the committee room and the other fellow was called first. They gave him a hard time and he did not present his information very coherently. The tenor of his remarks was that the Russians were way ahead of us, that he had been there and seen for himself.
Senator Brooks, the chairman said something like, "Well, you certainly have been given a snow job and what you have said does not seem to mean much." Then I was called to the witness table and the chairman said in a sarcastic tone of voice, "Now, what's your story?"
"I don't have a story, as you put it, sir. You summoned me so I'm here. What do you want of me?"
His attitude changed immediately. He said, "We've heard that you have been very active in tracking satellites. We'd like to hear some of your recordings and ask a few questions. Please give us a summary of your activities."
Things proceeded peacefully and pleasantly after that. I played a few samples of the satellite signals and explained what they meant and the information that could be derived from them, both US and Russian vehicles. They seemed to enjoy what I played and were friendly and interested. 
Next week: Moonbounce.

To be continued...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Handiham World for 23 November 2011

Welcome to Handiham World.

On things for which we are thankful, Black Friday, ham radio gifts, and other seasonal musings:
Horn of plenty with handheld radio
If you're like me, you probably think of the Thanksgiving holiday as one to spend with family and friends and to consider those things for which we should be truly thankful. I'm talking about the big things like family, friends, health, and having the basic necessities of life, not trivial things like finding whole berry cranberry sauce on the Thanksgiving table. Let's just admit right now that I really like whole berry cranberry sauce, but when you are considering thankfulness there are some things that really have to come first.
So family, friends, and health are right up there at the top of the list. But when I consider how I was lucky enough to get into ham radio in my late teenage years and how it has proven to be an exceptional way to make friends, engage in a lifelong learning activity, and always be there for me to push back loneliness whether I was traveling far away from home or stuck inside in the dead of winter. Being part of a community and being engaged in that community has been shown to contribute to a person's overall health and a longer life. Staying engaged in amateur radio is just the sort of thing that can make life just plain better, and for that I am truly thankful.
When I listen to the Handiham nets, I hear people who are friendly and helpful and who are, whether they realize it or not, making the world a better place a little bit at a time each day by communicating with their friends. I am thankful for each and every one of our Handiham members and for our supporters and volunteers and everyone who helps to spread the good word about amateur radio and the Handiham program. I am certainly thankful that so many amateur radio operators stayed close to their rigs and stayed on the air during the extended sunspot minimum that preceded cycle 24. Now, when I see that the United States amateur radio population has topped 700,000, an all-time high, I feel thankful that so many of our fellow citizens here in the United States and around the world still see amateur radio as a worthwhile activity, a way to build community, and a way to make the world a better place.
While not everyone in the world celebrates Christmas, that will be the next big holiday here in the United States, and it will be followed closely by celebrations bringing in the new year of 2012. Popular culture being what it is, Christmas is celebrated as much as a secular holiday of  gift giving as it is a religious holiday. My wife and I were surprised to see lots of Christmas decorations in Japan, where the secular version is prominent. Come to think of it, we even saw Halloween decorations in Japan. Popular culture just has a way of spreading everywhere and anywhere. The reason I mention Christmas and New Year's is that we will be closing the Handiham offices for a fair number of days toward the end of December. We will certainly try to maintain a more or less regular schedule of weekly Handiham World newsletters and podcasts, but some of the Friday audio might not be as current as one would expect in other months of the year. Still, my volunteers always amaze me with their dedication and willingness to help. This Thanksgiving season I definitely have to give a shout out to our Handiham volunteers. They help me with the website, do volunteer reading and recording and audio teaching, help promote the Handiham program, teach at camp sessions and with their local radio clubs, run the nets, and help each other out when technical or operating problems arise. I am so thankful for all of our dedicated volunteers!
Are you planning on shopping at midnight on Black Friday?  Me, neither.
Anyway, if your tradition is to exchange gifts over the holidays and one or more those gifts happen to be amateur radio related, just make a mental note to plan to share information about your new ham radio equipment with your weekly E-letter readers and listeners. If you happen to get some piece of equipment that is still not audio-described for blind users, please consider learning about that equipment yourself and then producing an audio tutorial that we can place on our website as a resource for others who are looking for help. And if you get something really unusual and unexpected as a holiday gift, you might consider sharing your story with your fellow readers. In fact, I think I can imagine some pretty weird and unexpected stuff under just about any Christmas tree. One year, when we were kids, I gave my sister a monkey head carved out of a half-coconut. Boy, was she mad at me. Best Christmas ever!
For Handiham World, I'm...
Patrick Tice
Handiham Manager

Early Winter Reading: Becoming a Ham (Part 10)

code key
Becoming a Ham - Part 10
By T. A. Benham (SK - formerly W3DD, a callsign which has been reassigned.)
Tom Benham, now a silent key but who most recently held callsign W3DD, was a ham radio pioneer, and being blind didn't even slow him down! Join us now as W3DD recalls more about satellites in the early days.
The Trailer
During April of '59, the students and I heard of an offer from the Government. If we went to Indian Gap, near Harrisburg, we might be able to pick up some surplus equipment. Two boys and I went and we found a fully equipped trailer that was designed for tracking aircraft. It had a parabolic six-foot dish on top that was driven by a sophisticated system from inside. The trailer was 20 feet long and about 8 feet wide. We could have it for the price of getting it hauled to Haverford, which turned out to be $200. The college comptroller authorized the expense and the trailer was parked in a little lot behind the Physics building. With the help of several students, chief among them Amateur Ridgley Bolgiano, the trailer was converted into a satellite tracking station. The 6-foot dish was too small, so we set about finding a larger one. I had heard that ITT, in Nutley NJ, might be interested in giving a hand, so three of us went to visit. We were received most cordially and I asked my contact if they had any parabolic dishes that were due to be scrapped. He paused a minute, looked out the window, picked up the phone and called the Disposal Department. "Hey Jim, you know that 12-foot dish outside my window? Well, it looks like hell, cluttering up the lawn. Please send it to Haverford College, attention T. A. Benham and get rid of the unsightly thing." That was more than we could have hoped for, but it wasn't all. He next called his wife. "Dear, I have three very interesting fellows in my office and I want to bring them home to dinner so you can meet them." We went to his house, had a very nice lobster dinner and a pleasant visit. In a week or so, an ITT truck appeared with the dish. The boys and I got it put together and mounted on top of the trailer. Then Ken from Gerald Electronics came out and helped get the equipment inside the trailer in good operating condition. Since it was intended to track planes, it was nowhere near ready for satellites. When the trailer was ready to be installed in a location suitable for tracking, it was moved to the middle of a large field about a quarter-mile behind the Physics building. We drove two stakes into the ground and strung a string between them to provide an exact north-south line so the tractor driver could point the trailer as nearly north as could be arranged. He had to maneuver the trailer several times to get it lined up to our satisfaction. We had built a heavy platform for it to rest on so it wouldn't settle in the ground and perhaps alter its position. It was very interesting and exciting. We had electric, telephone and teletype lines buried from the nearest pole, which was about 300 feet away. One of the interested boys paid the monthly charges for the phone, another paid for the teletype, I paid the electric.
Linkup with NASA
Now we became a significant link in the NASA tracking chain, at least until they got their multimillion dollar system going. Ridgley built a remote control system so we could turn on functions in the trailer from anywhere. For example, I was coming home from Washington one evening and knew we had to track something about midnight. We stopped in Baltimore and by telephone I turned on the heat, and the receivers to give them time to stabilize. At that time it was illegal to use phone lines for private purposes, but we dodged the rules. One afternoon, there was a knock on my office door and a man entered saying, "I'm from the FCC. I have a complaint from the telephone company that you are running equipment by remote control through their lines." "No, we're not connected to their lines and are not violating the regulations," I replied. "Well then, why have they complained?" I explained that we had mounted a coil on the wall under the wall phone in the trailer. When the phone rang, a voltage was induced in the coil which we used to control relays, timers, etc. He wanted to see, so I took him to the trailer and showed him. He was amazed and left saying "I guess we can't stop you from that!" "No," I agreed. "We do all this without removing the phone from the hook, so there is no way the phone company could know we're doing it. If they allowed us to use the line, they could charge and it would be much easier for us to accomplish the task." I never found out who complained to Ma Bell. Now days it would be no problem. Back in 1936 when I operated my transmitter from the College I had a dedicated line for which I paid, but it allowed control from only one location. The conditions under which this remote system were built had an interesting quirk. Ridgley was driving back to College from his home in Baltimore. Somewhere along the rather poorly lit route 926, he dozed a little and ran full tilt into the rear of a parked truck. Both of his knees were smashed. He spent many weeks in Bryn Mawr Hospital while they were mending. It was during this time that he and I designed the system, on the phone and in person. Then we got tools and parts together and took them to him. He mounted and wired all of the components on a piece of Plexiglas® measuring about two feet square. It was a beautiful piece of work and functioned like a charm. I was heart broken when it was destroyed in a fire! The operating code was simple. Call the number and let it ring once, then hang up. Within a minute, call and let it ring twice. This set two timers running. Then call again and let it ring three times to turn on the heat, or four times to turn on a receiver, etc. Timing was important. To turn things off, let the bell ring four times the second call instead of three and this would set things up for being turned off. 
To be continued...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Handiham World for 16 November 2011

Welcome to Handiham World.

Pat, wearing headset microphone and making audio recording of AMSAT Journal article.
Image: Here I am recording AMSAT Journal. I find that using a USB headset with boom microphone gives the most consistent audio quality because you can maintain an exact distance between your mouth and the microphone. It is also more comfortable and allows you to use both hands to hold any print material you may be reading from or using as a reference. All recording is done digitally using the open-source software Audacity, which runs on Linux, Windows, and Mac.  For insight into recording digitally, see the "With the Handihams" article in an upcoming issue of Worldradio Online.  The headset pictured here is a Plantronics brand, but I don't have the model number.  It was one recommended for voice dictation by Nuance, the makers of Dragon Naturally Speaking®.

This edition of your weekly e-letter is a little bit early because I must be out of the office all day Wednesday for a meeting. I've noticed that the ARRL Letter sometimes has to shift its schedule around a little bit and occasionally there will be no audio version. Sometimes it is necessary for staff to have days off or take care of other office duties, and recording a newsletter is a specialized job only certain staff can complete.  
Speaking of recording, I recently received my  AMSAT Journal, CQ Magazine, and the December QST. Unfortunately, we have not been able to continue digest articles from CQ for our blind members because of limited staff time, but we do still hope to have some help from a volunteer. Bob, N1BLF, has completed the November WorldRadio digest, but I cannot promise anything from the November CQ, this week at least. I have started recording from the AMSAT Journal and expect to have some audio available by the time we release our audio notification on Friday. Since I must also prepare a new General Class audio lecture from scratch on radio signals in various modes of operation, which can be a complicated topic, it is doubtful that I will be able to tackle QST until the following week.
We are always looking for volunteers who can read for us or assist in the preparation of audio lectures on various operating skills topics and on how to operate particular types of radio equipment. An example of how this is done can be found by listening to the audio lectures done by Matt Arthur, KA0PQW.  Matt has done operating skills lectures on VHF propagation and produced several different audio tutorials on radios.  If you think that you might like to try teaching into a microphone, please consider helping your fellow Handiham members by sharing some of your knowledge about specific radios or about a particular piece of software or some operating technique. If you are sighted and subscribe to amateur radio print publications, please consider becoming a volunteer reader to help out our blind Handiham members.
For Handiham World, I'm...
Patrick Tice
Handiham Manager

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Handiham World for 09 November 2011

Welcome to Handiham World.

Pat poses in front of Honda driving simulator.
Photo: Pat, WA0TDA, poses in front of the Honda Driving Simulator at the Mazda car rental agency in Chitose, Japan.  Note the Handiham baseball cap!  In Japan one drives on the left side of the road. 
I'm back from Japan, and have some awesome jet lag, so this will be a short one! Today is the day of the big FEMA emergency test, so you might drop me a line and let me know if your radio club or ARES group did anything special to participate, or if you even heard any alerts. 
My XYL and I had a nice visit with son Will, KC0LJL, on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. Although I had hoped to check into some Handiham nets from there, I just could not make the time shift work for me so that I could stay awake to make that schedule.  It sure was hard to flip days and nights for 10 days, then do it all over again.  One of the oddest things to wrap my brain around was that one can leave Tokyo on Tuesday afternoon and arrive back in Minnesota on Tuesday morning, thanks to crossing the International Date Line while flying east.  It reminded me of that book by Jules Verne, "Around the World in 80 Days" in which the protagonist, Phileas Fogg, wins a bet by circumnavigating the globe in 80 days.  At first he thinks he lost the bet, but because he traveled east around the world, he actually gains a day and is able to win the bet after all.  It's been a long time since I read that story as a boy who hoped someday to see the world!  In the novel, Phileas Fogg traveled from Yokohama to San Francisco in 22 days by steamship. Thanks to amateur radio, I can travel the world via DX any day.  
Japan is known for its amateur radio manufacturers and enthusiasm for amateur radio in general.  While on the road with XYL Susie driving, I spotted plenty of HF beam antennas, but who knows how many wire or VHF/UHF antennas that I missed?  One day we visited the city Tomakomai, a port city south of Sapporo. There was one city block where I saw a real cluster of ham radio antennas, and I'm estimating a half-dozen beams or rotary dipoles in that single city block! That's just amazing! 
While in Japan, I was not able to get on the air using an HT because I did not apply in advance for a JA license.  I did, however, enjoy getting on HF using the Handiham Remote Base station W0ZSW and checked into the PICONET on 3.925 MHz.  If you are a remote base user, please consider checking into PICONET, which has a long-time association with the Handihams. 
For Handiham World, I'm...
Patrick Tice
Handiham Manager

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Handiham World for 26 October 2011

Welcome to Handiham World.

cartoon sun
Experiencing a CME
Remember last week's praise of the 10 meter band and the great DX conditions?  Well, it's way different this week as the HF communications conditions have been tanked by a CME, or "Coronal Mass Ejection" from the sun.
I subscribe to a service from that provides me with a timely email about such solar events.  On Monday, the day of the solar event, I was able to communicate on most of the HF bands quite well early in the day, but by mid-afternoon it was clear that something was happening.  Sure enough, the email had arrived in my inbox, alerting me to the fact that a CME event had occurred:
"A coronal mass ejection (CME) hit Earth's magnetic field on Oct. 24th around 1800 UT (2 pm EDT). The impact strongly compressed our planet's magnetosphere and may have exposed geosynchronous satellites to solar wind plasma. Mild to moderate geomagnetic storms are possible in the hours ahead as Earth's magnetic field continues to reverberate from the hit."
Later in the evening on Monday I checked in with a group of friends on 1.902 MHz.  It was 20:00 Central Daylight Time, and after sunset.  Normally the 160 meter band would be really starting to open up that time of the evening, but conditions were so bad that sky wave communications were almost non-existent. Ground wave contacts were possible, and because several of us live within the range of ground wave communications, we were able to carry on a conversation. It was clear that not everyone knew what was happening, but by this morning the news had hit the popular media, with stories about the Northern Lights being observed even in the southern United States, a rare occurrence.  Displays of the Northern Lights are common in the far north, as you might expect, when matter and radiation are ejected from the sun in the direction of Earth reach and disrupt the planet's magnetosphere.  CME events are actually quite common as the sunspot cycle climbs to maximum, and there may be several each day.  However, not all of them are as strong as this week's, nor are they all directed toward Earth. You can find out much more about CME events on Wikipedia or, but for our purposes we simply need to know that solar weather can bring a temporary halt to effective sky wave propagation.
It is tempting for those of us who have experienced multiple solar cycles as amateur radio operators to assume that most everyone will know why they turn on their HF radios and find comparative silence. There may be odd swishing sounds or hissing.  Tuning around can yield more "birdies" (mixer products generated within the radio) than actual signals.  We now have lots of new Technicians and Generals who have never been in this situation.  That reminds me of the time when I was a new General and had never experienced the effects of a CME.  It was a time of many sunspots, good DX, plenty of activity on the bands, and contacts with low power were "easy pickings".  Imagine my thought processes when I switched on the receiver (we had separate transmitters and receivers in the late 1960's unless we had lots of money) and there was nothing but a gentle hiss.  I immediately assumed that the antenna was disconnected - that's exactly what it sounded like, so it was a reasonable thing to check.  When that idea fizzled, I actually took a hike out into the back yard to look at the antenna.  It was till up there in the air, feedline connected, looking fit as ever.  
This was a real head-scratcher!
Back inside I went to sit down and puzzle it out.  RF gain, check.  Antenna switch, check. All vacuum tubes in the receiver lit up, check. Broadcast stations coming in on medium wave, check.  Eventually I must have talked with a fellow radio club member and gotten the lowdown on solar weather events like that one, but it always stuck with me that I felt that the antenna must not have been connected - that's how bad it was.  You can well imagine a new ham today experiencing the same thing with this week's solar weather and thinking that they are either doing something wrong or they have some kind of an equipment or antenna problem.  
So what do you do about it?
This is simple, and the method preferred by lazy operators:  Just wait and do nothing.  Band conditions will slowly improve, though it may take several days.  You can have fun keeping an informal log of stations you hear on the various bands, perhaps even charting the return to normal conditions band by band, starting with 160 or 80 meters, where sky wave will return quickly, often within 24 hours. It will probably take longer for activity to return on bands like 10 meters.  By yesterday 75 meters had cleared up pretty well and regional nets were back in operation. 
For Handiham World, I'm...
Patrick Tice
Handiham Manager

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Handiham World for 19 October 2011

Welcome to Handiham World.

IC-7200 transceiver tuned to DX station on 28.397 MHz.
The 10 meter band is back!
We are starting to hear excited reports from amateurs on the regular VHF and HF nets about how the 10 m band is really hot, and that stations from all over the place are being heard really well. You know there is something going on when you start hearing people sing the praises of 10 m while they are checked into a 75 m phone net. Most of us have gotten out of the habit of tuning around 10 m unless there happens to be a local HF net that meets there, operating in a small geographic area by the use of ground wave propagation. We have had such nets here in the Twin Cities area off and on for many years. During a sunspot minimum there is very little activity on 10 m most of the time because the ionosphere is not sufficiently energized to allow for worldwide propagation conditions. As the sunspot maximum approaches, conditions change and long distance contacts on 10 m are not only possible, they are very common and can be completed with simple antennas and low power.  
This creates a a wonderful opportunity for amateur radio operators who have never experienced a sunspot maximum and the excellent band conditions that come along with it. Technician class operators now have lots of privileges on the 10 m band, and this is a perfect time to start using HF, especially for those operators who have never tried single side band or who have never operated anything but FM repeaters. This is a whole new ballgame!
Consider these facts about 10 m operation:
  1. Novice and Technician licensees may operate using single side band: between 28.300 and 28.500 MHz using up to 200 W.
  2. When the 10 m band is open as it is lately, high power is not necessary. Excellent contacts can be made even using very low power. Many stations will be using 100 W or less – in fact, I will amend that to say that MOST stations will be using 100 W or less. High power is simply not necessary, which puts Novice and Technician operators on a level playing field with other operators. Experience tells those of us who have been in amateur radio a long time that we are not going to bother turning on a linear amplifier to operate on the 10 m band.
  3. 10 m antennas are small and almost everyone can fit this kind of antenna into the space that they have available.  Using our formula for a half wave dipole, 468 divided by 28.4 MHz (the middle of the Novice/Tech segment of the band), yields an antenna about 16 and one half feet long.  That is a pretty manageable length! You would make each leg of a dipole 8 feet three inches long and feed it with 50 Ohm coax, such as RG-8X low loss if you must use a thinner cable or the standard size cable RG-213.  Keep the coax run as short as possible in any case, because loss in the feedline increases as the operating frequency goes up.  There is more loss per foot on 10 meters than on 75 meters.  A quarter wave vertical antenna for 10 m is only a little over 8 feet high.  If you want to construct a quad or Yagi antenna for 10 m, they are much smaller than 20 m directional antennas and thus have a smaller turning radius.  A 10 m antenna is lighter and easier to handle, too.
  4. For our Technician Class Handiham members who have already purchased HF transceivers but who have never used them for anything but receiving, this is your chance to press that push to talk switch and enjoy operating SSB.  Yes, I know that you have CW privileges on other HF bands, but this is PHONE, and conditions are so good that it is easy to make contacts.  Of course Morse code contacts are easier and better during good band conditions, but the window for SSB is open right now. 
  5. RF safety is a concern if you use indoor antennas on the 10 m band.  Be sure to perform an RF safety evaluation and locate the antenna as far away from people as possible. Adjust the power level to achieve compliance. For more on how to do this, visit the ARRL website and check the TIS, or Technical Information Service.  If you are a Technician Class operator who is studying for General, there is information both in your study materials and in the question pool.  
Okay, so that brings us up to speed on 10 meters.  There is another important thing that I would like to discuss with our readers and listeners: Access to the Handiham Internet Remote Base stations.  In general (and that's not meant as a pun), we have restricted the access to our stations to General, Advanced, and Extra Class licensees.  However, now that the 10 meter band is open, perhaps it is time to consider opening the stations to our Novice and Technician licensees as well.  There is no need to worry about RF safety, antennas, or transceivers since all of that equipment resides far from the control point, your computer. There are pros and cons to this idea. 
On the pro side: 
It would be nice to extend these excellent Handiham resources to more members at a time when band conditions are so good. 
Getting a taste of HF operation would surely make Techs excited about earning their General tickets. 
The 10 m band is also a good place to learn more about HF operation because it is not as crowded and competitive a place to operate as bands like 20 m. 
We are now hosting the software downloads for the W4MQ software. 
On the con side:
The HF remote base stations do require some additional technical expertise to operate. Novice and Technician operators are usually the least experienced and need the most help getting things to work. Lyle, K0LR, and I don't do much, if any, "tech support" on these stations because we simply do not have the time and most of the problems are located at the user's own home computer anyway.  My biggest fear is opening up a floodgate of emails and phone calls about how to install the software and get it to work.  This is not an insignificant problem.  An installation requires opening a free Skype account, getting audio settings correct, and then installing the W4MQ software and a required W4MQ update.  After that, the software must be configured with the IP address of each station and the log in credentials. This is not a problem for a computer user with at least an intermediate skill level, but it is quite challenging for a user who does not know their way around a computer.  
Technician users may get frustrated by operating practices on HF, which are much different than what they have experienced on FM repeaters. Of course you have to learn somewhere, but are we really ready to do a "sink or swim" exercise here?  Maybe we need some training ahead of time, but we have none set up.
So what do you think?  Is this a topic for discussion on the Handiham Radio Club list, or do we need a specialized list set up for Remote Base discussions only?  When Bob, N2JEU, became a silent key last summer his discussion board went away.  A discussion board on a website or a mailing list might be the best way to provide a forum for users to get their questions answered. 
For Handiham World, I'm...
Patrick Tice
Handiham Manager

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Handiham World for 12 October 2011

Welcome to Handiham World.

The temptation of power!
cartoon radio tower
What is it about power that makes some people crazy for it?  Once they have a taste of power, they want still more.  
Of course in ham radio, the idea of more power is usually associated with operating with higher power output by adding RF amplifiers.  If 100 watts is good, 1,000 must be better, right?
What does the FCC say?  It's §97.313, Transmitter power standards. Section (a)  says, "An amateur station must use the minimum transmitter power necessary to carry out the desired communications." 
There are good reasons for using lower power levels most of the time.  If the other station can hear you when you are using 100 watts, you are only wasting electricity to run more power than that.  We are more conscious about waste these days, since power costs are going up and the generation of that wasted power wastes resources and causes pollution.  Furthermore, that unnecessary power can cause your signal to be heard on adjacent frequencies and at long distances.  A high-power station can easily cause interference to other users on the band, but there is also a much greater chance of RF getting into nearby conductors where it causes bad things to happen.
I remember a Handiham member who moved into an apartment and was lucky enough to be able to have a wire antenna installed on the roof of the building. Back in those days, we were able to field volunteers to help members with such projects, and our volunteer was able to install and connect the antenna.  The fellow had moved from a private single-family house where he had owned and operated a complete, well-equipped station that included a linear amplifier for the HF bands.  Our volunteer explained to him that the amplifier would not be practical in the new QTH, since there was not enough real estate to get the wire antenna well away from the building. The linear was stored in a closet, and the station was tested on the air with good results.
Well, you can probably guess what happened.  The station's owner was used to operating with high power. (Remember: the thinking was, "If some is good, more is better.) So out came the linear from the closet and back into the ham shack it went.  It wasn't long before we got a call with the bad news that the poor fellow had lost his ham radio privileges at his new QTH after setting off all the fire alarms in the building. I don't know if he was ever able to get on the air after that.  It was before the days of remote base internet operation, so he was probably stuck on whatever VHF repeaters he could work from his apartment.  
Adding a linear can put enough RF energy into the area surrounding your shack to affect your neighbors, too, even if you live in a detached single-family home.  Devices like audio amplifiers can be connected to speakers systems in home theaters by long lengths of unshielded wire. The final output ICs in these devices can act as rectifiers to demodulate the RF and cause loud thumping noises in the speakers.  Other devices that may be connected to long lengths of wire are alarm systems, intercoms, and smoke detectors.  The relatively weak field from a 100 watt station might occasionally affect something in one's own home, but is seldom a problem next door.  Bump the power up to 1,000 watts and you are asking for trouble.  
Another consideration is the need for an RF safety audit.  Generally speaking, you don't have too much to worry about when using the typical transceiver without an amplifier.  When you increase power levels beyond that 100 watts you are going to need to "run the numbers" to make sure that you are in compliance with RF safety rules.  For example, if you are using 100 watts on 29 MHz with a dipole antenna, you will be in full compliance at a distance of 25 feet from the antenna for both controlled and uncontrolled space.  However, if you use 1,000 watts and the same antenna, you are out of compliance for uncontrolled space.  If a neighbor's property is within that 25 feet, you are now operating outside regulations and exceeding safe power levels.  It is even worse if you have a beam antenna for 10 meters because of the antenna gain, which could increase the RF exposure even more in the uncontrolled space.  It goes without saying that you want to keep RF exposure to yourself, your family, and your neighbors to safe levels. It is much easier to do this at lower power levels.
My favorite reason to stick to lower power levels is that linear amplifiers only give your transmitted signal a boost.  They do nothing at all to help you receive weak signals.  In fact, calling CQ with your linear turned on can lead to responses from stations that are too weak to copy. You can get more bang for your buck by installing a better antenna system.  Once I learned this for myself, I have advised new hams to concentrate on good, effective antennas instead of amplifiers.  After all, the antenna system will help pull in those weak signals, helping you both on receive and transmit. 
There is a time and a place for turning on the amplifier.  It is when band conditions are deteriorating and more power might help you complete the QSO.  It might be when you are the net control station on an HF net and it is necessary to use high power to make sure that you are heard throughout the geographic area of the net.  It is probably going to be helpful in the summer when there is thunderstorm static and you are operating on 75 meters. But more often than not high power is really not necessary.  Let's not use it if we don't need it.
For Handiham World, I'm...
Patrick Tice
Handiham Manager

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Handiham World for 05 October 2011

Welcome to Handiham World.

Leaking pipe
A broken water pipe gets me thinking...
What sort of things might cause a disaster in my ham radio shack?  I started thinking about this recently after dealing with a minor disaster caused by a leaking water pipe in the ceiling of the basement. As usual, I was sitting in my home office, which also serves as my ham shack, when I heard a faint drip, drip, drip. Since I spend an awful lot of time in my office, I know and recognize all of the usual sounds of the house around me. In fact, I don't really notice if the compressor in the freezer comes on and my brain rarely even registers sound of the washing machine or dryer in the adjacent laundry room.  The furnace or air conditioner can come on and go off without interrupting me. Jasper, my dog, wanders the house and occasionally growls at a squirrel that he sees through the window. None of this stuff bothers me or particularly gets my attention. But the brain is a marvelous thing; it can ignore the common and expected while immediately picking up on something unusual.
The sound of dripping water, even though barely audible, got my attention!
Sure enough, an inspection of the recreation room around the corner from my office revealed a drip from the ceiling. Several of the tiles in the suspended ceiling had gotten waterlogged and collapsed onto the floor, and I hadn't heard that sound because I had only just a few minutes before come into the office to sit down and do some more work. The leak must have occurred in the afternoon shortly after I had finished my usual office day and had taken the dog out for a walk. When I returned to the office after dinner, that's when I heard the dripping sound that was so out of place. It turns out that a 90° copper connecting joint in the cold water pipe going to the outdoor irrigation system developed a tiny pinhole leak on the inside of the bend.  The tiny, almost invisible spray was enough to create quite a mess given a few hours. The soaked ceiling tiles collapsed onto an easy chair, soaking it and ruining the cushion. The carpet on the floor was soaked in an area of about a yard square. A few other items stored in the room got wet on the outside, but were not ruined because I heard the drip and responded in time to shut off the water. Fortunately, we have a carpet cleaning machine that vacuums up water and we had a spare cushion for the chair. I haven't replaced the ceiling tiles yet, but they are standard 2' x 2' squares that are commonly available at any big box building store. As we are so fond of saying in Minnesota, "it could've been worse!"
Of course I called the plumber, and he was able to fix the problem the next day.  Fortunately, we have a shut off valve for that particular leg of the water system in our house, so there was no need to keep the main valve turned off. It's heck to be without water when you need to wash, cook, and flush!  But what got me to thinking about the ham shack in relation to this broken pipe was that the shutoff valve is located directly above the ceiling in my office. In fact, several water pipes converge in the ceiling above the ham shack and it is sobering to think that the copper pipe carrying all of that water is exactly the same age as the pipe fitting that failed in the next room, which is about 20 years old. So, as I sit here talking into the microphone and enjoying a nice session on my radio, will I one day feel a drip, drip, drip on my head? I guess it could happen, and I have to admit that when I finished the basement and built the ham shack I never gave a second thought to the water pipes running through the ceiling joists overhead. I had grown up with copper water pipe in my parents' house, and I cannot remember a single time that there had ever been a leak. I guess I would not have been too surprised if a leak had occurred where pipes were joined in the soldered connection, but to have a piece of copper simply spring a leak in the body of the pipe? It did seem pretty unlikely, but like all such things it is not something to worry about unless it happens to you – and it happened to me!
So I am forced to assess the probability of another leak, perhaps occurring over the critical electronic and computing equipment I have in the ham shack. Some of this equipment runs for hours or days at a time without being turned off. One can only imagine the damage that would be caused by water pouring onto the energized equipment. When I wired the ham shack, everything was put on ground fault interrupters. Given a good soaking, the equipment would probably short and trip the interrupters, but by then of course the station and computers would be ruined. This is not something I care to think about, but it is nonetheless a possibility. I had considered the possibility of a leak like the one we had to be extremely remote, and perhaps I was right. Nonetheless, had the leak occurred over the ham shack it would've meant many thousands of dollars of damage instead of a soaked chair cushion and a few feet of wet carpet.
What to do? Well, moving the ham shack and home office would be a major undertaking and a huge disruption in my work schedule. It wouldn't be impossible, but it would be expensive and difficult. For now, the best I can do is to turn the main water valve for the entire house to the "off" position whenever we leave on vacation or for any kind of extended multi-day trip. This is something I have always done anyway, and while it is not a perfect solution, it does prevent damage from leaks that might occur when no one is home and when damage can be severe due to the fact that no one is around to discover the leak. Long ago, when I worked in an appliance store, we recommended that our customers who were leaving on vacation turn off the water supply to their washing machines because the hoses that fed the washing machine might burst and cause flooding in the basement. Turning off the whole house valve takes care of that problem.  Keeping equipment off the floor is another good idea. 
We are used to thinking about protecting our amateur radio equipment and its associated computer equipment from lightning damage, but we cannot ignore the threat posed by water!
For Handiham World, I'm...
Patrick Tice
Handiham Manager

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Handiham World for 28 September 2011

Welcome to Handiham World.

What got you started in radio?
When I think about that question, I recall a little crystal radio kit that my dad bought for me.  It had a plastic housing to make it look like a real table radio, except that it was smaller and had only a single earpiece.  And of course it "magically" took a radio signal right out of the airwaves and turned it into music without any electricity at all!  It was one of several crystal diode radios that I had as a kid.  Another memorable one was made up in a round plastic ball that was supposed to be a satellite.  There was a tuning control that consisted of a slug-tuned coil. The brass screw from the ferrite slug extended out of the top of the "satellite" like some sort of antenna.  It had a little rubber cap on it to serve as a grip, so that the coil could be tuned more easily.  The real antenna was a piece of bell wire with an alligator clip at the end.  That allowed you to connect the radio to something conductive that might hopefully act as a better antenna and bring in a local AM station.  Of course today the term "satellite radio" means something completely different!
When I was a teenager, dad bought me a Knight-Kit Span Master two tube regenerative receiver.  It was not my brightest moment in radio when the kit manual called for putting "spaghetti" over some of the bare wire leads during assembly and I went down to the kitchen cabinet to find this apparently necessary but odd ingredient for a radio.  Dad straightened me out on that and we ended up using the insulating tubing that was actually already provided by Knight-Kit.  
Knight-Kit Span Master as shown in 1962 catalog.
Image:  Here is the Knight-Kit Span Master as shown in a 1962 Allied Radio catalog.  You could get the outdoor antenna kit for only 1 cent more, but the radio itself cost $25.95. 
The Span Master worked when it was finished, so I installed it in the vinyl-covered wooden cabinet that came with it and ran a wire out of my bedroom window to serve as an antenna.  The circuit might not seem like much, since it had only two vacuum tubes, but it turned out to be light-years ahead of the crystal radios.  One important feature was a speaker, so I didn't have to use headphones.  The tuning knob was connected directly to a variable capacitor, but there was a helpful bandspread knob connected to a second capacitor so that fine tuning was possible without pulleys and dial strings.  Furthermore, the radio had a band switch and covered not only the AM broadcast band but also several short-wave bands.  In spite of the two tube design, a fair amount of gain could be had from the simple regenerative circuit.  It was also possible to hear Morse code and even something that was new and mysterious back then:  SSB. You had to be patient and careful tuning it in, though.  It was more fun to listen to far off short-wave stations and find out what was happening all around the world.
I consider the Span Master to have been the radio that really got me interested in getting my amateur radio Novice license.  Today we can still find electronic kits, and who knows?  One of those kits might spark the interest of a future engineer, scientist, or teacher!  Consider an electronic kit as a gift for your child, making it age-appropriate, of course.  Then make it a parent-child project to assemble it and make it work. You will both have fun, and open the door to STEM:  Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.  
Next week: Thoughts about a broken water pipe. 
For Handiham World, I'm...
Patrick Tice
Handiham Manager