Welcome to BobNelson.org
This is not a political site. Go figure! Well, what is there to write about, then? Isn't everything political? Have you checked to see if the makers of your computer are giving money to your opposing party? What about your chair? Could you (horrors!) be supporting your opposing party when you buy your groceries, wash your hands, buy your car, feed your cat, book a hotel, etcetera?
Yet, the first few sentences and paragraphs are
political, less than one page, and let me explain why.
The following is an excerpt from the first letter to the editor from one of the more important Time magazine issues, selected randomly -- it was simply the first one.
"This has so thoroughly
disillusioned me, I'll never fully believe our leaders again. What an awful way
to feel about our wonderful
country." -- "Letters" Time Magazine, page 4, May 12, 1961.
The cover showed Astronaut Alan Shepard in his flight suit, and was devoted to America's first flight into space, atop a Redstone rocket, on May 5, 1961. In the same issue, Time warned us about an upcoming war in a little-known country named South Viet Nam. The quotation above would be repeated in thousands of ways in later years for hundreds of different reasons. Perhaps this is why I find politics so very boring. This nation has, in my opinion, been in a political psychosis ever since my age group began to exert itself, but wait. I have seen movies from the 1930's that could just as easily have been filmed this year. But, enough of that. Back to 1961: John F. Kennedy (JFK) had begun his Presidency, and would call for our nation to undertake a project, as he later said, not because it was easy, but because it was hard, thirteen days after the date of this magazine.
"First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth." — U.S. President John F. Kennedy; Special Message To Congress, May 25, 1961.
This web site was started on January 3, 2003, and is devoted to my lifelong work in helping others, as well as, well, you shall see. There is nothing special about me, but I have met a lot of special people in my life, and this will be devoted to them. I have always been more than a little curious about people who have pictures of themselves in their office, so that a web by the name of its author seems to me to be the apex of vanity. Once I populate this web, you will see that it was requested, and the people who requested it. Thanks for dropping by, and check back in often, because there will be some fascinating links and information targeted toward other naturally-born nerds like my lifelong friend Howard Moscovitz. Check out his electronic music site from his page. He has been into electronic music since the mid-1960s, when we would haunt the neighborhood with a new kind of sound. Or, visit with my friend since childhood, Dr. John H. Johnston, Jr. Both of these friends are witness to the fact that we experienced a childhood that most people would not believe. We had the best of boyhood, and were forever studying the vast universe through telescopes and the writings of our youth. We understood General Relativity at age 14, a fact that I was not certain of until I was a student of astronomy, and was told by professional astronomers with PhDs that they did not have the understanding of astronomy that we had as teenagers. The charm continued as Dr. Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac became a personal friend. Then, a storm began in my life. More about this later.
My SETI@home progress, which will soon increase by several orders of magnitude, will be showing again after I convert the hyperlink to BOINC. I await the Southern Hemispherical Search from the Parkes radio telescope.
For those with open minds.
One of my telescopes. For those of you who have been following this very slow-to-grow site, I donated my Meade 12-Inch SCT to the Central Florida Astronomical Society, which coordinates with the University of Central Florida, and has some of the best astrophotographers in the nation. One of their members recently joined the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. If your interest is astronomy, you have nearly certainly seen some of their pictures in the best astronomical publications. I will devote more space to their activities as they occur. I have been remiss in keeping you abreast of this organization, which used the very same multi-ton 26-inch Baker-Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope that I used in college, and have recently upgraded that telescope to a new optical system that will be viewable over the World Wide Web.
I held the post of Duval County Emergency Management ARES Coordinator several times from the 1980's to the new century..
As any HAM will tell you, this is a thankless but vital task. Since we are in the path
of hurricanes, and with today's terrorist climate, this job has become vital in
keeping communications flowing regardless of conditions. We also provide
communications between agencies that cannot otherwise communicate because
they are on different frequencies. We even have multiple communications
satellites in orbit.
This is the telescope I made in 1972. It is Jacksonville's largest telescope:
The closest Mars opposition in over 60,000 years had kept me up for 52 hours. It shows.
Store bought telescopes that are optically crushed by the
homemade one above:
Celestron 11-inch GPS Below Meade 12-Inch SCT - Donated to a great group!
Pictures above taken after I had been awake for 48 hours -- Mars, you know?
August 19, 2006 (read the line below).
Okay. This one long page will be
broken up into separate pages now that I finally have time to work on it.
This has not been checked for accuracy yet, and I've no doubt that there are
some errors below. I will be adding hyperlinks to many words, including "balun."
Kenwood TS-870 Transceiver
What is ham radio? My experiences.
I will get into the early days of amateur radio operators further down in the text.
It all began when hobbyists began to communicate
with their friends down the street using all manner of designs including the
early spark-gap transmitter -- which could be made from an early automobile
coil. They used Morse Code, and required no license. This
likely has something to do with our being called "hams," but the certain reason
has been lost in history. Today, as in the past, ham radio operators get
through when all other means of communication fail, and that includes the
Internet and World Wide Web. It is a final and highly reliable backup if
our communications satellites get knocked out of service by the Sun, or by
humans. Ham radio operators assist emergency agencies all the time,
especially when different agencies do not share frequencies. Every year,
we have what is called "Field Day," where we hone our skills and train new hams
in the hobby and service defined by the FCC as the "Amateur Radio Service." The
word "amateur" is used because it is against Federal law for us to charge for
our communications services, or for a call to Great Britain, Antarctica,
astronauts aboard the space-station and the ill-fated STS. Ham radio
is not Citizens Band (CB). Ham radio operators are allowed to use much more
power and many additional modes of communication than AM or Single Sideband (SSB),
although we do use these types of modulation in addition to many others. Most
hams have a CB unit somewhere in their shack, because certain communication
which are allowed on CB are not allowed by Ham radio operators, including
We can legally order a pizza over an what is called an autopatch, which preceded cell phones by decades, and uses voting systems rather than cell sites to cover large metropolitan areas, and, in some cases, entire states.
We have been bouncing signals off the moon since 1953. We have had satellites of our own in orbit since 1961. Many of these are called OSCAR, which stands for Orbiting Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio.
Ham radio's purpose includes:
(a) Recognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur
service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service,
particularly with respect to providing emergency communications.
(b) Continuation and extension of the amateur's proven ability to contribute to the advancement of the radio art.
(c) Encouragement and improvement of the amateur service through rules which provide for advancing skills in both the communications and technical phases of the art.
(d) Expansion of the existing reservoir within the amateur radio service of trained operators, technicians, and electronics experts.
(e) Continuation and extension of the amateur's unique ability to enhance international goodwill.
The American Radio Relay League ARRL ( www.arrl.org ) is the largest ham radio organization, and the above text came from their site, which comes from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). .
Why am I a ham radio operator? No sentence can answer that. Not only why, but how, appears below:
I got my first ham radio license in the 1960's. I
was working for NASA at Cape Canaveral when it came up for expiration, and,
since I planned on upgrading my license, anyway, and had no "ham shack" as a
student, I just let it expire. Ten years later, a friend of mine (Howard, listed
above), talked me into getting my license back if he passed his FCC Examination.
He was living in Oakland, California, and attending Berkeley, so I agreed. Well,
danged if he didn't call a few weeks after that and announce that he had passed
the test, including the 13 word-per-minute Morse Code test, and I promised that
I would pass the test and get on the air the very next time that the FCC had a
field test where I live. This was in October of 1979.
I called the FCC and found that I was likely not going to be able to get the paperwork filed in time for the next test, but a promise being a promise, I asked them if they would have another exam nearby and soon. They said that they would have an examination group in Savannah, Georgia, a couple of hours north of Jacksonville, in about two weeks. I filed the Form 610 by mail to the FCC for that test.
But, that was going to be the easy part, although this was before the test was changed to a pool of questions and answers that you can simply memorize, and I had become rusty with CW (CW stands for "continuous wave," and is the mode of transmission for Morse Code). Nothing fancy, it is the easiest transmitter you can buy or build -- it creates a continuous tone every time you tap on the Morse Code key. Note: Morse code is no longer a requirement to get your Technician License. Wait. Did I say "build" above? Yes, I did. You can build your own simple transmitters. In Russia, this may remain a requirement. I will have to check that out.
Even today, in the age of the inexpensive computer and the World Wide Web, many people still use Morse Code all the time. It is far less expensive, since all you need is what is called a Class D amplifier and a good receiver. The antenna can be made from copper wire, but must be cut to a certain length for each band. During emergencies such as mass-casualty incidents, we always keep CW in mind just in case we are asked to pass traffic with victims names and other sensitive data. We also use packet for this, and may temporarily move to a little-used frequency to prevent the traffic from being intercepted by those who may publish it.
In 1964, I had worked with a friend on a Heathkit Mohawk and later acquired its twin Apace transmitter, but by 1979, these were what we call "boat anchors." Some people collect and only operate 'boat anchors". They can appreciate in value over time.
In 1979, when I was starting allover again, it did not take long to find a ham radio operator who was selling his Kenwood TS-820S transceiver, where both the transmitter and receiver are combined into the much smaller unit. The TS-820S has a digital display, which was still a rare feature in a transceiver. I still thank Walt Adams, N4ABH, for finding that rig that was for sale.
I still had a long way to go to build the station that I had in mind. Many people are very happy with an antenna made of copper wire, either as a simple dipole or Inverted V. But, I wanted a beam antenna so that I could work Howard in Oakland despite the fact that Houston and Dallas and Los Angeles were in that same general direction from here -- cities that contained a lot of hams! Therefore I chose the Cushcraft ATB-34 4-element beam,, which has been replaced by the Cushcraft A4S, its identical twin to the eye, and the one in the upper-right photo. This antenna has very long sections that droop, making it reminiscent of a low and slow-flying B-52 when it shines in the bright light of day. Don't get me wrong, it is not even close to the length of the wingspan of a B-52 in any dimension, the neighbors just see it that way. ;-)
Today, excellent vertical antennas are made that
could be concealed or a dipole could be put into an attic. Hams always
find a way!
I was in charge of the largest data center in Jacksonville, Florida at that time, and my background at NASA had served me well as I installed sloped cabinets and specialized circuitry to monitor the health of every dedicated data line. This command center drew tours from all over the United States, and even one tour from Japan. I had told the highest management that it was my plan to become a real, no-kidding, data center consultant, with the plan to bring in some of the best software engineers I had ever known of, who worked with me at Cape Canaveral during the golden age known as the Apollo era.
Yet, these projects delayed me from my original plan to strike out on my own by five years. I did not want to leave the data center with very unique electronic circuitry of my own design and construction, including some very large and capable equipment that works to this day. They had no one to rapidly respond to problems if business took me out of town. By the time that the command center was completed, it made the bridge on Star Trek look like a stage coach on Gunsmoke. Even better, the human factors that were built into it made sense to all the console operators and the network management team. They also felt better about their jobs in that environment.. A plain shirt became a shirt and tie, and even a nice coat!
To my surprise, the professional management team of Ira Powers and Bill Howe got the okay to build a department around my skill-sets. I was put in charge of Technical Services, where I was the focal point for all vendors and other services companies that we retained. Man, those five years went by fast! I was a Theory Y manager, and retain that to this day. Theory X managers belong in jails as correctional officers, IMNSHO. I have never seen a single instance of a Theory X manager succeeding in data processing. They don't seem to realize that the nerds can bury them, and then innocently look up and say, "Who, me"? My team became the mission impossible team. When all else failed, it came to us, be it hardware, software, applications, operating systems, the megawatt UPS and associated generators, preventative maintenance requirements and cycles, and on and on.
Back to my ham shack, as a consultant to electrical engineers and contractors, I knew how to install a proper grounding system from the antenna and tower. While I have never been fat, I am not a small man, and found a small man to assist us (a bunch of friends and fellow hams) as we put the beam on the tower. After completely installing everything from the antenna rotor to the coaxial connectors, and adding a dipole for signal comparison purposes, the installation was complete. Yet, I could only listen -- not transmit. I could not even check the SWR against the antenna. Great pains had been taken to create this station. I was confident that it would work. The transceiver had two vacuum tubes at the final stage of amplification, and the TS-820S was well-known on the airwaves.
So I just turned the "finals" off, and used the rig to copy Morse code in addition to code tapes, and reviewed electronic theory, band allocations, safety practices, rules and regulations, antenna theory, and a lot of other fun stuff. We were allowed to take an electronic calculator into the exam room as long as it was not programmable and could not store text.
Finally, the day of the exam was two days away, and I decided to stay the night in Savannah before the test, and then go to their Federal Courthouse where the code and written tests were administered -- on time to the second. Several minutes after I arrived, a lady came around, and unlocked the door to the examination room. We were seated, and then she handed us the test papers face-down with strict instructions not to touch them until we were told to do so (if you did so -- bye-bye! You had to re-apply). There were only a couple of other people there, and the FCC staff was every bit as professional as what I was accustomed to at the data center.
She had us turn a paper over and test our pencils. Then she sent a brief warm-up (di-di-di-dah-- the letter V several times), and asked us all if the volume was okay. It was. She began a countdown to when she would start transmitting an audio tape in Morse Code. I copied it perfectly, and knew it. One guy was in there for the third time to pass this 13 word per minute test, which would grant him far more rights to speak on the shortwave bands.
As she graded those papers, it was time to
take the written test, which included schematic diagrams that were missing
something, and a lot of questions about frequency-shift-keying and similar
topics that most people never use. Radio-teletype (RTTY) was still a
commonly-used mode of communication, because it created a hardcopy. This was
going to begin to change into digital modes of communication in addition to
RTTY, a system of communication created by ham radio operators that is called
packet communications, and be transmitted over the air from PC to PC.
Amtor would join it as yet another alternative. These inventions had a direct
impact on you in one way or another. You see, this is not always a
case of ham radio operators making inventions and selling them to industry.
People who were into digital communications in industry were drawn to ham radio,
where we had frequencies "from DC to light," and theory could legally be
practiced on our bands..
Anyway, I knew I had passed both tests, and she finally graded them and I, indeed, had done so, as did the person who had failed the code test multiple times. I still could not use the ham radio station that I had so carefully constructed, but I decided to go ahead and add another antenna to it, this one would be for VHF frequencies (the 2-meter band), but the test, which I had successfully taken in November, had started a then-slow process.
The license finally arrived n January. I had left my rig running that morning, because it was raining outside, and I was not sure of this "rig" (any radio, to a ham), would be sensitive to humidity or not. I switched the coax switch over to "Dummy Load," which is a load resistor with characteristics and impedance like an antenna. Then, I did some things that many hams have never done before. I dipped the grid, and matched the impedance of the rig to the dummy load (unless you are going to run a lot of power, you will not need to dip a grid). I watched as I would key down, first for one, then two, then five, and finally ten seconds. I knew for the first time that the final tubes were as rock-solid as I had been told they were.
I looked up at the frequency sheet to make sure that I was within the ham bands. Once I was sure that I was at the frequency where I wanted to be within a ham radio band, I switched the antenna switch from "Dummy Load" to "BEAM." You see, it is possible to interfere with just about any kind of traffic, including FAA and military traffic, if you don't know what you're doing, and I always double-checked my frequencies until they became more than second-hand to me. I called a friend by landline, and had asked him to come over. I wanted him to let me know if he saw anything happening to the antenna before I would put full power though it as a test. Full-power is just not needed, and with every rig that I know of, requires an external amplifier to achieve.
I tuned the microphone on, and tested its gain, making sure that it was not too high where it would cause splatter and adjacent frequency interference. It had been years, but I went to a calling frequency and asked, "Is this frequency in use, this is N4CUZ "? I was on the 15 meter band, which will work the planet. I called again. No response. Then, I had my antenna watcher get ready (he was using binoculars, and was looking for a factory failure like a balun smoking.
Finally, I keyed the microphone (mike) down and
called "Hello CQ, Calling CQ, Calling CQ 15 meters. Hello CQ, calling CQ,
calling CQ 15 meters. This is N4CUZ, November-Four-Charlie-Uniform-Zulu, calling
CQ and standing by for any call." I intentionally made my first call for
CQ (which means, "calling any other ham radio operator") a bit longer than
I normally had done on the first call with my first license for a couple of
reasons. First, although the dummy load (also known as a transmatch) was
very close to the antenna, I needed to tweak the settings a bit. I also
wanted to give this rig a work-out, so that if it had any weaknesses, from
inside the rig to the traps on the antenna, I would find out as soon as
Anyway, I un-keyed the mike to listen for a station, and suddenly heard several hams answering my call. I answered one of the stronger calls, and let the others know that I had heard them but my first call in many years had created what we call a "pile up." Before making the call, I listened to the band very carefully, because I wanted us to move off of the calling frequency to a frequency nearby. I suggested that he "QSY" (change frequency) up some number of kilohertz that I cannot recall, and began logging his call, location, type of antenna and rig. I requested a detailed signal report after we chatted for a few minutes. He immediately told me that my signal was 60 dB over S-9, which means that I was pegging his meter. Normally, I would have reduced power, but I will explain next why I did not do that this time. You only want to use the power necessary for communications. To do otherwise makes you a "lid."
As he spoke, I had my antenna watcher come
in, and he reported that nothing looked amiss, and I asked him to dial Howard's
number, which was listed on a white board in my shack. The time of day was
perfect for Howard, and I told him what frequency I was on. He simply hung
up and began turning his cubical quad antenna my way as his rig warmed up. I did
not miss a word from the ham in Nevada, and found him to be what I had recalled
about ham radio, a gentleman's gentleman on the air.
Between transmissions, you always leave a pause long enough for someone else to call on the frequency, and during one of these times I heard "I hear you fine -- but carry on. -- KB6EY" It was Howard (now KB3ZX), and the guy in Nevada heard him, too. I found this surprising for the 15 meter band. I had expected him to be in Howard's "shadow zone" where Howard's signal would have just passed miles over his head. Then, my friend in the shack showed me where he was located on the map, and it made sense.
This just automatically became a 3-way
conversation. In code it is called a QSO, and many hams pronounce this
"keuso" on the voice bands, as does the Miami police department. I overheard
some of them speaking on their portable radios, and they all used "Q-signals."
Howard's signal was not as strong as the Nevada station, which was registering
10-20 dB over S-9 on my rig. Howard was about 5 dB over S-9, and he gave
me the same report. Technically, we should have cut our power down a bit,
but band conditions were changing, and, besides, as I wrote earlier, I wanted to
give my station a workout. Howard and I were hearing each other with more
than one bounce off the ionosphere, and certainly more hops than the Nevada
station. It sounded as if we were both bouncing off of more than one
ionospheric level, too.
Suddenly, I heard Howard's wife Juli coming through his radio. She had also become a ham, and was using her little Icom portable to communicate with me through Howard's HF (high frequency) rig -- from the grocery store down the street! Howard would just control transmit and receive, and it was as if she was working his station.
Howard was breaking new ground with Unix at Berkeley. If you use Unix, chance are nearly 100% that Howard wrote some of your code. We created a schedule (Sked) to meet every Thursday afternoon at 18:00 Eastern time. The 1980 sunspot cycle was so good that we were not concerned about meeting on 20, 15, or 10 meters, or even some of the new bands that had just been allocated to us, but he sounded like he was in the room (even with SSB) on 10 meters. We made the call frequency one of three on 15 meters.
Remember, most of the best communications engineers are hams, and becoming a ham radio operator is a prerequisite for most astronauts. Ham radio has been around since just after the turn of the 20th century. "Worthless frequencies" were allocated to them, although it would later be found that these "short-wave bands" were the only means we had to communicate to the other side of planet Earth.
If you become a ham, and the sunspot cycle is high, do not be at all surprised if you do not call CQ some time, and right after releasing the mike, you hear what sounds like an echo of your last word. It is not an urban legend that your signal can go al the way around the planet, and come in at an odd angle on your antenna.. If the Aurora Borealis is hot, you may hear a strong and garbles reflection off of it, particularly if you have a beam pointed anywhere from northwest to northeast.
Atmospheric conditions, usually what is called "tropospheric ducting" can do very strange things to a VHF signal. Most hams have a small dual-band rig in their car, with both the 2 meter and 1.2 meter bands built into them. A mobile transceiver may be all you feel that you need, and you can buy all you need, including a high-quality radio and a short antenna, for well under $500 --- under $300 used. On occasion, a meteor will pump up the ionosphere, and you will hear these line-of-sight signals half way across the nation or further. Suddenly, you will hear several repeaters transmitting at the same time, or, you may hear something like I did, a person with a tiny hand-held radio in the Blue Ridge mountains on what is called "simplex," which is direct communication without a repeater. Repeaters use more than one frequency, one for the input, and one for the output, and are therefore a duplex mode of communication.
Back to long-distance communication on VHF, I spoke with that ham for nearly half an hour on 146.475 MHz., and he was using less than 5 watts. Yes, I have witnesses, about five hams who live here. You don't need to invent things in ham radio -- odd things will occur often enough to keep you from becoming bored.
I will check this page out for errors, and begin to add hyperlinks. Then, I will tell you some things that about emergency communications. The Amateur Radio Emergency Service (A.R.E.S.) is well-known and widely used in this community.
Then, I will change the subject! Thanks for reading. Once I think I am completed, I will write it on the first page. After that, if you will notify me of typos or broken links, I will surely appreciate it. Oh! And, I will paginate all of this, as well.
de Bob Nelson, N4CUZ
P.S. "In Morse code, "de" means " this is."
adventek (at) comcast.net
Copyright Bob Nelson, 2003-2006.