Monday, May 31, 2010


One of the more interesting parts of a 1920s Arts & Crafts cottage like Roseholme is that you find unusual angles -- for instance, my ham shack as seen from the stairs:The white glare is not dust but the camera flash, bouncing back from the white stairway walls. Desk's getting a little crowded; I'm working on some ideas.

At the front edge of the desk near my chair, an early, nickel-plated Les Logan (of Speed-X fame) bug. On the far side of it and the pencil-sharpener is my very first and homebrew bug, a kind of Vibroplex "Lightning Bug"-inspired gadget built from whatever I could lay hands on. There's another Speed-X bug on the next-to top shelf, above the National speaker; called a "T-Bar" because the yoke has a nifty T-shape, which makes a nice carrying handle. It is in serious need of replating, though it may be zinc-alloy "white metal" and therefore not exactly long-lasting. My present plan is to hand the yoke over to a local machine shop and have them clone it in brass, which won't be cheap but gets me a working bug and lets me save the fragile part. Both of them have a Logan-unique feature, the yoke supports the lower pivot point as well as the upper one! (I should take photos, shouldn't I?) Also on the desktop, my Begali bug and Vibroplex Blue Racer and Zephyr.

The blue wires at the left are feeder from my G5RV (a sort of double Zepp) antenna; normally, they hang on the overhead part of the ground wire, but I was preparing to get on the air. I managed to work Florida and Quebec on 40 meters -- the band was active, though plenty noisy. Some real speed demons out there, though my Canadian contact had a very clean, 10 or 12 wpm fist. I slid the weights back on the Begali bug but ended up switching to a straight key to match him as much as possible. (This, for the high-speed fellows out there, some of whom either forgot it or were never told, is the polite thing to do: QRS, OM!) OTOH, there's a good chance he's a French speaker, so he may have been sending slowly so I didn't get lost! No harm in that.

(The initial parts of a CW contact are in a kind of Radio Latin -- or "QST English:" "R R R TNX FER CALL ES GE -- UR RST 599 ? 5NN -- QTH INDIANAPOLIS, IN ? INDIANPOLIS, IN -- NAME RJ ? RJ -- HW CPY? VE4XXX DE K9YYY KN" is a greeting, introduction and signal report that most hams understand no matter what language they use. ("Received you okay, thanks for responding & good evening. Your signals are very readable and strong at my location in Indianapolis. Call me RJ. How'd you receive that? [callsigns, him from me] Go ahead, just you and nobody else." [That's the "KN;" plain "K" is kind of a general-whoever go ahead prosign]) To a CW-minded person, the short-long-short pattern of an R says "I got it" and the long-short-long of a K says "go a-head," clear as any spoken word. N -- dah-dit -- becomes "onnn-ly" and there you go. In another context, it's given a long dash and used as shorthand for "9." Use of "?" to signal a repeated word is not universal; some hams just send twice and others, especially if they got a good signal report, don't bother. Hey, if it's "armchair copy," they got it first time).

(Update: My use of "yoke" may be misleading, as it is variously used to describe different parts of a bug! I meant the pivot frame, often a more or less inverted-U shape that holds the upper pivot bearing and usually adjustment screws).

Sunday, May 9, 2010


Filled it this morning, after cleaning even more cruft from inside the barrel. Section is in place in the barrel and holding without glue, which is preferred.Fairly bold nib, somewhat flexible. So far, so good. But I am storing it vertically, nib up, just in case.

(Still working to get my Palmer Method cursive up to spec -- and then it's on to Spencerian! BTW, the radiogram form is a reproduction).


What you see is evidence of an experiment in progress; come the morrow, I'll be finding out. First: the instrument, as found, after cleaning, soaking, disassembly and removal of nasty-crunchy bits of old internals, shown along with some parts and supplies. Yes, the ink reservoir -- the sac, as 'tis known to the trade - had perished. Thanks to a pair of dedicated and loopy-in-a-good-way enthusiasts, this isn't a total disaster. You can still get the parts.

Section and sac assembled, waiting for the Secret Mystery Glue (clear shellac or nail polish) to dry: This was an inexpensive pen when it was new; I picked it up with another pen (an Eversharp "Zenith" with a mixmaster cap, in fair working shape) at $14 and change for the pair. For having even an inkling of how to go about fixing the non-working one, all thanks to Da Book!

This is one of those rare, hands-on, essential texts, like W. R. Smith's How To Restore Telegraph Keys, Horowitz and Hill's The Art Of Electronics or anything by Frank C. Jones or Patrick S. Finnegan. If you're going to do much with fountain pens -- or stylographic pens* -- you need a copy.

Of course, it helps to have a backup, in this case a shiny-new pen. I don't know why I'd never purchased a Lamy. They make a full line and their inexpensive pens are an especially good value; this one has a nice feel in the hand and on the paper. The clip's distinctive and should hold up. (I'm running a converter filled with Noodler's black ink, the latter having been highly recommended by Marko and received good mention elsewhere).It's a clear "demonstrator." I have a real fondness for them.
* Don't know what they are? See, that's why you need Da Book.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


I got radio parts too; but this kind of thing happens to me a lot -- it helps to be eclectic.

That book is pretty fascinating stuff (updated, it remains in print!) and Babcock and Wilcox is not just another rustbelt industry vanished in the mists of a previous time; they are very much still around and about as modern as next week. At the time this book was published, their little Boiler Division plant in Mt. Vernon, IN had not yet been completed; now it's rather vast and in another division altogether.

Nevertheless, a pressure vessel is a pressure vessel and steam power is the same, no matter how it's generated and they've been good at both for a very long time -- which is probably why they got tapped for this project:Yes, it says "World's first nuclear-powered merchant ship" and no, it's not some artist's-conception dream, either. It sailed, er, steamed. Intended more as proof-of-concept and designed to look good in the doing, it never turned the profit a conventionally-driven freighter of like size would have. Withal, the power plant ran without trouble, unless you count the time it shut down, automatically and safely, in heavy seas -- exactly as it was designed to.

There have been four reactor-driven freighters, only one of which remains in service; in addition to the U.S., Japan, Germany and the former Soviet Union built them. The biggest issue appears to be the need for additional crew training and a few more specialists, along with some dedicated service vessels. Reactor waste was a particular challenge early on. NS Savannah -- named after the first steamship to cross the Atlantic -- came to the end of her working days in 1972 and spent a few years as a floating museum exhibit. Presently in the process of having her reactor decommissioned, with a bit of luck she will emerge from the process as a museum ship again.

You may wonder, "is this retrotechnology?" I believe it is. To a very great extent, modern civilization continues to run on steam. Much of it is still produced by burning coal in boilers that, other than scale, would not be terribly unfamiliar to men who designed and built the SS Savannah's boilers around 1818. Even NS Savannah's reactor has become, at the age of 50, "retro."

Will we see her like again soon? Possibly not. Between real fears of proliferation or piracy and irrational ones about the power plant itself, probably not. On the other hand, the Russians are still running a handful of atomic icebreakers; so don't write it off just yet.