Monday, December 24, 2012


     Where do you go to find carefully transferred-to-digital Edison Blue Amberol cylinders?  Ragtime, jazz, brass bands and way more?

     One of my coworkers pointed out an attractive option: Archeophone Records.  Well worth checking out!

     (I'm still needing to move iTunes from my old computer to my new computer, which is gonna require digging out the spare monitor and keyboard and making them find each other over my home network before even starting.)

Friday, November 2, 2012


     The next step up from a 28" mini-penny?  For me, a 36" hiwheel designed -- and then redesigned* -- by unicycle maker QU-AX (shown here with an eye-glowing window spectator, in an image that does nothing for my vanity):
     Riding in the dark, with a multi-led flashlight clipped to my inner sweatshirt -- it's chilly, I'm wearing an insulated hoodie over a plain hoodie over a knit top.
     Whee!  (I'm hoping to ride this bike in daylight sometime-- I just missed a Tweed Ride.  And me without my jodhpurs!)
     The larger wheel means better speed -- and less effort.  For the well-to-do ($$$$!) and technically-inclined, here's a possible upgrade: a hub with a 1.5:1 transmission!  I'm pretty sure a 36" wheel that acts like a 54" wheel is not in my immediate future.  Come to think of it, neither (I hope) is a respoking job.  But maybe someday.
* Seriously redesigned: much shorter stem, tricky front brake removed, seat hugely improved (and retroized) and matching grips added.  At least everything but the grips is a safety improvement and they all materially aid rideability.  QU-AX really did right by this product -- and the people who buy it.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


     In the far-off past when radio was nearly all Morse code (what's that Fessenden fellow on about?), everybody keyed fairly high currents in the primary side of big transmitters, especially spark rigs.  Commercial stations used big, purpose-built keys or keying relays.  Hams....improvised.
One key, two silver dimes and a nice big soldering copper (or electric soldering iron).  Add amateur ingenuity.
 Real dimes!  (Filed flat.  Honest, Mr. T-man, I didn't do it!)

     This example was found on Etsy.  "Dime keys" are often fakes; this one, the key's an older type, the solder looks like the old-time stuff, the dimes are sure-enough silver and the knob bears an "Aug 3, 1920" patent date; a little late but not too late.  So it's probably the real deal.

Friday, October 19, 2012


     Only if you have two of them, a lot of yarn, a lot of time and you're extraordinarily skilled at knitting.

     The original Blackwing 602 was the preferred writing implement of many famous writers (including John Steinbeck, though after the debunking of Travels With Charley, that might be a mixed blessing).  The last one rolled  -- well, slid, the special eraser ferrule prevents rolling -- off the line in 1998. Cal Cedar bought the machinery and brought them back as the "Blackwing" in 2010, took some heat over the differences, and added the closer-to-original "Blacking 602" last year.

     They're not cheap, $20 a dozen.  On the other hand, most pencils sold these days are lousy, splintery things with reconstituted or synthetic "wood" and the lead's nothing to write home with, either.  So I splurged.

     Gee.  They're nice.  And the old motto actually means something -- "Half the pressure, twice the speed."  You do go skimming right along.  Here are my notes (Copyright 2012, all rights reserved) for the vignette "Mo," over at I Work On A Starship, written in real-time while observing one of the people on whom the character is based:
     I'm not any better a writer with it, but the hardware doesn't get in the way of the work, which is a pretty big deal.  Are they worth $20 a box?  Probably not if all you're doing is making grocery lists and leaving notes for the plumber.  On the other hand, if you enjoy good writing tools, they certainly are a nice treat!

Saturday, October 6, 2012


   Four pens?

   Not so fast!
    Stapler, scissors, compass and a small (approx. 1/8" diameter) eraser in a nice holder.

    These are by three different manufacturers. After I'd found the compass and scissors, the nifty little stapler clinched the deal.  (All from Jet Pens, btw). They all work just fine.  The stapler is the only one I have ever seen that had a "safety" control.

      I also picked up a box of Blackwing 602 pencils, a relaunch of a legendary pencil. Report will follow once I've been using them awhile.

Friday, October 5, 2012


In honor of Tam's link from a post showing examples of logic elements from early computers, here's a link to a site showing a nice dual-triode flip-flop as used in the Burroughs 205. (Plus actual pictures of actual hardware.)  Enough of those and you'd have yourself some memory; also an air-conditioning challenge.  But wouldn't it be fun? 

Saturday, September 15, 2012


It was inevitable; about as soon as I learned Rideable Bicycle Replicas offered an affordable mini-highweel bicycle, I was determined to own one. It arrived last Thursday.

At this writing I have put a couple of miles on it -- also larger grips and a slightly taller and longer seat -- and I can assure you that it's about as much fun as I've had with a bicycle in some years. There is a definite learning curve; it handles very differently to a modern safety bicycle. But given the 28" front wheel, it doesn't offer the same risks to a new rider as a full-sized "ordinary" bicycle, with a wheel diameter of 38" or more. $189 well spent! (N.B., roll up those dungarees! I only had to catch a bearing-clamp bolt once to figure that out. )

...Rode up to the bicycle store in downtown Broad Ripple, where they were holding a charity event, and learned from another shopper that there was a vintage bicycle show in a nearby town today. Too late to attend today, but I'm realizing this can only lead to membership in The Wheelmen...and eventually a larger pennyfarthing. (Tamara K rode along and observed, "You can't be a wallflower on a bike like that." It does gather attention -- and a lot of questions.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


I saw a photo of what I'm guessing is a Quax 36" modern pennyfarthing with an add-on motor in front of the front fork. (Here, second row down, far left. And do look around the site; Rideable Bicycle Replicas appear to be America's most prolific manufacturer of old-fashioned bicycles and offer plenty else besides.)

Neat idea -- but only for an expert, as "header over the front" is the standard failure mode* for a high-wheel "Ordinary" bicycle and adding even more weight up top is a recipe for instability.

Fear not; no less a personage than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle helped back the company with the answer to that problem: The Wall Autowheel a/k/a Smith Motor Wheel in the States, by either name a self-powered wheel that attaches beside the bicycle's rear wheel! I have only ever seen them on modern style "safety" bicycles, but darned if I can find a reason to not try it on an Ordinary. The added weight is all at the very back, where it'd do the most good. In fact, it's been done as recently as 1922 -- scroll almost to the very bottom of the linked "Wall Autowheel" article and there it is!

...Not that it's safe. Or especially street-legal, unless there's an exception for a 118 cc 19-teens gasoline engine. But by golly, you'd be the only one like it on the road.
* So much so that it's where the term "header" for a forward fall entered the language. Oh, and "breakneck speed," too.

Thursday, August 30, 2012


And in computers, yet? That's the report, though they're not going to look very much like the 6SN7s in Grandpa's flip-flops; nuvistors would look like skyscrapers beside them. Still and all, tubes. Who would've thought?

Sunday, July 22, 2012


She was torpedoed in the Pacific 30 July, 1945, after delivering an atom bomb to Tinian. Of 1,196 crew, some 900 made it into the shark-infested water. Despite sending a distress call, the sinking went unnoticed for five days. Only 317 men survived. It remains one of the worst U. S. naval disasters.

The USS Indianapolis Memorial is here in Indianapolis, and a room of the Indiana War Memorial Museum is dedicated to the ship. Just around the corner in the War Memorial, volunteers have recreated the ship's "Radio Central," piece by piece.

11 of the 41 radiomen were among the survivors.

The original installation is gone with the ship, but the equipment was quite standardized. "Was" being the operational word, as much of it has become quite scarce. The old receivers were uncommonly good -- and uncommonly heavy; the transmitters were even more so, on both counts.

So simply collecting the equipment is a huge accomplishment. But the volunteers are committed to more than mere static display -- they're getting the old gear running!

Entry is very much like stepping into a busy radio room -- CW in the background (including "SOS SOS de NABD...") and recorded talk about the gear plays at several positions. Visitors walk down a narrow aisle between transmitters and the test bench before coming to the row of operating positions. Left: Center: Right: Ship's radio rooms are a pretty fair match for the ideal ham shack, too, though I don't suppose very many of the guys copy traffic on a "mill" these days. (And I wonder if there might not be a few southpaws on the crew -- or did the Navy train ops to send left-handed?)

The transmitters cover from low frequencies all the way into VHF, with "big rigs" into the upper HF range.The big transmitters are right there where you can get a good look. The TBS low VHF transmitter-receiver they've been getting into operating condition is kept far enough away to keep curious fingers safe. You can just see the side of it in the right-side image of the operating positions -- the acronym for this is sometimes (and unofficially) translated "Talk Between Ships" and sure enough, my Dad's 1946 Introduction to Radio Equipment, NAVPERS 10172* says it was "designed to provide short-range communications between surface craft such as task forces or convoys." Interestingly, the book covers operation of just about every receiver and transmitter in the USS Indianapolis Radio Room exhibit.

It's a fascinating installation. It includes a couple of Amateur Radio operating positions, at the Supervisor and Test desks, operating as WW2IND: The more modern ham gear is kept out of sight when not in use, but pipe that shiny green SP-600! I'll be back -- the museum is not very far from where I work and they tell me volunteers are present many mornings and all day most Thursdays.
* This book was my first exposure to the technical side of radio, and does a pretty good job of covering basic theory before moving on to specific equipment. The Naval Reserve, when they learned my father worked for RCA, was determined to make him a radioman...until realizing he didn't know International Morse code. Rather than run a reservist through radio-op school, they set him to toting bags of powder in a gun turret. Which is, if you ask me, one more reason to learn CW! Why'd they think Dad would be a radioman? Have a close look at the photos and you'll see a discreet RCA "meatball" on an awful lot of Navy comms gear; RCA and radio were just about synonyms, as far as the Navy was concerned. There are only two non-RCA receivers on the entire NABD operating bench shown above, in fact -- can you ID them?

Thursday, July 19, 2012


It's your beeswax -- or it should be.I was reminded of this useful substance just yesterday, when making some changes to the short end of my 40 Windom. I added a cleat for the line holding the feedpoint insulator and a screweye and a cleat for the far end of the short section, both of them in different 7'-tall 4X4 fence posts.

It's still dreadfully hot, so I was cheating, using a battery-powered drill to predrill for and drive the screws. Spinning home the first 2" #10 woodscrew, I found it was taking excessive torque. The driver bit was "camming out" of the screw head, to the detriment of both.

What to do, what to do... Then I remembered the bar of beeswax in the kitchen, purchased for just this problem. With a generous amount of the wax scrubbed into the screw threads, they sank almost too easily. Even driving the 5/16" screweye with a heavy screwdriver through the loop, it went in fast and easy.

Some old texts suggest using bar soap to lubricate screws, but soap will draw moisture and rust the screw. Beeswax is just the ticket -- it works nicely on saw blades, too. Best to store it tightly wrapped up in waxed paper, to keep it from drying out.

(Note to myself: I need to tie actual cleat hitches in the lines! Multiple figure-8s will do for awhile but a real knot is better.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


One of these days, I'll do a big soldering-iron round-up, everything from the big American Beauty 100 and 75W irons though the nice Hakko and Weller midsize irons down to the tiniest.

One of the very smallest irons in my toolbox, I haven't found since I moved: Wahl used to make a corded, variable-temperature miniature iron that I count among the finest ever built. I purchased a similar Far Eastern iron some years ago at the Dayton Hamvention, only to discover it doesn't get hot enough to actually solder with.

I needed a replacement miniature iron. The Radio Society of Great Britain talks up Antex brand irons in their Handbook and they do look good; I've found RSGB to be an impartial reviewer, and when I realized the Antex G/3U 18W miniature iron (that may be an older model number but you can still buy 'em over here) listed on Amazon and elsewhere, I decided to find out for myself.I used it to build a Vectronics audio filter kit.* It worked very well. I was concerned that the tips slid on a little too loosely; but it gets plenty hot, plenty fast, and the tip stays in place. Like the Wahl, tips go over the heating element rather than inside. It's claimed to enable better heat transfer; it certainly makes for less iron in the way of the work.

The one shown here has a chisel tip, about 1/16" wide. The kit was through-hole ICs, with 0.10" being the closest spacing and there was no need for anything smaller.

The grip stays cool and the assembly is a good size and balance. It does require a heavy stand, as it weighs so little that if it's not securely held, the cord can drag it around! The Hako stand shown here is not a good choice -- the kind that surrounds the iron with a coiled spring-looking holder would be best. But that's my only complaint. G/3U is a good iron for small work. They're listing for just over $28, last I checked.
* Which shipped with the wrong value resistors for one of the critical frequency-determining positions, 2X for three filter sections. Off by a factor of 10. Oops! But the right resistors are a dime apiece, and that gets fancy 2% metal-film types, so it's not a big deal.

Thursday, May 31, 2012


For my own reference as much as yours, a little more detail on the balun I'm using with my new Windom antenna. The starting point was this web page.

The PVC pipe on hand here was 1-5/8" in diameter, so I dropped a turn (or a little less -- just over 11 turns for each of the two wires), figuring if it didn't work, I'd start over. It's also only got one color of wire, as I have a nice big spool of sky-blue insulated #14, purchased awhile back for antenna experiments. I scribbled on the ends of one winding with a black marker. You don't even really have to do that, since the bifilar windings are flat: the wire that starts on top, ends on top. Here's the completed balun: And a close-up of the connections at the coax end: The top end is just 6-32 nuts and bolts (mostly brass) and solder lugs.

Here it is all wrapped up in self-amalgamating tape: It didn't change the tuning, so I guess it must be okay stuff at 7 mc/s.

Refinements: use fatter brass hardware for the antenna connections. Use polystyrene drain tubing, sold as "styrene" for the coil form: it has better properties than PVC at HF. Mount the coax connection facing down! And you could do like the pros and encapsulate the whole thing in PVC pipe. (I have one somewhere around here, a slightly more sophisticated trifilar job, coated with epoxy. It had held up well, last time I saw it. --If I could only remember where!)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


The G5RV -- more of a "bent extended double Zepp," which I think Varney would have disavowed -- I use doesn't load up well on 40 meters. It's been arranged to fit the available space and it's just not that good a match.

I don't worry much -- if you can get some energy into your antenna, it'll work even with lousy SWR -- but it was pretty bad.

So I put up an off-center-fed 40 m dipole, a sort of a coax-fed Windom.* With the feedpoint at the 80%/20% point, it should look close to 200 Ohms and take a 4:1 transformer to present a decent match to 50 Ohms.

The antenna part is easy enough -- take 67' of wire and divide accordingly, then make it fit (I ended up having to bend both ends).

The transformer... It was a holiday. The ham store we haven't got was closed. But all you really need is wire and a coil form (PVC pipe) and a little hardware: (The branch is not really that close to it.) Ended up with 11 bifilar turns of #14 house wire on approximately 1- 1/2" diameter PVC. Hams get all worked up over these but with about three bucks of materials in it, this version is not too painful to have to redo from scratch if the first try doesn't work. My design is all rule-of-thumb and fudge-factored from other versions on the Web.

Here's a funny angle on the transformer and one of the bends: It's about 20' up at the highest points.

Finished it after dark -- I'd installed a coax feedthrough but had to put the connectors on the coax -- and had a QSO within minutes of getting on the air. (Real DX: Warsaw, IN) And it tunes up on 40 meters just fine!
* Loren G. Windom, W8GZ, yet another of the antenna-designing hams from Columbus, OH. You may have heard of the other one -- W8JK, John Krause, of the 8JK HF beam and the helical antenna (both modes!).

Saturday, May 19, 2012


Part of one row of the outside area -- less than a tenth of the total. There's no place to get a really good overview photograph but take it from me, the Hamvention is huge!

One commercial vendor offered miniature straight keys, J-38ish (the general Bunnell "Triumph" pattern, widely used in the U.S.) but about 3/8 full size. I wanted one...but didn't buy one on sight and, of course, could not find them again.

But that was all I missed at Dayton. I didn't buy anything large, but several smaller items came home with me along with plenty of photographs. Above, the Morse Telegraph Club, with a bit of the Vibroplex booth in the background. (I bought a couple of "Vari-Speed" attachments from Vibroplex, a nice pre-WW II invention the company brought back several years ago. The new owner and staff were there, with the full line of keys.)

Begali! Peitro Begali is at the right, perhaps the best key designer alive (apologies to Mike Marsh, who does beautiful work) and certainly the most prolific; he demonstrated his Swedish-style straight key and let me give it a try. That blurry photo was the best I could get. The Begali booth is solidly busy all the time and a clear photo is all but impossible.

Speaking of keys, that's the ballcap and one ear of Mr. Enigma (the WW II encryption device) and Mr. Keys himself, Professor Tom Perera, W1TP, and above him, a huge and very wondrous strange key, with two sets of contacts and adjustments galore.

More keys. Readers of this blog will recognize the bugs, and perhaps the unusual Western Electric straight key at the top center, but how about the gadgets over at the right? They're "registers," with clockwork pulling a paper tape under a stylus that "writes" the incoming code as long or short lines. This technology preceded transcribing code by sound; it never occurred to Morse or Vail that anyone could manage that....until operators started doing it. The machines shown are roughly Civil War vintage.
Here's a beauty! A Collins 20V3 AM broadcast transmitter, 1 kW with cutback to as low as 250 Watts. Once a stalwart of local "coffeepot" AMs, most surviving examples are either relegated to backup transmitter service or, like this one, have been converted to ham use. You can see two of the tubes glowing at the left; there's another pair at the right: 2 RF finals, 2 modulators. Originally, 2 or 4 mercury-vapor rectifiers would have been glowing a happy purple-blue at the bottom of the window. This rig was up on the bed of a small truck but it's odds-on the 866s have been replaced by solid-state diodes; most people don't enjoy the failure mode of M-V rectifiers, or the half-hour-plus warm-up time if you don't keep them cooking all the time. This rig offers a surprise for the unwary: there's 110 VDC on the RF output! It operates a relay that shuts the transmitter off if there's an arc, and will give you quite a jolt if you don't know about it. (BT, DT.)

Another, even bigger transmitter, though I think it was a kiloWatt job, too. Originally it was a nice sober Gates gray. I was unable to capture the full glory of this repaint, complete with a yellow "tube guy," lightning bolts and floating eyeballs. Why? Why not! (Anything that keeps this old iron around and on the air is okay with me. Perhaps that's barbaric, but they are going to landfills in droves.)

Not every transmitter requires its own truck. This is a "1929 type" high-C rig probably built in the 1980s. It's a directly-coupled high-power oscillator. ("High power" being some tens of Watts, with luck.) Some hams run these on the air -- properly set up, they work fine, despite a tendency to "yoop" mildly as the antenna sways in the breeze.

Receivers! (One of those things is not like the others, and I don't mean the "doghouse" power supply for the HRO-7, second from left. Can you ID the odd box out?)Hallicrafters, in fair shape.
National, a WW II set, ditto.
RCA, I think. In rough shape; you can't see the clock-type tuning scale, with "hour" and "minute" hand for reading down to the kilocycle. Or so.

RME 69, with the hard-to-find preselector. I wanted to buy this one; it's in decent shape, unrestored, and the price was right. But it would need weeks of work and I am full up for projects. Note the absence of labels for the controls -- designer E. G. Shalkhauser, W9CI, was of the opinion anyone who would be operating the receiver should either be smart enough to figure them out or sufficiently interested to read the manual. RME made some of the best receivers of their day; after WW II, they built a few more models and were bought up by Electro-Voice. E-V eventually sold the name but it is tempting to wonder if some of the "DNA" remained: long after RME was gone, some retired E-V engineers started up a little ham radio company called Ten-Tec. They've done all right.

This came home with me. Made right here in Indy, the EZ-TOON aftermarket vernier tuning knob! A 1920s aftermarket accessory for receivers. Found two of them. Here's the user's side.

Among my purchases: a couple of books from the RSGB, the previously-mentioned Varispeeds (and a contact burnisher: I nearly lost a QSO two days ago thanks to dirty key contacts!), a pair of 6BG6 tubes, a kind of an octal 807 beam power tube, some round "Ohmite" type knobs, an NOS Hammarlund plug-in coil form in the original box, ceramic standoff insulators and a National variable condenser.

And that's a glimpse of my day at the Hamvention. I'm thinking about driving back Sunday -- need to top up the oil in my car, first.

Saturday, April 28, 2012


Receive a radio station with loudspeaker volume using nothing but a shovel? Yes, you can do that, but you have to be a little close to the source:

Scroll this video to the 3:30 mark and you'll learn the trick.

I shouldn't have to say it but I will: DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. Or at your local station. Really. They won't like it -- and neither will you, if the base impedance is high enough. Higher the Z, the higher the E and the higher the E, the farther the spark will jump. The fellow in the video has a nice, low-impedance point to use and a transmitter so big it doesn't care -- and it's still no fun for the shovel. (Do it to your little "coffeepot" AM and you can end up in the Feddie pen as a bonus prize; it's worse if you're crispy, too but they tell me it's no fun either way.)

Sunday, April 15, 2012


Built from an article he wrote for Radio (not QST!) as a young adult. I'll scan it in later.

Here's the front panel, bandset condenser at the upper left on the side, bandspread tuning via the National type B dial, regeneration at lower left and on-off at lower right:I had to build the chassis. It's just galvanized sheet metal -- aluminum might look nicer. Top view with the lid off -- band selection by plug-in coils! I didn't have any simple-type grid-cap clips but the little brass coil spring works okay:From below, you can see my efforts to "fine tune" the regeneration control with paralleled resistors. The original used a carbon-compression rheostat, an early multi-turn variable resistance, but I had to come up with a coarse setting: Multiwire cable out the back to the batteries -- 3V "A" and a 45V, tapped at 22.5V "B." The detector is a type '32 screen-grid tube with two stages of audio from the '19 dual-triode in the back compartment.

LATER: Here are the scans, of the photocopies I worked from back when I built it. I don't seem to have the first page and there's about a decade (110 issues) of RADIO to go through, so gimme a few. I used a different bandset condenser, detector plate audio-coupling choke and RFC -- his looks to be a Hammarlund.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


Actually, it's an exhibition, not a contest of speed. My three Vibroplex No. 4 or Blue Racer bugs of varying vintage:
L. to R, pre WW II, with a U-damper and "cloverleaf" frame; 1946, with scaled-down "Original" style upperworks; a 2001 "Millennium Bug" with full-scale mechanicals on a small base.

From the front, the frame differences are clear:
The damper variations show in the rear view:The oldest one had obviously been dropped and was green and nasty with corrosion when purchased. I replaced the thumbpiece and straightened the frame gently, enough so it would function. The reed (flat spring) had been deeply filed by a prior owner, an old trick to slow 'em down:
The very oldest ones had smooth blue-enamelled bases, probably with the gold-pinstriping treatment; my oldest probably dates from 1921 through '41 but without the nameplate (long gone), I don't think it can be narrowed down any more than that.

They all work pretty well. The 2001 bug has a "bug tamer" extension on the pendulum to slow it down. I'd like to add a "Vari-Speed" to the '46 De Luxe (sold here, scroll down for a video link of the gadget in action), and give that a try. The oldest one, with the filed reed and massive pendulum weight, is already just about right.

Monday, April 2, 2012

1946 De Luxe Vibroplex Blue Racer

In 1946, the year's production count still included the famous "Lightning Bug" derived J-36 military speed key built by Vibroplex. (Other firms, including Lionel, made J-36s, too.) All told, the company made over 4200 bugs that year, but only a fraction of that number were Blue Racers -- and only a fraction of those were all-chrome "De Luxe" models like my recent purchase.

In fact, from 1943 to '45, you couldn't even get a De Luxe with a chromed base: as a war measure, Vibroplex used battleship gray paint instead. It wasn't only Technicolor red that went to war.

By '46, chrome was back:And how! This is an early version of the De Luxe, with a conventional-looking upper pivot screw and jam nut, but that's a jeweled bearing and there another one for the lower pivot. The cord and wedge, properly tied off at the binding posts, is a nice touch and marks this key as likely to have been originally owned by a professional telegrapher -- the wedge allows the key the "plug in" to the employer-provided straight key (screwed down to the operating table) without making any modifications or disconnecting any wires. (Landline telegraphy is a series system: unhook any part of it and the whole line is out of service; so they tended to frown on it.)
The owner took care to mark the carrying case......Which isn't the official Vibroplex version, but a cut-down cheese box from a well-known cheesemonger!*

Price? $150, a fair deal for a key of this age, condition and with the cord and wedge.
* At last, a chance to use the word in a non-pejorative sense!