“The Silicon Engine” Website, Now Hosted by the Computer History Museum

This is a press release I received today. Check out the site—it’s pretty cool, and you’ll learn something. For example, I’ll bet you didn’t know that in 1926 a scientist filed a patent for a FET-like amplifying device. Unfortunately, they were never successful in building function devices…..Dan

The Computer History Museum, home to the world’s largest collection of computing-related objects and information, today announced that it has unveiled “The Silicon Engine” website. Funded by a grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation of San Francisco, California, “The Silicon Engine” presents a timeline of key semiconductor industry events behind the story of semiconductor technology and its central role in the computer revolution through 1979.

Widely regarded as one of the most important technical innovations of the 20th century, the semiconductor-based transistor and its microchip offspring, integrated circuits, microprocessors, and semiconductor memories have changed the way we live, work, and play. From cell phones to supercomputers, microchips supply the intelligence and the horsepower and yet the stories of the people, products, and companies behind them are seldom celebrated. Developed by members of the Museum’s Semiconductor Special Interest Group in cooperation with the Museum’s curatorial and technology staff, “The Silicon Engine” is the first comprehensive online presentation of the history of semiconductor technology to be developed by a major institution.

“The Silicon Engine” describes, in chronological and milestone formats, fifty-five key events that led to today’s billion transistor microchips. The timeline extends from Michael Faraday’s discovery of a semiconductor effect in 1833 to Bell Labs’ single-chip digital signal processor in 1979. Each milestone includes a description of the event together with historical images, references to original documents, and sources of additional information. A section on Teacher Materials provides lesson plans that introduce students to topics such as technological innovation, invention and problem solving and the significance of Moore’s Law (an important trend in the history of computer hardware first presented by Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore in a 1965 paper: that the number of transistors that can be inexpensively placed on an integrated circuit is increasing exponentially, doubling approximately every two years.)

Other resources on the site include biographies of semiconductor pioneers and their companies, a semiconductor glossary, and links to oral histories and other related websites. A second phase of the project that will provide online access to documents, oral histories, and images of artifacts in the Museum’s collection will be completed in 2008. The Computer History Museum is also seeking additional funding to support the final phase of “The Silicon Engine” project, which will complete the remaining decades of this important industry timeline. Anyone with relevant materials or resources to contribute should contact David Laws at 650-810-1057 or laws@computerhistory.org.

Understand RF Power Amplifiers

RFDesignLine has recently published an excerpt from the book, RF Circuit Design, 2e by Christopher Bowick. The article, titled “Understanding RF Power Amplifiers” will give you a better understanding of power amplifier classes and linearity. It describes Class A, B, and C amplifiers and explains linearity, distortion, and harmonics.

Slow-Scan TV – My Next Digital Mode

Now that I’ve started having fun with PSK31, I’m getting interested in slow-scan TV (SSTV). The term SSTV can be a bit misleading, as there’s both analogue SSTV and digital SSTV. Digital SSTV signals must be less than 500 Hz wide. That allows them to be used in the same band segment as PSK31 and other similar digital modes.

To find out more, one place you can go is K3UK’s Quick and Dirty Guide to Narrow Bandwidth SSTV. It focuses on using the MMSSTV software, but has a lot of good info on operating practices as well.

Another resource is CQ SSTV de KB4YZ. This page has hundreds of links to other sites with SSTV information. There are almost too many links here. It’s hard to decide where to start.

Since I’m now using a Mac laptop in my shack, I was interested in what software is available for the Mac. KB4YZ has two links:

  • MultiMode for the Mac by Chris N3JLY. This is commercial software and costs $89. It looks pretty good, but I’m not sure if I want to spend $89 on it.
  • MacRobotSSTV for the Mac by Sergei KD6CJI. This looks like a nice program, but the User’s Guide notes, “currently USB audio input e.g iMic is not working.” Looks like I’m going to have to wait for the next version.

Ham Radio Reporting on the Net

If you want to hear radio-style news about ham radio, there are two organizations providing this:

  • RAIN Report: This is a weekly report lasting approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Normally, the report addresses a single topic. This week’s topic, for example is wildlife tracking by radio.
  • This Week in Amateur Radio and Amateur Radio Newsline: I’m not exactly sure how these are related, as there are two separate websites, but the two reports share much content. Unlike the Rain Report, TWIAR/ARN covers a whole host of different stuff. Stories covered this week include Mitt Romney on amateur radio, the US Air Force adds more repeaters to California PavePaws radar problem list, a ham radio operator saves a stranded family in the Swiss Alps, and new members appointed to ARRL Election Ethics and Election Committees. I hate to say this, but it just wasn’t interesting enough for me to sit through the entire hour. On the ARN website, there is a transcript of the broadcast available for reading. By reading the transcript, you can skip over items that aren’t of interest to me, without having to sit through an entire broadcast.

NIST Radio Station WWVH Gets Antenna Makeover

From NIST:

Radio station WWVH in Hawaii, operated since 1948 by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to broadcast time, frequency and other announcements, recently powered up innovative replacement antennas. NIST has installed new antennas encased in fiberglass instead of traditional steel supports to resist corrosion from the salty ocean air. The fiberglass design will reduce maintenance and repair costs as well as climbing hazards to staff. Users of the radio broadcast service may notice reduced signal down-time.

NIST time and frequency experts believe the project is the first demonstration of high-powered, high-frequency fiberglass antennas on land. For more information, go to WWVH Antenna Fact Sheet.

CWOP a Good Use for Ham Radio

Via one of the many mailing lists I’m on, I’ve become aware of the Citizen’s Weather Oberserver Program (CWOP). This program was started by amateur radio operators and looks like a great use of ham radio. Basically, hams with weather stations collect data and transmit it via the packet radio network to a an NOAA server for archiving. Here’s what their website has to say:

The Citizen Weather Observer Program (CWOP) is a private-public partnership with three main goals: 1) to collect weather data contributed by citizens; 2) to make these data available for weather services and homeland security; and 3) to provide feedback to the data contributors so that they have the tools to check and improve their data quality. In fact, the web address, wxqa.com, stands for weather quality assurance.

There are over 6,000 registered CWOP members worldwide…CWOP members send their weather data by internet alone and internet-wireless combination to the findU server and then every 15 minutes, the entire data set is sent from the findU server to the NOAA MADIS server. The data are checked for quality and then redistributed to users. There are over 500 different user organizations of mesonet data.

Lunar Echo Experiment looking for Amateur Radio Participants

This bulletin from the ARRL. Look very interesting.

Special Bulletin 2 ARLX002
From ARRL Headquarters
Newington CT January 17, 2008
To all radio amateurs

The HF Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) in Alaska and the Long Wavelength Array (LWA) in New Mexico are planning an additional lunar echo experiment for January 18-19.

Interested radio amateurs are invited to participate in this experiment by listening for the lunar echoes and submitting reports.

On January 19, listen on 6.7925 MHz from 0500-0600z, and on 7.4075 MHz from 0600-0700z. On January 20, listen on 6.7925 MHz from 0630-0730z and on 7.4075 MHz from 0730-0830z (depending on frequency occupancy at the time of operation, it may be necessary to adjust the frequency slightly).

Based on previous experiments, investigators believe it should be possible to hear the lunar echoes with a standard communications receiver and a simple 40 meter dipole antenna. The format for the transmissions will follow a five second cycle beginning on the hour
and repeating continuously.

The HAARP transmitter will transmit for the first two seconds. The next three seconds will be quiet to listen for the lunar echo. Then HAARP will transmit again for two seconds, repeating the cycle for one hour. In the second hour, this five second repetitive cycle will
be repeated at a different frequency. All transmissions from HAARP will be CW (no modulation).

Depending on ionospheric conditions, it may or may not be possible to hear the HAARP transmission directly via sky wave propagation. Since HAARP will not be using any modulation, set your receiver on
to CW mode to hear HAARP and the lunar echo. Investigators are interested in receiving signal reports from radio amateurs who may be able to detect — or not detect– the lunar echo or the transmitted skywave pulse from HAARP.

Submit reports via e-mail to breport@haarp.alaska.edu and list your call sign and the type and location of your receiving equipment and antennas.

Outline for the 2008 General Class License Course

Last July, the National Council of Volunteer Examiner Coordinators (NCVEC) released a new question pool for General Class license examinations. Shortly after, the ARRL (and others) came out with a new license manual. That meant, of course, that I had to come up with a new outline for my General Class license course.

The new outline is below. One thing I notice about the new manual is that it seems to be better organized than the previous one. I would have organized Chapter 4: Components and Circuits a bit differently, but overall, I like this manual better than the old one.


DC Circuits – Section 4.1

  • voltage
  • current
  • resistance
  • Ohm’s Law

AC Waveforms – Section 4.1

  • peak voltage
  • peak-to-peak voltage
  • RMS voltage
  • wavelength
  • frequency

Power – Section 4.2

  • deciBels
  • peak envelope power (PEP)

Circuit Components – Section 4.3

  • circuit parameters
  • resistors
  • inductors
  • capacitors
  • transformers
  • vacuum tubes

Series and Parallel Circuits – Section 4.3

  • Kirchoff’s Laws
  • capacitive reactance
  • inductive reactance

Impedance – Section 4.4

  • resonance
  • impedance matching

Solid-State Components – Section 4.5

  • diodes
  • transistors
  • integrated circuits
  • microprocessors

Practical Circuits – Section 4.6

  • power supply circuits
  • batteries, alternative power
  • connectors

Test Equipment – Section 4.7

Amplitude Modulaton, Angle Modulation – Section 5.1
Digital Modulation – Section 5.2
Radio Building Blocks – Section 5.3

Transmitters – Section 5.4
Receivers – Section 5.6
The HF Station – Section 5.7

Antenna Basics – Section 6.1
Dipoles, Ground Planes, and Random Wire Antennas – Section 6.2
Yagi Antennas – Section 6.3
Loop Antennas – Section 6.4
Specialized Antennas – Section 6.5
Feedlines – Section 6.6

  • standing wave ratio (SWR)
  • impedance matching
  • losses

The Ionosphere – Section 7.1
The Sun – Section 7.2
Scatter Modes – Section 7.3

Basic Operating Procedures- Section 2.1
Digital Modes – Section 2.2
Nets and Emergency Operation – Section 2.3
Regulatory Bodies – Section 3.1
Licensing Rules – Section 3.2
Control Operators and Their Responsibilities – Section 3.3
Technical Rules and Standards – Section 3.4

Electrical Safety – Section 8.1
RF Exposure – Section 8.2
Outdoor Safety – Section 8.3
Exam Review

I’ll be adding more detail to the outline as I go along.

Propagation Forecasts Delivered

There are a bunch of propagation forecasts available on the Net, but two are available as e-mail, delivered directly to you each week:

  1. Propagation de K7RA. This is the propagation bulletin broadcast by W1AW. The e-mail version is nice because it contains links to websites referenced by the report. To get the bulletin by e-mail, you have to be an ARRL member, but the bulletin is available for free on the ARRL website.
  2. KN4LF Radiowave Propagation Forecast. KN4LF has decided to freely distribute this once subscription-only forecast. This forecast is also available on the Web, but by signing up to get it by e-mail will ensure that you get it every week (on Thursday).

Membership in Your ARRL

On QRZ.Com, K3UD frequently reports on the number of licensed radio amateurs. Comments on the latest item, “ARS FCC License Numbers 4th Quarter 2007, A Look At The Trends,” took a turn when WW3QB reported:

I looked up ARRL membership for a few years (from annual reports).

1996 – 175,023
2000 – 164,106
2004 – 151,727
2006 – 148,641

I would expect the ARRL membership to reflect some percentage of “active” hams. But the trend is clear.

To which, K1RFD replied:

Attributing this decline to things the ARRL has (or hasn’t) done certainly makes for lively discussion, but I suspect the trend is mostly due to two other, more mundane factors.

The first may be a decline in the number of active hams, both in real numbers and as a percentage of total licensees. Inactive hams aren’t likely to keep a yearly League membership going. Those numbers might be very close to the number of active U.S. hams.

But the biggest reason is probably the overall state of magazine publishing in the 21st century. If you were to look at other organizations that have a magazine subscription as their primary benefit, you’d probably see the same trend. For example, according to journalism.org, subscriptions to traditional news magazines have been on a downward slide for decades, and the average subscriber age has been going up.

I think K1FRD is probably right that a big reason for the drop in ARRL membership is because amateurs no longer have to rely on magazines for their information about ham radio. The flip side, of course, is that it’s too bad that the main reason these guys joined at all is to get QST.

Even so, you can’t really blame them. The only thing that most members see from the ARRL is QST and a raft of solicitations for this fund or that. And if they can get pretty much the same technical information off the Internet, why should they continue their ARRL memberships? The ARRL has been saying all along that your membership fee is for more than just QST, but they obviously haven’t done a great job of selling that.

Don’t get me wrong. I think that we do need a national association representing amateur radio, and in the absence of any other viable national organization, I think the ARRL is it. But the ARRL has to do better at attracting and retaining members.

Someone else commented that looking at what the NRA was doing would probably be a good idea. Benchmarking the ARRL against the NRA would be an interesting and very useful exercise, I think. We should find out what the NRA, and other similar large, membership-based organizations are doing right and doing wrong, then figure out how the ARRL can benefit from this knowledge.