Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Feld Hell Contesting at KD8JHJ

On November 20th I participated in the Feld Hell Club's monthly 2 hour sprint.  It has been a while since I got on the air using one of my favorite digital modes called Hellschreiber.

Hellschreiber, or Feld Hell as we call it in ham radio didn't start out as a digital sound card mode.  In fact it's been around for 80 years and only in the past 20 years has the technology been adapted into amateur radio software and allowed us to use this early forerunner of the fax machine in our radio exploits.

So what's with the funny name?   

Rudolph Hell (1901-2002)

Rudolph Hell was born on December 19, 1901 in Eggmuhl, Bavaria.  His father was the station master of the town's stop along the Bavarian State Railway.  Obviously young Rudolph was exposed to Morse Code then the pinnacle of communications technology.  As he successfully progressed through school he knew his future lay in electrical engineering.   Hell attended university at the Munich Technical College.

By 1930 Hell had started his own business and developed a system called the Hell writing telegraph.  This electro-mechanical device broke down text into dots for transmission then reassembled the data into readable text at the receiving end.  In time the system was refined and found to be suitable for radio communications. By 1934 this technology was in use by news agencies and by the end of World War Two more than 50,000 units had been produced.

Hellschreiber works by dividing a line of text into columns in which each column is 7 pixels tall. the data is then transmitted from the bottom pixel up.  Black pixels are transmitted as a signal and white pixels are sent as silence.  This takes place at a speed of 122.5 baud.  Because the incoming text was printed out on continuous paper rolls the number of columns a message could contain was indefinite.  

Take a close look at the screen shot I made during the Feld Hell Contest at the top of my post.  Pictured are both my transmissions and those of WB2HTO.  They are easy to differentiate because we each have a different font style selected in our software.  The original Hellschreiber machine printed the incoming message onto a narrow paper strip that was adhesive backed.  the message could be transcribed by hand as shown in the picture below or the strips could be cut and assembled onto a sheet of paper like a telegram.

As a modern digital mode Hellschreiber is unique in several ways.  The incoming text feeds onto the screen from left to right at a speed that I imagine is very close to that of the original mechanical print head. This preserves the look if not the feel of the original Feld Hell mode.  Once the screen is full the uppermost strip disappears as the next line begins printing at the bottom.

Because Feld Hell is based on Facsimile it does not suffer certain conditions that plague the other sound card modes. Other digital modes employ forms of error correction to counter the negative effects of  atmospheric conditions and weak propagation.  The software does the best it can to decipher the received message but often the text is garbled or characters are missed completely.  With Hellschreiber there is never a missed character or annoying misspellings caused by the error correction.  Again the screen shot shows WB2HTO's signal to be strong and clear -nearly solid black on a white background.  If the incoming signal is very weak or propagation is not favorable the signal will show up on an increasingly gray background.  Notice on the top line is a section of gray space between each of our transmissions.  This is just the static present on the frequency while neither of us is transmitting.  A weak signal can be so faint that it blends into the gray "noise" and may be only partially visible or not at all. 

Hellschreiber prints all of the received columns twice one on top of the other.  This is done to make up for small timing errors that can be present in the equipment.  The text can print like WB2HTO's two identical lines or like mine with one readable line of text in the middle with the other line split some on the bottom and the rest on top.  The print can also be slanted running off the "strip".  Regardless enough characters are present to get the message copied complete.

It's the fascinating history behind this mode that makes it one of my favorites.  
Although this post deals with Feld Hell,  patented by Hell in 1929 this man's contributions to information technology as we know it today are amazing.  Here are some of Rudolph Hell's inventions and innovations:

1925  Hell and Max Dieckmann invented the scanning tube.  The first step in developing the ability to break a picture down into dots for transmission.

1927  Hell invents the first radio location device for aviation.  For the first time in history aviators could fly through inclement weather and find their way to a destination by following radio beacons.

1950-60s  Hell developes the Digiset.  A virtual "typeset" of electronically produced characters.  For the first time in  500 years since Gutenburg invented moveable type and the printing press, the three dimensional letters which had always been physical objects in a typecase were now electronic symbols broken down to dots and stored in a computer for use as needed. 

1960's Hell invents several prepress systems that revolutionized the graphic arts industry as well as color scanners, faxes and engraving machines. 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Recumbent Ride -- Kokosing Gap Trail

Today I decided to cap off the long holiday weekend with a recumbent ride on the Kokosing Gap Trail.  When I got up this morning the sun was shining so I jumped at the chance to skip the indoor workout and get outside.  My cycle computer indicated a chilly 37 degrees Fahrenheit with just a light breeze from the south-west.  By the midpoint of my ride the temperature had risen to a balmy 42 degrees.

Total Distance:  28 miles
Ride Time:  2:06
Average Speed:  13.3 mph
Max Speed:  18.9 mph

Stone arch  -- Howard, Ohio

Here is some interesting history I copied from a sign along the trail:

Howard Township was created March 9, 1825, with the village of Howard platted in 1836 as Kinderhook.  A few years later the name was changed to Howard.  The area was a favorite camping and hunting ground for several indian tribes which had settled along the banks of the Big and Little Jelloway and Owl creeks.  Here they cleared timber and raised corn. The first white man to settle in Howard Township -Abraham Welker- came to the area about 1807, having emigrated from Harrison County.  Due Primarily to the Pennsylvania Railroad, and with the arrival of  more white men, the village of Howard soon became a thriving community.  A principle livestock shipping center for Chicago and Pittsburgh markets, the village blossomed with a hotel, two grocery stores, a bank, mill, blacksmith shop, barber shop, dry goods store, undertaker, pool room, two doctors' offices and a post office.

Kokosing River, Knox County

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Tim Easton -- Rumba Cafe -- November 20, 2010

The main purpose of our recent trip to Columbus, Ohio was to hear some tunes by musician, singer songwriter Tim Easton.  Tim is originally from Ohio and around the holidays he usually shows up and plays a couple shows at smaller bars or a cozy cafe.  The last time we saw Tim play was nine years ago so it was great to finally see him again.
Tim's label is New West Records and his style is rooted in acoustic blues.  I'm not a big follower of the genre but "Alternative Country" and "Americana" are some buzzwords associated with this style of music.  "Dylan-esque" is a fitting description of Tim's style I saw in another review.  The real treat is to witness with your own ears how Tim can fill a room with just vocals and his guitar.  For this show at the Rumba Cafe Tim was joined by a excellent drummer who provided percussion and rhythm further broadening the sonic brush stroke.
Often I mention Tim Easton to people and they have never heard of him.  It's really too bad because Tim is an incredible guitarist and performer.  I highly recommend checking out some Youtube videos of Tim at the very least and if given the opportunity to see a live show I wouldn't miss it.   

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


On Saturday to celebrate my birthday my wife and I spent the evening in Ohio's capital city, Columbus.  At night most big cities look the same but walking around downtown I think we did find some unique after dark images.

Probably the best veggie pizza I ever ate.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Recumbent Ride

The weather on my birthday turned out to be a mild 65 degrees with a mix of sun and clouds.  It was a bit windy but I could not have asked for a better afternoon for a little spin around town on the recumbent.  As usual I packed the camera and did manage to take a neat shot or two. 

This water tower is scheduled to be dismantled soon so I decided to try to get some shots of it before it is gone for good.  Symbols of the once burgeoning industrial complex in my small Midwestern town are slowly one by one falling into decay. 

My average mph was way down on this ride but my purpose was not to put down a bunch of miles in the log but simply enjoy the sun and fresh air as you only can from the back of a bicycle.  I also traversed a couple miles of gravel road surface so this brought down my overall speed.  Even with 1" slick tires at 100 psi the front and rear suspension of the HP Velotechnik Street Machine makes the bike surprisingly easy to control even on coarse railroad bed gravel. 

Route:  urban/ rural mix
Ride Time:  1:43
Total Distance:  17.92 miles
Average Speed:  10.4 mph
Max Speed:  22.8 mph

Insulator Post -- Verreries de Folembray

For my 40th Birthday my thoughtful and lovely wife surprised me with this very nice French Gingerbread man.  The insulator measures 5 1/2" inches tall and 3 1/2" inches in diameter and was made by the Verreries de Folembray (Glass works of Folembray).   The glass works was located in the town of Folembray in northern France and operated from 1899 to 1954.  This is about the extent of my knowledge of this particular insulator and the company that made it.  A casual search online does return some information but many of the entries are in French so I cannot read them.

The Gingerbread man is a unique addition to my collection and is a special piece to me because it was given as a gift.  

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

November SKCC Week End Sprint

KD8JHJ Homebrew Straight Key

This months SKCC "Craftsman key sprint" was a great opportunity to put a special key on the air for  the first time, and make a few contacts.  I am a casual contester and sometimes I'm not feeling all that competitive but I still like to check in with some of the regular amateur stations that are on every sprint and possibly meet a new member if propagation allows.  The Homebrew Straight Key worked great and it was quite a satisfying experience to transmit Morse code with a tool I made myself.

A highlight from the WES was meeting Javi, EA1EVA from Spain for the first time.  A bit later I added F6HKA, Bert in France to my sprint log.  The 20 meter band was energized and in fine shape for shortwave radio communications. 

Red - 14 MHz (20 meters)
Blue - 7 MHz (40 meters)
Green - 3.5 MHz (80 meters)

7.110    K0LUW    Nebraska
3.551    W3NP      West Virginia
3.558    W9HLY    Indiana
7.056    WQ9Z       Illinois
7.053    K2VT       New Jersey
14.053  KK5J        Oklahoma
14.057  EA1EVA  Spain
14.059  KC0VNK  Minnesota
14.056  NG7Z       Washington
14.054  K0LUW    Nebraska
14.058  KK5PJ      Texas
14.046  K4JPN      Georgia
14.045  F6HKA     France
14.051  W5ZR       Louisiana
14.050  WI1B        Massachusetts
14.055  KC3QU    Arkansas
7.113    K3MSB    Pennsylvania
7.117    W4CUX   Georgia
7.116    K4BAI     Georgia
7.108    W9DLN   Wisconsin

It is also interesting to note that participation in the club sprints seems to be increasing with the membership ranks or possibly it may have something to do with the slowly increasing solar flux that we hams have been waiting for.  One thing for sure it's nice to see the interest in hand generated Morse code done just as it has been for the past hundred years of radio and even before that in the days of the land line telegraph. Over 200 SKCC members took part in the sprint and  11 different countries were represented. To see the full results board at the club website click
From there I also recommend scrolling down to the soapbox section to view some of the homebrew keys and restoration projects submitted by club members.

Monday, November 15, 2010

California Glass Insulator Co.

At the Springfield show this year I acquired eight fine specimens produced at the Long Beach, California plant.  I did some research and discovered to my surprise that the C.G.I. Co. only existed for four years.  Founded in 1912 by Robert P. Frist and employing a work force of nearly 50 men the plant shortly reached full capacity of 15,000 insulators per day.  In addition to insulators the company also produced bottles for local sale in California. 
In 1914 C.G.I.Co. was reorganized into The California Glass Works and continued operations until January of 1916 when the Long Beach Harbor flooded and the plant was destroyed.  The California Glass Works was never rebuilt. 

Shown above are two of my favorite style of insulators known as "signals" that I added to my collection from the Springfield show.  In the past week I have digitally photographed my collection indoors using artificial lighting and most recently I set up outside under a midday sun.  Through experimentation I have determined that the sun is the best light source for capturing the truest color of the glass.  It is November now and the sun stays rather low in the southern sky as it passes overhead.  This low angle is evident from the shadow to the right of the insulator.  Next summer I will try another series of photographs with the sun directly overhead although I can't imagine much of an improvement over these images.

Here is a link to more detailed information on the the California Glass Insulator Company:
-Reprinted from "Insulators - Crown Jewels of the Wire"  September 1982, Pg . 6

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Vibroplex Straight Key

Vibroplex Standard Straight Key

This key was my main station key for my first couple of years in amateur radio.  A great looking key with crisp yet solid action.  I have logged several hundred radio telegraphy contacts using this fine instrument which is second only in my key collection to the NT9K Pro Pump long lever key.   

The Vibroplex straight key is a unique design based on modified components taken from the semi-automatic key line. It is an interesting fact that the Vibroplex Company did not introduce a straight key until nearly 100 years into it's existence.  This is not surprising as the mainstay Vibroplex keys are semi-automatic or "bug" keys.  Production first began in 1996 and continues today catering solely to the amateur market.   

Vibroplex website:  http://vibroplex.com/

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Insulator Post -- Brookfield pony

This little Brookfield pony I picked up at the Springfield show.  It's got a few bubbles and some fine amber swirls.  Every time I see a Brookfield I am taken back in time to New York City in the midst of the Industrial Revolution.  This hundred year old insulator is a great addition to my collection. 

Saturday, November 6, 2010

40th Annual Mid Ohio Insulator Show

Deep purples and honey-amber insulators command higher prices regardless of manufacturer.

A Popular style of insulator from France is known as a ginger bread man.  Several are visible in this collection.

Amber swirls add character and value.

  This collection of one specific model produced by the California Glass Insulator Co. illustrates the bewildering variations of color that came from the Long Beach factory. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Insulator Post

The top insulator was made in Canada for the Canadian Pacific Railway.  This diminutive style is unique to Canada and is the only one of its kind in my collection.  The other is a California Signal and was of course made in California.  These are two of my favorite insulators that I obtained last year at the Mid Ohio Insulator Show held in Springfield, Ohio. 

This Saturday I will be getting up bright and early to make my way south to Springfield to attend the 40th Anniversary show.  For a day I will be blissfully lost in insulator heaven.  There will be over a hundred and forty sales tables and many specialty insulator collections on display.  When I attended the show last year for the first time a friendly dealer introduced himself and upon learning that I was new to the hobby he gave me some advice.  He said as you begin your collecting try to narrow down or specialize in one style or manufacturer of insulators that floats your boat and build your collecting activities around that.  Judging by the sheer magnitude of colors and shapes all on display I could see the logic in his words.  Over the past year the two insulators pictured above have become the apples of my eye and it's these types specifically I will be on the lookout for on Saturday. 

I like the little Canadian bullets because they are small and as my collection grows they won't take up as much space as larger pieces would.  As for the California glass there is just something that I like about them aside from the huge array of colors that can be had.  Maybe a bit of symbolism reflecting how pioneering Americans expanded westward and as technology grew the tendrils of our early communications infrastructure made their way back into the heart of the nation across the mountains and deserts of the south-west.  A small token of the tenacity of the people who tamed that rugged unforgiving land.

I belong to an online group called ICON "Insulator Collectors On The Net".  This site is a tremendous resource full of information and thousands of colorful photographs of various insulators.  A link to ICON and more information can be found at this site:  http://www.insulators.info/