Category: Electronics

G3PUK!

The story of me gaining my radio amateur licence.

As I spoke about yesterday in my introduction, when my mother remarried my sister and I had a new man about the house, so to speak. He was Richard Mills.

I was 13 or thereabouts and already struggling with my school work (the result of my father’s sudden death). And ‘Dad’ as we called him was finding his feet in the strange world of going from having no children to instantly having two step children!

Anyway, Dad found a theme with me that I enjoyed: building a shortwave radio receiver. It was full of learning for me and over the years I became hooked on listening to radio stations both near and far transmitting in morse code. I also joined the Harrow Radio Society and went across to their weekly meetings by tube and bus. (Despite the Society no longer being at the Harrow address it is amazing that they are still going strong.)

It was also a time when there was a great deal of ‘radio surplus’ equipment going for next to nothing and I ‘upgraded’ to an R-1152 receiver.

War surplus R-1152 receiver.

In time I became sufficiently old to take driving lessons and pass my driving licence. I then got a secondhand car. It helped because then I could drive up to Bushey and spend Sunday mornings at the house of Ron Ray. Ron was a keen amateur. On Sunday mornings Ron had a small group of people who wanted to pass the morse code test and apply for a licence.

I was already a member of the RSGB, the Radio Society of Great Britain, and that surely encouraged me further to study for my amateur licence.

In time, I sat the exam and much to my amazement passed!

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So that is the story of me and amateur radio.

Well, almost the full story.

In 1963 I volunteered for the Royal Naval Reserve, London Division. In time I was accepted and chose the join the radio branch, my G3PUK status coming in useful, because I reckoned that when we went to sea, on flat-bottomed minesweepers, it was better to be sick into a bucket between the knees than be sick on deck!

So there you are – G3PUK!

The Morse Code is 175 years old!

Two days of nostalgia follow! (You have been warned!)

As many of you already know, my father died fairly suddenly on December 20th, 1956. I had turned 12 some six weeks previously.

After about a year my mother remarried. His name was Richard Mills. Richard came to live at the house in Toley Avenue and had the unenviable task of taking on a new ‘son’ and ‘daughter’. (My sister, Elizabeth, some four years younger than I.)

Richard was a technical author in the newly-arrived electronics industry and one day he asked me if I would like to build a short-wave receiver. He coached me in the strange art of soldering wires and radio valves and other components and in the end I had a working receiver. That led, in turn, to me studying for an amateur radio licence. More of that tomorrow.

But the point of the introduction is to relay that The Morse Code is 175 years old on the 24th May.

Read more:

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Simply elegant, Morse code marks 175 years and counting

The elegantly simple code works whether flashing a spotlight or blinking your eyes—or even tapping on a smartphone touchscreen

There’s still plenty of reason to know how to use this Morse telegraph key. (Jason Salmon/Shutterstock.com)

By
Ph.D. Student in Electrical Engineering, University of South Carolina

May 21st, 2019

The first message sent by Morse code’s dots and dashes across a long distance traveled from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore on Friday, May 24, 1844 – 175 years ago. It signaled the first time in human history that complex thoughts could be communicated at long distances almost instantaneously. Until then, people had to have face-to-face conversations; send coded messages through drums, smoke signals and semaphore systems; or read printed words.

Thanks to Samuel F.B. Morse, communication changed rapidly, and has been changing ever faster since. He invented the electric telegraph in 1832. It took six more years for him to standardize a code for communicating over telegraph wires. In 1843, Congress gave him US$30,000 to string wires between the nation’s capital and nearby Baltimore. When the line was completed, he conducted a public demonstration of long-distance communication.

Morse wasn’t the only one working to develop a means of communicating over the telegraph, but his is the one that has survived. The wires, magnets and keys used in the initial demonstration have given way to smartphones’ on-screen keyboards, but Morse code has remained fundamentally the same, and is still – perhaps surprisingly – relevant in the 21st century. Although I have learned, and relearned, it many times as a Boy Scout, an amateur radio operator and a pilot, I continue to admire it and strive to master it.

Samuel F.B. Morse’s own handwritten record of the first Morse code message ever sent, on May 24, 1844. Library of Congress

Easy sending

Morse’s key insight in constructing the code was considering how frequently each letter is used in English. The most commonly used letters have shorter symbols: “E,” which appears most often, is signified by a single “dot.” By contrast, “Z,” the least used letter in English, was signified by the much longer and more complex “dot-dot-dot (pause) dot.”

In 1865, the International Telecommunications Union changed the code to account for different character frequencies in other languages. There have been other tweaks since, but “E” is still “dot,” though “Z” is now “dash-dash-dot-dot.”

The reference to letter frequency makes for extremely efficient communications: Simple words with common letters can be transmitted very quickly. Longer words can still be sent, but they take more time.

Going wireless

The communications system that Morse code was designed for – analogue connections over metal wires that carried a lot of interference and needed a clear on-off type signal to be heard – has evolved significantly.

The first big change came just a few decades after Morse’s demonstration. In the late 19th century, Guglielmo Marconi invented radio-telegraph equipment, which could send Morse code over radio waves, rather than wires.

The shipping industry loved this new way to communicate with ships at sea, either from ship to ship or to shore-based stations. By 1910, U.S. law required many passenger ships in U.S. waters to carry wireless sets for sending and receiving messages.

After the Titanic sank in 1912, an international agreement required some ships to assign a person to listen for radio distress signals at all times. That same agreement designated “SOS” – “dot-dot-dot dash-dash-dash dot-dot-dot” – as the international distress signal, not as an abbreviation for anything but because it was a simple pattern that was easy to remember and transmit. The Coast Guard discontinued monitoring in 1995. The requirement that ships monitor for distress signals was removed in 1999, though the U.S. Navy still teaches at least some sailors to read, send and receive Morse code.

The arrow points at the chart label indicating the Morse code equivalent to the ‘BAL’ signal for a radio beacon near Baltimore. Edited screenshot of an FAA map, CC BY-ND

Aviators also use Morse code to identify automated navigational aids. These are radio beacons that help pilots follow routes, traveling from one transmitter to the next on aeronautical charts. They transmit their identifiers – such as “BAL” for Baltimore – in Morse code. Pilots often learn to recognize familiar-sounding patterns of beacons in areas they fly frequently.

There is a thriving community of amateur radio operators who treasure Morse code, too. Among amateur radio operators, Morse code is a cherished tradition tracing back to the earliest days of radio. Some of them may have begun in the Boy Scouts, which has made learning Morse variably optional or required over the years. The Federal Communications Commission used to require all licensed amateur radio operators to demonstrate proficiency in Morse code, but that ended in 2007. The FCC does still issue commercial licenses that require Morse proficiency, but no jobs require it anymore.

Blinking Morse

Because its signals are so simple – on or off, long or short – Morse code can also be used by flashing lights. Many navies around the world use blinker lights to communicate from ship to ship when they don’t want to use radios or when radio equipment breaks down. The U.S. Navy is actually testing a system that would let a user type words and convert it to blinker light. A receiver would read the flashes and convert it back to text.

Skills learned in the military helped an injured man communicate with his wife across a rocky beach using only his flashlight in 2017.

Other Morse messages

Perhaps the most notable modern use of Morse code was by Navy pilot Jeremiah Denton, while he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. In 1966, about one year into a nearly eight-year imprisonment, Denton was forced by his North Vietnamese captors to participate in a video interview about his treatment. While the camera focused on his face, he blinked the Morse code symbols for “torture,” confirming for the first time U.S. fears about the treatment of service members held captive in North Vietnam.

Navy pilot Jeremiah Denton, a prisoner of war, blinks Morse code spelling out ‘torture’ during a forced interview with his captors.

Blinking Morse code is slow, but has also helped people with medical conditions that prevent them from speaking or communicating in other ways. A number of devices – including iPhones and Android smartphones – can be set up to accept Morse code input from people with limited motor skills.

There are still many ways people can learn Morse code, and practice using it, even online. In emergency situations, it can be the only mode of communications that will get through. Beyond that, there is an art to Morse code, a rhythmic, musical fluidity to the sound. Sending and receiving it can have a soothing or meditative feeling, too, as the person focuses on the flow of individual characters, words and sentences. Overall, sometimes the simplest tool is all that’s needed to accomplish the task.

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I do hope you read this article in full because it contains much interesting information. Many people will not have a clue about The Morse Code and, as you can see above, it is still relevant.

Finally, I can still remember the The Morse Code after all these years!

The eyes of our dogs!

Science confirms what we instinctively understand!

That the way a dog looks deep into our eyes is more than emotional froth!

Follower of this blog, Anita, left a comment to yesterday’s post. This is what she wrote (my emphasis):

This has been a wonderful compilation of awesome photos. You must do it again sometime. Dogs are so wonderful and such great companions. They do have eyes that see straight through our very souls and ready to love us at the drop of a hat.

One of our dogs here at home, Oliver, has those eyes. When he stares into my own eyes it feels as though at some mystical level Oliver and I are connected.

Young Oliver and those eyes! (Taken 1st March, 2018.)

So imagine my surprise when reading yesterday the lead essay in The Smithsonian about the evolution of the domesticated dog and me coming across this:

The relationship has become so close that even our brains are in sync. Witness a study showing that dogs hijack the human brain’s maternal bonding system. When humans and dogs gaze lovingly into one another’s eyes, each of their brains secretes oxytocin, a hormone linked to maternal bonding and trust.

In other words, science confirms what I experience as being real!! (Undoubtedly shared by many of you!)

I have pleasure in republishing the full article.

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How Accurate Is Alpha’s Theory of Dog Domestication?

The ‘boy and his dog’ tale is a piece of prehistoric fiction, but scientists are uncovering the true origins of our incredible relationship with dogs.

smithsonian.com

Long ago, before your four-legged best friend learned to fetch tennis balls or watch football from the couch, his ancestors were purely wild animals in competition—sometimes violent—with our own. So how did this relationship change? How did dogs go from being our bitter rivals to our snuggly, fluffy pooch pals?

The new drama Alpha answers that question with a Hollywood “tail” of the very first human/dog partnership.

Europe is a cold and dangerous place 20,000 years ago when the film’s hero, a young hunter named Keda, is injured and left for dead. Fighting to survive, he forgoes killing an injured wolf and instead befriends the animal, forging an unlikely partnership that—according to the film—launches our long and intimate bond with dogs.

Just how many nuggets of fact might be sprinkled throughout this prehistoric fiction?

We’ll never know the gritty details of how humans and dogs first began to come together. But beyond the theater the true story is slowly taking shape, as scientists explore the real origins of our oldest domestic relationship and learn how both species have changed along canines’ evolutionary journey from wolves to dogs.

When and where were dogs domesticated?

Pugs and poodles may not look the part, but if you trace their lineages far enough back in time all dogs are descended from wolves. Gray wolves and dogs diverged from an extinct wolf species some 15,000 to 40,000 years ago. There’s general scientific agreement on that point, and also with evolutionary anthropologist Brian Hare’s characterization of what happened next. ’The domestication of dogs was one of the most extraordinary events in human history,” Hare says.

But controversies abound concerning where a long-feared animal first became our closest domestic partner. Genetic studies have pinpointed everywhere from southern China to Mongolia to Europe.

Scientists cannot agree on the timing, either. Last summer, research reported in Nature Communications pushed likely dates for domestication further back into the past, suggesting that dogs were domesticated just once at least 20,000 but likely closer to 40,000 years ago. Evolutionary ecologist Krishna R. Veeramah, of Stony Brook University, and colleagues sampled DNA from two Neolithic German dog fossils, 7,000 and 4,700 years old respectively. Tracing genetic mutation rates in these genomes yielded the new date estimates.

“We found that our ancient dogs from the same time period were very similar to modern European dogs, including the majority of breed dogs people keep as pets,” explained Dr. Veeramah in a release accompanying the study. This suggests, he adds, “that there was likely only a single domestication event for the dogs observed in the fossil record from the Stone Age and that we also see and live with today.”

End of story? Not even close.

In fact, at least one study has suggested that dogs could have been domesticated more than once. Researchers analyzed mitochondrial DNA sequences from remains of 59 European dogs (aged 3,000 to 14,000 years), and the full genome of a 4,800-year-old dog that was buried beneath the prehistoric mound monument at Newgrange, Ireland.

Comparing these genomes with many wolves and modern dog breeds suggested that dogs were domesticated in Asia, at least 14,000 years ago, and their lineages split some 14,000 to 6,400 years ago into East Asian and Western Eurasian dogs .

But because dog fossils apparently older than these dates have been found in Europe, the authors theorize that wolves may have been domesticated twice, though the European branch didn’t survive to contribute much to today’s dogs. Greger Larson, director of the Wellcome Trust Palaeogenomics & Bio-Archaeology Research Network at Oxford University, suggests that the presence of older fossils in both Europe and Asia, and the lack of dogs older than 8,000 years in between those regions, supports such a scenario.

“Our ancient DNA evidence, combined with the archaeological record of early dogs, suggests that we need to reconsider the number of times dogs were domesticated independently. Maybe the reason there hasn’t yet been a consensus about where dogs were domesticated is because everyone has been a little bit right,′ Larson said in a statement accompanying the study.

The many interbreedings of dogs and wolves also muddy the genetic waters, of course. Such events happen to the present day—even when the dogs in question are supposed to be stopping the wolves from eating livestock.

How did dogs become man’s best friend?

Perhaps more intriguing than exactly when or where dogs became domesticated is the question of how. Was it really the result of a solitary hunter befriending an injured wolf? That theory hasn’t enjoyed much scientific support.

One similar theory argues that early humans somehow captured wolf pups, kept them as pets, and gradually domesticated them. This could have happened around the same time as the rise of agriculture, about 10,000 years ago. The oldest fossils generally agreed to be domestic dogs date to about 14,000 years, but several disputed fossils more than twice that age may also be dogs or at least their no longer entirely wolf ancestors.

Since more recent genetic studies suggest that the date of domestication occurred far earlier, a different theory has gained the support of many scientists. “Survival of the friendliest” suggests that wolves largely domesticated themselves among hunter-gatherer people.

“That the first domesticated animal was a large carnivore, who would have been a competitor for food—anyone who has spent time with wild wolves would see how unlikely it was that we somehow tamed them in a way that led to domestication,” says Brian Hare, director of the Duke University Canine Cognition Center.

But, Hare notes, the physical changes that appeared in dogs over time, including splotchy coats, curly tails, and floppy ears, follow a pattern of a process known as self-domestication. It’s what happens when the friendliest animals of a species somehow gain an advantage. Friendliness somehow drives these physical changes, which can begin to appear as visible byproducts of this selection in only a few generations.

“Evidence for this comes from another process of domestication, one involving the famous case of domesticated foxes in Russia. This experiment bred foxes who were comfortable getting close to humans, but researchers learned that these comfortable foxes were also good at picking up on human social cues,” explains Laurie Santos, director of the Canine Cognition Center at Yale University. The selection of social foxes also had the unintended consequence of making them look increasingly adorable—like dogs.

Hare adds that most wolves would have been fearful and aggressive towards humans—because that’s the way most wolves behave. But some would have been friendlier, which may have given them access to human hunter-gatherer foodstuffs..

“These wolves would have had an advantage over other wolves, and the strong selection pressure on friendliness had a whole lot of byproducts, like the physical differences we see in dogs,” he says. “This is self-domestication. We did not domesticate dogs. Dogs domesticated themselves.”

A study last year provided some possible genetic support for this theory. Evolutionary biologist Bridgette von Holdt, of Princeton University, and colleagues suggest that hypersocial behavior may have linked our two species and zero in on a few genes that may drive that behavior.

“Generally speaking, dogs display a higher level of motivation than wolves to seek out prolonged interactions with humans. This is the behavior I’m interested in,” she says.

Von Holdt’s research shows that the social dogs she tested have disruption to a genomic region that remains intact in more aloof wolves. Interestingly, in humans genetic variation in the same stretch of DNA causes Williams-Beuren syndrome, a condition characterized by exceptionally trusting and friendly behaviors. Mice also become more social if changes occur to these genes, previous studies have discovered.

The results suggest that random variations to these genes, with others yet unknown, may have played a role in causing some dogs to first cozy up with humans.

“We were able to identify one of the many molecular features that likely shape behavior,” she adds.

How have dogs changed since becoming our best friends?

Though the origins of the dog/human partnership remain unknown, it’s becoming increasingly clear that each species has changed during our long years together. The physical differences between a basset hound and wolf are obvious, but dogs have also changed in ways that are more than skin (or fur) deep.

One recent study shows how by bonding with us and learning to work together with humans, dogs may have actually become worse at working together as a species. Their pack lifestyle and mentality appear to be reduced and is far less prevalent even in wild dogs than it is in wolves.

But, Yale’s Laurie Santos says, dogs may have compensated in other interesting ways. They’ve learned to use humans to solve problems.

“Several researchers have presented dogs and wolves with an impossible problem (e.g., a puzzle box that can’t be opened or a pulling tool that stops working) and have asked how these different species react,” Santos explains. “Researchers have found that wolves try lots of different trial and error tactics to solve the problem— they get at it physically. But at the first sign of trouble, dogs do something different. They look back to their human companion for help. This work hints that dogs may have lost some of their physical problem-solving abilities in favor of more social strategies, ones that rely on the unique sort of cooperation domesticated dogs have with humans. This also matches the work showing that dogs are especially good at using human social cues.”

The relationship has become so close that even our brains are in sync. Witness a study showing that dogs hijack the human brain’s maternal bonding system. When humans and dogs gaze lovingly into one another’s eyes, each of their brains secretes oxytocin, a hormone linked to maternal bonding and trust. Other mammal relationships, including those between mom and child, or between mates, feature oxytocin bonding, but the human/dog example is the only case in which it has been observed at work between two different species.

The intimacy of this relationship means that, by studying dogs, we may also learn much about human cognition.

“Overall, the story of dog cognitive evolution seems to be one about cognitive capacities shaped for a close cooperative relationship with humans,” Santos says. “Because dogs were shaped to pick up on human cues, our lab uses dogs as a comparison group to test what’s unique about human social learning.” For example, a recent Yale study found that while dogs and children react to the same social cues, dogs were actually better at determining which actions were strictly necessary to solve a problem, like retrieving food from a container, and ignoring extraneous “bad advice.” Human kids tended to mimic all of their elders’ actions, suggesting that their learning had a different goal than their canine companions’.

We may never know the exact story of how the first dogs and humans joined forces, but dogs have undoubtedly helped us in countless ways over the years. Still, only now may we be realizing that by studying them, they can help us to better understand ourselves.

Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/how-wolves-really-became-dogs-180970014/#UzuFaQFSdpuBPHmO.99
Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12! http://bit.ly/1cGUiGv
Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter

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I can do no better than to repeat those last two sentences of the essay by Brian Handwerk:

We may never know the exact story of how the first dogs and humans joined forces, but dogs have undoubtedly helped us in countless ways over the years. Still, only now may we be realizing that by studying them, they can help us to better understand ourselves.

For, boy of boy, do we humans need help when it comes to better understanding ourselves!

Water and the internet don’t mix!

Interesting run of weather just now!

At 9pm last night water running down the cable from the wireless internet antenna outside came into the house and caused the ‘power adapter’ unit to fail.

Amazingly between me and our supplier, Outreach Internet, service was resumed about an hour ago.

However, until the Outreach engineer can come to our property and do a proper clean-up job there’s no guarantee that we might not lose service again.

Just wanted all you good people to be aware of that.

(And as at this time of writing we are up to 4 in of rain since yesterday morning!)

Now back online!

Our internet service was reinstated at approximately 15:00 PDT Thursday, 11th June

Thank you for your kind and supportive comments to my previous post advising you that we lost our internet connection last Monday afternoon.

It is a little before 6pm PDT today, Thursday, and I shall return to my usual pattern of a daily post, technology notwithstanding, with effect from Saturday.

Outreach Internet had over 5 masts struck by lightning on Monday afternoon so, all things considered, did well to get me and my local neighbours back on line in three days.

Have to say it was beautifully quiet! 🙂

But I haven’t even opened my email inbox – leave that for the morning! 😦

Best wishes to all,

Paul

Crumbling edge technology!

Loss of internet service as of 14:00 PDT 8th June.

Dear Readers and Followers,

Around 2:30pm yesterday our wireless internet service we use went down. It reveals the only disadvantage of living in a rather rural location!  It is now twenty-four hours since our service failed and not only is it still down but the provider, Outreach Internet, are not giving any indication as to the nature of the problem and when they expect to be back online.

So for the first time in approaching six years there has not been a daily post today. More to the point I am incapable of letting you know when I will back to blogging!

I’m grateful to neighbours Jim and Janet for allowing me to use their computer and internet connection to publish this post.

Hopefully normal service will be resumed before too long!

Best wishes to all,

Paul

The power of a single word!

Happy Birthday Dan! (And that word is ‘fortnight’!)

Back in September, 2013 I wrote a post called Closing my windows. It explained how I first met Dan Gomez; now some thirty-six years ago. Let me republish the relevant section:

Earlier on I wrote about launching Wordcraft, the word-processing software for personal computers. That was in early 1979 and later that year I was invited to present Wordcraft at an international gathering of Commodore dealers held in Boston, Mass.

During my presentation, I used the word ‘fortnight’ unaware that Americans don’t use this common English word.  Immediately, someone about 10 rows back in the audience called out, “Hey, Handover! What’s a fortnight?

It released the presenter’s tension in me and I really hammed up my response in saying, “Don’t be so silly, everybody knows the word fortnight!” Seem to remember asking the audience at large who else didn’t know the word.  Of course, most raised their arms!

Now on a bit of a roll, I deliberately started using as many bizarre and archaic English words that came to me.  Afterwards, the owner of the voice came up to me and introduced himself.  He was Dan Gomez, a Californian based in Costa Mesa near Los Angeles and also involved in developing software for the Commodore.

Dan became my US West Coast distributor for Wordcraft and was very successful. When Dataview was sold, Dan and I continued to see each other regularly and I count him now as one of my dear friends.  Through knowing Dan I got to know Dan’s sister Suzann and her husband Don.  It was Su that invited me to spend Christmas 2007 with her and Don at their home in San Carlos, Mexico.  Jean also lived in San Carlos and was close friends with Su. Together they had spent many years rescuing feral dogs from the streets of San Carlos and finding new homes for them.

Thus it was that I met Jean.  Discovering that Jean and I were born 23 miles apart in London!

So from ‘Hey, what’s a fortnight’ to living as happily as I have ever been in the rural countryside of Oregon.  Funny old world!

The marriage of Jean and Paul wonderfully supported by Diane, maid of honour, and best man, Dan Gomez.
Dan Gomez – Best Man, and Diane Jackson – Bridesmaid when Jean and I were married;  November 20th 2010.

It is Dan’s birthday today. One of those big birthday milestones in life. (And it would be wrong for me to openly state his age today but just let me say that Dan would be seeing a sixties birthday again!)

So to my very dear and special friend …..

Happy Birthday!

Magic!

The old and the new.

Like thousands of others, Jean and I are regular viewers of the TED Talks.

So first the old. Here’s a reminder of the inspiring nature of mathematics; in this case Fibonacci numbers.

Published on Nov 8, 2013

Math is logical, functional and just … awesome. Mathemagician Arthur Benjamin explores hidden properties of that weird and wonderful set of numbers, the Fibonacci series. (And reminds you that mathematics can be inspiring, too!)

Now to the new. Innovation at its very best.

Published on Jul 11, 2013

The development of new medicine is problematic because laboratories cannot replicate the human body’s environment, making it difficult to determine how patients will respond to treatment. At TEDxBoston, Geraldine Hamilton demonstrates how scientists can implant living human cells into microchips that mimic the body’s conditions. These “organs-on-a-chip” can be used to study drug toxicity, identify potential new therapies, and could lead to safer clinical trials.