Electronic Design

Bob's Mailbox

Dear Mr. Pease:

You owe a profound apology to approximately 600,000 radio amateurs in the United States for the remarks you made about them in your April Fool's Day piece in the April 4 Pease Porridge

You were right when you said "...ham radio guys are always inventing and building equipment so they're prime targets for pranksters." But you missed the mark a mile when you went on to describe how "many hams" built the 50-ohm dummy load described by Tom Kneitel in his 1969 article in S9 magazine.

First of all, S9 was a publication aimed at citizen's banders and ham wannabes, not at hams. The real ham publications available then were QST (the widely respected and often quoted journal of the American Radio Relay League), 73 (an independent magazine aimed largely at gadget builders), Ham Radio (a technically-oriented magazine written mostly by engineers), and CQ (written then, as now, for hams who like contesting and DXing).

Now you may not be aware of the difference between citizen's banders (CBers) and hams, so let me give you just a few of the highlights:

  • In 1966, hams, even at the lowest beginning level, were required to pass federally supervised examinations covering technical subjects (resistors, inductors, and capacitors in series/parallel, resonance, antennas, etc.), governmental rules and regulations, propagation, and operating procedures. They also had to demonstrate the ability to send and receive Morse code at 5 words per minute. Higher-class amateur licenses had more difficult tests and faster code requirements (13 WPM or 20 WPM). CBers in 1966 only had to apply for a license. Today, hams are still rigorously tested before earning their licenses. CBers are not even required to have licenses.
  • To obtain my Technician Class license (one step above bottom) back in 1959, I was required (among other things) to draw from memory the schematic of a push-pull twin triode power amplifier with link-coupled input and output; and cross-coupled neutralization. Could RAP have done that at age 17? Could he do it today?
  • Hams are allowed to operate on any frequency within their many bands (some are hundreds of megahertz wide). CBers are allowed to operate on only 40 specific frequencies in the 27-MHz band.
  • Hams are allowed to design and build their own equipment; CBers may buy only FCC type-accepted equipment. Hams may adjust and modify their equipment; CBers are not allowed to tamper with the circuits.
  • Hams are permitted to transmit using up to 1500-W PEP output; CBers are limited to 10-W PEP.
  • Hams are allowed to utilize many different modes of communications: AM, FM, PM, SSB, code, slow-scan TV, fast-scan TV, fax, teletype, packet data, and spread spectrum. CBers are permitted only voice, using AM or SSB.
  • Hams are permitted to build and operate mountain-top VHF repeaters to extend the range of their handheld or mobile radios; CBers may not. Hams are allowed to design, build, launch, and operate their own satellites (there are several in orbit as we speak); CBers...well, sorry.
  • Hams have gathered world-wide acclaim for selflessly donating millions of man-hours every year to provide the public with emergency communications in fires, floods, hurricanes, war, and earthquakes.

I could go on at length, but perhaps by now you get the idea. And while I suppose it's possible that a few hams might have been fooled by the S9 article (just as at least one engineer was taken in by the BD-1 article), it seems unlikely that "many hams" would be taken in by a pretty obvious gag in a CB magazine. More likely, the victims were naive CBers who had never heard of a dummy load.

BARRIE G. BRITTON

Amateur Radio K0WWG

Riverside, Ca.

Okay, probably I should have said "several CB guys and a few hams" were fooled into building the dummy load. I'm sorry!----RAP

Dear Mr. Pease:

Your "Pease Porridge" column in the April 4 issue was sent to me by a friend. In your conclusion, you admitted not knowing half of the good electronic hoax stories in the world. Conversely, you can't know all that is true.

Your reference to Nikola Tesla reminded me of a letter once received from a technician who was skeptical of Tesla's claims of having produced "electrical movements not only approximating, but, as shown in many comparative tests and measurements, actually surpassing those of lightning discharges." The skeptic informed me that lightning discharges reach distances measured in miles. No human, he wrote, could produce man-made lightning that long.

When quoted out of context, Tesla's words appear farfetched. The writer's skepticism is understandable. However, when I asked the skeptic if he had ever analyzed Tesla's work or read papers of those who did, his reply was negative. Experts on lightning have shown that thunderclouds vary in coulombs from 12 to 600. When researchers James and Kenneth Corum analyzed Tesla's experiments at Colorado, they determined Tesla's machine to have achieved 260 coulombs. Consequently, the two researchers concluded that Tesla's claim "was no overstatement."

Your skepticism regarding Tesla's claim of wireless power, megavolt sparks, and oscillators producing 10 million horsepower also is understandable. When read out of context, the claims appear so extreme as to warrant ridicule. But, I must ask you the same question that I put to the above mentioned skeptic. There is no need to respond, I know the answer.

Although the mysteries of Tesla's work have not been completely resolved, there exists today a better understanding of what Nikola Tesla did and what he might have accomplished. Tesla spent a year on the Colorado plateau in developing a magnifier that was capable of 100-ft. discharges. He calculated that his machine had achieved 20 million volts at 1100 RF amperes. Armed with new knowledge, he established a plant on Long Island (N.Y.) fully intent on achieving the results to which you refer as a hoax.

A hoax is defined as a trick or a fraud. However, Tesla believed in his calculations and his ability to achieve the desired results. One might accuse Tesla of miscalculation or overstatement, but that would not constitute a hoax.

If you have any interest in Tesla's work, you might find some satisfaction in reading Leland I. Anderson's Nikola Tesla On His Work With Alternating Currents (distributed by Twenty First Century Books, P.O. Box 2001, Breckenridge, CO 80424.)

HARRY GOLDMAN

Tesla Coil Builders Association

Queensbury, N.Y.

The energy in a capacitive discharge is 1/2(CV      ). The amount of coulombs is significant, but I doubt if Mr. Tesla's voltages were as large as those found in nature. I will certainly agree that Tesla's achievements were impressive, amazing, and great engineering.----RAP

Dear Sir:

I'd first like to say how much we all enjoyed your Pease Porridge in the April 4 issue. We have even had people asking for gold-plated mains fuses in the belief that putting a micron or two of gold in the path of the 240-V, 50-Hz mains supply will some how improve the sound of hi-fi... I've considered writing to them suggesting that they ensure that they only receive electricity through underground cables, since cables on pylons might pick up RF.

However, on a more serious subject, I have to take issue with you over ISO 9000. There are so many misleading statements published about this thing that it isn't surprising that even people like you repeat them. However:

ISO 9000 was not an invention of European bureaucrats. It was actually devised by the British Government during World War II to reduce the vast numbers of inspection systems, contract systems, etc., which were making it hard to ensure that we had the right tools to upset Hitler. After the war, it developed (slowly) into BS5750, the BS standing for British Standard rather than male bovine excreta. BS5750 became ISO 9000 as a result of ISO activity----and ISO is an international body on which virtually every major country is represented, including the U.S.

North Americans tend to forget, or perhaps underestimate, the importance of the fact that in Europe, we have a variety of languages and cultures, and this includes different ways of doing business and different attitudes to the customer. The European Commission has promoted ISO 9000 as a way of removing some of the confusion, just as BS5750 was intended to do during wartime. It means that now, when I try to assess whether (say) an Italian or German supplier has the systems in place to resolve potential quality problems and to give my company what it wants, I have at least some framework to look at with which I have some acquaintance, and that with my limited Italian and German, I can still have a sensible conversation with the supplier. I have to say that from my experience, ISO 9000 is working for us.

It's a means of setting up a quality system with all the necessary parts----calibration, monitoring production, assessing cost of quality, handling customer complaints, etc. It ensures that all essential areas are covered, more or less in the same sort of way. It says nothing about what the quality of a product produced by a company is. This is just like accountancy, which has standard rules for measuring money. You might have a perfect accounting department and still be going down the pan owing to a severe negative profitability situation. Equally, you might have a perfectly run QA system and make rubbish. However, in both cases, you and people who depend on you will know exactly how bad things are and probably be able to identify some sensible actions.

Many small companies get started and run for years without ever knowing that there are some things they should be doing----keeping records of product introductions and changes, calibrating equipment, etc. All is fine until the day something goes very wrong and someone is in a position to sue them into the ground. For these people, ISO 9000 is a relatively cheap insurance policy. For large companies, with their own hierarchical management systems, this is less of a problem.

If there is a hoax, it is probably promoted by the people who seem to regard certification to ISO 9000 as some sort of quality achievement. It isn't. It was never meant to be. It is an organizational achievement.

My company makes safety-critical products----fuses----lots and lots of them. In Europe, the quality achievement is shown by those arcane symbols----BSI Kitemark, VDE triangle logo, and so on. The bodies that do the testing and the certification believe that our registration to ISO 9000 is evidence that we have a quality system strong enough to ensure that deviations from our quality norm will be quickly detected and made right. It is the combination of ISO 9000 and product approval that is the real measure of quality achievement.

For this reason, the real European Bureaucracy bit is the CE mark. This mark attached to a product is a statement that the manufacturer complies with every quality and performance requirement relevant to product safety, and can prove it. It corresponds, very roughly, with UL listing.

MARTIN BACON

Cooper Bussman

Somerset, England

If ISO 9000 is really like you say it is, then all of the confusion and misrepresentation and bragging we see is even more disgusting. I have yet to meet anybody that's in charge of implementing ISO 9000 who knows any facts, who knows what really is supposed to happen. The implementation of ISO 9000 is where you don't see quality.----RAP

Dear Bob:

Enjoyed reading your article on "Hoax Stuff." However, I was surprised that you didn't mention the Master of all electronic hoaxers, Hugo Gernsback. I am sure you remember him as the publisher of Popular Electronics magazine (or was it Modern Electronics)? My memory is starting to fade. Anyway, come every April you were sure to find one of his electronic hoaxes in his magazine, complete with all the details.

Of course, when I was much younger (in the early 60s), I didn't know this and as a young and enthusiastic electronic hobbyist, I would build anything for which I could find the parts. One of his articles described the construction of an "anti-electron generator" or something close to that (remember, my memory). The purpose of the anti-electron generator was to do just the opposite of what you would expect a normal generator to do.

For instance, if you plugged a soldering iron into the generator, instead of the tip becoming hot, frost formed. I think you get the idea.

Also, being an amateur photographer, I was more interested in the lamp. When you plugged in an ordinary lamp, instead of light (you guessed it) it took away all of the light in the room and made it dark. What a fantastic invention! I couldn't wait to build my very own. There it was, all the details, schematic, parts lists, photos, and text.

It wasn't until I collected half the parts that I bothered to read the rest of the article. There was one sentence at the end that I didn't understand at first, "...and the circuit only works well on April 1st." I was hoaxed. I was mad, but now I'm glad.

No school could have taught me the lesson I learned from this experience. For the rest of my life, I would treat all circuits (including my own), and all other claims as hoaxes until proven otherwise. Thank you Mr. Gernsback, wherever you are.

A few years ago, I bought a book from Gernsback Publishing, which had a few dozen of his hoaxes, unfortunately not the one above. I was going to send you the book, but I can't find it right now. In the meantime, I thought you might enjoy my story.

GARY C. FIELDS

VP Engineering

Merge Technology Group Inc.

Napa, Calif.

Ah, yes, those "macro-wave ovens" that cool their contents, always have some appeal!!----RAP

Dear Bob:

I enjoyed your article on hoaxes, and would like to add a few I've seen or heard of.

Several years ago I saw an ad for an indoor TV antenna that looked like a combination of rabbit ears and a miniature satellite dish. There were several paragraphs of impressive fine print. The unique thing about this ad was it contained no lies at all. It was guaranteed not to incur any cable or satellite fees because it was not designed to pick up any cable or satellite channels. It had the wonderful ability to intercept TV signals right out of the air! They didn't even claim a technological breakthrough. The claim was that this was a "Marketing Breakthrough."

About 25 years ago, there was an article in one of the ham magazines about a "buried antenna" that was said to propagate "ground waves."

A thought on audio specs; if people can get away with making such extravagant claims for a piece of wire, I wonder how many of the specifications for more complex components really relate to differences you hear. Your comments on people with "Golden Ears" reminds me of the "Emperor's New Clothes."

In 1978, an "inventor" named Rory Johnson, of Elgin, Ill., received lots of media attention in the Chicago area for his "Magnetron" car engine, which weighed about 500 pounds, produced 525 hp, and would run for 100,000 miles on a self-contained supply of gallium (a well-known donor source for electricity) and deuterium. He claimed a laser beam caused a fusion reaction between the two elements. He demonstrated a car with the engine idling, but no one saw the car actually run on the engine due to "safety reasons." Unfortunately, this was not just a hoax, but a fraud, as investors lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. (Daily Courier News, Elgin, Ill., Aug. 12, 1977 and Dec. 22, 1978)

KENNETH LUNDGREN

Bloomingdale, Ill.

Yes----some hoaxes only cost you $5 or $10----and others can cost the gullible a whole lot more. People who want something for nothing...----RAP

Dear RAP Chap:

Re Hoaxes: My favorite is the "Little Jiffy Fuse Blower" published in Electronics (?) before (?) 1953.

Here, a heavy-duty push-button switch was paralleled with an Amphenol chassis-mounting ac line plug in a neat little minibox (about 2-in. cube). The device title is neatly lettered on the box. The builder is instructed to leave the device loose and unguarded on the desk. The device will disappear and soon thereafter the lights will go out in a section of the office. A shame-faced new believer soon sneaks the device back. The author was exactly right, but he didn't mention the switch needs replacing after four or five episodes.

Our local "911" bureaucrats with Postal Service help have renumbered and rezipped our entire road. This falls somewhere between an April fool joke, a hoax, and a fraud. (Some time, figure out change-of-address costs. Of course you shouldn't count the fine for having the wrong address on your driver's license.)

DAVE GEISER

New Hartford, N.Y.

Yes, several people sent in the "Fuse Blower." In our lab, a specialty was to give a guy a National Semi calculator, that would smoke and burn and explode when switched on!----RAP

 

All for now. / Comments invited!  RAP / Robert A. Pease / Engineer

Address:

Mail Stop D2597A

National Semiconductor

P.O. Box 58090

Santa Clara, CA 95052-8090

 

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