Original color transparency of FDR taken at 1944 Official Campaign Portrait session by Leon A. Perskie, Hyde Park, New York, 1944-08-21.

This weblog post is being published on the 140th anniversary of the birth of FDR = Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882 – 1945), who became the 32nd American president. There will undoubtedly be many other commemorative writings today, although probably less than will be found on this date, in 2032. Many of these will focus on his contributions during the second world war. Some may even mention the paralysis in his legs, at the time attributed to polio.

In this post, I want to focus on FDR and the New Deal, nothing more.

The term new deal was first used by Mark Twain = Samual Clemens (1835 – 1910) in his novel, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889). The work is a satire of -isms, with feudalism and monarchism juxtaposed capitalism and industrialism. Here engineer Hank Morgan is transported back in time, but fails in his quest to modernize and democratize 6th-century England. “. . here I was, in a country where a right to say how the country should be governed was restricted to six persons in each thousand of its population. . . I was become a stockholder in a corporation where nine hundred and ninety-four of the members furnished all the money and did all the work, and the other six elected themselves a permanent board of direction and took all the dividends. It seemed to me that what the nine hundred and ninety-four dupes needed was a new deal.

The political term New Deal was coined by FDR’s advisor, Stuart Chase, (1888 – 1985), an American economist and social theorist. Chase was influenced by political economist Henry George (1839 – 1897), Norwegian-American economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen (1857 – 1929), by Fabian socialists, perhaps especially Sidney Webb (1859 – 1947) and Beatrice Webb née Potter (1858 – 1943) and by the Soviet social and educational experiments made in the name of communism around 1930.

I hesitantly suggest that FDR is the greatest American president of the twentieth century. The term greatest is used comparatively, in relation to other presidents. It does not mean that I condone all, or even most, of his actions. His attitude to non-European races was, in general, revolting. In particular, I find the relocation/ internment of Japanese Americans repulsive; his initial support of Nazi Germany repugnant; even his extra-marital relationships were regrettable. Some Norwegians may be surprised to learn that FDR’s son, James, stated that “there is a real possibility that a romantic relationship existed” between his father and Crown Princess Märtha (1901 – 1954) of Sweden/ Norway. Other sources propose/ document many other women.

In many ways, FDR appears better when he is compared with his immediate predecessor Herbert Hoover (1874 – 1964). Indeed, Hoover is usually ranked in the bottom third of American presidents.

Yet, because of my particular interests, Hoover deserves credit for: his mother’s origins in Norwich, Ontario; his Quaker background; his Oregon background; his relationship to Palo Alto, including his Stanford education; his relief work in Belgium and his leadership of the American Relief Administration, which provided food to people in central and eastern Europe; his regulation of radio and air travel; and, his support of standardization, “own your own home”, an eight-hour workday and union membership.

However, Hoover was a racist; an optimist despite multiple economic threats, including a farm crisis, a saturated market for consumer goods, growing income inequality, and excessive stock-market speculation. He was reluctant to regulate banks, a characteristic shared with his predecessor, Calvin Coolidge (1872 – 1933); viewed lack of confidence in the financial system as the fundamental economic problem; avoided direct federal intervention, believed that supporting individuals economically would weaken the country. Instead, he believed that charity and local governments should address these needs.

A year before FDR took office, 1932-02-27, an important piece of legislation was enacted: An Act to Improve the Facilities of the Federal Reserve System for the Service of Commerce, Industry, & Agriculture, to Provide Means for Meeting the Needs of Member Banks in Exceptional Circumstances, & for Other Purposes. With such a long title, it is not surprising that it is referred to as the Glass–Steagall Act. It separated commercial and investment banking, and did much to regulate securities, typically stocks and bonds.

FDR was elected in 1932-11 but took office in 1933-03, at the worst moment of the worst depression in American history. With a total population of about 125 million, one quarter of the workforce was unemployed, farm prices had fallen by 60%, industrial production had fallen by more than half since 1929, two million people were homeless, 32 of the 48 states and the District of Columbia, had closed their banks.

FDR’s presidential program is often referred to as 3-Rs: relief, recovery, and reform. Relief, providing support to tens of millions of unemployed; recovery, normalizing the economy; reform, applying long-term fixes.

The New Deal refers to a series of programs, public work projects, financial reforms, and regulations enacted between 1933 and 1939, as laws passed by Congress as well as presidential executive orders. Regulated areas included the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the Civil Works Administration (CWA), the Farm Security Administration (FSA), the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 (NIRA) and the Social Security Administration (SSA). Support was provided for major groups: farmers, the unemployed, youth and the elderly. Banks faced new constraints and safeguards, with a goal of re-inflate the American economy after a sharp fall in prices.

Many historians and others distinguish between a First New Deal (1933–1934) and a Second New Deal (1935–1936).

One of the first items that the First New Deal dealt with was the American banking crisis. This involved the enactment of the Emergency Banking Relief Act of 1933, and the Banking Act of 1933.

On 1933-03-06 the Emergency Banking Relief Act dictated a four-day national banking holiday that kept all banks shut until Congress could act. The federal government inspected all banks, re-open those that were sufficiently solvent, re-organize those that could be saved, and closed those that were beyond repair. FDR gave a fireside chat to explain the situation. Americans returned 1 billion previously withdrawn dollars to banks the following week.

On 1933-06-16, the Banking Act legislated 1) a federal system of bank deposit insurance, that protected most people; 2) the further separation of commercial and investment banking, with restrictions placed on speculative bank activities.

The Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) provided $500 million = over $10 billion in 2022, for relief operations by states and cities. The CWA gave money locally to operate make-work projects in 1933–1934. The Securities Act of 1933 was enacted to prevent future stock market crashes. NIRA set up the National Recovery Administration (NRA) to eliminate cut throat competition by bringing industry, labour and government together to create fair practices codes and set prices. The Supreme Court declared the NRA unconstitutional.

The Second New Deal in 1935–1936 included the National Labor Relations Act to protect labour organizing, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) relief program, which made the federal government the largest employer in USA. The Social Security Act and programs to help tenant farmers and migrant workers, also benefited people. The final major items of New Deal legislation were the creation in 1937 of the United States Housing Authority and the Farm Security Administration (FSA), followed by the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which set maximum hours and minimum wages for most categories of work.

An economic downturn in 1937–1938 led to a split between the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). Only the CIO supported FDR and its membership was open to African Americans. This confrontation allowed Republicans to make gains in Congress in 1938. By 1942–1943, conservatives of both parties had managed to shut down relief programs such as the WPA and the CCC and blocked other proposals.

While African Americans had to deal with the depression, they also faced social ills, such as racism, discrimination and segregation. They typically held the most marginal of jobs. Most unions excluded them from joining. Anti-discrimination laws were often unenforced, especially in the South. The WPA, NYA and CCC relief programs allocated 10% of their budgets to the African American population (who comprised about 10% of the total population, and 20% of the poor). They operated separate all-black units with the same pay and conditions as white units. In general, benefits for minorities were small compared to that received by the European descendent population. FDR appointed an unprecedented number of African Americans to second-level positions in his administration, often referred to as the Black Cabinet.

The New Deal also discriminated against women, by created programs for breadwinners, husbands/ providers, assuming that whole family would benefit. This failed to take into account households headed by women. When the discriminatory aspects of this policy came to light, the government began to modify policies to help women as well.

After the death of FDR, both Republican and Democratic presidents left the New Deal legacy largely intact, even expanding it in some areas. After 1974, however, there was an increasing demand for deregulation of the economy, that gained bipartisan support.

The New Deal regulation of banking was compromised starting in the 1970s when bank regulators began interpreting the Glass–Steagall act (later upheld by courts) that permitted commercial banks to engage in investment banking activities. Even in the 1960s some financial products blurred the distinction between the two areas.

Separately, starting in the 1980s, Congress debated bills to repeal some Glass–Steagall’s provisions. In 1999 Congress passed the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act, also known as the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999, that repealed them. Democratic party President Bill Clinton signed it into law.

In 2022, several New Deal programs still remain active. Those operating under their original names include: the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC), the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). The Social Security System and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) are the largest programs still operating.

Ray Allen Billington and Martin Ridge have assessed the Impact of the New Deal, especially in their book, American History After 1865 (1981). Not all economists and economic historians are in agreement.

They contend the New Deal harmed the United States: by increasing federal debt. However, Keynesians counter that the federal deficit between 1933 and 1939 averaged only 3.7% which was not enough to offset the reduction in private sector spending; increased bureaucracy, inefficiency, and enlarged the federal government; slowed civil service reform; reduced opportunities of businesses to engage in free enterprise. New Left critics point out that it also squandered an opportunity to nationalize banking, railroads and other industries. They also criticize it for doing too little for minorities.

Neutral effects include a stimulation of class consciousness among farmers and workers; and brought to prominence economic regulation issues, especially where these came in conflict with personal liberties.

Billington and Ridge find the most beneficial aspect of the New Deal, is that it allowed the US to survive the depression without undermining its capitalist system. They also claim that the capitalist system, and the banking system in particular, became more beneficial by enacting banking and stock market regulations; created better income balance between labour in agriculture and industry; distributed wealth more equitably; conserved natural resources; and, established a precedence for the national government taking action to rehabilitate and preserve America’s human resources.

From my increasingly European economic perspective, Americans have through the past almost ninety years diluted the New Deal. Governments, of whatever colour, increasingly expect ordinary citizens to subject themselves to market forces, but exempt large corporations, especially banks, resulting in capitalism for individuals and families, but socialism for corporations. I do not believe that this was FDR’s vision.

Parker Fly

Parker Fly Electric Guitar at the Smithsonian Institution. Photo: Smithsonian Institution

The Parker Fly was designed by Ken Parker (1952 – ) and Larry Fishman (1954 – ), and first made in 1993 at a factory in Wilmington, Massachusetts. The instrument’s appeal has to do with its 1) lightness (2 kg) achieved by using composite materials; 2) resonance, largely due to the use of wood; and, 3) multiple pickups – magnetic and piezoelectric – increasing the range of tones available.

In an ideal world, I would have discovered the Parker Fly on my own. This is not an ideal world, and so I am indebted to Brad Laesser (1947 – ) for introducing me to it. Without him, I probably would have found inspiration in some other electric guitar. Perhaps, it would have been an off-the-shelf Fender Telecaster from 1949, or even a Stratocaster from 1954, possibly Tom Morello’s (1964 – ) modified version, Arm the Homeless. But it would not have been Kurt Cobain’s (1967 – 1994) Jag-Stang, that combined a Fender Jaguar with a Fender Mustang. Gibson holds absolutely no appeal. Thus, it would never have been a Les Paul and especially not a Flying V. Even an ESP Explorer leaves me numb. It would not have been anything referred to as acoustic. I may not know much about Guitars, but this does not stop me from forming prejudices!

In addition to Laesser, my insights into guitars come from one other major source, Chris Buck. Unfortunately, there are (at least) two guitarists with that name, including a country and western player from Vancouver, born as far as I can discover ca. 2001, world famous in Cloverdale for Giddy Up. However, the one I am referring to is Welsh, from Cardiff, born on 1991-01-05. He provides insights into guitars on his YouTube channel, Friday Fretworks. If you search the channel, you may even see that he has influenced my opinion about the Flying V guitar, and other technical aspects of guitar playing.

Ken Parker

Ken Parker is responsible for everything on a Parker Fly, but the pickups on the instrument. The success of the Fly is its carbon fibre/ glass/ epoxy exoskeleton about 1 mm thick. This provided sufficient rigidity and strength to the instrument body, neck and fretboard. Initially Parker experimented with hardwoods, but these proved too difficult to work and resulted in an unsatisfactory product.

Parker studied furniture making at Goddard College, in Plainfield, Vermont. He then worked for two years in a grandfather-clock factory in Rochester, New York. This experience is one source of his appreciation of arcane machinery. In 1979 he took a job as a guitar repairman at Stuyvesant Music, in New York City. Here he met an increasing number of improperly constructed guitars.

In an interview with Burkhard Bilger, appearing in the New Yorker in 2007-05-14, he states, “The Seventies were the Dark Ages, I don’t know of any analogue in American manufacturing where quality went so low.”

As a toolmaker, Parker mills most of his own metal parts, and invents devices to speed construction. He regards his guitar construction activities as toolmaking for musicians.

Lutes were most popular instruments of the renaissance. They were teardrop shaped, with fifteen or more strings, headstocks with ebony veneering, perpendicular to the neck. With bodies held together with parchment, they were made of paper thin wood. Yet, their construction was the result of an equation, where a miniscule instrument had to fill a room with sound. To get that volume and projection one had to make them light. Thus, the lute became Parker’s inspiration for a guitar.

This approach increased the sustain, and gave the instrument the added benefit of a smaller, lighter, more efficient body. The composite exoskeleton was critical to the success of the design.

Parker does not regard a guitar as a difficult instrument to make. Yet, for him, it has to be strong, to withstand string tension. It is also dependent on the wood resonating well, which means it has to be thin. With magnetic pickups and amplification, a guitar cannot be allowed to resonate too much. Leo Fender (1909 – 1991) solved this by giving guitars solid bodies, in the late 1940s.

The Fly body has a wooden core, covered with carbon fibre for stiffness. The neck is more like an insect’s exoskeleton. This approach provides a neck that is thin, allowing it to be played comfortably, but it is also light and stiff, preventing it from bending. This contrasts with conventional guitar necks, made out of hardwood, but with a steel rod acting as a spine.

The body’s wooden core varied with the model. It could be made out of poplar (Populus alba), Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis), mahogany (Swietenia ssp.), or big-leaf maple (Acer macrophyllum). Most necks were made of basswood (Tilia americana), although some models also used mahogany.

In 2002-10, Parker began to make Fly bass guitars, these were available with 4 or 5 strings. It had a more complex body made from 21 pieces of Sitka spruce sandwiched between maple veneer on the front and back. The headstock was made of curly maple. The neck consisted originally of 15 layers of laminated mahogany but was later changed to a solid mahogany.

Larry Fishman

Larry Fishman (1954 – ) studied and trained as a cellist and bass player, and played professionally in New England orchestras and jazz bands. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, jazz bass players were having difficulties amplifying acoustic basses to match the sound levels of electric pianos and guitars. The solution for many was to use an electric bass. This did not appeal to Fishman.

Fortunately, he also had a background in materials science and mechanical engineering as well as a basement machine shop, that allowed Fishman to analyse existing devices that could be fitted onto an acoustic bass, and to experiment with design modifications until an acoustic bass pickup emerged from his efforts that “took it to the next level.”

In 1981, Fishman started a company, Fishman Transducers, and began producing a range of acoustic pickups. This work has resulted in him being granted more than forty patents. It also allowed him to build up a company that employs engineers, machinists and other production staff,

In an interview, Fishman explained his:

1) design philosophy. “The driving factor for design engineering is just a love for the exciting discoveries that you make when you dive into a new arena of some product or idea you have, and you have no idea how to do it. You get some hints, you get some techniques and tricks that you’ve pulled together over the years.”

2) opinion of acoustic guitars. “[W]e’re wanting to enhance that beautiful voice of acoustic instruments, instruments that feel alive in the hand. It’s much more personal than a piano. A guitar you have on your lap. You can feel the vibrations in the neck. You’re touching the strings. You’re not hitting a note, a hammer or something on a guitar. So, you’re really attached to it. The pursuit is to enhance that experience so that the technical aspects of what you bring to the design, never, ever get in the way of that organic feeling that you have when you’re just playing the instrument without the additional electronics.”

3) on music and engineering: “Engineering by itself will not produce inspiring beautiful products. Musical intuition by itself will not produce complete engineering designs…. So you have to have a real strong material sense, a real strong engineering background, and really strong musical sense to put it all together so that it works.”

The main advantage of this engineered approach was that the guitar was maintenance friendly, but not maintenance free.

Beyond the Parker Fly

In 2022, it is 29 years since the Parker Fly came into production. In 2003 Parker sold the company to Washburn Guitars, part of Washburn International. Even before this, Washburn International had agreed to acquire distributor U.S. Music Corporation (USM), in what amounted to a reverse merger. After this, most Parker Fly guitars were manufactured abroad. In mid-2009, U.S. Music was purchased by Jam Industries of Montreal, Canada.

In 2010, a MaxxFly model replaced the original Fly. It had a modified headstock, which allowed it to be hung from a standard guitar wall hanger, a more ergonomic, some would say traditional, top horn, standard pickup cavities, 22 frets (instead of 24) and a thicker, heavier body. The new owners ended Fly production in 2016.

If someone is interested in acquiring a Parker Fly today they have three choices.

First, they can buy a used instrument. Many guitar players prefer old guitars. They seem to find satisfaction in older instruments, that is largely a function of age. They often claim that time transforms a guitar’s materials: Wood stiffens and becomes more resonant; pickup magnets weaken, rust and in the process produce deeper and mellower tones; neck and body, bridge and fretboard mould themselves together.

Second, they can make themselves a copy using subtractive techniques, much like the original Fly was made.

The Fly Clone Project claims that it began to address the need for Parker Fly guitar replacement parts and services. It has been in operation since 2018. However, there is nothing in its description to prevent it from making new Parker Fly clones. More suspicious minds could conclude that this is its real purpose, but are afraid of retaliation from trademark holders. The project envisions four phases:

1. modelling/ sourcing every component on the original guitar including bridge, electronic, fastening components with CAD models, to allow part fabrication using 3D-printing and machining methods. are

2. determining how best to make the cloned parts available.

3. creating advanced and specialized tooling for specific Fly components, including the fretboards and stainless steel frets.

4. adapting existing parts for new functionality and operation, as well as experiments that lead to new innovations.

Depending on their skills there are concerns that this second approach may result in an inferior product. A common complaint is that the quality of wood has deteriorated over the years. Then again, there are technological advances occurring continuously, so it might result in a superior product. One approach would be to use a CNC mill to sculp the body, then to reinforce it with carbon fibre and resin. Today, there would be no need to use fibreglass in addition.

For the body, Picea sitchensis, as it is available from many local sources throughout the world. For example, the species is endemic throughout Cascadia, it was introduced into much of northern and western Europe, including Norway in the early 1900s, where it now occupies an estimated 500 square kilometers of land, spread along the coast. However, in Norway it is considered a high-risk invasive species. Environmental factors aside, it offers a high strength-to-weight ratio and its regular, knot-free rings make it an excellent conductor of sound.

If sustainable materials is a goal, there are many products available that are suitable to make a neck. In Europe it could be constructed out of Tilia cordata, the European equivalent of the Eastern North American, Tilia americana.

Third, additive processes can also be used to make guitars. Because materials would deviate totally from those used on the Fly, this would not be a clone.

One design for a new guitar appeared on Kickstarter for funding. Previously, I have criticized a person without the necessary technical skills attempting to attract financing, without knowing how to engineer the product. Here, it is someone with technical skills, but lacking an understanding of marketing/ sales/ public relations. The result in both cases was a failure to finance projects. In this second case, that person received less than 0.3% of his funding goal, despite writing that his “beautifully designed electric guitar [is] crafted with cutting edge eco-friendly materials, built to play as good as it looks.”

The first challenge with his approach was that he makes disparaging comments about wood, alienating potential purchasers who react positively to wood as a sustainable material. He then refers to PA-12, a granular form of nylon, as an eco-friendly material. However, he did not produce any supporting documentation in his product advertisement supporting this contention.

This approach, using selective laser sintering (SLS) equipment and additive processes based on PA-12 or related materials, holds considerable appeal.

The major problem with this product was its price. He was expecting people to pay £620 = US$ 803 = CA$ 1 058 = NOK 7 327 just for guitar body parts, unassembled; £850 = US$ 1 100 = CA$ 1 450 = NOK 10 045 for body and other parts, unassembled; or £2 300 = US$ 2 980 = CA$ 3 936 = NOK 27 180 for an assembled guitar. These products were available only in a single colour, grey. A purchase requires a supporter to take a chance on an unknown, and untried product, in a potentially unwanted colour. This is not going to happen.

Despite this, some inspiration for experimentation with guitars comes from Jack White/ John Anthony Gillis (1975 – ). His 1964 JB Hutto model Airline guitar, was cheap and made of fibreglass. White chose it primarily to demonstrate that one didn’t need an expensive guitar to produce an acceptable or even great sound. The guitar was made by Valco, and distributed through Montgomery Ward department stores. White modified his guitar, but only slightly to improve its sound quality.

In a perfect world, I should be able to push a button starting computer numerical control (CNC) equipment for subtractive processes, wait a couple of hours and have a clone of a Parker Fly emerge. What I am currently missing apart from the production equipment and machining ability, is a 3D model of the Parker Fly guitar. Then again, I have not acquired any wood or other materials, or any other components. This is not a promising start.

Plan A

In a weblog post titled Amateur Radio (2021-10-02), I confessed that I didn’t ever expect my radio equipment inventory to include a conventional amateur radio transceiver = sender and receiver.

Within a week of writing that, a radio that filled me with nostalgia was offered for sale, a Drake TR7. This is a 40 year old machine, that lacks many of the refinements/ finesses of a modern receiver. Unfortunately, it sold before I could purchase it. This was disappointing.

Drake TR7 transceiver

However, a more modern machine, an Icom IC-746, only about 20 years old, appeared in the same advertisement. It had a lot more refinements. Yet, it too was sold. This was actually a relief.

ICOM IC-746 transceiver

After a meeting of the Inntrøndelag/ Inner Trøndelag local group of the Norwegian Radio Relay League on 2021-10-21, I visited LB2KE (= a Norwegian amateur radio callsign) Svein Kåre Stubskin Tangen, leader of the local group. I ended up with a Ten-Tec (Tennessee Technology) Argonaut 505, with serial number 388, a transceiver from 1969 – 1973, a fifty year old machine, later paying NOK 350 for it. This machine belonged to LA8WG Jan Tverfjell, a silent key = deceased member of the group.

Ten-Tec Argonaut 505 transceiver.

On Monday 2022-01-10, Alasdair and I visited Svein Kåre Stubskin Tangen again and came home with much more equipment originating with Jan Tverfjell, for NOK 500. This includes at least 2 x 2-meter band radios, an antenna matching unit = antenna tuner (AT), plus numerous small parts that may come in useful, at some time in the future. This equipment will be sorted and tested. Some of will be repaired, other pieces will be stripped into component parts.

I don’t need the 2-meter band radios, having one already, a gift from Alasdair. However, they can be useful in the recruitment of new amateur radio operators. I intend to give them away to people I know, and have encouraged to take their licence. I expect most of these will be women. In general, men have no inhibitions about buying hobby equipment for themselves. If one looks at the two genders, one finds very divergent purchasing patterns, in Norway and I suspect in Canada and USA! For example, I have managed to convince myself that I need 7 distinct types of electric saws to serve multiple use situations. These have all been purchased.

Some people have an extensive collection of knitting needles. Here are some that belong to Patricia.

Patricia, my wife, manages to survive without any electric saws. In contrast, her knitting needle collection is large (easily exceeding 200). If I feel a need to knit, which I last felt working at Verdal prison in an attempt to break down stereotypic behaviour, I borrow needles from her. If she needs something cut with a saw, she typically enlists me to undertake the operation. With amateur radio, I expect that a lot of women would have difficulty justifying the purchase of a radio to themselves. It would be much easier for them to accept one as a gift.

I would like to encourage other radio amateurs to engage in similar behaviour, perhaps with a give it forward proviso. Radio recipients should be encouraged to give away equipment that is replaced, to someone new, without equipment. In other words, don’t give equipment back, give it forward. This concept can be traced back to Menander’s (c. 342/41 – c. 290 BC) play, Dyskolos = The Grouch, performed in Athens in 317 BC. Other people/ works expressing the concept include: Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882), Compensation (1841), Lily Hardy Hammond (1859 – 1925), In the Garden of Delight (1916), and Robert Heinlein (1907 – 1988) Between Planets (1951). More recently Catherine Ryan Hyde (1955 – ) expressed it in her novel Pay It Forward (1999), which was made into the film of the same name in 2000, directed by Mimi Leder (1952 – ). There can be good reasons for keeping old equipment, including sentimentality. Thus, it is important that people do not allow themselves to be bullied into giving away/ selling equipment.

I am back to Plan A, the DIY/ homebrew/ home made rack-mounted HF = high frequency transceiver, that could provide different modulations, including SSB = single side band (a power-saving form of AM = amplitude modulation), FM = frequency modulation, and digital modes. VHF = very high frequency/ UHF = ultra high frequency are not being considered at the time. Nor is CW = continuous wave = Morse code .

Quaint fact: Amateur radio equipment has traditionally used 13.8 V as its standard voltage. In the circles I frequent, and to add to any confusion, this is pronounced, twelve volts.

As I prepared to write this post, my mind returned to the mid 1960s, and to the electronics classes I was taking. Making devices at that time was a much more complex undertaking, because electronic components were needed to implement many more different types of operations. Today, these can be programmed in software. Once a program is made, it can be used on countless other devices. This explains one reason for the popularity of not just software defined radio, but many other products.

The reasons for Plan A are relatively simple. However, there are general reasons, and personal reasons.

General Reasons

Until the beginning of the new millennium, most living rooms were only half social environments. The other half of the space was active storage. Music was stored on LP records or CD disks. Playing that music involved a number of devices: a turntable, an amplifier and at least two speakers. There were also books that were stored in a paper format on shelves. A television brought a signal into the living room. After a few decades, assorted recorders and playback machines allowed viewers to record programs, and to save them for later viewing, on VHS/ Betamax cassettes, then DVDs. Photography involved a camera, film, processing, slides/ negatives/ prints (depending on film type), photo albums/ slide storage containers, slide projector and screen, with extra bulbs.

Today, music, books and other forms of literature, audio-visual products including documentaries, television episodes and movies, and photographs can all be stored on and transferred to a variety of devices, included servers/ handheld devices such as phones and tablets/ laptops/ desktops/ wallframes. The last one is a new name for a screen that used to be called a television, that can be used to display static images, when not being used to show moving pictures! Life is so much simpler, with less hardware. Apart from professionals, everyone else takes photos with their favourite hand-held device.

As in these other areas of life, radios too are becoming less hardware and more software. The challenge comes with the educational opportunities of radio operators. In North America, until about 1970, there was a strict sexist divide, that required boys to undertake industrial arts: woodworking, metalworking, electronics and draughting. At the same time girls were prohibited from taking these subjects, but were offered home economics courses: cooking and textiles, that were unavailable to boys. Later, both genders were allowed to select from both sets of subjects. In addition, new subjects gradually emerged to supplement and to a certain degree replace, these older ones. These new subjects included automotive mechanics and computer science/ programming.

Personal Reasons

My most important personal reason is that my office occupies an area of less than 4 square meters. Even with an expansion consisting of a new 1 500 x 300 mm shelf populated with 3 Ikea Moppa, mini-storage chests, and a 320 x 300 x 140 mm Biltema assortment wallbox, there will not be an excessive amount of room for radio equipment.

Related to this is my approach to tools. While I still have a number of self-contained tools, such as multimeters, that operate independently of a computer, I prefer tools that share components. An oscilloscope provides a good example. It is an electronic test instrument that graphically displays waveforms. Even today, these instruments frequently have their own built-in displays. Yet, why should one invest in yet another display, when every desktop computer already has one. For a person with some vision issues, a large, adjustable display is a much better solution. In addition, using a computer to process data and to display graphics is one way to save money, that could be invested in a more precise instrument.

A Solution

Thus, I plan to build my own radio hardware including amplifier using commonly available electronic components and store it inside a rack located away from the office, in the basement, that houses our NAS server. This halves the distance from my desk to the antenna/ flagpole, but necessitates the use of remote access procedures to operate the radio. The rest of the radio will be made in software, and stored inside one or more computers.

Similarly, there is no need for physical dials and switches, when these can be implemented as part of a graphic user interface, that use a keyboard and pointing device, if not a touchscreen. Apart from reserves that should be kept on hand in case something breaks, there is no need for more than one microphone, or one headphone set.

Amateur radio can be an enjoyable hobby, but one should know what one wants to get from it, before starting. It can be an effective tool that can be used in emergency situations. Some people are interested in actually communicating with others. Many have little interest in people, but like to win competitions. Another group avoids people altogether and concentrates on building radios and other components.

Personally, I am more interested in the equipment than any communication. I am more interested in digital capabilities than voice, especially using QRP = low powered equipment. However, I also have an interest in experimental (audio-)visual communication, involving both still images and video, especially for use in emergency situations.

In terms of instruments, I have found that a Red Pitaya could act as my primary workbench tool. It saves workbench space by being able to perform multiple functions. It attaches directly onto a computer with screen that is already taking up workbench space.

Review: The new Red Pitaya line - page 2 - p 14300 ...
A Red Pitaya, inside the case.

Radios require antennas. There are many different types, some suitable for specific bands, but not others. These have to be built to match the type of activity envisioned. We are considering an HF antenna suitable for several bands, that can built into/ operate from our 8 m high fibreglass flagpole.

Warning: the remainder of this post is more technical. Some people may prefer to hop over the details of amateur radio communication.

The Ten-Tec Argonaut 505 transceiver is a pure QRP machine, with 5 W out, 13.8 V and 1.2 A in. Some work remains before it is ready to receive or to transmit. A microphone has to be adapted to fit the line input on the radio. There was no power supply unit (PSU) with the machine. Fortunately, I have a 0 – 30 V, 0 – 5 A linear PSU, that should do. Antenna components have been acquired, but are not yet in place.

19-inch racks: A 19-inch rack is a standardized frame or enclosure for mounting multiple electronic equipment modules. It was developed by the American Telephone & Telegraph Company in about 1922, making it 100 years old. Each module has a front panel that is 19 inches (482.6 mm) wide, including protruding edges/ ears on each side, that allow the module to be fastened to the rack frame with screws or bolts. The height of a rack is measured in Us, with 1U = 1.75 inches = 44. 45 mm high. A full height rack is 42 U tall. Such units typically occupies data centres, and corporate offices.

The rack in our basement is half-height = 21 U. The length of the unit is 800 mm. The top of the rack has been transformed into a desktop, which holds a computer screen, mouse and keyboard, plus an assortment of tools. The top of the rack/ desk is 1010 mm off the ground.

The rack currently has a lot of vacant real-estate, probably in excess of 10 U. Thus, new equipment could (theoretically) occupy 400 litres. I suspect that a radio should not occupy more than 2 U in height, or about 80 litres. In contrast, an Icom IC-746 occupies about 11 litres, and weighs about 9 kg. This means that using a rack there is no need for excessive miniaturization. A shelf 250 mm long has been fitted, but could be augmented or replaced with longer shelves if necessary.

There are two ways in which radio frequencies are described. The first is to use the frequency itself. There is a certain amount of imprecision used in amateur radio slang. high frequency (HF) is very specific both in terms of frequency (3 to 30 MHz) and wave length (100 to 10 m). However, a HF receiver will typically take in signals from 0.03 – 60 MHz, with wavelengths from 10 000 m to 5 m. A VHF receiver would take in frequencies 300 to 30 MHz, of which 144-148 MHz, covers the main amateur radio FM band. Signals in the VHF range have wavelengths of 10 to 1 meter

For radio transmission, specific bands are set off for different purposes, including amateur radio. Once again, the bands represent the wave lengths: 160 m = 1.800 – 1.999 MHz (technically, this is MF = medium frequency but is often clumped together with the HF bands); 80 m = 3.500 – 3.999 MHz; 40 m = 7.000 – 7.300 MHz; 30 m = 10.100 – 10.150 MHz, a popular HF band; 20 m = 14.000 – 14.350 MHz, another popular HF bands; 17 m = 18.068 – 18.168 MHz; 15 m = 21.000 – 21.450 MHz; 12 m = 24.890 – 24.990 MHz; 10 m = 28.000 – 29.700 MHz; 6 m = 50.000 – 54.000 MHz (Wavelengths between 10 and 1 m are in the VHF = very high frequency range); 2 m = 144.000 – 148.000 MHz (One of the main FM transmission bands).

Some of the bands are more important than others. For DX = typically, intercontinental communication, one would want to use bands with longer band widths, possibly 40 m. Shorter wave lengths are useful for more local communication.

Alasdair, my son, owns a Red Pitaya with a transceiver. It is often described as a Swiss army knife for engineers. It can replace many different instruments including: oscilloscope, to visualize wave forms; LCR meter, for measuring the characteristics of passive electrical components: R = resistance, C = capacitance, L = inductance and Z = impedance, and many more; spectrum analyzer, that measures the quality of signals; logic analyzer, for digital signals; Bode analyzer, that measures frequency responses in electronic circuits; and, a Vector Network Analyzer, used to test and optimize the performance of radio frequency components, such as antennas and cables.

Disruptive changes are happening throughout the technical world. At the end of 2021-12 Canon Chairperson/ CEO Fujio Mitarai stated: “Canon’s [single-lens reflex =] SLR flagship model is known as the ‘EOS-1’ series, the first of which appeared in 1989. The latest model ‘EOS-1D X Mark III’ released in 2020 will be the last model in fact.” PetaPixel, a photography news website, then predicted that both Canon and Nikon would not invest in new digital SLR cameras, which are bulky, in part because of their use of mirrors, and are now focused on the mirrorless camera market. They said they would be surprising if either company released a new SLR model in the future.

Initially, the language used in pre-college computer science was Logo, a programming language specifically designed for teaching in 1967 by Wally Feurzeig (1927 – 2013), Seymour Papert (1928 – 2016) and Cynthia Solomon (1938 – ). Logo is from the Greek logos, meaning word or thought. It used turtle graphic commands to move a floor/ screen robot (turtle).

Squeak an object-oriented, class-based, and reflective programming language derived from Smalltalk-80, and released in 1996, and Scratch, a high-level, block-based programming language, first released in 2003, have largely replaced Logo. They are more sophisticated than Logo, but I am not convinced that they are any better at teaching programming concepts. In fact, their complexity makes them worse.

This means that older men may have more of a focus on electronics and the hardware aspects of radio, while younger people may be more focused on programming and the software aspects of radio. Thus, before computers became part of everyday life, electronics and the construction of radios, often from kits, was an acceptable hobby. The difference between electronics as a hobby in, say, 1980 and from 2010, is mainly in the use of microprocessors, or their less powerful microcontroller relatives, especially built onto boards. Since about 2010, the Arduino Uno board has been a major focus. However, the AVR chip used on it does not meet the requirements needed in an amateur radio system. The Raspberry Pi is a much better match. Some people also make receivers with Teensy microcontrollers.

While I am fond of unusual programming languages, especially for my own personal projects, using one is not always the best approach if a community of users is expected to work together. My prejudiced opinion is that currently there are only two families of languages that are suitable for a community building the software components of a radio. These are C (and its derivatives, including C++) and Python. People who do not already have a sizeable investment in C, developed in 1972 by Dennis Ritchie (1941 – 2011) at Bell Telephone laboratories, Murray Hill, New Jersey, are encouraged to use Python, developed by Guido van Rossum (1956 – ) in 1991, who was working at Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica (CWI) = the Dutch national research institute for mathematics and computer science, in Amsterdam.


Len & Alex Deighton’s first (relaunched) cookstrip that appeared in the Observer/ Guardian, 2017-04-23.

I imagine that if someone asked my wife, Trish, the name of the cookbook I appreciate best, she would look at that person with amazement. There is none. My name is totally dissociated with the act of cooking.

Part of the reason for this, is my childhood culinary education. It was limited to learning how to prepare a pot of tea, and serving it with milk and sugar. Through observation, I also learned to fry an egg. I would however, like to thank my maternal Grandmother, Jane Andison (nee Briggs, 1880 – 1972) for teaching me how to bake bread. Another part of this challenge is an inability to understand the details of a meal preparation timeline. I have a theoretical appreciation of it as a process with several finishing lines, commonly involving the serving of courses, as in appetizers, main course and desert with coffee or tea. A main course may involve up to several distinct dishes, using an assortment of animal, vegetable and fungal (mushroom) ingredients. Each dish has its own duration, in terms of preparation time and cooking time.

Over the past forty years, I have learned some basic skills. Main courses with three dishes, are no longer an insurmountably problem. Typically, at least for someone with my qualifications, there will be, at most, one desert. No appetizer will be offered.

This complexity means that for a given meal there will be numerous start times for the various dishes, and a limited number of locations (6 in total: 4 on the stove top, one in the oven, and one in the microwave oven) to cook them. Everything has to be planned. Some of the equipment may have to be washed up to several times, which adds yet another level/ dimension to the confusion.

Len Deighton (1929 – ) originally drew cookstrips as instructions to himself to prevent his expensive cookbooks from becoming dirty. Ray Hawkey, a graphics designer for The Observer, noticed some of these cookstrips in Deighton’s kitchen. The first cookstrip, Cooking Beef: Part 1, appeared in The Observer on 1962-03-18. They became part of its magazine-like look. An initial commitment for six strips was soon extended to 50. The last cookstrip in this series appeared on 1966-08-07.

These cookstrips were then recycled into Len Deighton’s French Cooking for Men: 50 Classic Cookstrips for Today’s Action Men. The first edition appeared in 1965, timed to coincide with the release of The Ipcress File film. In the film, a cookstrip appears on the wall behind the protagonist, Harry Palmer, played by Michael Cain, who appears to crack eggs with one hand. In reality the hands cracking the eggs belonged to Deighton.

A new, redesigned and updated edition of this book was republished 2020-02-01 in paperback. The publisher, HarperCollins, claimed that it, “will solve the mysteries of French cuisine and unlock the key to 500 memorable dishes.” This version is currently out of print.

Illustrated cookstrips from Deighton and his son Alex, have re-emerged in the Observer more than 50 years after the original series. They were relaunched 2017-04-23: New cookstrips appear at about monthly intervals.

Unfortunately, even if I had purchased Deighton’s cookbook in my youth, 1965 – 1970, I doubt if it would have transformed me. Today, I am even less fond of excessive eating, and the consumption of alcohol, which seems to be an integral part of French cooking. However, the making of cookstrips with a focus on Scandinavian cuisine does hold appeal.


There will be a post about cooking once a month in 2022.


QOI — The Quite OK Image Format
The Quite OK Image (QOI) logo released to the public domain.

Every time an image is displayed on a hand-held device (cellphone) or other variant of a computer, someone has decided its format. The people who make up the webpage, program or whatever else is being made, have procedures to help them decide what to use. Users have no choice, they simply experience the consequences of choices made by others. The speed at which an image decodes introduces a delay (sometimes called latency) that can be annoying.

QOI = the Quite OK Image format for fast, simple, lossless compression. Compared to PNG = Portable Network Graphics format, it provides 20 – 50 times faster encoding, and 3 – 4 times faster decoding. Lossless images retain their fidelity. The alternative, lossy images, gradually loose their quality each time an image is re-encoded. The simplicity of QOI is found both in its code, which uses about 300 lines of C, a common programming language, and in its file format specification, that occupies a single page in PDF = Portable Document Format, a file format developed by Adobe in 1992 to describe documents, including text and image formatting information.

Dominic Szablewski has developed this file format. It is much better than quite OK because almost every other file format in current use, including JPEG, MOV, MP4, MPEG and PNG, “burst with complexity at the seams.” He adds that they “scream design by consortium… and “require huge libraries, are compute hungry and difficult to work with.”

Szablewski proposed the idea on GitHub, and paid attention to the more than 500 comments generated.

QOI implementations are found for many different languages/ libraries, including C, C#, Elixir, Go, Haskell, Java, Pascal, Python, Rust, Swift, TypeScript and Zig, among others. There are native applications, meaning that they can be run without any external software layers, as well as plugins for Gimp, Paint.NET and XnView MP. Szablewski does not expect it to appear in web browsers anytime soon. It will probably end up in games and other applications where there are performance issues.

Links to additional information:

YouTube video (1h20m)

Reference en-/decoder on Github

File Format Specification

Benchmark Results on 2879 different images

Test images in QOI and PNG format

The QOI-Logo is released as public domain under the CC0 License and may be freely used.

Note: On 2021-01-02, the content of this post was changed to eliminate references to gaming. A separate post about rendering content for video games will be written and published, later in 2022.