Monday, 24 October 2016

Toomas Karmo (= VA3KMZ) (Part A): Remarks on Radiotelegraphy

Quality assessment: 

On the 5-point scale current in Estonia, and surely in nearby nations, and familiar to observers of the academic arrangements of the late, unlamented, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (applying the easy and lax standards Kmo deploys in his grubby imaginary "Aleksandr Stepanovitsh Popovi nimeline sangarliku raadio instituut" (the "Alexandr Stepanovitch Popov Institute of Heroic Radio") and his grubby imaginary "Nikolai Ivanovitsh Lobatshevski nimeline sotsalitsliku matemaatika instituut" (the "Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky Institute of Socialist Mathematics") - where, on the lax and easy grading philosophy of the twin Institutes, 1/5 is "epic fail", 2/5 is "failure not so disastrous as to be epic", 3'5 is "mediocre pass", 4.5 is "good", and 5/5 is "excellent"): 4/5. Justification: Kmo had time to make the necessary points to adequate length. 

Revision history:

  • 20161025T0159Z/version 2.1.0: Kmo added a paragraph or so on the Ark Two PSK31 effort.  - He reserved the right to make further, nonsubstantive, merely cosmetic, changes over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions "2.1.1", '2.1.2", "2.1.3", ... . 
  • 20161025T0142Z/version 2.0.0: Kmo uploaded improved version, the point-form outline now converted to reasonably finished prose. 
  • 20161025T0002Z/version 1.0.0: Kmo uploaded initial  version. He had to leave most of the work in mere outline form, under time pressure. He hoped to convert the outline to reasonably finished prose over the next 2 hours.

[CAUTION: A bug in the blogger software has in some past weeks shown a propensity to insert inappropriate whitespace at some late points in some of my posted essays. If a screen seems to end in empty space, keep scrolling down. The end of the posting is not reached until the usual blogger "Posted by Toomas (Tom) Karmo at" appears.]

I have had two distinctively welcome e-mails this October.

One was from a member of Ontario's private "Ark Two" disaster-preparation team, in response to a minor e-mail I had for my part sent to Ark Two, after perhaps two or three years of neglected communications. 

This is the Ark Two which is promoted at, and which is further explained at It is an interesting venture, some would say on the fringes of respectability - a grouping of survivalists, or "preppers", fearing thermonuclear holocaust, and unlike some inappropriately selfish "preppers" resolved in the face of this fear to do whatever good they can for the wider community. 

My other distinctively welcome e-mail came pretty much out of the blue, from an Ontario individual who had noted my comments on John Michael Greer's blog at and had decided to write me. This correspondent made some specific reference to radiotelegraphy. 


As a physical installation, Ark Two is beyond frightening. Here we have, just a few tens of kilometres to the northwest of the Toronto conurbation, the Sovyetsky Soyuz. There is that quiet access road, those high gates - inducing perhaps that sickening feeling that we have been here before, in some previous life, under Stalin. There is that heavy bunker door. The door once opened, there is that gently sloping entrance tunnel, and then that vast sequence of rooms. One of them is a radio broadcasting studio, empty of equipment when I saw it. 

I recall the clammy atmosphere in the well-buried erstwhile schoolbuses which are those endless rooms: the subterranean cool, and perhaps even dripping, Ontario April, while up above, beyond those low curving ceilings, where the birds still sing, there blazes an Ontario June. 

I sometimes picture the end of civilization, should its end prove sudden and thermonuclear. One stands in Richmond Hill near Major Mackenzie Drive, looking south, toward Toronto. Above the southern horizon rises the mushroom stalk, dark as any peacetime thunderhead. Above that - easy, in fact, to pick out from Richmond Hill, twenty kilometres north of Ground Zero - is the equally dark mushroom cap. From this cap a black rain is already falling onto what must at grade level, in the Toronto Bay-and-Front-Streets core, be a firestorm. One knows that in a few minutes, Richmond Hill radiation levels will start their inexorable rise, inducing first the ordinary vomiting, then the other symptoms. One is happy enough at this early point to be facing probable death in Richmond Hill, as opposed to possible survival in Ark Two.


My specific attempts to help Ark Two have involved PSK31, the contemporary ham-radio replacement for traditional late-1940s-onward ham radioteletype. The Ark Two team has been trying to develop a maximally simple PSK31 rig, for use by minimally trained personnel in post-holocaust conditions. One bottleneck has been their (problematic) effort to develop a modest RF amplifier, to boost their transmitter output. Had I the time and knowledge, I would look with a favourable eye on the effort, while also promoting a separate, parallel, effort to tune the antenna. A PSK31 transmitter in a national emergency is liable to be run into something quite crude, like an improvised dipole, or even an improvised random-wire aerial. The situation parallels what the western Allies encountered in the Hitler war, dispatching low-power suitcase-sized Morse transmitters with their undercover agents into occupied Europe, and confronting the reality that agents would have to put up inprovised antennas (even indoor antennas). For the Allies, it was important to get a match between transmitter output impedance and impedance of antenna-with-feedline. Their solution (particulars are on YouTube, in some 1940s spy-radio discussion) was simple, and I think Ark Two might want to ponder it: no elaborate, fragile, standing-wave-ratio meter, to detect undesirable reflection of signal along feedline back to transmitter in the undesirable event of an impedance mismatch; rather, one somehow wires into or near the feed line one or more low-power lamps, whose staying dark or lighting up (I am vague on details here) provides sufficient warning of gross impedance mismatch.

In general, I confess, I try to avoid entanglements with PSK31, since that particular technology presupposes access to a functioning computer, running a graphical display. We may expect computers to become scarce soon after a nuclear war.

These days, my thoughts are more on Ark Two than they have been in recent years. Partly (this is why I e-mailed Ark Two lately), I am concerned by the cyber-warfare analysis of the properly reticent, and yet properly informed, Harvard writer Bruce Schneier, at (blogging under the general heading "Schneier on Security", under the 2016-09-13 title "Someone Is Learning How to Take Down the Internet").

And partly I am alarmed by what I have learned lately from a meticulous unofficial observer, and what I accordingly posted on this blog last week (under the heading "(Part A): J.M.Greer on Popular Geology, Chronocentrism, and Deep Time"). I may as well reproduce last week's scrap of news:

In the second half of 2016, the principal Russian system for the manufacturing of domestic consent - namely, the Russian-language television, directed at Russian viewers - has (I am told) shifted its tone in a civil-defence direction. There is now (I am told) bizarre official talk of food reserves in St Petersburg. As of the 2016 Russian autumn, it is claimed that there exists a wartime-emergency bread stock, sufficient for the entire city population for an entire 30 days, assuming a drawdown rate of 300 grams per person per day. (The roughly 10 percent or 15 percent of the population which dislikes the government finds this funny, I am told: the current joke, I am told, is that 300 grams per person per day is ever so much more than the 125 grams per person per day available in the 1941-09-08/1944-01-27 Siege of Leningrad.) There is also (I am told), as of this 2016 Russian autumn, strange official domestic-television talk of shelter space in Moscow. The subway, more formally the Московский метрополитен, is being proclaimed to viewers as capable of sheltering every Muscovite in the event of nuclear war.


This pair of alarming snippets of news-from-experts notwithstanding, I continue to direct my focus away from World War Three. We have lived with the threat of World War Three long enough, and from the 1949-08-29 Semipalatinsk A-bomb test right up to 1991 in a more intense form than at present. (The late August of 1991 seemed grim for a couple of days.) To my own mind - I might be wrong - the more terrible threat is, rather, the prospect of a slow decay in institutions, in a process consuming five or ten generations, and not punctuated by anything as dramatic as all-out nuclear war. Eventually, we get the illiteracy, the slumlords and warlords, everywhere outside the remaining gated enclaves - our electricity on for four hours a day if we are lucky; our sewers out of commission; our water distributed now to mere neighbourhood spigots, for collection with buckets; and our children lucky if they can read slowly, moving their lips, taking guesses at the longer words. We are eventually, that is to say, back in the Rome of the Vandals, Lombards, or Goths, except that this time it is with guns. No doubt occasional drones will mar our skies. No doubt a few all-terrain vehicles, burning expensive ethanol for The Man, will gallop and buck down our unlit, potholed streets.

We get a possible taste of what is coming, so far as communications infrastructure is concerned, from John Michael Greer's commenter "LatheChuck", writing over server timestamp "10/22/16, 5:35 PM". LatheChuck refers, among other things, to my own ongoing mathematical-physics-of-radio efforts:

I imagine that my local warband leader would see the value in keeping a guild of radiomen inside the gates. You can't teach radiotelegraphy in a week (or even in a year), especially if your raw material (potential substitutes from the warband) first must be taught reading, writing, and arithmetic! The basics of transistors and transmission lines will be esoteric enough, let alone Toomas's project to put ham radio on a firm physical basis (including Special Relativity). Then there's the mental training needed to make characters out of the dits and daahs (and vice versa). Though ciphers are forbidden by FCC regulations, it's hard to imagine those regulations being enforced in a warband society, so skill with ciphers would also be valuable.

Talented radio engineers have already been sought out by Mexican drug trafficking organizations. Whether they're retained (detained) for future use, or disposed of after each job, we'll only know if bodies are discovered.

"According to a report by Animal Politico, an independent Mexico-based investigative media company, about the so-called “slaves of narco,” 36 communications specialists had gone missing in the region between 2008 and 2012."


Before taking up this week's welcome incoming correspondence on radiotelegraphy, I will expand a little on LatheChuck's remarks about my programme of writing:
  • My hope is to produce, eventually, a series of "white papers", to support people who are training themselves in the mathematical-physics-of-radio. These will be people who may some day have to design equipment. 
  • I hope to handle rigorously some questions often slurred over, for instance "With respect to what zero-voltage reference point do we consider the voltage distribution, at any one instant, along the classical dipole antenna?" (Hmmm....not quite sure how to handle this one at the moment. I did know, I think, some years back!) 
  • As part of this, I hope to treat div, grad, and curl in Maxwell's equations, rigorously - going carefully into (for example) the derivation of the formula for div-in-cylindrical-coordinates (ahhh, must review this, as work from months ago!); or again (a different example) showing how scalar line integrals, vector line integrals (as in "work"), scalar surface integrals, and vector surface integrals (as in "flux"), and indeed the humbler Riemann integrals of univariate calculus, are all instances of one general limit-of-progressively-finer-Riemann-sums idea. 
  • In particular, I hope to amplify some of my present notational ideas, on which the 1930s Alonzo Church mathematical-logic "lambda calculus" is used to clarify operations-on-functions, such as the taking-of-a-div. (This is a notational programme already implemented at MIT, I gather with great success, by Sussman and Wisdom - with some initial details available from 
  • Also as part of this, I hope to put Maxwell's equations into their proper Special-Relativity setting (eventually working out to my own satisfaction, and explaining to others, the tensor formalism in which an electrostatic field in a rest frame of a charged particle becomes a magnetic field in a frame moving relative to that rest frame). 
  • As an underpinning for eventual careful work with div, grad, and curl, I hope to improve my grasp of real multivariate analysis. 
  • And as a preparation for that, I am in turn at present trying to train myself in rudiments of toplogy. (When I write "at present", I have in mind that this is an initiative begun on 2016-09-07, and budgeted at 200 hours desk-time, and ongoing. As of 2016-10-21, my log shows an investment of 69 hours, 5 minutes.)

My correspondent this past week mentioned radiotelegraphy. 

LatheChuck's words quoted above, with their sad reference to conditions among today's Mexico druglords, call to mind the experience of my relative or friend "PQRS" in the Hitler war.

Estonians unwilling to support Stalin in that war had a few options, none of them good. Most or all of the options got duly tried within my own little circle of friends and relatives.

One could altogether dodge military involvements. - Yes, Virginia, as there is indeed a Santa Claus, so also is this seemingly impossible thing indeed possible. When the big European Soap Opera was at last over, or at least was winding down, a sometime Latin teacher was greeted in Tallinn by an old friend. - "Ah, Ants (or whatever), you have survived everything: how did you do it?" - "Oh, the usual. I hid out in the woods ... but you know, in the woods, korrektsus täitsa puudub, there is absolutely no correctness." (Korrektsus, or "correctness", is a virtue rightly held in high regard, through much of the Nordic and Teutonic world.)

Or (a second option), one could eventually join the 1944-through-1950s (or later) anti-Soviet guerillas, taking to the woods in a manner not fully pacifist, with one's prewar concern for korrektsus I presume largely abandoned.

Or (a third option) one could try to join the British forces. But as it turned out, the Chamberlain government, at any rate as represented via embassy or consular authorities to Estonians in Switzerland, was not in the 1939 autumn set up to take in such volunteers. What happened after 1939, I do not know.

As a fourth option, one could oppose Stalin under the Finnish flag, in Finnish uniform. This was a comparatively civilized alternative. One thereby did not do much for Estonia until the late summer of 1944, when Estonia's "Finnish boys" got repatriated. However, for a couple of years prior to that I guess one did help Finland survive, the breach in Finland's Mannerheim Line notwithstanding.

Finally, one could oppose the Red Army under the German flag, wearing a German uniform with some kind  of dinky little Estonian badge or badges. This was of all the options the most appalling. (Unless outright suicide be added to the list; I know of no suicides.) Perhaps, however, the German-led Narva-front resistance from the early spring of 1944 until the disastrous September was one of the factors saving Finland from a summertime seaborne invasion, and so helping underpin Finland's survival. At any rate I propose this, as I believe some other writer or writers in essence have, by way of a topic for the historians of tactics.

Additionally, this German-flag, German-uniform resistance, particularly under Narva, made possible, by for two seasons stalling the Red Army advance, the safe September exodus of something like 70,000 Estonians. The unpleasant form of resistance thereby facilitated the survival in exile of an Estonian government - it left office on 1992-01-29, acknowledging the restoration of independence by a home government - and of various other institutions-in-exile.

My friend or relative "PQRS" chose that final, unpleasant option. (Well, he was under conscription, so perhaps talk of "choosing" is in his case not fully apt.) He was able to take the option (well, quasi-option) in an interestingly specialized form.

PQRS had always been interested in technical matters. As a quite young child, he had risked life and limb by attempting an aeroplane flight, driving his little wheeled waggon down a sloping roof. (His Dad's pocket watch had served as an instrument, on his small instrument panel.) He had also, I suspect at a rather early stage, upset his parents by creating a hole in the floor, so that he could get a good earth (a good ground) for his crystal receiver. He had made an arc lamp as part of a projection microscope, energizing his arc from the (direct-current, I suspect 240 V) power supply of his little town, for the edification of schoolmates. And working from instructions in a peacetime radio-enthusiast magazine, he had built himself a ham-class transmitter.

It was, to be sure, unfortunate that his peacetime transmitter got finished rather late, in 1939. This vagary in timing made its use not fully advisable. Estonia was forced that autumn to admit a few tens of thousands of Red Army personnel, under the duress of a diplomatic ultimatum. Just a few months later, Estonia voted to request admission to the USSR as a constituent Republic, and after a few days' deliberation Stalin granted what was requested. (When I write here  "voted" and "deliberation", I mean of course "kinda-sorta", as in that nice Mel Brooks 1980s rap parody of the Reich. As I remember it from YouTube, it  ran something like this: "So we had an election/ Well, kinda-sorta/ Say hello/ To the New Order.")

Now, in 1943 or so, with Stalin's occupation of Estonia temporarily thrust aside by Hitler, and with the increasingly beleaguered Hitler conscripting Estonians, it was necessary for PQRS to take decisions. Conventional military service, killing people? Not. Mindful of his radio background, PQRS trained in Morse, to the high and severe standards of the Wehrmacht.

PQRS subsequently told me that the requirement was 24 words per minute. This is about as fast as you can feasibly go with a traditional "straight key" on the transmitting side. On the receiving side, it is hard to copy with pencil and paper at any speed much faster than this, at least if you want to continue being accurate and legible, as you had better be when traffic is encrypted.

PQRS passed his Wehrmacht radio Morse Code exam, I imagine to his family's relief. From this point onward, PQRS's career became interesting. He was directed to transcribe Red Army Morse transmissions in the field, walking his papers over to a decryption room or decryption tent barred to mere Estonians.

This Red Army radio-monitoring work was not even very hard, at least as PQRS explained it to me around 2002. For the Red Army (I think confronted with a need to train lots of operators quickly) confined its transmissions to strings of digits, using no letters at all!

Since decryption got done right in the field - admittedly, behind doors or tent flaps closed to PQRS, since PQRS was unfortunately not of the "Master Race" - this side, too, of operations was perhaps not daunting.

At any rate, PQRS got through the entire Soap Opera, I suspect without ever having to bash anyone up.


I should perhaps add in parentheses my dear Mum's reminiscences of her own papermail efforts with PQRS.

It was for certain reasons advisable for Mum and her own Mum (my dear Grandma) to find PQRS. But this was in the chaos of late 1944 or 1945, when Mum and Grandma were in flight - first to the north of Germany, then to Denmark. Mum, as she explained it to me late in her life, exercised both of the two obvious options. One was a formal missing-persons query via the Red Cross. And - she explained to me in the kitchen, in 2000 or so - the Red Cross are "still looking". The other was the Reich military postal service, the Feldpost. The Feldpost delivered Mum's letter with their customary efficiency, evidently not being thrown off their routine by the various inconveniences attending a military collapse.


Radio, then, is of importance when things break down, be it in contemporary Mexico or in the Hitler war.

Radiotelegraphy has a place of special honour in radio, involving as it does the most basic of equipment, with the most basic of designs and the smallest number of components.  It was therefore good for me to learn of my correspondent's work in radiotelegraphy.

[To be continued, and probably concluded, as "Part B", probably next week, probably in an upload in the four-hour UTC interval 20161101T0001Z/20161101T0401Z.]

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