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Hi everyone,
As we enter into the heart of Autumn we also enter our second tornado season.  While the Spring season gets the most attention, the fall season is not to be underestimated and is in fact often the more severe of the two seasons.
It is a good time to remember and revisit your preparations, which includes batteries, equipment and other supplies, the freshness of your training and the your ability to get urgent warnings in a timely manner, preferably by at least two methods, such as NOAA Weatheradio and smartphone apps.
Though I do enjoy, and some might say, am somewhat addicted to tracking severe storms, I hate what they do, and the misery that they cause.   So while I find them endlessly fascinating, I hope this will be the dullest season on record.
Our next ALERT meeting will be November 14 at 7PM at the National Weather Service Forecast office at the Shelby County Airport.
At this meeting we will vote on the proposed 6th Amendment to the ALERT Bylaws, which was detailed in last month’s newsletter.
I hope to see you there!


Stone Age Radios
It was a pretty October day, with a deep blue sky and just a hint of autumn in the air.  
Virgil was a 13 year old boy who had just seen something demonstrated in his school science class which he wanted to try.  The problem was it was during the Great Depression, and his family could barely afford air, let alone “gizmos to tinker with”.  So he began the time honored art of scrounging.
From Joe at Stedman’s Fix It shop he was given a transformer from a “busted” Philco “Cathedral” radio and the ear piece from an equally “busted” telephone.  Mr.’s Gentry’s garbage provided a Quaker oatmeal box and Tommy at McCutchen’s Drug Store gave him a little bottle of yellow sulfur, just because Virgil’s aunt was pretty, and Tommy felt that any inroad towards that elusive goal wouldn’t hurt.  
Other odds and ends were easy enough to get – a few paperclips, some masking tape, a bottle cap and thumb tacks. Along with these, he grabbed the old King Edward Cigar box that Grandpa had given him, which already housed a treasure trove of hidden secrets – his sling shot, marbles, and an arrowhead he was sure had been shot by the Great War Chief Cochise himself.
Having gathered all the essentials, he began his quest.  The transformer he took behind the house to his Dad’s garage, and grabbing a claw hammer he began hitting the casing, being careful not to damage the wire, until the laminated frame became loose.  He then removed the laminations and began uncoiling the wire, winding the wire around a short board.
Then, after looking at the Quaker guy’s hat and thinking how much better he would look if he wore a Gene Autry hat, he took a nail and poked two small holes about a half inch apart and an inch from the right end of the box.  He then took the wire, formed a curve in the end, and fed it into one hole on the oatmeal box and out the second.  He gently fed the wire through until about a foot came through.  He taped the wire near the hole to keep it from slipping and then moving in a counterclockwise fashion to the left, closely wound the wire around the box 120 times.  He taped the wire lengthwise to hold it in place, and then cut the wire leaving a pigtail a few inches long.  He then poked two holes on the left side of the box in the same fashion as the other two on the right side and fed the pigtail through the holes, taping it in place, but, cutting the wire shorter, as it would not be connected to anything.  He scrapped the enamel off of the end of the long pigtail the wire from the right side of the coil, and placed the coil in the cigar box, securing it with thumbtacks.  “Coil complete” he said.
He then placed four thumbtacks along the lower part of the box, and with a pencil marked “G” for ground, for the headphone black wire and ground wire, “+” for the headphone white wire, “A” for the aerial, “C” for the crystal connection point, “W” for the thin ”cat whisker” wire and a pencil mark in the middle of the box to mark where the “tuner” rod, as the teacher called it, would be mounted.  “Ok” he said. 
He took a clothes hanger, scraped the paint off, curled one end and tacked it to the board.  He then gently sanded the coil and bent the clothes hanger wire until it firmly touched the coil.  Then he coiled a wire around the bottom of the rod, connecting it to the “A” aerial connection and then finished placing the other wires on the board – another wire from the rod to the “C” crystal connection point, the thin “cat whisker” wire to the “W” point and from there another wire to the “+” point where the white headphone wire was then connected.  The wire from the coil he connected to the “G” ground point along with the black headphone wire.  
 “Now for the tricky part” he said.
He took a large pinch of yellow sulfur and placed it into an RC Cola bottle cap. He then carefully melted lead from an old wheel weight in a large spoon using his Dad’s blow torch and carefully dripped the melted lead over the sulfur to dissolve or melt the sulfur powder while trying not to breathe the fumes.  As he heated it up, gaseous sulfur spewed out from around the edges and it caught fire and stank to high heaven, or perhaps more appropriately, like Hades far below. 
Two things he hoped for. One, that he didn’t burn Dad’s garage down, Two, that Mom didn’t catch him and assume that he was doing what she had caught his brothers Dave and Carl doing last week.  Namely smoking Lucky Strikes behind the garage, the consequences of which was not in the least bit pretty.
Well, three things actually, this mess of junk actually working would be nice also.
When everything calmed down, and the noxious fumes cleared, there was an area around the metallic lead, a sort of black “crud” that had resulted. There were no ‘visible’ crystals.
As he waited for the bottle cap to cool down he attached the “ground” wire to the water faucet pipe and the “G” ground point on the board where the coil and black headphone wire were connected and then uncoiled fifty feet or so of wire, hanging one end in a tree and attaching the other end to the “A” aerial connection, where the wire from the rod was connected.
After the bottle cap and contents cooled he attached a wire from the “crystal connection point” to the bottle cap with a paper clip and then poked and prodded the black spots with the cat’s whisker wire and until suddenly he heard a voice in the earpiece fading in saying “as the images of the smoldering ruins of Warsaw come in, the evacuation of children from London continues, with the threat of German aerial attacks looming ever closer.  In sports news the Yankees hope to sweep the Reds in tonight’s Game 4 of the 1939 World Series.  The long ball proved the trick last night with homers by Keller, Dickey and DiMaggio as the Reds went down 7 to 3.  This is NBC, the National Broadcasting Company. 930 on your dial, you are listening to the WBRC Birmingham”.


Sliding the arm up the coil, suddenly Kay Kyser faded in singing:“Down in the meadow in a little bitty poolSwam three little fishies and a mama fishie too”Swim” said the mama fishie, “Swim if you can”And they swam and they swam all over the damBoop boop dit-tem dat-tem what-tem Chu!Boop boop dit-tem dat-tem what-tem Chu!Boop boop dit-tem dat-tem what-tem Chu!And they swam and they swam all over the dam ‘”
It works! He smiled.
Four years later in some misty field near Anzio Italy, his brother Dave took the bayonet off his M1 Garand rifle, attached a wire to it and plunged it into the ground, to make the “ground” for his radio.  He used the same basic design as his brother Virgil’s, except instead of “cooking a crystal” he used a Shick razor blade.  He had taken the blade, put some water on it, sprinkled some salt on it, and let it sit for a day or so until it started rusting.  He then took a pencil, shaving the wood back to expose an inch of lead, around which copper wire was wound.  For headphones he used a pair he salvaged from a “knocked out” German Tiger tank.  Moving and probing the razor blades rusty spots with the pencil he suddenly heard faint static and Italian music being pulled in from the air.
Halfway around the world in the Pacific, his brother Carl was already using the same setup and was listening to the Andrews Sisters singing about “Rum and Coca Cola” when the lady announcer named Tokyo Rose called his unit by name and location, cheerfully telling them “We hope you are enjoying your visit in the jungle. Just remember that the jungle is where we live, and the jungle is where you will die.”
Twenty three years later Virgil, Dave and Carl’s nephews, bothers Mark and Sonny, a ham operator, K4FHX, were stringing an antenna across the yard, connected to a weird conglomeration of parts – wire, an oatmeal box and such.  Sonny, after looking in a parts junk box held up a tiny gizmo that looked like a bead of glass with wires from each end, said “This is a 1N34 diode.  A 1N60 or a 1N270 will work too. If you’re stripping a board for parts and are not sure, just look for the one that looks like glass, and it will probably work.”   
He popped the diode into place, moved the rod and from the earphone came “…on such a winter’s day’, ’California dreaming on such a winter’s day’.   That’s The Mamas & The Papas, a special dedication from Diane to her boyfriend Wayne, hoping he is safe, somewhere near Da Nang.  WSGN 610 Birmingham.”
The story you have just read is true and the moral is simple.  Over the years it has been proven that with the proper knowledge and some “junk”, a simple radio receiver such as this can be made using either the “homemade crystal” method or the variations that came later, such as using a razor blade aka a “POW radio” or using a modern detector diode as my brother and I did.
Why is this important?
Tonight as you read this, there are people in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the Lesser Antilles who are still sitting in the dark, isolated from any contact with the outside world, feeling very lonely, very bewildered and barely clinging to hope.  If someone had the information I just detailed, they could, literally from junk, produce a radio receiver, that, even if the station was broadcasting in a foreign tongue, would at least make them feel a little less alone, and at the best keep them informed of what is happening, where to find help and take the terror out of the long dark night.  
The technology described is, by modern standards “ancient technology”.  But, just as the design worked in 1939, 1943 and 1966, it will still work in 2017, and will continue to work as long as the AM Broadcast Band continues to use amplitude modulation.  



Figure 1 – POW Radio
(Yes, it’s actually spelled “safety”. You can use a crystal diode in place of the razor blade, with the black stripe connected to the headphone point and a 2 liter plastic bottle used as the coil form in place of an oatmeal box)
This is also dying technology, for how many of us; still know how to do this?
My uncle Virgil died a few years ago at age 99.  And, though we had every intention to do so, we never got around to seeing how he made a “crystal” for his homemade crystal radio.  The exact directions on how to do this cannot be found on the internet.  The process described was obtained by putting together bits and pieces of information gathered from various sources and anecdotal accounts which I finally pieced together to fill in the puzzle.    
While such a venture may seem simplistic in these days of smartphones and other modern devices, learning some of the “ancient” technology such as this, can be a lifesaver, for when nothing else will work, these still do.
This also goes to illustrate the point that if you possess such knowledge, it is very important that you pass that knowledge down to others to keep the knowledge alive.
All cultures, whether primitive or advanced possess what is known as “tribal knowledge”.
“Tribal knowledge” is the knowledge that a civilization has gathered and learned over the centuries, and is passed on by the elders to the young.  This can range from the “simple” knowledge of day to day survival as passed down by primitive cultures such as the Aboriginals of Australia or the Zulus of Africa, to in our “modern society” a father showing his son how to fish, change a tire, fix plumbing problems or a brother showing his kid brother simple electronics. This is usually done by just letting them be a part of the experience, such as “Hey son, can you lend me a hand?”, and them learning by watching and doing.
This knowledge is passed on a person to person basis, and not usually taught in schools or classes.  And, if not passed down, it eventually fades from the collective memory of mankind and dies.
For example, there are many who are researching and relearning the survival and cultural knowledge and techniques of the Native American and First Nations tribes, as they are called in Canada.  This knowledge, due to their assimilation into modern society, has not been passed down to the younger generations and is in danger of being lost forever.  Many have turned to the still primitive peoples in remote areas of the world to relearn knowledge that was commonplace even 100 years ago.  This is also true of the pioneer and rural day to day living methods and customs, once common, but, now in danger of fading into the mists of time. 
This knowledge is important for many reasons, ranging from simple preservation of history to knowing how to use this knowledge should our 21st century society suddenly be reverted to 19th century conditions, due either to a devastating war, which has happened elsewhere in the recent past, or an overwhelming natural calamity reducing society to Third World conditions, as we see in Puerto Rico.
We adults have a responsibility to pass our knowledge on to those following us, whether it is practical technology, building, planting, cooking or repairing, and common things like riding a bike or throwing a ball, and, even more importantly, how to conduct oneself in society.    
Ham operators have traditionally acted as mentors or “Elmers” to our “young” – our new operators, by passing on their knowledge and helping make the mystery of ham radio less mysterious and less scary.  For I remember how scared I was when I made my first contact, 40 years ago.  It is up to us “Elmers” to explain how to set up a station, and teach what to do and say and perhaps even more importantly, what to not do or say on the air. 
One inherent danger and result of the modern “fast track” approach to ham radio licensing is that this mentoring or “Elmering” is largely, but, unintentionally, absent from the process. Perhaps this problem could be resolved by having a pool of volunteers available to help the newcomers, so they know where to reach out when they need help. 
It is our responsibility as individual hams to be welcoming and as possible offer to help our newer hams, either with advice or hands on actual “muscle work”, and to be encouraging, rather than discouraging, and positive rather than negative, and showing the same patience we had shown to us  or wish we had been shown “way back when.”
We all are teachers and we all set examples, whether we realize it or not.  Some are good examples to be emulated and some are good examples of what NOT to do or how NOT to behave on the air.
So I invite you, and challenge you to be willing to share your unique knowledge and experience with others, whether it is knowledge of ham radio or any other skill you have. Doing so in a friendly, non-know it all way.  Welcome our new hams. Help them, encourage them and lead them by example.
You will find that they want to learn.
It being early in the morning, and me, not having much sense in the morning, or other times for that matter, will add a little example.
When I was very much younger my family and I went on an overland trip to visit my brother Sonny who was now living in New Mexico.  When we got back we found a black Persian cat with a single gray kitten, who I named Blackie and Smokey.
We fully intended to, and eventually did “get them fixed.” But, before we could do that, a few months later we went out of town again, and when we got back Blacie and Smokey had started plumping up and we realized that they both were “great with kitten”.  A month later Blackie had four kittens and Smokey had three kittens, the whole brood of which we kept and eventually had the future potential problems “fixed”.
One day I noticed Blackie had caught a rat.  Lined up were all seven kittens watching intently as Blackie would let it go and let it almost get away before catching it again.  The realization hit me that she was teaching her students how to hunt.
Then there was the case of Boots and Clyde.  Boots was a kitten which along with his brother Charlie, someone dumped in the field in front of my house, my house apparently being Noah’s Ark, a few years later.  Blackie didn’t want to be bothered with him, and so she didn’t teach him anything.  Instead he followed a rogue Siamese cat I called Clyde, as everyone recieved a name, rather than calling it “Old Whatchamaycallit” or “Stray Cat Number 13”.
Clyde was a friendly rogue, not mine or anyone else’s, just the neighborhood Romeo, and Clyde was also very cross eyed and had zero depth perception beyonda few feet.  He could catch things buy lying in wait and hopefully pouncing at the right time, or as I saw once, just lying in plain sight until the mockingbird that was harassing Blackie started dive bombing him instead and got just a little too close and a big Siamese paw grabbed it.
Boots learned how to hunt from Clyde.  He could catch snakes and squirrels, anything he could ambush, but, birds, no.  He would gallop toward a flock of a hundred blackbirds who quickly flew off, making obscene gestures at him, leaving him looking very confused.    The only birds Boots ever caught was when he came home with a fully cooked Cornish hen he apparently swiped from someone’s picnic, and the day he appeared with a live rooster from who knows where, which he chased home during an sleet storm.
But, this was exactly how cross eyed Clyde had taught Boots.
The moral of the story is simple.  These things aren’t learned or perfected by instinct, they are taught.
What have you taught your kittens today?


Mark’s Almanac
With the arrival of November we enter our second tornado season.  Alabama and the Southeast are “blessed” by being the only area on Earth having two tornado seasons.  And, the cause of the second season is the same as the spring season – clashes of cold and warm air masses.  The cold air of winter is invading and trying to push the warmth of the summer back into the sea, which is the same process of springtime.
This second season is often more destructive than the spring season.  So beware of a warm & muggy November day.  Especially one with a south wind, as something may really be “in the air”.
The Hurricane threat greatly diminishes, with hurricane activity occurring mainly in the open Atlantic, threatening the Eastern Seaboard, but usually veering off into sea as cold fronts off the East Coast deflect them.  Hurricanes can still form in the Caribbean, which usually visit the Yucatan, but can enter the Gulf.
From 1851 – 2015 there have been 90 Tropical Storms and 59 hurricanes, 5 of which made landfall in the United States.   Some notable November hurricanes are:
The 1932 Cuba hurricane, known also as the Hurricane of Santa Cruz del Sur or the 1932 Camagüey hurricane. Although forming as a tropical depression on October 30, it became the only Category 5 Atlantic hurricane ever recorded in November, was the deadliest and one of the most intense tropical cyclones in Cuban history. On November 6, the tropical cyclone reached its peak intensity as a Category 5 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 175 mph. The storm weakened to Category 4 intensity as it came ashore in Cuba’s Camagüey Province on November 9 with winds of 150 mph.  The storm took 3,033 lives.
Hurricane Ida, in 2009 was the strongest land falling tropical cyclone during the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season. Ida formed on November 4 in the southwestern Caribbean, and within 24 hours struck the Nicaragua coast with winds of 80 mph.  It weakened significantly over land, although it restrengthened in the Yucatán Channel to peak winds of 105 mph. Ida weakened and became an extratropical cyclone in the northern Gulf of Mexico before spreading across the southeastern United States. The remnants of Ida contributed to the formation of a nor’easter that significantly affected the eastern coast of the United States. 1985’s Hurricane Kate was the latest Hurricane in any calendar year to strike the United States.Kate formed on November, 15 and reached hurricane intensity on November 16, and reached Category 2 intensity three days later. Kate struck the northern coast of Cuba on November 19. Once clear of land, she strengthened quickly, becoming a Category 3 storm and reached its peak intensity of 120 mph. On November 21 Kate came ashore near Mexico Beach, Florida, as Category 2 hurricane with winds of 100 mph.
Hurricane Lenny, or Wrong Way Lenny, occurred in 1999. It is the second-strongest November Atlantic hurricane on record, behind the 1932 Cuba hurricane. Lenny formed on November 13 in the western Caribbean Sea and moved retrograde from the West to East passing South of Hispaniola and Puerto Rico.  He reached hurricane status south of Jamaica on November 15 and rapidly intensified over the northeastern Caribbean on November 17, attaining peak winds of 155 mph near Saint Croix in the United States Virgin Islands. It gradually weakened while moving through the Leeward Islands, eventually dissipating on November 23 over the open Atlantic Ocean.
1994’s Hurricane Gordon claimed 1122 lives in Haiti when it passed just west of the country as a tropical storm on November 13, 1994.
Hurricane season ends November 30.


Figure 2 – November Tropical Cyclone Breeding Grounds
The blooms of summer have faded, but you may find yourself still sneezing, due to ragweed and mold.
Mold is a fall allergy trigger. You may think of mold growing in your basement or bathroom – damp areas in the house – but mold spores also love wet spots outside. Piles of damp leaves are ideal breeding grounds for mold.Oh, and did I mention dust mites? While they are common during the humid summer months, they can get stirred into the air the first time you turn on your heat in the fall. Dust mites can trigger sneezes, wheezes, and runny noses.
November welcomes the peak of fall colors.  For Birmingham the peak occurs around November 15, but the date can vary depending on your elevation & latitude.
Indian Summer and Squaw Winter continue to battle it out, but the cool or cold weather will eventually win, with the first average frost being on November 11.  
The usual fall effects occur in North America with Canada’s Hudson Bay becoming unnavigable due to pack ice & icebergs.  Navigation in the Great Lakes becomes perilous due to storms bringing the “Gales Of November” made famous in the Gordon Lightfoot song “The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald”.
And, don’t be surprised if you hear ducks overhead & see wedges of Canadian geese heading south for the winter.  And if you see strange birds appearing in your front yard, remember that for 336 species of birds Alabama IS south for the winter.
Looking towards the sky, Mercury is hidden in the glare of the Sun at the first of the month.  He will gradually emerge from his hiding spot and on November 24 will reach greatest eastern elongation of 22.0 degrees above the Sun. This is the best time to view Mercury since it will be at its highest point above the horizon in the evening sky. Look for the planet low in the western sky just after sunset.
Venus shining at magnitude –3.9 rises around the beginning of dawn and shines very low due east as dawn brightens.
Mars shining at magnitude +1.8, only 1/200 as bright as Venus, is higher in the dawn, to the upper right of Venus. Their separation grows to 14° by the 28th. Venus is slowly getting lower, Mars higher.
Jupiter is passing behind the Sun and will emerge in the morning sky as the month progresses. 
On November 13 there will be a spectacular conjunction of Venus and Jupiter visible in the morning sky. The two bright planets will be extremely close, appearing only 0.3 degrees apart. Look for this impressive pairing in the Eastern sky just before sunrise.
Saturn shining at magnitude +0.5, in southern Ophiuchus, glows low in the southwest at dusk.
Uranus shining at magnitude 5.7, in Pisces is well up after dark in the east.
Neptune shining at magnitude 7.8 in Aquarius well up after dark in the southeast.
Full Moon will occur at 05:23 UTC or 12:23 AM CST November 4.  November’s Full Moon is called “Beaver Moon” in Native American folklore, because this was the time of year to set the beaver traps before the swamps and rivers froze. It has also been known as the Frosty Moon.
The Taurid Meteor Shower will occur the night of November 4 & 5.  This is a minor shower producing only 5 to 10 meteors per hour.  It is an unusual shower in that it consists of two separate meteor streams.  The first stream is dust grains left behind from Asteroid 2004 TG10, while the second stream is debris from Comet 2P Encke.  The shower runs from September 7 to December 10, but, peaks overnight on November 4 & 5.  Unfortunately the glare from the full moon will block out all but the brightest meteors. If you are extremely patient, you may still be able to catch a few good ones. Best viewing will be just after midnight from a dark location far away from city lights. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Taurus, but can appear anywhere in the sky.
The annual Leonid meteor shower occurs from November 6 – 30 and peaks on the night of November 17 & the morning of the 18th.  Though the Leonids are an “average shower”, producing only an average of 15 meteors per hour, they are well known for producing bright meteors and fireballs. 
This shower is also unique in that it has a cyclonic peak about every 33 years where hundreds of meteors per hour can be seen. That last of these occurred in 2001. The Leonids are produced by dust grains left behind by Comet Tempel-Tuttle, which was discovered in 1865. 
Its productivity varies per year, but it can deposit 12 to 13 tons of particles across the planet.  Which is why having an atmosphere to shield us is such a nifty thing.
The nearly new moon will not be a problem this year. Skies should be dark enough for what should be good show. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Leo, but can appear anywhere in the sky.
New Moon will occur November 18. The Moon will be located on the same side of the Earth as the Sun and will not be visible in the night sky. This phase occurs at 11:42 UTC or 5:42 AM CST. This is the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.
3545 planets beyond our solar system have now been confirmed as of October 26, per NASA’s Exoplanet Archive
Finally, don’t forget to set your clocks back one hour at 2 AM, Sunday morning November 5th, as Daylight Savings Time ends.  
Remember that according to the National Time Act of 2014 states you MUST wait until 2 AM to reset your clocks, or you will be in violation of Section 15, Paragraph 114, Subset 195485 (24(234b)) (see page 4537) of said act.   
I saw it on social media, so it must be true.  For NO ONE would post unverified mush on the internet, oh perish the thought.



This month’s meeting will be on November 14 at 7PM at the National Weather Service Forecast office at the Shelby County Airport.
If for some reason you cannot attend the meeting in person, you can still participate via telephone.  The teleconference number is 1-877-951-0997 & and the participant code is 741083.Hope to see you there!Mark / WD4NYLEditorALERT Newsletter
Mark’s Weatherlynx Weather Resource Database

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