Author Archive

Part 2 of the “Revolution” Article on the Sunspot Cycle in August Issue of RadCom

RadCom’s August issue contains Part 2 of my article with Dr. Scott McIntosh on the potential scientific revolution in understanding the cycle of Sunspots. This part contains more insight into the McIntosh team’s path-breaking theory of the Terminator Event and the factors that shape Cycle 25. The comparison of competing paradigms—here from the NASA/NOAA Panel’s declaration of a Cycle 25 prediction without any disclosure of methods or theory used versus the McIntosh team’s peer-reviewed papers—is likened to the one a century ago between the classic Newtonian view and the upstart Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

Who now reads Newton for science, except for history?

Howell and McIntosh, RadCom, August 2022

As the history of science shows, it was the upstart Einstein challenging the classic paradigm of Newton who brought the newspaper headlines, “Revolution in Science.” We can watch monthly updates of this modern comparison in a special website discussed in our August article.

This part of our paper contains the forecast of the Sunspot numbers and the Solar Flux Index over Cycle 25. See the August issue of RadCom, the journal of the Radio Society of Great Britain.

“Revolutionary” Cover Story in RadCom July 2022

I’ve mentioned this work in various episodes of the ICQ Podcast as well as on social media in my Twitter account and now it’s published. Dr. Scott McIntosh and I collaborated since my original feature interview with him in Episode 332 of the the ICQ Podcast back in 2020. He paid a return visit with me for a follow-up feature interview by Martin Butler M1MRB in Episode 377 recently. The article by Howell and McIntosh, “On the Cusp of A Scientific Revolution,” is the cover story in RadCom, the magazine published by the Radio Society of Great Britain. Here’s the cover with a very nice photo of the sun and the ESA Solo satellite facing it. Kevin M6CYB, layout and design specialist at RadCom, put this cover together using resources from the ESAATG Media Lab, for Elaine Richards G4LFM, Editor of RadCom.

Elaine G4LFM is a delightful Editor to work with! As my readers no doubt know from previous posts on this blog, I served as Editor-in-Chief for Springer Media, a very large scientific publisher based in The Netherlands. So I’veb oo that side of the editorial desk for both journal articles and book manuscripts. Moreover, the untimely loss of her Technical Editor, Giles Read G1MFG (sk), added to her workload recently. But she handled all of that, plus her pending retirement, with the utmost aplomb. There’s no muss, no fuss in submitting a paper. No waiting for 6-8 weeks or more for the Editor to “maybe” get back to you. I highly recommend RadCom as a potential outlet for your work.

This is Part 1 of a lengthy and detailed paper. Part 2 is scheduled to appear next month, in the August issue. It’s not an elevator speech so be prepared to read it like you would read a schematic diagram. We think it will be worth your time.

There are some other great articles in this month’s edition of RadCom. Here’s a screen shot of the Table of Contents so you can take a look at both the regular columnists and contributions by authors such as Scott and me.

So what’s all of this about?

We place the current situation of significantly different Cycle 25 predictions of sunspots into the framework of how science works. I’m not speaking of which test tube or microscopic plate to use, for that involves the mechanics of each specific scientific field (Yep, I realize just how outdated those examples are but you get my point.) How does “science” as an institution work?

This diagram illustrates how Thomas Kuhn depicted “scientific revolutions” in paradigm change:

Model of Kuhn’s Paradigm-Change in Science (courtesy of Dr. Jessie Hamner)

We argue that understanding the solar cycle is in the model competition stage of this diagram.

Dr. McIntosh is the solar physicist. I’m not. But I taught philosophy of science, research design and modeling various scientific phenomena in obscurely named course titles like Structural Equation Models with Latent Variables and Spatial Analysis. I also edited and created a few journals in my career, too. Moreover, I’ve worked for NASA in their Commercial Remote Sensing Program at Stennis Space Center and managed peer-review panels in Washington, DC. So I’ve witnessed how this works in several fields of science, especially when I’ve been invited to reconcile disputes in funding or peer-reviews (e.g., integrated pest management).

When I interviewed Scott in 2020 for the ICQ Podcast, it was clear as a bell to me that the issues he and his colleagues were having in getting some of this “revolutionary” work published in solar physics outlets reflected a clash of theoretical paradigms. Pure and simple. It represents a competing paradigm attacking many of the anomalous findings (or lack thereof) involving the amplitude and cycle transition. Afterwards, he asked me to read a draft of a key paper establishing the linkages between the Hale Magnetic Cycle and the Solar Cycle in which I made voluminous comments and suggestions on the data, modes of analysis, and how to deal effectively with reviewers as a former editor. I’m sure I made a number of “rookie mistake” comments since I’m not a solar physicist, lol. But he was very kind to not mention those, only suggesting other sources for me to read and review.

When it was published, I was greatly touched to have received an acknowledgement for my impact on the final paper (see Scott W. McIntosh et al. (2020). Deciphering Solar Magnetic Activity: 140 Years of the ‘Extended Solar Cycle’ – Mapping the Hale Cycle. Solar Physics (2021) 296:189 (https://doi.org/10.1007/s11207-021-01938-7). Considering that this could be a seminal paper among those published by the McIntosh team that might precipitate a paradigmatic revolution in our understanding of the solar cycle and sunspot amplitude and the transition from one cycle to another, it’s an even greater honor to receive this acknowledgement outside my own field of science.

Scott and I have developed a close collaborative relationship and I’ve learned a lot from him and his published work. He is just a delight in “elmering” me about solar physics. But have no confusion: he’s the solar physicist and I’m the statistician and philosopher of science. We hope that through this collaborative paper, his team’s theory, models and data reach the wide audience that is amateur radio. We hams are one of the significant consumers of this slice of solar physics. But we decided that my expertise would help identify the paradigm boundaries of Scott’s new paradigm as well as some other facets of communicating outside of solar physics. Perhaps even within solar physics, too.

As we “shockingly” disclose in RadCom, the current NASA/NOAA “official” predictions for Cycle 25 do not release any of their methods or assessments to the public. (Insert record scratch here.) Yet, their forecasts are decidedly lower in amplitude than those published under peer-review by my co-author, Scott McIntosh, and his team of collaborative scientists. Amateur operators, however, view the official NASA-NOAA Panel predictions over the past several solar cycles are the Holy Grail source of sunspot activity. We’ve seen this movie before:

While Scott has published beaucoup papers documenting his team’s explicit theory of how these aspects of the sunspot cycle (as amateurs like to call it) work together, our RadCom article attempts to lay it out in comparison to those “official” predictions by the NASA-NOAA Panel. One team will ultimately be proven to be more correct as Cycle 25 matures; the one based upon Panel votes of “expert opinion” or the one based upon a peer-reviewed alternative paradigm.

Those who see SSNs as the critical daily index shaping their amateur radio operations will want to see which team is “right.” To facilitate this, there is a website where the NASA-NOAA predictions, the McIntosh team predictions, the average SSN over the horizon, and the observed SSNs for each month are published in clearly annotated graphs for all to see. No “smoke-filled rooms” where just a professional opinion is offered, but observable empirical data, updated monthly.

Hmm. I wonder whether I’d trust a team of physicians who just met in a conference room and voted to see if I had cancer (which I did in 2005) or a team of physicians who took X-Rays, MRI’s, blood samples and so forth to aid in their diagnosis and treatment plan. Which one do you think is more worthy of your trust? Well, it’s largely up to the observed SSNs and the two sets of predictions, even though one is formally devoid of a stated theory, isn’t it?

Here’s the money graph here:

Time-Series Graph of observed and predicted sunspot numbers from 2019 through 2024

As the reader can see, the McIntosh predictions (in black) are decidedly closer than the “official” NASA/NOAA/ISES Panel’s predictions (two different blue lines) to the actual observed smoothed sunspot numbers as of July 2022 (green lines).

This is not unlike how the educated world awaited a specific set of photographic plates from an eclipse to determine whether the famous Sir Isaac Newton or the (then) young, whipper-snapper Albert Einstein was correct about Relativity. That was how the Newton-Einstein debate was largely resolved. The McIntosh team has put it’s scientific reputation on the line with observable data, which is how science has moved over the centuries since its emergence in modern societies.

Who now reads Newton for science, except for history?
Howell and McIntosh, RadCom, July 2022
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You can find out more about Dr. McIntosh at NCAR (his research center), on Twitter, or by listening to the two podcast episodes I noted above on the ICQ Podcast website. In addition, Scott has given many talks to amateur radio clubs on this team’s work. Youtube is your friend here. I’m already scheduled for late July to talk about this RadCom article to the Denby Dale Club. If you’d like a talk on this to your club, feel free to email me and I’ll do my best to accommodate you. I’m good on QRZ.

Hearing Too Much and Not Enough…of the Right Signal!

Field Day is once again happening later this month. Hearing everyone is a blast, no? Well, it might not be. Especially if it’s the ham at the table right next to you. The “sshh, sshh” sound of the CW op bleeding over into your SSB ban frequency or the nearby FT8 transmissions doing the same. But you’re forgetting the CW op hearing your voice signal peaks, too. Unless you’re listening to the monitor on FT8 (or other digital mode), you just might not reliably decode a QSO transmission. All in all, it’s just not the folks whom you want hear!

It might be time to include an HF bandpass filter system into your Field Day or other portable operation station(s). But what to do? Build a kit? Buy commercially assembled? Or some of both? This is the focus of my article that appears in the June issue of CQ Magazine.

I bought an HF BPF system covering 160-6 meters from an Australian company, VK-Amps, from their eBay store at a very good price. Here’s a picture of the assembly into a customized aluminum case on my workbench. I tested it for filter characterization comparison against N5DU’s DX Engineering’s comparable DXE-419 filter system. My portable ops team tested the two during the Mississippi QSO Party. How did it do? Take a look at CQ Magazine’s June issue!

Taking a stroll through transceiver time…

Something that has made me drift into periods of wonder for a long time now is to look through the websites or other historical sources of radios and transceivers manufactured for amateur radio. By just perusing radios over a lengthy period of time, one can gauge how and when the hobby made changes in the technology. As the author William Faulkner has said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” If coverage of the 2022 Xenia Hamvention bone yard is any indication, Faulkner is indeed right about the technological past not even being past!

Anthropologists of technology tell us that:

Social change is driven by — and depends upon — technological change.

Tim Ingold, Social Analysis No. 41(1) March 1997, p. 106.
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The past isn’t even past, said William Faulkner (Oxford, MS)

Our technological change in transceiver technology lends itself to the social change in how we practice amateur radio. I’ll focus on just one element that has emerged in the last decade, the panadapter effect, in a later post. But for now, let’s just get a grasp of the bigger picture. For it may not be what you thought, if you’re a long-time amateur radio operator. The pending demographic changes that I’ve written about unmercifully suggest that some won’t see the changes that tech imposes on cultural shifts.

But technology moves onward. The changes that improvements and revolutionary creations do begat collective change, even if the past still is among us in terms of usage or just in our hearts and minds. Those images and feelings are demographically rooted, however, in the time in which our early years are imprinted in our memories.

People — smart, thoughtful people, with relevant backgrounds and domain knowledge — thought that Airbnb and Uber were doomed to failure, because obviously no one would want to stay in a stranger’s home or ride in a stranger’s car. People thought the iPhone would flop, because users would “detest the touch screen interface.” People thought enterprise software-as-a-service would never fly, because executives would insist on keeping servers in-house at all costs.

It’s quite an amazing walk to just browse through the dates that radios in Rob Sherwood’s table of receiver tests were released to the market. I’ve put a simple time line page in the portfolio of Sherwood Tools for the viewer to easily do that. I’ve added links to pictures and details of each radio for a richer experience.

Return to the year you were licensed or got seriously interested in amateur radio. What’s the nearest year in Rob’s Table? What was the technology of that radio? What was your first transceiver? Locate your amateur radio life course regarding transceivers through Rob’s bench test list. Then, check out the other Sherwood Tools to see how it fits into the latest rigs.

After this new page was circulated by Twitter, I received this kind note from a popular SOTA award winner, Ed Durrant DD5LP in Germany:

This is a great work that you have pulled together. I found myself going through the time-line saying, yes, yes, I remember those and then I’d see one I didn’t recognise but in general this is very useful to see which companies were really active at different times…I am in awe of this work, the more I check different links, the more I get pulled into it and I can see how much effort you have put in it.

While it did take a minute, the results are hopefully well worth it. But just taking the Sherwood Table and placing each radio into the year of market-entry, there is a look at over a half-century of technological advancement in this time line. How has it made us change our behavior in operating? How has it changed the organized hobby itself? And what will tomorrow bring? Go take a stroll through transceiver time here.

Don’t Look Back! They Might Be Gaining On You…or the emergence of the premium HF transceiver

The old quote attributed to the iron man of baseball, Satchel Paige, about not looking back is what I thought of as I posted my latest page in my new Sherwood Tools section of the FoxMikeHotel.com website. The emergence of the premium HF transceiver is the focus of much discussion, rants and downright fistfights in the kitchen to paraphrase a research methods text. Such a topic is ripe for statistical analysis using best-available data. I’ve tried to do that in this new page of tools to use to shape your thinking about pulling the trigger on a premium HF transceiver. In this market? How could you not use all the evidence available to you?

The Sherwood Tables are the basis of that data with the addition of the market-entry price and year. The focus is: who invented the premium transceiver? Well, it wasn’t Hilberling although at $20,000 in 2021 US Dollars that might be a good guess. Head over to this page to see by clicking here.

If you’re heading to Hamvention, it might be a good time to check the graphics out before making a decision. If you’re sitting this one out, it’s a great time to review what I have posted there. I understand Rob NC0B will feature these tools at his talk—Transceiver Performance for the HF Contest and DX Operator— for Contest University.

Sherwood Tools Available

The work that Rob Sherwood NC0B has contributed to the public over the past decade is unique and an amazing service to hams worldwide. I’m talking about, of course, his summary Table of receive bench tests published at this Sherwood Engineering website. He is independent so no one can think that advertising dollars could skew his assessments or how he presents them. As a CW contest operator, he is very clear that he sorts his table on the basis of what his experience and training has shown him to be the single most important measurement in his table: the narrow dynamic range.

I am not a CW operator or accomplished contester (lol) but enjoy the latter with my small team of fellow hams. But I am a statistician who likes to focus on problems where analytic tools can help foster a wider understanding of the data surrounding the problem area. So, working with Rob NC0B, I’ve created a set of “Sherwood Tools” to visualize his data as well as link them to a couple of other critical aspects of a rig purchase: market-entry price, consumer satisfaction, and the year the radio entered the market. These four vectors of data drive all of these tools, now available over at foxmikehotel.com.

3D Sherwood with Market-Entry Year

The tools include a sortable Sherwood list where you can sort on any of the nine tests he publishes as well as the composite index of them that I created and included in my two-part NCJ articles in 2021. A set of 3D data visualizations are available to simultaneously view radios on four data elements (that does make it 4D, technically). Several graphs illustrate key aspects of the data, including how to not get tripped-up in the “ranking” of radios where the bench measurements are just not appreciably different. Seeing how the past 50 years of radios appearing in Rob’s Table have made a remarkable and clear progression toward the best receiver performance that modern test equipment can detect is in another tool. In addition, how the trend in getting a receive bang-for-the-buck has progressed over this 50 year period is there, too. Finally, I’ve used the industry-standard tool by Gartner, the Magic Quadrant, to help isolate radios in Rob’s Table that perform and are rated above average at various price points. I call these the Golden Quadrant Lists.

Rob NC0B has not endorsed these tools and neither have Scott K0MD or Bob K0NR. But all three have given advice and suggestions for how I’ve designed them for which I am very grateful. None should be held accountable for any mistake or result that the viewer may find there. I hope these Sherwood Tools are of use to viewers who are evaluating rigs. (They have been to me over the past two years of doing this research during which I’ve purchased two new HF rigs.) Making a written set of must-have features is a critical complement to these tools. Just like Smokey the Bear says: only you can put out forest fires. Only you can determine the feature-set and ergonomics to satisfy your use-case for a new radio!

I’m outlining a talk on the use of these tools should clubs wish me to visit with them via Zoom. See my contact tab above. I’m good on QRZed.

Solder On, Garth…

While I would love to think that in Wayne’s World, this article would be “excellent,” that’s for you to decide! In this month’s Practical Wireless magazine, my article, “Need a Hand? Or Six?,” is on the cover. Like many hams, soldering work on the bench takes many forms. A lot of that involves setup time to get the right tools in place to begin. I really like to minimize these things so that my limited time is spent goofing up a solder joint..uh, making good soldering joints…and getting things done.

I also have been immensely dissatisfied with the cheap “helping hands” devices found at every hamfest or rally I’ve attended. The magnifying glass tips over too easily, there’s really not enough “hands” to suit me, and if I drop it on my garage floor, it’s likely to shatter. So I was inspired by a previous article in the April 2021 PW about the fabrication of a jig to do SMD work by Michael Jones GW7BBY.

My “artisan” soldering platform is my current solution to having a rather full-featured 12″ square platform with numerous “hands” to hold parts for using my two hands for holding the soldering iron or gun and the solder thread. It’s an honor to publish in Practical Wireless, smartly edited by a world-class contest operator, Don Field G3XTT. His book on 6 meter operation was recently revised and it’s well worth reading before practicing the “magic” in the 50 mhz region!

Keep Soldering On is from my article this month in PW

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  • Matt W1MST, Managing Editor