Laika’s Flight: November 3, 1957

On this day 60 years ago, November 3, 1957, Laika, a Soviet dog, became the first Earth creature to orbit the Earth.

Her survival was never expected, since the technology to de-orbit had not yet been developed. Little was known about the impact of spaceflight on living creatures, and some scientists believed that it would be impossible to survive the launch. Laika’s mission was designed to determine whether a living creature could survive the forces of launch and the micro-g environment of space travel.

The Soviets initially claimed that Laika was humanely euthanised by lack of oxygen. However, her actual cause of death was made public in 2002, when it was revealed that the spacecraft overheated, causing her death within a few hours.

Laika was originally a stray found wandering the streets of Moscow. It was thought that such animals were already well adapted to surivial. Three dogs were trained, and Laika was finally selected as the “lucky” winner to make the one-way trip to the final frontier. She was trained by being kept in progressively smaller cages. Before the launch, one scientist took Laika home to play with his children. He reported, “Laika was quiet and charming. I wanted to do something nice for her. She had so little time left to live.”

She was hooked to sensors, and on November 3, 1957, she was launched on her mission from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. When a piece of thermal insulation tore loose, the temperature of the capsule soon reached about 104 °F. Laika died of overheating on about the fourth orbit.

After 2570 orbits, the Sputnik 2 spacecraft, along with Laika’s remains, disintegrated during re-entry on April 14, 1958.

Ranked Voting Strategy

As explained below, there are three things to remember about ranked voting:

  • Vote for as many candidates as you have choices, as long as some of them are less objectionable than others.
  • All other things being equal, vote for the less popular candidate before you vote for the more popular candidate.
  • Never vote for the same person more than once.

Both Minneapolis and St. Paul will be using “ranked voting” in the mayoral election this year. There is no primary election, and in St. Paul, there are 10 candidates running in the general election. You are allowed to vote for your top six choices. In other words, there are six different elections you can vote for.  Minneapolis has similar numbers.  You will vote for your first choice, and that is one election. Then, you will vote for your second choice, and that appears on the ballot as an entirely different race. This continues through your sixth choice. You can make any number of choices, between zero and six. Minneapolis has a similar number of candidates and choices.

As an election judge, I am allowed to explain the basic mechanics of voting, but I am limited in what I am allowed to explain. In particular, I am not allowed to explain to voters anything that might be perceived as “strategy” in using your six votes. So as a citizen, let me explain a bit about strategy.

A winner will generally not be selected unless that person has a majority (defined as 50% plus one vote). At first, the votes will be counted as usual. On election night, you will see the name of the candidate who won the most votes as first choice. If that person has a majority (50% plus one vote), then that candidate will be the winner. But it is extremely unlikely this will happen. Chances are, none of the candidates will receive more than 50%. Therefore, vote counting will continue on Thursday morning.

On Thursday morning, the second round will begin. One candidate (the one receiving the least votes) will be eliminated. If you voted for anyone else, then your vote will not change. Your first choice will remain your vote.

Election judges (which will include me) will then remove the ballots of the people who voted for the eliminated candidate. We will look at the second choice, but only on those ballots. Then, we will place those ballots in with the original ballots for that candidate.

We will then count the ballots a second time. If someone now has a majority, then that candidate will win. If no candidate has a majority (which is still extremely likely), then the counting will move to the thrid round. Again, one candidate will be eliminated. All of that candidate’s votes (which might have been the voter’s first or second choice) will be removed. We will then look at the next choice on those ballots (which might be the second choice or third choice), and add those ballots to the count for that candidate.

This process will continue, probably several times, until some candidate has a majority. It is likely that the winner will not be known until Saturday, after several rounds of counting have been done.

We can argue all day about whether this is a good system or a bad system. But that doesn’t matter. If you live in Minneapolis or St. Paul, this is the system you need to deal with. And if you want the maximum impact from your vote, then you need to think about strategy.

First of all, if you believe that some of the candidates are worse than other candidates, then you should take advantage of your ranked voting to make sure that the person you do not like is defeated. In other words, if there are evil candidates and lesser evil candidates, then it is in your best interest to vote for the lesser evils at some point in the voting.

If you vote for only one candidate, then there is a 9/10 chance that your candidate will be eliminated. Once your preferred candidate is eliminated, then only your other ranked choices will prevent the worst candidate from being elected.

In other words, if you learn on Saturday that candidate X, whom you hate, has been elected, and that even candidate Y would have been better, then it’s your fault if you failed to vote for candidate Y. Your failure to vote for candidate Y, even though you had the opportunity, meant that the even worse candidate, X, was elected.

Therefore, if, in your opinion, six candidates are better than the other four, then you should vote for all six of those candidates. If you fail to do so, then you are responsible for one of those four bad candidates winning. Please do not blame others if one of those four wins, because by not voting all of your choices, you are responsible. So at the very least, you need to look at all ten candidates and decide which four you want the least. Then, vote for the other six, in your order of preference, even if you have to hold your nose to vote for some of them.

If there is more than one candidate whom you prefer approximately the same amount, then there is another consideration. One candidate will be eliminated after the first round. If you vote for that candidate as your second choice, then your vote will not count.

This is important to remember, because there might be some candidate you really like, but you do not believe that candidate has a very good chance of winning. If that is the case, then you should vote for that candidate as one of your first choices, rather than as one of your last choices.

Let’s say, for example, that you like candidate A, but you don’t think he or she has a very good chance of winning. You like candidate B about as well, but you think they have a better chance of winning.

In this case, your best strategy is to vote for candidate A as your first choice, and candidate B as your second choice. TO see why, let’s look at how your one vote could make a difference.

Let’s say that in the first round, you vote for candidate A.  Candidate B, who you also like, failed to get a majority by a single vote. If you had voted for B, then B would have won. Your vote cost that candidate the election–but only in the first round.

But no matter how many rounds the election goes, that candidate will eventually win, because you voted for them. Eventually, your other candidates will be eliminated. And eventually, your one vote will be cast in favor of candidate B. Since candidate B lost the first round by only one vote–your vote, it turns out–it is impossible for any other candidate to win. Since your guy is only one vote short of a majority, it is impossible for any other candidate to get 50% plus one vote. The best they can possibly get is 50% minus one vote, which is not enough to win the election.

However, if you voted for B because you thought B was more likely to win, then this can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If A does not get enough votes in the first round, then A will be eliminated. Your vote for A as second choice will not count, because A has already been eliminated.

Therefore, all other things being equal, it is to your benefit to vote for the less popular candidates as your first choices. If they are truly unpopular, then they will be eliminated, but you will still get to vote for the more popular candidate in the next round. And even though you ranked them lower, you will still cast the deciding vote for them.

In summary, if you want to be a responsible voter, then you should vote for six candidates, even if your sixth choice is deeply flawed, as long as choices 7 through 10 are more flawed. If a candidate you do not want wins the election, then you have no valid reason to complain, because you could have voted against that person but chose not to do so.

And if you want to vote in the most strategically beneficial way, then you should vote for less popular candidates as a higher rank than more popular candidates.

Finally, it should be noted that there is absolutely no benefit to voting for the same candidate as more than one choice. For example, assume you vote for C as both your first choice and your second choice. As long as C is still in the running, then your vote will be counted for C, no matter how many rounds the counting goes. Nobody will ever look at who your second choice was.

But if C is eliminated at some point, then the judges will look at your second choice. If C is your second choice, then this vote will not count, because C has already been eliminated. Therefore, there is no rational reason for voting for the same candidate more than once. Your second vote will not help them, and you have deprived yourself of the opportunity to vote for another candidate.

In summary, here is how you should rationally cast your ballot:

  • Vote for as many candidates as you have choices, as long as some of them are less objectionalbe than others.
  • All other things being equal, vote for the less popular candidate before you vote for the more popular candidate.
  • Never vote for the same person more than once.

All of the foregoing advice is non-partisan, and is equally applicable whether you are on the left or right.  To view my personal endorsements in the St. Paul election, please see my earlier post.

This post was prepared and paid for by Richard P. Clem, who is solely responsible for its content, and is not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.

Fun With Explosive Gasses, 1937

1947OctPS1With it being unfairly accused of responsibility for many a UFO sighting, the humble substance known as swamp gas today has an undeservedly bad reputation. But this was not the case for this gentleman using swamp gas as part of his scientific inquiry, following the plans set forth in the November 1937 issue of Popular Science, in an article with the title of “Fun With Explosive Gasses.” With a title like that, you can bet that it’s going to appear on these pages.  The article notes that hydrocarbons can be the subject of many spectacular experiments by the amateur chemist, and details a number of explosively good experiments.

The article begins tantalyzingly with some of the possibilities:

Would you like to get gas from coal without heating the coal? To make an inflammable gas that will dissolve in certain liquids as easily as sugar does in coffee? To produce a gas that burns with a flame you can hardly perceive? Or to create fiery bublles of gas, jumping about like grasshoppers, from simple everyday chemicals? These are some of the curious and interesting experiments with hydrocarbon gasses that any amateur chemist can easily perform.

The gentleman in the illustration is collecting methane, the gas that bubbles up through the water of marshes. He is collecting it by stirring up the muddy bottom and trapping the ascending bubbles under an inverted funnel.

For those without a nearby swamp, the article also explains how to mix up a batch in the lab.

The article also explains how to make acetylene. This involves first creating some chlorine gas, capturing it in a bottle, and then adding some calcium carbide and water. As the resulting acetyline reacts with the chlorine gas, it produces a flash of light and a tiny cloud of soot. “With the bombardment proceeding at the rate of several explosions a second, the bottle resembles a miniature battlefield.”

For the aspiring young mad scientist, this article should be great inspiration for a first-place science fair project.



Halloween 1917


Before the kids had video games, they kept themselves occupied with things like paper dolls, and this Halloween set from the October 1917 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal was practically guaranteed to keep the little goblins busy. The magazine suggested that the page could be mounted on muslin or linen before cutting, which would make sure they would last longer without the tabs tearing quite so easily. The magazine also suggested that a one inch strip of cardboard at the waistline, bent slightly, would allow the dolls to stand.  A slit can be cut along the dotted line on the hats, allowing them to slip on to the respective doll.

Another article in the magazine stated that despite the war, there should be some pleasure, and suggested some party ideas for Halloween.

By clicking on the image above, you can get a full-size image in case you want to try your hand with some century old paper dolls.

1947 TV Census

1947SepOctTeleviserSeventy years ago, television was just getting off the ground, and the September-October 1947 issue of Televiser magazine gives this interesting snapshot of the number of televisions in existence at that time.

The magazine estimated that there were 93,151 sets in existence in the country.  At this point, most of the numbers were fairly exact, since the limited number of manufacturers allowed them to report the exact number manufactured.

One wildcard was the limited number of prewar sets still in use, but this was also relatively easy to estimate.

One wildcard was the number of homemade and kit sets in use.   Stations were hearing more and more reports of “stations becoming increasingly aware of unspecified numbers of home-built receivers” tuning in their signals. The magazine provided a “conservative” estimate of 10,000.

New York was still the hotbed of television, with 51,500 sets, over 40,000 of them in private homes.  An additional 4000 were installed in bars, with more than 7000 on the dealer’s shelf.

Philadelphia weighed in next with 11,000 sets in use.  Washington had 3000, and the TV phenomenon was just starting to move to Baltimore, with 10 sets in homes, with an additional 90 in the hands of dealers.


1947 One Tube Matchbox Radio

1947OctPS1Seventy years ago this month, the October 1947 issue of Popular Science carried the plans for this simple one-tube receiver mounted on a chassis the size of a matchbox.

The set used few parts beyond the 1S4 tube. Tuning was accomplished by a 175-500 pF trimmer capacitor. The article noted that the small capacitor might not cover the full broadcast band, but suggested small plug-in coils to extend the range.

The set required a 1.5 volt battery for the filament, in addition to a B battery, which could be as low as 4.5 volts.



1947 Chemtrails

1947Oct27LifeSince covers such a wide variety of interesting topics, we get plenty of conspiracy buff visitors looking for evidence to prove some conspiracy once and for all.  So it’s not surprising that this is the go-to website for definitive information about such topics as Nikola Tesla or HAARP.

Today, we welcome the conspiracy theorists once again, as we provide the smoking-gun photograph establishing once and for all the existence of chemtrails.  According to the theories, your government is hard at work spraying all manners of chemicals into the atmosphere, cleverly disguised as the ordinary combustion products of jet engines.  But today, we see from this 70 year old photograph that chemtrails were actually being sprayed.  The photo was taken in Cairo 70 years ago, and appeared in the pages of Life magazine 70 years ago today, October 27, 1947.

A cholera epidemic was underway in Egypt, carried by the water supply and insects. When the epidemic reached fly-infested Cairo, desperate measures were taken. Medical supplies were rushed in from a variety of countries including the United States, Russia, and Iraq. With those three countries involved, the conspiracy buffs should have a field day!

And the chemtrail fleet was put into service, as shown in the photo. The planes were equipped with DDT and flew at housetop level throughout the city. As the planes dispersed the thick smelly fog, the nervous Egyptians below opened wide their windows, and hung out their mattresses.

Thanks to the quick intervention of the chemtrails, the epidemic was under control within a week.

Roy Gould, W6UKX, KFXM Engineer & Engineering Professor

1942Oct26BCSeventy-five years ago today, the October 26, 1942, issue of Broadcasting carried this picture of the transmitter engineer of KFXM, San Bernardino, California, who appears to be dutifully taking some transmitter readings for the log.

Because of wartime labor shortages, the engineer responsible for keeping this station on the air was a fifteen year old high school student, Roy Gould, W6UKX.  (A few days ago, we saw how wartime labor shortages led a group of New York radio servicemen to train high school students to keep their shops open for the duration.)

Gould had received his ham ticket shortly before Pearl Harbor, and had managed to get on the air, with a homemade transmitter and receiver on 10 meter AM, before the war shut down amateur radio for the duration.

Since Gould also held his first class commercial license, he managed to stay on the air by getting a job at the broadcast station, which was at the time running  100 watts at 1240 kHz, sharing air time with KPPC, a Pasadena Presbyterian Church station.

According to the caption of the photo, Gould’s plans after the war were to go to college to “become a radio engineer.”

I was able to track down Mr. Gould–or I should say Professor Gould–and learn that his plans changed somewhat, although his early days in radio were clearly the inspiration for his career.  I received a nice e-mail from him, and also found a 1996 Oral history interview.

In his e-mail, he writes:

Thanks for the links, I have never seen this picture.

I remember those days well. I used to operate the transmitter and on Sunday evenings, record a Mutual Don Lee network program on the big 16″ acetate covered disks for replay at a later time. There was no announcer in the studio on Sunday evenings so I even signed the station off at the end of the day. I also covered remote broadcasts of some of the big bands at the San Bernardino Civic Auditorium, setting up microphones and operating the control box during the broadcast.

I got my ham license W6UKX in early 1941, and did a little operating before WWII shut down ham radio. I let it lapse in the 1950’s when I was in graduate school. However, that call sign was never reissued, so I was able to get it back under the vanity call sign program in the 1990’s. I have a web page,, but for some reason it Is down now. I’ll look into that. [Here’s the 2015 archived version at the Wayback Machine.]

Thanks again for the great photo with the short note. 73.


Roy W. Gould

Prof. Roy Gould. Caltech photo.

Gould never became a “radio engineer”.  According to his biography at Caltech, he received his undergraduate degree from Caltech in 1949, with graduate degrees from Stanford and Caltech.  He became Professor of Electrical Engineering and Physics at Caltech, and served a stint as the chairman of the school’s Division of Engineering and Applied Science.

According to his Wikipedia entry, he received the 1994 James Clerk Maxwell Prize for Plasmaphysics, and served as the Director of Fusion Research at the Atomic Energy Commission.

In his 1996 interview, Gould credits his early radio experience as the seed for his career.  He reports that in high school, he was “not a very good student.”  But his uncle’s barn was full of old radio equipment and magazines, and he “used to go up there and read these things and look at the equipment, play with it and stuff like that.  I got started in electronics with crazy experiments.”  Of course, we are also advocates of crazy experiments, and students seeking inspiration will find ideas, some crazier than others, in our science fair idea posts.

The shortage of broadcast engineers meant that he was able to get the job at the radio station, which he reported as being more interesting than was going on in school.

The broadcast station where Gould got his start, KFXM, doesn’t appear to be around in its original form.  However, the station and call letters live on as a noncommercial low-power FM station, KFXM-LP.  The old AM station appears to have been a major Top-40 outlet during the 1960’s, and when it went dark, the low power FM station was licensed to The Organization For the Preservation & Cultivation of Radio to carry on the tradition.

After letting his license lapse during grad school, Gould got his ticket after achieving emeritus status, and is again active on HF, including a number of portable DX operations detailed at his website.

1967 Hart-65 One-Tube Transmitter

1967OctPEHart65Readers of this blog might remember the name Hartland Smith, W8VVD, currently licensed as W8QX.  We previously featured his steam powered transmitter, which appeared in Popular Electronics in 1965.  A number of his projects appeared in PE and other magazines, and the one showed here appeared in Popular Electronics 50 years ago this month, October 1967.

It was a transmitter for the novice which put out a very respectable 65 watts on 80 and 40 meters. It was an updated version of the author’s “Hart 25” transmitter which appeared in the magazine in 1955. Despite the increased power, the new version boasted the same price of about $20 for all of the parts.  The 1955 version had used a 6W6 tube to put out about 25 watts, along with a 5Y3 rectifier in the power supply.

The 1967 version employed a 6HB5 TV horizontal amplifier, which was said to be highly efficient at cranking out RF. Tuning was accomplished by the simple expedient of tuning the pi network for maximum brightness of the pilot lamp. Another pilot lamp was provided for monitoring the current to the crystal, since too much current could fracture it. The article noted that smaller HC6/U crystals (and almost any modern crystal designed for solid-state circuits) should not be used because they would overheat, drift, and possibly shatter.

Cathode keying was used, but since the would mean as much as 700 volts across the key, a 6 volt relay was used for safety. The built-in power supply used a semiconductor bridge rectifier.

Smith recommended a full-size dipole antenna for the transmitter, rather than trying to use it with a random wire or multi-band antenna. He did have one insight that I independently discovered years later: “If an 80-meter dipole is too long for your piece of real estate, don’t hesitate to bend it around corners, or even droop the ends. Whatever the final arrangement, make certain that you have a total of 125′ of wire in the air.”  As you can see from my fan dipole from the June 2010 issue of QST, I’m not adverse to introducing a few zig-zags into an 80 meter dipole in order to squeeze it only a city lot.

He notes that the pi network should be adequate for keeping harmonics to a minimum. However, he also advises that if TVI is a problem, a low-pass filter in line with the antenna is in order. With today’s more stringent requirements for spectral purity, it would probably be a good idea to add the extra filtering even in the absence of TVI reports.

He reported that on the air, he worked numerous stations throughout the U.S. and Canada on both 80 and 40 meters. The rig had a “click-free pure d.c. note that was a joy to copy.” It was reported to be “rock-steady” on 80 meters, and “its 40-meter stability compares favorably with that of many low-cost VFO transmitters presently on the market.”


Hart-75 Transmitter. QST photo.

Hart-75 Transmitter. QST photo.

In addition to writing articles, Hartland Smith was the proprietor of Hart Industries, which produced a number of kits (and a few wired sets), including the Hart 25.  The 1955 Popular Electronics article included the address for Hart Industries for the kit, which included the pre-punched chassis.  Another Hart Industries kit was the similarly named Hart-75 from 1956. That transmitter was reviewed by Lew McCoy, W1ICP, in the February 1956 issue of QST. Even though the basic circuit was quite different from the PE transmitter (it used a 6AG7 oscillator and 807 final), it did have one common design feature, namely, the use of the relay for keying.

The 1956 model had an interesting twist, in that a DPST relay was used, keying the oscillator and amplifier almost simultaneously. But the circuit used something called “differential keying.” The contacts of the relay were set so that the oscillator came on slightly before the amplifier, and stayed on longer. The result was that chirp was greatly reduced.


1961 Life Magazine Fallout Shelters

1961SeptLife1A year before the Cuban Missile Crisis, the September 15, 1961, issue of Life magazine carried a big section of civil defense advice to the nation, along with a letter to the American people from President Kennedy. He stated that war couldn’t solve any of the world’s problems, but that the decision was not ours alone.

Accordingly, he urged the magazine’s readers to carefully consider the issue’s contents to prepare for all eventualities. And the picture above shows how one family did exactly that by building one of the fallout shelters, the basic blueprints of which were included in the magazine. The magazine also told where you could write for more information, and it’s likely this family had done exactly that.

The view outside shows that this family’s town escaped the blast effects of the nuclear weapon, but the fallout had either arrived or was on the way. But life went on. Mom is tucking in the youngest child, while the older brother sits vigilantly near the entrance. (And the shelter did have an entrance, but since the original picture took up two pages in the magazine, it seems to have gotten cut off when the image from the two pages was combined). Meanwhile, the older sister seems to be fixing her hair, and the father is relaxing by lighting up a smoke in the relatively well ventilated enclosure. (In addition to the ventilation provided by the entryway, you can see four ventilation holes on the wall near the ping-pong table.)

The family shown in the picture below had even better protection, since their outdoor corrugated pipe shelter provided protection against the blast as well as fallout.   In this case, instead of going inside the relax with a smoke, it looks like the father is hoping to catch a glimpse of the fireball before slamming the door before the blast wave arrives.


The magazine carried plans for more shelters along with estimates for their cost, as well as some other rudimentary civil defense instructions.  It also suggested the possibilities for private community shelters, such as that constructed for the group shown below:


This shelter was in a suburb of Boise, Idaho.  Families there incorporated and bought shares for $100 each for access to this community shelter dug into a hill.  According to the magazine, the shelter had dormitories, a power plant, kitchen, hospital, and decontamination showers.  In the photo, the families were lining up in peacetime to bring in their emergency rations.


And speaking of peacetime, there was no reason to let all of that perfectly good living space go to waste just because Krushchev hadn’t hit the launch button yet, as demonstrated in the picture above of Amelia Wilson of Vega, Texas.  The family had installed a shelter in the backyard, and Amelia seized upon the opportunity to make it her clubhouse and the perfect place to get away and chat with her friends.  But as the magazine pointed out, the shelter was ready to be put to its intended use at a moments notice, as evidenced by the air blower directly above her and the exhaust pipe running out of the ceiling.  And the radio entertains her now, but it’s also all ready to go at a moment’s notice to tune in civil defense information and warnings on CONELRAD.