OTVA Newsletter June 2013
2013 NSW AGM
Date: Friday 14 June at 11.30
Venue: Level 2
NSW Bowlers’ Club
99 York St, Sydney
By 7 th June 2013
call/SMS 0411 260 542
Interstate Vets are welcome to attend.
Fellow Members of the OTVA,
I hope that this newsletter finds you and your families in good health and enjoying all that life has to offer.
Well another 12 months has passed since last year’s AGM. The 2013 AGM will be held on June 14 at the Bowlers Club in York Street Sydney. We are looking for a new editor for the OTVA Newsletter as Bob Emanuel who has been performing that role over the past few years who has asked to be replaced so that he can focus on other activities that require his time and attention. If you would like to volunteer to perform this role please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to register your interest.
It is a very rewarding job especially as you get to see first-hand many wonderful stories about the people that made OTC a great place in which to work as well as details of things that happened during the OTC era. Unfortunately not all of these stories can be printed for legal, moral and ethical reasons.
The web site http://www.otva.com/blog/) contains a list of all financial members of the OTVA and an email containing the same list has been circulated to all of the email addresses that your committee has on file. If you did not receive an email please email email@example.com so that your email address can be added to the email distribution list. Your email address will be kept private unless you specifically ask for it to be shared with others.
The OTVA web page (http://www.otva.com) and the BLOGs (http://www.otva.com/blog/) continue to be a great source of enjoyment for our members. The number of hits each month is consistently high and your committee continues to receive correspondence from ex-OTC personnel, their families and members of the public asking questions about many aspects of OTC. Many of these emails are from overseas from ex-OTC personnel living abroad or persons interested in the history of OTC.
Email continues to be a great source of communication with you our members. If you send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org I will review it and where appropriate email it out to those on the email distribution list as well as upload it to the BLOG site where deemed appropriate.
Regrettably the project to digitise Transit and Contact magazines is not yet complete. Copies of the missing magazines continue to trickle in requiring us to delay the final release of a DVD to get a more complete compilation of magazines. Your committee intends to make the DVD available to financial members of the OTVA upon request.
I extend my sincere condolences to the families of our ex-OTC brothers and/or their partners who have departed this life since I last addressed you. We are saddened by their passing but are gladdened by the fullness of their rich and long lives. May They Rest In Peace
COMPAC 50TH ANNIVERSARY
The 50th Anniversary of the opening of traffic on the COMPAC Cable is in 2013 and you are invited to join in.
A subcommittee has been established. If you wish to contribute, contact Peter Bull, email@example.com
Carnarvon SES – a brief history of the early days
The “raison d’être” for the OTCA Carnarvon satellite station was to provide a reliable communications link between the NASA/AWA tracking station located on the southern end of Brown’s Range at Carnarvon, and NASA control in the USA. In 1966 the tracking station was relying of Telecom landlines routed via a Meekatharra bearer system, and a back-up troposcatter (Troposphere scattering propagation – Ed) system to Geraldton.
When commissioned (early 1967), Carnarvon provided 7 AVD circuits to the US via the Comsat Brewster Flat earth station. Although Carnarvon had additional capacity, the number of circuits leased by NASA remained virtually static up until the tracking stations closure in the mid 70s following rationalisation of their deep-space support network. Even with the commissioning of the CVN 2 antenna (Mitsubishi 97ft antenna) in 1970, the number of active comms channels did not significantly expand, apart from a brief period where the station provided some temporary Perth –Sydney capacity while Telecom carried out upgrade work on the East-West microwave system (late 1970?), and in the late 70’s where CVN 2 was used to uplink the WA Remote Area Television (RATV) signal as part of the Government’s Homestead and Community Broadcast Satellite Service (HACBSS) initiative (the forerunner of the AUSSAT service).
The early station build was carried out by the Geraldton Building Company, who provided the station buildings and infrastructure (communications – comms – building, power house and plant workshop), road works, the initial 12 staff houses, and the antenna foundation works.
The satellite earth station equipment, one of five similar earth stations, the others being Andover, Brewster Flat, Paumalu and Philippines, was provided by Page Engineering (a subsidiary of Northrop?) as part of a turn-key installation, with the newly trained OTC staff providing the technical labour support to Page.
At the time the OTC technicians arrived on site for their OJT (on-the- job-training), the concrete antenna podium had just been completed, and the antenna components were being un-crated in preparation for assembly. Everything including our accommodation was essentially still WIP. Our first job was to lay the station earth mat, which involved several days at the bottom of some very sandy trenches (the whole site was built on one large stabilised sand dune – Brown’s Range), hammering in numerous earth stakes, then connecting them up to form the earth mat. This was carried out while waiting for the three trailers of electronic equipment to arrive on site from Perth. A good shower and a few beers were required each day to wash down the red dust.
Our accommodation at this time was the three of four houses that had been completed – three to four techs to a house, fending for ourselves, which was not too easy as we (about 8 of us) only had use of a couple of Commonwealth cars pending arrival of our own vehicles. A couple of days after the delayed arrival our cars (the transporter was forced to drive across the Nullarbor as an earlier one had lost some off its load off the high-speed freight train as the cars had not been tied down, resulting in an embargo on car transporters) we had an un-seasonal downpour and most of them were bogged outside the houses in the clay road-base mix used for the station road works – there was nothing else available in the area.
With the arrival of the 3 van/trailers on site (40ft comms and maintenance vans, and 20ft power van), and the other electronic equipment boxes/containers), our technical work commenced. As the equipment had already been integrated in the US, it was essentially matter of racking all the equipment in the comms van, then running all the interconnecting cables (mostly pre-cut to length in the US) between the vans, and the antenna mounted equipment (up and down converters, HPAs, LNAs and tracking equipment.
Unfortunately for some who were not too comfortable with working at heights, the cable running on the antenna required cable brackets to be drilled into the antenna yoke structure necessitating a couple of lucky fellows to spend much time hanging from a wooden scaffold/platform drilling and tapping holes for the brackets up to 15m above ground. The other poor sods had to put up with working in the air-conditioned vans, and coming out into the heat periodically.
At this early stage in the life of the station, apart from having to acclimatise to the heat and the dust, we had to put up with the continuous scream of the 150KVA GMC 2 stroke diesel engine that provided the source of 60Hz power to the US supplied equipment until the town mains driven permanent 50/60Hz motor converter set was delivered from England and commissioned as part of the station power work. The GM diesel remained on site in the van as the 60Hz back-up supply till station closure.
The on-site OTC project engineers were Gus Berzins (since returned to Riga, Latvia – see next item), and had Don Kennedy as his junior engineer. As this was OTC’s first satellite station there was quite a stream of Engineering and Ops visitors during the installation and commissioning phase.
(Jim Harte, if you didn’t know, was Dux of the Year twice at the DCA Technicians Training School and was also the most outstanding Technician-in Training for that year. Jim won the bits and pieces to build a stereo amplifier – do you still have it, Jim? Dennis Grant was co-runner up and was awarded a subscription to Radiotronics, the AWA valve design magazine – Ed)
Letter To The President
Not sure if we have ever met, but I am Guntis (“Gus”) Berzins and from 1960 to 1980 I was an engineer in OTC(A).
In late 1966 and early 1967 I was responsible for acceptance testing of the initial Carnarvon Earth Station, as well as being involved with the Carnarvon – Goonhilly TV transmission, which took place at the time and which was the first real time TV exchange between Australia and an overseas country. Late last year I saw in Engineers Australia that a Space Museum had been established in the earth station in Carnarvon and this stimulated me to write down my recollections of this time, as well as to collect all the photographs which I still had.
My intention was to submit all this material to the Space Museum, and I would also be glad to contribute it to the OTC Veterans Association web site. However, before signing off on it I wanted to see what else had been written about this period, so I could cross-check some of the facts, and I therefore wanted to ask if I could be given access to the restricted part of the OTCVA web site.
If necessary, I would be glad to pay the $10 and join OTCVA, recognising however that geography would probably preclude me from attending any functions in person. After leaving OTC(A) I worked for 13 years in London with Inmarsat but in 1993 returned to my original homeland Latvia, where I now live in Riga.
I still retain many fond memories of my years with OTC(A), it was a fine organisation and a great bunch of people.
With best regards,
Guntis (“Gus”) Berzins
Historical Submarine Cable Remnants Glimpsed Near Fremantle.
Along the rocky foreshore at Cottesloe just north of Leighton Beach are some corroded artefacts which in their time were highly significant for Australia’s external business and defence communications. They are the remains of submarine cables which traversed some 1721 nautical miles between Cottesloe to a relay station at Direction Island, one of the Cocos group in the north eastern Indian Ocean, and thence to other parts of the British Empire. The first cable to Cottesloe was activated in 1901, the year of Australian federation. It was owned by the Eastern Extension, Australasia and China Telegraph Company (EEAC). In WW1 the cable’s strategic significance was immediately recognised by the Germans. A raiding party from the warship SMS Emden tried to close down the Cocos Islands facility in November 1914, but were thwarted when HMAS Sydney which had been escorting the first convoy of Australian and New Zealand troops (ANZACs) to the Middle East, diverted and destroyed their ship. The undersea circuit was extended in 1920 with the laying of a cable 1,525 nautical miles from Cottesloe to Adelaide in South Australia. This was omitted from a map on a cast-bronze commemorative plaque currently on display at the Cottesloe site. In 1926 another cable was laid between Cocos Island and Cottesloe. This coincided with the opening a grand purpose-built relay station overlooking the ocean at the Western Australian end. On the domestic scene, a small cable was laid from Cottesloe to nearby Rottnest Island in 1900. A larger replacement became operational in 1935. The main overseas cables and the Cottesloe relay station ceased operation on 31 July 1966. By then it had become owned by the federal government’s Overseas Telecommunications Commission (OTC). The building still stands today, but is known at the McCall Centre. It’s become a state government residential facility for children with severe emotional and behavioural conditions. Last week I noticed the storms had exposed two differing sections of redundant cable I hadn’t seen previously. Because they were slightly south of the main terminal building they may have been related to the Post Master General department’s 1935 Rottnest circuit.
Of particular interest to me was the cleanly cut cross-section. The black rubber component still had some flexibility when squeezed with my thumb. The green verdigris (Copper Chloride as the cable is near the sea – Ed) betrays the presence of the copper conductor. I went back to the area at low tide yesterday with my wife and our 17 year old daughter to take some photos of the remains of another three cables still visible on the shallow but jagged limestone reef further north, directly in front of the old Cable Station.
NASA SUCCESSFULLY LAUNCHES THREE SMARTPHONE SATELLITES
MOFFETT FIELD, Calif.
From Gary Hausfeld via Peter Bull
A recent NASA test launch included 3 HTC Nexus One smart phones, with extra batteries and high power radio, which they are calling “Phonesats”.
These phones will take pictures and send these back to earth in bursts of data packets which then need to be stitched back together.
Amateur radio operators around the world are asked to try to receive the data packets and forward them to NASA for processing.
Details on web site:
April 22, 2013 MEDIA RELEASE: 13-32AR NASA SUCCESSFULLY LAUNCHES THREE SMARTPHONE SATELLITES MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. — Three smartphones destined to become low-cost satellites rode to space Sunday aboard the maiden flight of Orbital Science Corp.’s Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia. The trio of “PhoneSats” is operating in orbit, and may prove to be the lowest-cost satellites ever flown in space. The goal of NASA’s PhoneSat mission is to determine whether a consumer-grade smartphone can be used as the main flight avionics of a capable, yet very inexpensive, satellite. Transmissions from all three PhoneSats have been received at multiple ground stations on Earth, indicating they are operating normally. The PhoneSat team at NASA’s Ames Research Centre in Moffett Field, Calif., will continue to monitor the satellites in the coming days. The satellites are expected to remain in orbit for as long as two weeks. Satellites consisting mainly of the smartphones will send information about their health via radio back to Earth in an effort to demonstrate they can work as satellites in space. The spacecraft also will attempt to take pictures of Earth using their cameras. Amateur radio operators around the world can participate in the mission by monitoring transmissions and retrieving image data from the three satellites. Large images will be transmitted in small chunks and will be reconstructed through a distributed ground station network. More information can found at:
NASA’s off-the-shelf PhoneSats already have many of the systems needed for a satellite, including fast processors, versatile operating systems, multiple miniature sensors, high-resolution cameras, GPS receivers and several radios. NASA engineers kept the total cost of the components for the three prototype satellites in the PhoneSat project between $3,500 and $7,000 by using primarily commercial hardware and keeping the design and mission objectives to a minimum. The hardware for this mission is the Google-HTC Nexus One smartphone running the Android operating system. NASA added items a satellite needs that the smartphones do not have — a larger, external lithium-ion battery bank and a more powerful radio for messages it sends from space. The smartphone’s ability to send and receive calls and text messages has been disabled. Each smartphone is housed in a standard cubesat structure, measuring about 4 inches square. The smartphone acts as the satellite’s onboard computer. Its sensors are used for attitude determination and its camera for Earth observation.
THE COMMERCIAL BRANCH, INTERPLEX AND OTC’S NEW YORK OFFICE – Part 2.
OTC had become the unwitting victim of the Cable and Wireless MSC (Message Switching Centre) in Hong Kong, a battery of Univac 418 mainframe computers, engineered to handle private telegraph networks, customised to the needs of each individual company. Such systems and services were being offered by many international carriers, at that time, but the C & W MSC had embarked upon a campaign to target Australian telex customers, probably because they knew that OTC did not have this capability. It was apparent that OTC would continue to lose business this way, unless it had a computer-based message switching system to offer its customers, so that a network of private lines, connecting to every major office of any corporation around the world, could communicate, via the Sydney-based switch. This entailed selling the service, not just to our Australian customers, but to the corporation’s (usually multi-national) whose headquarters could be based anywhere in the world.
After OTC management were made aware of the competitive disadvantage that OTC was suffering, in this situation, it was decided to install a message switching centre for private line networks and it was to be called Interplex. At first the Interplex system comprised a number of small, stand-alone computer systems, allocated on a one-per-customer basis, but this arrangement proved too inflexible to meet all our customer needs, so an arrangement of General Automation (GA16/64) mini-computers, called “Mini-Plus” systems, was installed at Paddington, and these were capable of meeting a much wider range of customer requirements.
From that time on, the competition between OTC’s Interplex service and the C & W MSC was very keen. We won some very good accounts and we lost some important ones to our competitors. It was an area of OTC’s business which was truly engaged in competition for business with an aggressive alternative supplier, an unfamiliar scenario for many who had spent their entire careers employed in monopoly carrier situations.
One of the facts which became apparent to those of us engaged in this business, was that 45% of OTC’s corporate business was with companies based in the USA. We began to participate in International Telecom Expos, (such as the ICA) in the U.S and we soon realised that OTC needed to have a permanent presence in the U.S. if we were to succeed in this area of business. At that time, OTC management was not enthusiastic about having a representative office in another country, to talk to customers, because there was a mindset that OTC was a monopoly and didn’t need to compete for business. Fortunately this did not apply to people like George Maltby, who took the proposal to establish an office in New York, to the board a number of times, before finally gaining approval, in 1984.
The proviso which we were obliged to work with, was that no capital expenditure could be made, so everything had to be leased (presumably so we would not have to write anything off if the venture failed). I walked the streets of New York, trying to find somewhere to hang up OTC’s shingle, and finally took a space in a serviced office business, located in Fifth Avenue, near the Rockefeller Centre. I was assisted in the task of setting up this office by some good friends in British Telecom International, who were setting up their own New York office at that time, a much more elaborate, permanent and impressive affair than OTC’s modest presence.
This being OTC’s first overseas-based office, a number of things had to be considered which were unprecedented in its experience. One important detail was the selection of staff and the length of their terms in that post. I decided that three years was probably the most sensible term length, as it takes some time to become accustomed to working in a foreign country and also time to prepare for ones return home, so three years would allow a useful time in the job, once settled in. Trevor Duff was selected to fill the Manager position and Ravi Bahtia his assistant.
For our official opening, George Maltby prevailed upon an old friend, the Australian Ambassador to the United States, Sir Robert Cotton, KCMG, to officiate, and George selected the Waldorf Astoria as the venue. Our OTC PR section arranged for a New York firm to set up the location (the Ballroom) and the catering for the event. Inviting Sir Robert to officiate was a masterstroke. Although Americans are proud not to be part of the British Empire (or what’s left of it) they salivate at the presence of Royalty or British Nobles. Their responses to our invitations were overwhelming. On the night of the event we were blown away by the number of industry leaders who attended. It was a stunning success. For me, the two biggest thrills were when I talked for some time to Warren Buffet (about his buying Western Union Telegraph) and when Mike Ford, the head of British Telecom International, said to me (very quietly) “You beat us, Tom”. They had held their New York Office official opening a week before us and we both knew that what Mike said was true.
The opening of the New York office not only gave OTC a permanent presence in the USA, which was appreciated immediately by our many corporate customers and US correspondent carriers. It made possible the scheduling of regular visits to them and also set the stage for the opening of OTC representative offices in London and Wellington shortly afterwards, which were to be followed by others in Japan and Vietnam, etc, in the years that followed.
The serviced office facility which we leased in Fifth Avenue served as OTC’s office for nearly two years, by which time any doubts about the success of the project were long gone and Trevor Duff was able to move to a much nicer and better equipped facility in the main street of White Plains, outside Manhattan, but located very conveniently to many of our customers and US correspondent carriers and much cheaper than a downtown Manhattan location.
As fate later destined (unexpectedly), I was to spend the last two years of my OTC career in that office and I was able to observe, first hand, the advantages of being in a position to deal with issues which were important to OTC’s business, in the same time-frame as those people with whom we were dealing.
Sadly, a number of OTC’s corporate customers were located in the World Trade Centre twin towers and we would spend many days in meetings there, with those people, so it was horrifying to witness the destruction of those towers, on television, from my home in Australia, many years later and to hear the stories of friends who lost members of their families in that tragedy.
Practical Jokes in the MRSC
I was reminded recently in an email from Jeff Bultitude and Ian Warby of an innocent April Fool’s Day prank in the Message Relay Switching Centre (MRSC) at Paddington that had the funniest outcome.
It involved the UNIVAC Fastrand drums used to store the International telegrams to and from Australia in the era when telegrams were king.
There was no telephone IDD then and the telex exchanges were about to take over from telegrams as the main means of international business communication.
These amazing devices consisted of two large drums of metal weighing 2.25 tons, one above the other, with a magnetic surface that could have data – telegrams – written on it and then read back for sending overseas or back to the PMG. They were massive devices; no-one who worked at the MRSC can forget these magnificent units. Visitors were quite impressed, particularly the non-technical.
One was called Drum A and the other was Drum B.
It was 2350GMT – 09:50 AEST – and it was a quite April Fool’s Day in 1975. I wrote a log entry that said that Drum A had jumped out of its bearings, smashed the unit’s walls and gone through the wall of the top floor of Paddington building, falling down into the square bounded by Isenberg’s and crushing cars and people as it rolled down Oxford St.
At 0001GMT – 10:01 AEST – the log entry was “Drum A returned to service”.
The other staff thought it mildly amusing and we went on with the day.
The following morning, a few of us were in Keith McCredden’s office when an urgent call came in from an Engineer in H.O. in a very distressed voice asking why hadn’t he been told about this at the time!
Well, Keith with a huge grin, held his hand over the microphone, told us who it was and what it was about, trying so hard not to laugh.
Allan Mason, Jake Kouciba and I all spilled out into the equipment room, piddling ourselves laughing, trying to hear the one-sided conversation as Keith, showing amazing self-control in not braking up in laughter, patiently explained it was an April Fool’s Day joke, and if the Engineer had read the following log entry he would have seen the entry for what it was, an April Fool’s Day prank.
Keith then joined us in the equipment room and laughed his heart out. It was great to be alive that morning in the MRSC.
I was asked not to do it again. I couldn’t top this effort, so I didn’t.
As George Maltby and Maurie O’Connor said at one reunion, the best stories can’t be written down. There are more MRSC stories I can tell, but only after a few beers at a reunion…
POSITION VACANT – OTVA NEWSLETTER EDITOR
This is my last edition as the editor of the OTVA Newsletter. Increasing demands of my time in Blackheath means that I must pass a few things on. The OTVA Newsletter is one. To edit the Newsletter you need patience and the ability to edit copy sent in by members, often with outrageous formatting that you will need to format into the style of your Newsletter.
You will need to select your own Style.
You will need to browbeat, bully, and otherwise persuade Vets that they do have interesting stories to tell and that you can clean up their writing – I have certainly done that on many occasions whilst keeping the style of the story teller intact – that is most important. You aren’t telling the story, someone else is doing so. I can certainly continue to help in that regard given sufficient notice.
You will have to source stories from non-technical vets as well as Techs and Engineers. You must do this!
You will need to research and write stories yourself.
I liked the OTC Personality story from Brian Collath last edition and think that should be pursued – but the new editor might not want to do so.
It has been a Real Joy, an Honour and Privilege to have edited the OTVA Newsletter, but the time has come for me to go. It is time for a new editor to impress his or her style on this august journal.
And an August Journal it is – the OTVA Newsletter is circulated to a much wider audience outside OTVA, I have found out, as former colleagues from various telcos around Australia and the AsiaPac region have read it and commented favourably to me directly – but they aren’t Vets!
A pity they will not subscribe as you do.
Office Bearers 2012–13
President: Peter Bull, firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone: 0411 260 542
Secretary: Will Whyte, email@example.com
Treasurer: Vacant, but … firstname.lastname@example.org
Newsletter Editor: Vacant, but… email@example.com
Phone: 0412 062 236 or 02 4787 5558
OTVA Membership Subscription:
$10 p.a. is due in May each year.
Please check your mailer as the indication “5/13” or earlier indicates that your subs are now due.
Mail Address for Subs payments.
PO Box 702 RIVERWOOD NSW 2210
For online bank deposit details.