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Science, Maths & Technology

Kathy's Carriacou diary: Transmitter

Updated Monday, 28th January 2008

Kathy Sykes's Time and Transmitters diary, from the BBC/OU series Rough Science 2

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Day 1

Had a great day. It's lovely working with Jonathan - he's so mellow and we have the most surreal, bizarre conversations. And we managed to get so much done.

Transmitter: the sparks produce radio waves - huge change in current which leads to collapse of magnetic field which leads to big voltage.

And Jon helped me build a receiver...

Kept glancing over to see the two Mikes doing crazy things with the 'Zeus Machine' (the giant lime distiller). They were hitting it in different places with sledgehammers, clambering all over like monkeys and laughing like lunatics all day. A bizarre and entertaining spectacle!

Day 2

A long, hot and exhausting day - but a spectacular ending. It's just amazing to have convinced yourself something won't work in its current state - then you try one last tweak - and it does!

We began by stringing up an aerial for the receiver then tested out the receiver on the beach. A small square of wood, a coil, a chunk of coke, a bent safety pin and an old ear piece - I wasn't convinced it would work. But low and behold, after some attempts, we could hear a very, very faint sound of singing! My first radio receiver - ever!! Yipee! Wouldn't quite be able to dance around the room to it but if you listened really hard you could hear it - the Carriacou Christian channel!

Early on in the day we all had to help the two Mikes with their clocks. They wanted the huge, heavy water barrel at the top of the 'Zeus Machine'. Now, Zeus is about 2-3m high at the highest point - so this was no mean feat.

They told us just to do what they asked. When the 5 of us get together (especially at the end of the third day) we all start making suggestions for improvements and we can end up taking forever to explore all the options and get anything done.

But we had a small mishap - a beam that supported a critical beam became dislodged.

Me and Jonathan held the dislodged beam in place with ropes while Mike B hit it gently back into place with a sledgehammer (if Mike B can do ANYTHING gently with a sledgehammer!)

So Jon and I perched on top of one bit of Zeus, Mike B higher up and Mike L horribly close to the underside of the barrel all having been told "if it starts to go... run like hell". And it went. I was just pumped full of adrenaline. Run? Too late really. And it seemed all was stable without the beam.

Finally sorted the problem but trauma all round. Mike L doesn't like hearing too many suggestions about what to do. Jonathan always wants to give lots of options. Mike L angry that he's told to be 'in charge' then have to deal with lots of options. Ellen angry and upset. Sarah angry and upset. Film crew working on - all highly entertained and not upset at all. I suspected they'd have sorted it all out in seconds. I escaped and got on with work.

At the end of day J and I sat on the beach in setting sun, trying to get receiver to pick up transmitted sparks. We'd failed and failed. About to give up when I suggested trying a different coil in transistors. And joy ... tiny, tiny clicks - in amongst the hymns of the Christian Radio Channel. Hurrah! Chuffed to bits.


Day 3

Jonathan and I were both just dead tired today. We ended up doing far too much in the sun - especially at midday.

Began by setting up receiver in a different place - by the Lime Factory instead of at the beach. Should've been easy. But we 'lost' the position of the safety pin on the coke (which was used to receive the signal). I could've killed him actually. I knew just how long it had taken to set to a place that worked. Jon is always just too keen to make things better. So he just moved the safety pin - when it was actually not working 'cos of something else. Spent yonks finding a place that worked again. Yonks and yonks. FINALLY got it. V faintly. J said "we can do better than that - try to find another place." "NO - Don't touch it," I yelped, and explained how long it had taken me. Also reception varies at different times of the day so might be that. A wise call - he'd almost moved the pin and the coke himself again. I would've had to have killed him! (He is generally a joy to work with - this was my only frustration!)

We were building a transformer to get higher voltage out of the transmitter so it can transmit further. Thought we had loads of time but as usual it took longer than expected.

After another gorgeous lunch of bobbing in the turquoise sea, Kate told us I had to transmit the message - a word of my own choosing. I wrote it on a piece of purple paper and handed it over.

Another 'end-of-last-day' mad frenzy. Had an hour to get aerials up into position to be ready to roll at 3 pm.

Had to choose a word - began with "SUCCESS" - but realised it was just too long and hard with too many repeated letters. Went for "YES" finally.

So the big clock struck 3 pm, Mike L told me his wrist sun dial read 3 pm ... and the two production teams argued. Eventually - got the 3 pm call (again!). Ellen stuck her kite up using a bamboo pole and I tried to send a morse code "YES" to J. My sense of rhythm is appalling. Even Mike L - who would see the translation board - couldn't get it. Kept on transmitting and got better thankfully. Tried doing it fast ... and J began to get the letters. He got Y - S - but didn't stop to guess. Finally he got E ... (dot, dot, dot) rather than T which is - - - (dash, dash, dash). While J was trying to hear my morse code - the Christian Radio Station was discussing circumcision. J didn't even notice. Madness! Rah! We'd transmitted all of 50m (could've shouted further!). Did some explanations in the setting sun and really enjoyed working it all out with J. V happy! (And found out that in tests before we came here researchers had only managed to transmit 10m! V. chuffed!)


Rest day

A glorious day! Jonathan, Drew and I set off for a sail to Tobago Cays at 8.30. Everyone was taking bets on when and whether we'd return today.

Went in Reggie's 40 foot yacht which shot straight to the Cays in a few hours without any tacking. Shot past Palm Island and Union Island while sprawled on the bow in the sun, all discussing life decisions and how lucky we are. Tobago Cays are lovely. We just drank in the view - the perfect white sand and palm-lined beach. The unbelievably turquoise sea was even lighter blue than Jonathan's eyes if that's possible. We leapt in and snorkelled about happily. Parrot fish, a squid that looked like an alien, big Barracuda and just billions of lovely fish stuffing up the water.

Gulped some chilled champagne along with the glorious views. Then Drew and I snorkelled like crazy around an island, landed on a white beach, rolled around in the white sand, ran up and down the beach - then had to dash back to the boat to Jonathan and Reggie's beckoning waves. Fell into a delicious, wavy, splashy sleep. Drew, Jon and I all sprawled across the bow. We all burned ourselves senseless - probably by washing off the sun tan lotion in the sea, then sleeping under a now cloudy sky.

Ooohh! Just wondrous! In the evening we caught a steel band at the hotel. Danced and sweated our socks off. Derek and I tried out mad stuff - bull charging and leaping - he's astonishingly strong - for a SAGA bloke!

Persuaded everyone to go for a midnight swim to wash off the sweat. Milky Way the clearest it's been so far. Stars shot by overhead. Sang 'If I give my heart' in harmony (ish!) with Derek and felt at peace with the world.

Am looking forward to seeing my husband Tony - but I'll look forward to coming back too.

All went off to the Green Roof Restaurant for a merry best day dinner. Almost like a wedding with speeches and toasts. Scrumptious tuna and swordfish - and lime pie, all downed in pina coladas.

Lizanne and Cheryl arrived too (Mike L and Mike B's girlfriends). They instantly fit in and become very well liked, while the two Mikes looked chuffed to bits.





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