Stories From an Engineering Office – #1- A Female Engineer is Hired

It happened around 1970. An exact date is beyond my memory, but I can tell you the following.

Our department within Hamilton Standard consisted of about two hundred people during the many years of the development of the Apollo Portable Life Support System (PLSS) and the environmental control system for the Lunar Excursion Module. Most of the two hundred were engineers, male engineers. True, we did employ one female engineer, but not in an engineering position. She had received her degree in the 1940’s as I recall, and she appeared satisfied with the type of work that she did. Why was she our only female engineer? I can’t speak for everyone, but I don’t think it was a lack of appreciation of the engineering abilities of women. The fact was that there simply weren’t many women in the profession at that time.  And what a time it was.

Our first hiring in the new era of a young woman engineer right out of college happened after we had finished our designs for Apollo, made the hardware, tested it, and provided it to NASA. In fact, it had already gone to the Moon. So that left just about exactly an acre of space without cubicles, a sea of desks and drawing boards containing no computers or even calculators, awash in engineers that had no contract left to support them. We then did what any upstanding company would do under the circumstances.  We started laying people off.

By the time layoffs had run their course, the leavings looked pretty bleak. Coffee mug stained empty desks were everywhere.  Those two hundred people had done a spectacular job of putting the first man on the Moon for their country, and now the country was done with them. It was truly a sad thing to see.

However, as most upstanding companies will do under such circumstances, our department went hunting for new work.  Slowly it began to happen. New work started to emerge, but it was too late for those who were transferred to other parts of the company or who had been layed off. And one day, into this sparse atmosphere, walked our first female engineer of the new era. I never met her. I never knew her name.  Why, you ask?  Read on!

This young woman had hired on to work on a project funded by the new EPA. It was that and the fact that her brother was nearby in a school for either the blind or the deaf, just another detail I don’t remember. She had accepted the offer from Hamilton based upon those two items.

The story gets kind of bizarre at this point. Her new boss, being one of us, a man that is, blindly insensitive to the aesthetics that please women, set her down at a desk in the middle of several other empty desks. He then piled half the desk high with documents having nothing to do with the EPA contract, told her to study them, and informed her that the EPA contract was delayed for a while, and she would have to do other work instead. He then turned and walked away. And just to top it all off, the desk was filthy.

I’m sure none of this was done on purpose. They would have done the same, maybe worse, if they just hired a young man. And the young man would simply have said, “OK.” Ah, but this was no simple case. This person was a young woman. The very next day I watched from my desk, maybe thirty feet away, as two guards escorted her out of our one acre wasteland of a department, never to be seen again. Goodbye, whoever you are! It was one of those “What just happened?” moments.

Later that day, one of our young male engineers stopped by my desk. If anyone would have the whole story, he would. He told me about her desire to work on the EPA contract and her desire to be near her brother. And he said in amazement that she had been displeased with what she had experienced upon arrival less than twenty-four hours earlier and had quit right then and there.

And then he said a curious thing. “If it happened to a man, he wouldn’t quit.  We don’t have the guts!”


I went on the air in 1954 and became known as KN2JOY — K, because I lived in the United States; N, because I was a novice; 2, because I lived in New York State; and JOY, because the FCC must have thought I was happy, and I was. I was awarded a license to transmit radio signals by the FCC.  And “JOY” just happened to be the next set of letters on their list.  The friend who did it with me got “JOZ”.

I was fourteen years old, and I was a ham radio operator. It hadn’t been too many years after our home phone number was simply 1220, four digits, that was all. There were no area codes then. You needed an operator to get long distance, and long distance was not all that long, but when KN2JOY went on the air, anything was possible…the whole world could hear me, and I could hear them, at least in theory, and that was exciting.  As confirmation of my contacts  I would send out what is called a QSL card.  Here is the first one I ever received back.


I didn’t invent radio, but I felt like I had. I had built two Heathkits: an AT1 transmitter and an AR2 receiver. I had put up a long wire antenna that was about twelve feet above the ground. I had a simple telegraph key, and I was connected to the largest “grid” on planet Earth — RADIO. A year later I passed another test and became simply K2JOY, a ham with a General Class license.


I built another transmitter using money I made during the summers, a Johnson Viking Ranger, one beautiful, top of the line unit.

And then life began to happen. My mother became ill. My dad needed money because of it. I sold the Ranger and gave him the money. My mother died, and life changed. Ham radio fell out of my life, and several years later I was an officer in the USAF and a new husband.

A lot of years followed that, years without a license to transmit. And then in 2002, at the encouragement of a friend, I became known on air as K7WST with an Extra Class amateur radio license this time. I’m not obsessive about it, but even without an obsession, I have enjoyed contacts with other ham radio operators all around the globe, not just the East coast. My antennas now reach sixty feet above the ground, and my first signals as K7WST are now light years out into space and well behind those of that old K2JOY guy.

The first reaction among many people is, “Why bother? Today we have cell phones and the internet. You can contact anyone on the planet with no effort whatsoever.” It’s a fair question. And it represents the point where those of us in amateur radio say, “They just don’t get it, do they.” Well actually, millions of people do get it. There are literally millions of people around the world who are licensed amateurs. In the U.S. alone, one in every four hundred people are licensed hams. In my town of just a little over twenty thousand people, there are one hundred and seventy-one licensed amateur radio operators. Given that, there are at least one hundred and seventy-one different reasons for why they do it. Some because they like the gadgets, some because they like the challenge of making contacts around the globe, some because they want to help their community during times of disaster. Some of them are gregarious, extroverted people. Some are introverted. It doesn’t matter. You can be any type of person and enjoy amateur radio. You can be the most private person in the world and still like contacting other stations thousands of miles away.  And come on, do you really know someone in Bora Bora who is willing to accept your phone call or email?  You can bet there is a ham there who will listen to your morse code!

You can design and build your own equipment and antennas, or you can buy those same types of equipment and antennas from a myriad of companies in the amateur radio business. The ways you can lead your ham radio life are nearly endless.

Admittedly, amateur radio requires your learning about many technical issues, but you don’t have to be an engineer or scientist to do it. Plenty of people of all ages and backgrounds get licensed. There are numerous cases of children under ten years old who have licenses. And what do they receive in return? They learn about the sun, the atmosphere, even the ground and the oceans. They learn that you can bounce signals off just about anything: the moon, buildings, mountains, the Northern and Southern Lights. They learn about geography, time zones, sun up, and sun down.

And if you like competitive events, amateur radio has many, many contests for a wide ranging list of interests.

So, let’s look at amateur radio in more detail.

What Does a Station Look Like?

In its simplest form, all you need us a transmitter, a receiver, and an antenna. Nowadays, transmitters are usually built as one unit, a transceiver. Here is how I started back in 2002.


The transceiver is a used ICOM IC-737. At the time I had been awarded AC7VM for a call sign, but having an Extra Class license, I was allowed to pick a different unused call sign. I chose K7WST. Why that? Well, it had some advantages. First, it is rhythmic for the hand when sending it by Morse code. Second, WST are my wife’s maiden initials. I could have waited to get a call with just two letters after the seven, but that takes a lot of waiting.

The antenna was a GAP (a manufacturer) multi-band (meaning it worked for several different frequency ranges) vertical. Vertical antennas tend to pick up more noise, but they send your signal out at a low angle, which usually gets you longer distances. And in fact, my longest distance contact was made with that antenna. I still use it today.

My station today has picked up a few more transmitters, receivers, a new transceiver, and two long wire antennas. I won’t go into all the details, but here is what my station looks like now.  It’s actually the QSL card I use at present.


What can you do with an amateur radio station?

We’ve touched on this subject, but there is a lot more to learn. I, for instance, pretty much only use Morse code. I could say that I do that because my wife is related to Samuel F. B. Morse, which she is, but that’s not why I do it. I do it because I like sending code. It’s fun. It also tends to go longer distances and still be understandable. It doesn’t take as much power as voice transmission, and it doesn’t take as much bandwidth (the spread of frequencies that comprise your signal).

When I got my license, you had to know Morse code. Now you don’t. So you can just use your voice if you like. I made a contact with someone in Brazil by voice, with only five watts! And that brings up another issue. How much power can you use? There is a limit, a legal limit. It’s fifteen hundred watts. That’s plenty. I would guess that many, if not most hams use a hundred watts or less. Most transceivers are built for one hundred watts. If you limit yourself to a maximum of five watts, it is recognized in the ham world as “QRP”, meaning low power. Some contests and other awards require that you use the QRP mode.

One of the more interesting awards that is not a contest is set up by a British group, IOTA, Islands On The Air. The idea is to contact all of the saltwater surrounded islands on their list. Check them out at on the web.

Besides contests and awards programs, you can participate in disaster support, collect contacts with stations at a great distance from you (DX’ing), experiment with radio designs, or just find a good friend and talk.

How does your signal go around the world?

No doubt you have heard of the ionosphere. If you haven’t, I’ll give you a simplified explanation. It is a series of layers containing ionized (electrically charged) particles (electrons, atoms, and molecules). It is at a height of about 30 miles to 600 miles above sea level. It changes constantly, especially from day to night, but also as a result of the activities of the sun. At any rate, it was amateur radio operators that found they could bounce signals off the ionosphere, thus getting the signals to travel well beyond the horizon. The distance from a station to the place where it’s signal hits the earth again after bouncing off the ionosphere is typically around two thousand miles. And it can then bounce back up and continue bouncing around the globe. Under the right set of conditions, it will actually bounce all the way around and back to the originating station. Conclusion? You can potentially contact anyone anywhere on the face of the Earth!

OK, there are a few problems with this story. Storms interfere, the state of the sun determines the strength of the ionosphere, and of course, someone has to be listening and hear your transmission. If there were no challenge to doing it, if it were easy, why bother? Challenges in life are part of the fun. You will find, however, that it won’t take long before you have contacted any number of far off places.

At very high and ultra high frequencies, especially the latter, things don’t bounce off the ionosphere well. They go right on through, but you can still bounce your signal off the Moon. True, it takes specialized equipment, but many hams do it.

This is only a broad look at how radio waves propagate. As you get more into amateur radio, you’ll learn a lot more.

Acronyms and Abbreviations 

Probably more than any other sport, hobby, or profession, except medicine, amateur radio has a long list of specialized terms, acronyms, and abbreviations. And there is a good reason for it all, brevity on air. In addition to all that, it carries with it the terminology of mechanical, electrical, and electronic engineering, and now, computing. Ham radio covers a wide range of technologies, anything from the mechanical aspects of putting up large towers capable of withstanding storms to the use of computers to operate transceivers and other devices.

Obviously, this booklet is too small to provide explanations for all the terminology you may encounter, and you shouldn’t be worried about it anyway. You’ll learn as you go, and you don’t have to know it all, just as much as you need. It’s always easy to look things up. The ARRL website and others can provide lists of abbreviations and acronyms that are particular to ham radio.


There are clubs galore. They are great places to find help. They are great places to find like minded hams. Probably the mother of them all is the Amateur Radio Relay League, the ARRL. You can find them at They publish a monthly magazine, “QST”. Yearly membership in the ARRL is not very expensive, and you get QST monthly as part of the deal, either as a paper magazine or an ezine, or both.

Without looking very hard, you will find local clubs in your area.

Reading Material 

There seems to be no end of books and magazines about ham radio. The ARRL publishes a pretty long list, including a set of very helpful books on how to get ready to pass the needed tests.  And then there is the internet. Go there and go crazy!


Money, it’s always money! OK, so it can be expensive or cheap. There is used equipment all over the place for good prices, including on the Internet. Just learn first. Get to know other hams. Their advice will be a great help. Virtually all hams are happy to be helpful. If you have only a little money to spend, you can always find what you need, even if it means fixing a transceiver that no longer works, building a kit, or waiting until you find the best deal. Antennas can be the cheapest part of the whole thing, or you can spend until you’re blue in the face. At any rate, cheap or expensive, the main ingredient is time and effort. All you really need is enthusiasm! 

Go for it! It will change your life!

Here are are few websites that will come in handy:

Seattle Night Skies

During a sunny day in the summer, it is hard to beat the views of the Seattle/Puget Sound area.  Night time is another story.  True you can see the moon come up over Puget Sound or the Cascade Mountains, depending on where you are in the area.  And it is many times quite beautiful.  Its reflection on the sound at night can be stunning also.

So here’s the problem.  It never seems to be truly clear at night around the Puget Sound.  There is always some haze or clouds.  I remember sleeping outdoors on a lake in Maine many years ago — talk about a clear sky!  WOW!

Yet we have one little secret we never told you…until now.  You can go for a whole month in the summer here without a cloud in the sky.  Summers are gorgeous, but for that pesky night thing.

You can pretty well count on a lunar eclipse, or a Northern Lights, or a meteor shower happening with hazy skies,  rainy skies, or cloudy skies without rain.  They play it up big several days ahead on the news, and then BANG!  You can’t see anything of interest at night, except the lights of Seattle.  Admittedly, they are a sight, but the eclipse, the meteors, the aurora — no such luck.

Recently there was a lunar eclipse, the fourth this year that could be seen from here if it were clear, but it wasn’t as I remember, for any of them.

Back when I lived in Connecticut, our house was on the side of a hill that looked a long ways out over the Connecticut River valley.  And as it so happened, I owned an 8 inch Celestron telescope.  And a lunar eclipse was predicted.  In those days I never heard it called a “blood moon,” but now everyone calls it that as though it were some new thing, rather than just hype.

Did I mention that I also owned a film SLR camera back then?

Blood Moon



I received my Master of Science degree from RPI in 1977.  What was the most interesting thing I learned, you ask?  The dirty little truth of the metric system.

Hey, units of measure have been a problem right from the start.  It got so bad at one point that standards for units of measure were spelled out in the Magna Carta!  Go look…it’s true.

The problem was taxes.  One year the king wanted higher taxes, but instead of raising the number of bushels a farmer owed, the king simply changed the size of an official bushel.  So, when they forced the king to agree to the Magna Carta, they included standardized units of measure in the document.  That worked until King Charles I started ignoring the Magna Carta.  And from that came rhymes like, “Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water…”  At the time, Jack, Jill, and pail were all units of measure.  The rhyme goes on to say that “Jack fell down, ” referring to a change in the size of a Jack.  “And broke his crown” referred to the king.

And then there was another rhyme, “A pint’s a pound the world around.” Where did that come from?  Well, according to our Heat Transfer professor, who once spent a whole class period decrying the metric system, it was part of a union protest song against the incorporation of the metric system.  As you are aware, pints and pounds do not belong to the metric system.

So, what’s the big deal?  Why don’t we just change to the metric system and have done with it?  And here is where it gets interesting.  The primary reason why we in the United States stay with the English system of units is…you waiting for this?…screw threads!  There is no equivalency between metric thread sizes and English thread sizes.  The cost to manufacturers to make the change over in thread sizes, not only for their products, but also their machines, their instrumentation, their drawings, their documents, their tolerance studies, their stress analyses, their product literature, their stock of replacement parts,  the number of screws used in their parts, the number and type of screws stockpiled for new and replacement products, and the product literature for customers and customer service people would cost huge amounts of both time and money.  Guess who would pay for that…YOU!

And what is truly laughable about it is that few, if any countries are running completely on the metric system.

So here is another little thing you may not know.  Calories are not in the metric system.  For all intents and purposes, calories don’t exist.  I can’t wait to tell all the weight loss gurus that it is Joules, not calories, that are the units of energy recognized by the metric system.

Another well known secret that we aerospace engineers try not to tell anyone is that all length dimensions on airplanes and spacecraft are recorded in inches and decimals of inches.  We don’t use feet.  We don’t use yards.  Try to find anything but inches on our drawings or in our calculations?  Lots of luck!  I wonder how far it is to the sun in inches.  Somewhere around 5.9 trillion inches I believe.  No wonder it takes so long to get there.


I touched on this a little in my previous post on music, GOT RHYTHM? — 2, when I mentioned that the rhythm of a steam engine can be heard in the left hand of boogie woogie when played on a piano.  And that brings up the question of just what is it that has created various musical rhythms throughout the history of music?

Obviously, I am not professional musician.  I had one music course in college, an engineering college, and I don’t remember much about it.  So, it is safe to say that I am far from a musical scholar.  That I have played the piano for nearly seventy years and have listened to all sorts music, new and old, is all that I can claim.  So, here is my generalization about the creation of musical rhythms through the part of musical history with which I am familiar.  Rhythm is about movement of the human body!

And you are now saying in your head, “Tell me something I didn’t already know.”  When you think of the movement of the human body as it relates to music, you usually think of dance, but I’m not talking about dance.  I’m talking about “transportation” — the rhythm of walking, the rhythm of riding a horse, the rhythm of riding in a horse drawn carriage, the rhythm of riding in a ship, the rhythm of riding on a train.  And I admit this is truly a generalization, but you can hear those different rhythms become commonplace in music as the modes of travel become commonplace in history.  You may have to listen to some classical music all the way up through boogie woogie, but I would argue that changes in commonplace modes of travel cause changes in commonplace musical rhythms.

Modes of travel and modes of music share a common desire…freedom!  Maybe that’s why they share rhythms.

What do you think?

(So here is a small digression related only to riding horses — another piece of history on which I am not an expert.  Military tanks are part of the  “cavalry”.  And that is because they replaced horses on the battlefield as a weapon of war.  Tanks have been around about one hundred years as the premier mobile weapon on the ground.  Prior to that, horses were the premier mobile weapon of war on the ground.  Horses on the other hand, held the job for four thousand years!  Do you think tanks will ever match that record?)