Anyone who worked in the tech field and lived through the Y2K bug era will no doubt recall it as a time seasoned with a confusing mix of fear and optimism and tempered with a healthy dose of panic, as companies rushed to validate that systems would pass the rollover of the millennium without crashing, and to remediate systems that would. The era could well have been called “the COBOL programmers full-employment bug,” as the coders who had built these legacy systems were pulled out of retirement to fix them. Twenty years on and a different bug — the one that causes COVID-19 — is having a similarly stimulative effect on the COBOL programmer market. New Jersey is one state seeking COBOL coders, to deal with the crush of unemployment insurance claims, which are killing the 40-year-old mainframe systems the state’s programs run on. Interestingly, Governor Phil Murphy has only put out a call for volunteers, and will apparently not compensate COBOL coders for their time. I mean, I know people are bored at home and all, but good luck with that.
In another throwback to an earlier time, “The Worm” is back. NASA has decided to revive its “worm” logo, the simple block letter logo that replaced the 50s-era “Meatball” logo, the one with the red chevron bracketing a starfield with an orbiting satellite. NASA switched to the worm, named for the sinuous shape of the letters and which honestly looks like a graphic design student’s last-minute homework assignment, in the 1970s, keeping it in service through the early 1990s when the meatball was favored again. Now it looks like both logos will see service as NASA prepares to return Americans to space on their own launch vehicles.
Looking for a little help advancing the state of your pandemic-related project? A lot of manufacturers are trying to help out as best they can, and many are offering freebies to keep you in the game. Aisler, for one, is offering free PCBs and stencils for COVID-19 prototypes. It looks like their rules are pretty liberal; any free and open-source project that can help with the pandemic in any way qualifies. Hats off to Aisler for doing their part.
And finally, history appears to have been made this week in the amateur radio world with the first direct transatlantic contact on the 70-cm band was made. It seems strange to think that it would take 120 years since transatlantic radio became reduced to practice by the likes of Marconi for this accomplishment to occur, but the 70-cm band is usually limited to line of sight, and transatlantic contacts at 430 MHz are usually done using a satellite as a relay. The contact was between stations FG8OJ on Guadaloupe Island in the Caribbean — who was involved in an earlier, similar record on the 2-meter band — and D4VHF on the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of Africa, and used the digital mode FT8. The 3,867-km contact was likely due to tropospheric ducting, where layers in the atmosphere form a refractive tunnel that can carry VHF and UHF signals much, much further than they usually go. While we’d love to see that record stretched a little more on each end, to make a truly transcontinental contact, it’s still quite an accomplishment, and we congratulate the hams involved.