Monday, August 31, 2015

Post 31

Commander McDonald's South Sea Adventure


--when he set off to find these two people, who call themselves The "Ritters." 

They are Dore  Strauch, and Dr.  Ritter.  Dore Strach was  a beautiful woman, as shown by the photo above.  And Dr. Ritter  equally handsome.   The two   had resolved to move from Germany and and create a new Eden in the South Seas. They selected Floreana, one of the  Galapagos group of Islands in the South Pacific Ocean.  The couple were resolved to live as Adam and Eve in paradise, and equally unclothed.   
(Note:  Isn’t that the dream of nearly every man and woman—to get away from this mad world and its wars, and to live in a paradise of their own making?)

The Commander had perhaps heard rumors of their existence and had resolved to find them and learn their story.  So he fitted out the Mizpah for a South Pacific adventure, and with some friends, set out to find the Ritters.  At the same time-quixotically--he was prepared  to search for pirate treasure . 

The Mizpah
Commander McDonald didn’t just sailed his yacht the Mizpah on Lake Michigan.  The Mizpah was 143 feet  in length and fully capable of sailing the ocean blue. When it traversed Lake Michigan, it was classed as a “boat,” but when on the ocean, it was called a “ship”, and it a ship it was.
So he set off down the Intercoastal waterway, through the Panama Canal to the Pacific Ocean, and set course for the Galapagos Island located in the 
South Pacific.  As a captain of ships, and as a world-class navigator, he was fully capable of doing this.  After all, he had been in command of the one of the two ships that made up Commander MacMillan’s exploration of the Arctic ( as reported in Post 11).  
Eugene F. McDonald Jr.  

But  let's let McDonald tell the story of his South Seas adventure in his own words.

While on a cruise to the South Seas on my yacht Mizpah in the winter of 1930, I put in for a day or so at Post Office Bay on the rocky coast of Floreana, or Charles, Island, in the Galapagos group. This island, just a few miles south of the equator, was supposed to be uninhabited. But here we thought to find The Ritters.

 Author’s Note: The Galapagos are a group of islands in the South Pacific Ocean created eons ago by an underseas  volcanic eruption.  Among them is a tiny island called “Floreana,” shown at the bottom of the map. That is the island where the Mizpah dropped anchor.


.The bay was empty.  A barrel, which has served this part of the Pacific as an unofficial post-office since early whaling days, stood on the shore. I had heard of this famous barrel, so went ashore with my guests to investigate. In the barrel we found a note in German directed to the master of any vessel that might anchor. Two people were on the island, we learned from the note. They were short of food and had been forced to move inland for water. One of them was injured. They requested the master to sound his whistle or fire a gun and they would come to the shore. We blew our whistles and sirens, fired our one-pounder, and played our searchlight over the island during that first night, but no one appeared.

   The following morning I organized four searching parties made up of my guests and ship's officers and started them out in different directions to search the island. One of my searching-parties as headed by Baker Brownell of the Northwestern University faculty, who incidentally was the only man among my guests who knew German, found Dr.  Ritter and Dore Strauch. They were well inland, about an hour's march on a faint trail through the desert brush and over broken lava rock, but had heard our gun and were headed towards the shore. They were dressed in ragged clothes and their shoes were cut to pieces by the rocks. They greeted joyfully the little group headed by Mr. Brownell.

   Mr. Brownell brought them out and aboard the yacht. We had a long talk with them and got part of their story. They had come to the island five months before, well supplied with food, but they had been forced to move inland to the mountains because of the shortage of water. They had left most of their stores in a cache near the beach. These stores had been stolen by men from some vessel, perhaps a fishing-boat. Without medicines or antiseptics, with no guns, very few tools and almost no food, Dr. Ritter and Dore were in a bad way. She had fallen on the sharp lava rocks and had cut her knee to the bone. This almost disabled her. He had injured his arm and side in a fall through the branches of a tree. The red-bearded doctor, about forty years old, and the young and beautiful girl could probably not have kept going much longer

We gave them enough supplies for a year or more—food, medications, tools, a rifle, pickaxes, shovels, even dynamite, for among our other adventures we had been digging for treasure on Cocos Island; and then we sailed away.

    As we left the island I sent a radiogram from my yacht to Jim Foster of the Associated Press, telling him of our experience. This was the first news that came to civilization from the Galapagos Islands about the Ritters. By giving this first news I unintentionally started the avalanche of publicity that has fallen on the Ritters through the past five years. After weeks of cruising with my six guests, U. J. Herrmann, Charles Hanna, John Lock, Baker Brownell, George Fox, and L. G. Fitzgerald, and the crew of the Mizpah, among lonely islands of the Caribbean and the tropical Pacific, this seemed a bit of harmless news. Of the public attention that followed and its eventual effect on the Ritters there was no foretelling.

   A warm friendship sprang up between us and the Ritters. I sent them letters and supplies whenever I learned that a boat was calling there, and they in turn wrote me whenever a ship came by. Some of their letters to Mr. Brownell and I were edited and published by the Atlantic Monthly in the form of three articles signed by Dr. Ritter. The reports of yachtsmen and others who later visited the Ritters were worked up into innumerable feature stories in the Sunday supplements and the magazines.

   Then came Dr. Ritter's tragic and still mysterious death and Dore Strauch's return to Germany. I urged her to set down the account of her experiences on the island and her brave life with the man for whom she left home and friends. She has a marvelous story to tell. It is far stranger and more fascinating than many an imagined tale of adventure.

You can get this book from  Amazon--Amazon  (Click on the underscored word Amazon.)
 Note 1:  You can also read excerpts of the book by opening the cover where it says:  "Read Inside This Book."  

McDonald’s account that  you read in the beginning of this article became the foreword to the book Satan Comes to Eden.  McDonald  persuaded Dore Strauch to write an account of the adventures of "the Ritters," and the book that resulted became an international best seller, as Dore Strauch proved to be a superb writer.  
Theirs is a story of what became a mad adventure featuring the Ritter's attempt to achieve their dream on an island that was far from natural paradise, but rather a rugged, forbidding chunk of  of lava erupted from the sea, and a landscape full of mysterious caves, and a sharp terrain that would actually cut the shoes from your feet.  It is a story of an island peopled largely by refugees from society, and included a mad “baroness” who had resolved to make Floreana her own  kingdom , and nearly succeeded, although opposed bitterly by Dore Strauch. 
The Baroness. (Sorry that the photo is so bad.The word description below is better. )  
Here is a description of the Baroness by Dore:
The Baroness differed from all the others in that she did not come on foot, but riding on a donkey, with her retinue on foot beside her. She was of rather less than medium height, and platinum blond. Her very wide red mouth, with the rather prominent protruding teeth, was her most conspicuous feature. Her eyes were hidden behind dark spectacles. She wore a kind of workman's overall with sandals on her bare feet, and a bĂ©ret sat jauntily upon her head. It was all obviously composed for effect, but was not without a certain artificial charm. If this was a mere Baroness, she certainly behaved as though she were at least a queen. The most assiduous of her courtiers was the young German Wittmer had referred to. He now carefully helped her to dismount, and without waiting for an invitation pulled over one of our deck chairs and settled her solicitously in it. This done, the Baroness “received” me.
I bade her welcome, though somewhat with the feeling that she regarded Friedo more or less as hers already. I pointedly ignored the hand-kiss she evidently expected, by simply shaking hands with her in the ordinary manner. By the slight shade of annoyance which crossed her face, I realized that a duel between us had begun and that the first point had gone to me. 
The  sexual demands of the baroness were said to be  insatiable, and the two young men who attended her solely for that purpose were said to be physically exhausted.  

Satan Comes to Eden is a thrilling story and well worth a mid-summer's read.  

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The  story of McDonald's South Sea Adventure was made available by Bryan McDonald, grandson of Commander McDonald. The description written by McDonald  was used as the foreword of the book Satan Came to Eden.

Bryan McDonald
  Like his grandfather, Bryan is a sea-loving sailor.  He is seen often in 

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It turns out that not only was a book published  about this adventure, but also a movie titled The Galapagos Affair.  It is available from Barnes and Noble. It is titled-- 

As the caption says, it is  A true-life story rife with melodrama, caustic lifestyles, sexual intrigue, and suspicious deaths--Todd McCarthy. THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER. 
Available from Barnes and Noble. To read the review,  just click on the underscored title--The Galapagos Affair
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In the last Post, Post 31, we talked about "throwing the baby out with the bath water," a term applied to John Nevin's discarding promising products.  It means, of course, discarding engineering products deemed worthless, even though they are producing some revenue along with a promise of more.  

Casting about for a drawing or cartoon that illustrated this, the author came upon this 15th Century print--


Some of the "babies thrown out" include--

  • The entire Zenith  Research Department under Bob Adler, and all of its products, as described in Post 29. 
  • The Government and Special Products Division under William Van Slyck, and all of its products  described in Post 12.
  • Alfred Ditthardt's Paging System
  • Miscellaneous products considered marginal, like the facility for renovating picture tubes.
  • The light amplifier.
  • Many et ceteras. 
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WALTER S. CICIORA has prepared an historical document on important aspects of Zenith’s history, especially those centered on the development of the products that brought Zenith success. The following comprises text excerpts  from his paper titled Zenith and the ‘Information Age.’ Comments on Zenith Cable & Subscription Television and Teletext,” by Walter S. Ciciora, Ph.D.
Walter Cicora

Because of its length and invaluable details,Walt's paper will be offered in installments, one installment in each coming Post of this Weblog.  The First Installment covers Walt’s work with television signals and the problems with multipath.  This Second Installment in this Post 31 covers Walt’s work and comments on Phonevision.

           Installment 2. Ciciora’s Comments on Phonevision and Cable Systems

(Author’s Note:  The three  internet addresses (URL’s) shown in the following provide invaluable supplements to Ciciora’s comments. Just clicking on the underscored word  will take you right to the article.  If not, just copy and paste the URL into the address bar of your browser.)

Zenith pioneered pay television with research that began in 1931.  Zenith’s president, Commander Eugene F. McDonald, Jr., believed that advertising would not support sufficient programming to generate a vibrant market for television receivers.  So he assigned the R&D department to develop an over–the-air pay television system called Phonevision.  He believed that pay television would be a reason to purchase television receivers.  The wonderful early television museum (http://www.earlytelevision.org) has a great collection of pictures on its web site and television equipment at the museum, including very early mechanical television receivers with rotating disks that actually work.  A visit to that museum is mandatory for anyone interested in television history.  The story of Phonevision is on one of their web pages: (To view the article, just click on the URL.) 

Phonevision was introduced on May 1, 1950 in Chicago using telephone lines to supply synchronization signals that were deleted at the television transmitter.  After much further development and testing, an advanced Phonevision system was launched on June 19, 1962 in Hartford, Connecticut.  That test lasted until January 31, 1969.  Phonevision was discontinued in 1970.  Its two main problems were massive opposition from the Theater Owners of America and the fact that television was still mostly monochrome.  Also, see

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Dr. Ciciora’s Comments on the Zenith Cable System

I worked in Zenith’s R&D as a summer student in 1966 and 1967 and began full time in 1969.  My first project involved digital signal processing to securely scramble the analog television signal.  A great deal of RandD went into methods for securing pay TV signals.  Zenith would return to pay TV much later.

In 1975, HBO demonstrated the practicality of delivering television via geostationary satellite.  This is a satellite traveling in an orbit that enables it to travel around the earth at the same speed as the earth rotates.  It appears to be stationary over a point on the earth’s surface.  A satellite receiver dish could be aimed at just one point and would not have to track the satellite’s motion.  The breakthrough HBO program was the “Thrilla in Manila,” a Heavyweight Championship prize fight between Mohammad Ali and Joe Frazier.  Cable system growth sky rocketed after that. 
Mohammed Ali
 Numerous specialized cable networks copied HBO's lead and went nationwide via satellite.  For example, John Coleman, the well-known Chicago weather man attended cable conventions and then co-founded the Weather Channel. 
Chicagoans will recall this group! John Coleman is  shown at the left. (Photo by Wikipedia.) 
Everyone wanted cable.  But it takes time and money to build cable systems.  This presented an opportunity for Oak Industries and Hollywood entrepreneur Jerry Perenchio to create ON-TV in 1977.  ON-TV used a simple scrambling system on UHF over the air television stations to sell pay TV to areas that did not yet have cable.  The business model was similar to Zenith’s Phonevision.  Monty Rifkin was president of American Television and Communications, ATC, then the largest U.S. cable company.  

Monty Rifkin
Monty Rifkin liked the idea of over-the-air subscription television for places ATC had not yet built cable systems.  He tried to buy the technology for his use.  But Jerry Perenhio insisted on a percentage of the revenue in addition to selling the set top boxes to Rifkin.  This was not acceptable, and so Rifkin hired entrepreneur John R. Thompson to develop a scrambling system specifically designed not to infringe the Oak patents.  Thompson invented the Suppressed Sync and Active Video Inversion, SSAVI, system covered by U.S. patent 4,222,068, assigned to ATC,   filed November 1978 and issued in September of 1980.  The next consideration was the manufacture of the Subscription Television, STV decoder.  

Thompson had a previous relationship with Zenith and knew about Zenith’s modular television design.  He approached Zenith about purchasing the tuner module and other components. Zenith’s Jim Faust had a better idea.  He negotiated a deal in which Zenith would manufacture the entire decoder for ATC for over-the-air subscription television.  The SSAVI system was superior to the other scrambling systems which were beginning to be defeated by “pirates.”  Gordon Kelly headed a small group of engineers who developed the SSAVI STV decoder implementation.  Richard Merrell was heavily involved in the digital aspects of the decoder and Ken Karner did the mechanical design. 

It was clear that this technology could also be used to secure cable television set top boxes.  Jim Faust negotiated a license to produce and sell a cable version of the SSAVI scrambling system.  It was a bit more expensive than other scrambling systems, but it more strongly resisted compromise.  And it had Zenith’s superior infrared remote control.  Nearly all other remote control systems had to be carefully aimed at the receiver and required fresh batteries.  Zenith’s patented digital signaling system developed by Robert Podowski, was extremely sensitive, requiring almost no aiming and was very reliable.  It was a major advantage over competing set top boxes. 

Meanwhile another important technology was under development at Zenith based on systems developed and deployed in the United Kingdom, and under development in France and Canada.  The technology was the beginning of the information age in consumer electronics.  The system was called Teletext. 

Teletext and its development,  as described by  Dr. Ciciora, will be covered in a later Installment.

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Alfred Ditthardt and Zenith’s Video Disc Program

First,  a little background.  Everyone is familiar with the CD and the DVD, and both are in everyday use by those who use the common tools of communication. They are essentially “video discs,” and Zenith Research scientists and engineers were a part of the earliest investigations, as well as a part of  multi-company efforts to develop the video disc. Al Ditthardt worked on this project at Zenith.  He provides some of his reminiscences in the following.account.   

But first, a little background.  Here are the common video discs made today-- 

The "CD" and the "DVD" shown are commonly known world-wide. The discs are usually rotated and "read"  in a little player that emerges like a drawer from the side of a major playback unit, in this case, a lap-top computer--

Now, Al Ditthardt’s description in his own words--
In  the 1970’s, engineers from Zenith Research had traveled to European technical conferences where presentations of possible new video recording methods were being given. Remember, that up to this point in electronics, most people could only view live over-the-air television, as there were no VCRs or DVRs as we know them today. Broadcast networks used tape-recording devices, but these were  very expensive, bulky and  hardly a consumer-usable item. Predictors of the future  had the sense that there would be a market for video players. And there was!

In Germany, work was being done by Telefunken-Decca on a mechanical system using a thin plastic disc spun under a very small mechanical sled-stylus pickup. The pictures from a new disc were of good quality, but after a few plays, the disc would become worn and noisy. But the idea of an inexpensive home video player was still intriguing. The concept was brought to the attention of Zenith, and a research team was assigned in the hope that improvements in the concept could be made.

A second program was being pursued by Thompson CSF in France. Thompson CSF also used a thin plastic disc, but the readout was accomplished via laser optics, and on a thin, transparent plastic disc. To keep the laser on the correct track, the readout lens was moved radially with piezo ceramic actuators that kept the laser light on the correct spiral track.  If I recall, the lens mechanism resonated and was tricky to control. However, aspects of the helium neon laser optical system looked promising, and a second team of Zenith researchers was put to work on this concept.

Yet a third video disc methodology--a capacitive system--existed at RCA. A very small probe--which was not in contact with the disc--but was used to form a capacitor with the metallic information on the disc. Variations in this capacitor modulated a microwave oscillator which was then demodulated down to video. The effective readout spot was smaller than that of a laser, offering the possibility of storing more video or computer data on one disc. However, handling the disc was difficult, and its surface could be easily scratched or otherwise damaged.

So there was a kind of competition between groups and companies to arrive at the best video disc technology. The irony of this is that the technology that eventually won out worldwide were magnetic tape players in the form of first Betamax, and then VHS cartridges. (Who can forget those two , and the struggle between them for ascendancy?)

I was assigned to the optical video disc program at Zenith Research located in some back rooms next to the loading dock. There was a team of perhaps 20 researchers working on mechanical, capacitive and optical disc players. The figure  shows a laboratory prototype player operated by a much younger Al D.

Al Ditthardt with lab-type prototype

The player used a red helium neon laser mounted under the playing deck and multiple mirrors to bring the light to the readout optics at the lower right. The spinning disc hovered over the two angled aluminum plates and slowly moved under the readout optics.
A feature of the Zenith player is shown in below--

It is a small mirror that can move quickly both side to side as well as up and down. Early versions had the problem of resonance similar to that of the Thompson-CSF player in France. If you accidentally hit the player, the readout would be interrupted.  This mirror had the benefit of a small copper ring next to the mirror which damped out the oscillations. and provided a more stable readout. The nice part of this solution is that any unwanted mirror movement in any direction could be controlled.

Working on the disc was fun. I had promised fellow engineer Karl Wossidlo a beer if he could “do” +/-2 degrees of movement of  his mirror. He did the two and I had to pay up!

(Note:  Wossidlo once was once an officer in  Rommel’s Africa Corps Army who was captured and became an American POW.  He  stayed in the U.S after the war and became a U.S. citizen.   He was a great raconteur of his adventures in the war!   He was also happy to tell you that he had a GI mortgage (which he had "assumed," of course.)  

Ditthardt continues--

Another time, we all gathered in John Rennick’s lab to see the very clear video they had produced by filtering out noise from the optical signal. We were all pleased by the improvement in picture quality. The earliest recordings made at Zenith were of a Budweiser commercial, and I can still visualize those giant Clydesdale horses moving across the screen!

The next photo shows the  player" lash-up" made by our group—


We took this cart all over, giving demos at dealer shows, conferences and even board rooms. We were in Tucson, Los Angeles, and Newark, and even in Toronto at a Sears-Simpsons store. It showed the world that Zenith Research was doing advanced stuff. Usually we would arrive late at the demo site and have to hustle to get the optics back in alignment, or fix a loose connection. But it was fun.       

The advantages of the video disc, even in its embryonic stage at Zenith, were: (a) high density storage of information, (b) easy replication of discs by stamping and (c) easy location/retrieval of info in playback mode. It was the “child: of the laser. The disadvantages of the Zenith disc, at that time, were that  the thin disc could not be protected against scratches,  and that low-cost sources of laser light and optics were not as yet available. It would only be a few years, and the solid state laser would arrive.

The major disadvantage of the video disc was that magnetic video tape cassettes could be recorded using over-the-air material for programs. That not being able to record should be such a marketing disadvantage, should have been anticipated by a more astute marketing group. Information on desirable new products usually filtered up from the large Zenith sales network and, in my view, new product marketing advice on the video disc was weak.    

Another irony was that Zenith Research had two engineers who had worked at Cartridge Television Company in California. The company had developed a  successful magnetic player, but went bankrupt. I car-pooled with these two engineers whose names are Crosno and Brown, and they would often discuss magnetic players all the way home. They knew what the improvements were that could be made to a magnetic system, and how to make them. Crosno and Brown even approached Zenith management with their ideas for developing an improved magnetic player, but were rebuffed.

In the early days at Zenith, the optical laser system used a transmissive disc where the light passed through a clear disc to a detector below. This detector kept the readout spot at the right location, and also changed the optical laser light information to an electronic signal. A close-up picture of the disc itself is shown in the next Figure—

The master stamper is recorded using a more powerful laser modulated to create these pits. Figure 4 provides an even closer view of these pits, which are about one-third of a micron wide!—

A human hair is about 100 microns so the information storage possibilities were readily apparent early on. 

What is not apparent  from the photo is that there are very minute changes in the spacing of the pits that are read out by the player’s laser, and are converted to an analog electronic carrier.  This carrier, not unlike analog broadcast TV, contains the video and analog tracks. (Ed. Note:  So the all the picture information--and there is an enormous amount of it,  lies in the spacing of the pits. That is indeed quite incredible )  

The system introduced by electronics giant Philips had a thicker disc, and most importantly, placed the information under a layer of plastic to protect it from scratches. This improvement became the successful 12-inch diameter video disc used in professional audio video systems. It did not see much success in the consumer market, however.  What was extremely successful was the 4.8 diameter compact disc and after that DVDs of the same size based on a similar optical technology as the Philips disc. (These discs are those shown in the foreword part of this article.

The video disc was unique and promising because of its high density of data storage.  For example,  the data stored on a single disc was 10 gigabits, if I remember correctly. The disc could be copied by an ordinary press such as one used in stamping dies, and it took 10 seconds to press a disc. This was the fastest data transfer known to man at that time! The access time to large amounts of data was stunning when compared to magnetic tape or floppy disc.

The question is: could aspects of our optical disc have been patented and so give Zenith  marketing advantages? Yes, I believe they could have.  I offer the example of  the video-encoding methods developed by Carl Eiler's group for the disc. The group went on to develop video signal-encoding methods useful in HDTV that are used today, and the associated patents produced  revenue for LG, which took over the entire Zenith  patent portfolio when it assumed ownership of Zenith Electronics Corporation

In conclusion, there was a real opportunity for Zenith with the video disc, and its form of optical data storage created was to go on to become  very successful in consumer and computer markets. Furthermore, had we been more responsive to our engineers that knew magnetic systems, we might have arrived at a VCR before Sony. However, we had assembled a great team, learned a lot from talented people, and had fun doing it!

--by Alfred Ditthardt  

And so, what became of the Zenith Video Disc effort?  Bob Adler answered that in a letter to the author of this blog-                           
Robert Adler
“We should remember that Nevin was no more consistent than the rest of us.  When it looked as if, working together with the Thompson-CSF group in Paris, we might soon have an optical video disc (we knew Phillip’s had one, but ours had certain advantages), Nevin told us: “don’t spare the horses, and if you need more people, go ahead and get them.”  Until, of course, one day he came to the conclusion that if all you had was a video disc player but you did not own movies or movie studios, you would lose your shirt.  So he stopped the video disc program cold.  Later developments proved him right. “  –Robert Adler

(--and that conclusion could have been applied to Phonevision as well, as Eugene F. McDonald had learned years ealier. )

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And so ends Post 31 of the Zenith Book weblog.  Whether there will be any more Posts leading to a published Zenith book is uncertain.  The humble author of this weblog faces an uncertain health problem which comes with the territory of 95 years of age. The problem is the knees, one of which is so shot that it may not be repairable.  So I creep about with the help of an electric wheelchair, one made in China, and like a bucking horse in operation. Keeps me "tuned up."  

So, Ciao and Mizpah. 

Ralph Clarke