Ludwig Combrinck


Well, after several years of pretending that this page was under construction, I have now decided to actually work on it. This page will contain information about myself and some of my non-work related activities.

Educational Background

I have never attended university full-time, as I could never afford to, and had to work and study part-time most of my life.  My formal post-school education started in 1979,  the year I got drafted into the infamous 'border war' army.  I was part of the July 1979 intake, therefore
had to keep myself busy for the 6 months between finishing school and entering the army. Of course, nobody was interested in giving you a job if they knew you were leaving for the army in a couple of months, so apart from doing odd jobs here and there, I enrolled at UNISA, (University of Southern Africa) for a course in astronomy. I always had an interest in astronomy, especially planetary exploration, viewing it as the unconquered wide open west of present and forthcoming generations. This kept me busy until I left for Ladysmith where basic training was to take place.  During my 2 years of military service, I managed to stay out of trouble and out of harms way, finally ending up administrating salaries and pensions of 'non-white' personnel. This of course, had little to do with astronomy,  but being able to study when not at work or standing guard helped to shorten the 2 years national service.

Anyway, the completion of my national service brought me back to life as it should be, and I was convinced of my new perspective of life found during these two years,  i.e. that if you want to do anything, do it yourself. So keeping this in mind, I worked at a bank for a short period and then joined a bookshop, primarily because I saw myself more as a book than as a money person. Naturally none of these employers had the faintest interest in my studies of
astronomy, physics and maths.  I also discovered the fascinating subject of earth sciences,
and added physical geography to my list of subjects.

Early in 1984, my life changed dramatically as not only did I get married to my high-school
sweetheart (yes, we are still married) I also made a major career move.  This was quite fortunate as I was quite discontent with my job at that stage and needed a change. I wrote a short article on using astrometry to detect extrasolar planets, which I submitted to the local Astronomical Society of Southern Africa. The editor at that stage was Mr Joe Churms, who happened to be the deputy director of the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) .

Mr Churms phoned me one day to discuss the article, which according to him, he liked a lot,
but then Mr Churms was a real old-time gentleman whose kindness was unparalleled.
Before the end of our conversation, he said that there was a job opening at SAAO for an accountant, for which I should apply, and although from a subject point of view quite removed from astronomy, at least I would be closer to astronomy than before. So to make a long story short, I eventually received employment as the accountant at SAAO.

Of course I had been grinding through my part-time studies, which was progressing not so admirably as one would have wished, as studying had to be reserved for after hours and weekends.
While employed at SAAO, I completed the Diploma in Datametrics, with a diverse content as far as subjects were concerned, physical electronics, statistics, computer science and informations systems being the bulk of it as I recall. This was about 1986.

I was employed as accountant at SAAO for five years, but never got involved in astronomy apart from bothering the astronomers when I had to do a stocktake at the Sutherland site. Although I was on friendly terms with the technicians and astronomers, there seemed to be a glass ceiling between 'admin' and the 'others'. This was unnecessary. Mr Churms retired, and sadly did not live much beyond retirement. He had many plans for his retirement, which included building his own small observatory on a piece of land he owned in the Karoo, not too far from Sutherland. I have several interesting stories about Mr Churms, for he was an interesting man, but I will keep them in my head.

Anyway, as I can see your eyelids drooping, during 1988, at a financial meeting in Pretoria, I met the Director of HartRAO, Dr George Nicolson, whose kindness rivalled that of Mr Churms. I was quite interested in radio communications, having been involved in radios and amateur radio (HAM) since an early age and we discussed antennas, bandwidths, filters etc., instead of finances. Dr Nicolson was a HAM too, until radio astronomy started ruling his life, so he jokingly remarked that I should not be working for SAAO, but for HartRAO.

Months later, this joke started to make sense to me, and as HartRAO and SAAO were of the same stable (then CSIR) I asked for a transfer. So, early in 1989 I moved from accountant's position to a programmer/technical assistant or something, and from Cape Town to Centurion (Lyttelton) and had lots of fun writing PASCAL/DBASE/ASSEMBLER programs, some of which are still functioning even today (but I hope they die soon).

I enjoyed my new line of work, was a bit more enthusiastic with the studies so finished the BSc degree, and BSc Hons 2 years later. Consequently I enrolled for a MSc at the University of Cape Town (UCT) at the (then) Faculty of Engineering, the Department of Surveying and Geodetic Engineering. My promotor was a very wise man, Prof Charles Merry, (he is still a wise man). The MSc project utilised GPS to ascertain the axis offset and VLBI reference point of a VLBI antenna, something which is quite necessary to know. I enjoyed this project and was able to write some nice 3D software (in C) to solve the problems encountered during this work.

Because Prof Merry was such a wise man, I enrolled for a PhD after completing the MSc, once again with him as the promoter. The department had changed to the Department of Geomatics, in keeping with current global trends, to mystify and confuse. The PhD was awarded December 2000, and the bulk of the work concerned local crustal stability networks ('footprints') around a geodetic site as well as local movement due to thermal expansion of the upper layer of the Earth.

All of these qualifications were done part-time, so I hardly ever had real leave until after 2000, as leave was always spent on studying and writing exams. This is not always appreciated, and is a burden on the whole family. Yes, I have three kids of my own and one foster kid, so four in all, they fill the whole house, the whole car and empty the whole fridge.

Anyway, after having completed the PhD, I thought it wise to rest the studying bit for at least a month. After the month of no studies to worry about, I saw a serious requirement at work for someone with a formal qualification in financial accounting, managerial accounting, organisational behaviour/cost accounting etc. This was because our Director, Dr Nicolson, would be retiring somewhere during 2003, and apart from a serious gap in our engineering and research section, would cause a disastrous gap in the management and control of things like budgeting, finances and organisational management.

I therefore enrolled at the UNISA School of Business Leadership (UNISA SBL), for an intensive one year (post graduate) course, called a Programme in Business Leadership (PBL). This is not a difficult course, but is at a level which is functionally very useful. However it is a very time consuming course, as a vast amount of material is covered. So it is destined that many people do not complete this course, as you have to grind your teeth a bit. Students who enroll for this course are divided into small working groups. Out of our working group (six students), only myself and a young lady (who makes excellent samoosas) completed it successfully.

This is the end of this education section, so to summarise, and as I see some people do, especially those who need to, I can write: Ludwig Combrinck BSc.,BScHons.,MSc.,PHd.,Dip.Dat.,PBL.Cert., or something, and of course I am not an astronomer, but a thing called a geodesist. This term means nothing to the man in the street, so normally I just pass as a 'scientist', which is a preferred term.

When I am not at work

I am a licensed radio amateur (callsign ZS6WLC), and only use tube (valve) equipment. I have a ''Radio Shack', which is a rondavel situated in our garden. It is not very big but I have somehow managed to squeeze myself and some old radios into this shack. Apart from having a large rack and panel mount ITG200 AM/MCW transmitter, manufactured by Standard Electric somewhere in the 1930's, I an an avid collector and restorer of Collins Radio communications equipment.

My first Collins Radio transmitter/receiver I acquired at the age of 13, a TCS10, which was used during WWII in PT boats, armoured trucks etc. Today, I have several other sets, such as the Collins S-line transmitter and receiver pair, 75A1 receiver and companion 32V1 transmitter (AM), the KWM-2 and KWM-2A transceivers, 51s1 receiver, R390 receiver, 51J4 receiver, 30L-1 linear amplifier and 30S-1 linear amplifier. I tend to go for originality as far as practical, and frown heavily upon modification and tampering of these sets. So, I would normally clean, restore electronically and esthetically as best as possible, and then use it!

Collins antenna project

I am dissasembling, restoring and will be re-erecting a Collins Radio 237A-2 and (another picture) 'Log-periodic antenna, quite a big (and heavy) project, but worthwhile. The antenna covers 11.1 to 60 MHz, with a 6dB gain. This is an ex NASA Minitrack antenna which was located at Johannesburg Minitrack station, now the Satellite Applications Centre (SAC) of the CSIR. HartRAO used to be the old NASA deep space tracking facility, (DSIF51). To help in the restoration process, Heinz Blankenhagen NR0X, (ex Collins employee, now retired) managed to get a copy of the 237A-2's manual from Collins. So you see, there are many nice people on this world of ours. There was a bigger brother to this already large antenna (237A-2 is 85 ft tall), called a 237A-1, which covered 6 to 30 MHz. Bill Wood (ex JPL), sent me some information on this antenna. They had one installed at a NASA (JPL) tracking station at Tern Island.

According to Bill; "The antenna was installed about 60 feet from the beach on the south side of the island. The constant action of the waves on the lagoon caused salt spray to corrode any unprotected metal surface. Since the antenna was pointed towards the Hawaiian island of Oahu, we never had to rotate the antenna!

When we closed the 237A-1 station (and another picture) in 1963, the antenna was allowed to fall over to the ground where it was cut apart with torches! A crying shame, but the US Coast Guard wanted it down before we left the island. It was so much scrap metal after that. The supporting mast was made of galvanized steel pipe sections that were bolted together with flanges every twenty feet or so. Inside the steel pipe were similar length of hard drawn copper tubing that were electrically connected with brass "bullets" similar to those used in high power RF transmission lines. The tubing was held in the center of the mast by insulating disks near the flange joints of the outer steel mast.

The center conductor was sized to maintain a 50 ohm characteristic impedance over the length of the supporting mast and lower arm to the apex on the antenna. At that point the center conductor of the transmission line/antenna element support was connected to the Apex of the upper set of elements across the ceramic standoffs. At the bottom of the rotator box is a 3.5-inch high power coaxial slip joint that allows an RF connection to radio equipment. We used three Collins KWT-6A 500-watt SSB transceivers with the Collins 237A-1 LP. We also used the LP on the 40-meter, 20-meter and 15-meter amateur radio bands. The 6-dB gain on 40-meters (7 MHz) was impressive, gaining many contacts who were amazed at the strength of the signals half-way around the World."

Of course my collection is not complete at all, so if you have some Collins equipment you think needs a good home, don't hesitate to contact me. Condition does not matter.....

More to follow....


Produced by Ludwig Combrinck 19/02/99
Mail to: ludwig@hartrao.ac.za

since 12 August 2002.