Saturday, September 25, 2010

Trailer Tower Finished




Well, almost.
I still have to finish wiring the lights up, and then take the tower off so I can tow it down to the DMV and get it registered.
I've added a separate ground wire to each of the light units (tail/stop/license plate and running lights), and I'll connect that to the ground wire coming out of the plug to hopefully eliminate the most common problem I've seen with trailer lights, namely BAD GROUNDS! I've towed a lot of trailers ranging in size from little ones like this, up to double-axle car carriers back in my SCCA days, and 95% of the lighting troubles I've seen and experienced were caused by bad grounds. Using the trailer frame for a ground return saves the manufacturer some money, but it comes back later to bite the owner in the rear, usually at the worst possible time, like 2AM in the rain.
After my stepson helps me pull the tower off, I might even paint the cheapie plywood I used for the deck, or at least give it a good soaking with the 5 gallon bucket of Thompson's WaterSeal we found when we cleaned out the garage.
One of the pictures shows it with the cables all coiled up, along with some of the cribbing I use to level it, the next picture shows it tracking one of the Ham Radio Satellites I operate, and the third picture shows my FT-847 and other support equipment during the satellite pass. My FT-847 is the radio I normally use to operate the satellite station on Field Day. It's NOT the radio I used for the VHF Contest a few weeks ago. I used my Kenwood TS-790 as it has a better receiver for what's called "weak signal" work, and although it can be used for satellite operations, I haven't used it for that due to my lack of a suitable radio-to-pc interface. I recently picked one up, though, so I suppose trying to get the TS-790 working with the rest of my tracking/tuning software will be a project to do Real Soon Now.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Don't Let Your Cat PEE In Your PC!

And it's a mess! Big Antec case, and the cat did his business right through the top fan hole.
The video card was the first thing in the way and got soaked. A small amount of it ran into the connector on the motherboard, but I was able to clean it, and it looks OK, no corrosion or anything.
After that, the stream went to the bottom of the case, and soaked the power supply, which I pulled, and is going in the recycle bin along with the video card.
So far, those are the only two parts that got damaged, and there's no signs of the "liquid" getting on anything else.
I just rebuilt this for him about two months ago. I told him his 90-day warranty would NOT cover this, and he busted up.
Glad he's a good friend!

UPDATE 1
Man, is this turning out to be a PITA!
So far, I've had to junk the top fan (the "pee hole"), the power supply, the video card, the two cables and brackets that have a pair of USB ports and a pair of FireWire ports, and SCRUB the daylights out of the inside and outside of the case. I cleaned it with SimpleGreen to start, and then flushed it out with denatured alcohol. The case is now sitting out in the sun to bake (it's over 90* here today), and then I'll close it up with a couple of fabric softener sheets inside, and a bag of baking soda for good measure.
And I scrubbed the motherboard with Isopropyl Alcohol, including a lot of extra time cleaning out the PCI Express connector for the video card. After scrubbing it, I treated it with some Caig DeOxIT, which is about the best contact cleaner/preserver you can get.
Hopefully this thing will be OK, and power up. If not, well......I can save the hard-disk, optical disk, CPU, case, and memory. The only problem with that is that this is an AMD Socket 939 motherboard, and they're getting hard to find!
I've cleaned tons of cat hair out of some of the PC's I've repaired/rebuilt for people, but the next time somebody says their cat PEED in it, I'm going to turn the job down, and suggest they buy a new PC.
GAWD, does that stuff STINK!

UPDATE 2
Well, as carefully as I cleaned the connector on the motherboard, it shows some signs of degradation on the contacts inside the video card slot. *I* don't feel comfortable putting this all back together with a bunch of new parts, charging him $250 for parts and labor, and then having it go "POOF!" in 3 or 4 months. It might run forever, but then again it might not. And I'm still not sure if the case will stink or not even though I cleaned it quite wel.
Cat pee is really corrosive stuff!
On the upside, he has a nice HP Pavilion from his deceased brother that cans use the memory, CPU, and disks from this one as upgrades. His brother's PC really needs the drive to be wiped and the OS reinstalled, but he doesn't want to do wipe the drive as it has a ton of family photographs and documents from his brother. I'll check with him later and tell him what I think we should do.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Election Coverage Map

Courtesy of a link from my friend Cap'n Bob.

Root Canal Time!

Well, actually it was Tuesday morning. I had part of a filling pop out a few of months ago, and just kinda let it slide. Sure enough, my jaw started to ache, so I asked my wife to schedule an appointment with the Dentist that we're covered under with her medical plan, and went to see him.
What a mess!
It took their assistant FOUR times to get a decent X-ray of the tooth, and then the "Dentist" walks in and calmly says "We'll have to pull that tooth".
WHAT!?!
Being the curious type, I've always asked a lot of questions at my previous Dentist, who took great delight in explaining what she was doing to a patient who actually understood all the terms, and asked intelligent questions. I just instinctively KNEW the tooth couldn't possibly be that bad, so I asked this new Dentist about the possibilities of getting it *properly* repaired, probably involving a crown at minimum, and a root canal/crown if it really was as bad as he seemed to indicate. "Well....", he started to hem and haw, "I can *probably* call the insurance company to see if it's OK to refer you to a specialist....but I don't know if they'll approve it....".
So? CALL THEM! He seemed a little put off by this, but instructed his office person to call, and low and behold, they approved it immediately.
When I got home, the specialist called me, informed it would be a $100 co-pay to get started, plus anything the insurance wouldn't cover, and I'd have to come in for an examination. Then, I'd go back to the referring Dentist, who would prep the tooth, and then go back to the second dentist would would do the root canal, and fit a temporary crown. After some time, the permanent crown would be ready, and I'd back and have it installed.
The whole process would take about a month. A MONTH!
DUH!
I immediately called my original Dentist, and they told me to come in for a consultation as soon as I could get there. My dentist looked at it briefly, and then turned me over to her new partner, who took the X-rays (digital images, actually, and ready to view in seconds), and said there was no way that tooth should be pulled, and that, as I suspected, it could be saved. As I was waiting, their office manager called the insurance company, which was the same I've had since 1999 but I'm on a different plan now, and tried to find out how much, if any, of the charges they'd pick up. Nada.....the plan my wife has requires you to go to certain Dentists, and if you don't, it's YOUR bill to pay.
Oh, well......
Seeing as I really trust this Dentist, and the one required by my wife's insurance just kinda-sorta creeped me out, I went ahead and scheduled the entire procedure with them.
One of the reasons I like this dentist is that she's got all the latest whiz-bang equipment (she taught briefly at the USC Dental school after she graduated) like the digital imaging equipment, they have all my records, and they're genuinely nice, caring people who do most excellent work. They've won professional awards, she takes off a few times a year to God-forsaken places to do free Dentistry for the locals, and I just felt much more comfortable (even paying the entire tab out-of-pocket) going there.
One of the neat machines she has now, is a 3D imaging "camera", and the PC software to go with it. As she was prepping the tooth, she'd take images of it, and examine them to see how things were going to fit in relation to my other teeth. When she was done, she "adjusted" the images for a final fit, and then sent the file to the little bench-top CNC machining center in another room. As the second dentist was doing the actual root canal work, the CNC mill went ahead and produced the crown to the dimensions specified in the digital file. After a brief trial fit and some adjust ment, she attached the crown, did the final polishing to fit my bite, and I was done.
Total time? A little over three hours!
Yeah, it cost me about $2k, but I know the job was done properly, I was minimal discomfort the whole time, the crown fits perfectly, and I'll never have to worry about it again.
I look at it this way.....if my Jeep needed a new transmission or transfer case, I'd pay that much to get it fixed properly, and at my age, I'd better take at least as good of care of myself!

Friday, September 17, 2010

ARRRRGH...It's International Talk Like A Pirate Day!


Arrrrgh, mateys! Shiver me timbers and belay that line!
ITLAPD is today, Sunday September 19th.
So swab those rusty scuppers and fly the Jolly Roger high on the mast, and bring me a noggin of grog!
When I was out at-sea for my former employer, we always had a rip roaring time in the ship's bar, as long as it didn't interfere with operations.
Hoist one for me!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

My son has changed his College major.....

My son, who has wanted to be a photojournalist or news/documentary photographer/videographer since he started high-school, has changed his major.
His ultimate goal was to work for National Geographic or perhaps Discovery Communications doing photo/video jobs on amazing things in interesting locations. Changing his major was a Big Thing for him, as he really had that fire that burns in someone that you just know will be good in the field they're studying for. He's taken award-winning photographs, and has had some of his works shown in galleries and museums, and did the video for a couple of really good student films, so he's extremely good at doing the "photo/video" part.
It was the "journalism" part that broke his spirit.
Since he was little, I've tried to teach him to be objective, questioning, balanced, and fair in his views on things. It started when we were watching infomercials, and I'd point out obvious (to me, anyway) flaws in the claims being made for "New and Improved Miracle" products, and why what was being shown wasn't really what was happening. One of our favorite 'inside' jokes is "But wait, there's MORE!". As he grew older, I could see him coming to question things that "Just didn't look right", and asking for hard facts to back up outlandish or questionable claims. He even knows by heart the Carl Sagan quote "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence", which made me feel I'd been doing my Dad Job pretty well the first time I heard him say it. And he knows enough to check his facts from multiple, different sources, and dig into those sources to verify their accuracy, before committing anything to print. He always received A and B grades for his assignments, and had worked his way up from being one of the Staff Photographers to being the Photo Editor for the college newspaper.
So what happened?
Well, for one thing, he was getting dismayed over some of the staff not researching their articles properly, and submitting unsubstantiated items for publication. Granted, this isn't a major newspaper, but by the time you're in college, you should know the rules about how to research and write a story that can hold up to scrutiny. He was also upset over the political leanings of the paper, and how it would just parrot whatever the big papers said, but written in a way that made it "make sense" to the students. History got ignored, and the populist/progressive/socialist agenda had the green light.
In short, he just got tired of people not doing their "job" correctly, and the faculty overseers of the paper letting it all pass.
Now when I was his age, I had pretty much been blessed with a set of job skills that were "politically neutral" (Electronics), so other than working with people who I might not agree with politically, I wasn't working in an environment (The Media) where I was constantly bombarded with things I not only didn't agree with, but knew were flawed. I've only had one job in my entire career where being "PC" was not only expected, but company policy, especially at the highest levels. My fellow Engineering-type grunts used to laugh about it amongst ourselves, but we were always wary of what we said, and to who, lest HR come crashing down on us because we weren't "Sensitive to the needs of others" or some other BS.
I know my son is an excellent photographer, and the fire for that "Perfect Shot" still burns in him. He would have made a fine documentary photographer, and perhaps when he grows a bit older he'll get back into it.
For now, though, I'm sure he'll make a fine EMT, his new major, and another area he's always been interested in.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Friday, September 10, 2010

09-11-2010

Others have said it far better than I can, but I'll try....
We must never forget.
There are truly evil people in the world who would destroy us.
We must not let them.
We must be brave.
We must be strong.
We must have resolve.
We must never become complacent.
We must never forget.......

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Where The Rubber Meets The Road

One of my favorite TV commercials from when I was much younger.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

We Start Drilling On Tuesday.....


Or at least that's what my stepson says we can use it for if it doesn't work!
Didn't get too much else done today other than get the tower solidly mounted to the deck, clean up some of the aluminum carnage in the garage, and get the antennas ready for final assembly and test. The 'outermost' four of the eight mounting bolts go through the steel frame of the trailer, so this thing is rock solid and stable. You could probably pick the whole thing up by the tower and it wouldn't flex very much. And in case you're wondering, the orange "Dunce's Hat" you see is a cut-down traffic cone. After I install the mast, I'll use a hose clamp at the top of the cone to clamp it to the mast, and I'll have a nice, inexpensive rain shield for the Azimuth rotator.
Tonight I have to make the power cables for the 300 Watt VHF and UHF amplifiers I have, and maybe I'll mount them to a plate of some sort so they don't go sliding around on the table when we use them, and I might mount a couple of small fans to push some air across the heatsinks to keep them nice and cool.
Time for dinner now. One of the reasons I knocked off early outside is that my stepson has fired up the grill and is cooking a nice Tri-Tip that he started marinating last night. He's quite an accomplished chef, and the YF and I always look forward to his creations.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Project Update

I got the tower partially mounted on the trailer today. I squared it up in its final position, clamped it down, measured everything 3 or 4 times, took a deep breath, and drilled the holes. Then I realized I didn't have any bolts long enough, so off to Home Depot for some 5/16-18x2" galvanized bolts, flat washers, split locks, and nuts. I would have preferred stainless, but my normal supplier for stainless hardware closed early today, won't be open until Tuesday, and I've got a deadline to meet! I also made up some backing plates out of 1/4" thick aluminum flat stock so the hardware holding the tower feet to the plywood won't dig in to the plywood deck on the bottom.
I've got this laid out so I can pull two of the bolts holding the legs to the feet, loosen the other two, and the tower will pivot over to one side so I can get the mast, cross-boom, and antennas mounted without needing a 15' ladder to drop them in from the top.
I should find out Sunday if this works "As Advertised"!
Film at eleven.......

Friday, September 3, 2010

Trailer Tower Project


I'm in the home stretch! I still have to put the fenders on the trailer, wire the tail and running lights, and get it registered and licensed, but it's a "roller" right now, and I'm happy! Spent most of the day fitting and cutting the plywood and shim strips I had to make, and counter-boring six places on the backside of it so it would fit _over_ the bolts that hold the side rails to the cross-members. And doing one of my favorite items from High School Auto Shop, cleaning and packing the wheel bearings! I just don't trust the grease that they packed them with in China, so I washed all that stuff out with mineral spirits, gave 'em a blast of "Gun Scrubber" to get ALL the oily reside off, and then repacked them with some high temp disk brake rated grease. One of these days I'll buy the little attachment for a grease gun that lets you pressure pack them, but for now I put on some gloves, and relived my Freshman year in High School.
Well, part of it, anyway.
Hand-packing wheel bearings is not one of my favorite automotive tasks, but I felt it had to be done, as I've had wheel bearings fail before, and it always happens at Really Bad times, like going down the highway at 65 MPH.
So, the agenda for Saturday is to make up some backing plates for the bottom-side of the plywood where the tower mounting bolts will go, and get the tower mounted on the trailer. After the September VHF QSO Party next weekend, I'll pull the tower off, wire it up, and make an appointment at the DMV to have it "inspected" (all they check is that the VIN on the frame matches the Certificate of Origin) so I can get it registered and licensed. Having the tower transportable this way will make it MUCH easier next year at Field Day. I'm still trying to noodle out some type of leveling system for it, as it's always recommended to have a trailer "4-Square-and-Level" for this type of use. I was thinking of getting four of the hand-crank screw-type trailer jacks, one for each corner, but all the ones I've found require welding, and I don't own a welder.....YET! I looked at getting 4 scissors jacks, but ones that have enough lift cost about $40 each, and I really don't want to spend that much when for about $50 more I can get the weld-on jacks AND the welder.
More to come, including the antenna rebuild, after I post all the pix worth seeing on PhotoBucket.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Busy, Busy, BUSY!

Well, at least I can't be accused of having idle hands.
I'm about 90% finished with my "Extend-A-Tower" project where I took a 4.5' Glen Martin Engineering rooftop tower and turned it into a 9' tower. I added 4' to the legs, and a bunch of cross-bracing to it. With what I spent for the aluminum angle and flat stock, and the cost of the hardware, I could have just *bought* the 9.5' tower! I would never do this again without properly sourcing the metal stock and nuts-and-bolts I used, a realization that hit me when I was over half way through this little project, and need to buy more metal stock and hardware! Yeeesh.....*another* one of my projects that took on a life of it's own and wound up taking twice as long as it should have. It's not that I don't know what I'm doing, it's just that once I got the leg extensions on and added some bracing, it was a little more 'flexible' than I wanted. Since I didn't want it to twist itself to death with the torque loads that the larger antennas I'm installing will cause, I added some "X" bracing to the sides. Well, the "X" bracing stiffened it up torsionally just fine, but the "X" braces themselves were kind of floppy owing to their length. So, I boxed the leg extensions with some more angle, centered on where the "X" braces crossed. The end result is this thing is really stiff, but looks more like an oil derrick than a Ham Radio tower. Fits right in with the history of oil exploration in Long Beach, though!
In the middle of all this I went back down to Harbor Freight and bought the little 48"x40" utility trailer I've had my eye on for some time. The plan is to mount the tower on the trailer making it transportable so I can tow it down to the Field Day site next year, and possibly to some remote sites so I can do some "Mountain Topping" in the VHF/UHF radio contests. The trailer is just about finished, so tomorrow I'll head over to Home Depot and get a piece of 3/4" plywood cut that will be the deck of the trailer. Later I'll get fancy and add some stakes and siding to it so I can load stuff into it without having to worry too much about it all falling out when I tow the rig! The next big contest is the ARRL September VHF QSO Party which is on the 14th, so if I keep my fingers and toes crossed, I *should* be able to get everything finished by this weekend, which will give me a week to test and debug the whole shebang. I've got the antennas rebuilt and ready to do the final testing on, and a pair of TE Systems 300 Watt amplifiers sitting in the garage just waiting to be used. My wife passed her Technician Class exam on Field Day, and is really excited about doing her first contest. She's watched me run several contests, and says it looks like a lot of fun. One big plus is that a female calling "CQ" will get a much better response than a guy, so I think she's going to find out what it's like to be the "Rare DX" on the receiving end of a pile-up!

I'll post some pictures of all the work after the dust settles, and I can download them from my camera......