Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Tuesday Was NOT A Good Day.......

Just about finished with completely rebuilding the CCTV system where I work.

It was a royal mess!

Honeywell was the prime contractor, and did a beautiful job on the fire and intrusion alarms, but I think they farmed out the CCTV system to "Larry The Cable Guy"!

First, they were using RG-59 cable everywhere, which might be OK in your home (I won't touch the stuff!), but really shouldn't be used in a "Production Environment". It has a copper-plated center conductor, and if moisture is around (and it is in spades where this gear is located) the steel will start to rust, popping off the copper-plating. It's also not shielded very well, and this stuff looked like it was maybe 80~85% braid coverage, which means our signal can leak out, and other signals can leak in, degrading overall system performance.

Second, they used "twist-on" F-Type connectors and BNC connectors which start to degrade the minute you turn your back on them.

Third, even the crimped on connectors they used were of very poor quality, and some of them were rusted! ALL of them had been poorly crimped, in some case nearly crushing the coax. And the coax wasn't even properly stripped to install the crappy connectors. The outer jacket was split way back, the shield braid was hanging out, and the center conductor, which Type-F connectors use instead of a separate center pin in the connector, was way too long on some connectors, and barely long enough on others.

ALL the cable in this rack has now been replaced with Belden 7916A RG-6QS, which has a solid copper center conductor, two braid shields, and two foil shields. Connectors have all been replaced with Thomas & Betts (division sold to Belden) "Snap-N-Seal" outdoor-rated connectors, with O-Rings to keep them sealed.

BUT....the real downer to yesterday is that I sliced my left index finger with my knife while I was preparing a cable for the new connectors I was installing. No stitches were required, and I washed it out right away, but still, I try and be careful around sharp things.

Then 10 minutes later I jabbed my left thumb with my side cutters.....

OUCH! Yell, shout, and bled all over the place. Again, I went to the rest room, washed it out, dumped some H2O2 on it, and bandaged it up.

Now I've bandages on my left index finger and thumb. No sign of infection, but I never realized how much I used those two fingers.

And I'm still not finished with the equipment rack......

Saturday, October 26, 2013

"Dark Harbor" at The Queen Mary




It's basically a bunch of "Spook Houses" with a food court, trinket sales, and a bandstand where some head banger band was playing all night.

I took my wife there several years ago when we were dating (What? Old people date?), and I got a special offer email, so I bought the tickets, and we went again.

We got there shortly before the gates opened so we could get home early (there's that "old people" thing again....), and paid the extra $5 for "preferred" parking ($25 total) so we could park MUCH closer, what with my walking ability being impaired and all.

WELL....my wife's friend who came along had "forgotten" to print her ticket after she bought it and received the email, so we spent about 20 minutes at Customer Service where they were able to look it up, and give her a replacement ticket.

We then proceeded to the entrance, where EVERYBODY who came into the event had their picture taken.

EVERYBODY.

Full face.

AND a right-facing profile.

While this was ostensibly to provide you with a souvenir (which you had to BUY for another $20), I was pretty steamed about it, as they would NOT let you pass without it.

Or so the guy taking the pictures told me.

Hmmmm....so now I'm probably in another database somewhere, in the name of stopping "terrorism" or something.

ANYWAY.......

The Spook Houses were pretty good, although you get pretty tired of somebody popping out of a dark corner trying to scare you, people banging on the walls, and the ever present thick clouds of good old Rosco Fog Juice, but the ladies enjoyed it.

One thing I'd never seen before was pretty neat. At the entrance to two of the "mazes", there was a large canvas "bag" on each side, filled with low-pressure air, and you had to force your way through very small gap between the two bags to get into the maze.

There were seven mazes (three of them took you on the ship to some spaces not normally open to the public) throughout the site to navigate, but at number five, I had to take a break, as my right hip was acting up, and I just couldn't comfortable navigate several more flights of stairs at the time, so I sat that one out while the gals walked through the "Hellfire" maze.

The next to last one was called "Submerged", and took you through the swimming pool/spa area on The Queen. I'd never seen that part of the ship before, and it was amazing. The original swimming pool is there, in very bad repair, but all the ceramic tile walls and floor of the area around the pool, as well as all the Art Deco lights, are still there, along with some signs on the wall explaining how the pool area operated, and what the cost was back in the 1930's.

As an aside, a British Pound was worth $5US back then, and I think it's something like $1.80 now. I don't know whether that says more about the Pound, the Dollar, or both!

SO...after stumbling around the entire site for about 3~3-1/2 hours, we'd seen everything, and the crowds were really starting to build up (along with an astounding assortment of female eye-candy out on the prowl for the night), so we left.

The extra $5 for the preferred parking was well worth the money, as we had parked within 100 feet of the park entrance/exit, and very close to the road leading out to the freeway, and we were out of there, and on the freeway, within 10 minutes, watching a huge line of cars from the other parking areas wind their way through the parking lot to even get close to the exit.

And I'm still pissed about being forced to have my picture taken......

Monday, October 21, 2013

Really Beat.....Overdid It This Weekend

Whooo-Boy!

Spent 9 hours (in the sun)  on the Iowa Saturday, and then spent 8 hours at the Cabrillo Aquarium "Sea Fair" on Sunday where my club had an exhibit.

Ran the same setup I did on the Iowa, and it worked equally well, but the band conditions were better, with 12 and 10 Meters being "wide open" all day.

Got home early from work today (had trouble staying awake!) at 1500, and went face-down on the pillow for a couple of hours.

At least I'm feeling like doing stuff again, but still have to pace myself a bit better.

And I was planning on getting back to work on the Yaesu FT-726, and then a friend called with a blown out PC and wanted to know if I still had one for sale.

Out to the garage to get the one I built, bagged, and boxed a few months ago that nobody wanted.

I built it out of the leftovers I had in the PC I use to run my FlexRadio Systems Software Defined Radio after I upgraded that machine, so it's got plenty of horsepower, but suffered a bit in the internal "latency" department.

2206 here, and time to hit the hay.

Goodnight, everybody!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

JOTA On The Battleship Iowa

Well, we had an excellent time today, and had several dozen Scouts (out of a total of almost 100! Most were mike-shy, and didn't want to talk on the radio) make HF contacts from the Iowa, working other JOTA stations in Washington, Oregon, Illinois (20 miles from my home town!), Texas, Mississippi, and Alberta, Canada. And we worked ONE station in the state of Iowa, who was ecstatic he was finally able to make a contact with us.

The HF station I took with me worked remarkably well, and except for one minor glitch (and dodged bullet), the BuddiPole/BuddiStick antenna and Elecraft Autotuner I built recently worked 100%.


HF Station on the Fantail



HF Antenna About 15' Forward


The minor glitch was a PL-259 Type-UHF connector I installed on one end of the feedline I made last night. After I had the antenna assembled, I was using my Comet Antenna Analyzer to adjust it for resonance in the 20 Meter band. I noticed that from time to time the VSWR was sky high, and the impedance was showing ZERO Ohms, indicating a short. I checked the cable with my DMM, and all seemed fine, and when I reconnected the analyzer, things looked OK. Well, during one of the "Adjust and Measure" cycles, I noticed that when I flexed the cable at the analyzer end, it would short out, and then return to normal when I flexed the cable a different way. I finally resolved the issue by bending the cable back on itself, and securing it with a cable tie.

I cut that end off at the end of the day so I'd be forced to more carefully install another connector on it, which I'll do after I finish this post!

If you look in the first picture, you can see that my little table is set up on the planking (Douglas Fir, NOT the original Teak planking), and just behind it is the bare steel deck where the planking has been removed for deck derusting, and eventual replacement.

Unfortunately, it's impossible to replace the planking with Teak, as it's an "Endangered Species", and to get "approved" Teak would be cost prohibitive. I'm not sure what they're going to use for the new planking. There's been some discussions on replacing it with more Douglas Fir, or perhaps using Redwood or Walnut, but the final decision will be cost and originality driven, so I'm betting on Douglas Fir. Quite a bit of the original Teak remains, and great pains are being taking to preserve it. The way to tell the two apart is to look for the grain of the wood. If you see the grain, it's Douglas Fir. If no grain is visible, then it's Teak.


Besides my little HF station, one of the other clubs had a VHF/UHF station set up for the Scouts to do local comms with.

VHF/UHF Station

Sorry about the "split image" appearance. One side was in shadow, and my "GIMP-Fu" is not strong tonight, or I would have color-balanced it better.

The last of the Scouts departed about 1530, and then I broke down my station, packed it up, and lugged it off the stern "brow".

Stern Brow of Battleship Iowa


A Bit Further Forward of the Stern


Bridge Area


Turret #1


Sorry for the crummy cell-phone photos. One of these days I'll take my "real" camera aboard and get some decent pictures. One of the things I'm planning on doing next year after retirement is spending more time on the Iowa. We're going to get the Comm Center restored, and have the teletypes and Data terminals printing/displaying some simulated message traffic for when those areas are finally opened to the public.

Yours Truly on the Radio
 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Oh, Boy....Dog Fight On The Front Porch.....

WELL..........

We were going to take the dogs for a walk tonight, but as my wife was walking out with Pebbles, the little dog, and I was standing on the front porch with Swisher, the big dog, just as I was about to lock the door, another Pit came running up from across the street, and pandemonium ensued.

I was holding Swisher back, actually getting him to sit, and wondering where in the heck this other dog came from. The other dog was wagging his tail, and looked like he wanted to play, but Swisher was having none of it, sitting there trembling, and looking like a Saturn V at T minus 5 seconds.

Then the other dog came up, ON the porch, and close to me, and Swisher let him have it.

He grabbed him by the ear, and held on, and the other dog immediately started yelping and trying to get away. Yelling "DROP IT", "LET GO", and "NO" had zero effect, and at this point the other dog was acting like it was his worst day ever, and trying to leave, but by this time Swisher had him by the scruff of the neck, and was just holding him, still sitting there trembling, but growling loudly.

Our next door neighbors (good people), being Pit owners, heard the commotion and came out, just about the time I started yelling "GET SOME WATER!", and the neighbor promptly turned his garden hose on full blast.

By this time the other dog's owner showed up, grabbed the hose, and blasted both of the dogs (and me) with it, prompting Swisher to instantly let go, and the other dog streaked across the street to his home at something approaching Mach 6.

I swear I could see the shock waves off his nose and tail......

We got the dogs back inside (the little one was about dragging my wife off her feet so she could "help" our big dog) without further incident, and a few seconds later the neighbor with the "loose dog" came over apologizing profusely.

He was on his way to a night school class, and the dog blasted out through the door when he was leaving. He says the dog is OK, but shaken up pretty badly, and asked if ours was OK. Swisher is fine, and acting like he should be rewarded for protecting me, but I'm trying to act like nothing happened. I can't yell at him for doing something that 100,000 years of living with people has bred in to him, and I sure can't praise him for "defending" me.

SO....my wife now has Combat Fatigue, or something similar, and never having been in a violent situation like this, was retching and coughing for about 20 minutes. She's fine now, but going through a major adrenaline rush/crash response, so I've got her resting, and drinking some liquids.

The dogs are acting like "something" happened, but are otherwise behaving normally.

What to do? Well, even if it were legal to carry here in Kaliforniastan, I would NOT have drawn and fired, as my life was not in danger, and things would have had to have gotten extremely bad before I'd even have considered it.

I'm now looking for some pepper spray that I can carry, but not sure what strength I should get. I have NO problems with using it on my own dog if that's what it takes to break up a fight, so I'm hoping to find something strong enough to do the job, but not so potent that an after-hours trip to the vet would be required.

I have a little pocket air horn that's painfully loud, but I don't think that would have any effect on two large dogs in a situation like this.

Both dogs involved had collars, shots, and tags, so rabies isn't an issue.

And my own pulse is finally returning to normal.............

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Hump Day...Been Busy at Work

Been really busy at work rebuilding the CCTV system. Although Honywell was the prime contractor (they did our fire and other alarm systems) I think they subbed this out to Larry The Cable Guy!

We kept having problems with noise in the system, dead jacks on the patch panels, and overall degradation of the picture the last few years. I first looked at it last year, made some adjustments, and the picture improved enough that we just let it slide. A few weeks ago I finally convinced TPTB to just let me go nuts on it.

The building where all the cameras are located is where I started. This CCTV system is only used during spacecraft fueling and payload encapsulation activities, so it's a fairly small system, with 8 cameras. Each camera feeds a Video Distribution Amplifier with three outputs. One output goes to an RF modulator where we put the video on a "Cable TV" channel, and the other two go to a patch panel. The output of each modulator then goes to a channel-specific bandpass filter, through a splitter (more on this later), and then to a 12-way combiner. The output of the combiner then went to a 30dB amplifier/line driver, with a 20dB pad on the input, and into 850 feet of RG-11 cable to get over to the building where it gets patched to the end users. The bad thing about the system design is that it passes through the building where my office and all the end users are, continues on to the main office building where the patch panel is, and then comes back to my building where it finally gets distributed to the end users!

An extra 600 feet of cable running between two buildings that the signal goes through, just because somebody wanted the patch panel in the Telco Room!

ANYWAY......The two unused outputs of the Video Distribution Amplifiers weren't being used, and were unterminated, so I put 75 Ohm loads on them. Unterminated inputs and outputs are bad juju on cable systems, as they cause reflections, which causes "ghosting" on the system, just like when your outside TV antenna was aimed wrong in the old days.

After terminating all the unused inputs/outputs, I went and adjusted all the modulators for the same output level so I'd have a baseline for future reference. I also found that there was NO reason to use a splitter on the output of the bandpass filter, as one of the splits was ONLY used locally, at the patch panel, as a monitor point. So, I removed the splitters and replaced them with a "tap" (actually a Directional Coupler) which "taps" off a small amount of the signal, rather than dividing it into two equal signals. They system was also designed with an inordinate amount of "flexibility", allowing you to patch anything to anywhere, something which had never been used, and never will be used. This involved running all the signals through a large enclosure with dozens of splitters, all sucking out their share of the signal, and all going to the patch panel unterminated.

I basically took an axe to it!

When I was done with that, I took a look at the amp with the pad on the input.

With a 20db pad (attenuator) on the input, the amp was producing roughly 10dB gain to drive the cable, almost not worth it, as the amp adds noise, and overdriving it even just slightly, resulted in the noise floor coming up significantly, and spurs popping up all over the place.

After axing out all the unnecessary splitters, replacing the output splitters with taps, terminating the 4 four unused ports on the 12 way combiner, replacing most of the cables and connectors with high quality parts, removing the line driver amp, and readjusting the modulators, I had a MUCH cleaner signal, and had 18dB more signal into the cable!

Almost all of the connectors were poorly crimped on, some falling apart as I removed them, and the cable was "Consumer Quality" RG-59. RG-59 cable is OK in your house (well....."kinda sorta" OK), but I won't use it on a "Production" system. The center conductor is copper-plated steel, and in the presence of moisture, the steel starts to rust, the copper plating blisters off, and the conductivity goes sharply down. I replaced it with Belden RG-6QS, rated (and swept) to 3GHz. The Belden cable has a solid-copper center conductor, two layers of braid, and two "foil" shields. It's really excellent cable for this type of use, and I mated it with Thomas & Betts "Snap-N-Seal" F-Type connectors, which have internal o-rings to weather proof them.


Now I'm working on the next part of the system, which is the patch bay located in the main office building. It was originally located there as they wanted to be able to send the video to certain offices and conference rooms during certain operations, something which has never been done.

And I'm finding the same things; cheap connectors and cable that fall apart, unneeded splitters sucking out signal, another unneeded amplifier, and four unneeded bandpass filters.

I removed all the equipment we don't use, all of the cables and splitters, and started putting the rack back together today. We still haven't decided if we're going to move the rack over to the building where all the end users are located, but I think we should, as it would eliminate 600 feet of cable run, and leave us with five cables between the buildings that we can use to run the signal back to the two places where it's needed, the server room, and one office that would be used as an "Incident Command Center" in case we had an accident during spacecraft fueling operations.

At least I'm being left on my own to do the job, as nobody there understands things like this, usually good for job security!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Minor Party In Progress Here........

My wife has her two best friends over tonight for dinner, a movie, and a little wine.

One had a birthday last week, one has a birthday today, and she also became a grandmother last week.

I'd head out to the garage and smoke a cigar, but I'm not finished cleaning and organizing the garage, and I quit smoking!

So I'm hiding out in Radio Central getting our new NAS up on the network, and doing back-ups on all the household PC's.

I'll send up a red flare for help if things get too out of hand here......

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Friday Already??

DUH..........

Been busy playing with the dogs, finishing up some extra patch cables for the JOTA event on the Iowa, and getting ready to test all my stuff over the weekend.

AND......I'm learning how to field strip, clean, and lubricate (GREASE! NO OIL!) my M1 Garand.

I was a bit intimidated by it at first, but with the half-dozen or so books and manuals I have, I finally took a deep breath, and started doing it, learning all the names of the parts, and how they fit together.

It kind of reminds me of when I first bought my Kimber 45ACP a few years ago. I hadn't taken a 1911 apart in so long that I was scared to do it (BOING! there goes the recoil spring...AGAIN!), but I had several 1911 books, took a deep breath, and started getting familiar with it again.

Now that I'm somewhat familiar with the internal parts, AND have some ammo for it, I'm going to plan a trip up to the rifle range with my son so we can see if I can shoot the thing.

Should be fun.....

Hope y'all have a great weekend!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Elecraft KAT100 Automatic Antenna Tuner Finished

Well, I didn't get to do much work on it this weekend.

Saturday morning my radio club had the "First Saturday of the Month" breakfast, and then I spent some time talking to other club members about various projects we're all working on.

Got back from "breakfast" about 1030, and had some "Honey Dews" in the job jar that had to be done.

Late Saturday afternoon we went out for an early dinner at a little Mexican restaurant, and then we went to a movie.

I wanted to go see "Rush", and she wanted to go see "Gravity".

Hmmmm....she lets me play radio, work on the garage to clean it up for another BIG upcoming project, never complains if I don't do the vacuuming on the appointed day or forget to empty/load the dishwasher, etc, etc, etc.

We went to see "Gravity".

DON'T waste your money on this movie!

It's so full of technical mistakes (the producer/director calls them "artistic liberties") that I found it rather uncomfortable to watch, being somewhat familiar with orbital mechanics and other "Rocket Science" stuff.

Plus, it has George Clooney (or is that George LOONEY?) in it, and I do not like paying to see this left-wing moonbat on screen!

But she enjoyed it, and she does so much for me that I really can't complain about going to certain movies with her.

Sunday started off fine, then her brother called to remind me I'd promised to fix his son's Onkyo home theater receiver that somehow managed to get a 1/4" headphone plug snapped off in the jack, disabling all the speakers, and most of the THX/Dolby/Surround Sound features.

Sigh......

That only took about 45 minutes to repair, but then we sat around yakking about all kinds of other stuff for another couple of hours, so most of Sunday was used up.

SO.....I was primed to finish this thing when I got home from work tonight, and finish it I did.

It was 95% or better completed, and all I had to do was find all my connectors and stuff to power it up, do some basic checks, and calibrate the VSWR bridge that's built into it.

And here she is, sitting underneath the Elecraft K2/100 radio I'll be using it with.


One thing I'd forgotten was that this particular Astron SS-30M power supply was really noisy on HF frequencies, as shown by the little green bargraph just to the left of the frequency display.

Normally, like when running on batteries or a "linear" power supply, AND with the antenna connected to a dummy load, the meter would indicate ZERO bars/segments being lit, and not an "S9 +20" noise level!

I've got another one of these supplies in my Field Day kit, so I'll drag it out tomorrow and see how it compares, but I do remember one of these supplies being NOISY.

If the other supply is quiet, I'll pop the covers off both of them and check that this one has all the same components in it, and I'll try to silence this one.

Otherwise I'll just use the other supply when I operate the JOTA station on the 19th, and try and figure out what to do with this one.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Elecraft KAT100 Automatic Antenna Tuner Update

Well, after spending some time winding the toroids (Somewhere here I have a "Tirade on Toroids" since it's not one of my favorite things to do), I installed all the relays (the black cubes) that select the components needed to match the antenna to 50 Ohms , and then mounted the toroids, and soldered them down.


All the resistance checks on the board passed with flying colors, and this board is now ready to move on to the "Final Assembly" stage, where the few remaining mechanical parts and connectors will be added.

I also finished the Front Panel board, which mainly has the indicator LED's, and some Octal Drivers for powering the LED's.


So, on to one of my favorite sections of the Assembly Manual, "Final Assembly"!

Now I get to mess around with mounting the SO-239 RF connectors, and assembling all the bits and pieces that make up the enclosure.

Hope you're all having a good weekend. We're under Santa Ana conditions here, with wind gusts in excess of 20MPH, even here in The LBC.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

How To Tell If Your Dog Is Involved In A Sex Scandal

Woof-Woof!
(Dog-speak for "Enough Said!")



More on the Elecraft Project tomorrow.....
.
.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Construction Of Elecraft KAT100 Automatic Antenna Tuner

Yesterday afternoon on my way home from work, I stopped at my mail service, and picked up my Elecraft KAT100 kit. I rushed home like a kid at Christmas, opened the box, did the parts inventory, cleaned the bench, set up my PanaVise, and clamped the main Printed Circuit Board into it.



If you're a homebrewer, or have worked in Electronics Assembly, you're no doubt familiar with the PanaVise line of products.

If you're not, you should be.

PanaVise makes many different products, but the ones I use the most are for holding printed circuit boards while you assemble and solder them.

The rig seen holding the board is the "Model 300 Standard Base", mounted to the "Model 312 Tray Base Mount", and holding the "Model 315 Circuit Board Holder".

I also have the "Model 303 Standard Head" , the "Model 376 Self-Centering, Extra Wide Opening Head", and a few other items they make, like the soft-jaws for the "Standard Head".

These tools are not cheap, but as I joked about the test gear I recently bought, their cost will be "amortized" out over the many, many, many times I use them. It's such a JOY to be able to make proper solder connections without having the board flop all over the bench, and to be able to flip/pivot the board from front-to-back to insert the components, that these things pay for themselves just in diminished aggravation the FIRST time you use them!

Plus they mounting base I have the vise base attached to has handy little compartments to put small parts in.

So, not that we have the board mounted, let's get started, shall we?

The first parts to be soldered into the board are the capacitors, so I sorted them out, and put them in the tray compartments.


Then I looked in the assembly manual, for what value capacitor corresponds to the component designator silk-screened on the board, and inserted the capacitor, bending the leads on the backside of the board to hold it in place before soldering it, "C47" in this case.


Some are checked off because I'd already started inserting them before I decided to take pictures to show my friends here how the kit goes together.

So I find the correct location on the board and insert the capacitor.



One thing important to do is to verify that you've inserted the correct part before soldering it down, a variation of the "Measure TWICE, Cut ONCE" rule.


Yes, these are fairly small parts, and I NEED my magnifying lamp to read the part value!

As you insert the parts, bend the leads out to hold them in place before you solder them.


 This is what they look like under magnification, before soldering.



The parts are then soldered in, using my Weller WESD Temperature Controlled Soldering Station.


Then the leads are clipped, and I move on to the next group of parts to be inserted and soldered.


This kit I'm assembling is made by Elecraft, who make high-quality, high-performance radio kits. The parts are all high-quality, and in particular their circuit boards are among the best I've ever seen.

Everything about the boards is flawless, from the plated-through holes, to the solder plating and solder mask and the silk-screen and the fact they're spotless when you get them just screams "QUALITY"!

I've seen "Commercial Quality" equipment that didn't have boards this nice. Whoever their board house is certainly has their act together.

I'll continue this tomorrow or the next night, but right now it's 2230 hours, and I have to hit the rack.

Good night, all!