Monday, December 31, 2018

Happy New Year!

It's 13* and snowing, with an expected low tonight of -3*.

We're staying in, as temps under 10* don't agree with us.

"There Was A Time...." when I would have been out hootin' and hollerin' on New Years Eve, but now I'd rather stay in, let the youngsters do the hootin' and hollerin', and tinker away on something.

Be careful if you're out and about tonight. There were many time I shouldn't have been driving, but did anyway, so watch out for the other guy.

Friday, December 28, 2018

What's On The Workbench?

Had a couple of "small" projects I knocked out before going into my next "big" project.

The first was the installation of an LED light kit for my Yaesu rotor control head. The OEM incandescent bulb is a non-serviceable part, and one of the cottage-industry Ham guys came up with a  nice little PCB with three white LED's on it. Took about 30 minutes to install it, it's much brighter, and will probably never "burn out".

The second project was rebuilding my #2 Drake MS-4 speaker with AC4 power supply. The original speaker is old and dried-out, and the electrolytic capacitors and rectifier diodes in the power supply are old tech, and better modern components are available.




In the same space, you can now have capacitors with higher voltage ratings (good for reliability), and more capacitance (better filtering), with a higher temperature rating (better reliability again), and better manufacturing processes. The rectifiers also have higher voltage and current ratings, and their surge capability is far higher than the old type rectifiers the supply was manufactured with. And all the new components mount on a convenient PC Board.


The supply looked like it got into a bar fight at some point in it's life, but since this is an aluminum cover, I should be able to make most of the dents go away.



Pretty clean inside, though....




But, yow....I haven't seen rectifiers in a "Bullet Case" package since high-school! These are 1N3194's, rated at 400V and 750mA. The replacements are rated at 1000V and 1A, a nice upgrade.



So most of the old capacitors, and all of the rectifiers get removed. The two big can capacitors were left on 'for looks'.



Then the new PCB gets mounted, wired in, and a couple of cable ties added to keep the wiring neat.




And the speaker gets replaced.....



Testing revealed 790VDC no-load on the HV, and 275VDC on the B+. Bias (for the 6DQ5 final PA tubes) is adjustable from -25VDC to -65VDC, all well within specs.

So bolt it all back together, and put it back on the shelf next to the one I did a few weeks ago.


Yes, they're sitting quite differently. The one on the right has the "short feet" on the back of the enclosure, tilting the panel back slightly, while the one on the right has same size feet, making it sit level.

Next up on the project list.....my Heathkit AR-15, soon (actually already is) to be On The Bench.


Monday, December 24, 2018

Merry Christmas To All

 Couldn't find a pic of Santa being pulled by eight Supras, so this'll have to do.

Helping the wife clean up the place. The Kids and The Little One will be by on Christmas Day for dinner and opening presents.

Still no snow, and NOAA is predicting a 30% chance for Wednesday.

Hope you all have a very merry and joyous Christmas!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Random Musings.....

Not too  much going on here. Took the wife's oldest son back to DIA the other night after his 4 day visit.

And the wind is blowing pretty good today, but the fence gates are staying shut, and aren't buffeting at all. NOAA is saying sustained winds of 30MPH with gusts to 50MPH. Dropped the vertical antenna the other night when I saw the forecast. Even though the shock-cord whip I used is rated (barely!) for this level of wind, I don't want to see the whip, with a $140 replacement cost, turned into scrap aluminum.

And I've been busy making up a bunch of BNC patch cables. The best test equipment in the world is useless if you can't connect it to anything, and that's what the patch cables are for. Yes, I could buy them pre-made, but they cost anywhere from $15 for a 3' one, up to $25 for a 10' one.

And that's each, not for a 4-pack!

I quite literally have boxes of connectors, and a couple of hundred feet of the cable, so by making up these cables, I'll "save" around $200, and use up some of the things I've been collecting over the years.

On to the random musings, sent by a buddy on the Iowa.....


I was thinking:
If only 11 million people have Obama-Care, how will 24 million people die if it is repealed? Will an additional 13 million people be randomly shot?

I was thinking;
If Donald Trump deleted all of his emails, wiped his server with Bleach Bit and destroyed all of his phones with a hammer, would the mainstream media suddenly lose all interest in the story and declare him innocent.

I was thinking;
If women do the same job for less money, why do companies hire men to do the same job for more money?

I was thinking;
If you rob a bank in a Sanctuary City, is it illegal or is it just an undocumented withdrawal?

I was thinking;
Each ISIS attack now is a reaction to Trump policies, but all ISIS attacks during Obama's term were due to Climate Change and a plea for jobs.

I was thinking;
We should stop calling them all 'Entitlements'. Welfare, Food Stamps, and WIC, are not entitlements. They are taxpayer-funded handouts, and shouldn't be called entitlements at all. Social Security and Veterans Benefits are entitlements because the people receiving them are entitled to them. They were earned and paid for by the recipients.

I was thinking;
If Muslims want to run away from a Muslim country, does that mean they're Islamophobic?

I was thinking;
If Liberals don't believe in biological gender then why did they march for women's rights?

I was thinking;
How did the Russians get Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the DNC to steal the Primary from Bernie Sanders? How did Russia get Donna Brazile to leak debate questions to Hillary Clinton in advance of the debates?

I was thinking;
Why is it that Democrats think Super delegates are fine, but they have a problem with the Electoral College?

I was thinking;
If you don't want the FBI involved in elections, don't nominate someone who's being investigated by the FBI.

I was thinking;
If Hillary's speeches cost $250,000 an hour, how come no one shows up to her free ones?

I was thinking;
The DNC is mad at Russia because they 'think' they are trying to manipulate our election by exposing that the DNC is manipulating our election.

I was thinking;
If Democrats don't want foreigners involved in our elections, why do they think it's all right for illegals to vote?

I'm going to quit thinking for a while.  All of this makes my head hurt.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

New Gear Here!

After watching the FedEx progress of my new/used test gear, and seeing it "stuck" in Henderson, CO after taking 4 hours to get there from Commerce City, CO, I figured since the shippers didn't pay for "Saturday Delivery", I'd get it Monday.

Surprise, Surprise! Heard my wife downstairs talking to the delivery guy about 0930, and got dressed and went down to see this on the front porch.


Got the them inside.....




They were both "Foamed In Place", and excellent way to ship fragile items. This is the signal generator. The top section of the foam is off to the left.



And the spectrum analyzer was just as clean and nice as the eBay pix indicated.



So, out with the old.......



And in with the "new"......



I plugged the generator in and let the oven for the time base warm up, and after an hour or so to warm up and stabilize, my counter read within 8Hz of what the generator was set to. The counter had a 'fresh' calibration when I bought it umpteen years ago, and it's nice to see it that close to a good quality generator with a 'fresh' calibration.

The spectrum analyzer also agrees with the generator, both in frequency and amplitude, so the spec a also looks to be on-the-money.

With these accurate, high-quality instruments, I should be able to make any measurements I need to repair/adjust/modify just about any piece of radio gear, or other test equipment, that comes through here.

I've got an RF Sweep Generator and a Function Generator that are "INOP" at the moment, so these will be used to get those two items back on-line. I probably don't need the RF Sweeper as I think I can set this generator up to sweep, but it's a piece of "classic" HP gear that I bought for a specific purpose (swept I.F. Stage Alignment), so I'd like to get it running again.

Now to get that bench cleaned up, and this mess of a "workshop" organized!

Thursday, December 13, 2018

R.I.P. Greg Lake

Bummer.....I just heard Greg Lake passed away on December 7th.

I was a huge ELP fan for a big chunk of my life, and this is my favorite ELP song.

Thank you, Mr. Lake. You made many, many people happy.


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Test Equipment Status

This is turning into one of my down-the-rabbit-hole adventures.......

This all kinda-sorta started out when we moved here. I didn't pack my signal generator (at all), and it slid around inside the trailer I was pulling, breaking off an input level adjustment knob, and bending the other.

I was pretty sure I could fix it, but I'm glacially slooow doing this (take it apart, see what broke, find the parts, order the parts, etc, etc) kind of work, and I really wanted a newer generator with more features, so I looked around and bought a nice used one which should be here Friday.

But not knowing if my "old" generator still functioned, I set up my frequency counter and Spectrum Analyzer so I could measure the output.

I've been seriously using Spectrum Analyzers since 1982 when I went to work for Hughes Aircraft. They're a very powerful tool for radio work, allowing you to make accurate, repeatable measurements in a fraction of the time it would take using "classical" methods. I understand them pretty well, BUT......I always get things all scrambled up when going between units made by Tektronix, and units made by HP/Agilent. The HP units are very intuitive to use while the Tektronix units are more like your practical for a Master's Thesis. And the controls are not laid out in a logical grouping, and many features I'm used to having are not available on my Tektronix 494 unit. So naturally, when I first powered it up I had forgotten how different it was, and proceeded to get it into a state where it couldn't even see the internal CAL signal.

Hey, I hate this old clunker anyway, so why not go shopping for another unit, and this time buy an HP.

So I did.....



It's an HP 8594E model, and "only" goes to 2.9GHz, but that's plenty for my needs. Has a nice, bright trace....



And in general is very clean.



It's been a "Bench Unit" it's entire life, unlike some of the ones I've dragged around/banged around the ships for Sea Launch!

And even though I paid $40 for shipping, my total was $988, about half of what these go for from a Test Equipment Store.

So anyway....after buying this last night, I went back downstairs to shut things off, and gave the old 494 one last try.

Yep, the damn thing works! Here it is displaying a 100MHz signal from my old generator.


It's drifty for a least an hour after turn-on, but after that it seems stable. The Pilot Induced Problem was that I had the reference level and input attenuator set wrong, essentially making it "deaf" to the signal levels I was trying to monitor.

And the generator only has a 100HZ error at 100MHz......


I'm assuming my counter to be "accurate" as it has the best timebase on-site (one of those nifty HP Ovenized Crystal Oscillators), and it had a current calibration when I bought it some years ago.

I have a known-good Rubidium Frequency Standard with a 10MHz output, so as soon as I get that fired up, along with my HP "GPS Clcock/Timebase", I should be good-to-go for accuracy.

Having any instrument that makes measurements of time or frequency connected to a "Master Timebase" or "Master Clock" keeps them all synchronized, and helps reduce measurement errors.

So at long last, my Radio Lab will have a Tektronix Oscilloscope and an HP Spectrum Analyzer as God and the Chief Radio Engineer have commanded.....

Tonight's project is to finish up the Drake MS-4/AC4 speaker/power supply. This will get the bench cleaned up so I can make some BNC patch cables in 3~6' lengths.

Having fancy test gear is nice, but without patch cables to hook it all together, you can't do much with it. Making accessories like patch cables is a good way to save a few $$, too. I'd rather buy my connectors "By The Dozen" and a spool of cable than pay $12~$25 EACH for a cable. My cost of parts is probably less than $5, so that adds up on 10 cables. It's mindless radio 'grunt work' and not as glamorous as tuning up transmitters or bringing a dead receiver back to life, but it's relaxing and keeps me out of bars.......

Monday, December 10, 2018

New Toy On The Way **Updated**

My trusty old Systron-Donner Model 1702 signal generator took a hit to the front panel on the move out here. 100% my fault for not securing a 75-lb item properly, allowing it to slide around on the floor of the trailer. This one doesn't have rack handles, so there's about 18" of front panel that's pretty exposed, and the knobs slammed into something on the trip out here.



The level adjust pot for an external modulation source sheared off, and the level adjust pot for the internal modulation source is bent, and spins freely. These pots had 1/8" shafts on them, so I'm pretty sure they use a sub-miniature "instrumentation" sized pot, which used to be readily available. If Digi-Key/Mouser don't carry them, then Google is my friend, but these were standard parts for decades.



I'm just really, really, happy, happy that the thumbwheel switches used to set the output frequency survived unscathed. These things were unusual in their day, and even the surplus dealers are probably out of them by now.



So, *if* I can get the parts, is it "worth" repairing? These generators typically command $750~$1k on the used market, a bit less than I paid for this one almost 20 years ago. And they're ruggedly built, rock solid, low phase-noise (quiet!) generators that seem to never wear out or fail, unless some dolt doesn't pack it properly for shipping.....

So, yes, to me it's worth fixing. Even if the pots cost $25 each, I'll have a good signal generator for fifty bucks!

BUT.......what to do in the meantime.......?

Why, get another generator, what else? Besides, there are some very valid (and interesting) RF measurements that require two generators.

I wound up with this one, an HP 8657B, OPT1, OPT3. Option 1 is the world famous HP OCXO ovenized crystal oscillator, called the "High Stability Timebase", and Option 3 is improved noise performance/switching time in certain kinds of pulsed modulation, something I doubt I'll use.



There were several available in my price range (< $1k), but this one had several advantages.

First, the installed "High Stability Timebase" is about the best crystal oscillator HP ever made, and they were used in many, many critical applications where an "External Reference" was not available. In some factories I've worked in, it was the highest precision 10MHz source on-site, and wound up being distributed throughout the plant as the "Master Reference".

It's also the "heart" of the various GPS Disciplined Oscillator designs out there that not only give you the superb short-term stability and spectral purity of a crystal oscillator, but also the long-term stability of an "Atomic Clock". That's a whole 'nother post that I'll be doing since I want to get my GPSDO running again to use for my own 10MHz Master Reference. This way my frequency counter, signal generator, and spectrum analyzer will get the enhanced accuracy and stability of a high performance (or used to be) Master Reference.

Secondly, it had the standard front panel output jack. Many of these instruments were used in Automatic Test Equipment racks where everything was under PC control on the HP-IB or IEEE-488 bus, and the operator was along for the ride, and to load/unload modules and hit "Enter" when prompted. All the normal front panel RF out put jacks were "optioned" out to the back panel because the "Back of the Rack" was where everything happened in ATE, signal routing wise.

Thirdly, the place is an ISO-everything certified Calibration Lab, and the instrument has been tested for 100% functionality, and comes with a fresh calibration.

Oh, and it came with FREE shipping, a $75~$150 expense otherwise.

And I (finally) finished the towel rack project in the upstairs "wife's" bathroom.


One down, countless to go.....

Update on the generator..... 

The generator has an output corresponding to where the thumb switches are set, and the output attenuator (think 'Volume Control')  works correctly.

The control with the bent shaft also appears to work, at least according to the display that goes active when you select that function.

However......when I tried to look at the generator output on my Spectrum Analyzer, I see.....nothing. I tried using a different signal source, which I can read on my frequency counter, but I can't see that signal, either.

And finally......I can't even see the built-in 100MHz "CAL" signal, which also drives the frequency counter.

If you can't see the signal from the built-in CAL source, you're SOL. Looks like I'll be buying another Spectrum Analyzer sooner than I thought...... 

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Down Working In The Dungeon

Which is what I prefer to call the basement. Now that I have the temperature of all three rooms 'down there' stabilized at 70*, it doesn't feel nearly as creepy down there as it used to. There were times before when I felt just a general "strangeness" down there, and in 67 orbits of the Sun I've learned to take those feelings somewhat seriously.

ANYWHOO.......I set up two cheep wood doors from Home Depot on four cheep plastic saw horses from Harbor Freight so I could have some work area to sort, clean, and pack things going out the door during The Great Patriotic eBay Purge.

I also wanted a place to unroll an anti-static mat and set up my soldering and desoldering stations so I could work on some projects down there when it's too cold in the garage.

So this is what we've got.....


Most of those cardboard boxes are empty and waiting to be dragged upstairs, cut down, and recycled. The corrugated cardboard and aluminum can business pays for all the other recycling programs in Fort Collins, so I have no problem taking "#1, Grade A Clean" corrugated cardboard directly to the nearby recycling place so they get it in good, saleable condition.

Some recycling makes perfect sense to me, and some not so much. I'll go along with this because "it works".

SO......my soldering iron turned up a few days ago, a week after I ordered a new replacement of the exact same type. The old one goes on Garage Duty, and the new one is set up with my vacuum solder sucker.



And my beloved PK-900 Packet Radio Modem with DSP showed up. It was in a box of spare parts for my Drake TR-270 VHF/UHF Transceiver, quite literally the last place I looked.



This is the bedroom of the downstairs suite, being used as storage. The PK-900 was in the very last unopened box of "Jim's Stuff" we brought with us which was stored here, under a dead printer.

Well over half of what was in here has been removed.



I'm even using the "egress window" sill to store things.


My little plastic cabinets took some serious hits on the move out here, so I'll be replacing them. I'm also going to buy some stackable bins to store the fiftyPLUS pounds of coaxial connectors and adapters I own. I quite literally have a "lifetime supply" of silver/teflon PL-259 connectors, along with the silver plated adapters to properly use them with RG-58 and RG-59/RG-8X coax.

That's going to be a big project by itself, but at least I now have 95% of my connectors in one set of cardboard boxes, all in the same area.

And I've been sorting cables. I have THREE of the "large" size U-Haul boxes full of cables. I went through one last night, and separated the cables into power, audio/video, USB, data, and networking piles. They'll get reboxed and stored later.

These are the power cords fro one of the big boxes.



And I'm finishing up a project on the "workbench". I'm rebuilding a Drake MS-4 speaker, with a new speaker, cable, and the correct the mounting feet.



When that's done, I'll mount this freshly rebuilt Drake AC-4 power supply into the cabinet.



This supply has an upgrade kit with current technology rectifiers, capacitors, and resistors on a printed circuit board in it, and should be good for another 50 years.

Then it can go back on the "Drake Shelf" while I take on the one sitting there and give it the same treatment.


And I'm doing some repair in the "wife's bathroom" upstairs. See the two holes in the wall under the pictures?



She'd been complaining the towel rack mounted there kept coming loose, and when I took it down to replace the drywall anchors, Previous Owner Syndrome showed up again.


BOTH of the places where the towel rack anchors were "attached" to wall were almost 100% Spackle, with some fragments of drywall left from the three or four other attempted repairs. Both chunks fell out, and into the wall, as soon as I tried to grab them.

So I bought a nice finished oak board, and I'm going to anchor it to the studs, covering the holes in the wall, and mount the towel rack to the pretty oak board.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Been Busy Brazenly Bashing Big Burly Boxes

For fun and profit, no less.

Just completed Round 2 of the Big eBay Bash where I get rid of stuff that I'll never use, have lost interest in, bought for future canceled projects, obsolete but functional items, or items I have double/triples of.

As much as I loved my little KPC-3+ packet radio TNC, I simply don't need THREE packet radio TNC's.

The fold-up circularly polarized UHF satellite antennas were cool in L.A. where people knew what they were, but out here?

So I have a lot of obscure, arcane, and scarce equipment that's been selling really well on eBay, and bringing prices that made me blush a couple of times. About a third of the stuff I've listed so far has sparked bidding wars, and bringing ridiculous prices.

Today's shipping run was for some small items like adapter cables for specific radios, a small, portable 3Watt VHF SSB rig, an old Hallicrafters speaker, and a rusty Heathkit shortwave "parts radio" that I'd forgot I had.

Last month's selling spree bought a snowblower, some Toyota parts, and a nice dinner for my wife and myself.

This month's blast (so far) bought my snow tires and some Christmas presents.

And I have a "temporary" work bench set up along one wall, and just set up my anti-static mat, desoldering station, and new soldering station. I have an identical Weller temperature controlled station, but I can't find it. It's probably in the same box as my MIA AEA PK-900 packet radio modem with DSP. If it turns up it'll be the garage soldering iron.

So lots going on, everybody doing fine, just haven't felt like writing about it.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

"Ralph Breaks The Internet" Movie Mini-Review



My sweet little wife and I took a trip down the local Cinemark XD palace to see some light entertainment.

The theater is one of the really nice ones, with recliners, and the "XD" part means they use a super-duper Barco Cinema Projector, touting it's "33 THOUSAND Lumens and 35 TRILLION colors", along with 11.1 Dolby THX audio.

35 trillion colors is probably a throw away, but 33,000 Lumens is nothing to sneeze at.

HUGE screen, speakers everywhere, comfy seats, a very good, reasonably priced snack bar, and senior discounts makes this a trip we do whenever there's a movie playing we want to see.

This was the first time I recall seeing one in the XD theater, and except for the previews, some of which were poorly upscaled to the projector making them grainy, I was blown away by the absolutely stunning video quality.

Face it, you're not watching a film in these theaters, and the picture quality will be different. You're watching a video, which from it's first frame in production to what you're seeing, has been done in the digital realm. The resolution is extremely fine, there's NO artifacting, and the motion is as smooth as silk. Just amazing, and something I knew would eventually get down to this level, but to "just walk-in" and watch a movie in it is a marvel.

On to the movie.......

It's a kinda-sorta sequel to "Wreck-It Ralph", a cute story about a video game character.

The main character and his BFF Van live in their video games, but "after hours", have a behind-the-scenes life where they can go into each other's games, and in general have a "regular" life. This episode in their lives involves the Arcade where their games are getting Internet access, and our two main characters getting out of the arcade, and on to the Net.

Hilarity ensues as our two intrepid characters encounter the online world for the first time as they complete their quest, meeting various characters along the way.

Simple story, but pretty well told, and there's some real character development going on.

I don't want to give anything away because.......If you're a Techno Geek who knows the architecture, structure, and history of the Internet, and you also enjoy current SciFi/Fantasy movies......you GOTTA go see this movie!

Besides the absolutely mind-blowing video rendering and projection quality, this film has more Easter-Eggs-Per-Frame than any movie I've ever seen. Everywhere you look, there's "in jokes" of technical sorts, visual cues and references, historic characters and characters from pop culture, and I was rolling around laughing at certain things, and my wife was doing the same at other things, all while enjoying the action and dialog.

The scene where they first enter the wireless router is a good example. The floor was a printed circuit board, and the back "wall" of the "room" they were in had all the input/output connectors on it for the router. You've seen them. It looked like one of the older blue kinda "flat" Linksys routers that were so popular with Hackers. I've got four of them in the basement because they come in handy at times. What blew me away was that All the connectors were the correct types!

I've designed PC boards with those same connectors, and  when I saw them, properly seated and soldered to the main PC board (the "floor" of the "room" they were in), with a nice solder fillet, I just about lost it. This was very early in the movie, and as they movie progressed, I saw the same attention to detail in everything.

This is one of those movies that I'm going to have to buy on disc because I know I'm going to have to watch it a few more times so I can pay attention to what's going on in the background. I caught Stan Lee talking to Iron Man, and my wife didn't see it. She noticed a lot of things about some of the other characters, and things in the background relating to Harry Potter type stuff that I didn't get.

So go see the movie. Take a grandkid if they're old enough, and you'll both be roaring about different stuff.

And if you can see it in an "eXtreme Digital" projection format, go for it. It's also out in "RealD 3D", but that could be information overload to somebody like me.

YMMV..........

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

New Shoes for the Jeep

Cruised on down to Discount Tire today and had them mount up and balance a set of Bridgestone Blizzak winter tires. The people on the Jeep and Grand Cherokee forums rave about these, so I figure they should be pretty good. I was going to have them mount and balance my fairly new "summer" tires on the rims I ordered only to find out that the rims are discontinued, and no longer available.

Then why have them on the website, saying "Available in 3~5 Days"? The young guy helping me apologized profusely, saying the company still had them listed "for warranty reasons", and he didn't understand it either. I said I'd have to send them an email requesting that they at least put some kind of notice up about it, and he said that's what he's been advising people, saying he felt awkward having explaining it to an upset/disappointed/screaming mad customer.

The Jeep seems to steer a bit easier (these are 245/65 tires vs the 275/60 tires I had on it), and I'm interested to see if the gas mileage increases any, as it took a 2+MPG hit when I put the wider than OEM tires on it. I went with that size because I wanted something wider that was the same diameter so it wouldn't throw off the speedo, and the combination of 30mm wider and going to 60-series vs 65-series made all that come out OK. Sure corners good, though!

So we'll see if these make a difference in my winter traction. I really didn't have any problems last year, and the full-time 4WD helps, but I'd rather have the peace of mind knowing I have some winter-specific tires on the car.

So that leaves me with my "summer" tires bagged up in the car, with no wheels for them. The young guy at the store showed me what they had in stock, and said they'd honor the lower price I had expected on any of the in-stock wheels, which were $30~$50 more per wheel, to make up for the inconvenience.

Well.....the only wheels they had in stock would make the Jeep look either Ghetto Bling or Mad Max Wannabe. Uh....no, thanks.

So since I have several months to worry about this, I'll peruse the various automotive sites that have wheels available to find something I like.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Doctor's Visit

BP is 122/75, a1C is down to 6.1, and I'm down to 193.

Got my flu shot, a pneumonia shot, and a prescription for some antibiotics to knock out this sinus infectio I've been carrying around for about the last month.

I probably should have gone to the urgent care clinic when I had the sore throat and ear ache that led into this cold.....

Other than that, the Doc is very pleased with my the weight loss and a1C drop since I've been her patient. Next visit is in six months rather than three, and she cut my Metformin back from 2000mg to 1500mg.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Fast Moving Front Coming Through

And it's bringing lots of wind.

From the NWS website:

This Afternoon
Partly sunny, with a high near 51. Windy, with a west northwest wind around 29 mph, with gusts as high as 46 mph. 
 
Tonight
A 30 percent chance of snow, mainly before 1am. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 24. Very windy, with a north northwest wind 27 to 37 mph decreasing to 14 to 24 mph. Winds could gust as high as 60 mph. Little or no snow accumulation expected. 
 
I dropped the whip and collapsed the tripod for my BuddiStick vertical on Thursday, and I got the fence gates secured (I hope...) last week, so we should be good-to-go.

Sunday night the low is expected to be 18*, but the wind hazard warning expires at 0200 Sunday morning, and low/nil winds expected for the rest of the week, so I'll get the vertical back up.

Still holding out for another "Sixty Degree Day" so I can roll the Supra outside to degrease and pressure wash the engine bay again, and get all the areas I missed last time.

Then I can drain the coolant, get her back in the garage and up on stands, and start knocking off the Deferred Maintenance tasks that have been nagging at me since I first bought the car.

And I can pull the interior so I can install the new carpet and new heater core, and find the doggone alarm system module so I can get the instruction manual for it.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Snow Tires, Maintenance Inspections, and Black Friday TV Sets

After last week's fiasco-in-the-snow where my wife could not get up the kid's driveway to drop off the Little Guy, and then scared herself silly several times on the way home, I spent some time today swapping out her OEM tires for the studded snows she bought last year.

This year all the lug nuts came off like they should, and as I took each wheel/tire off the car, I inspected the suspension, undercarriage, brake pads, and tire for wear and/or damage. Her tires are *this close* to the treadwear indicators, so we'll probably just get new tires in the Spring. Just for grins, I looked up user reviews of the OEM tires, and they're real stinkers. They seem to only be good for about 30k miles, and they're not particularly grippy like you'd expect a fast-wearing tire to be.

Her rear brake pads look like they'll do 80k miles no sweat, and her front ones are a bit less than half worn. I'll order up some replacement pads, and swap them out in the Spring when I take off the snow tires.

And relying on some internal flag that got set at some time, I ordered up a set of winter tires for the Jeep, along with a set of rims. I researched this pretty well last Fall, and I went with some Bridgestone Blizzak tires in the OEM size, 245/65-R17. I've had excellent results with Bridgestones on both of my Grand Cherokees, and the members of the Grand Cherokee forums I visit swear by these things. When guys (and gals) in Montana, Idaho, Upper Peninsula, Colorado, and other snowy states say these things work, I'm temped to believe them.



And these are the rims. Stock is 17x7, and these are 17x8, so the tire will 'stretch' out a bit, but well within Bridgestone's allowable range specs.

I had wanted to buy these crazy good Nokian "Hakkapeliitta" tires, but youch, they're $202 each vs $152 for the Blzzaks. "Car and Driver" did a road test of a bunch of snow/winter tires last year, and these things came out on top in almost every category.


I've seen words to the effect of "Put them on a Jeep and go climb icy walls", and while that's a stretch, they also wear like iron, very unusual for a tire of this type, and they're much quieter than their looks would lead you to believe.

If the Blizzaks don't wear very well, I'll definitely replace them with these. Studded tires on all four corners of an AWD vehicle is a pretty potent combination, and with my "Granny Driving" these days, it should even the odds in winter.

ANYWAY......after spending several hours on her car, I just sat down with a  cuppa, and she started making loud noises about a new TV for the living room, Special Pricing TODAY ONLY!, and yadda yadda yadda.

Groan...out to Best Buy at 1500 hours the day after Thanksgiving.

Oh, joy.....

Since I rarely watch TV in the living room, I really don't care what's in there. So, I went with an established brand, Samsung, and picked the price point (~$350) and size (50") she wanted.

I wrote down the SKU of the set (are they still "sets" these days?) we wanted, and we headed out. We found a parking spot dead center on the entrance, about 4 cars back. Astounding!

As soon as we crossed the portal I went all Commando Mode, and went straight for the stacks of TV's they had set up. Went through all the Samsung models near the door, and couldn't find the SKU we wanted. SO....To The Rear! of the store, where ALL the TV's are on display. Found the set, and a BB guy with a cart, paid for the TV and a Roku stick via the guy's wireless tablet, and he rolled it out front as I went to retrieve the Command Car.

He loaded it in the back, and we exfiled the area. TOT: 20 minutes!
Astounding!

So for $327 + tax, we wound up with a 50" Samsung 4k set that "normally" retails for $450 + tax, and a $50 Roku stick for $19.99.



It's actually a nice set, and had really amazing detail right out-of-the-box. The colors looked washed out, though, and going through all the presets didn't do much to improve it. Fortunately, it has an "Expert Mode" where you can go in and dink with almost all the detailed settings, so I spent an hour trying various combinations of settings to keep the great definition, AND get the colors corrected. Did a pretty good job "by eyeball", but since I have a set of calibration discs downstairs, I'll drag my Oppo BluRay player over there, and do a full-on Video Calibration to it, like I did to our plasma sets some years ago. The difference is quite noticeable, and can make a $300 TV look as good as a $700 TV......usually.

So the former living room TV (bought new last year at this time) will be trundled up to the guest room, and the itty-bitty 24" TV from there will go into the Little Guys room, hence the Roku stick. The wife found out that you can get a lot of "children's programming" on Roku, and since we don't want the expense of a fifth cable box, we'll plug the Roku into the little TV's USB port and use that As Required.

And in dinking with this set, I'm amazed that a consumer item like this is available at the cost point it occupies. My 50" 1080i/p Plasma TV cost over $2500 just about 10 years ago, and while it still has an excellent picture and reliability record, it draws around 700 Watts, and weighs about 80 pounds. This new one draws 60 Watts, and weighs 30 pounds.

One-tenth the power, one-third the weight,and four times the resolution of  a top-of-the-line plasma TV of 10 years ago for fourteen percent of the cost!
Astounding!

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Happy Thanksgiving, and a Minor Antenna Victory



Here's wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving. We'll be up in Wyoming for the day, and it looks like the weather will be gorgeous.

On the antenna front, I've been tinkering with the BuddiPole I put up a while back. When I first installed it, I went with a what I thought was an acceptable combination for a center frequency of 14.2 MHz. I used a 16.5' vertical radiator, with some 25' radials. Typically, the radials and radiator are close to the same length, and if you get the lengths correct, the antenna will be Resonant, meaning that the Inductive Reactance and the Capacitive Reactance are equal, cancelling each other out, and making the Radiation Resistance the dominant factor.

Unfortunately, I went with longer radials than required, which threw my length calculations out the window. The resonant frequency was almost 3 MHz low!

Why did I go with longer radials? WELL......I was kind of stuck on what the manufacturer of my SGC-230 remote coupler had recommended. I forgot (or didn't realize at the time) that having the coupler/matching unit at the antenna feedpoint is a different animal than having the matching unit at the radio, with a length of cable between the matching unit and the feedpoint.

And I didn't realize this interaction until I put my antenna analyzer on the cable, and swept the antenna/feedline over the frequency range I was interested in.

The first thing I did was to shorten the vertical radiator, at first by a few inches, and then by a couple of feet. This brought the resonant freq up a little over 1 MHz, still not close. Then I shortened the radials about three feet, and the resonant freq shot up past where I was shooting for. Lengthening the vertical whip about 16" put the resonant point right at 14.20 MHz, which is what I was shooting for.

Getting the antenna resonant on my frequency of interest has a minor effect on receiving, but it makes a huge difference in how effectively the antenna radiates the power from the transmitter.

By making the antenna resonant, the reactive part of the antenna impedance is minimized, and the Radiation Resistance becomes dominant, and it's the Radiation Resistance that actually couples the transmit power into the Aether.

The end result is people hear my signal better, and it's not as frustrating trying to make contacts.


Saturday, November 17, 2018

Radio Ops From DN70

The Silicon Graybeard had quite a good post about solar activity and some new theories of predicting future solar activity. While his post concerned a new "Maunder Minimum", and it's effects on the weather, I found it interesting in a different way. We're both interested in the subject because of our mutual interest in Amateur Radio. Hams rely on the Propagation of radio signals to talk to each other. The radio waves from the transmitter travel to the Ionosphere, where they reflect back to Earth, usually 800~1500 miles from where they started. Think of the Ionosphere as being a big Radio Mirror In The Sky, and you'll be pretty close. There are actually several layers of the Ionosphere ( the D, E, and F layers) that reflect radio signals, but we'll just lump them all together for simplicity.

But what "polishes" the reflector? What makes these layers capable of reflecting electromagnetic energy of certain wavelengths? Without going into the Physics of what happens, the answer is charged particles, which is the "Ion" part of "Ionosphere".

And where do these charged particles come from? Well, some come from Deep Space, but the great majority come from our own Sun, and the amount is highly variable depending on where we are in the roughly 11-year Solar Cycle (graphic below from Wikipedia).



The largest spike on the chart represents "Cycle 19", a real whopper, which gave us basically 24-hour propagation below 30MHz to almost anywhere in the world. I wasn't involved with radio at the age I was when Cycle 19 happened, but the Old Timers who taught me the code and Theory for my Novice test had tales that today would sound far-fetched. "Arm Chair Copy" between Chicago and Tokyo with 5 Watts to a dipole on 30 MHz was common, and the few guys who were active on 50MHz told us it was almost as good.

In short, when the Sun is in a "Quiet Period", it doesn't produce the flood of charged particles that it does when it's active. No, or few, charged particles to polish up the old Ionosphere, and radio Propagation takes a big fade.

In the time I've been a Ham, I've seen several cycles come and go, and closely followed the predictions about what the upcoming cycle would be. And I've learned to take most "predictions" with a grain of salt. There are so many models and methods used to generate the predictions that all they demonstrate is that nobody really understands the process....yet. The new method in SiG's post is based on taking the "waveform" produced by the recorded observations, and applying Digital Signal Processing techniques to the data. Since the "waveform" of Solar data is definitely periodic in nature, this treating of historic periodic recorded data as a waveform, and using DSP techniques on it, is definitely new to me. Processing a waveform with DSP like this can reveal many things not evident 'by inspection'. DSP is used to literally "Pull signals out of the noise", and you can recover data buried in the noise by many dB, and get useful information from it.

Perhaps it will lead to a better understanding of the Solar Cycle, with better predictions than we have now.


Fast forward to 2018, and a Little Guy Ham station in Northern Colorado.....

One thing I immediately noticed when I first put up an antenna here was how low the background noise level was compared to Long Beach. In Long Beach, my signal strength meter would read about half-scale, a "7" to a "9", with noise. Power line noise, "wall wart" noise, noise from WiFi routers, cheep TV sets, and a multitude of other noise generators. Here in Northern Colorado, with buried power lines and a distinct lack of large industrial facilities, the meter reads about "1", or maybe "2" on noisy days. This means that I'm a LOT more aware of weak signals that were formerly hidden in the noise.

And with reduced solar activity, we have weaker signals to work with. Not much you can do short of putting up a bigger antenna to capture more signal, or make what ever antenna you have more efficient.

Since I like verticals (yeah, I know..they radiate equally poor in all directions), that means optimizing my installation. The 33' vertical I had up for a while really did work "poorly" because I only had 4 ground radials laying on the ground. To be even minimally "optimized", I would have needed something like 64 of them, and that ain't gonna happen!

It was a noisy antenna, and didn't radiate as well as my BuddiPole. When I set this iteration of the BuddiPole up last weekend, it was 90% of what I wanted; The feed point was about 6' above ground, and both radials were also 6' above ground. This isolates the radials from ground-effects, like soil conductivity and dielectric constant, and gets them close to being in the theoretical Free Space environment. The only things I would improve on is getting it up a bit higher, and adding a couple of more radials, even though everything I've read indicates two is fine.

And it's a much quieter antenna compared to the ground-mounted vertical. This leads me to believe that the 33' vertical would work very well if I had it and the radials 8' in the air, very similar to how I had it installed in Long Beach.

Now I just have to figure out what to use, and get it planted.