Tuesday, May 31, 2011

All Work and Little Play....

Well, we've made good progress getting some systems running again. The Launch Control Center is now operable, and I was able to get Management to dump some of the old, antiquated software we were using, like PCAnywhere, in favor of a new program I use here at home called TightVNC. We use it for remotely connecting to, and controlling, a bunch of servers that provide all the display screens in "Mission Control".
Quite frankly, PCAnywhere is a PIG for resources, and extremely slooooow. It would take about 40 seconds from when you hit the "connect" button until the remote desktop appeared. With TightVNC it happens so fast you barely have time to count "One....Two..." and BAM, you're connected and displaying the remote desktop.
On top of that, PCAnywhere is $200 per pair of PC's you want to use it with, and TightVNC is free, as it's licensed under the GPL, like Linux. It's faster, can be more secure, and very simple to set up and use.
People's jaws dropped when I did the demo, as they were used to starting PCAnywhere, and then going for a cup of coffee.
Considering we use this type of software to control several dozen computers, I think I just earned my salary for the month.
We still have to figure out the clock system, as it's been changed several times without proper documentation, and nobody knows who did what. It's a robust system using several GPS units that spit out a time code to a "server" box (basically a NMEA-0183-to-RS-485 converter), and it's one of those things that "just runs", but if it ever broke, we'd be lacking a paddle to get back down sh1t creek without proper documentation!
Today we started on one of my 'specialties', the Weather Radar System. When we first powered it up and tried to command the antenna, things went nuts, and the PC we use to control it shut everything down to prevent damage. If you've ever seen a fully-steerable 3 Meter dish go bonkers, you know it's not pretty. We found corroded slip rings, and loose connections to the servos, synchros, and tachs. When we first powered it up, it took about 15 minutes to run "fsck", as the last person to shut it down just pulled the plug, NOT something you do to a UNIX Operating System unless it can't be avoided.
Tomorrow I'll look through the logs to see when the last time was that it was powered up and exercised, and that will probably explain why the loose connections weren't noted in the written log ("Antenna won't sync" or something similar), and the lack of operation would also explain why the slip rings got all crummy from just sitting.
After that we'll check the installed TWTA, and swap in the spare for testing.
Compared to all the PC bashing I've done lately, doing some "Real RF" work will be fun!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Fifty Years Ago Today....."We Choose To Go To The Moon"

President Kennedy gave his "We choose to go to the Moon" speech, kicking off the greatest human exploration of all time.

My, my........how times have changed........

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Field Day's Coming Up....

Just talked to my son, who'll be taking Friday morning off to help set up, and all day Saturday off to play radio with me again this year. It's kind of a father-and-son tradition, and it's a lot of fun for us both.
Friday night we had the annual "White Elephant" sale where people bring in stuff they no longer want/need, and yours truly does the "auctioneering".
We only raised about $550 this year, a far cry from some of the years where we raised almost $2000. In a way it's good, though, as in the big money years we had a lot of donations from Silent Key estates, so less equipment coming in as donations mean fewer people passed away.
I was too busy this weekend to start checking out my gear, but I'll get started on that next weekend. I did manage to (finally!) get the lights wired up and tested on my little tower trailer, so the next milestone for that will be the DMV inspection and registration so I can hang a license plate on it and be 'legit'. With signs all over the roads out here in Kaliforniastan about traffic fines now being $1,000 ( ? ! ? ) in "construction zones", I'd hate to even think about what they'd clobber you with for a non-registered, non-licensed vehicle.
And now that I've got my Heathkit SB-310 running so well, I started in on my Heathkit "Mohican" GC-1A receiver. As usual, all the controls and switches will need cleaning, and I'm sure I'll have to do an alignment on it. I tried powering it up today for the first time, and nothing....nada.....zip....completely dead. I started checking the battery pack (it takes EIGHT "C" cells), and found the negative lead of the pack was broken loose from the lug on the connector it goes to. Replaced the 40+ year old wire with a new piece, plugged the pack back in, and it started to work. When I shut it down, I pulled the battery pack to disconnect it, and I noticed the batteries were HOT. Uh-oh....never a good sign! Looking at the schematic I saw that there were several electrolytic capacitors directly on the 12 Volt line, so I pulled the chassis out of the case, and one of them (in the audio section) had failed, and the end plug was pushed out of the can about 1/8". I was planning on replacing all of the electrolytics and any other tubular caps in there, and this just confirmed what I've known for years, that you really have to replace these things when they're this old. If the radio had been in use, the electrolytic capacitors probably would have stayed "formed", but these old design types aren't sealed very well, and once they dry out they become more resistor than capacitor.
Don't have any of that value in easy reach, so I'll stop tomorrow on the way home from work and grab a bunch.
Oh, and the dial cord for the bandspread dial has slipped off the drum, and the drum on the main tuning capacitor needs to have the hub soldered on. Somebody tried using some epoxy to "fix" it, but since it's a brass hub on a tin-plated steel drum, soldering it is really the way to go. Since I have to take the whole front panel apart to re-string the dials, I'll solder *both* drums to their hibs, and be done with it.
Have a good week, everybody!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Pat Condell on the Death of Osama bin Laden

You GOTTA watch this. This guy says an awful lot of what most of us feel.
Great stuff!
And in case you're wondering who he is, here's a bit about him.


From a buddy of mine.....

"Thanking Obama for killing Bin Laden is like going into

McDonalds and thanking Ronald McDonald for the hamburger.

It's the guy cooking the burger that should get the credit, not the clown."

Sunday, May 15, 2011

2011 Chino Airshow Pictures Now Online

Spent some time today going over the pix, and here they are.
There's some duds in here, but hopefully none of them are too bad!
It was a great airshow, although I think the weather was better for flying today. We had a front go through with some rain, and the sky was crystal clear and bright blue today.
If you don't want to watch them in the blog window, here's a direct link to where they are.

Strike Eagle on Afterburner

STILL going through the 300+ pictures I took at the 2011 Chino Airshow. Some are out-of-focus, some have people's heads in the way, and I even managed to get a couple of my own feet and the parking lot surface!
I've culled the bad ones either into my "duds" file, or straight to the trash bin, so I've cut the 300+ down to about 200. I'm going to pick out the best of the ones I kept, and post them on Photobucket with the slide-show link to hear like I did a while back with the Fort MacArthur pictures.
In the meantime, enjoy this one from the F-15 Strike Eagle demonstration.
Good God, are those things FAST, even considering he couldn't go over the Mach in the area.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

2011 Chino Airshow

The YF and I went to her first airshow today, out at the Planes of Fame Air Museum in Chino. I used to go to all the airshows out here in SoCal, stating with the airshow at MCAS El Toro, going next to Chino, then the Point Mugu airshow, then the Miramar airshow, and finishing up the season with the Big One at Edwards AFB.
Sadly, El Toro is closed, and Miramar, former home of the Navy's Top Gun program, is just a shadow of its former self. I haven't checked to see if Pt Mugu still has the airshow, and Edwards, as fascinating a place as it is, has turned into a PITA to get into and out of for the airshow due to all the development of the surrounding areas.
The Chino show was great this year, with a large crowd of friendly people. The weather was kind of hit-or-miss, with clouds early, clearing in time for the show, and then clouding up again around intermission time. It cleared again. though. and the flying was great.
The most interesting thing I noticed, is that when the National Anthem was sung for the opening of the show, the place got so quiet you hear a pin drop.
ALL the men took off their hats, and a good number came to attention with some of the best executed salutes I've seen in years. Guess airshows attract a different crowd than all the other "sporting events" I've seen and been to over the years, with whistling, talking, and hootin' and hollerin' going on during the Anthem. Shameful behavior, but not today at Chino.
Anywhoo....I took several hundred pictures, and until I get them sorted, cleaned up, and posted on Photobucket, this one will have to do.
It's the "Heritage Flight", with an F-15 Strike Eagle flanked by two P-38's.
Enjoy, and I'll try and get the other pix online ASAP.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Heathkit SB-310 Receiver

I bought this from a very nice young couple that found it at a yard sale, and listed it on eBay. I was able to pick in up in person, as they don't live to far from here, and we agreed to meet at a SixBucks Coffee shop about half way between their place and mine.
It was exactly as they described it, and pretty clean considering it's about 45 years old. The matching SB-600 speaker that came with it has the typical Heathkit/Hallicrafters "peeling paint" syndrome, as back "In The Day" they didn't prepare the aluminum cases for paint they way we do now.
I pulled it from the case, and dusted it out with a soft paintbrush, and then proceeded to clean the tube sockets, switch contacts, and potentiometers with some Caig DeOxIt, and lubed the ball detents on the switches with a drop of gun oil. The mode switch was stiff and hard to turn, so I pulled the knob off and used a drop of light penetrating oil on the bushing where it comes through the front panel, and let the radio sit for a couple of hours with the front panel up so the oil could get in to the bushing.
While that was happening, I checked all the tubes with my EICO 667 tube tester, and surprise! They were all good. They were also all original Mullard and Tung-Sol tubes, which is what Heathkit supplied back then.
After putting the mode switch knob back on, and plugging all the tubes back in, I let it and my signal generator warm up for a couple of hours, and started in on the alignment.
Boy, was it ever out of whack!
The worst were the Heterodyne Oscillator (what Heath called the 1st Local Oscillator) coils, which required 1~3 turns of the slugs to get them back in spec. The 1st IF cans weren't too bad, but peaking them (1/2~1 turn) really made the noise level come up. The antenna and RF Amplifier coils were about as far off as the H.O. coils, and by the time I had everything peaked, signals were coming in without an antenna!
I had to put a dummy load on the antenna connector so I could go back through the alignment again, and make sure everything was adjusted right.
The last things to address were the S-meter calibration pot, and the Preselector variable cap. The S-meter pot was out of adjustment, resulting in the meter being "Off Scale Negative", and the Preselector cap was noisy as I turned it. A drop of light synthetic oil cured the cap, and adjusting the S-meter pot brought it back in line.
I still have some cleaning and polishing to do, and I have to install the 400Hz CW filter I bought for it. I'm also going to replace the original frosted "#47" pilot light bulbs with some of the frosted white LED lamps made just for this purpose, and this old warhorse will be ready to cruise the bands again.
My first "real" Amateur Radio receiver was a Hallicrafters SX-146, which was a present from my parents for passing my Novice exam back in 1964. My Dad had some friends who were "into" radio, and they all told him "Get the kid a GOOD receiver so he can hear the other stations, or he'll lose interest fast", so he consulted with them for a good one at a decent price (sorry, NO Collins gear!), and they gave it to me the day my Novice license arrived. When I upgraded to General Class about 10 months later, I had saved up enough money to buy a Heathkit SB-301 receiver, and an SB-401 transmitter, and Mom and Dad kicked in the extra money so I could get the crystal pack for the transmitter allowing 'split' operation, and the CW filter for the receiver. They also bought me the matching SB-600 speaker, and the SB-630 station console.
The SB-310 is the General Coverage version of the Amateur Band only SB-301, so it's like having an old friend return after many years.
No, it doesn't have all the bells-and-whistles that new radios have, and the audio is a little "hissy", but it's very sensitive, has decent selectivity with the crystal filters, and is rock solid stable after it's been operating for half an hour or so.
And it's got TUBES in it so it Glows In The Dark, and will probably survive an EMP!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Happy Mother's Day!

To all the women and "other" Mother's out there!

Yeah, bad joke, but I'm really busy today doing "home owner" stuff. Being back at work is great, but it sure cuts down on the amount of said maintenance I can get done during the week.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Obama The Puppet.....

If you have any remaining doubts that "president" Obama is completely UNqualified for the job, READ THIS.

I particularly like the part about "President Obama was literally pulled from a golf outing and escorted back to the White House to be informed of the mission."

This man is totally incompetent, and should be removed from office immediately.

Thanks to Ed at Thunder Tales for the link!

Meet Luna!

 Great name for our new pup, eh? She's camera shy, and "Red Eye Removal" doesn't work for dogs! She's two years old, p...