Sunday, January 31, 2016

Voting, and other distractions.....

Found cartoon over at, and shamelessly borrowed from, Rev, Paul's place.

I haven't decided yet who I'm 100% behind, but it sure aint The Hildebeast.

Some people say we're too far gone to "vote ourselves out of this mess", and that ANY candidate is merely a puppet for one of the New World Order groups.

I don't think we're quite past Claire Wolfe's "Awkward Stage", but we're pretty damn close.....

If you or I tried some of the stuff The Hildebeast has done, we'd be locked up in a "Federal Pound-Me-In-The-Ass Prison", probably for 25-to-life.

And yet The Hildebeast continues to walk free, and is even running for President.

I wonder who I ticked off, to be consigned to live in such "interesting" times......

Friday, January 29, 2016

Friday Already?

Still waiting for the "4-pin" cable from the Maestro RR people so I can finish installing the new Kenwood radio into my Jeep. They're in Canada, so it might be here today, but I'm betting it won't be here until next week.

And the two switches on the steering wheel that control the radio channel selection (left switch) and the volume (right) switch haven't shown up yet, either.

The USPS "tracking number" claims they were delivered last Saturday, but my buddy where my mail drop is hasn't seen them.

I dropped the vendor a note, and he sent another set out on Wednesday, so they also might be here today since he's in AZ.

And of course, it's supposed to rain some this weekend, starting on Saturday night. *IF* the parts get here today I should be able to swap out the radios tomorrow before it starts raining.

And on the Iowa, we were (FINALLY!) able to get audio routed from one of the "Red Phones", through the "Coke Machine", and the transmitter audio switchboard, down to transmitter #3, and were able to get 500 Watts output from the transmitter into the dummy load. We then noticed that the Power Output knob was backed off a bit, and once we ran that up to max, we were getting 1000 Watts out.

The Power Output control knob is VERY nonlinear in it's action, and turning it down just a few degrees drops the power from 1000 Watts to 400~500 Watts. We don't really need full power out of the transmitter, and considering the two antennas we'll be using, we don't WANT 1000 Watts, as the tour route gets to within 5 or 10 feet of the antennas, and we have to limit the RF exposure to our guests.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

On The Workbench This Week

Only this time it's not something being repaired, but something being assembled.

A few months after I bought my Jeep in the fall of 2006, I decided I wanted a navigation unit for it. I'd just helped my son install a Pioneer AVIC nav radio in his Xterra, so I started looking into an aftermarket unit, as the Jeep came with a pretty generic AM/FM/Sirius radio with a single-disc CD player, and I wanted something more integrated to the vehicle so I wouldn't have to reach over and grab my hand-held GPS when I wanted to see where I was. that time, in order to keep my steering wheel controls, I would have had to add several aftermarket modules, and cut into the wiring harness in several places, and it still wasn't guaranteed that everything would work.

SO....I opted for an OEM navigation unit from an eBay seller who came highly recommended on several Jeep forums.

I bought the radio at a great price, and then got the replacement plastic bezel for it, and installed it in less than 45 minutes!

The first thing I was unhappy with was that it did NOT have a touch screen, and I had to enter the street name and number the scroll knob.

What a huge PITA!

You simply didn't have enough time at a red light to do anything, and as soon as your speed went over 5~7MPH, it would lock out the front controls, so your passenger couldn't even use it!

Yeah, I understand the safety aspect, but if the car's  computer is smart enough to trip the seat belt warning chime when my dog is riding with me, why couldn't it be "smart" enough to sense a passenger is there, and unlock the controls so the passenger could make adjustments?

Damn lawyers..... forward 10 years to the present. The joystick/scroll knob used to input data or move the on-screen navigation cursor has been getting intermittent, and the 6-disc CD changer has gotten to where it maybe will/maybe won't play a disc, depending on ambient temperature, the day of the week, and possibly the phase of the Moon. It might be fixable, but I 'd really like a touch screen, and the Sirius/XM tuner has started getting funky, too, dropping signals and suffering "digital breakup" more and more often.

Things have progressed to the point that I was able to get a single box adapter that splices in between the OEM plugs in the car, and the wiring harness for the new radio, and retain full functionality of my steering wheel controls.

This little gem is called a "Maestro RR", made by Automotive Data Solutions, based in Montreal, Canada.

Just a little black box that captures and manipulates the data from the steering wheel controls, and turns it into something the radio can understand.

So, being somewhat of a Kenwood aficionado,  I ordered a DNX771HD from Cructchfield, a Maestro "Rr" interface unit, and all the other wiring harness adapters.

After going through some of the spotty documentation, I finally figured it all out and sat down and soldered the two wiring harnesses together.

Here it is, with the Kenwood on the left, the Maestro RR module in the middle, and the gray plugs on the right  which connect to the existing Jeep OEM wiring harness:

The Maestro RR module also has connections to the OBD II port, allowing various engine parameters to be measured, and displayed:

And it all plugs into the Kenwood radio using the Kenwood OEM connectors:

I used my typical "Good Amateur Practice" from the ARRL Handbook, and soldered the connections together, and covered them with heat shrinkable tubing:

And then we hit some snags.

The M5 screws provided with the Kenwood were too short to go through the thick plastic brackets in the dashboard adapter, so I had to hit the hardware store for some longer ones:

And, of course, some washers to spread the clamping force on the plastic, so it won't crack, which I've had happen before:

Since installing an aftermarket head unit loses control of the OEM Sirius/XM radio, a new receiver module is needed, seen here with the mating plug to the new head unit:

The new receiver has a $70 up-front cost, but when I call to cancel the service on the existing one, and activate this new one, I'll supposedly get a $70 gift card, making the receiver essentially "free". I'm also told that any remaining time on my existing contract will be added to the new contract for this new receiver.

And finally, the last remaining snag that stopped me from having this installed this weekend.....

This radio is an "iDatalink Compatible" model, which means that it's designed with the Maestro module in mind. Besides all the small plugs on the Maestro adapter harness and the OEM harness, which allows the Maestro to tap into the CAN bus of the vehicle, there's two addition connectors on the radio that go to the Maestro module.

WELL.....guess what? One of the cable assemblies that transfers data between the radio and Maestro module was missing from the new, sealed box the Maestro was in!

I went to "" forum, where the Maestro technical reps hang out, and after a few days, I have a replacement cable on the way. Hopefully it went out Monday afternoon and I'll have it by Friday, but with the weather problems on the East coast, who knows when it will show up.

I'll do another post detailing the actual installation into my Jeep Grand Cherokee and a mini-review of the whole shebang once I get the missing cable.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Any Huey Pilots Out There?

I've flown in the Bell civilian version of the twin-engine "Huey" (a Bell 212, IIRC) numerous times, but never in a real UH-1.

My question is based on what you see in the movies, where the pilot jumps in, starts flipping switches, and gets airborne really quick,

BUT, since we all know Hollyweird tends to take great liberties with real-world things, I know it's probably not anywhere near realistic.

So, assuming your bird is sitting there in good flying weather, full of fuel and fluids, and is 100% preflight checked, and tagged as  "good to go" by a Crew Chief you really trust, and you have clearance for immediate take-off, just how fast could you get airborne?

This is a real, "somebody's life depends on it" scenario, where you roar up to your bird in a Jeep, jump in the bird, and start flipping switches even as you're buckling up and getting your helmet on.

When I was flying with the contractor pilots at Sea Launch, it was all extremely scripted and scheduled. They stroll out to the bird, climb in, buckle up, put their helmets on and plug-in, and run through their preflight checklist, and then start waking up the bird. They always had enough time that they'd sit on the pad, engines idling, and rotors turning, until they received clearance, and then they'd power up and lift off.

It probably took about 30 minutes from when they got in until they lifted off. Safety was tantamount with everything these guys did, and they were very good pilots, well experienced with off-shore operations, and landing on a moving, pitching, rolling platform.

So, assuming things are damn near perfect before you launch, how fast can you get airborne?

Monday, January 18, 2016

RIP Glen Frey

What a bummer.....

The Eagles have always been one of my favorite bands, and now they've lost one of their founders.

Truly a sad day for music....

Sunday, January 17, 2016

One for Miss Lisa and Wirecutter


Antenna Work, Part II

OK, so I dropped the antenna down today, and swapped out my homebrew PVC adapter for the OEM metal version.

I took a bunch of pictures....BUT.....I had my camera set wrong, and the pix came out so overexposed that I couldn't even save them with GIMP.

So, all I have to show are some before and after plots, and those didn't covert very well, either.

Here's the 2 Meter VSWR graph with the plastic mounting:

And here it is with the OEM metal mounting:

Here's the 70cm plot wth plastic:

And here's the plot with the OEM metal mount:

Sorry for the terrible size disparity with the plots. I had to "print to file" on the Windoze machine, then convert them to png's on the Linux machine, and the "print to file" utility that creates the pdf dows whacky stuff.

I have the Linux version of the capture/display software for my AA-520 analyzer, and I think it's high time I install it, and learn to use it!

ANYWAY......the plastic vs metal plots don't look much different, so I'm not expecting much difference in performance. I called "CQ" on our "club-comm" frequency of 145.510, but couldn't raise anybody on either radio, so I assume they're all busy tonight.

Now one thing kind of jumps out at me, and that's how FLAT the VSWR curve is on 2 Meters. That kind of "flatness" over a wider bandwidth than the antenna is rated for can be indicative of an excessively lossy feedline.

I'm going to run some plots on the little GP-1 antenna, and see if it looks more like the published curves. I physically inspected the feedline on the GP-3 today, and there's no external evidence of damage to it, the PL-259's are properly soldered and the one at the antenna was still nice and shiny and clean after I took the tape off of it.

Yeah, I know, I should have made some loss measurements, but I got clobbered with some Honey Dews right in the middle of this today.

It's an easy 10-minute job to lower the antenna and disconnect the coax, so if the plots on the GP-1 look like the ones Comet publishes, I have a feeling I'll be dropping the GP-3 down again on Monday......

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Antenna Work

Did not happen today.

I dug out the bottom piece from the garage, only to find I've misplaced (what else is new......) the M6x8 bolt that holds it to the bottom of the antenna!

So, not having any metric bolts that size that fell "readily to hand", I made a run to Home Depot to get a replacement.

This issue with the antenna started sometime ago when I took down my Arrow Antenna GP52 6 Meter 1/4 wave vertical antenna and replaced it with my Comet GP-3 2M/70cm vertical so I could run the net from the shack, instead of using my Drake TR-270 which is in the living room on my wife's computer desk.

There were just too many times when people were over, or she was watching TV, and the "QRM" in the room was too high, and went out over-the-air, to properly conduct the net.

The GP-3 is a great little antenna, very rugged, and only 6' tall, meaning it doesn't really stand out in the neighborhood. The Drake is connected to it's little brother, the GP-1, and that's also an excellent antenna.

I'd been using the GP-3 at my apartment in Torrance before I moved here, and it worked extremely well. Back at the apartment it was on a 5' tripod, with a single 5' piece of mast, on top of a large two story building, with a clear view in all 360*. I could easily hit repeaters that were 70 miles away, and make reliable simplex contacts out to 30 miles.

Here at the house, it's on the same 5' tripod, ground mounted this time, with three 5' sections of mast, getting it well above the roof line with a clear view in all 360*. I'm even using the same length of coax, as it was "close enough" to being the right length, and was in excellent condition. The loss measurement for that piece of coax (Davis RF "Bury Flex") was as expected for the length, and the connectors were like new due to the fact I always properly weatherproof my connections on the outside ends.

I swept it with my Rig Expert AA-520 antenna analyzer, and the SWR was almost identical to the published curves for the antenna.

So I should be good to go, right?

Well, not really......The antenna just never "worked right", with receive being down from what it was in Torrance, although transmit seemed about the same. Now that's not really a good indicator, as I have a clear shot at the repeater, and can hit it almost "full quieting" with 5 Watts from my HT in the front yard. The problem came with simplex operation, when this higher gain (4.5dBi on 2M), physically higher antenna didn't even perform as well as the Comet GP-1 ("3dB" on 2M. No mention of it being dBi or dBd but I suspect dBi) on the other side of the house, and just barely clear of the roof line!

The only difference between the way it's mounted here at the house is when I swapped it out with the 6M antenna, I couldn't find the bottom "mount support pipe" piece, so I slipped it into a section of PVC conduit, and put it up.

This picture shows the metal piece, directly under the radials, at the bottom of the antenna:

And this is the actual item, measuring 245mm in length:

I'm not sure that this would be part of the antenna, or just a structurally sound piece to support the antenna. If it were actually part of the antenna, electrically speaking, I'd expect it to be held to the main part of the antenna with more than ONE bolt.

And since the radials are "too short" for doing much on 2M, I'm guessing that they're for the 70cm section of the antenna.

Guess I'll find out tomorrow when I put it back on the antenna!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Thursday Night Net Operations - Listening In......

The "other" radio club I'm in has been running a Thursday night Net since way before I got back into Ham Radio in 1995, and for about 10 of the last 21 years, I've been the Net Control station.

The functions of the Net Control are varied, depending on the type of net run, what frequencies it uses, and a whole lot of other things. Our club net was generally an informal on-the-air gathering where roll was called, people checked in, net control made some general announcements, and then turned the net over to the club president who polled each club officer, told us what specific events were coming up, and then opened the net up to club members for questions, comments, tall tales, etc. Pretty informal stuff, and not nearly as structured as an EMCOMM or traffic handling net would be, where you basically check-in, and then maintain radio silence until asked to respond.

WELL.....some years ago the owner of the repeater we used decided to connect the repeater as an Internet Radio Linking Project (IRLP) node. IRLP is an interesting technology, which requires the users to access the node using a radio, and then the node converts to voice to VOIP, and sends it into the Internet, where it pops out on another node, and goes back out over-the-air. While a Ham can make a direct connection from their PC to the node, it's generally NOT allowed, somewhat ensuring that actual radios are used by the participants.

This is different than Echolink, which may or may not require a radio to access a node, or may be accessed directly from your computer.

Echolink has been (sometimes unfairly) compared to being a "glorified chat-room", as Hams can make "contacts" computer-to-computer, with NO RF involved at all. The only thing that makes it "Ham Only" is that in order to get registered as a node and have access to the system, you have to submit a copy of your Amateur Radio license.

These systems generally work quite well, and usually allow "arm chair copy" of the stations you're talking to, as long as you have a good (full quieting) signal into the repeater/node.

HOWEVER.....since you're dealing with interconnected machines over long distances, your operating procedure has to be different than if you're using a "normal" repeater, or operating simplex, namely that you must add a significant pause after the repeater stops transmitting, and another pause after you start your transmission, but before you speak.

This is because each of the linked repeaters has to stop transmitting, sit idle for a bit, and then accept your transmission. The pause before you speak is required to allow things to "settle" into their new state, and if you don't pause before speaking, you're likely to have the first few syllables, or even complete words, chopped off.

All this is quite variable, and depends on how each node/link is configured, and can vary from "pretty quick" to "almost useless".

Unfortunately the repeater the club was using falls into the latter category.....

I got very tired of explaining the same thing, to the same people, over and over and over again, week after week after week.

One particularly bad night I decided I'd had it, and sent an email to the club that effective immediately, I was no longer going to be the Net Control Station. A few guys jumped in to do it on a week-to-week basis, but it took a couple of months before somebody volunteered to take it over.

A few weeks ago the club decided to abandon the repeater, and go to a simplex net. We have a couple of guys who live on the Palos Verdes peninsula, and have enough elevation to overlook the entire L.A. Basin, so they can act as relays for those times when the Net Control Station can't hear someone clearly.

Some club members were unhappy with this, with reasons ranging from "All I have is an HT, and I won't be heard" (valid reason, but get an outside antenna and it'll help a lot. This guy lives where outside antennas are allowed, and his family is very well off), to "I'll have to reprogram my radio" (bogus - if you can't program ONE new, SIMPLEX frequency you probably don't deserve a Ham license), along with the usual complainers who gripe about EVERYTHING.

So, tonight I listened in, and as expected, the guys on Palos Verdes come booming in, and the other stations ranged from readable, to pure noise. I know I have an antenna issue with the 2M/70cm rig I'm using in the shack, and I have the parts to fix it. I suppose I should do that tomorrow, take a few pix, and have another post about "Don't Do This!", but that's for a later date.

The guy who took over the net has come a long ways, with a significant amount of "Elmering" by myself and the other experienced operators, but that's also another story for another day........

Saturday, January 9, 2016

A Bit More Rain On The Way

Supposed to start tonight after 2200, taper off during the day on Sunday, and then be partly sunny and dry until Wednesday.

Just let the dog out, and it's sprinkling again....

So far for the year, we've received 3.98" of rain, compared to a 5.77" "normal" rainfall for the same period, July to January.

The 12 month "normal" rainfall for Long Beach is 12.26" from July to July, so we're still quite a bit less than "normal".

We'll just have to wait and see what the rest of January, along with February, March, and maybe April and May bring.

And we're going to see the new Star Wars movie tonight. I've heard good and bad reviews of it, but I really want to see how a 73 year old Han Solo acts.....

Last night we went to the local Stonefire Grill, and I was NOT impressed.

It's one of those places where you order, get a little "table beeper" so they can find your table when the food is ready, and then bring you your food,

The entrees arrived at different times, followed by the side orders, and the appetizers arrived last.

I had a French Dip, which was like chunks of yesterday's (fatty) pot roast dumped on a decent bun, served up with OK garlic mashed potatoes, and some of Dow Corning's best "au jus".

The bread sticks were slightly burnt on the ends, doughy in the middle, and slathered in some concoction of "cheese", parsley, and Mobil One.

Needless to say, I won't be going back anytime soon.....

Thursday, January 7, 2016

WHOO-HOO! New Water Heater Installed!

Our great neighbor and dear family friend, Mike The Plumber, had the old one out, and the new one in, in under an hour.

Hey, he's a Professional, so don't try this at home!

He also replaced the inlet/outlet flex pipes, as the old ones were crummy, and new ones are CHEEP!

The old, dead unit is laying in the driveway now, and we'll haul it out later to have the city pick it up.

States I've Visited

Courtesy of Rev Paul!

Create Your Own Visited States Map

Create Your Own Visited States Map

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Rain, Day 2

So far we're at 1.35" for this storm, and Friday is supposed to be a nice day, before the next round of storms hits on Saturday.

And that's a good thing, as our 20+ year old water heater, which has been slooowly failing has finally decided to call it quits.

I'm not sure what "wears out" in a gas water heater, but this one is no longer heating the water, even though we've cranked up the thermostat on it to almost max.

I remember way back when I was a kid, that they'd "burn out", usually flooding the basement until somebody could valve off the water to it.

This one isn't leaking, and when our plumber friend was over here earlier this week, he tried draining it, and very little sediment came out, so apparently it isn't loaded up with gunk.

The new 45 gallon commercial grade heater gets delivered Thursday afternoon ($540....OUCH!), and our plumber friend and my wife's oldest son will swap it out. The place he ordered the new heater from will come and collect the old one, so that's a worry we won't have.

But in the meantime, we have barely tepid water to shower with.

Hot water on demand is one of those things you just take for granted, and when it goes away, life gets a little different.......

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Rain, Day 1......

Well, it's been raining here since a little before 0800, about five hours, and we've received .9".

No signs of the yard getting saturated here yet, and the storm sewers are keeping the streets clear, at least in our little neighborhood.

It stopped raining about 5 minutes ago, so I'm going to grab the dog, and toss her out in the back yard as she hasn't gone outside since about 0200.

She'll go outside to do her business if it's raining and she's been inside for 8 hours or so, but she starts getting really "antsy" by that time.

At least she's really good about letting me wipe her paws off before she goes back inside......

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Batten Down The Hatches!

Looks like we've got five days of rain coming, starting later tonight.

Spent all day on the Iowa doing Tour Guide duty, not something I don't normally do, BUT.....

New Year's day was quiet on the ship, as most of the visiting Iowans were at the Rose Bowl, but Saturday was swamped, with around 1500 visitors, and few Tour Guides.


So our lead sent out an urgent plea for people to show up today, Sunday, so I told him I'd be down.

Pretty quiet until noon, and then over the next few hours we had several hundred people show up, mostly people who weren't able to get aboard during the Thursday pre-game rally.

So, I got to meet a lot of new people, and explain the various parts of the ship that I know, and answer a ton of questions.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy New Year!

Hope we all have a happy and joyous New Year.

My wife gave me a nice little Polaroid 10.1" Android tablet for Christmas, and I gave her a Liberty Cross from the Liberty Rings Company, along with a nice silver chain, and a gift card to Macy's, her favorite place to shop.

One of the projects for the coming year is to figure out how to get root access to the tablet, which is running Android 5.0.1 "Lollipop", and so far, all I've managed to do is lock it up hard enough that I had to do a "reset and restore" back to the OEM image.

5.0.1 isn't the newest Android version, but it's new enough, and this tablet is obscure enough, that I haven't been able to find a pre=packaged app to root it.

And the "allow installation of apps from unknown sources" selector is greyed-out, so the apps I have been able to find from "unknown sources" (i.e., NOT from the Google Play Store) so I can't go that route.

Time to brush up my hack-foo skills, I guess!


Turns out that if you go to Settings/About Tablet and tap the "Build Number" entry about 7 times, you get elevated to "Developer" status.

Then going to Settings/Security, and tapping the "Unknown Sources" entry several times, it pops up with a warning, which you tap "OK", and the control is no longer grayed-out.

So, I can now install the apps needed to root the tablet, and even access the bootloader if I want to change the ROM to something like ParanoidAndroid or Cyanogen.

Egad....'Tis a Trifle HOT This Week

 Or for what's remaining of the week. It was 97* today, and is expected to be 100+ through Sunday. The humidity is only 17%, so you step...