Archive for April, 2008


April 28th, 2008

Cloud on Mount Haleakala

Work sent me on a last-minute trip to Maui at the beginning of April to focus some cameras and collect backup data.  It’s pretty hard to complain about that.  Although, I didn’t get to see much since we had a motherboard fail the last night I was there.  The dead board has two RS-232 ports, which is about impossible to find these days.  Fortunately, we had another computer with the exact same board in the lab.  So, we got that running again and shipped it back.  Hopefully, it will just work.

The Application of Minimum Force

April 28th, 2008

I just finished reading Robert Young Pelton‘s Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror.  It’s a pretty well-balanced look at the face of the modern mercenary that should easily let you draw your own conclusions about “the business.”  Toward the end of the book, Pelton recounts a meeting he attended between the energetic chairman of one large, infamous, U.S. security contractor and representatives from a British counterpart firm.  The British, Pelton reminds the reader, have a long history of counterinsurgency experience (including the birth of the U.S., I might add).  At the end of the meeting, after the American has bragged on his weapons R&D, one of the British men parts with the following words, “It’s the application of minimum force.”

The entire book was worth reading for this sentence.  It is a brilliant statement that tends to be lost on most of us, not just in terms of military action.  A friend in college used to talk about how the school football and wrestling coaches liked farm boys because they were often deceptively strong.  I told him that I suspected “farmer strength” tends to come from a lifetime of having to move things.  Familiarity with your work environment makes you a better worker.  I used to do plenty of framing work, mostly with Habitat for Humanity.  One of my favorite parts of home construction is hanging trusses.  Walking on walls is like ice skating or walking barefoot on sharp gravel or hunting or conducting a tense meeting or traveling in a foreign country or driving on snow.  Make one quick move and you’ll fall.  Acceleration, literally the result of an unbalanced force, is perilous.

New personal goal: Practice more finesse and less brute force.  Apply minimum force.

Possible Earthquake Damage in Urbana, Illinois

April 23rd, 2008

Earthquake damage in Urbana

Ok, so this is late news. Twice on Friday and again on Sunday night, Illinois was hit with a magnitude 5.2, and two magnitude 4.0ish earthquakes. I was awake when the big one rattled the house at 4:37 on Friday morning. Sarah slept through it and only half believed me when I told her at 6:00 that there had been an earthquake. “Check CNN,” she said after I produced the evidence. CNN had continuous loop of some bricks that had fallen from a building somewhere in KY.

On the way to the office, I noticed on our street that a garbage can had been tipped over. “Earthquake damage, ” I thought with a chuckle. Later, it occurred to me that I should have snapped a picture of the scene and sent it to CNN’s iReport. Following Sunday night’s aftershock, I snapped a picture of the still horizontal garbage can on my Monday commute. As if the neighbors don’t think I’m weird enough already with all of the antennas!

So, for your pleasure, I’ve included this picture of possible earthquake damage. On the other hand, it could have been procyonidae lotor (somewhat doubtful given that there’s no avalanche of rubbish pouring out of it), a stiff breeze, or intoxicated youth. But, CNN would have never known!  On the other hand, the Onion pays good money for stuff like this.  Sometimes, the difference is subtle…

Bench Time: Airplane and a TS-930 repaired

April 23rd, 2008


As I lamented in the last post, I am surrounded by ailing gadgets in need of repair.  Last weekend, I tackled two of them.  The first was the airplane.  A gust of wind had destabilized the plane sending it crashing to the ground.  The front set of pegs where rubber bands attach the wing were sheared-off.  A trip to a craft store with Sarah yielded an “1/8-inch” dowel and a sack of miniature thread spools.  I reamed-out two of the spools and press-fit them to the dowel for a slick replacement (sorry, no photo).  I have not flown the plane again, yet.  However, the weather has changed favorably.  So, that should happen any day now.

My older TS-930S developed a PLL unlock error over time.  The error occurred when I changed bands or modes.  Fortunately, several months ago, the topic had been discussed on the TS-930/TS-940 reflector, although I was just getting around to thinking about it.  Clif Holland, KA5IPF, who has repaired Kenwood radios for many years, suggested that a common culprit is the 36.1-MHz heterodyne oscillator in the signal unit and prescribed a simple adjustment of L77.  It took a little while to adjust it to my satisfaction.  Indeed, I wasn’t even sure I’d made any improvement at all at first.  However, once the radio warms up, band and mode changes are seamless again!  This sure helped out for fast QSYs in the Michigan QSO Party.

On the topic of TS-930’s, I’m still having woes on SSB with the other radio.  I swiped (and promptly returned) a microphone from the TS-850S at W9YH to ensure that the problem wasn’t my Pro-Set.  It has to be something between the mic jack and the signal unit.  But, the mic jack is a real pain to get to.  Someday.

Repairs and junk…

April 13th, 2008

One of the curses of attempting (I say ‘attempting’ because I’m mostly a failure) to be a “sustainable consumer” of electronics and appliances is the inevitable repairs.  My venerable desktop PC of 8.5 years (known affectionately by it’s hostname “sakhalin”) is finally showing its age.  It has trouble finding the boot drive from time to time.  The “A radio” TS-930S doesn’t transmit on SSB anymore (this is a long-standing problem I have yet to diagnose), which is unfortunate because it has the roofing filter and Inrad SSB filters.  The power nozzle for our Hoover canister vacuum cleaner needs an agitator belt.  I need to find a local vacuum repair shop because none of the big stores carry the right size.  I think Sarah would be just as happy to replace it with an upright.  But, the canister still works!  I wrecked the airplane a couple of weeks ago when the weather was not quite nice enough to be flying it.  Fortunately, I have $3 worth of MacGuyver parts and epoxy that should be sufficient to make that repair.  The wind broke one of the wires on my open-wire 80-meter dipole.  (Finally, I reached the point of “if it stayed up last winter it’s not big enough.”  The proof is in the performance, too.)

I’ll probably get the airplane and the antenna fixed yet this afternoon.  The other problems are more long-standing.  The desktop PC isn’t really necessary, especially since Sarah will be getting a laptop with her new job.  So, I really probably could let it go.  I still have the Pentium 166 that I bummed off of Dad for a contesting computer.  It’s working great.  But, do I unload the newer, superior computer that’s flaky?  I have been tempted to dump the 166.  I should try a new hard drive in sakhalin.  Then there’s Sarah’s desktop…I can count on one hand the number of times it’s been turned on since we got married and I was the one using it!  I’m holding onto Alan’s PowerBook because it’s the only place I have Adobe CS2.  And, I have the ThinkPad “contesting laptop” that Ryan gave me when I got married…  I guess if I weren’t such a tightwad and Mac-addict, I wouldn’t have this problem!  No more junk!

We have five CRT’s in the house…two Dell 19″ Trinitrons on my desk, Sarah’s 17″ un-Trinitron Dell, my oscilloscope, and the TV.  I’m not planning to replace the ‘scope or the TV anytime soon.  So, I guess it’s the computers are the ones that will have to go…I just can’t let go of my junk…  And, I went out and bought a new camera…sigh.

Performance enhancement for the thinking man

April 11th, 2008

Recently the popular news has picked up a story about a paper in the journal Nature from December 2007.  The article invokes a crude online survey of academics and scientists about their use of prescription medications like Ritalin as concentration aids.  One of the respondents thought that it was his duty to be as “productive” as possible during his lifetime of “humane service.”  My diagnosis is an acute case of self-importance.

Medication is often prescribed or taken as a substitute for lifestyle changes.  While lifestyle doesn’t always help, it deserves more credit than it gets.  For instance, a friend from college always used to wait until the last possible minute to complete his assignments.  Invariably, he did as well or better than the rest of us.  He spent most of his time doing whatever it was that interested him at the moment and then blitzed the homework.  Brilliant.  If what you’re doing isn’t important enough to capture your focus, you’re not doing the right thing.

Case in point: contesting with SO2R.  You need contact volume to win a contest.  But, pushing F1 isn’t that interesting after the rate slows.  You also need multipliers to win a contest.  This is hard work; but, it’s more engaging than running.  If you do both at the same time, it increases your overall productivity.  A fundamental shift in strategy produces a performance gain.

Improvement requires effort and creativity, not a pill.