Posts Tagged ‘re-use’

Getting off Windows XP

May 18th, 2014

With the impending end-of-life of Windows XP a few weeks ago, I found myself with a bit of a predicament:  My shack PC is a dual-core 64-bit system (3.0-GHz Pentium-D) so it’s not really a slouch performer.  But, it had only 1 GB of RAM, which was fine for XP.  I could upgrade my RAM and upgrade Windows, or I could upgrade the RAM and dispense with Windows altogether.

I opted to drop Windows.

My almost-3-year-old son helped me install 4 GB of RAM last weekend.  (Actually, he spent more time asking about the capacitors on the motherboard. Kids these days.)

I’m a long-time GNU/Linux user (just over 15 years, actually) and fan.  However, as I wrote once in the past, I’m also fan of getting things done.  So, I kept using Windows 95 / MS-DOS for many years on my hamshack computer, with a brief several-year foray into using Windows XP when I moved to TR4W logging software.  Linux finally became ready for prime time in my hamshack when Kevin, W9CF, ported TR-Log over a couple of years ago.  After ensuring it wasn’t a fad, I was ready to jump.  Over the past week or so, I’ve been tailoring the setup of everything to bring back the functionality I had previously.

So, what broke?

  • I have an nVidia graphics card for my second monitor. Failure. Not sure how much I care. Maybe I’ll look for an old ATI card or something else with drivers?  Anybody have a plain PCI video card with VGA or HDMI kicking around?
  • Windows-specific software that I’ll probably just quit using:  AVR Studio and SH5. Didn’t really use these much anyway.
  • Now, for the truly bizarre:  My Elecraft K2/100 throws an ERR 080 on power-up if I disrupt communication between it and TR-Linux (does not matter if the K2 goes off first or TRLinux quits first).  I have to disconnect the RS-232 cable at the back of the K2 for a while and then it comes back OK.
  • ARRL’s Trusted QSL software version 2.0.1 didn’t compile immediately without dependency problems. Further study indicated.

And, what works?

  • TRLinux talks to both the K3/100 and the K2/100, as well as the YCCC SO2R+ controller.
  • Made some QSOs and uploaded the signed log to LoTW.
  • Pretty much everything else…

Paddle project

May 1st, 2014

Over the years, I’ve fancifully imagined that I would build a set of keyer paddles. I even went so far as designing a couple concepts and collecting materials…but, inevitably I moved on from the institution with the machine shop and sucker machinist who was showing me the ropes. About a week ago, Mike, W3MC, posted a bunch of goodies for sale, including a Schurr Einbau key mechanism. Since I love my Profi 2, I snapped it up, recalling also that I had a nice hunk of brass for a base. Today, I cut and milled a little base for it. Lots of finishing and some acrylic work remain, but for now, there’s something special about a freshly-milled hunk of metal.

Recycling LMR crimp connectors

June 4th, 2011

A while back, I came upon about two dozen Times Microwave Systems TC-600-NM connectors that had been improperly installed and cut off.  Knowing that LMR-600 type cable is commonly available, I stashed them for later use.  These connectors cost between $8 and $15 each, so the ability to recycle could offer a substantial savings.  I endeavored to see just what it would take to do so.

The first step is to remove the heatshrink tubing (if installed).  These connectors employed a relatively easy-to-remove heatshrink, which I was able to get off with a sharp knife.  (That probably means that they would have filled with water if they had been used.)

Twist off the old crimp ring with two pair of Channel-Lock-type pliers.

Presto!  (Be sure to do this in a work area where it is easy to vacuum up the small strands of braid that will invariably fall everywhere.)

A butane torch gets the pin off in no time.

Unfortunately, I did not have enough hands to take a photograph and demonstrate the proper technique.  Place the tip of the flame on the widest (diameter) part of the pin and rotate the cut-off coax with the pin hanging down.  The solder will melt and the pin will drop.  Reinstallation can be performed in the exact opposite sequence with the pin sitting on top of the coax.

The secret to this whole operation is the replacement crimp rings.  I originally was going to make them but since I did not know the dimensions, I was searching around the Web.  And, I discovered that Times Microwave offers them individually (part #CR-600).  So, I contacted Joel at The RF Connection and he sold me a bunch of them (second from right below) at an attractive price.

The three rightmost components—connector body, crimp ring, and solder pin, form a complete connector.  You just need to add heatshrink, which is also available from the RF Connection and many other vendors.  The trick to getting a correct installation on the connectors is to be sure that the pin seats (clicks) into the body before crimping the ring.  The whole process of disassembly takes about as long as assembly (minus the stripping step)—just a few minutes.

I recently obtained about 250 ft (80 m) of LMR-600 pieces from various places for about what it costs to fill the gas tank in my Escort.  So, this should be a relatively attractive cable for use at K8GU.

The Rupture 2011

May 22nd, 2011

Thanks to some quick thinking on Sarah’s part, I was able to attend the Hamvention (Saturday only—the day that the sewer backed-up and “ruptured”…spewing nasty water down through the fleamarket) for the first time in a few years.  This is a recap from my perspective.

  1. Attendance was down.  The fleamarket was shrinking.
  2. There were a lot of lookers but few buyers in the fleamarket.  Predict that the fleamarket will shrink further next year.
  3. There were still good deals to be found in the fleamarket—I picked up some LMR-600, a WA2AAU 2304-MHz amp (unmodified 1900-MHz PCS amp), a Rohn 45G rotator plate, some 20-GHz rated SMA relays, and some miscellaneous parts.  And, I passed on a few good deals as well.
  4. I saw a lot more young people than I remember from past years.  Or maybe I’m just getting older and the population of hams younger than me is growing on account of that.
  5. Hamabouts (and their drivers) were not so obnoxious as prior years.
  6. Hara Arena may be a dump (K1LT told me the story—don’t know if it’s true—that during the Rolling Stones first U.S. tour, they had been booked at Hara, but refused to play when they saw the facility); but, it’s perfect for the riff-raff who show up for the Hamvention.
  7. In the end, the Hamvention (like ham radio itself) is about the people you know and meet.  I had fabulous eyeball QSOs  with guys from almost all phases of my ham career (except the early years from 1993-2000).  The VHF/UHF weak signal crowd is a pretty amazing bunch of hams.  I had a great time getting to know some of them in the fleamarket.

Resume of a Master Dumpster Diver: the Early Years

February 21st, 2009


With transition imminent in our lives, I have begun packing up some of my things that I don’t use much right now. It’ll save some time and headaches when we finally figure out where we’re going and begin the moving process. Coincidentally, my good friend Matt recently moved cross-country and elected to dispatch the majority of his tinkering resources via Craigslist. You see, Matt and I share a common vice: we are master dumpster divers.

I was reminded of this reality as I have been trying to center myself with respect to what’s important in life last week week. I have a lot of stuff, frankly, an embarassing amount of stuff. And, although I use a surprising amount of it, I really don’t need it. But, this post is about collecting the stuff, not getting rid of it. I’ll save that for a later post.

As I began sifting through some of the goodies tonight, a confluence of thoughts began to swirl in my head. I’ve had resumes and vitae on my mind for quite a few months now since I’ve been looking for employment (if you hire engineers or scientists, particularly for RF/signal processing/remote sensing/upper atmospheric/space research and development, I’m your man). And, I was poking through the rubble of my home “office,” which is actually my office, hamshack, and workshop, plus Sarah’s desk and books and the place that Sarah and I cram stuff into when company comes. Suddenly, it hit me: my entire resume can be read through my collection of odds and ends.

Dumpster diving, to borrow the analogy from Nelson Muntz, is like “kicking butt” in the sense that it might not involve any kicking at all. Likewise, you have to get to the stuff before it gets to the dumpster. This is the first rule of dumpster diving: Know who to ask, how to ask, and when to ask. The second rule is don’t get greedy. I learned both of these rules at a tender young age.

You see, the house I lived in between the ages of three and nine was next to the Village of Millersburg’s street department garage. Of course, this was a great boon for a child of my age to see all of the equipment and workers coming and going. Mom and Dad may remember this story differently; but, this is my recollection.

Although I was fascinated by all aspects of construction work, the one thing that I obsessed over more than anything else was signage. Some kids are experts on dinosaurs, I was fascinated by road signs. I coveted the road sign poster on the wall at the BMV. Mom had inquired about obtaining one for me to no avail. The other thing I coveted was a road sign or two of my own. A friend had a stop sign in his room; but, I was looking for something more exotic, maybe a yield sign. My poor mother worked some connection she had at the Street Department to get a discarded sign. She told me that we could go down to the sign depot and pick one out in the morning, which was probably a mistake.

I rose particularly early the next morning and, after locating the sign depot, collected a few signs for myself. When you’re a kid, street signs don’t look big and heavy on their posts. But, when you get up close, they rival your personal geometry. So, I left a trail of signs I couldn’t carry back up to the house. I don’t remember the details of what happened next, other than that we had to return all of the signs and get “approved” ones. I hope somebody thought it was funny; goodness knows I learned a lesson that day about the difference between dumpster diving and theft of city property.

A few years later, Mom had an antique dealer come through the barn behind the house and the signs caught his eye. She let him have them for a song. I was incensed at the time, although in retrospect, it was probably better to not profit too much on them.

The basement of the Inventor’s Hall of Fame once hosted an area where kids could dismantle old hardware. We were fortunate to visit when some racks of AT&T Long Lines hardware had been recently donated. I think I carried a half-dozen plastic sacks of relays, waveguide, transistors, meters, and other assemblies out of there that day. Although I have sifted through most of that by now, the juiciest pieces still remain in my inventory, ready for use. I still don’t think that the docents knew what hit them when the budding master dumpster diver rolled in.

Although I dabbled off and on in the barter of used electronics and such in high school, the dumpster diving began in earnest again in college, where I met guys who weren’t afraid to actually climb into real dumpsters to fish things out. Those were good times. Most of the stuff we pulled out of the dumpsters was building materials, which we used to spruce up our living spaces. Blocks from a demolished (the Young Building of Philosophy and Relgion, a grievous sin against architecture and HVAC) academic building allowed us to put an “upper deck” couch behind the regular couch in our apartment for stadium seating. This was great for watching movies, or at least watching my roommates play Mario Kart 64 with their pharmacy notes on their laps…right.

One of the other great successes was DuddiNet and the Tower of Power. I dragged an 8-foot relay rack (rescued from the scrap heap at a summer job) into my dorm room and filled it full of computers and networking equipment. I asked the university IT people if they had any leftover rolls of CAT5 cable and they gave me as much as I wanted. We pulled our own network in the dorm. At that time, the dorms were 10baseT with hubs. So, it was a real bottleneck if you wanted to move some data (use your imagination here) around. We put in a private switched 100baseT network that connected four rooms on two floors.

In more recent years, I’ve scored some terrific stuff just by paying attention when spaces are being cleaned-up. For instance, that’s how I got my HP vector voltmeter and my oscilloscope. And, indirectly, through Dad, it’s how I got some more Greenlee punches and a set of metal-marking stamps. Anyhow, in order to protect “sources and methods,” I’ll decline from disclosing too many details about my more recent activities…I haven’t swiped anything from a forbidden dumpster, though. Promise.

» Read more: Resume of a Master Dumpster Diver: the Early Years

HP 8405A Vector Voltmeter

December 8th, 2008
HP 8405A

HP 8405A

A recent find.

» Read more: HP 8405A Vector Voltmeter

Linux on the small

September 20th, 2008
Linksys Router

Linksys Router

A few weeks ago, Sarah and I attended an event that the University YMCA sponsors…Dump and Run.  The idea is that students who are moving out in the Spring can drop anything they don’t want at the Y, which is within walking distance of the dorms.  Volunteers sort the items and sell them again in the Fall when the students return.  Many universities have variations on this theme.

I picked-up a nice framing square for 50 cents, a corduroy jacket for five dollars, and a few other odds and ends.  But, the big jackpot was a Linksys WRTSL54GS router.  There was no price on it and no price for routers or networking equipment on the general Dump and Run pricing sheet.  The top and bottom covers had been removed.  So, I had no idea if it had been “repaired.”  I offered the guy at the table five bucks for it.  He seemed happy; I was happy.

I plugged the little box in at home and fired-up my computer.  I was greeted by Whiterussian 0.9 instead of the usual Linksys firmware.  Brilliant!  Although I’m a fairly experienced Linux user, I’d never worked with embedded Linux.  So, I read up on it.  Not knowing if the previous owner was trying to launder a box that had been used for criminal intent, I reflashed it with a more recent edition of OpenWRT.  This gave me a fresh slate to work with to boot.

I shot Scott, KA9FOX, who hosts this site, a note about setting up a subdomain to use with router.  He suggested that the easiest way to do this would be to setup a free domain with dynDNS and then create a DNS CNAME record for that pointed at that domain.  Brilliant again!

One of the nice things about the WRTSL54GS is that has a USB port.  So, you can attach mass storage devices to it.  I’ve attached a 128-Mb jump drive that seems to work just fine.  But, I plan to do something semi-permanent at some point in the future.  There is a set of pads for a second USB port on the board, which are rumored to be hot.  I have contemplated hard-wiring an SD-card reader into that port to make a complete package.   Did I mention that I’m also using this as a wireless access point?  It’s great for the power misers out there.  It doesn’t quite have the umph to run SQL, as far as I know.  So, it wouldn’t be too useful for a self-hosted blog.  But, it seems very capable…  I’m already looking for another one; but, I doubt I’ll get that kind of deal anytime soon.

» Read more: Linux on the small

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.

R/C Flying

August 2nd, 2007

The demolition-derby-monster-truck-madness-motorcross-tractor-pull-with-a-few-animals that is our county fair ended over the weekend.  Since we’re travelling a little less now, too, I decided to fly the plane at the fairgrounds again last night.  This is the first flight since the catestrophic wreck mentioned in the last post.

I walked out the front door and there were kids playing in the street.  (When are there not kids playing in our street?)  “He’s bringin’ that out to fly it!” one of them exclaimed.  “Excuse me, are you gonna fly that plane right here in the street.”

“No, sorry, ” I said, “I’m going to the fairgrounds.”

“Awwww!” she said.  At least somebody told them where they can and can’t go…and they’re still young enough to listen.

No worries for me…I’m still not quite good enough to fly with an audience.

I realized quickly that I’d hooked the controls up backwards during the repair.  Fortunately, I was not yet “three mistakes high” and landed relatively easily.  I reconnected the controls and had a pleasant evening of flying.  I even managed some half-decent landings.

Flying takes a light touch.  It’s a lot like driving a car in that a little correction can go a long way.  What a great project!