Wishful Thinking

“Looking back on when I was a little nappy headed boy
Then my only worry was for Christmas, what would be my toy?”
–Stevie Wonder, “I Wish”

Recently I operated the PA setup for a Girl Scout event, using borrowed equipment. It was nice gear, but it made me remember when I used to do that sort of thing – initially for friends of mine having parties, then the people in my dorm (heh… “my neighbors listen to good music – whether they want to or not”) and eventually for college events such as dances and end-of-year dinners. I never really sought out to do it professionally, but there were many times that I missed it. Some nights I do basically the same on Facebook, queueing up a bunch of songs for myself and then sharing Youtube links for all of them as they come up on rotation as well as a little blurb about the song or a line or two of the lyrics. And doing this, even though it wasn’t my music at all, reminded me that I do enjoy the science of doing the work and the fun of bringing that joy to others when they like what they hear. So not long after we got the equipment in my garage and I set it up to make sure everything was working right and I had no troubles getting connections right, Stephanie joked that I should look for stuff to do it on my own. Well after a lot of chin scratching (the beard can be itchy) and reading of spec sheets, I think I figured it out. And for just over a thousand dollars I have what would come together to be, I think, a respectable PA system with decent speakers, an amp that could drive them to their limits, cables, and a mixing board – which actually would replace the one I have in the shack and that one would move on to PA/DJ work. The only thing I didn’t plan on is a way to mix music and queue things from one song to another with proper fading and whatnot (unlike when you tell Apple Music to just play and it waits until one song is completely over before playing the next one). But that’s a matter of software.. or a second phone to play music from. I put it all in a wish list in case anyone is feeling generous. Who am I kidding, it’s so I can look at it and talk myself out of buying it.

Gone So Soon?

So yeah, I came back with a vengeance and then disappeared for a month again. It’s been a busy month though, lots of stuff happened. As I mentioned before, the kids and I have been running a D&D campaign with Foundry VTT in the Lost Mine of Phandelver, also helped by content and tools from dndbeyond.com. I haven’t done much on the radio, mostly because my tuner has been in MFJ‘s hands since April 1st and I haven’t received even a “we’ll look at it next week” message even though I’ve sent messages to them and been told those messages were “forwarded on to the atu repair technician.” Not filling me with warm fuzzies lemme tell ya. I also went through my paid time off at work and realized I had a lot of days that I was going to lose if I didn’t use them, so I went through my calendar and scheduled a bunch of days to take off under various categories (sick time, personal time, and vacation time) so that I wouldn’t lose a day. This means I’ve had some random Fridays and Mondays off, plus one week of having off Thursday through Monday (which nicely coincided with a camping trip with the scout troop) and one which now has me off Thursday through Tuesday (in part because I’m having a tooth extracted on Monday, which is the end of another saga of issues I’ve dealt with for a few months now and finally had enough and getting it taken care of, in part because my lovely wife of 20 years had enough of my crap and made a phone call). So at this moment, I’m sitting on the back porch in the light of a Tiki Torch with the Electric Light Orchestra asking “Do Ya” over the Echo Tap (and now Yes telling me they’ve seen all good people turn their heads each day, so satisfied, they’re on their way), an empty glass of whiskey, and the Chromebook typing away a recap of what’s been going on lately while the sun dips below the horizon and the stars come out to play. I may not have extravagant vacations planned, but these moments are worth enjoying.

Knee Deep in the Hoopla

“Don’t you remember?”
–Starship, “We Built This City”

Haven’t done much radio stuff in the last week or so, except for finally getting on the air with the group of locals I hear on 146.52 – one of them was demoing FT8 for another on 10m, and I replied. When he said on 2m, “man this guy is loud” I finally found my comfortable opening to key up and say, “I should be, I live two blocks away from you.” Laughs were had and I found a group who was quite welcoming to my presence, we all chatted for an hour or so before turning into pumpkins.

The other big thing I did was bit the bullet on a virtual table top license for Foundry, and started setting up the campaign I ran with the kids before using the Lost Mine of Phandelver module from the D&D starter set. Already I’m more comfortable with some of the things I’ll need to do as a DM, and the only reason we haven’t started playing yet is because there’s some areas I want to pre-stage before the kids might decide to go that way instead of towards the main storyline. Of course I could fix that by asking them if they’re sure that’s how they want to go, and if they say yes then I close the window and say “then you’ll have to wait until I finish setting it up, now get ready for bed.” 😀

Four and three and two and one

“When I’m on the mic, the suckers run.”
— The Beastie Boys, “The New Style”

Back when I first started doing DJ type work, I picked up a microphone from Radio Shack. That Realistic Highball-7 has seen a lot, and when I started using a mixing board for amateur radio work I plugged it in and gave it a slider as “Desk Mic” for sitting on the keyboard tray in front of me so I could work hands free without the headset. But since my headset was starting to show signs of wear (the right speaker is “crunchy” due to a broken wire in the crossover from left to right) and I was going to get new headphones anyway, and since not only am I using the mic for radio work but now every day for work I use it in meetings, I decided it was time to upgrade to the Right Stuff.

My New Preciousssss

So I picked up the Heil PR-40 that I’ve wanted for almost as long as I’ve been a ham. A kit from B&H included the mic, an Auray boom, shock mount, and wind screen all for less than the sum of the parts. At the same time I did some research into headphones and found that of the two best ones on the market for general use – the Sony MDR-7506 or the Sennheiser HD-280 Pro – the Sony had a slightly better rating for breathability when just about every other metric measured was the same. This tells me that after a long day of wearing them, your ears will feel more comfortable with the Sony than with the Sennheiser, even though from all accounts they’re almost equivalent in likability. So they went in the shopping cart as well, and now I have a nice pair of studio cans to go with my broadcast-quality microphone. It’s even getting me to make more SSB contacts because I *know* that sounds better than the old Realistic microphone ever did!

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Lopsided Pelican

When I first thought about taking my radios portable, I picked up some Pelican cases to store it safely. Those cases have taken my gear from Tampa Bay in Florida to Bangor, Maine and many points in between. I realized one of the latches on my large case (a Pelican 1600) was broken, so I ordered replacement latches. They arrived today and were the complete wrong size. How could that be I wondered… apparently, Pelican redesigned their cases at some point and kept the same model numbers. I have an old one. Who knows if I’d ever find a replacement latch at this point. But two things are keeping me from bothering too much now: first, I don’t use the case in marine environments where I’m concerned with water ingress, so the fact that the one side doesn’t seal as tight isn’t much of a concern for me. And secondly, that latch has been “off” since day one – it always required that you smash it just right to close – and taking the pin out of it I realize why. The holes from the left and right side don’t line up, so it was defective at purchase and I didn’t realize it, just thought that one was quite tight. No, it was stretching to reach the edge of the case because the one side is too far away. I guess if I found the right size latch I could straighten the hole on the one side, but I don’t think it’s worth worrying about too much anyway. I mostly utilize the case to carry the equipment safely from shocks and bumps, and be able to stack things nicely.

You Can Tune A Piano

I mentioned elsewhere about problems I had with my antenna tuner. While nobody asked, I figured it’s good writing practice to sit down and tell the story. Also, then it’s preserved for hysterical reasons. There’s also the fact that this stems from buying a new house and setting up everything in the ham shack all over again, which is a story that might deserve to be told, but at least right now that’ll be for another day.

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Getting Better All The Time

I alluded before to a problem with my antenna tuner at home. To not tell the long story yet but get to today’s point, it’s on the way back to the manufacturer to be diagnosed and hopefully replaced. Meanwhile I took the old unun (which is a 4:1 transformer that connects the coax from the transmitter to the two points of the antenna, the radiating element above ground and the ground radials) and mounted it back on the antenna. Kept my homemade RF choke coming off the feedline, and connected the other end of it into the unun – probably overkill but so be it for now. Then managed to crimp two ring terminals onto a piece of 10ga wire I had laying around from an old UPS, and used that to connect the ground lug of the unun to the mounting bracket so it would ground things properly. Finally went to take the positive wire that mounts to the radiating element and put it on the positive lug, only to find the stud is too big for the ring terminal. Well fine, this is temporary anyway – so I literally sandwiched the ring terminal next to the stud and between two washers, then twisted the wing nut down nice and tight. Hey, it’ll work in a pinch right?

Right I was, when I hooked the tuner up in the shack and found I was able to get on the air quite easily. Even turned the power up to 100W with no problems either from the tuner freaking out or from RF coming back into the shack. Did I mention that since this is temporary I didn’t connect a ground line to the tuner either? Today I got a couple 90-degree PL-259 to SO-239 adapters so I can more easily mount the thick coax onto the tuner, and since I had to buy a four pack when I only needed three I used the third on the back of the radio too just to make that a little easier.

So things aren’t how they should be: I should replace that 10ga wire with a better crimped 12ga one (I failed to mention I didn’t have 10ga ring terminals so I spread the 12ga ones out a little), I should replace the other wire with one that has properly sized ring terminals as well, not to mention I should have my actual tuner sitting there instead of this hack, and maybe when that tuner returns I should put a better choke balun at the antenna feed point either in addition to the homemade one or to replace it. But all that aside… I have a working HF station that maybe even works a little better than it did at the previous house. I noticed during lunch today when I hooked everything up and tested quickly that the noise level on 20m was quite low between transmissions, something I don’t remember seeing here previously and may be better than the previous location as well but I can’t recall. So it’s all still not right, but it’s getting better. Just gotta remember that, it’s getting better.

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Microphone Switching for Fun and Profit

When I started in amateur radio, I did the simplest of things – used the hand mic plugged into the front of the rig. Over time, I drifted away from radio usage for a bit and then came back into it (that’s a story for another post.) When I did, I started to make my shack more complex and versatile, and even added new radios for more functionality. Now I had the problem of having different ways of talking into different radios, and I didn’t like that as much. So I designed a switch box that could take some inputs and mix up the outputs to make things more convenient for how I like to operate. I had someone on my radio club email list ask about a product that could do a similar thing, and I mentioned that I built one for not that much time or money. Since he was interested in more information, I wrote the whole thing up as a nice article. And now, I present it to you, my Home-Made Microphone Switch.

Reading Is Fundamental

Recently I’ve started reading for pleasure again – more than just technical manuals and white papers anyway. I asked around my friends about a good place for recommendations for books. Mostly what I wanted was a kind of “if you like those, you may like these” type of thing – rate a few books and get recommendations for things other people have rated similarly. Everyone said Goodreads was the answer to that, so I set up an account there. I don’t have many books in my “read list” yet, mostly ones that either I could see from my shelf at the time I created the account or some that were purchased after that and added in there like the Dan Brown series of books I got since the holidays (which was precipitated by watching the movies not that long ago and enjoying them). Some books from when I was younger, like a lot of Dean Koontz novels, have made the list too. Others I’ll add as time permits and I remember them.

Since Goodreads has its own built-in review pages and whatnot, I don’t know if I’m going to duplicate them here. It seems silly to post in both places, though they do have a nice feature that when you post a review you can get a HTML code block that includes the review and links back to the site and whatnot (which is included below for my latest finished book) so I’ll think about it. Meanwhile, at the very least, this post serves to link you to my Goodreads account, as well as an offhand way to mention I finished “The Lost Symbol” by Dan Brown last night and enjoyed it.

The Lost Symbol (Robert Langdon, #3)The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A lot of people seem to crap on Dan Brown for his writing style. I don’t understand the hatred myself – this is the third of his books I’ve read and I’ve enjoyed them all. Are there parts that maybe are a little predictable? Perhaps. But on the other hand there’s the benefit of having your brain draw a conclusion that in the end is found to be false. Maybe you saw it coming a mile away and that’s why you didn’t enjoy it. For me, I enjoyed this book, found a few twists I did not expect and enjoyed, and found it hard to put down more than once when I knew I should be going to bed. I look forward to the next one as well.

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Getting There, and What’s Up

I’m starting to get there with the site layout. Adjusted some things, I think I broke some things too, but it doesn’t look half bad. Except the black text in the top bar, I don’t think I like that. Maybe I’ll play with other themes and see if I find one I like soon. Meanwhile, back to the topic of “why are you reviving this”, some information on ideas I’ve got and whatnot. Strap in kids, it’s gonna get bumpy.

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