Topics on this page.

Appliance Failure   2017 Fusion Energi   Utilitech Timer   HP LaserJet 2840   Personal Weather Station   2013 Ford conFusion  

The Satin Pothos   End of Time   It happens...   LCD... Ah, frak!?   Solid State Drive   Arduino   Ethanol   Express PCB  

LastPass   Tower Project   Ether - crap!   No Holes Barred   Power supply trade-down... what?   Ohm’s Law App    

Transmission Classics   Paleolithic Eating   Ammo and Amateur Radio - Yeah!   What’s with you people   Dub_FX  

Amateur Radio in Hampton, VA   HAM Nation   Fish Tank LED Light Bar   Fish Tank Pump Timer   Wouxun KG-UV3D  

Midland Radio   Poke Screens   Puxing 888   Programming the Puxing 888  Little J-Poles   Funk  

Appliance Failure

20171110

In 2010, my bride and I bought all new appliances to replace the contractor-grade items that were in the house when we bought it. In the purchase, we bought a new refrigerator (a Samsung, of which I will NEVER by another - Sumsung should stick to making TVs), a microwave, a dishwasher (a Frigidaire, also which I will never by again), and a Whirlpool clothes washer and dryer. This post is about the clothes dryer though.

The clothes dryer has worked beautifully for the past seven years until two weeks ago, when it experienced a major failure; which, of course, means we experienced it too. Or, perhaps I, should say that my daughter experienced it. In fact, it had two perfectly executed failures. Here is what happened.

Picture The dryer is a Whirlpool Duet Steam, part number WED9750WW0. It is a contempory-looking machine and, as you might expect, is controlled by a micro-controller - there is no mechanical timer in this model. It is all "computer-controlled". I imagine there are great efficiencies derived in that, but I am going to focus on a good old electr-omechanical relay to turns stuff on and off. In this case a 12 VDC-operated, 30-amp device manufactured by Omron. This relay is in series with the main heating element and a mechanical centrifugal switch integrated in the motor. If the relay is off, the heating element will not be powered. And thus, it will not get hot. Also, if the motor is not turning, the heating element will not get hot because there is a centrifugal switch in series with the line voltage. But what if the relay fails in its closed position. What then? Well, that is exactly what happend with this unit. But wait, there's more.

It was a pleasant, fall, Saturday afternoon. Just as my 18-year old daughter removed her work shirt from the dryer she exclaimed "Look what it [ the dryer ] did to my shirt!" Quite honestly, it looked like she set an iron on "Wrinkle" and pressed down hard. The shirt was badly wrinkled - it had distinct creases. Since it was 100% polyester, the creases seemed to be nearly melted into the shirt. It was ruined. Perhaps we could have used a Terminator-crushing hrydraulic press to flatted the shirt, but sadly I could not cobble one up before she needed to get to work. But I digress.

Upon inspection, the dryer would turn on, but it would not start. Also, there were no errors displayed. Something unusual had occurred. After removing the top, I found a troubleshooting guide that helped me put the dryer into diagnostics mode. That was achieved by pressing any of the buttons on the right side of the machine five times for about two-seconds with one-second between each press while the machine is off. I used the "Number of Garments" button. Badda-bing... diag-mode enabled. Once in diagnostics mode "F-23" appeared in the "Time" display area of the unit.

The troubleshooting process for "F-23", as presented in the paper found under the lid, lead me to discover that a thermal fuse on the drum's outlet vent (down by your knees, when standing in front of the machine) had opened. I did not have one handy so I shorted it by connecting its leads together and tried to start the dryer. It started right up and immediately got extremely hot. Something else was seriously wrong. [Side note: The micro-controller board in this machine manages the temperature by monitoring the drum's output vent air termperature and turning the heating element off when it reaches a temperature according to user selections on the front panel.]

After examining the wiring diagram, I found that the heating element is tied across the 240 AC line input with a relay and a centrifugal switch in series with the element. The relay has to be on and the motor has to be running (drum rotating) for the heating element to get power. Since the centrifugal switch likely remained closed during normal operation I assumed it was operating correctly and so I focused on the relay.

The relay is soldered to the main circuit card, but this simply provides 12 VDC control and a 240 VAC signal that is likely used to generate a timing signal for internal clock purposes. On the top of the relay there exists two spade terminals that are connected to a plug and two large wires (one red and one black). The black wire comes from the 240 VAC line input and the other goes to the centrifugal switch, then to the heating element and off to the other 240 VAC line input.

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After I removed the relay's plug (ringed in red in the picture) I quickly discovered that the relay's contacts were shorted. That is right. If failed closed. Or more likely, the contacts welded themselves together. Not a good situation. But the dryer saved itself... and likely the house. Since the heating element was getting 240 VAC continuously when the drum was rotating, the dryer could not regulate the temperature in the drum and that is where the thermal fuse came in. When the temperature got to shirt-melting point, the fuse opened and shut the entire unit down by sending a signal to the micro-controller to turn off the motor. Once the motor stopped moving, the centrifugal switch opened which turned off the 240 VAC to the heating element. Perfect!

No, really. I am impressed. The machine's safety features worked perfectly. The real failure clue was that even with the dryer set to air fluff it still got very hot - FAST! To the inter-web I went.

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Within minutes, I discovered that you could not buy just the relay from an appliance parts vendor. The main controller card was not a repairable item and listed for $250 smackers. The micro-controller card is shown here removed from the unit. To eBay I went. Within a short while I found that a Chinese vendor sold an exact replacement. I bought two. The posting said it would be here between 10-days and six-weeks. Well, it arrived two-weeks later. Thirty-minutes after removing the part from its packaging I had it installed and the dryer was operational once again. By the way, I had ordered a new thermal fuse too from Repair Clinic. The fuse was delivered four-days later. It was $9.13 and about $15.00 delivered. The relay was about $4.00 each for a total of $12.50 to the door. Not bad considering it was sent from China.

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During troubleshooting, I jury-rigged an 30AMP automotive relay across the 240 VAC connector and micro-controller card. The dryer worked perfectly, but of course was dangerous to use because the thermal fuse was by-passed and the automotive relay was not the correct solution. WARNING: Do not try that yourself. You could cause a fire in the unit or vent tube and maybe burn your home down. But since the dryer was functioning with the temporary relay I knew the main relay was the prime failure mode, in this case.

A couple closing notes. 1) NEVER bypass safety devices and use the machine for normal use. I did this only for testing purposes as a diagnostic measure. 2) The circuit card was very easy to remove. After the plastic cover was removed (two snaps), six retaining clips were easily pushed in and the card came right out. 3) ALWAYS work on equipment like this with the power removed; e.g., unplug it. 4) The cover of the dryer comes off from the top, with three screws; which were on the back. Once they are removed, slightly lift the back of the cover and pull it towards the back as you lift about two-inches. The front edge is held in place by the front of the machine. 5) The parts that failed were and Omron G8P-1A4TP, 12VDC, 30AMP Relay and Whirlpool OEM Part #WP3392519 Thermal Fuse.

2017 Ford Fusion Energi

20170218

I few months ago, I bought a 2017 Ford Fusion Energi. Being a bit of a gadget whisperer I was curious about Ford's electric car. I liked my 2013 Fusion (non-hybrid) so I traded over to the Energi model. In short, I really like the car. It has all the creature comforts of my previous Fusion, minus the auto-park function. I never used the auto-park option since I can parallel park easily and faster without it. It was no loss to me. Out of the shoot, I cannot say I was impressed with the Energi's paltry 21 miles when in Electric Vehicle (EV) mode. In that mode it runs all on battery only. As many have likely experienced for themselves, the sticker mileage is often less than what you get in reality. This was no different... at first.

Picture Picture

Soon after I bought the car and figured out the difference between the "AUTO," "EV," and "EV TIMED" driving modes, I would charge the car, put it in "EV" mode and drive. Initially, this was a good experience. The car is quiet, rides nice for its size, and it was spunky if you needed it to be. Oddly though, my EV mileage was 15 mpc (miles per charge). That is a full 29 percent less than what is advertised. I was not driving it like a gasoline only car or truck, but not quite like the car wanted me too either - apparently. You see, it has a driving "Coach;" which consists of a display with three horizontal bar graphs in it. The images the right is the coach display. It includes a graph for "Accelleration,"Braking," and "Cruising." When I was driving the car at first, these bars were perpetually around 75 percent for accelleration and Braking and 50 percent for cruising and my mpc was lower than I had hoped. So... I started to drive according to the Coach's indications in an attempt to get them as high as possible. Within 40 miles and two charges, I achieved the rated 21 mpc indicated on the window sticker. Here is the clincher though. To get the 100 percent according to the driving coach you have to brake for a long distance. As an example, if you are going 40 mph braking to a stop over the course of 300 feet is required. As for cruising, if you drive faster than 44 mph your cruising percentage will start to fall. At 64 mph it stays right around 50%. Now for accelleration... To keep your accelleration percentage near 100% you have to accelerate very slowly, as in piss off the person behind you slowly. I suspect that "The Man Who Fell to Earth" might even consider this required acceleration a bit slow. But, that is what it takes. Very slow accelleration, very long braking, and cruising at or below 44 mph! If you do that, who can get the rated distance out of the Ford Picture Fusion Energi when in "EV" mode. I think I might even be able to get 1 or 2 more mpc out of this if I can keep this up for a couple more changes. We shall see.

Well, shazaam! Moments after writing this I went to Ford for a part for another car and the mileage in EV mode went to 22. Maybe tomorrow I will get 23. We shall see.

So... here we are. Tomorrow is today. I drove the conFusion Energi about 17 miles today. The mpc indicator kept switching between 21 and 22 mpc. I am not sure I can eek out another 1 mpc. As it is, I am in a coastal area and most of the roads are pretty flat, not to mention I am trying to time traffic lights so I do not have to come to a complete stop. Additionally, I am driving it like inertia will kill me and at this rate, my accelleration is now fully in " piss-off " the person behind you mode. We will have to wait and see though.

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It has been a week since my last post about the Energi and its mpc. Today, while driving on my local roads the display showed 23 mpc. Nice. Oh, and by the way. Better mpc occurs with the heater off.

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It has been quite a while and 13,000 miles since my last post on this topic. I had been pussy-footing my Energi for a couple weeks when it displayed 25 MPC - nice. Sadly, it did not stick around, and seemed more inclind to hover around the 23 MPC mark. Now, that cooler weather is upon us, it is back in the 21 MPC range.

Utilitech Daylight Saving In-Wall Timer

20161228

Recently, I bought a Utilitech Daylight Saving In-wall Timer, Model #TM-097S, Item #0192773. I bought this particular timer because it has a sunset to sunrise function that adjusts itself for the time of year based on one of three general locales within the United States - northern states, central states, and southern states. As you might expect, when the sun sets the timer turns on and when the sun rises the timer turns off. Well, that is what you would think happens anyway. In fact, in the documentation that comes with the timer it says, "(Astronomic) - Timer will turn devices ON or OFF only during sunrise/sunset time you have set." That seems simple enough and straightforward, but the truth is a different matter.

After installing the timer and setting its clock and adjusting its offsets for my actual sunset and sunrise times in my area of the country, I noticed that the light it was controlling turned on precisely at sunset. Perfect! When I awoke the next morning at 5:30 AM, I checked the light. It was off. My actual sunrise time for this time of year is 7:18 AM. From my rough calculations the timer should have stayed on for about 15 hours. Thinking its software burped and the pixies were confused, I reset the device and adjusted all the settings and tried it again. The results were similar. The light turned on when it should, but turned off sometime in the middle of the night well before sunrise. To get to the bottom of things, I connected a hour-meter to the circuit so I could see how many hours the light was staying on.

Interestingly, it came on as it should, and turned off precisely twelve hours later. I found that odd and so I re-read the documentation. It clearly says the quote I mentioned above and makes no mention as to a time limit for the ON time after sunset. In fact, the timer automatically approximated the ON and OFF times once the date and times were set and even predicted times beyound twelve hours. It even lets you adjust offsets for the times to account for your actual sunset and sunrise times, yet it is turning off twelve hours after it turns on. Hmmm. I called the manufacturer.

The call was quite brief. I was the first person in the queue after pressing 1, then 2, then 1... great. A soft-spoken gentleman answered the call. I told him the model and item number of the device, explained the situation and he immediately said, "That is the correct and proper operation of the device. Its maximum on time is twelve hours." Wow. I was impressed for two reasons: 1) He was direct, clear, and on consice ( I wish all customer support was like that), and 2) what is the purpose of producing a sunset to sunrise feature if your evening cannot be longer than twelve hours. I mean to say... for half the year night time hours are longer than daytime hours - right. Anyway... there was no point in arguing with the guy. The device is what it is, but come on. If I was using this device in, say, Alaska right now where nightime would be more like twenty hours long it would be near useless. I think I will take it back to Lowes and keep looking for a timer that lives up to its documented operation.

HP LaserJet 2840 Repair

20161113

Several years ago I bought a used Hewlett Packard (HP) LaserJet (LJ) 2840 printer. The HP LJ 2840 (or 2840 for short) is a color laser jet printer. It prints superbly, but it is dreadfully slow. Whether it is printing only black or full color it prints about 4-pages per minute. This printer is a multi-function printer, that has facsimile, scan/copy, and printing functions. It is a good printer and the replacement cartridges are not too expensive. In fact, I bought a full set of replacement cartridges yesterday for about $150.00. I am not writing this to tell you all about the great features of the 2840 though. It has started to exhibit issues. This printer is about 10-years old as well. About one-year ago it started acting quirky. The symptom was that it only printed in yellow. It did not matter if you where scanning, copying, printing built-in test images, or directly from your computer... it always printed nothing or yellow. Luckily, there is an easy fix.

The 2840 has a color cartridge drum. Instead of having four cartridges where the paper moves past them, this printer has a rotating drum with all four cartridges (black, magenta, cyan, and yellow) that deposit toner to make the image. The drum selects the color, rotates, deposits toner, then prints. Again, it is slow and is noisy. Never the less, it works, and works well... when it works. The print only yellow issue is caused by a solenoid that latches the drum as each color is selected. It is this latch solenoid that is the problem. On the solenoid's frame there is a small rectangular foam pad. This pad dampens the sound of the solenoid latching (retracting) when energized. Instead of a snap noise, you do not hear it at all. Well, this foam pad deteriorates and gets sticky. This stickiness prevents the latch from stoping the rotating drum as it should because when it energizes the latching mechanism sticks to its rest because the foam pad is sticky. If the foam pad is removed and replaced with a new pad the printer will print properly again. Here is the fix.

The fix is simple. Remove the pad and residue and replace it with something suitable. I used black electrical tape - two layers in fact. This worked perfectly.

To make the repair, the printer must be partially disassembled. Actually, the auto-feeder, scanner flat bed, top, back, and right-side of the printer must be removed just to get started. Once the pieces and parts, and covers are removed, the electronics units on the right side must also be removed. Underneath the electronics unit is a connector where the solenoid connects - two small yellow wires and plug. This connector must be disconnected to remove the solenoid.

I did not take any pictures of this. There is a Service Manual online. The solenoid is shown in an exploded view drawing around page 375. Anyway, once the top of the printer's guts are exposed you will find this solenoid on the top, right side. It has two yellow wires connected to it. The solenoid is held in place by a single screw, but you will have to remove a metal frame that holds some stuff together to get to the solenoid. Once the frame is removed, the solenoid is easily removed.

Once the solenoid is removed, remove its spring and latch. With it disassembled, use lacquer thinner to remove the goo. I tried Goo-Gone, but that did not work. Lacquer thinner worked perfectly. With the goo removed, I put two, small, rectangular pieces of tape where the foam pad was. Then I reassembled the solenoid, put the solenoid in the printer, and put everything back together. And guess what... no parts were left over. It works perfectly... just like new.

Personal Weather Station

20160818

Update: 20161112

So... I have been operating the Tycon Person Weather Station (TP2700WC) since August. Much to my surprise it crapped out already. I opened up the main electronics unit and found moisture damage inside. Who would of thought that an outdoor weather station would be susceptable to moisture. No... it did not get wet. I think humidity killed it. I have a second unit that is operating now. I set it up on 8 Nov. I will watch it closely for signs of failure.

In the summer of 2010, I bought a Personal Weather Station (PWS) from ArgentData. The PWS was going to be used for my amateur radio station. Due to multiple reasons I never set it up. In June, I started fiddling with it again and found it to be operating erratically, or at least the software and it were not playing nice so I decided to flash it with new firmware. It did not get better, but Argent - even after all this time - asked for it back to see if they can figure out what is going on with it and the new firmware. Good on them. There are few companies out there that would be so willing to do that... especially on something six years old. Since I wanted to get a weather station up and running I sought a new system. That is when I found Tycon.

Tycon produces the TP2700WC Data Logging Wireless Weather Station. It is a wireless model, whereas the Argent device was hardwired. The TP2700WC is a nice little station and was very easy to set up. It is not a high-end system, but it works quite well. This system ran me about $140.00 to my door, but you can easily pay much more for similar units. Perhaps higher priced models have better MTBF numbers, but being new to PWS systems I was not willing to spend $350 to $500 for an experiment. The TP2700WC has sensors for rain, wind (direction and speed), humidity, air pressure, UV intensity. All the sensor data is received by a base station that displays all the data and also provides real time and high/low details as well. If you interface the base station to a computer, software that comes with the station (WeatherSmart) provides additional details; e.g, charts/graphs, and it allows you to upload your PWS data to Weather Underground.

As mentioned above, it was really easy to set up. Getting the weather station on Weather Underground was also very easy. You have to register your PWS at https://www.wunderground.com to get started. Once that is done you will get a station ID and password. That goes into the WeatherSmart software. Once WeatherSmart is updated with the ID and password your PC (if it is connected to Al Gore's amazing Internet) will start squirting data at Wunderground and within a short time your station will show up on the Wunderground maps.

I do not have a very wide range of experience with PWS systems or their supporting software, but I found the WeatherSmart software easy to use, but it seems somewhat rushed. It works, it is somewhat intuitive, but it is lacking polish. As an example; the software allows you to upload data to three online weather consolidators. It provides high-level info about this at the bottom of the main user interface. The Wunderground shows a green arrow up arrow and the word "Success" next to it, but it does not say what it is for. The other two data consolidators have names too. Their arrows are red, but it does not say "Failure". Furthermore, there is no help information about the software either. While it is easy to use and very intuitive, help information would be nice. In summary: Does the software work? Yes. Is it refined? No. Does it need to be refined? Not necessarily, but help information would be nice.

The physical sensors are reasonable I think. The rain and wind sensors are the same devices that my ArgentData PWS had. The rain and wind sensors that came with the Tycon system have some slight modifications to them; e.g. to keep water out of parts, but I have read they still fail for that very reason. There is information online about how to modify the anemometer to let water drain out; e.g., drill a little hole. I drilled mine! The rain sensor is also very similar to the ArgentData system, but its upper edges are taller making the funnel part deeper. They both work the same though. Rain goes in the funnel and drips down into a little teeter-totter. Each time it flips one way or back it counts .01 inch of rain. The UV sensors sit above the main electronics unit. It seems simple enough - brightness is sensed and passed on to the electronics. Also, within the UV sensor enclosure is a little solar panel to help keep the system's rechargeable batteries topped off. I have no data on how well that will work. The solar panel is about 2.25 square inches. Nevertheless, I charged the batteries completely before putting them in the battery compartment. Now for my issue.

As you might expect, weather stations are intended to be out in the weather. This means that very likely they should be out in the open with a clear view of the sky. This is where Tycon has it wrong. The electronics unit is enclosed in something Tycon calls a pagoda. It is the part of this PWS that looks like a ceramic insulator for high voltage systems. The pagoda is supposed to keep rain and direct sun light off of the electronics unit. In weather station circles the pagoda is called a Stevenson Screen. Normally, they are quite large and for good reason. The pagoda that comes with the PC2700WC is very small. In fact, the electronics unit slides into the hollow section that runs up the center of the pagoda. Since the electronics unit is physically close to and or touching the pagoda it is heated by the sun. In fact, the temperature being sent is about 12 degrees warmer than ambient. This is not good. Anyone who buys the Tycon system will definitely want to replace the pagoda with their own Stevenson Screen. Tycon informed that the very short interface cable between the electronics unit and the UV sensor can be extended, but quite unlike ArgentData, if you open up the UV sensor to modify the cable you will void the warranty. Tycon made sure I understood that.

I did make my own Stevenson Screen within a couple days of getting the Tycon system. I cut the RJ-12 connector off so I did not have to open up anything. Once the RJ-12 connector was removed, I could pull the 6-lead flat wire out of the pagoda. I affixed a new RJ-12 connector, added an RJ-12 to RJ-12 butt connector and a new length of 6-lead flat wire to extend the cable. This worked well. Of course, this butt connector adds a new failure mode to the system. This connector will be in the Stevenson Screen. I will likely squirt some dielectric compound in the connectors to help keep moisture out. I know a picture would be nice, but I have not gotten around to taking a good one of my solution. Here is a description with a super-cheesy graphic.

My Stevenson Screen is basically two cylinders. An inner one that is 11 inches tall and an outer one that is 10.5 inches Picture tall. The inner one has a diameter of 4 inches, while the outer one is 5 inches. I assembled them so the inner one's extra 1/2 inch made it taller. Let me say that another way... both bottom edges are in alignment. This makes the inner cylinder protrude at its upper end. At the top of the inner cylinder is a small 5VDC CPU fan that is connected to a 6 VDC solar panel I bought at Radio Shack. This little fan asperates the inner cylinder so air does not go stale in there; e.g, heat up. Maybe convection currents would have been enough to prevent that... hmmm. I am not sure if I needed the little fan, but why not - I had it. I put a 10-ohm resistor in series with the + VDC wire and directly wired the CPU fan to the solar panel. When the sun comes up - fan turns on - worky long time. To keep rain out of the Stevenson Screen I covered the top with a small, flat cone. In making this I drew a 6.5-inch circle on a piece of really thin sheet metal, cut it out, then cut about a 1-inch wedge out of the circle then pulled the edges together and pop-riveted them. I put gutter glue on the rivets. The little cone is attached to the top with 1/2 inch stand-offs. Badda-bing.

All-in-all I am pleased with it. Since I enjoy tinkering, I am glad it needed a little modification to suite may needs.

2013 Ford conFusion

20160529

Yeah! I am a Ford guy. In 1978 I bought my first car. It was a used 1967 Ford Galaxie 500. I still have it by the way. It still runs and is in great shape. When I bought the Galaxie, I was hooked. I liked the car and it became part of my life. Since then I have bought only Fords. The last two cars I bought were for my daughters. Maybe they will be Ford people too. Who knows. But I should mention that Ford should work on their Ford Sync - it forgets paired devices in the Ford Focuses. They really need to fix that! But I digress. I want to talk about the last car I bought for me - a 2013 Ford Fusion. It has been an excellent car. I really enjoy driving it. It is snappy, agile, pretty quiet, and looks great too. But, as you might have guessed, there is a problem. The lower engine mount to frame attachment fixture is a poor design on this car. That is why I titled this Ford conFusion. The engineers at Ford must have been confused the day they designed the lower motor mount. Here is my story.

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When my 2013 Fusion was about 6 months old, I started noticing a subtle, but distinct click noise when it shifted into drive or reverse when the engine was running. I took the car to my dealer, but they could not find the problem or even agree the sound was a problem. As time passed the sound changed from a click to a subtle clank sound. Then it started doing it when the engine started too. It was so bad, I used the remote start so I did not have to hear the sound. Of course, the drive or reverse clank continued and was getting worse. I took back to my dealer.

After the dealer looked at it they said some pebbles were stuck behind the metal panel under the engine/transmission and they were causing the sound. They also said that they retightened the lower main motor mount bolt.

When I got in the car it was much quieter, but the sound remained. Again, as time passed it got louder. Additionally, as I accelerated hard after a time of slowing down I could hear it clank then too. Or if you were driving at about 30ish and let up on the accelerator, then accelerate again you could hear it clanking back and forth. This was getting really annoying. So... I jacked it up and started looking around under there. After the under engine panels were removed I found the problem right away. The lower motor mount's primary bolt could not be tightened enough to squeeze the motor mount enough to keep it from moving on the bolt that ran through it. I checked it and found that there was a gap of just shy of 1/8" between the aluminum motor mount and the u-shaped slot on the frame attachment it fit into. Additionally, the hole the bolt went through had a little play as well. So, here is what I did to fix it.

I

Now, it is as quiet as it was the first time I started it. Nice!

P.S. I see that various companies are producing redesigned lower motor mounts for this car and model year... one of them looks very nice with ample isolation... I wonder if they have the correct top to bottom height.

Satin Pothos

20160525

Well, it has been just over a month since we discovered the Satin Pothos plant was making Chase very sick. She has not been to the vet yet, but I weighed her on a digital scale. She has gained 14.5 ounces. Now she is over 8 pounds. This is excellent news!

From 20160426

It has been a week since we removed the Satin Pothos from the home. Chase continued to look for it every morning until Thursday. Now, she comes into the bathroom and sits down. My daugther says she is eating more, and I think she is right. We shall see in a couple months at her next checkup.

From 20160418

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Some haters might say, "The only good cat is a dead cat." Me? Well, I like cats and have always had them around. While they are certainly independant, difficult to train, curious to a fault and can easily defend themselves with their claws if need be; they can also be quite affectionate and a pleasure to pet, fun to play with and watch as they react to catnip and kitty toys. My cat, Chase, is very patient and likes to be around people. She likes to be carried, and often sleeps on my lap in the evening. Simply, she is a great kitty, but sadly she is very sick. Here is a brief story.

Chase is 14-years old. She is an indoor cat, and although she is 72 (in cat years) she has been pretty healthy. About two-years ago she got a gum infection and she begin losing weight because, presumably, it hurt her to eat. After her infection was remedied she has not gained the weight back. More recently, she has lost more weight and is just under 7 pounds now. That is under weight for an adult female cat. Then she started pulling her fur out on the right side of her body. We took her to the vet again. This time around, testing showed that she has crystals in her urine, but all her blood chemistry was right where it should be for a 72-year old kitty. Now...

This past weekend it was about 6 AM or so and I was getting dressed. As soon as Chase heard me stirring in the bedroom, she came to the door and started bumping it to get let in. This is a daily event. Once in the room she begins meowing and chirping just like normal - she is a very vocal cat. Once the bathroom door is opened she goes in there to investigate everything to ensure it was right where she left it the day before. Well, as I was getting dressed she jumped up on the edge of the bathtub and went over to a plant that has been growing in a vase there for many years. This too is a daily event.

We have seen her do that same routine over and over - probably since she was 15 - 20 in cat years - and today was no different. She licks a few leaves for about a minute then off she goes to her food area. This time, I sat there and watched her licking that plant and said to myself, "Self! The other two cats we have do not lick that plant and they are not sick either. In fact, that are kind of fat. Could this be the problem with Chase?"

I few minutes later the cats were fed and I was on the Google - thank you for inventing the Internet Al Gore! (Cough, hack, argh...) But, I digress. I selected "Images,"" then entered "common house plants poisonous to cats" in the search box. The first few pictures that came up had a near identical leaf coloring, shape, and texture to the plant so endearing to Chase. Picture A moment later I had the name - Satin Pothos, sometimes called Silk Pothos. The Satin Pothos is poisonous to cats and dogs. On that unverified information I removed the plant as a precaution.

Later that day, I was at our local nursery. The plant was, indeed, a Satin Pothos. On Monday morning, I called the vet to discuss it with her. She informed that the Satin Pothos has a salty taste; which cats and dogs like. Interestingly, the substance on the leaves and the plant tissue causes tongue and gum irritation, digestive track irritation, vomiting, skin irritation (one web site said dermatitis), heavy thirst, and Calcium Oxalate Crystals in their urine. When the vet ran the tests on Chase she had crystals in her urine (as mentioned above). Also, we have noticed for about the past year that Chase will sit next to her bowl of water and cry if it is not full. As soon as it is topped off, she immediately drinks. In fact, she seems to drink far more than the other two cats combined.

On the way to recovery...

This morning when Chase ran into the bathroom she was quite disturbed to find the plant missing. She jumped up on the bathtub surround, sniffed and smelled around, looking in the corners then began to cry out very loudly as if to say, "WTF, service human, where is my kitty crack - biotch!" I had no idea my choice of house plants was slowly killing my kitty.

Sorry Chase, you are going cold turkey.

The ASPCA has a lot of information about poisonous plants. I found this URL helpful: Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants. If you have cat or dogs, look into what type of plants you have in your home. There are ten very common house plants that are dangerous to your indoor critters. Check out VetStreet.com for more information.

End of Time

20160402

This here's a story about a man named Jedd... no wait, that is an entirely different story. This story is about the end of time, or more specifically, the end of time according to the software programmers at Garmin in the late 1990s. Lately, my Garmn GPS38 would not show any date later then 17 Jul 1996. There is a fix... let us get to it.

If you have a Garmin GPS device that was manufactured in the late 1990s like the one shown here, it may have Picture what is known and the "End of Weeks Rollover" error. I have a Garmin GPS38. It works great. Yeah, it is old, and slow, and takes about an hour ( literally ) to reacquire satellites if it has been left unpowered, and does not have all the wiz-bang features contemporary Garmin GPS devices have; but it works and is solidly built, and is pretty reliable. So, what is the End of Weeks Rollover error? Well, if you have one of these devices you already know... if you do not have one, the End of Weeks Rollover error is that the date that displays on the device is not later than 1996ish. Why? It is simple. The number of bits used to represent weeks when new calendar data is received is too short. So, when the new data is acquired from the satellites the device cannot adjust for it out to the current date. It is not all that bad, because there is a fix.

First, reset the device to factory settings by turning it off, then hold the MARK button down while you press the power button. Then let it set outside with a clear view of the sky and wait. I tried this and watched the batteries get lower and lower. It was not acquiring any satellites! I decided to hook it up to a power supply so it could vegetate endlessly if need be. Then I started the process again. Some time between Sunday afternoon and the following Friday evening, it had re-acquired a full set of satellites. Sadly, the date was still wrong. Now for the second step. And that is to force feed it a new date using a little program called 'gpseow.exe.' I got this program from mira.net. If you want to get it from me, click this. After I virus checked it and got it ready to update my device. Here is what I had to do to make this happen.

If your computer is like mine, it does not have a serial port (per se) so you have to use a Universal Serial Buss (USB) to serial converter. If it does have a serial port jump down to 'The Interface' and read on. Since my confuser does not have the port I needed to buy a USB to Picture serial converter. I was familiar with Prolific devices so I bought one online. I bought the GOLDX USB Serial Adapter GXMU-1200. This device is based on the Prolific PL-2303 chip and works very nicely. After the device driver was installed, I plugged the device into an available USB port and it was ready to use in about ten seconds. Then I checked the Control Panel, System, Device Manager. A new set of devices was present called "Ports (COM & LPT)." Upon clicking the plus sign in front of this item I found it contained "Prolific USB-to-Serial Comm Port (COM4)." After I saw that, I started the gpseow.exe program. This software was easy to use. Under the ports setting there are selections for COM1, COM2, COM3, and COM4. Since my new serial port was on COM4 I set this setting to COM4 as well. If you find your COM port different you can go into the Device Manager properties for the converter and select "Port Settings" then click the "Advanced" button, then click the "COM Port Number:" button and select an another port. Hopefully you have something between 1 and 4 open. If you do not. I am not sure what you can do besides disabling or removing some other USB or serial device that is consuming the COM port you need for the gpseow.exe program. Once you have all the COMs stuff working your ready for the next step - connecting the serial device to your GPS.
The Interface

As you might expect, the back of your GPS, if it is like mine, likely does not have a Picture female serial connector; but it may have Rx and Tx terminals under a weather cover on the back. The GPS38 has one and under the cover there are four pins. At 12 o'clock there is the Rx (receive) pin, at 6 o'clock is the Tx (transmit), at 3 o'clock is the ground pin, and at 9 o'clock is the power input pin (5 - 8 VDC). So, from 12 o'clock and going clockwise we have Rx, GND, Tx, and +Volts DC IN. We will call these pins 1, 2, 3, and 4, respectively.

Picture So... how do we get the oddly shaped DB-9 connector to connect to the obviously very circular interface connector on the back of the GPS unit. We will make it... of course. I made a similar interface to program my ICom IC-92AD. I chose to use the same technique. It worked then and will work now. You may want to read that article for details. Basically, here is what I did. I used six female pins from a Radio Shack DB-25 connector kit (RS 276-1430). Then these were soldered to the ends of three 24 AWG wires - one each for GND to GND, Rx to Tx, and Tx to Rx. I used red, blue, and black wires as shown in the picture. After soldering, heat shrink was added to insulate each and to prevent confusing the pixies.

Connection GPS Serial
1 Rx (pin 1) Tx (pin 3)
2 Tx (pin 3) Rx (pin 2)
3 GND (pin 2) GND (pin 5)

After the wires were made I connected them as shown in this table.

The next step was the simplest part. On the gpseow.exe software I clicked the little button for upload. After I restarted the GPS the date was set to 'today's date;' which, for me, was 2 Apr 16. Picture

Next, I took the GPS outside and let it percolate for a few minutes. It acquired seven of the eight available satellites. Other than world hunger, crazy-assed political elites, establishment self-service politicians, 15% unemployment, murder rates skyrocketing in our cities, taxes going through the roof, a deficit of $19 trillion, and the imminent threat of terrorism on our doorstep, I can sleep better tonight knowing the date on my Garmin GPS38 is correct. Yay me!

It happens...

20160324

About two weeks ago my bride and I were standing in the car-park area of the Garah-Mahal. We were talking about the house and other things. One of which was a Craftsman riding lawn mower I got for free a few years ago. I mentioned to my wife that the front axles on it were very cheaply made. Basically, it is a steal shaft, with a hub. There is no bearing per se. In the hub there are inner and outer nylon bushings, but no bearings. I said, that I was surprised they were holding up since the machine is getting on in years. I should have kept my ideas to myself!

Today, I decided to mow the lawn. This would be the first mowing for the season. About five minutes into the mow, the front left wheel literally fell off. This is not one of those ill-used "literal" comments many say these days... the wheel and tire broke away from the hub and fell off. Unbelievable! In any event, replacement parts are still available. A new wheel and tire are the way...

I am now suspicious of garage gremlins. They must of heard my comments and took them as inspiring words of the unclean and went to work as soon as I left the building.

LCD - Ah, Frak!

20160305

So... I've been futzn around with the 44870 display module. I discovered that the pinout for the data pins are the same as the modern device I bought (see below). Picture I downloaded a Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) scketch for the modern device and interfaced the older device to an Arduino Uno. It is working, but the characters are whack! I am using the 4-bit parallel version of the sketch. I think I will try it with the 8-bit version and see what happens. As a side note, I downloaded the 44780 datasheet and traced the pins out to the connector. That was a PITA cause I cannot see such small things, but I think I have it. I will verify my findings with a magnifying glass.

Oh yeah. I forgot to mention this. Did you know if you put 15VDC into a 5VDC circuit it makes them go from worky to no-worky. Although the magic, blue smoke did not come out, the pixies are obviously frozen in place by the sheer terror of over-voltage that they experienced, and you know what happens then... literally nothing. DOH!

I did not over-volt the older device... I smoked my newer one. Argh! But, interestingly, the older one only displays eight columns. The right-most 8 columns do not update. I think I will toss it.

From 20160305, around 3PM

I think I am making some headway with this display. As can be seen in the image to the right (below), this display is based on the 44780 display driver. Apparently, this chip is quite common. I purchased another (similar) Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) with parallel input and found that it has the same driver chip, although the new one is Chip-On-Board (COB) and I cannot see the chip, the datasheet for the LCD shows that same chip numbers. I suspect the interface pins are similar as well. The LCD shown here, has 14 pins. The one I bought has 16. The last two pins of the newer LCD are for a Light Emitting Diode (LED), which is not present on the older LCD. Considering this, I will take a gamble and base the pinout of the older device on the new one. With that in mind I believe the pins are (from left to right): 1) VSS [GND], 2) VDD [+], 3) VO, 4) RS, 5) RW, 6) E, 7-14) D0 - D7.

VSS and VDD, of course, are 5VDC and ground, respectively. Vo is the contrast pin, RS appears to be Register Select. RW is, as you might have guessed, the read/write pin.. The E pin is the device Enable pin - often used when a device is on buss; e.g., sharing data pins 0 - 7, when memory (DRAM, ROM, video, or otherwise.

From 20160220

Frak!? Maybe I'm showing my age there. Can you say Battlestar Galactica?... I knew you could.

Although I don't ask often, sometimes I need help. Naw, I don't need anything hefted over yonder, but I need help nonetheless. I need help identifying a little piece of technology that's been in my part-is-parts box for quite some time. Specifically, I know what it is... it's an Liquid Crystal Display (LCD). This one is a 16 x 1 (sixteen characters by one row) LCD. What I need is the pinout or schematic.

Picture Picture

The device is shown here in these two photos (right). It has fourteen interface pins and apparently it does not have a backlight. If anyone has a PDF datasheet on this LCD please let me know. My contact info is on the 'Contact' page of this web site. Deremee... do you?

Solid State Drive

20160220

In 2011, I bought an Apple MacBook Pro - 17 inch. It was an early 2011 model. In short, this was the first Apple laptop I had bought and I was quickly impressed. This blog post isn't about the MacBooks though. You either like them, or you definitely don't. Me? Well, I think they're tops; yet I digress. What I want to tell you is likely obvious to many or perhaps not to some.

Well, I bought this MacBook about five years ago. It was so fast when it was new. But, as time has passed and multiple new OS releases have occurred since then it was getting slower and slower. When I installed El Capitan this winter the system was virtually useless. It took several minutes to boot, and when you attempted to open any application the first time after a boot it could take up to three minutes for the beachball to get out of my face. It was re-damn-dic-ulous! Really, it was getting stupid-slow. I knew there was hope though.

This computer has a .75 TB hard drive in it. I checked the drive's usage and found that I've used less then 200 GB. I decided to move to a Solid State Drive (SSD). I revived three other computers here with SSDs and thought to give it try on my MacBook. A brief jaunt over to the Internet oracle; e.g., the Google, I found an easy to use tool to copy the existing drive to a new SSD. I had purchased a 500 GB SSD, so I resized the partition on my 750 GB drive to about 480 GB. Then I used a great piece of software called SuperDuper!. This software made a copy of my existing drive to the new SDD. Since the data from the MacBook was squirting out the USB port it took about two-hours and forty-five-minutes to complete. Once it was done, I removed the 750 GB drive and installed the 500 GB SDD. The results are fantastic. The computer is almost as fast as it was when it was new. Yeah, yeah, I know... its speed hasn't changed over time. But the time it takes to open applications is as it used to be with the SSD. It is surprising the difference solid state storage makes over mechanical, spinning media.

In closing, if you have a computer that seems to be on its last bits (legs), but you don't want to ditch it for a new one; consider giving it an upgrade with a new Solid State Drive. You may be as impressed as I.

P.S. Looky there, Sharon Profis presents an excellent how-to on this very matter... shazaam! Here's the link to Sharon's article at CNET.

Arduino

Updated: 20160507

Ok. Converting the Arduino code to allow for inverted outputs was a complete waist of time. It did not work as expected. Had a thought about it a bit more I likely would have realized that before hand... but... then again, I was occupied on the flight a for a bit.

Next!

From 20160506

Here I sit on what is very likely my 40th flight to 'someplace' USA this year. No kidding. This is my 11 trip this year with four flights per trip. Occasionally, I get direct flights, but normally there are four flights per trip. Since I had about four and half hours to myself on this particular trip - well, to myself among about 170 other passengers - I decided I would add code to that Arduino project for my son discussed previously.

The coding update went smoothly, and sadly it only took about an hour. Generally speaking, I added a new variable that is checked in various parts of the code. If the value set in 'setup' is 0 the software does one thing and if set to 1, it does something else. It was simple really, but there were many tests for the variable throughout the code. There is likely a better way to do what was just done, but this worked simply enough and was a straight forward, albiet, lengthly change.

What comes next is to try the software with N-channel MOSFETs instead of the P-Channel flavor of the device. I will post something about that later... maybe this weekend. It really depends on how CINCHOUSE influences my time when I get home.

From 20160423

I have been working on a project for my son - specifics later. I can say that it involves an Arduino microprocessor and a couple high-current (5 - 6 Amp) loads. At this point, P-Channel MOSFETs will be used to drive the loads. In setting this up, I discovered that some of the schematics Picture on line were flat wrong. I cannot say I am surprised though. Al Gore's amazing Internet is loaded with crap. Nevertheless, here is a drawing of a circuit that works. I verified and tested it today.

Most of the circuit diagrams I found showed the basic circuit correctly, but the source and drain were wired backwards. That is an important distinction too. If the source and drain are connected backwards, there is no control over the load - it always stays on. The proper connection is that the source needs to be connected to the positive, and the drain towards the load. The load's other leg is tied to ground (the lower potential). Between the MOSFET and the load a .05 ohm/1 watt resistor is present. This resistor ensures the drain is above ground potential and the gate stays off when we do not want it on.

I have selected a FQP27P06 P-Channel enhancement mode MOSFET for the circuit. Mostly, because that is what I have on hand. A review of the datasheet shows that the gate threshold voltage VGS(th) is 2 to 4 volts; which is logical-level compatible. Since I am using a P-Channel device; e.g., switching power to a grounded load vice switch ground to a powered load I have to use a transistor; e.g., a 2N3904 or similar, to gate the MOSFET to get the device to turn on when the circuit is enabled with +5ish volts.
NOTE: I am thinking about this though... I may use reverse logic levels from the microcontroller with the circuit and get rid of the transistor control altogether. Since I can output 0 VDC for 'ON' and +5 VDC for 'OFF' easily with the microcontroller... hmmm... I may just do that. I will take a look at the code and perhaps add a software switch to reverse output levels for ON and OFF. Back to the MOSFET...

The Fairchild FQP27P06 device can handle 27 Amps at about 60 volts. Since this device is housed in a TO-220 case it certainly cannot handle 27 amps without a heatsink. In this project, I am expecting between 5 and 6 amps across the device so a heatsink may be required. I did some simple tests today and found that a heatsink with about 10 in.2 will keep the MOSFET reasonably cool. Well, not on fire that is. The test I ran was about 15 minutes long. The heat sink got to 127oF or 52oC. That is pretty warm, but that is as warm as it got. I think a little larger heatsink could be used but the entire package has to be pretty small and a fan is out of the question at this point. So, 10 in.2 is good for now.

By the way... 6.6058 amps is the maximum current we can use with the FQP27P06 without a heatsink because 6.60582 amps x .055(RDS(on) ohms = 2.4000 watts. Of course, this means the device will be operating at 150oC; which is just over 300oF and is ~82% of its maximum no-heatsink capacity. Ca-razy hot!. One thing I cannot quite figure out though is that the datasheet says the maximum junction temperature is 175oC. If you divide 175 by 62.5 (RØJA - which is the degrees per watt) you get 2.8 watts. I do not understand why the maximum working wattage without a heatsink is not 2.8? Maybe Fairchild recommends 2.4 watts instead of 2.8 watts as a margin of safety. Remember anything over 175oC is the melting temperature.

The datasheet ( factory / copy ) for this device reveals that the junction temperature of the MOSFET can be as high as 175oC - that is pretty freegin' hot. But to do that, you must be pulling the heat out of the device with a large heatsink. For this application, I do not expect to require a kazillion pixies to be running across the junction - more like a zillion of 'em, so the temperature of the junction will be kept much lower since I will have far fewer pixies running around in there. Ya know... if you force too many pixies through the same place at the same time they get really bunched up. And when they are all in such close quarters they get really pissed off and furiously mad - their little pixie faces get glowing red. That is why parts glow when too much current flows through them by the way. Next, they barf up all their magic blue smoke then start killing each other. Once one is dead, all the rest are killed in a cascading fashion (most commit suicide) and in very short order. I really do not want that to happen - nobody does. So... at this point, I think the nine square inch heatsink will work. Also, since the MOSFET can handle up to 120 watts, the 60 watts being planned at this point is well within margins.

A check of the datasheet (linked above) shows that RDS (source to drain) resistance is .055 ohms for the FQP27P06. Since I will be running at a maximum of 6 amps in the circuit the MOSFET's junction will be running at 1.98 watts. That is quite a bit of power across a little junction. And where there is power, there is heat. Almost 2 watts will generate too much heat to run to run more than a few seconds without a heatsink. In this application, the MOSFET will be turning on the load for minutes to a couple hours. Lets see what the calculations will reveal. Standback... I am going to attempt electronical cipherin'.

Ohm's Law tells us that Power (P) = Resistance (R) x Current (I) squared; e.g., P = R x I2, so P = .055 x 62. The gonculator reveals 1.98 watts is the answer. According to the datasheet, it shows (after some calculations) that the FPQ27P06 can handle 2.4 watts without a heatsink. That was figured with this little bit of cipherin'.

Again, to the datasheet... PD = (TJ - TA) / RØJA; where PD is Power dissipation, TJ is the maximum junction temperature, TA is the expected operating ambient temperature, and RØJA is the thermal resistance - junction to ambient temperature. When you put them into the gunculator you get 2.4 watts. Well, 1.98 watts is less than 2.4 watts! Do I need a heatsink for my application? It may seem so at first glance. But wait, there is more...

Looking at the datasheet, I am running the device outside of the tested ranges, but not that far; e.g., 3.8 volts higher. Well, that is 40% more, but still not stupid high. I do not think that would skew the values calculated that far from actual results. So, what is the next step? Umm, time to get a samich. Back in a bit.

Ok, it is post samich time now.

Now we have to see how hot the junction temperature will be while the load is turned on. Since the wattage at the junction is 1.98 watts, we have to associate that with RØJA to see how hot things will actually get in there. From the datasheet, the RØJA is 62.5 degrees C per watt. That is, multiply the watts (P) * RØJA to see what the junction temperature should be under load. So, 1.98 watts * 62.5 = 123.75oC. 123.75 degrees celsius is 254.75oF. Based on the information in the datasheet we do not need a heatsink even at 123.75oC. But that is crazy hot. That temperature could burn you and boil water. Even though the MOSFET can handle that temperature - should it? I mean, that is very toasty inside the MOSFET, an is certainly enough to get the pixies all up in a bother and close to being red-faced. Again, we do no want that! So, to keep things reasonably cool we will use a heatsink and heatsink compound to efficiently pull the heat out of the MOSFET. That will greatly help the MOSFET stay cool, last longer, you can rest more peacefully, and most of all, the pixies will thank you.

From 20160323

When I built the Office Event Data Logger (described below), I was intrigued by the ease of use and functionality of the Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) I had on hand. In fact, I had two and I wanted to try them out with the Arduino Uno. The one used on the project; which is a 16 column x 2 row device with red-colored backlighting and serial interface, Picture and another one that is a 16 x 1 device with no backlighting. The second one is shown in the LCD... Ah Frak! section of this blog. As you can see, the 16 x 1 device is a simple, common LCD with a parallel interface. Its characters are easily to see with front lighting. The other (16 x 2) device cannot be read without the backlighting turned on and the contrast adjusted. Nevertheless, I think these LCD devices are cool.

I did not mention this in the LCD... Ah Frak! post, but the LCD did not function correctly. It looks okay in the image shown in that post, but I soon found that the first eight (left-most) characters Picture were the only ones that were operational. The right-most eight characters did not work. I fiddled around with the device quite a bit to no avail. But I really liked it and did not want to toss it. In the end, I went to the gargerler (Google) and searched for similar LCD devices. A few minutes later I found many similar devices. Some were 16 x 2s, others 16 x 4s, and finally I found the 16 x 1 devices without backlighting. To make matters even better, they were relatively inexpensive too. Ultimately, I bought several flavours of these devices... just because they are so cool. Did I say that already. I bought some with backlighting and others without it. In the end, I bought based on price and ended up with several types as can be seen in the table below.

ColumnsRowsSize (mm) ColorBacklightingInterface Count
161120 x 25 GreenYes, YellowParallel 5 ea
162100 x 25 GreenYes, YellowParallel 1 ea
16265 x 14Green Yes, YellowSerial2 ea
16265 x 14 BlueYes, WhiteParallel 3 ea
16265 x 14 Pale GreenNoParallel 1 ea
16165 x 14 Pale GreenNoParallel 3 ea
16476 x 27 BlueYes, WhiteParallel 2 ea

Goot lort... what am I gonna do with all these? I'll have plans for a couple already, but not the 17 others I have on hand. Hmmm. Well, they were inexpensive, and did I say they are cool. I especially like the crisp look of the older, non-backlighted devices.

The nice thing about these devices is that they are very easy to implement in projects because their interface has been standardized. Why? Well, I have not done any research on this, but that old 16 x 1 display I have has one large quad-pack chip on it. It is a Hitachi HD44780 from 1920 or sumtin. No, wait, it has to be younger than that. Whatever. This device seems to have had all the electronic infrastructure in a single package making it easy to implement and it could drive different LCD display types too; 16 x 1 or 16 x 2 (or others perhaps). By the way, all of the contempary devices I have bought have chip on board (CIB) technology. The larger displays have multiple CIBs. The 16 x 4s have five CIBs. Well, with the powerful HD44780 out there, it must have caught on as a standard and badda-bing... the modern devices have similar inner workings and thus their pin-outs are similar; as is the method to interact act with them through software too. This common HD44780 ancestery must have been quite popular. Even the serial displays are parallel HD44780 devices with serial interfaces strapped on. In fact, you could remove the serial interface, and you would have the basic parallel interface remaining and it would function fine as a parallel device. Whether 16 x 1, 2, or 4 all the pin-outs are the same but the pin's form factor might be different. While most of the units I have have pin 1 to 16 in one line, the big 16 x 1 displays have an odd dual column pin-out, with the pins counting 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, and 15 down one column, and 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, and 16 down the other - weird! Nevertheless, and even though the wiring was a tangle, the labels to each pin were exactly the same. Here is a table with the pin-outs for the 16 pin devices.

Pin Function
1 VSS (Gnd)
2 VDD (5VDC)
3 VO
4 RS (Register Select)
5 RW (!Read/Write)
6 E (!Enable)
7 - 14 DB0 - DB7 (Data)
15 A (backlighting +)
16 K (backlighting GND)

Interestingly, some devices may have 16 pins, like their brethern, but the first two pins are 15 and 16, then 1 - 14 follow in a single row. Another alternative is that the device may only have 14 pins. In these cases 15 (A) and 16 (K); which are used for the backlighting are not present. If not said elsewhere A = Anode, and K = Cathode... this seems to be a holdover from tube technology of years gone by. That's a conversation for Mr. Carlson's Lab (google that). Well, here's the pin-out list shown to the right.

To allow for minimum interconnection requirements for future projects, I also bought a couple serial-to-parallel devices that are directly suited to these display modules. The little serial-to-parallel convertor devices come equipped with a contrast adjustmment too. The best part was that they were only about $2.50 each. Amazon is great.

From 20160316

It appears the Office Event Data Logger is working as hoped. Each time a person Picture comes in the office or a phone call is answered, the office attendant presses the "Person" or "Phone" button and the data is logged. As you can see in this little picture 19 phone calls, and 41 walk-ins were logged.

From 20160305

Here I sit all broken hearted, I tried to program but only...

Actually, I tried to program and was successful. The code change I worked on while Picture in LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) worked... basically. The only change I had to make here this evening was that I could not use the method .write to send data to serial port of the Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) when I tried to combine a quoted string value and a string variable. Instead, I used the serial .print method. I am not exactly sure why one worked any the other threw an ass-load of compiling errors, but .print worked and the Office Event Data Logger is updated. I've included a picture here to the right.

From 20160305

The Office Event data logger was in operation for a single day. At the end of the day, my wife asked for a software update. She wanted a running count of the events to be displayed on the Liquid Crystal Display (LCD). I thought that was a relativedly easy update and set to working it out. I happened to be sitting in LAX, doing what thousands of people do each day - waiting - where I decided to update the Arduino code to make accommodations for the change. It took only a few minutes. Subsequently, I tested it on Saturday on another Arduino Uno card and it seems to be working. I thought I had another LCD handy but all the ones I had on hand were addressed in parallel. The Office Event data logger uses a serial interface for the LCD. Perhaps I can get the update loaded in the finished system next weekend, and ensure everything is ok then.

Picture

Here ( left ) is a serial-display output from the Arduino showing the effects of the update. As you see, in addition to displaying "- = Ready = -" between key presses, the display will also show a running count of how many People (PE) or Phone (PH) calls have occurred. I think this is actually a great update and should have been in the first version.

As you can see in the image, "Ready" and counts for "PE" and "PH" appear. These are shown in-line, but on the display "Ready" will appear on the line above "PE" and "PH". When I get the software updated, I will post another picture. I think, also, I will change out the display. I do not like the red LCD I used.

From 20160227

I finished the data logger project. It is in a box, and fully functional. Although the pictures show it incomplete - the labels are missing - I added the labels for the two buttons later in the evening. The left button is used to log when a person comes in to the office, and the right button is pressed when a call is received. These buttons are labeled "Person" and "Phone", respectively. Here are some pictures of the project.

Picture Picture Picture
Picture Picture Picture

In the first picture I was getting all the pieces and parts together. Then I placed masking tape on the white painted surfaces to protect them. In the center, top picture I had made measurements and cut the primary openings on the box. This included the opening for the power switch and the Liquid Crystal Display (LCD). Then magically, it is almost done in the upper right picture; which is a front view. The lower, left image is the back of the box. As you can see, this is where the power switch and power indicator are. In the last picture (lower, right) you can see the display indicating that the "Person" button had just been pressed.

You will likely be curious why I added the ferrite to the power cord. I did it just for good measure. I had no indications that I needed to use it.

From 20160216

My wife was telling me about how many people come into her office or call each day. She also said that she would like to tell her management about Picture it and provide details so they could see how busy it was in the office. I thought that was a good idea, but tracking the office activity over time could be a problem with pencil or paper. It would be much nicer to just push a button to record whether a person came in or a phone call was answered. I thought and Arduino project could help record the data. Then some months later we could move the data to Microsoft Excel and massage it into nice charts. And with that, I built a data logger for her. Here is the story.

NOTE: The chips and crystal in the background are not part of the datalogger.

This Arduino project required a Real Time Clock (RTC) to keep track of the day and time and some way to record the data. I bought a RTC clock that uses the DS3231 chip. It has an internal crystal and a battery backup too. Picture The internal crystal helps keep the clock stable and on time. To save the data I used an Ardunio SD Card Shield with a 16 gigabyte (GB) SD Card. Sixteen gigabytes is way overkill, but that is what I had. In fact, with a 16 GB card it can store about 516 million events. Like I said, waaaay overkill. I also had a 16 x 2 Liquid Crystal Display in my parts box and wanted to add it it also for additional feed back. This project required combining other people's code I found on the net to read the RTC device and yet more to read the SD Card Shield. I wrote and put together most of this code over the holidays of 2015, but had so many errors in it, it was just plain stupid. Argh. I set it aside for a bit.

About two weeks ago I was flying across the US and decided to rewrite the code while I sat there with 200 people I didn’t know. The creative juices were not flowing so I asked one of the in-flight professional waitresses for a Jack and Coke. Well, twenty minutes later I was working through the code. I think that had something to do with The Ballmer Peak Conjecture. Anyway, by the time the plane landed in LA I had it worked out and it compiled without errors.

This past weekend, I decided to finish the prototype. I worked on it most of Saturday. While the code was error free from a compiling stand point it did not work functionally. The only thing the SD card was storing was whether a phone call event or person event had occurred. The RTC information was missing. Of course, I kept working at in. Then around 3 PM I found the issue… and it was incredibly, beyond all reason, stupid. The section of code that combined all the date and time variables into one string was wrong. Here is an example where I was concatenating string "day" to string "year" with rtcData = rtcData + String(day, DEC). Any C++ coders will see the error immediately. It should have been rtcData += String(day, DEC);. Nevertheless, I got it figured out and it works great. Now just to put it in a nice box for my wife's desk at work. Here is the code for this project.

I purchased a box for this the other day. Once its all done, I will post another picture here, and maybe even results after a few months if I remember to do it. Here's a brief video of the Data Logger in action - Video.

From 20150201

It is possible to use cascaded 74165s (8-bit Parallel to Serial Shift Register) with the Arduino to be able to shift in more than 8-bits. I have not actually tried that, but I do not doubt it can be done pretty easily. With two 74165s you could shift in Picture 16-bits into the Arduino. But why use two chips when one might work. With that, I had a 74F676N chip in my parts-is-parts box and decided to try out. The 74F676N is a 16-bit Parallel-in to Serial-out shift register. It took a bit of wire wrangling, but I got it to work tonight. Here's a picture of the bread board.

The code is very similar to that used for the 74165 device. In similar fashion, this experiment took four controls wires too. These were: Clock, Mode, CS, and Serial-in. With regards to the 74F676 every pin, except for pin 3 (NC) was used. My first attempt to get this working failed because I did not set the Mode pin LOW (0) before I tried to clock the data. The results were crappy. Once I noticed that oversight, it started working quite well. Click here for the code.

From 20160130

So... I was messing around with the Ardunio Uno this weekend. I took an old video cassette recorder to bits and saved some parts. One of the cooler parts saved was a 4-digit, 7-segment display. So, I thought I tried to interface it to an Ardunio.

I found some Arduino code on the Internet for a 2-digit display. It was written by Natalia Fargasch Norman. I modified the code to support the additional (2) digits and wired it up as follows.

The Arduino Uno is driving the common anodes of the display using four 2N2907 transistors - one for each digit. Each set of segments is driven by a 2N2222 transistor. This pins of the Arduino are connect to the base of each transistor through a 1K ohm resistor to limit the base current. Between the collector of each of the 2N2222 and the cathodes of the segment light emitting diodes (LED)s I inserted a 330 ohm resistors to limit the forward current going through the LEDs.

Once it was wired up, I uploaded the code to the Arduino Uno. I quickly discovered that the segments were not coming on at the right time. This led to having to change the segment bit data in the code from least significant bit (LSB) on the left to LSB on the right. Additionally, I had to reverse each of the bits; e.g., 0s to 1s, and 1s to 0s. The code for this project can be found here. Also, please check on the video of the display operating. It's on YouTube and can be found here.

From 20160130

A few years ago, my son came home on leave and he introduced me to the Arduino series of small microcontroller boards. He wanted to build a 7 x 7 x 7 Light Emitting Diode (LED) cube. Over two days we built an assembly jig and assembled the cube. It worked very well. I was very impressed with the Arduino technology, but didn't move forward with it from there until recently.

During the Christmas and New Years break in 2015, I had a couple ideas I wanted to work on and felt the Arduino Uno would be a good starting point. I checked my parts-is-parts boxes and found I needed a couple things. Two days later I had them - Thanks Amazon Prime.

The first project is something for my wife. She's a secretary. I want to build her a small gadget that will help keep track of the number of people and calls she works in her office. The gadget requires only two buttons and a couple Light Emitting Diodes (LED)s for the user interface. To make the gadget work though, it will require a Real Time Clock (RTC) to keep track of the date and time and a SD Card Arduino Shield to store the data to be recorded. The RTC I bought was the DS3231 AT24C32 IIC device; which is a RTC with temperature compensated crystal. I think I got it for under $5.00 from Amazon.com. The SD Card Shield can be found here. Once a month or two the data on the SD Card can be copied off and reviewed/analyzed using Microsoft Excel.

To get started, I assembled the device by prototyping each section. First, I worked with the RTC device. It worked flawlessly and was easy to setup, program, and use. Next, I fiddled with the SD Card Shield. Again, easy-peasy. Then, I thought to myself, "Self, why not use a 16 character by 2 line Liquid Crystal Display (LCD?" I had one, so I thought to put it to use. I set it up and a few minutes later it was spitting out info on its screen. Wunderbar! (A little German lingo there.)

Next, I began assembling the disparate parts into one fully functioning widget... and that's where I've run into a bit of a snafu. I have a code problem and the Arduino compiler is giving me a fit. I am trying to figure out the problem. Once I do, I will post more information here about that project. (See my entry on 20160216 for an update.)

The other project I started working on is for my son. We think it may be a sellable item. More on that later too.

Just for grins and learning, I messed around with other small experiments. First, was connecting a thermo-couple to the Arduino. A thermo-couple, 5k ohm resister and a little Ardunio code later it was working. After I worked out the thermal offset I found it to be quite accurate and useful to warn of over or under temperature. Here's a sample of that code.

Since the Arduino (as do all systems) has a limited number of input and output pins I fiddled around with using serial to 8-bit parallel output with the 74LS595 and 8-bit parallel to serial input with the 74LS165. The former was a little easier to set up, but after a bit I had both working very well. I even used the latter to introduce my 16 year old daughter to various numbering systems; e.g., Base 2 (binary), Base 8 (octal), Base 16 (hexadecimal), and even mentioned Base 12 (duodecimal or dozenal). Later that day she even asked to go over it again to help reinforce what she learned. That's a WIN!

Here's the code for some of these experiments. Much of this is based on other peoples work as noted in the comments sections of the code.

Experiment Code Link
Thermocouple - hi/lo warning Link
Serial to 8-bit Parallel Output - 74LS595 Link
8-bit Parallel to Serial Input - 74LS165 Link
12-button Keypad Link
4-digit, 7-segment Display, YouTube Video Link
16-bit Parallel-Input to Serial-Output Register - 74F676N Link
Phone or Person Data Logger Link

I am also fiddling around with the LPC Expresso. I am curious about this technology too. If anything comes from this, I will post it here as an update.

Express PCB

20130901

Have you ever heard of ExpressPCB, I mean besides in the title of this post anyway? If you haven't and you enjoy messing around with electronics and making your own printed circuit boards you should check out this company. It is fantastic. Let me tell you about it.

There I was, standing in my Garage-Mahal. I had just completed rebuilding two small 2-cycle engines and working on two other 4-cycle engines, when I thought to myself, "Self, I need to build some little blinky-light things for my son." So, I took a picture of a prototype from a few years back and tweeted it. This wasn't arbitrary, he had called and asked for nine of them. A couple minutes later I tweeted "I finished the engines, now I need to make some of these."

Moments later a twitterer, tweeted "Have you tried ExpressPCB?" I knew about it but had forgotten, so I thought to myself, based on her advice, "Give it try." I am glad a did because the service was great!

ExpressPCB is truly that - Express. After I designed an submitted the circuit card layout it was in my mail box a few days later. Click here to go to their web site. Their software is free. Once you download and install it, you get started by drawing the schematic. Give all the parts names like D1, R1, R2, U1, et cetera. Save the file, then start the PCB layout. Insert the same parts and names from the schematic and it will help you connect them together. Truly cool. Once you are done and the software will give you a price and you order it through their software too. I think you will like it. It's just like Tranya... you will like it as much as I. Aaaa, ha, ha, ha, haaaaa.

  

Here's a picture of something I am working on now as shown in their schematic and layout software ExpressPCB gives you.

Many thanks go to my twitter acquaintance who is now a friend...

Ethanol - Corn is Food, Not Fuel

20131201. Updated: 20150321

Let me tell you about my summer.

Actually, the story starts in the Spring when I begin doing more outside, than inside. This Spring was no different than many before it with regards to lawn care. I get out my motorized tools and start them up and see how they are working. Each tool started up and operated as expected.

About midway through July, I started having trouble with my weed eater, and then my push mower was getting fussy. In both cases, they were hard to start. Once the weed eater started it ran okay. Then one day, after starting the mower, its RPM started oscillating, then it stalled and failed to restart.

I got my tools and removed the carburetor. The long and short of it was that it was sticky inside. The little jets/holes were gummed up. I cleaned it up with Gunk Parts Cleaner then reassembled it. After putting it back on the mower it ran great.

The following weekend, I discovered that the weed-whacker could not be started. The engine was ceased up. After disassembling it, I found that the piston and cylinder wall was shellacked. So the piston and cylinder was sort of glued together. After getting the piston out, and cleaning things up, and with new gaskets and rings, the weed-whacker ran fine once again.

The next weekend the mower crapped out again. Very similar problems. Two weeks later, the weed-whacker would not idle. I removed the carburetors on both and discovered goo in both. Again, I cleaned them up and once again they were running fine.

At the beginning of September I decided to pressure wash the driveway. The pressure washer worked great. When I was done, I let it idle for a bit to cool off and then I turned it off. When I went to put in the pump preserver I have to pull the start cord to rotate the pump. When I pulled the cord I heard and sharp plink noise in the engine, then I noticed that it was puffing air out of the carburetor. After I disassembled the engine, I found that the intake valve was fused in its sleeve. It was so tight it had to be driven out with a drift punch. Once removed, I noted it has a glass-like substance on the valve stem and in the sleeve. After that was removed with a brass brush I reassembled the engine and it ran great, until it cooled down again, then plink! The same failure occurred.

Right after the pressure washer failure, I decided to check an engine I used on a homemade high-current battery charger. In this case the carburetor's parts were all stuck with sugar crystals and the tank had a thick substance in the bottom of it that looked like molasses. After these parts were cleaned up the motor ran fine.

All these failures I attribute to the fuel. The fuel was about six months old, but had fuel preserver in it. In each case the carburetor or engine parts were either stuck with crystallized sugar or the syrup from the ethanol.

This past Saturday I decided to check my generator before its fall maintenance check. It was fine, but I noticed the carburetor was sticky inside and a thick clear yellow liquid was dripping behind the air filter. Again, drying ethanol!

Then, a friend said, "Hey, my riding mower won't run anymore. You can have it because I bought a new one." Well, I took off the carburetor and, once again, crystals of sugar, this time though they caused the float to stay open slightly; which allowed fuel to overflow in the carburetor that ultimately seeped into the intake, then passed the intake valve into the combustion chamber, and past the rings. The crankcase was fuel of gas; which thinned the oil out and caused it to be too full. The combination of these things prevented it from running. Ethanol. Argh!

As you may recall from my Ether story that Ethanol was the cause of two rusted out gas tanks on my 1967 Ford and a badly gummed up carburetor. I will say it again, Corn is for food, not fuel.

LastPass

20130922

LastPass is an online password manager. It is able to store all your account passwords and it does much more. Read on if you're interested.

If you're interested in this topic but don't want to hear if from me you can visit LastPass's website by clicking here. Otherwise, read on.

LastPass is a password manager that integrates with your web browser whether it's Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari or others. Once it is installed and running on your browser, when you visit a web site and enter a login ID and authenticator (password) LastPass asks if you want the software to save the site. When you come back to the site later, LastPass recognizes the login screen and fills in the information for you. All you have to do is click OK. How does it do this you ask?

LastPass does keep you passwords, but it only keeps an encrypted form of them. It cannot break the code because you have the keys. When you access your web browser the LastPass widget appears on your tool bar. If you click it, it asks for a login. This is the only password you have to remember. If you forget this one, you're screwed because LastPass cannot decrypt the passwords - only you can with a valid user ID and password. After a valid user account and password is entered the encrypted file is downloaded to your computer and decrypted for your use. When you add a site and password the file is encrypted a saved in that form in the cloud. This is great because you can access your passwords anywhere. On your smartphone, iPad, in Sweden, United Kingdom, the United States, it doesn't matter... they are available. Also, it doesn't save the decrypted password file locally either. When you close the browser they're gone - but this depends on user preferences too. But LastPass does more.

LastPass also can store Secure Notes for you too. You can save any text-based information in them. Perhaps you want to save your family's SSANs, Credit Card numbers, Insurance Information, you name it. Any text-based information can be saved there and it is completely secure. But wait, there's more.

LastPass can also save User Profiles like your credit card details and address. This is handy for online shopping. When you are ready to pay for your purchase and your on the payment screen simply click on the first address or credit card field and LastPass will ask you if you want to fill the form. Select OK and the information is filled in for you.

If you want to be extra security you can integrate One Time Passwords (OTP) with LastPass too. Yubico produces a product called Yubikey that can be registered with LastPass. When using the yubikey with LastPass you have to have your user ID, password and the yubikey USB device. If you don't have one of these you're screwed again. This technology - having something you know (user ID and password) and something you have (the hardware device) is called two-factor authentication and is a very secure way to manage your passwords.

So, check out LastPass and Yubico to improve your password management and safe keeping... I mean, you don't have the same or similar password for all your online sites do you?

Tower Project 2012

20130222

20121014: So, there it was, Saturday morning. Household finances were done and I thought to myself, "Self, I need to draw the engineering drawings for my tower installation for the city." And with that, I started putting them together. By the early afternoon I had six drawings - I added a seventh later for me. One for the tower base, one for the tower top, one Front View, one Side View, one for the pedestal, and one detail for the attachment to the building that will support it. With drawings in hand I will go to the city offices this week to see if the engineer will agree to using "Hilti" (an epoxy) for the central bolt that will support the entire structure. The city wants me to use three L-shaped 18" bolts. My father, who's a structural engineer, is using Hilti epoxy instead these days. We'll see what happens. If they will not buy off on using Hilti epoxy, plumbing the tower is going to be difficult.

20121018. Yay me! The City of Hampton accepted the engineering drawings for my antenna tower installation, pedestal, base, and attachment design. This is a good thing. I can begin moving forward with installation. When I start the project I will take photos... when that happens I will move this to a separate page. I will also be Tweeting about this once the project's construction begins. Below exists a table depicting the drawings submitted to the city if you're curious.

Title Link
Tower Placement Drawing
Tower Placement (Side View) Drawing
Tower Attachment Detail (Edge View) Drawing
Tower Base Detail Drawing
Tower Attachment Detail (Front) Drawing
Tower Base Drawing
Tower Top Drawing

Updated 20130222: Disappointed! A prime, local metal works business has informed that they cannot produce the tower bottom or top pieces needed for the tower project. At this point I am considering options; which include salvaging parts from a tower segment to fabricate the parts needed.

Ether... It's great... sometimes.

20130426

So, I started my 1967 Ford Galaxie 500 in December. It ran great. A couple days later I noticed a gasoline smell in the garage. I checked out the car and discovered that the fuel tank was dripping gasoline from the seam. Yes, that damn Ethanol had spoiled the tank - the second one in ten years.

I can only imagine the number of small engines and antiques out there that are being screwed up by Ethanol. Ethanol sucks. But I digress.

After I had the gas tank repaired, I filled it 1/2 way with 110 octane and tried to start the engine. It wouldn't start so I tried to start it with Ether.

Mistake!

It started and immediately sounded like a really old diesel engine that was about to break something. The sounds this 47 year old engine was making were surprising and running at 1/2 engine speed - that's right... cam speed. Something was not right related to the cam, lifters, pushrods, rockers, or valves. Soon after, I removed the valve covers and was amazed at what I found.

For those of you familiar with Ford FE series engines, you know that the 352 block was bored and stroked for various applications for cars and trucks. The engine displacements included 352, 360, 362, 390, 392, 406, and 428 cubic inch engines. I think there were even 361 and 391 displacements for trucks.

Picture

This series of engines have a firing order of 1, 5, 4, 2, 6, 3, 7, and 8. Check out the image to the right. The push rods shown are from cylinders 1, 3, 7, and 8 exhaust valves, respectively being #1, 2, 3, and 4. Number 1 was fine, but I believe when I began to dose the engine with Ether, cylinder 3 got a small dose and number 7 and 8 received a large dose of Ether. As you can see in the image, the engine didn't respond well to Ether at all. The push rods on the exhaust valves of each of these cylinders bent. Number 3 was bent a little, but 7 and 8 were bent to mild U shapes. I was amazed.

Here's what I think happened. When the engine began to crank and I dosed it with Ether, number 3 got a little and 7 and 8 got allot. The pressures in the cylinders was so great that the exhaust valves were forced shut and could not open when the pushrods and rockers attempted to open them. The result was bent or severely bent pushrods. I find myself fortunate that the rocker arms did not break!

In closing, trying to start the engine with Ether resulted in breaking it and a $143.00 expense. I took this opportunity to replace the lifters, as well as, all the pushrods and upper gasket set, of course. I took this opportunity to inspect the lifters I removed. All of them were in good shape. No broken springs and the check valves were intact. I disassembled them, cleaned them up, lubed them, and put them back together should I need them in the future. BTW: Their boxes are numbered so they can be returned in the same bores should I need to use them.

Additional notes...

With the exception of the lifters, the parts - pushrods and gaskets were not readily available. I purchased them online from rockauto.com. Rockauto.com has many parts for older cars.

No Holes Barred

20121018

Hence forth... say what you mean... mean what you say. Screw Political Correctness. PC reduces information and limits knowledge. I will present text "no holes barred" similar to how Michelle Malkin (@Michellemalkin) throws it out there. I expect this to be interesting. Hang on friends... and frenemies.

Power supply trade-down... what?

20120910 - Updated

When I established my HAM shack I selected a large, high-current power supply for my radio's seemingly insatiable need for amperage. The unit I purchased was a MFJ Adjustable Regulated DC Power Supply, DPS-4935MV, 35 amp model. It worked pretty good, but when I cranked up the output on my ICom IC-7000 the voltage would droop badly. This power supply is pretty heavy too; it weighs 20lbs. It measures in at 9.25" wide x 8.5 deep x 6" tall (471.75 in3). That's about .5 pound and 13.5 in3 per amp - it's husky. When I started experiencing transmission issues here (read about that here) I needed to eliminate possible problems. With that in mind I needed to buy a different power supply - one without the chewy-chunks of voltage droop.

Picture I purchased a Mean Well SP-500-13.5 power supply to replace my aging MFJ unit and built this widget (left). The Mean Well units are switching power supplies. This particular model has a 36 amp output and my radio requires 22 amps at 100W. I was shooting for a factor of 2 times the current need, but couldn't afford a 50 amp model so I bought the 36 amp unit. At 36 amps I didn't quite get to a factor of 2, but 1.6 is reasonable. The 50 amp Mean Well units, like the SP-750-15, are much larger too - about 49 in.3 larger in fact.

Since the radio's input is 13.8 VDC I cranked up the voltage adjustment on the power supply to indicate 13.8 VDC under load. But have since found adjusting it to 13.8 VDC at rest is the same as 13.8 under load with this little powerhouse. It keeps the output voltage rock steady under load or not - nice. Another benefit of using switching power supplies is their size and weight. The Mean Well SP-500-13.5 is 4.5" wide x 6.5" deep x 4" tall. That's 25% the size of the linear MFJ I was using and it weighs just over 4 pounds. That's about .11 pound and a mere 3.25 in3 per amp. Additionally, it's electrically quiet - no ripple, no hum, and no noise. And the fan is pretty quiet too. It's nice. Oh, as a side note... I reduced the length of the cables by about a meter too.

Now, you've might have read some about this next section under "Update 20120902" in the Transmission Classics post below, but here is a bit more detail. In assembling my new Ham Shack Power Supply I mounted the Mean Well SP-500-13.5 to a piece of fine Birch plywood. I added four circuit breakers - two 20 amp and two 30 amp. I also added a mounting lug for grounds. Soon I will add the second SP-500-13.5 and some electronics to monitor the two power supply's outputs. I'll use a Maxim ORing MOSFET Controller for this - a Maxim MAX8535. They are specifically made for this purpose. The Maxim device is a very small chip that interfaces to much higher current handling MOSFETs wired in an OR configuration. It is able to switch from one power supply to the other so rapidly that the down stream electronics don't notice the change. That's cool. Also, all the wire end terminals that carry anything over milliamps are connected with ring terminals that have been soldered on. It is working quite well. Now... I know those of keen eyesight out there will call me out on the abscence of MAINs fuses. I agree. They are next and will be installed soon.

At $159.00 plus shipping it was a good purchase. You can learn more about this power supply by visiting a Mean Well distributor online. In closing, the Mean Well SP-750-15 (it's adjustable [13.5 - 16.5 VDC]) is over $214.00 to the door.

Although I didn't select the Mean Well SP-750-15 for this project it has a nice feature I want to share with you. In retrospect I think I prefer it over the completely adequate SP-500-13.5 I picked. The SP-750-15 has voltage sense connections. This requires two additional wires going to the load in addition to the primary + and - (ground) connections. These additional "sense" wires can be a much smaller gauge! They provide feed back to the power supply so it can adjust the output voltage automatically as seen at the load. This helps overcome resistance in connections and voltage drop across the + and - wires. That's a nice feature.

So, I traded down... in physical size that is. And you thought bigger is better.

Update 20121018. So... today is Oct 18, 2012. I haven't done squat on this for several weeks. Simply ran out of cash-o-la. When the green flows well again I will purchase two new Mean-Well power supplies, the MOSFETS, and the MAXIM chip to complete this project. I am considering sending this project to QST. What do you think. Tweet me @heavyhammer if you have an opinion on this.

Android App - Ohm's Law Calculator

20120518

A little company I intimately know about is writing Android apps. The company is called NeoNerds. Recently, they released an app for Android-based smart phones. The app is called Ohm's Law Calculator. It's easy to use and does 13 different common Ohm's law calculations. These include three calculations each for Current, Power, Resistance, and Voltage plus a 13th one for calculation forward bias resistors for transistors and LEDs. They hope to have iPhone-based apps out within the year.

The company's web site is theneonerds.com. If you are interested in the app for your Android smart phone go to the "Play Store" on your phone and search for "NeoNerd." You will find Ohm's Law Calculator there and other apps they've written.

Transmission Classics... Ruin, dispair...

20120720 - Updated

So, this addition is about a week old. Me and a few other local Southern Peninsula operators run the local Amateur Radio net for HPT Net. We trade off each week. For the past two years or so I have been running it right where I sit now - in my HAM shack. Nothing has changed much, but on 9 July I started to run the NET and immediately several other operators interjected and explained my signal was down in the dirt. I paused briefly and switched radios. No improvement.

After the NET I tested several things. Those being: 1) SWR: It was 1.4 at 43W at 145.49 MHz; Ohms: Open between shield and braid (I will ring the cable the next time I toss one of the daughters onto the roof 'cause I will need some help with that); Radio Settings: all normal. In fact, I changed out radios... same results - crappy a*! signal; Feed line switch: I directly connected the tranmission line to the radio without the switch - no change; Antenna: I removed it, inspected it, no water and all looked fine. In fact, when this problem first cropped up with my home-brew 1/4λ I found the same - nothing wrong with the antenna. Hmmm.

Some more experienced HAMs in the area think that I am in an area they refer to as an "RF Sponge." I can tell you that east of me (which is between me and the repeater) are high-tension power lines. Also to the north the same exists. Interestingly though, I can talk direct to other HAMs with better reliability than I can to our local repeated. Even more interesting is that I can talk to the .76 repeater in Williamsburg; which is 34 miles from here than I can to the one seven miles away. Weird.

When I set up my Ham Shack my transmission line to my primary antenna was 50 feet. I knew that was too far to go with RG-58. But that's what I had on hand then so in it went. Two days ago I used my Antenna Analyzer to see how much loss I am getting at my normal operating frequency. The result... wait for it... -5.6dB. That's really close to -6dB so I am losing ~75% of my transmitted power due to losses in the tranmission line. My radio squirts out about 43 watts. With a 5.6dB loss in the coax the signal getting to the antenna is only about 11.8 watts. Well...

Ok... I know... you may be thinking did you check your power supply voltage at the back of the radio? At first, I hadn't and was quite sure all was fine there. In fact, I installed a new power supply several weeks back. When I set up my Ham Shack I used to use a linear power supply that was rated at 35 amps - more than ample for my IC-7000. Considering this a bit more closely this ICom IC-7000 needs 22 amps at 100W on HF frequencies. Since the VHF mode is limited at 50 watts the power requirements are close to half of that. My new power supply is a switcher rated at 43 amps. It happily purrs along under full load and the fan only kicks in every once in a while. In any event I checked the voltage at the back of the radio when I was transmitting... it was under 12 volts. Argh! A closer inspection revealed hot fuses! So... I cranked up the power supply voltage to ensure the power at the back of the radio was close to 13.8 under load without going too high during quiescent periods.

Now, about them there fuses. I am considering taking them out of the circuit. What! Yeah, I think I will remove them and replace them with soldered-in fusible links instead. I will consider this more; but am also leaning towards much larger diameter fuse sizes to get away from the blade type currently used. I may use the fuses people put in their car-rattling-thumper-stereos. These have much more contact surface area and should reduce voltage drop. Considerations - considerations.

So, on a lurch I purchased a Diamond X300A moments ago to replace my Diamond X50A. I will post another note when it arrives and is put in place. Until then...

Update: 20120730: I am now using a Diamond 300X. This particular antenna has a +6.5dB gain on my primary operating band. So... it essentially negates any loss I am seeing in my cable. And so, out flies about 52.9 watts. It would be nice to reduce my transmission line losses though. Considering this I will have to buy a larger diameter cable. I am looking at RG-213 or 9913. With a short stack-o-cash at this time any improvements will have to wait and until then my radio station will go dark. More later...

If you're interested, I used the super-awesome Radio and Electronic Calculations to calculate final watts as depicted above.

On second thought... I think I will work on my antique car for a while. It's a 1967 Ford Galaxie 500 I bought when I was 17. It runs like a scalded cat... but needs some work. You can see it on my facebook page. Check it... My '67 Ford.

Update 20120803: Unfortunately, the new antenna didn't improve a thing besides making my wallet lighter. But, considering this more closely, I actually prefer a heavy wallet. I guess, this will take more work... something I invite.

Update 20120812: Last summer I got a Motorola 100 watt, 2 meter radio from a friend (KI4YMP). I purchased the programming software and set it up as my "downstairs" radio; e.g., used when I am in the shop. It's antenna is setting in on the floor in the second story of my garage. The antenna is the Diamond X50A I removed as discussed above. Although this radio is cranking out over twice the power of my IC-7000, and its antenna is only a few feet off the ground it contacts my local repeater (145.49) without a problem. Hmmmm.

Update 20120902: So... I mentioned previously hot fuses; which precipitated the need to crank up the power supply voltage to offset the voltage drop across them. I didn't like this solution so I removed the fuses!

Ok. After you pick up your chin from the floor you should know that I replaced the fuses with high-current manual reset circuit breakers rated at the same amperage as the fuses they replaced. I found suitable devices at Del City. Del City has an online store front that sells many automotive, RV, trailer, and similar vehicle electrical supplies. The circuit breakers I am using for this application can be found here. I have two radios (I only use one at a time) connected to this same power supply each having different current needs. One has a 20 Amp fuse and the other a 30 Amp fuse. I purchased 20 and 30 Amp circuit breakers. These devices have threaded studs for the battery and accessories connections; which allowed me to replaced push-on connections with ringed terminals.

Hopefully, by the end of the year I will have the second power supply attached. I will use a Maxim ORing MOSFET Controller so only one power supply will be electrically powering the radios at any given time. The device I've selected is a Maxim MAX8535. This device is specifically engineered for redundant power supplies and is able to switch between power supplies extremely fast. The MAX8535 doesn't carry the current load - it only monitors it and drives a set of MOSFETs that do the heavy lifting.

Paleolithic Eating and Wheat Belly

20120614

I have never been an over weight person. Anyone that knows me also knows that I am thin. At 6'-0" and 183 pounds I haven't much to worry about. Well, the other day I went to tie my shoes and found that I was grunting to hold my breath because my small belly tire was pushing on my diaphragm. No sir, I didn't like it.

I had heard about eating like Paleolithic man once did - ya know, no dairy, no sugars, no salt, no wheat - potatoes - corn - or rice. Then I heard Neal Boortz talking about Wheat Belly, a book by William Davis, MD. After reading a bit about how modern wheat is nothing like wheat from 50 years ago and how when the government began pushing whole grains diabetes in the population exploded immediately following I thought there may be something too all this. So, on 14 May 12, I decided to stop eating wheat products (breads, cereals, cakes, you name it). Not that I use much added salt I stopped adding it to anything I eat. I also stopped eating all potato products, corn, rice and dairy items. At this point I am eating small amounts of fruits, copious vegetables, some eggs, lean meats, fish, and plenty of water. Now for the exciting part...

Without changing my exercise I have lost 20 pounds in 32 days. I am not done either. I would like to lose about four more pounds and I will be at my weight when I was 21. Being 50 now I think that will be a healthy result. Another part of my new eating decision is to not eat too much of anything at one time. This should help reduce spikes in blood sugar; which should help reduce cholesterol.

20120803: Well, I didn't stop at 4 more pounds. I have lost 31 now. It's been 81ish days. I will have to increase the amount of Paleo-foods I eat to prevent from losing too much. At 152 pounds I am getting close to being too thin. At this point I've discovered I have no reserves. If I am working outside I have to drink water every 30 minutes - lots of it, in fact. I thought my little tire would have been gone by now. It's shrank... but it's still there.

Updated: 20121018. So, it's been five months since I changed my diet. I have lost 35 lbs. Some curious things have happened. First, some people at work thought I would fail at this. Mostly, those were from people that only know me superficially. I heard a friend say after that comment, "You don't know Jeff." But, when they said that, I thought, "Self, yeah right!" Five months later I am still at it and doing well with this change to my diet. Second, several people that work with me have picked up on this change of diet too and are doing well also - and that's a good thing too. Who needs Michelle O's government directed diet plan or New York's Mayor's soft drink restrictions to eat and live healthier - self reliance and control is better than government mandates any day. Third, I checked my Body Mass Index (BMI) using my bathroom scale - it has this function built in. It indicated 11%. I did the math and came up with 20.1% using the formula ( weight ÷ height2) x 703. I trust the 20.1 more than the 11% so... my BMI is currently 20.1. Forth, when I started this I could only do about 5 push-ups, 3 pull-ups, 15 sit-ups, and 6 squats with carrying 70 extra pounds. All that's pretty crappy, I know. As of today, I am doing 15, 8, 60, and 15 of each. The pull ups kick my ass for some reason. Here's a table of my progress.

Date Weight BMI Push-Ups Pull-Ups Sit-Ups Squats
20120514 183 24.8 5 3 15 6
20120616 163 22.1 7 5 30 10
20120803 150ish 20.6 10 7 50 12
20121018 148.5 20.1 15 8 60 15
20121020 148.5 20.1 20 8 62 20
20121029 148 20.0 20 8 70 20
20121108 146.5 19.7 25 9 70 25
This chart was updated on the date indicated and does not match the timeline in the text.

Fifth, my body weight is currently 148.5. I can feel myself getting thinner (yeah, that's right... laugh, joke and chortle all you want... I feel myself... and yeah, like you don't!), yet my weight has been around 148 to 150 for about a month. I think this is because I am building (albeit, much needed) muscle weight. At 50, I am doing well. Sixth, is my blood pressure (BP). When I first started this I noticed a gradual reduction in my BP. It was around 125/85 when I started. Then around August it was nicely lower. Then about a month ago it started going back up and is currently on an upward trend - not good. This is curious. A friend of mine thinks my body has adapted to the change and is normalizing itself back to pre-20120514 averages. Unfortunately though, at a higher than desired BP. Click this to see my BP chart as of 201201016. And lastly... darn... what was that last point... forgive me... senior moment.

Now, about that BP. It is noticeably higher in the morning than the evening. On Saturday, it is even lower. So it seems work (or preparing for work) is stressing me out some and raising my BP. When I am at ease, home, and during the evenings it is crazy low. The dips in the chart (though not indicated) are usually readings in the evening. The high points, in the morning.

If you have questions about this you can tweet at me using @heavyhammer. BTW: HeavyHammer has to do with the love of speed; e.g. a heavy foot and "dropping the hammer" and my license plate - HVYHMR.

Ammo and Amateur Radio - Yeah!

20120323

Question: What does an butt-load of ammo have to do with Amateur Radio?

Answer: Quite a bit actually. Read on to see why.

The other day I was sitting here and I felt like something was missing. I was sort of sure what it was, but to be sure I thought about this empty feeling more before taking action. After some time I was on the right track and thought I had pinned it down.

So here I sat, not quite so broken hearted and thought to myself, "Self, I need to buy some ammo." So off to Cabelas I went. A few minutes later I had about 2,500 rounds of this and that on the way to my doorstep. Nice!

Well, it was ordered. And now I had to wait. After some time my ammo arrived and with it came a welcomed emotional response... bountiful ammo contentedness. Yes, "I was feeling much, much better now." But wait, there's more...

When the ammo arrived it came in several plastic ammo boxes that are also weather tight. Since I store my ammo in a safe I didn't really need the ammo boxes. And so, I gave a couple away but still had a few to use for this and that. And so, with all my ammo tucked nicely away for a rainy day I came up with an idea for at least one of the ammo boxes.

You guessed it... a Radio In A Box. Click here to read more about it.

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What's with you people

20110923

Right off the cuff I am not a perfect driver. I might not use a turn signal when changing lanes occasionally, or I might drive a couple mph over the posted speed sometimes. That's about the extent of my illegal driving habits. What I am seeing out there is not just a symptom of VA drivers either. What's with you people and traffic signals; especially the yellow ones.

I visit many states. This is happening everywhere I've been; VA, CO, CA, GA, PA, MD, WV, et cetera. Drivers insist on going through, instead of slowing down and stopping, for yellow traffic signal lights. Right, I know. If the light just changes as you approach the intersection you should go through, but that's not what I am seeing. What is happening is that if the light is yellow, no matter how long, people will go through the intersections. Very often, they will even do so after it just turns red. This morning, I saw two cars pass through an intersection on a full red light. I didn't realize that stopping was an elective. How foolish is that? I am not sure I would want a life as important as theirs to where I couldn't give up a few minutes.

Here's a warning. If the light is green for you and you're the first car before the light look both ways to ensure you are not broadsided by someone that doesn't what to lose two minutes of their life waiting for the light.

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Dub_FX

20110917

So, here I am mind'n my own business. Last night, I finished browsing all "decent" (I know that's relative) web content and decided to have one more look just in case I missed something the first time around. Well, I did. I thought this guy's BeatBox technique and style is something to share. He does BeatBox and uses looping systems to deeply enrich his music. So here ya go. Check this out.

If you like this type of music, Dub FX (Benjamin Stanford) has several videos on YouTube. You can check out the video for this song here, as well as, see his other selections.

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Fish Tank LED Light Bar

20110904

Updated: 20120812

Guess what? Algae loves the GREEN and RED LEDs. No kidding! I noticed the other day that the color of the tank had changed from what it was after I rebuilt the LED light bar and put them in a tube. I checked the LEDs every couple days - the were all on. Well... when I did a water change last weekend I noticed a huge amount of dark green algae on the RED and GREEN LEDs. The BLUE ones have algae too, but not nearly as much.

Picture

Updated: 20120713

Well, it's been about eight months since the LED Light Bar was repaired. Unfortunately, over the ensuing months more LEDs started going dark. As you likely guessed, water was the problem. Coating the LED Light Bar with RTV did not provide satisfactory results. When half the LEDs went out I removed the Light Bar and rebuilt it. I have also purchased 3/4" plexiglass tubes that are three feet long. I inserted to LED Light Bar in the tube and mounted that in the tank instead; of course, sealing the ends with copious amounts of JB-Weld® Steel Reinforced epoxy (liquid metal) and a 1/8" coating of Permatex® Ultra Black RTV silicone on each end. The LED Light Bar has been completely rebuilt and now has twenty-six LEDs on it. I chose to increase the GREEN and RED LEDs to help offset the BLUE. I also used higher value resistors for the BLUE LEDs to reduce their intensity.

Picture

On the first version of the LED Light Bar I laid the LEDs out as BLUE, GREEN, RED, BLUE, GREEN, et cetera. On the new LED Light Bar I laid them out as BLUE, GREEN, RED, RED, GREEN, BLUE, GREEN, RED, RED, et cetera. It provides a smooth transition of color now. There are ten RED and green LEDs and six BLUE LEDs now. On a side note, I updated the image of the three LEDs below. I had the length of the RED LED's leads wrong.

I also found some new suction cups to hold the tube-o-LEDs in the right place. The suction cups came off of aerators for fish tanks. They snapped onto the aerator - one on each end. To make them work here I removed the cup then heated up the clip with a heat gun. Once pliable I spread the clips out to match the circumference of the tube. Then I used wire ties to attach them to the tube and replaced the cups on the clips. These new cups work great!

It's been a month or so and I finally got around to getting some new pictures. They are posted to the right and immediately above.

Updated: 201109231256

Ok, already. I couldn't stand it. I repaired the dark LED. I also noticed that another LED was flakey. Both have been replaced. I also discovered that submerging the LED light bar was a mistake. But not for the obvious reason; e.g., water infiltration. What I discovered is this. If the LED light bar is above the water the LED light is more focused or pin-pointed. Also, as bubbles from the bubble bar move about it makes the LED light flicker; which casts different mixtures of color. A nice, unexpected effect.

Updated: 201109221449

Frak! Looks like the RTV idea just isn't going to work out as hoped. One of the RED LEDs has gone out. I have not examined the light bar to determine the cause, but I am pretty sure it has to do with water infiltration and um... electricity. So... what next. What else of course... I am gonna rebuild it. This time, however, the LEDs will be mounted on a plastic rod and placed inside of a plastic cylinder. Stay tuned.

Picture

The original story...

I thought I would snaz up my fish tank with some LEDs. Here's what I did.

Well, I didn't rewire anything that was already there - although I am pretty sure Tim "The Toolman" Taylor would have wanted me to. This project was a new addition so there was no need for rewiring anything. It consists of a total of 12 "high-output" blue, green, and red LEDs that illuminate the tank. They were set up in a one row about 20 inches long.

Here's some details on how this was built. First, a set of LEDs where sought out. My source for many electronic parts is Jameco.com. I have been buying from them since 1985 without a problem so to the web I went with their June 2011 catalog in hand. For this project the intent was to get bright colors so diffused LEDs would have been a no-no. To ensure maximum effect "Water Clear" "T1 3/4" LEDs were chosen. In regards for full disclosure; I also purchased BLUE, GREEN and RED surface mount device (SMD) LEDs. The BLUE was very bright, but the GREEN and RED was sorely lacking. The parts I used were:

LED COLOR PART NUMBER* MCD WL View Angle EFWD (E) mA (I)
RED 333526 2700 660nm 12° 2.440
GREEN 1586197 2500 500nm 28° 3.030
BLUE 183222 6000 470nm 18° 3.5130
* These are Jameco part numbers. June 2011, pg.25.

The Jameco catalog said that each LED's "typical" forward current (IFWD) was between 30 and 40mA and that the forward voltage (EFWD) for the RED LED was 2.4VDC, BLUE was 3.5VDC, and GREEN was 3.8VDC. With 12 LEDs and none being greater than 40mA the total current draw was quite low; e.g., 12 x .04 = 480mA. With this low current requirement a cellular telephone charger that was no longer being used could be the power source for the project. The output of many of these types of chargers is 5.0VDC at 1A. This is perfect for this project. I knew I kept crud like that for a reason. Next, to calculate the bias resistors.

Calculating LED EFWD resistor (R) values is presented elsewhere on this web site but it's worth touching on here too. Most, if not all LEDs operate at relatively low voltages. You can't hook them directly up to your power supply unless the power supply's output voltage is the same as the LED's forward bias voltage. So... the forward bias voltages have to be reduced according to the LEDs needs. Let's use the BLUE LED as a reference for discussion.

The BLUE LED's EFWD is 3.5VDC and it's IFWD is 30mA. Let's use ohms law to figure out how much resistance (R) will be needed. First, subtract the LED EFWD from the power supply output voltage. The math problem is: Power supply voltage - LED EFWD = ? VDC. In this example the power supply voltage is 5.0VDC and the LED's EFWD is 3.5VDC. So, the actual math is 5.0VDC - 3.5VDC = 1.5VDC. Since we want to calculate resistance (R) we need to now divide that answer by the LED's current needs. The math problem is: (previous answer) ÷ LED EFWD = ? R. So, 1.5VDC ÷ 30mA = 50Ω. That's an odd ball value. But, it is not a big deal. A 51Ω or 56Ω resistor are the closest common resistance values to that, but I didn't have either in my parts-is-parts box. Also, 68Ω or a more common 100Ω resistor might give unsatisfactory results. But since I didn't want to over-drive the LEDs a 100Ω resistor was picked anyway as a starting point.

After appropriate resistance values were picked for each LED color a brief test was in order to ensure the brightness being sought was on track. What I found was that the calculated resistance for each LED was a bit too low. Ultimately, I settled on 330Ω resistors for all the LEDs. This value appeared to give the brightest LED illumination. I've seen this before with LEDs. Sometimes if you overdrive the LED they are dimmer than if they are when driven at an optimum voltage. Now, on to assembly.

I wanted to be able to mount my set of LEDs in a straight line; e.g., not like a string of Christmas lights hanging down. Also, it was necessary that each LED be placed so it points in the direction intended. Loosely running the LEDs with wire alone would not be suitable because each LED would point this way or that and they would be hard to aim. I wanted this to be like stage lighting to "degree." So, the LEDs had to be mounted to something straight and somewhat rigid. And "the something" had to be durable and would not corrode or conduct electricity. Since I did not have a plastic rod on hand, I settled on a length of 1/8" steel rod I had left over from the mic project. To prevent the conduction of electricity I slipped a suitably long piece of 3/16" heat shrink tubing over the rod. After heating it up it fit the rod perfectly. The ends were heated up more than needed then were pinched with small pliers to fuse them closed. No moisture should get in there and the heat shrink prevents the rod from corroding too.

Picture Next, starting about 1" from one end marks were placed down the length of the rod every 1.5". These marks indicated where each LED would be placed. Now... how to attached the LEDs to the rod. I went ultra-cheesy on this one. I bent the LED legs out 90 degrees to the bottom of the LED's case then bent them around the rod. Next, each leg was bent with pliers so it was parallel to the length of the rod. Then, each was squeezed just enough to hold it in place. The image shown at left depicts this. This is shown from the perspective of looking down the rod from the end.

Picture It was a good thing each LED was tested before assembly! I found that the RED LED's anode was connected to the device's substrate whereas the substrate for the BLUE and GREEN LEDs was the cathode. Take a look at the drawing to the right. (NOTE: The lenses on the LEDs are clear. They're colored here only as reference.) Notice that the RED LED's cathode and anode are reversed as compared to the BLUE and GREEN LED. Now... why is this important?

Well, this is important for two reasons. The first is that LEDs are diodes and current normally only flows through them in one direction. You can get current to flow in them in the reverse direction but it will only work once. Then the little diode's smoke2 will get out and the diode will no longer work if biased correctly. But I digress. Knowing which lead is the anode or cathode is a "must know" because if you connect the power source reversed; e.g., +VDC to the cathode, the LED will not turn on. The next reason this is important is because the positive and negative power is going to run down each side or the rod right next to each LEDs bent lead. Here's why: Since the LED's legs are going to run parallel down the length of the rod it was important to have all the cathodes and anodes in line with each other so assembly would be easier and this would allow the negative power supply wire to run down one side of the rod and the positive down the other side (along with the resistors).

After all the LEDs were attached to the rod a 330Ω resistor was soldered to one leg of each LED. Then, a 22AWG wire was soldered first to the cathodes, then another was soldered to the anode side (resistor). To reduce possibilities for corrosion short lengths of the wire's insulation was slipped onto the wires before each subsequent connection was made. This was tedious, but I liked the result.

After soldering was done it was tested. The negative output of the charger was connected to the cathode wire and the positive output was connected to the anode (resistor-side) wire. All the LEDs were on. Great! The next step was to slide about three feet of silicone fish tank air tubing over the wires that now stuck out one end of the rod. With that in place I used copious amounts of Permatex® Ultra Black RTV silicone to cover all wires, soldering connections, the LED bases, et cetera. That should keep moisture out.

With the RTV dry, the next step was to connect up the power supply. The silicon fish tank air tubing was pushed up wire towards the rod about 1.5". Then the wires were cut and with 1/16" heat shrink slipped over each wire the power supply leads were soldered on. After the connections where made the heat shrink was moved into place and heated. Once done, the silicone rubber was moved over the sheath of the power supply leads. Done.

With everything dry the rod-O-LEDs was placed in the tank. Little fish tank air hose suction cups3 were used to hold it in place. I picked up two sets of these at my local pet supply store. The rod-O-LEDs was placed on the front glass looking down and backwards at about a 45° angle.

It produces a nice look at night and adds to the daytime appearance too. The fish seem overly interested in the red LEDs. When the translucent (white) gold fish swims under the light cast by the LEDs its scales turn colors from (of course) BLUE, GREEN, and RED. Not including the ordering and waiting process for the LEDs it took about two hours to make this project. Also, there is an interesting and unanticipated side effect of the fish moving in front of the LEDs. As they do, they block the color of that LED from being cast downward. This allows a couple different combinations of LED light to show on the bottom of the tank. This causes browns, purples, and yellows to occur. In fact, click on the fish tank image above. On the right side of the fake drift wood you can see yellow LED light there, along with red, and purple.

Picture You will certainly notice the silver strips of metal that cross the opening of the tank. When I received this used fish tank the cover was warped inward and the top would not close. I put this little stainless steel strips of metal across the opening to reposition the cover's lip. Little did I know then that the left and right hand strips of metal would later be used to hold up the light bar. If you look closely you will see small pieces of wire looped around the front edges of the bar. These little pieces of wire where needed since the suction cups I bought don't work very well - as noted below (3).

Retrospective.

Now that the project is done and the fish as basking in a somewhat limited rainbow of color it seems there is too much blue. The BLUE LEDs chosen are "way" bright. While the other LEDs are bright too, the BLUE LEDs are overpowering. This surprised me. Even though the BLUE LEDs are technically brighter than the others picked for the project they are brighter only be the slightest margin according to their mcd values. I would have thought the GREEN LEDs would have been brighter since our eyes are more sensitive to greenish colors than blue or reds. See wikipedia.org, "Color in the human brain" for more on that.

If I were to build another one of these I would increase the resistor's value on the BLUE LEDs until the output was much less - perhaps half. And, maybe, use fewer BLUE LEDs or increase the RED and GREEN by double. With this project completed and covered in RTV the solution to the overly blue lighting will be to cover each BLUE LED with heat shrink tubing so that only a little of the BLUE light can be seen. Additionally, I think I would include WHITE and maybe some ULTRAVIOLET (UV) LEDs4 too.

…………

1 It is possible that the voltage for the BLUE LED was a misprint. I checked the DROPVDC of the BLUE LED with a 330Ω resistor. It was 2.827VDC - suspiciously close to 3.0VDC. Additionally, I will pay more attention to the LED's millicandela (mcd) values next time around. Notice that the mcd value for the BLUE LED is much greater than the RED and GREEN. The BLUE LED is approximately the same brightness as .5 lumens. It is pretty bright.

2 It is important for all electronics hobbyists to understand that electronic parts use electrons to move smoke through circuits. If you connect things wrong and blow out a part the smoke gets out and the part no longer works. Therefore, it stands to reason that smoke is a critical component of properly operating electronic parts and the smoke must stay inside the device to support proper operation. Smoke is to electronics as oil is to gears.

3 The suction cups I bought are, well sucky. But not in a good way. The lose suction in about two hours. I will have to find some better ones. I wonder if ebay has any for sale? Off to the web...

4 OK. It's settled. I will not add any UV LEDs to the tank... yet. I took my ultraviolet flashlight in and shined it on the tank. The UV light did little to enhance anything in the tank. I did discover that one of my gold fish has blotches on it that you cannot otherwise see... I wonder if it's sick. Hmmm. What? You don't have a UV flashlight? I thought everyone had them. Shoot... if you have cats they are a must. Cat urine (and many other bio-fluids) luminesce in UV light.

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Easy to Build Fish Tank Pump Timer

20110827

Recently, I set up a new (to me) 25.5 gallon fish tank. I needed some way to turn off the fish tank 's water filter pump when I fed the fish. Doing this helps the fish food end up in the fish instead of the filter. Previously, I used X-10 technology to do this. Since my home's alarm system transmits X-10 signals when it is turned on or off I had my computer's X-10 software turn off the fish tank pump for about ten minutes after the alarm system was turned on each evening if it was after 9PM. This worked perfectly. But, due to other reasons, I have removed most of the X-10 equipment here although the alarm system remains. With the X-10 capability now gone, I needed another method to turn off the fish tank pump during feeding time and for it to automatically turn back on some time later.

The first thing that came to mind was using a 555 (timer chip) and other parts. The problem with this is that I would have to also use a small transformer to step the voltage down for the 555. That seemed overly complex for a relatively simply idea. Giving this a bit more thought I felt a bathroom timer might be suitable. The problem here though is that most of these devices normally turn something on when they're enabled. While, you can get others that turn something off when enabled I found that they are special order items and they have a special price tag too. Instead, I opted to use the standard bathroom timer and a DPDT AC relay.

Picture Please take a look at the cheesy schematic that is to the left. This one's a breeze. When the timer is turned on, AC voltage comes out of the blue wire and energizes the DPDT AC relay. Since I have the relay's Common and Normally Closed contacts wired first to 120 AC (black wire) and then to a standard receptacle the power is turned off at the receptacle when the timer is on. (Although only one set of contacts is shown, I did use a DPDT.)

The timer I selected is a nice one I found at Home Depot. It has five buttons on it. One for 10, 20, 30, 60 and On/Off. When any of the numbered buttons are pressed the timer is enabled for a number of minutes equal to that indicated on the button's face. The On/Off button does exactly what you'd think. Pressing the On/Off button overrides the timer.

I used common parts from Home Depot and Lowes to house the electrical parts. It all fit in a standard PVC enclosure that accepts two switches or two receptacles. I covered the face with a standard faceplate that matched the decor of the timer and receptacle selected for this project. Picture

Since I wanted all the parts to fit inside the enclosure I had to modify the duplex receptacle to make room for the DPDT relay. In doing so, only one of the receptacles function. The guts for the other has been removed as was the plastic shell on the back of the receptacles. I put a black tie-strap through the unusable receptacle's holes to prevent anything from being inserted.

It works great. Here's a picture of the tank. Sorry the fish are blurry... they simply would not stay still for this 1/4 second shot. Click it for the full size image. For the photogs... this picture was taken with a Nikon COOLPIX P1 set on Aperture Priority, Exposure factor was +2, Flash was off, ISO:400.

Here's some information about the tank if you're interested.

The tank is 25.5 gallons. It is 29.5" wide, by 11.75" deep (front to back), by 17" inches tall (at the water level). The tall plants you see in the image are plastic. I know, right! There are live plants in there too. The large item in the center-left area is fake drift wood. The stones and substrate are nothing special. The stones were gathered from a local creek that dries up in late summer. The black stones where in the tank when I received it. The shells came from this place and that - my kids found them. The bubbles are being generated with a variable output air pump that is connected to a check-valve then to the 6" long bubbler that is affixed to the bottom of the tank with suction cups. I placed the bubbler towards the rear of the fake drift wood so most of the bubbles float up behind it. I positioned the fake drift wood so some bubbles would gather and float up from the front - this makes for a nice variable effect. Filtration is achieved with a Fluval 205. It works great and makes no noise at all. I used black silicone rubber tubing for the air supply hose. You likely noticed that the color of the bubbles are red, white, and blue. This effect was achieved with GamColor, deep dyed polyester color filters. I used strips of blue and red with gaps between them so some of the white fluorescent light shows through too. The strips were placed on top of the glass under the fluorescent tube.
NOTE: The Fluval pump and filter sits on the floor and connects to the suction and output tubes with 1/2" plastic ribbed hoses. The instructions say to attach the hoses to the filter and place it where it will be, then extend the hoses to the top of the tank, cutting them 4" above the top edge. I did as instructed, but don't you do it. Cut the hoses about 8 or 10" above the top edge of the tank. This will ensure you, unlike I, have enough slack in the hoses to make the correct connections. I ended up having to make a small wooden box to set the pump on to make up for the "cut as instructed" short hoses.

Tank set up.

After I received the tank from a friend I discovered it had some small beetles in it living in the gravel. I slowly poured in boiling water and then added quite a bit of bleach to kill just about anything that was in there. After that soaked for a bit I dumped it out and rinsed the tank and its contents with fresh water for several minutes. Then I put it where I wanted it and refilled the tank. I used appropriate amounts of chemicals to remove chlorine and others to adjust the pH of the water. After the water temperature adjusted to the room's ambient temperature I put in a couple $0.25 goldfish in the tank to help get the tank started. Soon after, the Nitrates and Nitrites went through the roof - this is normal though since no natural bacteria that digests the Nitrates were present. To help get the Nitrites down I did weekly 25% water changes and on the fourth week I did a 50% change. Between the 4th and 5th week the Nitrates started falling and then between the 6th and 7th week the Nitrites were hardly noticeable. Currently, the tank has five fish in it. Three normal looking goldfish and a fourth that is somewhat translucent - it's weird looking. You can see some red coloration in side of it and darkness where its internal parts are. Its eyes are black though and don't have the reflective ring like other gold fish. The fifth fish is a Plecostomus.

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Wouxun KG-UV3D - Dual Band Radio

20110806

Picture.

Updated: 201202110943

Right off the top. It seems the Wouxun and Puxing radios are made by the same company or they copied each other. In any event, the look and feel of the Wouxun and Puxing radios are quite similar. Shoot, even the belt clips are nearly identical - the only difference being the Wouxun's is about 2 mm wider where it attaches to the battery. Also, while the Puxing manual should never be printed on paper, the Wouxon's manual is only a slight improvement. It contains more words but still leaves quite a bit of information out. This is similar to what I have seen in ICom manuals too. It seems they expect the reader to possess some high degree of intrinsic radio knowledge. For example: the manuals say what the switch or function is, but explain little about how it's used. While some functions and their purpose will come with experience, a novice is going to be lost and may likely soon become frustrated with the manuals and the radio.

So... as promised here's what I found out about these nice little radios. But first, if you are interested in buying one of these for yourself you can get them from www.powerwerx.com. The price is right too. It was $120.00. Once at the site, use the search bar at PowerWerx.com to find the page for "Wouxun" radios and accessories.

The Wouxun KG-UV3D is a dual-band radio. You can purchase the same model radio in three different dual-band configurations. The first two are for 2m and 70cm and 2m and 1.2m (220 MHz). The third radio is similar to the 2m/70cm HT but the receive frequency on the upper band is 350-470 MHz instead of 420-520 MHz (see below in lighter-gray). The model I will be writing about here is the 1.2m/2m model.

  Receive Transmit Model
1) 136-174, 420-520 144-148, 420-450 KG-UV3D-2/420-520
2) 136-174, 216-280 144-148, 223-225 KG-UV3D-2/216-280
3) 136-174, 350-470 144-148, 420-450 KG-UV3D-2/350-470

Notice that the model number is the same. If you're itching to buy one of these make sure you select the correct frequency range model. Read the information closely before you click "submit."

When "un-boxing" the radio you shall find:

  1. The radio (of course),
  2. two belt clips,
  3. 7.4VDC/1700 mAh Li-ion battery,
  4. charging cradle,
  5. AC cord,
  6. two rubber-duck antennas,
  7. wrist strap, and
  8. near useless manual.

Let's go over the physical characteristics of the radio first. As you can see from the picture above - it's not very big. It's just over 4" tall (not including the antenna) and about 2 - 3/4" wide at the widest part. It's front to back (without the belt clip) measurement is 1 - 5/8". In fact, this radio is about the same size as the Puxing 888, which I write about below. The only difference is the thickness (front to back). The Wouxun KG-UV3D is slightly more thickerer. What happened to Chunky chocolates anyway?

The radio has a nice solid and firm feel and doesn't look too bad either. The case is black polycarbonate or similar. The inside part (behind the battery) looks like aluminum but it's plastic as well. Unlike other radios I have used, the Wouxun's buttons; e.g., on the face of the HT, are a harder rubber. This isn't good or bad - it's just different then I have seen on IComs and Kenwoods for example.

As with most hand held transceivers (HT) on the market these days it has several buttons and knobs to keep you busy. I'd like to say that the manual helps you navigate the MENUs and various settings but it's virtually useless. Here's a getting started tip though. If you want to adjust settings under the MENU button do the following. 1) Press MENU, then 2) use the up/down arrows or Channel selector knob to scroll through the menu items. When you find the one you want to change, 3) press MENU again. 4) Use the up/down arrows or channel knob to change then setting then, 5) press MENU once again and then 6) press EXIT to save the setting. This isn't without some irritation though. You have only about three seconds to press the next key when trying to change the menu items. If you wait too long the radio exits the menu edit screens and you have to start over. So... check out the settings and make a mental note or write down what you want to change then just run the sequence quickly without much thought. For example: to change the Squelch Level (SQL-LE) from 5 to 8 do this...

MENU, 0, 2, MENU, up, up, up, MENU, EXIT.

On the left side of radio there are three switches. The top one is the Push-to-Talk (PTT) switch. It is larger than the other two - naturally. The next one down is SCAN/LAMP switch. This is also the Multi-function switch. Below the SCAN/LAMP switch is the MONitor/Flashlight switch. If you press and hold this switch it opens the squelch. A short press of this switch turns on the flashlight LED on the top of the HT. Careful with this. It is a very bright white LED. Each of these switches are covered with a flexible, hard rubbery material. When the PTT switch is pressed it gives a nice tactile feel and emits a soft, audible "click." The lower two switches feel mushy and I find that it's hard to tell when they are actually depressed if you have gloves on.

Moving left to right across the top of the HT is the antenna connector, flashlight LED, channel selector knob, Receive LED, Transmit LED, and finally the ON/OFF volume control knob. When turned, both knobs have a nice feel. The volume control is smooth too. Unlike many other HTs, but just like the Puxing 888, this radio has a male antenna SMA antenna connector. This means you cannot attach most after market antennas to it. You will have to buy a female-female SMA barrel connector first. As mentioned, this is just like the Puxing 888. Please take a look at my previous post about this. You can read it below or jump there by clicking this.

Now let's talk about cheese... On the right side of the HT exists the accessory connector. This connector has two jacks. One is 1/8" and the other is 3/32". These are used for remote microphones, headsets, and the programming interface. The fact that the jack is present isn't cheesy. What is cheesy is the cover. It is made of hard semi-flexible rubber that it hinged at the bottom. The problem is that is sticks out oddly if you have anything plugged in the jack. If you're programming the radio this isn't a big deal, but if you have a remote mic or headset plugged it there it is... sticking out. The manufacturer says the radio is IP55 Waterproof. While you'd likely not use a microphone or head set in rainy areas, but if you do get caught in a down pour this little cover is going to funnel rain right into the radio. So, here's a warning... if looks like it's going to rain unplug your microphone or headset and close this cover. If the cover hinged from the top I might have a different opinion about it. It's just goofy the way it is. Also, since plugging anything in this jack pushes it down so far I suspect its rubbery-plastic hinge will break with some wear or get ripped off since it sticks out so far. On my radios I have to push these covers down pretty firmly to get them to snap shut. Be sure you pay attention to this to help preserve the waterproofage of the HT.

The face of the radio contains 18 different buttons. It has your normal ten digits (0 - 9), plus *, #, MENU, EXIT, A/B, TDR, and up and down arrow keys. As mentioned earlier, each of these are backlit too. Oddly though, Wouxun felt it necessary to color the A/B and MENU button red and the TDR button green. I don't see why that was necessary. It give the radio a bright appearance and seems a bit like "playschool." Also on the front is the microphone's hole and the speaker. As seen on other radios the mic hole is very small. It is .71 millimeter or .0284". As a result, deviation will likely be less than optimum. Nevertheless, I will open this small hole up a bit just like I did on the Puxing 888 and my ICom mics. I will also install a small piece of felt behind the face of the HT between the back of the face and the front of the mic to help prevent puffs on Ps and Bs. Lastly, is the display. What can I say. It is good. The contrast is excellent in any lighting condition besides blinding. But, since you'd likely not be seeing much in blindingly bright light I will move on. Unlike the Puxing radio there is only one back light color on the radio. It is a pleasant light-blue color. All the characters are easily seen and readable - even the little H and L for the power setting.

On the left and right sides of the radio towards the back is the battery release mechanisms. Nothing special here. Push the mechanism towards the bottom of the radio and off comes the battery.

Let's take about some of the technical features of the radio. Here, it is nicely appointed too.

  • FM Broadcast receive - 76 through 108 MHz
  • SOS Function
  • Flashlight
  • DTMF Encoding
  • 1750 Burst Tone
  • CTCSS/DCS Scan
  • Voice responses
  • Digital FM radio
  • Wide/Narrow Band selections
  • Priority scan
  • Low and High Power settings
  • 50 CTCSS Groups and 105 DCS Groups
  • VOX Transmission
  • Transmit Overtime prompt
  • Busy Channel Lockout
  • IP55 Waterproof
  • 7.4VDC, 1700 MAh Li-ion Battery
  • . . .

I'll cover a few of these since others are quite common. Let's start with the SOS Function. This is new to me. Not SOS per se, but having an automatic function built in a radio. Actually, this is a pretty cool feature - especially if you're working search and rescue. Once set (more on that in a moment) for SOS mode. Briefly pressing the SCAN/LAMP button on the left side of the radio turns SOS on. Here's what happens. 1) The flashlight flashes rapidly as do the Transmit and Receive LEDs, 2) the speaker blasts out a warbling sound, and 3) the radio transmits on the current frequency. The transmitted audio is the same as what's coming out of the speaker. Turning on the SOS Function is one of five options under MENU item 20. Press the MENU key and rotate the channel knob until "PF1," item "20" is displayed. Press the MENU key again to select this item. Rotate the channel knob to select the option you want to use when the SCAN/LAMP button is pressed. The options are: OFF, SCAN, LAMP, SOS-CH, and RADIO. When you find the item you want to use press MENU again quickly, then press EXIT to save the setting. You have to press the keys pretty quick. You have only about three seconds after any key press before the radio exits the menus. Don't forget to press the EXIT key. If you don't, press EXIT your setting won't be saved.

NOTE: You can use the up or down arrow keys to navigate through menus as well.

Like the SOS function the FM Radio is selected under MENU item 20. Once enabled pressing the second button down on the left (SCAN/LAMP) turns on the radio. It worked pretty good and is pretty sensitive although I didn't test it electronically.

How about the "LAMP" function. This is under MENU item 20 too. When this option is ON and Auto Back Light (ABR or MENU item 22) is OFF then pressing the SCAN/LAMP button turns on the backlighting. The backlighting turns off after about five seconds. I found that fact that this MENU is called ABR vs. ABL somewhat amusing.

MONitor/Flashlight button. If you want to use the flashlight, press the lower button on the left side of radio briefly. The flashlight should turn on. Press it briefly again to turn the flashlight off. Pressing the MONitor/Flashlight button for about a second will turn on the MONitor function for as long as the button is depressed; e.g., opens the squelch.

IP55. What's this about? Apparently, this is a rating for "Ingress Protection." IP55 means that the unit is not entirely protected from dust but it should be protected enough to prevent improper operation of the radio AND it can be sprayed with water from a 6.3mm nozzle against the enclosure from any direction and not have any adverse effects. A five rating in the second digit includes dripping water, sprayed water, and splashing water. It does not include powerful spraying, submersion up to or deeper than 1m. You can read more about this on Wikipedia at IP Code. Remember though, Wikipedia is not always peer-reviewed.

Related to IP55. The battery snaps on the back of the radio like many others save Motorola perhaps. I have an issue with how it does this though. When the battery is installed the top edge sticks out a bit. In fact there is a 2mm open seam between the back of the radio and the front of the battery. I believe rain/water would run down in this seam easily - especially since it's shaped like a long slender funnel. While there are rubber seals between the battery and the radio's electrical connections water will sit between these two surfaces just itching to get into the radio or corrode screw heads present there. What's this mean in the long run? Simply, take the battery off the radio if the HT has gotten wet and dry everything off very well. While you're at it remove the antenna and control knobs too.

1750 Burst Tone. This simply transmits a 1,750 Hz tone if the PTT (1st) and SCAN/LAMP (2nd) buttons are pressed simultaneously. I don't know what you'd use this for other than to signal some event or perhaps a simple test of the HT.

Transmit Power Setting. This radio has two power settings that are easily selected through the MENU screens. You can get to them under MENU item 04, "TXP." Just like above, press MENU, then quickly press the up/down arrow keys or rotate the channel selector know until "TXP" "04" is displayed. Then quickly press MENU again and use the up/down arrow or channel knob to change the power setting. Press MENU again, then EXIT to save the new setting. Now that you've tried that a bazillion times I should tell you that trying to change the power setting here is useless. I apologize for doing that to you. Here's how it's done. When transmitting press the TDR button. Doing so toggles the power from HIGH to LOW or LOW to HIGH. You will note that the power setting is displayed in the display by a small capital H or L in the lower left corner. Also... change the setting, then go back to MENU 04. It is changed there too. I haven't a clue why the radio is programmed like that.

Transmitting Power. I conducted this test with the radio connected to a dummy load and the battery was fully charged. I used a CN-801 SWR/Power Meter. Out of the shoot the manual says the output power is 5 watts for 2m and 4 watts on 70cm. Since my radio is a dual band 2m and 1.2m rig I will not be able to give you 70cm/UHF test results.

Frequency Power Setting Power Output
146.00 MHz High 5.30 Watts
146.00 MHz Low 1.75 Watts
223.00 MHz High 6.90 Watts
223.00 MHz Low 3.10 Watts

Well, that's not too bad. Its output power was higher than the manual said it should be so that's a nice result.

The Cradle. Like many HTs it comes with a charging cradle. This one does not have a step down power transformer (wall-wart) though. The AC power plugs directly into the back of the cradle through an AC power cord. Additionally, the cradle has a 12.0VDC power connector for charging it in a car. A cigarette lighter adapter wire does not come with it though.

The Wrist Strap. Now, why am I writing about this. I am not sure either, other than it is completely useless. It's like any other wrist strap you might see or are common on most point and shoot cameras, but there is one big difference. Unlike the cameras, there is no small lug to connect the strap to on the radio. It appears to be on the belt clip - guessing here. I found that odd in one sense and good on another. Odd, because if you have the radio strapped to your wrist you don't really need the belt clip and, good in that if you want don't want the strap or the clip they both come off together.

Accessories. There are several accessories you can get for this radio. I suspect several of them will work on the Puxing 888 as well - but I'm not going to test that. Anyway, some of the accessories are: Speaker mics, SMA Female to BNC Female Antenna RF Adapter, additional batteries ($25.00 each), 12V Car Charger, Quick reference cards, Powerpole cables, battery eliminator (replaces battery and plugs into the cigarette lighter), headsets, heavy duty mics, dual charging cradle, leather case, serial or programming cable, cloning cable, and TNC interfaces. There are other things too. You can check it out at www.powerwerx.com. The accessories are reasonably priced too. I can't say that their ruggedness or quality is off the charts, but they are very functional. I bought the external speaker/mic. It's nice but it's a bit small for my hands. The audio output is crisp and loud. Sorry, no signal reports yet. The speaker/mic plugs in easily to the jacks on the right side of the HT.

Again, that cover sticks out oddly. This really is bothering me. Check for yourself. Here's a small picture. Check that out. Goofy, huh? I think that when I use the speaker/mic I will remove the cover completely.

Ya know what else? I was fiddl'n around with my Midland and Uniden GMRS HTs today too. The Uniden's headphone/mic jack is covered by a very pliable rubber cap. On the Midlands the cover is very hard plasticy-rubberage. It sticks out even further than that seen on the Wouxun. Guess what? They all fold down making a nice water funnel into the HT. Go figure?

Programming - Manually. Whelp... it is worse than the Puxing 888 that's for sure. Here's what you do though. As a reminder you must do each step quickly. If you fail to move through the selections fast enough (about three seconds each) the radio will exit programming mode and you will have to start over. I know, that blows, right! Let's get to it...

Programming the repeater offset. Follow these steps:

  1. The first thing you need to do is ensure the radio is set to "Frequency" mode. This is done by pressing MENU then TDR. Go ahead and press MENU then TDR if it says "Channel Mode" press MENU then TDR again. It should say "Frequency Mode."
  2. Now press MENU, then 2 then 3 or Press MENU and scroll to 23. The radio will say "Function select." The numbers for the MENU setting will flash. Then press MENU again.
  3. Quickly press in 00600 for 2m bands, 05000 for 70cm or 01500 for 1.2m. Quickly press MENU again. The radio will say "Enter".
  4. Make sure you press EXIT. You will hear three beeps.

Let's get that all in a row so you can do it quickly. Again, I recommend writing your selections down like what's below so you can get your settings in there on the first try. What follows is after the radio is in Frequency Mode. Here goes:

MENU, 2, 3, MENU, 0, 0, 6, 0, 0, MENU, EXIT.

Programming repeater frequencies. Follow these steps:

  1. We'll use Band group A. Press A/B and look at the arrow in the display next to the frequency settings. Make sure it is pointing to the top set of numbers.
  2. Use the MENU and TDR button to put the radio into Frequency Mode. You can tell when it's there because it will say it.
  3. Press the proper digits to enter your repeater's transmit frequency. If your repeater is 146.73 you will enter 146730. Enter the repeater frequency, such as 147060.
  4. Here we go with speed dialing again. Press MENU 2, 4, MENU. It will say "Frequency direction." This menu is "SFT-D"
  5. Quickly press 1, then MENU, then EXIT. Zero is for simplex, 1 is + offset, and 2 is negative. Lining this up for quick entry press this series of buttons: MENU, 2, 4, MENU, 2, MENU, EXIT.
  6. Now let's set the repeater access codes for receive (R-CTC) and transmit (T-CTC). These can be found in MENU 15 and 16, respectively. MENU items 15 and 16 are CTCSS and 17 and 18 are for DCS - receive and transmit. The radio must be in "Frequency Mode" (press MENU then TDR) to set CTCSS and DCS. Lining this one up for a 100 Hz tone do this: MENU, 1, 6, MENU, scroll to 100 Hz (channel knob or up/down arrows), MENU, EXIT.
  7. Now we'll want to place this frequency in a channel number. Press MENU 2, 7, MENU then scroll to the memory position you want to use. Press MENU, then EXIT.

Hint... you can't overwrite a memory location unless you're in "Dealer Mode." Otherwise, if you want to change a memory you must delete it, and start over.

This HT is finicky about offsets. It is best that you use Band A for one set of repeater frequencies and Band B for the other. I have read you can get around built in limitations regarding multiple offsets in a given band through the Dealer Mode though.

NOTE: (Dealer Mode) If you need to modify a memory channel, you can do so by deleting the memory or by entering dealer mode. Dealer mode allows you to modify the contents of memory channels. Once active, dealer mode stays active until you power the radio off. The next time you turn the radio on, it will be in standard operating mode. To enter dealer mode, hold down the number 8 while turning on the radio. After the radio beeps, let go of the 8, then type in 268160. You are now in dealer mode and can modify memory channels as needed. To turn off Dealer Mode turn off the radio.

Programming - Software. I am not going to run through the software programming steps. Let's suffice it to say that using the software is much easier, but it's clunk-ware. It isn't well written and not very intuitive. The Human Machine Interface (HMI) is simply cheesy. I may fiddle around with the software later and post more about it then.

The mic hole. I will post about this modification when it occurs. I will likely take some pictures of the process as well. Stand by...

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HAM Nation with Bob Heil (TWiT TV)

20110704

I don't know if you've heard, but TWiT TV (This Week in Technology) is producing and providing a weekly, hour long program about HAM radio. The show is hosted by Bob Heil (of Heil Microphones), K9EID and Gordon West, WB7NOA. The show netcasts Tuesday evening at 2100 local. It is only available online. You can view it live at live.twit.tv at 9PM on Tuesday evenings or you can visit twit.tv/hn and download any show.

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Amateur Radio in Hampton, VA

20110320

Amateur Radio is alive and well in Hampton, VA. Please visit the Southern Peninsula Amateur Radio Klub or Hampton Public-Service Team (HPT) web sites to see more about Amateur Radio in this area. But it doesn't stop there with Hampton's Amateur Radio operators. There are other groups in the area too. MPARC on the Middle Peninsula, CARS in Chesapeake, and PARC in Portsmouth and still others. Check the "oracle" for other Amateur Radio clubs and web sites.

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Origins of "Funk?"

20100719

Did you know that in Germany amateur radio is called Amateurfunk. The German to English translation of that is "Amateur" → Amateur; and "funk" → (loosely) radio. Historically speaking Heinrich Hertz (1857-1894) made the "Funkensender" or Spark Transmitter. This term has evolved over time. So... Amateurfunk is the official word used by the Government Agency "Bundesnetzagentur" (comparable to the FCC) in their Laws and other publications; e.g., "Amateurfunkgesetz." *

Hams entitled to operate by an issued "Zulassung zum Amateurfunkdienst" are called "Amateurfunker." Some prefer to be called "Funkamateur" though because the word amateur has a slightly negative association in the German language - meaning not being professional. There are about 70,000 Amateurfunk operators in Germany.

* NOTE: I corrected the information above based on information I received via e-mail from DO8LTW, an operator in Germany.

It's also interesting that "Parliament-Funkadelic" or later "George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic" used the repetitive, electronic sounds of the German band called Kraftwerk as a basis for his earlier music. I'm curious if the German word for radio - funk - has any relationship to "funk" music in the U.S. I'd be surprised if it didn't.


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Midland's WR-100 All Hazards/Alert Weather Radio

20090920

On 20090907, during the Hampton Public-Service Radio Net, at that time hosted on KE4UP (145.490 MHz, Tone 100), the Net Control Operator (KC4F) presented a few details about the WR-100 All Hazards Alert Weather Radio manufactured by Midland. As KC4F explained, the radio is not state of the art. There are better equipped/capable weather radios out there but the WR-100 certainly serves the intended purpose. Our local Food Lion is/was selling these radios for 75% off the displayed price. As of 200909072015 they still had about 30. At about $8.00 each it was hard to pass up. I purchased five - two for me, and three for family members as gifts. Now a little about the radio.

Picture.

The WR-100 is a completely functional weather and hazards alert receiver. It was very easy to set up and configure. It can be configured to report ANY alert or hazard or only those for your area using Specific Area Message Encoding (S.A.M.E.) codes. For S.A.M.E. codes for the Hampton Roads area click this. A complete listing of S.A.M.E. codes can be found here. This radio does not support area reporting using polygons so you will have to use ANY reports and those for your specific area.

The radio's configuration settings are controlled through easy to use menus and large clearly labeled buttons on the face of the radio. It sports a telescoping antenna that works well and it also has an external antenna jack that will require an RCA style plug. The WR-100 runs from a small wall-wart style AC to DC adapter or from three AA batteries. The radio has a 1/8th mini jack labeled "PC" on the back next to the antenna connection. This is a stereo (three conductor) mini jack. Research indicates that this is used at the factory for en masse programming or cloning. The manual does not present anything beyond the fact that the connection is present. I connected two radios together with a male-to-male stereo cable and could not activate anything that even remotely looked like a cloning capability. I'll fiddle more later.

On the left side another 1/8th mini jack labeled "EXT ALERT" exists. The manual in the box that came with my radios did not discuss this connection either. Midland has published another manual that does discuss this connection though. Sadly, I cannot find that manual any longer. The short story is that the "WR-100 provides a switch closure to signal other devices at the EXT. ALERT jack when the monitor receives an alert." The jack provides approximately 12.0VDC at 200mA - shield is ground and the center is positive.

The WR-100 is a nice, simple, and easy to use radio. It serves its purpose well but there is a down side that must be presented. As I said I bought five. All of them let me move the antenna to the upright position - once! If I tried to move it again the internal mount point (screw in cheesy plastic) broke. I fixed all them in under an hour. I removed the cover and mount screw and drilled the antenna's mount screw hole through the case. Next I inserted a small screw, washer, and nut to hold them all in place. To ensure it didn't break again I super-glued the screw and plastic together and put a small bead of glue around where the antenna penetrates the case. To finish the modification I added two rubber feet to the back area where the screw is now exposed. This will prevent it from scratching surfaces. As Curly would said, "Poifect."

So... here's a bit of the pros and cons.

 

Pros Cons
External antenna jack for better reception Attached antenna mount easily breaks but easy to repair
Small and easily sits out of the way Would be nice if it had mounts for the wall (key ways)
Easy to use and configure Manual for setup is great, but lacks details for other functions
Crisp audio Audio level adjustments are stepped - no fine adjustment
Good deal for 8 bucks Now that I have one of these I am interested in higher quality rigs of this nature

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Poke Screens... Hardly

20090904

I've just returned from a relatively short trip to San Diego, CA. Like many other fellow business people and travelers I got there and back using commercial air carriers. I am quite sure you've noticed that some of the larger aircraft; e.g. 757-200s have entertainment devices mounted in the seat backs of most of all the passenger seats available on the plane. These planes have two rows of premium seats too. No... they're not all in First Class either. These two sets of premium seating are located in the last row in the First Class and Coach areas. These two rows are the best because if you find yourself in either row you will not have to put up with a/an ________ (fill in your own word) that may sit behind many of the other rows. Now why, oh why, would I say that.

It's very simple. I travel a lot. Not as much as some but certainly more than many. I have discovered that people that have these screens more often than not fail to realize two very important things. These are: 1) They are called "touch" screens for a really good reason, and 2) the touch screen is mounted to the back of a chair that is very likely occupied by a co-traveler.

I don't want to take more of your time than I already have. But remember... these little screens are "touch" screens and require only the slightest touch to activate and process your request. You don't have to poke and jab at them no matter how upset you are for finding yourself stuck on yet another flight like all the rest of us joining you. A little patience and courtesy goes a long way in making an already cruddy situation just a bit better.

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Puxing Radios

20090827, updated 20110316

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Argent Data Systems (ADS), whose web site can be found here is importing a single band radio from China now. The Puxing radios can be found in VHF and UHF models, but it appears ADS is only selling the VHF model however other models are very available on ebay.com. A review of the ADS's web site shows the Puxing 777 VHF radio (Puxing 888 is pictured to the right), which of course covers the 2 meter band commonly used by new amateur operators. Here are some key points about this fledgling HT.

  • FCC Part 90 certified
  • 1200 mAh Li-ion battery
  • Drop-in charger is included
  • Speaker/mic connection is Kenwood compatible
  • 5 Watt output power
  • 136 - 174 MHz frequency range
  • 128 Memory channels
  • A mere 8 oz.
  • PC-programmable
  • Price... an unbeatable $87.00

All that... and it's good looking too. Even for more experienced amateur operators this radio could be quite handy. Especially considering the price it would be an excellent backup radio or place two or three in Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) or Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) fly-away kits.

I was on a net (175.76, Williamsburg) last evening and a novice amateur was present using one of these HTs. When she spoke the 777 she was using exhibited full quieting with exceptional audio clarity. I think you will agree that at $87.00 you can't go wrong.

I suspect I will be picking up one or two of these in the near future myself.

20110316 contribution... Puxing 888.

Well, I bought two of the VHF models a couple weeks after I posted the article introduction above. The price was not bad either. The radios turned out to be quite well-built but the owner's manual completely blows. I can't say I was surprised about that though. Owner's manuals for many HAM devices coming out of the east have been quite weak. Never the less, let me tell you about the radios.

The Puxing (pronounced Poo-shing, so I am told) 888 has a nice solid feel. The PTT provides a nice tactile response and subtle click when depressed. Next to the PTT (below it) is the MON switch. It operates like any other you'd experience and has a similar, but slightly harder feel than the PPT. On the top of the radio you will find OFF/ON/Volume, Channel/Function selector, and finally the antenna connector (more on that later). Opposite the PPT and MON switches are two mini-plug connectors. These are for the MIC and SP (speaker). The MIC connector is 1/8" and the upper SP connector is 3/32. Puxing makes a headset-mic arrangement to support this radio but it comes with earphones and microphone similar to those sold with made cellular phones these days. Since the radio sports voice activated transmit (VOX) that could be handy for hands-free operation.

The rear side of the radio is fully consumed by the standard 7.4V, 1200mAh Li-ion battery. The battery seems to be permanently affixed to the outer shell of the radio's rear cover. Attached to the back of the rear cover is a pretty sturdy belt clip.

The face of the radio is appointed with three large buttons and 12 smaller ones. The larger buttons are MENU, ENTER, and ESC/M. The smaller buttons are 0 - 9, *, and #. All of the front buttons are a bit spongy and do not provide a nice tactile response. The smaller buttons are a bit small for me so I am sure someone with large hands would find them even more difficult to use. Above the MENU, ENTER, ESC/M buttons exists a 2-line LCD display. Nothing extraordinary here, but its backlighting can be set to white, orange, or bluish-white. The display provides very good contrast with all the colors and can easily be read in various lighting conditions.

The channel selector switch also doubles as a menu selector. When the MENU button is pressed the radio's menu appears as you might have guessed. Rotating the selector knob cycles through the menu's sections. When you stop on one, then press ENTER, you are in that menu's sub-menu. Turning the selector knob at this point cycles through the sub-menu's options. This aspect of the radio seems straight forward and somewhat easy to use. It is important to set your selection by making the change then press ENTER to save it. You will have to exit the radio's menus to transmit! But, how about programming it. If you have one of these radios don't frustrate yourself with trying to decipher what the manual tells you about programming. Here's what I found.

Frequency and Channel Programming for the PX-888.

  1. Select Channel/Memory Number
  2. Push ESC/M until the M turns off on the left side of the screen
  3. Key in (R) frequency. Use ESC/M for the delete key.
  4. Adjust Menu DIFFR to the correct offset, e.g., 00.000 or 00.600 for simplex/duplex.
  5. Adjust Menu S/D for 0, +, or -. 0=Simplex, + or - for the DUP setting.
    NOTE: DIFFER and S/D interact. If S/D is set to 0 you can't change DIFFR.
  6. Push ESC/M several times until M turns off again.
  7. Push Menu once.
  8. Push ESC/M again. New T (Transmit) frequency appears in the channel you selected.
  9. Push ESC/M one more time.
  10. Repeat for additional channels and frequencies.

Let's talk a little about the radio's power. I connected the radio to an CN-801 Power Meter for this test. With the battery fully charged and the POW (power) set to H (high) the CN-801 indicated 4.9 Watts on the 20W range. With the POW set to L (low) the output was 1 Watt. Not too shabby but less than its advertised 5 Watt rating on the VHF model. I have read (online) that some people are opening up the radios and adjusting them for higher output. I have no experience with these radios in that regard.

Audio is another topic often discussed and is important as well. The Puxing 888 comes up short here. After getting on the air with this little set and asking for signal reports I received reports of "full quieting" with the dreaded low audio. Yes, deviation is a bit narrow. Most often people said the audio just sounded flat or slightly muffled. I became curious about this.

I quickly found that the hole for the microphone was less than a millimeter. Opening up the radio I discovered that the electret microphone inside the radio is not directly behind the opening - it's offset to one side. I tried to help in this regard. I used a very small drill bit and opened up the hole just a bit. Audio reports improved, but not much.

A couple attributes about this little transceiver are that it is able to tune FM broadcast stations, is programmable via software (need a cable for this), and can encode transmitted voice.

A male antenna connector?

What's with that? That's right... it's a boy, thus you have to buy a female-female bullet connector to work with common antennas you find at most shows in the states. So, I picked up a couple female-female SMA bullet connectors for about $3.50 each in Dayton last May. After I connected a MFJ-1717S to the radio I thought it looked quite goofy. Though functional the slim bullet connector just didn't sit right with me and likely would contribute to cracking the radio's case or antenna jack over time. I found a cheap, and easy solution to this problem - rubber hose.

I cut an 11/32" (9mm) long piece of 5/16" (6.5mm) I.D. fuel line from a larger section I had in the garage. Then I cut two similar lengths of 1/4" heat-shrink tubing. I put each piece of the heat-shrink on the center of the bullet connector in turn and heated them up. Then slide on the hose. Since the hose is just a "frickle" longer then the gap between the bottom of the antenna and the top of the radio when everything is all screwed together the hose provide satisfactory support for the antenna/radio interface. Check out the following three pictures that sorta explains visually.

Picture Picture Picture

Baam!

Summary

The Puxing 888 is a fine little radio for the price. It is handy and will serve you well for short term needs or in fly away kits. Since the radio's audio is weak I don't think you want to use the radio as a daily-use type of gear or in noisy environments. Would I buy another? If one of mine fail, I would quickly buy a similar replacement model.

What's a "frickle" you may be wondering? Well, a frickle is similar to a tad. For more information on that you should check out B1-BOB at . I was impressed... you may be too.

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Little J-Poles Perhaps.

20090826

I've updated this article. Please click this for the latest.

Hey. I opened up a brand, spanking new, not even used Linksys WRT160N router this evening to check out its innards. I am interested in extending its internal antennas so I needed to find out what type of coaxial cable is used on these devices. If you know, please let me know. In the meantime check out a few of the pictures I took of the inside of this router. Pay special attention to the small antennas on either side of the case. You can quickly locate them by following the gray-colored wires leading from the circuit card. They look like small "J-Pole" antennas made from sheet steel. They are 27/32 inch long.

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Cracking open the Linksys WRT160N - Well... there's no trick, hidden catch, or whatever. Take out the four center-pinned TORX® screws on the bottom and throw them away - anti-tamper screws... phewy. Then grab the back edge of the upper and lower case halves and gentle pull them apart. You can spread them about 1/4 inch easily. Now, get a finger tip in the opening you've just made and slowly slide it around the edge moving in either direction first. It pinches slightly, but the widening of the gap slowly separates the clasps. Once you do this around both sides the top should come off easily.

Reassembling the router. Prior to putting the halves back together I used an X-acto knife and cut off all the clasps since the four screws will hold the router together satisfactorily. You can also replace the screws with similar Phillips head screws if you have an inkling. Alternatively, you can turn them into slotted screws as shown below... easily done with a Dremel tool and cut-off disc/wheel.

Picture.

I have found the 160N to be a very fast (for home networking purposes) wireless router. It was easy to set up, configure, and use. A nice feature of this device is its Internet Access controls. This allows you to turn access to the internet on and off by MAC address by times of day and days of the week. This is only supported via the wireless connections though. I have heard that these routers give up the ghost often - too hot. On a whim I checked the first 160N I purchased. The bottom of the case was very warm. The case is vented but that doesn't help much due to the small form factor, very snug fitting parts and the fact that the space between the bottom of the case and whatever you sit it on will be only about 1/8 inch - its has short feet. As a hint... place it on hard surfaces. Putting it carpet will reduce air flow through the device causing it to run warmer. Heat is the enemy of electronics! While the router was open I checked the chips with the router operating. Two of the chips inside the router get very hot - one so much so it is uncomfortable to touch. I plan on applying small heat sinks to both soon.

Added on 200908301651

So... I have three routers in my house. One that connects to the Cable Modem and two others that sit behind it providing wireless connectivity throughout the premises. It works perfectly, but the main router is nearly nine years old and the two others are new - Linksys WRT160Ns. I would like to use only one router for network connectivity primarily because it's simpler. I would like to put one of the 160N routers at my demarcation point but I found it's signal strength very week since so much metal is near by; e.g. cars, garage doors, and other network related components. What to do?

The simple answer was to mount the wireless router high on the wall in the garage where all my network components are. The problem with that is network maintenance and access. So, as Tim Allen would say, "I rewired it." Since the 160N was already open I decided to remote the antennas. This will allow me to put the router in the cabinet with all the other stuff while keeping the antennas away from surrounding metallic objects. Picture.

I removed the antennas and small, 1.5mm 50Ω coaxial cables from the router. Next, I cleaned up the connections, then using some high quality, low loss, 50Ω coaxial cable with silver-tinned braid and center conductor remoted the antennas about six feet from the router by mounting them on a piece of very nice plywood as seen in the picture.

I fellow amateur radio operator (AA4AV) opined that the antennas appeared to be 180 out of phase and that the internal cable lengths could be key their performance; e.g., co-phased antenna arrays. When cutting the cables I carefully measured their lengths to account for the differences between the original cables.

Though I have not conducted any sophisticated testing my home computers and laptops indicate the signal strength notably better. Prior to the conversion from internal antennas to external antennas the "bars" indicator on my computers would show two to four bars. Now they show five bars. Since I have seen that this works well, I plan to mount two SMA bulkhead connectors on the case (like earlier Linksys routers) so I can fiddle with the antennas without worrying about soldering cables with each prototype.

That's it.

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By the way ∀ is a mathematical symbol that means "for all" or more commonly "for each." You can learn more about this here. So. . . as expressed here this particular page's title is then "info for each" or "info for all."


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