Puerto Rico 2017

It has been a ridiculous amount of time since I have updated this blog, and I really should upgrade the drupal version at some point, but the mood struck me on a Saturday morning to jot some notes about our recent trip to Puerto Rico at the end of March 2017. The first quarter of this year has been a stressful one with my promotion to management and taking over as master of my Masonic Lodge. Jen and I really needed to get some time away, and the Caribbean sounded like just the thing we needed. Our travel agent put together several options for us, and never having been to Puerto Rico, we decided to give it try. There are many benefits: US currency, no passports needed, common electrical, English spoken widely, common cell phone service, safe to drink the water, no airport customs, etc. He set us up at the Caribe Hilton near old San Juan for a week and what follows is my thoughts on various places we visited, not in any particular order.

First: a direct link to my Flickr album

Caribe Hilton

Wings of Freedom Tour

The Collings Foundation brought the Wings of Freedom tour to Toledo Express Airport on August 10-12 . The tour included a P-51, B-17G, and B-25 (the B-24 was having mechanical issues). My loving wife bought me a flight on the B-17 as an early birthday present, it was every bit as awesome as it sounds...

Punta Cana 2015

More for my reference, but a Flickr Photo Album Jen put together showing off our recent trip to the Zoetry Agua in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. It was a glorious vacation that can really only be summed up as paradise.

Ireland 2014

Ireland 2014
Ireland 2014

Our Ireland trip this past March 23-31, 2014 was our third outing to the Emerald Isle. We spent time in Counties Tipperary, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Clare, and Galway. We racked up over 1300km (over 800 miles) in seven days of touring. We had a mix of rain and sunshine, but really had much better weather then I could have possibly hoped for in late March. The legendary hospitality of the Irish people and the incredible beauty of western Ireland make this one of our favorite places on the planet to visit. So if you ever need a tour guide, my rates are reasonable!

Online resources I used for this trip:

  • Trip Advisor: The best resource for locating good restaurants and getting insight into towns and villages ahead of time
  • Megalithic Ireland: A good database and visual reference on a county by county basis of ancient large stone structures, usually providing a link to Google Maps.

michigan upper peninsula 2013 ... part 3

Saturday:

We awoke to the promise of a much better forecast and a grand view of the bay. The fog had lifted and we had little patches of blue sky peeking through the clouds. Off to breakfast (back at the DogPatch again), we weighed our options for the day. On Friday we ducked into Pictured Rock Cruises and booked a sunset cruise for this evening, knowing the weather would be better, so we had to be in Munising by 6:30pm. We stopped into the trusty Visitor Center (and Gift Shop) to investigate other attractions to take advantage of in the area (we could have journeyed to Marquette, but that was a bit of a haul). In particular, something that did not require a lot of walking (our legs were a bit spent from Friday's hikes). The person at the Visitor Center had recommended a guided tour of Grand Island. It only had a few short walks and was otherwise on a small tour bus for most of the trip. We booked this for noon, but still had some time to kill. We noticed signs for an Art Fair in a local bayside park, so we perused works of some of the local artisans. It was a relatively small art fair, only about two dozen booths, but we did find a local photographer with some stunning works of places we had just seen the day before. Jen opted to pick up a couple of prints for our bedroom. The art fair also had live music from local groups, which helped pass the time.

michigan upper peninsula 2013 ... part 2

Friday:

Friday morning we awoke to a think blanket of fog covering the greater Munising area. We could not see more then 100 ft across the Bay from our window, and I believe it actually extended much further east, past Grand Marais. Not being ones to shy away from a little weather, we dressed and headed out to a local visitor center in search of activities in the area not requiring visibility at great distances. We procured a map of the area which was dotted with waterfalls and lighthouses. Given the temperature was in the low 60's, and that was as warm as it was going to get, we decided to take advantage of the fact we could get away with wearing pants and jackets to fend off mosquitoes and go for some hikes. Our first stop was the Horseshoe Falls and Gift Shop, just a stones throw from the visitor center. This waterfall is on private land so it will cost you to get in to see it. I was a bit skeptical, but it is only money, so we gave it a try. They do a very nice job of maintaining the grounds and walking path back to the falls. They also have a very nice trout pond where you can feed the fish o the ducks, depends on who gets there first). The falls were lovely, and we got a chance to feed ducklings right out of our hands, so it was worth the price of admission ($6/person).

Michigan Upper Peninsula 2013

It's been over a year since my last blog post, so why not start with a travel log of our recent vacation to the U.P.

Having only a few weeks to put together a mini vacation, we looked at some destinations within driving range, not wanting to burn up too much time. Jen wanted to see the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum in Whitefish Point, so we started planning a trip around that destination. As a side note: be careful when choosing a time for your trip to the U.P., you do not want to get to close to the mosquito hatching season, which apparently is when we decided to go. Plan on after July (mental note for future reference). So let's begin...

Wednesday:

I left work, picked up C.S.A. and was packed on the road by 6:00pm. We took S.R. 109 north out of Delta, where it picked up M-50 in Michigan to US-223 in Adrian. Following US-223, eventually turning into US-127, we stopped for dinner at a Bob Evans in Jackson before driving to our destination of Grayling. This is about four hours of driving, five with a stop for dinner. The drive was pleasant enough, being mostly lightly used highways (traffic tends to use US-23 and I-75). We stayed at the Days Inn in Grayling for the night.

Amusing thoughts on the drive: We stopped at a gas station in Grayling to top off the tank and clear the windshield of bugs. When I pulled into the gas station, a few teenage boys pointed and chuckled at the front of my car, as soon as I got out, I saw the reason which was half of Michigan's bug population had been taken out by my front bumper.

Zenith Transoceanic H-500 Restore

Zenith Transoceanic H-500 Restore
Zenith Transoceanic H-500 Restore

This is my first radio/electronics restoration project, a Zenith Transoceanic H500 short wave receiver, circa 1951. As I have read, the radio is based on an AA5, a 5 tube superheterodyne using 2 1U4s, a 1U5, a 3V4 and a 1L6. I am fortunate that this particular rig has an almost religious following on the Internet, so troubleshooting an restoration tips are very easy to find. The radio was in a barn for the better part of a few decades and had several generations of insects and rodents making a home in it. The speaker cone was completely destroyed, and a nice layer of corrosion covered the chassis. The tubes are still in good condition though, although one of the 1L6's (there was a spare set of tubes) is shot. The selenium rectifier and main power supply filter cap still test good, so those will stay for now until I need to replace them. The bumblebee caps should eventually be replaced, but all in good time. The current status is that after about 10 hours of work, it fires up an receives audio on some of the bands, others are quiet, but lacking a frequency generator, I can't easily verify alignment. Guess I'll be looking for one of those at the upcoming hamfests.

Thoughts on home network storage

Working in IT, I am reminded daily of the importance of a good backup strategy. Given the diversity of computer platforms I run at home, I wanted to revisit the methods I use for backup. Previously, USB attached storage drives would be the traditional route, using tools like rsync and rsnapshot to grab data on the linux side, and whatever free tool of the month I wanted to try on the windows side. While the USB attached backup system works fairly well, I found I got lazy about running backups since the computer the drive is attached does not run 24x7, so backing up meant booting that system or disconnecting the USB drive and hauling it over to whatever system I wanted to backup. I certainly could just leave a system up all the time, but I am also trying to be conscious about power consumption and heat produced. What finally made me rethink my strategy was the USB disk was starting to produce filesystem errors and tell-tale bearing noises. Replacing the disk would be easy enough, but why not kill two birds with one stone and look at network attached storage. I did not need RAID since the storage would only server as a backup to the primary storage on the individual systems. I figured anything that would handle SMB/CIFS and FTP would be suitable for my needs, so that left a fairly wide field of low cost NAS devices. I decided on the Western Digital MyLive Book 1TB unit. The cost was only a little more then a standalone 1TB drive with enclosure and came with a 3 year warranty. The plus side was that the system runs a Debian variant and can be enabled for SSH access from the web management interface. A whole host of utilities already shipped with the O/S, and there was a wealth of application repos, as well as other hacks and mods, available for it.

N8HB StepIR Antenna

N8HB StepIR Antenna
N8HB StepIR Antenna

An old fashioned antenna raising! One of our radio club members took a direct lightning hit this summer, destroying a vertical VHF antenna and damaging the control elements on his StepIR. After a few months of acquiring replacement components, we started putting the system back together. New enhancements to the StepIR included a 40 meter element, replacing the main feed point, and a heavy duty pivot plate that keeps the beam elements horizontal to the ground while the tilt tower is raised and lowered. We got the beam balanced and positioned before a strong thunderstorm moved in and stopped work for the afternoon.

PSKMeter Build

PSKMeter Build
PSKMeter Build

One of the aspects of Amateur Radio that holds my interest is the interfacing of computer and networking technology with high frequency radio transmissions. I have been a long time computer geek, it's my primary hobby and my livelihood. After getting my license, I quickly became involved with using a computer to transmit digital signals to other receiving parties, mostly in the form of PSK31, a rapidly growing protocol among Ham radio operators. So, I built my own interface, mostly consisting of simple discrete components like resistors to divide the voltage coming from the computer sound card. I have tuned and adjusted this specifically to what my Icom 706 is expecting on the accessory port (around 100 mVolts max). Not thinking twice, I decided to try the interface out on our club rig which was only expecting around 10 mVolts. Needless to say, my signal was severely over modulated causing my transmission to take up 5 to 6 times the bandwidth it should. This is very annoying for other operators and kind of makes you look like a total n00b. After that fiasco, I tore down my digital interface and expanded the capabilities with a selectable jumper. WHile this looked all good and well on the multi-meter and the oscilloscope. I really wanted to see what my IMD (Inter-Modulation Distortion) values were, but it's not terribly practical to drag a large oscilloscope everywhere I might take my laptop and rig. I came across the PSKMeter from KF6VSG which turns your PC into a mini oscilloscope for PSK, showing IMD values among other points of interest (ok, that's not completely accurate description of what it does, but close enough for this purpose). The kit shipped amazingly fast. I built my own rs-232 splitter cable and supplied my own 12v power supply. The rest of the components where easy to assemble with basic soldering skills, and their construction guide was incredibly well documents.

A Man, A Plan, A Workbench? Delta?

A Man, A Plan, A Workbench?  Delta?
A Man, A Plan, A Workbench? Delta?

My shop...My single car garage that has never actually housed a vehicle...I am glad to have it and at the same time, a little embarrassed by it. I had some people see the woodworking items I have created and they want to know about my setup, or worse, want to stop by to see it or get lessons on the lathe or scroll saw. My shop is usually in a state of disarray as I scramble to find adequate power and/or space to work on a project. So I set off last winter on planing a new workbench specifically to hold the major power tools like the miter saw, the lathe, the drill press, etc. Construction would be relatively simple, using dimensional lumber, for the framing and OSB topped with 3/4in MDF as the surface. I took into account the space I had to work with, and the space the tools would need to operate safely. The miter saw was the most demanding, since it is a sliding-compound system, it requires 30in of depth. Combined with the other tools I wanted to have on the surface, it is overall 132 inches long and 30 inches deep. The whole bench was probably overbuilt, but the end result is that there is almost no give on the work surface which will certainly help when running the lathe.

I-Com Bracket for my Kia Forte

I-Com Bracket for my Kia Forte
I-Com Bracket for my Kia Forte

Here are some snapshots of a home fabricated aluminum bracket for my I-Com 2200H 2 meter rig. My I-Com 229 was having PA deck issues, so I pulled that rig and wanted to put the 2200H in. The problem was space. There are not a whole lot of places to mount a radio, and I'm against putting any holes in the interior while the car is only 6 months old. I found the ideal location on the side of the center console, but getting it to stick was a challenge. I originally tried a lot of hook and loop tape, but when the car would sit in the sun with the windows up, the glue would give way and the radio would fall to the floor. Not wanting to put holes in the console, I decided to try fabricating a bracket. I obtained a good chunk of aluminum plating from a fellow HAM and used a hack saw to cut the pattern. Lacking a brake system for bending sheet metal, I used clamps and dowels to bend the edges to form. I rather liked the warning labels on the aluminum, so I cut the bracket to feature those.

Ice Tube Clock Kit

Ice Tube Clock Kit
Ice Tube Clock Kit

This is a Vacuum Florescent Display clock kit using a 9 digit surplus Russian tube with blue display and a pre-programmed micro-controller for maintaining time and date The kit has about 2 dozen different discrete components, along with two PCBs and the acrylic display case. The soldering requirements are intermediate, no surface mount stuff, but tight component placement on the PCB. The delicate VFD also requires a bit of care in handling to get it threaded into the interface PCB. Total build time was about 4 hours and I now have a nice clock on our entertainment center. You can buy the clock kit from MakerShed with great step-by-step directions located here.

Hueston Woods 2010

Hueston Woods 2010
Hueston Woods 2010

Our trip to Hueston Woods State Park in Southwest Ohio for Thanksgiving 2010. My family used to vacation at this state park in the 70's, usually a couple of times a year. We usually camped, but on one occasion we stayed at the Lodge. I told myself that one day I would stay there when I was older since it was such fun as a kid. Fast forward 25 years or so and I finally returned with my wife for a few days. The park and Lodge almost seemed to be frozen in time, much of what I remembered had not changed. While some might say this is a lack of progress, I found it quite enjoyable as a door way to some of the happiest memories of my childhood. The Lodge was warm and comfortable. The staff was extremely friendly and helpful, and the food in the main dining room was fantastic. I think I may have to make this a new annual tradition.