December 25, 2015

An iron rod...

An iron rod being placed on the outside of a building from the highest part continued down into the moist earth, in any direction strait or crooked, following the form of the roof or other parts of the building, will receive the lightning at its upper end, attracting it so as to prevent it's striking any other part; and, affording it a good conveyance into the earth, will prevent its damaging any part of the building. -- Benjamin Franklin

December 23, 2015

Project: Pico Paso Kit - Light Controlled Analog Noise Machine

We attended the 2015 Bay Area Maker Faire in San Mateo, California back in June 2015.  It was a day filled with amazement and wonderful creativity.  It was one big show and tell event.

As you would expect, there were plenty of great kits for sale and we picked up a few including the Pico Paso by Bleep Labs.  The Pico Paso kit is a light controlled analog noise machine and is based on the Atari Punk Synth concept.  It is powered by a 9V battery.

This photograph shows the loose components and PCB prior to assembly for the Pico Paso kit
NJ2X's Pico Paso kit opened and ready to be built
Kit assembly was straightforward with only a small number of components in the circuitry.  The Pico Paso kit is suitable for beginner builders.  The only trouble we had during soldering was when we inadvertently installed the audio jack on the wrong side of the board.  A quick desoldering followed by a reinstallation of the jack on the proper side of the board resolved the issue.  It does indeed help to follow the kit instructions as this was plainly explained.

This is a photograph of the fully assembled Pico Paso kit (top side) showing two knobs, two buttons, two photocells, and other assorted components installed on a PCB.
NJ2X's finished build of the Pico Paso kit

This is a fun little kit to build and play with after construction.  We fed the 1/4" mono audio out from the Pico Paso to our vintage Fender Champ amp using a standard guitar cable and it sounded amazing.  The kit is not designed to work with headphones.

By manipulating the knobs, buttons, and photocells, all manner of interesting sounds could be created from tweeting bleeps to house rumbling oscillations.  We highly recommend this kit for anyone interested in kit building and having fun with knob-twisted synthesized sonic mayhem.

Happy Holidays!

Good DX and 73, NJ2X

© Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM, 2015.

December 21, 2015

So your dog has been skunked?

Northern California is home to one of the most beautifully groomed skunk populations anywhere.  The skunks here tend to be big, healthy, and beautiful with long shiny black coats.  They prance around the area with confidence and poise of runway models (yes, exactly like Pepi Le Pew).

 Northern Californian skunks go wherever they please which includes fenced in backyards occupied by big dogs.  Apparently their defense makes them fearless.  Perhaps they just enjoy spreading a little holiday joy to their canine friends.

Striped Skunk
There is nothing quite like discovering at midnight that your dog has had a close encounter of the 1st kind with a skunk.  Fresh noxious skunk fumes are breathtaking.  The odor is a cross between a hot sulfuric fumarole and burning rubber tires.  It is such a strong chemical odor that it doesn't immediately smell like a skunk.  9 out 10 Northern California pet owners prefer the delicate scent of a volcanic bubbling hot sulphuric acid fumarole to that of a freshly skunked dog.

Skunked Christmas by KD2ANR
Jingle bells
Skunks do smell
Scooter, he got sprayed,
Oh, what fun
T'is no fun!
What a smell he has made, oh
Jingle bells
Our house smells
This odor won't give in,
When Santa comes
His eyes will run,
He'll need to wear nose pins!

Our dog Scooter's fur is normally mostly white.  Scooter is skilled at shading his fur various shades of grey through the careful application of garden dirt.  We noticed his fur looked different after he was skunked.  In good light we could see he had acquired two new large bright yellow patches on one side.  It was helpful to have a visual of where the Skunk spray or (N-butyl mercaptan) was located since it allowed us to focus our treatment efforts more effectively.  How thoughtful of the skunk to highlight his impact areas.

Skunk Spray Treatment

Here is what we found works well for our dog in treating the skunk spray.  Results may vary.  This cure only works when mixed fresh.  Don't attempt to mix it in advance and store it since that will render it ineffective.  We do keep the ingredients on-hand (separate in their original containers) in case of an emergency.
  • Mix up a fresh batch of anti-skunk spray cure in a large plastic or metal bowl:
    • 1 quart of 3% Hydrogen Peroxide solution
    • 1/4 cup Baking Soda
    • 1 tsp. Liquid Soap (we used Dawn Dish Detergent)
    • Mix thoroughly
  • Move the dog to an enclosed shower area.
  • Lather the dog up with the cure.  Don't just pour it on him.  Use a brush and work the cure into the fur.  Treat the entire dog.  Give extra attention to the most heavily skunked patches.
  • Let it soak for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Rinse and repeat.
  • On the final rinse, be sure to get all the soap off the dog so he doesn't lick and ingest it.
  • Towel dry the dog and tell him you still love him.
  • Wash your clothes and towels etc. immediately after you have finished with the dog.  

Hope you have a warm and skunk-free holiday season.  All the best from skunk-land (also known as Northern California).

Good DX and 73, NJ2X

© Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM, 2015.

December 18, 2015

December 11, 2015

Always been ahead of my time...

It seems that I have always been ahead of my time. I had to wait nineteen years before Niagara was harnessed by my system, fifteen years before the basic inventions for wireless which I gave to the world in 1893 were applied universally. -- Nikola Tesla

December 4, 2015

Funny Magnets

Q: What did the male magnet say to the female magnet?
A: From your backside, I thought you were repulsive. However, after seeing you from the front, I find you rather attractive.

November 20, 2015

November 13, 2015

The ocean is made of waves...

An ocean traveller has even more vividly the impression that the ocean is made of waves than that it is made of water. — Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington

November 8, 2015

Vintage Fender Champ Amplifier Restoration

We have been using a weathered looking vintage Fender Champ "silverface" guitar tube amplifier ever since it was given to us by a friend a few years ago.  It had acquired innumerable cosmetic warts and battle scars over the decades as well as a set of extremely dirty/noisy potentiometers and input jacks.  The issues all seemed manageable and we decided this great little amp was worthy of restoration.

Beat up Fender Champ Silverface amplifier
Fender Champ Silverface Front View (before restoration)
Top view of the beat up Fender Champ
Fender Champ Silverface Top View (before restoration)
Beach up Fender Champ amp side view
Fender Champ Silverface Side View (before restoration)

Beat up Fender Champ amp side view
Fender Champ Silverface Side View (before restoration)

Planning the Restoration

Our objective for the restoration was to return the amplifier to its original function and beauty. We made a list of the restoration work that we intended to perform:

  • Replace electrical power plug - connector pulled away from the outer insulation
  • Replace speaker grill - original color had faded, dirty, punctures
  • Clean the Fender logo - minor corrosion, dirty
  • Clean the knobs and panel face - dirty
  • Replace the black Tolex - dirty, several large damaged areas
  • Clean all hardware - corrosion and dirty
  • Clean inside of cabinet - dust bunnies and layers of dirt
  • Replace all three potentiometers - super noisy and intermittent
  • Clean both input jacks - noisy and intermittent
  • Replace carrying handle - original handle was missing

Sourcing Parts

We ordered the parts we needed from Antique Electronic Supply including:

  • Black Tolex - we ordered extra in case we made a mistake cutting a piece
  • Original Fender amp carrying handle
  • 250K Ohm audio potentiometer (qty 2)
  • 1M Ohm audio potentiometer

We purchased a 207g spray can of 3M Super 77 Multipurpose Adhesive at our local ACE Hardware.  We used nearly the entire can for the project.  The spray on application worked perfectly for adhering the Tolex to the cabinet.  We had replacement grill cloth on-hand so we didn't need to order it.  We also had a good supply of staples, tacks, and an replacement electrical plug in the workshop.  The total cost of all the parts and materials was about $80.00 USD.


  1. Photograph all sides of the amplifier.  Photographs are excellent reference resource during any restoration.  Photographs can answer questions that your memory cannot, such as, "So where did this do-hicky go?"
  2. Unplug the amplifier from the wall and let it discharge the capacitors which carry potentially dangerous voltages.
  3. Cut the power plug off and discard.
  4. Unscrew the back panels.  Save the screws and panels for reuse.
  5. Remove the grill by prying it off.  It is held in place by heavy Velcro.
  6. Unscrew the Fender logo from the grill.  Save the logo and screws for reuse.
  7. Unplug the speaker.
  8. Remove the speaker.  Store with care to protect the delicate cone.
  9. Remove the metal feet.  Using a flat head screw driver and tack hammer, carefully pry up the feet.  Save these for reuse.  Straighten any points that are bent during removal.
  10. Unscrew the hardware holding the amplifier module in place.  Hold onto the amplifier module case to prevent it from falling to protect the delicate vacuum tubes.
  11. Seek qualified help to remove the amplifier module.  Beware of the capacitors that are potentially storing deadly voltages.  Don't touch anything inside.  Photograph the wiring so you have a reference for how the potentiometers are wired. Store the amplifier carefully out of reach of anyone.
  12. Carefully remove the staples holding an aluminum shield to the inside top of the cabinet.  Retain the shield for reuse.  Discard the old staples.
  13. Remove the knobs and store for reuse.
  14. Vacuum the dust bunnies from inside the cabinet.
  15. Carefully peel the old Tolex off the cabinet.  Try to pull each section off whole if possible since these can help you by providing a template for cutting and reapplying new Tolex.  Save for later reference.
  16. Sand the wood surfaces smooth and clean.  Remove the old adhesive and Tolex residue.  This step also helps remove small nicks and dings in the wood.
  17. Fill any major damage (divots, deep abrasions, missing slivers ...) to the wood and sand smooth.
  18. Vacuum and wipe all surfaces with tack cloth to remove dust and dirt.
  19. Remove and discard all the old staples that were used on the grill cloth and Tolex.


You will need a box cutter with a new blade and scissors for cutting the Tolex and grill cloth.   An electric stapler is very handy.  You will also need flat head and Phillips head screw drivers, a hammer, a roller, and a square.
  1. Gently clean all the hardware and logo using alcohol and cotton swabs.  Use Never-Dull to remove any light corrosion.
  2. Using cotton swabs and alcohol gently clean the input jacks contacts.
  3. Cut a piece of grill cloth about the same size as the original.  Install in the frame using an electric stapler.  Four hands are helpful with this step.  Two hands for stretching the fabric while the other person staples.
  4. Install the Fender logo.
  5. Using the old Tolex panels, cut new pieces.
  6. Apply the new Tolex panels in the following order: left side, right side, top, bottom
  7. To apply each piece, you must spray the surface with adhesive where the Tolex piece will be applied as well as the Tolex itself.  We found a liberal coating of adhesive on both worked best.  Avoid spraying areas that you are not working on since it only makes the job messier than needed.  Take care not cover up the Velcro strips.
  8. Use the roller to smooth out the fit and remove air bubbles.
  9. Using the box cutter and scissors, cut and fit each piece following the old Tolex as a template / guide.  We found it more effective and precise to make the cuts with the piece in place for the purpose of optimizing the fit.  Use your hands to make sure that each corner it good and tight.
  10. Once all the Tolex is in place, let it dry and harden for awhile before proceeding.
  11. Using a small sharp screw driver, poke holes through the Tolex where each screw is supposed to go.
  12. Install the aluminum shield.  Carefully align the shield holes with the cabinet holes.  We used brass flat head tacks instead of staples using the holes left by the old staples.
  13. Install the feet by tapping in gently with a hammer.
  14. Install the handle.
  15. Replace the potentiometers one at a time.  Take care to wire exactly as original.  Inspect visually when complete to make sure there are no cold solder joins or shorts between leads.
  16. Gently clean the amplifier face and knobs with cotton swabs and alcohol.
  17. Install the speaker
  18. Reinstall the amplifier module into the cabinet.
  19. Reconnect the speaker.
  20. Install the speaker grill.
  21. Install the back panels.
  22. Install a replacement power plug.
  23. Test the amplifier.


We were very pleased with the outcome of our restoration work.  The restored amplifier looked just beautiful.  It was a wonderful experience to be able to adjust the potentiometers silently.  All the intermittent issues went away as well.  The amp was quiet and sounded warm and wonderful.  Plugging and unplugging the amplifier from the wall was no longer a scary task.  We were also delighted to find that all the materials we had purchased were perfect for the job.

Beautifully restored Fender Champ amp front view
Fender Champ Silverface Amplifier - front view (after restoration)

Beautifully restored Fender Champ amp side view
Fender Champ Silverface Amplifier - side view (after restoration)

Rear view of the restored Fender Champ amp
Fender Champ Silverface Amplifier - back view (after restoration)

Restoring the amplifier helped us see just how well Fender designed and built the Champ.  With a little tender loving care the amplifier still sounds great after a having endured decades of considerable apparent hard use.

We would like to extend a special thank you to our friend who gave us this little gem-in-the-rough of a vacuum tube amplifier and the opportunity for a wonderful father-and-son restoration project.

Good DX and 73,


© Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

November 6, 2015

Notably to electrons...

After long reflection in solitude and meditation, I suddenly had the idea, during the year 1923, that the discovery made by Einstein in 1905 should be generalised by extending it to all material particles and notably to electrons. — Prince Louis-Victor de Broglie

October 30, 2015

Bad times...

Bad times have a scientific value. These are occasions a good learner would not miss. -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

October 23, 2015

Morse on Patent Defence

I have been so constantly under the necessity of watching the movements of the most unprincipled set of pirates I have ever known, that all my time has been occupied in defense, in putting evidence into something like legal shape that I am the inventor of the Electro-Magnetic Telegraph.
From a letter to his brother describing the challenge of defending his patents (19 Apr 1848).

— Samuel F. B. Morse

October 17, 2015

DX Technique: Persistence

We have all been there.  You are calling and calling on HF with no reply.  You then start to wonder, "Is anyone receiving me?"  Perhaps you may even begin to doubt your signal is making past your properly line, "Is my signal going anywhere?"

CQ, CQ, CQ, ...

Faced with this type of doubt many hams simply turn the dial or switch bands.  After all, if your signal is going nowhere then why bother?  However, does abandoning the frequency as a strategy make sense if your signal is actually being heard in desirable DX locales?  As in life, good things (i.e. good DX) come to those who are persistent.

"Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time." -- Thomas A. Edison

Often the key to unlocking your own personal power of persistence is information.  Information can remove the uncertainty and doubt and help us make an informed choice to stay or move from a frequency.  In the age of the Internet, we now have access to excellent information regarding where our signals are being received.

A wonderful free service that provides remarkable information is "PSK Reporter".  Using PSK Reporter you can quickly determine visually where in the world your signal is being received with just a few clicks.  If you haven't tried it be prepared to be amazed!

Example 1: configuring PSK Reporter to determine where your JT-65 signal is being received

  1. Using your web browser navigate to PSK Reporter.
  2. Enter your own call sign in the upper left corner of the screen and click, "Find".  This will take you to a screen with a map and drop down filter options at the top.
  3. Select the band you are using with the drop down next to "On".
  4. Select the mode you are operating with using the drop down next to "using".
  5. Select the time interval you are interested in using the drop down next to "over the last".  We typically use "15 minutes" to limit the results to the last 15 minutes.
  6. Click "Go!" to retrieve your results and update the map.

In the example above, we can see that my JT-65 calls were being received and decoded by stations all over the world as indicated by the yellow call out balloons with time durations.  For example, 3 minutes prior to this query, my JT-65 signal was received and decoded by a station in Canada (VE6ADZ).  My signal was also received 13 minutes earlier by stations in Hawaii and Asia.  My signal was also received 1 minute earlier by a station in Puerto Rico.

This information helped motivate me to continue operating even though I wasn't receiving as many calls as I would like.  I could see quickly that my signal was being received in many of the locations I was targeting such as the US Eastern States, Hawaii, and Asia.

Recently, I was operating JT-65 on 40m in the morning.  I had been calling for about 30 minutes without any DX calls.  I was beginning to feel a little discouraged; however, I could see from PSK Reporter that my signal was being decoded in Asia and this motivated me to continue calling.  Once again the power of persistence paid off and I was rewarded with a contact with 9V1XX in Singapore which is a new DXCC entity for me and Kazuhiko confirmed the QSO via LoTW!  This was an excellent contact indeed.

The next day, I started decoding E21LXK (Thor) at 1546 UTC from Thailand on 20m JT-65.  His signal was weak and according to PSK Reporter my signal was not crossing the gray line to Asia yet.  It seemed it was too early for a contact.  Thailand would be a new DXCC entity for me so I was determined to see if I could make the contact.  Each time Thor would call CQ I would diligently return his call.  The contact would then proceed between Thor and some station in Europe or Asia (none in the US).  Each time I returned his call I would check PSK Reporter and found that no stations were reporting receiving my signal.  I noticed that E21LXK's signal strength was increasing slightly as time went on.  This gave me hope that an opening would appear and provide a window of opportunity to complete the contact.  This went on until 1738 when suddenly his signal shot up as though he was operating from my neighborhood coffee shop!  Excited at my good fortune, I returned his call again and this time Thor replied and we completed the QSO!  Persistence paid off once again.

There are many interesting uses for the information provided by PSK Reporter.  For example, the information is very good for radio experimentation (e.g. power settings, antennas, etc.).  It is quite interesting to adjust your power and see the immediate impact on where the signal is being heard.  It is surprising how little power is needed with modes like JT-65.  This is great fun.

Fire up PSK Reporter, get on the air, and drop your call to see where you are being heard.  There is a good chance you are being heard in more places that you thought and you have better odds at making an interesting DX contact when you are persistent.

Good DX and 73, NJ2X

NJ2X Kindle Edition is now available.

October 16, 2015

What God Hath Wrought

What God Hath Wrought. Message transmitted to inaugurate the first U.S. telegraph line (24 May 1844). The biblical text, from Numbers, 23:23, was selected by Annie Ellsworth, daughter of the Commissioner of Patents.   — Samuel F. B. Morse

October 10, 2015

NJ2X's Centennial Points Challenge Award Arrives!

I was very excited to receive my ARRL Centennial Points Challenge award this week.

NJ2X's ARRL Centennial Points Challenge Award Certificate
NJ2X's ARRL Centennial Points Challenge Award

I rather like the design of the award certificate with the Hartford, CT skyline in the background.  I earned the Level 3 award with my final score of 9,746 points.  Not too shabby considering that I was unable to operate for most of the first 6 months of 2014.

The ARRL President (Kay Craigie) signed the award and also contributed quite a few points via our contacts.  It was always great fun to hear her on the air working the pileup.

The ARRL Centennial Points Challenge is one of my very favorite contests of all time.  May of us wish there would be a similar contest in the future.  I hope we don't have to wait until 2114 though.


Good DX and 73, NJ2X

October 9, 2015

Completed DXCC on Phone

I was very excited to see that my QSO's (17m and 20m SSB) with the DX Expedition E51MKW (North Cook Islands on the Manihiki Atoll) were confirmed today.  Propagation was very poor.  However, the expedition team did a stellar job in pulling stations out of the noise.  I am very impressed and pleased on how quickly the team uploaded their contacts to the Logbook of the World (LoTW).  The Manihiki Atoll is magnificent.  I am considering adding a visit there to my bucket list.

Manihiki Atoll (aerial photo by NASA)

This was the final contact (number 100) I needed to complete my ARRL DXCC Phone award.  All contacts were completed using wire antennas with 100 Watts of power.  Looking forward to receiving the certificate and add another to the shack walls.

Good DX and 73, NJ2X

First telephone conversation over outdoor wires

On this day (October 9) in 1876, Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Watson conducted the first two-way telephone conversation over outdoor wires using telegraph line between Boston and East Cambridge.

October 2, 2015

The most incomprehensible thing...

The most incomprehensible thing about our universe is that it can be comprehended. -- Albert Einstein

50th Running California QSO Party

Be sure to join in the fun on October 3-4, 2015 with the Clifornia QSO Party.  The QSO part starts at 1600 UTC October 3, 2015 and ends 220 UTC October 4, 2015.

There is a way to qualify for a really cool looking Gold Rush Commemorative Coin.  Check out for complete rules and information.

Hope to hear on the air.

Good DX and 73, NJ2X

September 25, 2015

Two things...

There are in fact two things, science and opinion; the former begets knowledge, the latter ignorance.  -- Hippocrates

September 22, 2015

Finished 20 Meters WAS award from California

Thanks to AB1NJ in Vermont today, we completed the WAS award for 20 Meters (from California) with a JT-65 contact.

Chasing ARRL awards is good fun.  Awards also encourage radio amateurs to stay active which is good for the hobby.  The LoTW makes it easy to keep track of all the contacts for the various awards.  Looking for the next award which will likely be Phone DXCC.  So many interesting and challenging choices...
NJ2X's ARRL WAS Award with 20 Meters endorsement

Good DX and 73, NJ2X

September 20, 2015

Hiram Percy Maxim Award Recipient Anna Veal, W0ANT

Sunday's are a perfect day for reflection and inspiration.  We were inspired today by Anna Veal, W0ANT, who is the 2015 Hiram Percy Maxim Award Recipient.  This article also appears in the October 2015 edition of QST on page 82.  If you haven't read the article then do yourself a favor and read it now.

Hiram Percy Maxim, c. 1914

Good DX and 73, NJ2X

September 11, 2015

Who invented ferrite?

Who invented magnetic core material known as ferrite?
  • Dr. Takeshi Takei from the Tokyo Institute of Technology, discovered zinc and iron oxides have special magnetic properties.
  • Professors Kato and Takei applied for a patent in Japan in 1930 for their discovery of oxide magnetic core materials which was granted in 1932.
  • Tokyo Denki Kagaku Kogyo (now known as TDK Corporation) was founded in 1935 to commercialize ferrite cores.  TDK is still making ferrite cores today.
  • Philips applied for a patent in The Netherlands in 1941 for ferrite.

Ferrite Bead

Good DX and 73, NJ2X

September 6, 2015

Using a Diamond HV7A Mobile Antenna as a stealth base antenna

We recently had need for a multiband stealthy antenna covering 70cm, 2m, 6m, 10m, and 20m.  The stealth requirement meant that the antenna had to be near invisible on a rooftop as seen from the ground level.  After evaluating our options (beam, traditional full-size base vertical, wire) we were unsatisfied.  None of the choices seem to meet the prime criteria of invisibility.

This prompted us to consider the use of a multiband mobile antenna which tend to be constructed with a minimal profile.  We eventually settled on the Diamond HV7A as it offered multiband coverage that met our needs in a rather stealthy package.

Diamond HV7A Mobile Antenna in its packaging

Diamond HV7A Mobile Antenna unpacked

HV7A Mobile Antenna assembled and ready for mounting

We mounted the antenna on our rooftop and it was amazingly difficult to see from the ground level.  This was exactly what we had hoped for in terms of physical appearance.  We have been satisfied with the HV7A though performance as a stealthy base antenna is a compromise due to its intended purpose as a mobile antenna.

 Antenna_BandFrequency Coverage RangeVertical Antenna GainElement Phasing (wavelength)Antenna Power Rating
10 meters28-29.7 MHz2.1 dBi1/4120 watts
6 meters50-54 MHz2.1 dBi1/4200 watts
2 meters144-148 MHz2.1 dBi1/2200 watts
70 centimeters440-450 MHz5.5 dBi2 x 5/8200 watts

Good DX and 73, NJ2X

September 5, 2015

A few favorite free amateur radio iPhone iOS 8 Apps and Podcasts

iPhone 6

The iPhone is one our favorite technologies.  It is so amazingly useful.  The iPhone is also an outstanding platform for amateur radio applications.  Here are a few of our favorite free amateur radio apps on our iPhone running iOS 8.

The Apple Podcasts application provides yet another vehicle for enjoying amateur radio through ham radio oriented shows.  Here is our list of favorite Podcasts programs:
  • Ham Nation
  • ARRL Audio News
  • Amateur Radio QSO Show
  • Amateur Radio Newsline
  • QSO Today

Good DX and 73, NJ2X

September 4, 2015

Vacationing on a motorcycle...

“You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other. In a car you're always in a compartment, and because you're used to it you don't realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV.” ― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

August 28, 2015

The real purpose of the scientific method...

“The real purpose of the scientific method is to make sure nature hasn’t misled you into thinking you know something you actually don’t know.” ― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

2003 Suzuki VL800

August 21, 2015

Sometimes it's a little better to...

“Sometimes it's a little better to travel than to arrive” ― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

2003 Suzuki VL800

August 16, 2015

Program that HT and get on the air!

An amateur radio HT or handy talkie isn't of much use if you don't use it.  Perhaps it could be an unusual paperweight or interesting desk ornament.  They do look nice sitting on the desk in the shack in a sad inert, powered off, dust-collecting way.  Our two Kenwood TH-F6A HTs were mostly idle due to having relocated across the country to California.

The radio memories had been programmed chock-full-o-stations located on the East Coast (New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, and the Eastern Seaboard).  None of the repeaters in the radio memory were accessible from California.  Lack of useful programming was main reason our HTs weren't getting used.  Turn on the radio and there was simply no way to contact anyone other than via simplex communication.

The Kenwood TH-F6A is a compact and very capable radio.  It transmits 5W on 144/220/440 MHz and includes a wide-band receiver.  You can really pack the radio's memory with stations given its 435 PC programmable memories.  The radio has all kinds of really great features, and it has been reliable since purchased back in 2007.
Kenwood TH-F6A HT (Handy-Talkie)

We decided it was time to get our Kenwood TH-F6A radios back on the air and that meant reprogramming them with California stations.  The first thing we needed to do was to locate the radio's programming cable.  If you have ever moved, then you know how much fun it can be to locate a particular item in the new home.  The memory of where it was located at the old residence is usually vivid and the location in the new home tends to be a mystery.  Is it still in a box or in some drawer or perhaps in the attic?  After much searching in all the wrong places we found the cable logically stored on a desk near the computer.

TH-F6A Programming Cable

Lesson learned: always start the search with the most logical place to store the item.

The next step was to load the latest version of the free Kenwood programming software (MCP-F6F7) onto the PC.  This was very easy since the software is available for download on the Kenwood website.

Whenever reprogramming a radio, we always make a backup of the radio's memory first.  You never know when you may need to reference or revert to an earlier memory configuration.  This is very easy with the Kenwood MCP-F6F7 software.  We simply connected the radio to the cable and the cable to the computer and then read the radio's memory (from the menu: Radio --> Read --> All).  Once you have read the memory contents save it as a file on the PC (from the menu: File --> Save-As).

Our next step was to delete all of the undesired East-Coast stations from the memory we just read into the Kenwood MCP-F6F7 software.  It is much easier to delete the stations using the PC software than directly on the radio.  Just click on the memory item then right click and select, "delete" from the from the pop-up menu.  Memory items can only be deleted one memory at a time which worked fine.  It would be nice if you could select and delete a range of memories.  C'est la vie.

Once we had cleaned up our memory, we then resorted the remaining memories by name to organize them and make them contiguous from memory 1 (menu option: Edit --> Memory channel Sort --> Memory Name).  This provides a nice clean set of memories to program in the software.

The next step was to locate California area repeaters on the three bands that the TH-F6A can operate on (144/220/440 MHz).  There are a variety of repeater reference guides available.  We use the website and iPhone app.  The iPhone app is quite handy since it works with or without an Internet connection.  RepeaterBook allows you to search on wide area coverage repeaters.  These are particular useful repeaters, so we targeted these specifically.

Using we searched for repeaters in various areas that we frequent or intend to visit and programmed them each into the Kenwood MCP-F6F7 PC software.  This is really easy to do by double clicking on an empty memory and then filling out a simple form.

MCP-F6F7 PC Software - adding a repeater to memory

The TH-F6A has an LCD screen and allows for station memories to be named.  This is helpful though the real estate for a memory name is limited to eight characters.  Making eight characters understandable requires creativity.  A number of years ago, we came up with a coding standard for our station memories that is surprisingly simple and effective.  After programming, we handed the HT over to another local ham who was able to scroll through the memories and translate (name and city) all but one.
  • 2-digit state code (e.g., CA - California)
  • Use a capital letter to indicate the start of a new word
  • Eliminate vowels since it is proven that people can read most words effectively without them
  • Numerous California cities begin with the word, "San" so abbreviate this to a single letter "S"
  • In this example, "CASFrncs" denotes California, San Francisco
We were rewarded for several hours of station searching and programming with a nice long list of California repeater programmed into the MCP-F6F7 Software.  After programming, we sorted the list again by name so that all memories would be organized logically (menu path: Edit --> Memory channel Sort --> Memory Name).  We then saved the programming on the local PC under a different file name than our backup.  We use a simple and effective file naming convention to organize our files.  Each file name includes:

  • Name of the radio
  • State or location
  • Version (we only use this if there are several versions on a given day)

Applying this naming convention we named our file, "20150815 TH-F6A CA".  A little forethought saves time down the road.

The next step was to load the programming from the Kenwood MCP-F6F7 PC software to the radio.  Turn off the radio before plugging in (or removing) the cable to avoid damaging the radio (power is present on some of the jack connections).  Once the cable is connected to both the radio and computer, turn on the radio.

On the radio, use the menu to find the parameter, "SP/MIC Jack9" and set it to, "PC".  Exit the menu on the radio.

Next, from the Kenwood MCP-F6F7 PC Software select the menu option, Radio --> Write --> Memory.  This will initiate uploading the memories to the radio.  If you get a "Communication Timeout Error" then check your COM port settings on your PC.  The following settings generally work:
  • 9600 Baud Rate
  • 8 Data bit Rate  
  • None Parity
  • 1 Stop Bits
  • Xon/Xoff Flow Control
If you receive an error message, "The radio is invalid please check and try again" then check your cable connection into the radio.  We found that our cheap cable was a little finicky on one of our TH-F6A radios but not the other.  If we angled the connector out at the top a tiny bit it would work better than when fully inserted.  Results may vary.  Remember to power down the radio before inserting or removing the connector.

We gave both newly programmed TH-F6A radios a good testing on our local repeater by cruising around the area on a motorcycle with our HT to see if we could maintain contact through the repeater at various locations.  For safety purposes, we would stop and park the motorcycle before attempting the contact.  Test results:
  • Home - full quieting
  • Local grocery store - full quieting
  • State Park Entrance nearby - full quieting
  • End of the road in the State Park - DEAD SPOT - no area repeaters could be reached and no mobile phone service
  • Fruit stand in neighboring village 17 miles away - full quieting - a happy surprise
2003 Suzuki VL800

We had a lot of fun with our motorcycling HT/repeater coverage test.  We were very pleased to find excellent local repeater coverage at each destination with only one dead spot on the trip.  Most of all, we were thrilled to have our two HT's returned to full operating status instead of sad (though cool looking) inert dust collectors.

Do you have an inert dust collector HT on your desk?  If yes, we hope we have inspired you to take action - charged it up, program it, and get back on the air.  We look forward to our next contact with you either on an HT (or the HF bands).

Good DX and 73, NJ2X

August 14, 2015

The act of getting there...

It is not knowledge, but the act of learning, not the possession of but the act of getting there, which grants the greatest enjoyment. ― Carl Friedrich Gauss

August 7, 2015

Plan of the universe...

There cannot be a language more universal and more simple, more free from errors and obscurities...more worthy to express the invariable relations of all natural things [than mathematics]. [It interprets] all phenomena by the same language, as if to attest the unity and simplicity of the plan of the universe, and to make still more evident that unchangeable order which presides over all natural causes” ― Joseph Fourier

July 24, 2015

July 17, 2015

We came in peace for all mankind...

Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon July 1969, A.D. We came in peace for all mankind. — Neil Armstrong (Plaque left on the moon, July 20, 1969)

Earth's Moon

July 10, 2015

The hardest arithmetic...

The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings. -- Eric Hoffer

July 8, 2015

Trying to be tall...

Some people try to be tall by cutting off the heads of others. — Paramhansa Yogananda

July 4, 2015

Celebrated by pomp and parade...

"I believe that it (Independence Day) will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival... it ought to be celebrated by pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other..." -- John Adams

John Adams probably wouldn't have minded extending his list by adding, "ham radio".  Happy Independence Day!  Let the bells of freedom ring.

July 3, 2015

Divine madness...

Let us grant that the pursuit of mathematics is a divine madness of the human spirit, a refuge from the goading urgency of contingent happenings. -- Alfred North Whitehead

June 26, 2015

If it is clumsy...

The traditional mathematician recognizes and appreciates mathematical elegance when he sees it. I propose to go one step further, and to consider elegance an essential ingredient of mathematics: if it is clumsy, it is not mathematics. -- Edsger Dijkstra

Photograph of Edsger Dijkstra
Edsger Dijkstra

June 19, 2015

Things people know that ain't so...

I could never accept findings based almost exclusively on mathematics. It ain't ignorance that causes all the trouble in this world.  It's the things people know that ain't so. -- Edwin Armstrong

June 12, 2015

One of the most difficult branches of applied mathematics...

Programming is one of the most difficult branches of applied mathematics; the poorer mathematicians had better remain pure mathematicians. -- Edsger Dijkstra

Photograph of Edsger Dijkstra
Edsger Dijkstra

June 5, 2015

No such thing...

There should be no such thing as boring mathematics. -- Edsger Dijkstra

Edsger Dijkstra

May 29, 2015

The art of proposing a question...

In mathematics the art of proposing a question must be held of higher value than solving it. -- Georg Cantor

May 15, 2015

Follow the advice of Plato...

If I were again beginning my studies, I would follow the advice of Plato and start with mathematics. -- Galileo Galilei

May 8, 2015

The poetry of logical ideas

Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas. -- Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein 1921

May 1, 2015

Truth in science...

Truth in science can be defined as the working hypothesis best suited to open the way to the next better one. -- Konrad Lorenz

April 23, 2015

Santa Cruz Mineral and Gem Society - Annual Mineral, Fossil, Gem, & Jewelry Show

Santa Cruz Mineral and Gem Society 
Annual Mineral, Fossil, Gem, & Jewelry Show
Saturday & Sunday, April 25-26, 2015 
10:00 am - 5:00 pm 
Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium (corner of Center & Church)

Scouts in uniform are free!

Good DX and 73, NJ2X

April 17, 2015

Science gathers knowledge faster than...

The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom. -- Isaac Azimov

April 10, 2015

Science has not yet mastered prophecy...

Science has not yet mastered prophecy. We predict too much for the next year and yet far too little for the next 10. -- Neil Armstrong

April 3, 2015

The waves broke and spread...

“The waves broke and spread their waters swiftly over the shore. One after another they massed themselves and fell; the spray tossed itself back with the energy of their fall. The waves were steeped deep-blue save for a pattern of diamond-pointed light on their backs which rippled as the backs of great horses ripple with muscles as they move. The waves fell; withdrew and fell again, like the thud of a great beast stamping.” ― Virginia Woolf, The Waves

March 27, 2015

Nearly 1,000 light years

The strongest signals leaking off our planet are radar transmissions, not television or radio. The most powerful radars, such as the one mounted on the Arecibo telescope (used to study the ionosphere and map asteroids) could be detected with a similarly sized antenna at a distance of nearly 1,000 light-years. -- Seth Shostak

March 20, 2015

Neon signs...

Neon signs don't consume much power, but they look like they do. A cousin of fluorescent lighting, neon is actually quite energy efficient.  A neon tube glows coolly when high-voltage, low-amperage electrical power excites the gas within it. -- Virginia Postrel

A fluorescent thank you!

March 6, 2015

Gravitation, does it require time?

But when we face the great questions about gravitation Does it require time? Is it polar to the 'outside of the universe' or to anything? Has it any reference to electricity? or does it stand on the very foundation of matter–mass or inertia? then we feel the need of tests, whether they be comets or nebulae or laboratory experiments or bold questions as to the truth of received opinions.  -- James Clerk Maxwell

Setting the electric fluid in motion...

...each metal has a certain power, which is different from metal to metal, of setting the electric fluid in motion...  -- Count Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta

Painting of Volta with a objects on a table and a book in his hand
Count Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta

February 27, 2015

It is character

Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character. -- Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein 1921

February 22, 2015

Goodbye Radio Shack

If you haven't heard already, the US retailer Radio Shack has entered into bankruptcy.  It is sad to see a  94-year-old electronics company fail and for hams, it is especially sad to see a company falter that played a significant role in amateur radio.  It has been a steady decline so the bankruptcy is no surprise.  It appeared inevitable long ago.

Radio Shack started in Boston in the 1920's and grew into a nationwide icon with 4,300 stores.  For radio amateurs, Radio Shack was a familiar source of electronic components, housings, kits, electronics tools, antennas, coaxial cable, connectors, scanners, and HF receivers and transceivers.  For many, Radio Shack was their only local source for electronic components.

The Internet changed everything and being a local source of electronic components seems to have lost its relevancy along the way.  Creative destruction is the phrase often used to describe the effects of the invisible hand at work in the free market.  Business failure isn't pretty to watch and it can be very difficult to experience if you are personally affected; however, poorly run businesses deserve to be replaced by well run businesses offering products and services that people want to pay for.

Image of a Radio Shack logo with a red capital R in a red circle with words radioshack next to it
Goodbye Radio Shack
Radio Shack stores around the nation are being liquidated.  If you haven't done so already, take a trip to your local Radio Shack and scoop up some excellent deals on all things useful around the shack.  We visited our local store recently and walked out with a grocery bag of components, connectors, and even a solderless breadboard all for 90% off list price and totaling only $15.

1980 Radio Shack Catalog showing the DX-300 HF Receiver

As we were packing up, the clerk proudly showed off a printed receipt from customer's purchase earlier that day that was about 8 feet in length.  The clerk said the customer had raided the Radio Shack discrete component bins (resistors, capacitors, 555 timers, transistors, etc.).  We made a point of thumbing through those bins whenever stopping by a Radio Shack store and more often than not walked out with a few interesting goodies.  We hams will miss that experience; though, for some it has already been replaced by a trip to a local electronics parts retailer such as Fry's.  Goodbye Radio Shack thanks for the memories and thank you for supporting amateur radio.

Good DX and 73, NJ2X

February 20, 2015

Understand the universe...

If you wish to understand the universe, think of energy, frequency and vibration. -- Nicola Tesla
Nicola Tesla

February 13, 2015

Gravitation is not responsible...

Gravitation is not responsible for people falling in love -- Albert Einstein

Happy Valentines Day!

Albert Einstein 1921

February 6, 2015

Learn from yesterday...

Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is to not stop questioning. -- Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein 1921

January 30, 2015

Drives me hazy...

A question that sometimes drives me hazy:
am I or are the others crazy? -- Albert Einstein

Photograph of Albert Einstein with his wife Elsa.  Einstein is pictured holding a pipe.  Both are wearing long coats.
Albert Einstein with wife Elsa

January 23, 2015

Voyaging through strange seas of thought...

And from my pillow, looking forth by light
Of moon or favouring stars, I could behold
The antechapel where the statue stood
Of Newton with his prism and silent face,
The marble index of a mind for ever
Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone.

— William Wordsworth

January 16, 2015

January 9, 2015

Travel one, ten, or a thousand miles, or even to California...

What would you think of a Universe in which you could travel one, ten, or a thousand miles, or even to California, and then find it came to an end? Even if you were to go millions and millions of miles, the idea of coming to an end is still incomprehensible. -- Lord Kelvin

January 2, 2015

It is not really the fish...

In this season of New Year's resolutions here is a little Thoreau to consider...

Some men fish all their lives without knowing it is not really the fish they are after. -- Henry David Thoreau

Happy New Year and Good DX,


ARRL Kids Day - January 4, 2015

It is time for the semi-annual ARRL Kids Day event (January 4, 2015).  Kids Day is designed to promote Amateur Radio to our youth and presents a wonderful opportunity for hams to share the magic of radio with their kids or grandchildren, a Scout troop, or a church youth group.
Amateur radio is fun for kids

Kids Day gives youth an on-the-air experience and may even foster on-going interest and becoming licensed. It also gives adult hams a chance to share their station and love for Amateur Radio with their children.
We radio amateurs to listen for those Kids Day participants and answer their calls and be extra patient and encouraging.

Good DX and 73, NJ2X