Saturday, August 21

Fancy New Pants Part Deux

I have always been an inveterate hacker. As a kid I took everything apart that I could get my hands on, things that would not result in my ass being paddled back to the stone age. More often than not, I have been able to get what ever it was, working again, or modified to serve a new purpose. I have never lost the urge to repair, improve, or modify, for modifications sake. Anything that was not of vital importance, or bolted down, was fair game.

We had a oxy-acetyline torch at the first bikeshop I worked at, and as soon as the boss showed John and I how to use the thing, we were off to the races. We started practicing on the tubing stash we had, and when satisfied with our brazing skill, I ordered a set of Reynolds 531 tubes, Henry James lugs , dropouts, and other fixtures, and within a couple of months, we were riding frames that we had built from scratch. I ended up building 2 for myself (first a mountain bike frame, built out of road tubing with more agressive angles {they were too heavy, and not very responsive, for my taste at the time} and one road frame [also experimental, with a sloping top tube, and lower seat stays]) and 2 custom jobs for friends, one which is still being raced at the velodrome in Indianapolis. I am happy to be among the few, that have raced in organised competition, a frame that they constructed themselves. And of course I built the wheels, and installed every part on the frame as well. I rode the crap out of mine to the breaking point and they have, I'm sorry to say, been decommisioned.

My greatest triumph of the mechanical arts involves a '53 Plymouth Cranbrook owned by my good friend Mike, a bum clutch, library parking lot, microfilm, and the serendipidous discovery of the wrench of the correct size on the floorboard under the passenger seat. He had come down from Michigan to visit some friends, and one day we were driving along in this styling, sky blue sedan, when it became clear that something was terribly wrong, and getting worse. Now I have never worked on cars prior to this because I had never owned one, but it was obvious that Mike was not going to get back to Michigan under the present circumstances. I realised that at this rate we would be lucky to get to the library parking lot (we were a few blocks away) and told Mike to steer the ship in that direction.

Once at the library, we went looking through the microfilm storage, praying that they had a manual, or diagram, of the clutch mechanism for this nearly 40 year old car. We were in luck, fired up the microfilm reader, arranged to have copies of the pertainant pages, and went back to the parking lot to compare car to diagram. I have to admit that they made things pretty accessible back then, and a trip underneath the car confirmed the location and means of adjustment. Now for a wrench.

My tools were a couple of miles away at this point, so we started rooting through the car and to my astonishment discovered an open ended wrench of the correct size, and with that I went to work. Five minutes later we jumped back into the car, started her up, and bingo, we were good to go. Mike made it back to Kalamazoo with no problems and proceeded to find and order replacement parts as the clutch was on its last legs when we pulled into the parking lot and when we pulled out probably had a couple thousand miles left on it.

When my first computer arrived it was missing several agreed upon components
(CD-rom, modem and soundcard). And when I got that sorted out It was time to learn about computers. While I was pissed at first, the episode left me unintimidated by computers and since them I have always constructed mine from scratch. Then there was that wired magazine article, a couple of months after I had finished getting my first box dialed in, with a title "the greatest operating system that almost never was". Hmm I thought to myself "windows is an operating system, you mean there are others for my hardware"?

You see, thats the problem, I have a perfectly good computer, that is working well, and I find out that I can install another operating system, I can't leave well enough alone. Of course I am going to install the first version of linux I can find (RedHat 5.0).
So I had this dual boot set up, that would allow me to choose windows or linux at boot up so I could try to figure out how to get the stinking modem to work under linux. A couple of months later I got my hands on a real modem (all hardware) instead of the winmodem (part hardware, part software) and set it up in linux, heard those wacky beeps and said goodby to windows. I still kept a partition around for playing flight simulator, but since then I haven't really looked back.

I don't expect that anyone has made it this far, hell if I read this bullshit I would probably be asleep by now, cause this is not my A material, but I have to wrangle up some moolah for now, and will finish this post upon my return, yeah I know "are you kidding?" But I havent gotten to the modifications to the blog yet, dont worry, in due time my friend.

So the chores are done and I am back trying to think of some other interesting things to yack on and on about oh yeah, Radio. I have already bloviated rather aimlessly I might ad in an earlier almost stream of conscience post, like this one, I am not particularly proud of it so you can dig around the archives if you are so inclined.
So yeah I've built a few radios. Crystal radios, transcievers, recievers, and transmitters. Also modified a Heathkit HW-7 to improve the reciever section ( as originally implemented, it had a hidiously bad reciever). The problem being that the original modification article called for parts that have not been made in a long time. This is cool because it adds to the hassle and requires the scouring of white pages and any other documentation that you can find regarding the internal attributes of the original part and try to figure out if there is anything that comes close.

In this case I was looking for a substitution for an old RCA integrated chip CA-xxxx I for get the number and the article is not close at hand. No one is making anything like it, IIRC it was a single-ended mixer, but nonetheless nothing fitting its specifications is available. The output end of the circuit looks good and parts are available so that can be recreated, and with some impedence adjustments bolted to the once ubiquitous double-balanced gibson cell mixer/occilator IC the SA602. The front end remains, scour numorous handbooks looking for a the proper front end to mate to the SA602 chip, when I suddenly remember the nice little reciever circuit for the Small wonder Labs SW-40. Of course. Now the problem. The sw-40 is a single band rig, and the HW-7 is a three bander. I could use the RF gain band switching circuit from the original circa '75 mod article, and find a way to bolt that to the front end of the sw-40 back end, and voila.

She was a lovely radio after that, that is until I was tuning up one day, looking for some european openings on 20 meters one evening, and suddenly poof, the transmit output transisters blew. Unfortunately mpf-u05 transistors haven't been made in 20 years or more, and reconfiguring the entire output circuitry for the transmitter to accomodate something more readily available is substantially more difficult. Many more stages are involved, to make sure that the signal meets the stringent regulations for spectral purity.

On to the original intent of the post which was to talk about the new look of the Blog. Ok there were two reasons, maybe three, I wanted to have the tortured naked iraqis not be the first thing you see, and I need to write a resume, so I might as well blather on and on, about the rather extraordinary level of competance demonstrated in a variety of disciplines, and under a variety of conditions.

So the first post titled 'fancy new pants', was to announce the fact that I had changed the colors a bit and introduced nifty blockquote boxes. I then found this site and was inspired to accomplish that which you now see. It took a lot of screwing around with the style sheet, other hacks, and basically like the HW-7, bolting this to that, wondering what the fuck, this should work already, realise that the url is not pointing to image location, ok, were close now. Change this thing, shit, back at square one. On and on and on, three hours later I am satisfied with the results, there you have it. I know a little bit more now, than when I woke up in the morning. Isn't that nice. Only one problem, I'm not sure what I had to forget to learn this new stuff. If I had anything for a prize I would give one to any reader who has made it this far. Mention any detail about the trip to the library in the comments and you win cyber hugs and kisses or attaboys.