A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Colfax

2019 Dodge Grand Caravan

I rented a Dodge Grand Caravan to pick up the AB-577. I fell in love with its ability to fold down the seats and carry cargo:

That is an 8′ ladder – the AB-577 is 8′ long

I have always had “stuff” to carry – lumber, bikes, etc and never had a car, truck or van to haul the stuff. I realize now what a bad deal a small SUV is – it can’t haul anything but gets no better gas mileage.

The seating options are great – but I’d rarely have the seats up

I am sure I’d have the back two seats permanently down. But I digress. The real reason I rented this is because its perfect to haul the AB-577, and the ride is very, very nice.

AB-577 fits like a charm -awesome day

I had breakfast with the Sierra Foothills ARC – in Auburn – a fantastic and historic town on the crossroads of Route 80 and 49. My parents retired in Roseville – at the first Dell Webb, so I know this area quite well.

I listened to KXPR Sacramento State radio – its a Classical radio station, and a superb one at that. Between Radio Expo in Sacramento – where I picked up the KWS-1, and several treks to the Auburn / Grass Valley / Nevada City – I have quite a few Ham Radio memories where my travels took me up there in the beautiful Sierra Foothills.

The end of a great weekend!

The Science of Radio

The Science of Radio – by Paul Nahin of the University of New Hampshire

This is one of two books highly recommended and also that has lessons which include using an oscilloscope as an educational tool. When you take measurements with a scope at particular points in the circuit, its amazing how that schematic comes more to life. In fact, because you can see the voltage, frequency and the actual visual wave – you can then understand how one or more components in a circuit works.

The Electronics of Radio – by David Rutledge of Caltech

The Electronics of Radio covers the NorCal40A and also has many exercises where you use a scope to see how a particular circuit works.

The Nahin book is a bit more approachable – not quite as crammed to the rafters with math as the Rutledge book is – but in both books I will have exercises to do and a lot of learning with my oscilloscope and signal generator.

The Collins KWS-1 and its test points – with a Siglent 1202X-E Oscilloscope

Its interesting that I would end up getting into modern test gear by probing and testing a 60+ year old transmitter. Ironically, the problem ended up being mechanical – but that is the point – I eliminated the electrical workings first – then scratched my head – then accidentally found that the transmitter worked only at the highest end of the band.

With these books – I am in it for the basic physics lessons and to further my education. I enjoyed using my scope so much – I want to pursue this – because when I used the scope while also going ovet the KWS-1 schematic, and whole new level of detail opened up for me in my learning pursuit.

And for me, learning is the best part of life.

Selective (Accidental) Nostalgia

The NorCal40A – Precursor to Elecraft

I have the NorCal40A and more “souped up” Red Hot 40 – both kits that came from the NorCal QRP group – designed by local designers Wayne Burdick – N6KR of Wilderness Radio and Elecraft fame, and Dave Fifield, AD6A

Red Hot Radio 40

I have had these on my shelf for many months – just waiting for a new spot to open up on my ham radio operating desk. Well, with the DX Engineering DV-40-P being retired – I can have one of these rigs in the space where the DV-40-P control box used to sit. I have one last open antenna coax switch position open for it, DC power pole slot, and a WinKeyer USB output from my Begali HST III (that will be here in about 10 days). I will swap one in and out from time to time – but it gives me another way to play the radio game on a day to day basis. Ham Radio – just for the fun of it – what a concept!

Begali HST III Single Lever Paddle

Since getting back into playing guitar, I have switched from being a “lazy” ham and using SSB Fone “just because” and have gotten back into CW seriously – copying the W1AW Bulletins on my Collins 75A-4 and even using CW with the KWS-1 via a modern WinKeyer and Begali Intrepid – used as if it were an HST III. The Edison Light-bulb went off in my head – and after being a Ham Radio Operator I realized a few things:

  1. My nostalgia only goes so far – while I fancied trying a Bug again – that was a FAIL. Trying a vintage keyer was a FAIL too. HOWEVER – all of this has to do with the fact that sending CW really is more akin to a song being played on a musical instrument – that the tactile and sound of sending and listening to CW is very musical – and a lot closer than I had expected it was (I always knew it were percussive – but did not realize how musical it is as far as its “note” is concerned
  2. I still can’t believe that it took almost 50 years for me to figure out that the best key by far for me is a Single Lever “Side Swiper” paddle. I do remember “Cootie Keys” from when I was a kid – but I always went with what everyone else seemed to use – straight key, then bug, then dual lever keys

So, while getting into the SW-3, Gold Dust Twins and even that cool old wooden Regal guitar amp are examples of nostalgia with toys that glow in the dark, my attempt to be nostalgic about CW fell flat on its face – but in the process I had a cool epiphany. I do believe its “Synchronicity” – especially because I have reconnected with friends from my past in the process of all of this – both in music and ham radio circles. I also have become much more social in the old fashioned “face to face” aspect – with no “social media” involved. Old social – just like old Morse Code, or old tube gear.

In fact, in the last two years while developing my Data Discovery and Compliance Catalog, I have approached this mentally as if I were in my shack thinking about radio, or designing antennas, or tinkering at my workbench. It’s made work much more fun.

This is why for me hobbies are so important – they exercise a part of the brain you just can’t get at work or pretty much anywhere else. I think its the adventure of experimenting and trying new things – and doing at your every whim that has a feeling of “freedom” – something that seems rare and fleeting in life.

Grab it while you can!

AB-577 Redux

My N6BT DXU-32 and AB-577 Military Mast System

A few years back I had a giant yagi up about 55′ on an AB-577 Military Mast. When my DXCC “work was done” I sold both. I have had the SteppIR UrbanBeam up just over a year on an ALM-31 crank up tower. Because the ALM-31 is not high enough for 40M low angle DX, I have been using my DXE DV-40-P phased array.

As chance happens lately around KY6R lately, I have come across an opportunity for another AB-577, and I will go for it. This coincides with the Bobtail Curtain project I have had in mind – but where I keep having trepidation’s about it because the center element would be way too close to the house and I’d have to basically cement  a post in the creek bed – which I am loathe to do. I’d probably have RF in the shack and also have coupling of the center element with my rain gutter downspout. We also keep having trees falling around our house – mostly from neighbors yards, so I want to keep my antennas away from that mess. In fact – the two trees I used to hang antennas from are now both gone (they were very large old Monterrey Pines at their end of life stage – got dried out and had to be taken down as they leaned towards houses).

The higher angle plot is the UrbanBeam at 50′ – the lower is the DXE DV-40-P

Enter good old EZNec. I wanted to compare the Bobtail Curtain – with its 3 elements and 140′ “wingspan” to the UrbanBeam up 50′ – which is as high as I can get it where I can rotate it very safely and easily from the base. It has the same gain more or less as the Bobtail Curtain, but does have a higher take off angle.

The Bobtail curtain has a much narrower azimuthal pattern when compared to the UrbanBeam at 50′

While I would lose some low takeoff angle DX, since I only need Glorioso and Bouvet – and since the UrbanBeam will be “in the zone” on all bands 30M and above – it makes total sense to get the antenna higher than its present 31-ish feet. The major difference on 40M is that I can rotate the UrbanBeam – and I can’t rotate the Bobtail – which is its huge drawback. While its a really cool antenna that I would love to try – doing all that work to end up with a really narrow beamwidth – even at it low takeoff angle just isn’t worth the effort.

It is however, much more practical to put the UrbanBeam on this newfound AB-577.

Other benefits will be to get rid of three verticals in the backyard and have one antenna support. I can go back to an 80M delta loop that I had hanging off the tower – which you see in the above picture – fed with ladder line, and then I will have 80 – 6M, which is all I need. Its clean, practical and will also let me use the ALM-31 along with the AB-577 – and let me keep my antennas out of trees that keep falling down – or have to be taken down.

This time around I will keep the ALM-31 and the AB-577 and the UrbanBeam. These are all keepers.

Summertime, and the Livin’ is Data Catalog

A year ago I was at Credit Karma and was deep into development of their Data Explorer. I had executive sponsorship and all was well. The product launched live last August, so it was a huge success. There was a launch party, I was filmed in an interview and was also asked to write the companies November Engineering Blog. Cool beans.

A year later, and I’m in Oakland at LendUp, and I am happier than ever. I even had a short contract between Credit Karma and LendUp at Twitter – and I learned Collibra there – which was a gift. I’ve come to learn what is about to happen in the “data processing” world, and things are about to “Cross the Chasm”. For many companies it’s an unsettled time.

The theme of this story is that the world is about to experience a tsunami of new Data Privacy regulations the likes of that which has never been seen before. More than 50% of US companies are woefully unprepared. Some will wait too long and will panic by the fourth quarter. It will be in the news more and more each month.

Between GDPR and CCPA, any company that collects and processes personal information of pretty much any sort – including aggregated and derived data will be put under a microscope. It is not an easy or quick job to prepare for.

Blame it all on sloppy data management and dangerous personal data breaches – not just with social media companies, but also financial institutions.

Recently, Facebook, Google and other companies were fined heavily. Executives at Facebook have been issued subpoenas and have been called to testify.

The GOP and this White House are doing the same things the Bush administration did – reduce taxes for corporations and the wealthy, and deregulate like mad. All of this was the precursor to the worst recession since the great depression. I feel very strongly that we are only months away from the start of the next recession. But I digress.

One thing the GOP and this administration can’t do is deregulate or eliminate personal data privacy rights. This is because the GDPR is EU and CCPA is the State of California. What they can do is create a federal law so we don’t become overburdened with too many states enacting their version of CCPA.

I’ve worked with data my entire career, and as a DBA (Database Administrator) for the longest stretch. Managing data has been my life, man!

One thing I’ve learned is that GDPR and CCPA are the best things that can happen to any company that processes personal data. This is because the real dirty truth is that most companies don’t even know all the data that they have – where it is and what it is. This leads to exorbitant cloud storage costs. Trust me – I wrote one SQL script that ended up saving a company more than a million dollars in cloud costs! Some say it’s closer to 3 million, but the way these things are charged make it nearly impossible to even know what is costing what.

A year ago I cut my teeth designing, coding and launching the Credit Karma Data Explorer. It was a nice little Data Dictionary, but pales in comparison to what I’m designing and building now. When you add in the 3 intensive months working on Collibra at Twitter, I feel so far ahead and advanced than I was a year ago. I now know the big difference between a small Data Dictionary and a full blown Data Catalog – that can support the myriad data regulations – some that existed and some new.

This leads to me again having a spring in my step loving going to work with great people in a great Town and building the most important product of my career.

Best yet, this niche area that I am now entering the Expert Level just happens to be a whole new sub market in IT. I couldn’t be in a better place at the right time, and I’m proud to say I saw this coming more a year ago.

A Bauhausian Look at Ham Radio Station Layouts

World Famous W9DXX at her station

I can appreciate the very fine effort that Ham Radio Operators put into their stations in the 1920’s and 30’s. Most were home brewed, but in the 30′ that (just barely) started to change – some started purchasing National, Collins, Hallicrafters, Hammarlund and other manufactured gear – and judging by how many Collins 75A4’s that were manufactured a compared to how many KWS-1 transmitters were built – I am sure hams were much more likely to purchase the receiver and still build the transmitter – even into the beginning of the 50’s.

Transmitter and receiver separated at W8BXY

I’ve noticed in many vintage Ham Radio shack pictures that the transmitter and receiver were often separated or put in an L configuration – with the “concentration” on the receiver, it being right front and center and in the face of the operator – and the transmitter off to the side or in a “return”. This makes a lot of sense – because of the tuning procedure of the old rigs – I am sure that most ops hung out on their favorite frequencies. Anyone using crystal controlled (as I did in 1973 with a Hallicrafters HT-40 transmitter certainly did. I had three or four 40M crystals) – that was it. Instant band switching and automatic antenna tuners were not to happen for several years.

Collins KWS-1 transmitter

The tuning procedure of my Collins KWS-1 takes time – its more like tuning a linear amplifier – and that makes sense – it IS a linear amplifier built right into the transmitter. In fact, for a (ahem / sort of) “desk top unit” – I think it is to this day, the finest Ham Radio transmitter ever designed and built. When I switch bands and tune it – I do want to stay on that frequency – or at least that portion of the band much more than say on my ICOM IC-7300. It is the equivalent to the “slow food” movement – where people took time to prepare their meals with love and caring vs. “fast food”. My KWS-1 is “slow food” and my IC-7300 is “fast food” – hi hi. Maybe this is called “Slow Radio?” . . .

By the 50’s stations were still big – but were more desk top

My KWS-1 power supply is about the size of a small file cabinet – but much heavier. In some ways it was one of the last “column oriented” transmitters – with the transmitter in many cases stacked on top of the power supply.

Some operators put their Gold Dust Twins on the desk – and the power supply off to the side

I love my newly “apportioned” and updated configuration of my shack. I do have a “return” – but its a parts station and bookshelf that has my technical books and notebooks. This way I can grab a book – like the ARRL’s ON4UN Lowband DX-ing book – that is the last in its series now that John has retired from updating it. I love to read about antennas while listening to Ham’s Gibber Jabber.

The most ironic thing about the KWS-1 is that I am no rush to fix that brass tape – because I have found that my temporary fix works like a champ – and that once I have tuned it to the 40M CW band – that’s the only band, mode and location on the dial that I care to hang out. Its less of a nostalgia thing than it is a convenience thing. Form follows function? (Just kidding – its just laziness in this case) . . .

Begali HST III Sideswiper or “Cootie” key

While on the subject of “form follows function” – I am reminded of the German school of design – the Bauhaus as well as many modernist designs put forth during the 1930′ – and flying in the face of other more ornate designs. Art Deco gave way to more simple, functional and modern designs – but I do see a period where the world was “in between” – where there was just a little design “flare” – but where buildings and products were somewhat “boxy” and more functional than ornate. I find that just a little design flare goes a long way. The “escutcheon” design of the Gold Dust Twins tuning mechanism – and the “Velvet Vernier” dial on the SW-3 are the epitome of the finest in ham radio design. Everything else is just a knob or switch on a box. It was exactly just the right industrial design.

Bauhaus Logo

The keys that I have used for years are way over designed for the way I send. Its hilarious that I only just figured this out now – and due to a “happy accident” of playing “slow radio” with the KWS-1. I totally take for granted that I can turn on my IC-7300 and immediately make contacts and work split. When I had an amplifier that had an autotuner, that was also taken for granted. This was necessary for working DXCC entities on the way to Honor Roll – but using the Gold Dust Twins is the exact opposite.

The Gold Dust Twins have forced me to think and operate in a much different manner than the modern equipment – and much more than nostalgia (which was my initial drive) – I am finding that my mind is more open to all things Ham Radio – and even more things “Industrial Design” than ever.

So – you tell me – has this getting into the “vintage thing” worth it?  You betcha!

Son of URAT: CNC Stepper Control

An Arduino board can control up to three stepper motors – this is what a CNC machine is, basically

The choice of driver is determined by what features you want, and what code you want to use. There are tons of videos for this application, and its perhaps one of the most popular projects. My URAT project was  lot more involved – where I used an Elecraft KPOD to turn two steppers, and used the rocker switch to control both motors. In this new project – I will just use three separate rotary encoders. I am pretty sure I have all of the parts – so that will be cool. I also will be able to play with my oscilloscope and Logic Analyzer.

My “beater” Collins 180S-1 antenna tuner

I will use three stepper motors to tune this antenna tuner – and have it in a weatherproof box out back. I will use three rotary encoders to be able to manually – and remotely control the three controls. I might even do this using wireless – so the only wire would end up being the coax. Here are some videos:

https://howtomechatronics.com/tutorials/arduino/how-to-control-stepper-motor-with-a4988-driver-and-arduino/

https://dronebotworkshop.com/stepper-motors-with-arduino/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ANm8i1Z2SkY

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bkqoKWP4Oy4