Sunday, September 14, 2014

Making My Own “Forties On 4”

Of all the time periods, music of the 1940’s is my overall favorite.  Out-of-town road trips in my wife’s Yukon were always fun because I had the chance to listen to XM radio’s forties’ music on channel four after Disney Radio had looped through too many times for everyone’s comfort.  Sadly, the channel went away, and after XM increased their price for the remaining channels, the subscription was dropped.

Having the satellite radio channel to listen to meant I could keep ignoring roughly 200, 45rpm records from the forties I had mastered on five reels of the wrong kind of tape back in 1997.  In a nutshell, the 45’s needed to be transferred to cassette tape for someone else, and I decided to dub to reel-to-reel first because the deck is easier to start & stop recording than my cassette deck.  A while earlier someone else had given me a small stack of brand-new, Ampex reel-to-reel recording tape, and I thought this highly regarded brand would be great for the task.

After the completed recordings came out sounding tinny, research revealed that the Ampex tape required a different level of recording bias than my machine normally produced.  Although post-processing could have resolved the issue, the cassette end-user, since none of this cost him anything, was okay with adjusting his stereo’s tone controls at playback.  Plus, I didn’t have any post-processing equipment then like I did in high school.  Way back then, I had a stereophonic, 10-band graphic equalizer from DAK which was bought to compensate for my system’s low-fidelity speakers.  That device would have easily corrected all traces of the original issue.  But the need for that piece of hardware evaporated after I got my Polk Audio SDA1 speakers, and the equalizer was given to someone who needed it.

If nothing else, 2014 will go down as “the year of the $1 yard sale finds” because a few weeks ago, a dollar bill was traded for a seven-band equalizer which only needed a power cord.

The next step was to experimentally determine the best settings.  For this phase, the equalizer was hooked up to the output of the tape deck, and a song from the turntable was recorded on the same lot of Ampex tape as the original effort.  The tape was then rewound, and the stylus placed back at the start of the record so both were playing at the same time.  Alternating between the two sources, the equalizer slides were then adjusted until the two streams sounded the same.  Daniel’s young ears were a big help here.

I thought it was a great exercise for Daniel in that he got to see what used to be involved in playing music back before iTunes & YouTube.

After calibration, it was supposed to be a simple task of playing the tapes into the computer.

But after the first tape, the sound was off in a new way.  It was muffled & dragging.  Although the tapes appeared to be in good shape, the effects of time had not totally escaped them because the deck’s heads & drive paths were gumming up with tape particles as the tape passed over.  Luckily cleaning the deck with denatured alcohol & Q-tips after each side of each tape was digitized solved that problem.

A new issue with my old deck popped up, and it is doubtful there are any new parts available to fix it.  The pinch roller is worn down, hard, and has lost its grip.  They used to make a potion with a potent smell that could be swabbed on which would restore grip for a while.  But I haven’t seen that stuff since the Carter administration.  Since I only had five tapes to do, fulcrumming a screwdriver weighted with solder provided enough extra force on the pinch roller to keep the songs playing back in the key in which they were recorded.

After the kinks were worked out, the digitizing software was set to stop recording a minute or so after the tape ran out.  This way, I could go off & do something else without listening to the music because the listening came when each song was split from the big .wav file.  In the image below, each colored block denotes a single song.

Different software was used to burn CDs with title/performer information added as CD text.  This info makes the radio in our new Chevy look just like XM radio when one of the new CDs is playing.

It is my understanding that public outcry forced XM radio to reconsider, and bring back the forties channel.  While that’s great, I am in no rush to sign back up.  At least, not until I get tired of listening to the nine hours of music I just finished producing.


Thursday, July 31, 2014

If Only We Ate Jelly

Although I am not a "sweets" person, I do enjoy conquering self-imposed challenges.

About every three years, my crabapple tree presents us with a bountiful supply of fruit, and I always consider making a jam or jelly with it as I snack on it while mowing the yard. The problem is that none of us eat jams or jellies.

So, for the sixth time, I will let the deer harvest our crop - they will get more out of than we will.


Saturday, July 19, 2014

I’d Buy THAT For A Dollar!

Saturday morning’s routine for number two son, after eating a biscuit at Bojangles’, includes hitting yard sales in search of kid movies on videotape.  Although the breakfast part might include all or part of the family, usually it’s just him & his mom hitting the yard sales.  But Kim was out of town the other weekend, and since Daniel wanted to sleep in, the morning belonged to Jared & me.

Even though the bulk of yard sales are a waste of time for what I would like to buy, I actually like visiting this bit of Americana because sometimes one will find the most unexpected bargains.  That was certainly the case on this trip for me not once, but twice.

Several weeks ago I pulled my trusty cassette deck out of the closet to dub some music only to find the machine had gone belly-up.  On the final stop of Jared & mine’s yardsaling excursion, I stumbled across an old Sparkomatic automotive-dash-mount receiver with cassette player.  Not seeing a price, I asked the proprietor how much.  He smirked and said, “A dollar; but you have to take the entire box.”

I understood because I had seen Kim do the same thing at her yard sales.

But as I was about the peel off a one, I noticed some folded up television antennas off to one side.

Although the two were bundled together for sale as one item, I could make out enough detail to decide one of the antennas probably picked up the UHF band.  I immediately decided this was a bundle for me because I had recently outfitted our travel trailer with a new antenna for HD (UHF) television reception, and Kim was so thrilled with how well it worked in our driveway that she wanted to outfit the house with one in case cable TV went out during bad weather.

Since the devices appeared to be all but new, I figured this where the man was going to make up for his loss-leader.  Nope – He asked a dollar for the bundle.  Come to find out, all the stuff belonged to his in-laws who had moved (or had been moved) somewhere else, and a yard sale was the last step before the dumpster arrived.

Returning home, I found the box of goodies included a ready-to-go, self-contained stereo system that just needed to be plugged in to a regular house outlet.  To my joy, both the tuner & cassette deck still worked fine, and I was able to listen to the tape pulled out earlier.

At some point, Daniel finally rolled out of bed, and interrupted my “Beer Bottle Polka” sing-along to ask if we could have grilled wings for the night’s supper.  I immediately agreed because the meal was infinitely healthier than the pizza I had let the both of them buy for the previous day’s lunch.

Yum – grilled wings, baked fries, and squash on my side of the table.

Peeled cucumber & carrots on their side

They were both good sports & ate enough before we all left a pile of bones & vegetables behind.

Sunday found me unfolding & mounting the antennae on a temporary stand for identification.  Various Internet sources agreed the top antenna was the best device for our inclement weather plan.

So the antenna was mounted on a 10-foot mast affixed to the chimney, and pointed toward where the bulk of our area’s TV transmitters are located.

The wall behind the den’s TV got a new 75-ohm antenna jack.

We now have a bunch of digital stations ready in case the TV’s running on generator and the cable goes out.

The “funny” thing is that if we could have pulled in the ABC affiliate, and METV, we would have strongly considered dumping cable altogether.  But, by all reckoning, there appears to be a mountain in our way for our part of the city that precludes reception.

Stay tuned – I might find a TV tower at another yard sale; ya never know!


Sunday, June 1, 2014

It Was Time for Better Reception

Although my Overlander came with a factory-installed, VHF antenna, I opted for a UHF bowtie antenna for our adventures because it was much smaller, and UHF stations were more common around here than VHF.  When all of the TV stations were required to go digital, my Airstream was good to go because digital TV frequencies are in the UHF range.

But it appears that many stations are broadcasting their digital offerings with less power.  My simple bowtie, on multiple outings, just was not up to the challenge.  So Santa delivered a new, digital, RV antenna from PPL last Christmas.

The swap-out was relatively easy.  The only issue was the mounting pole.  The original was round, and the new one was square.  Since I wanted to use the Overlander’s antenna rotator, my buddy Dan machined me an adapter.

What a difference!  Up to this point, we have never been able to pick up local stations in the driveway because there is a mountain between us and the transmitters.  But the new Winegard picked up all of them PLUS their sidebands PLUS Public TV.  I was impressed.

We used the new antenna on last week’s trip to the beach to monitor the weather, and Kim was one happy camper.

While not quite as unobtrusive as the bowtie, it does fold up well.

While packing for the beach trip, I noticed the Airstream’s original TV antenna sitting quietly in the corner, and moved it into the Shop for a better look.  It was bigger than I remembered.

Remembering that the same mountain that interferes with TV reception also hampers reception of Public Radio on my Shop’s, I wondered if that big ole 47 year-old antenna would work better than the existing, simple dipole thumb-tacked to the wall.

Since the Shop’s ceilings are 10-feet tall, the decision was made to mount the antenna to the ceiling.  Rough cherry works well for FM applications.

The mount’s placement was chosen based on the unfolded-out size of the antenna.  After screwing the mount to the ceiling, and then unfolding the potential super-station-getter, I found that the antenna’s 8-foot span would not be realized with the mount where it was.

Fortunately, it was easy enough to relocate the mount to the other side of the light.

Success - The results were worth considerably more than the effort.  Although the antenna itself does not bother me, the wire does.  I might, one day, run the wire through the attic space.  If I end up going to that much effort, I will probably relocate the antenna there too while I am at it.

But the next project will probably be to connect an HD radio tuner to the Shop’s setup I have that did not work well in my truck.  If it works well, I might just have to get another old Airstream antenna for the truck.

Just kidding.


Sunday, April 27, 2014

TalkAbout.. Pop Rivet

The fuel lines on my hedge clippers got sheared off the carb this weekend by an errant sprig.

The local big box store sold me a generic, fuel line repair kit with two, one-foot pieces of fuel line that appeared to fit the bill.

It almost did;  after fishing a couple inches of one line into the fuel tank to attach to the filter, that line came up short.

Fortunately, the other line was just a little bit too long. Although the lines had different outside diameters, the inside diameters were the same.  Problem was that I had no coupler.

But I AM a proud owner of a vintage Airstream which means I have a WIDE selection of aluminum pop rivets.  After cutting the button off of one, I had my coupler.

The primer pumped up with no leaks.  NOW I'm ready to tackle the euonymus.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Keeping My Sweetie Warm

A month or two ago after winter was well underway, the outside temperature here in Alabama dropped into the lower teens for the first time.  Although there were scattered reports of frozen pipes & power outages we fared okay.  But a few nights later, the low temperature repeated itself, and I awoke to a cold house even though the thermostat was trying to get the furnace fired up.  So I grabbed a flashlight & nut-driver, and headed out to take a look at the house’s main gas furnace while everyone else was still asleep.

Lots of steps are involved with getting a furnace to produce heat after the thermostat signals it is needed.  In a nutshell, after enough time has elapsed since the last attempt at lighting the burners, a small fan designed to suck exhaust gas out the heat exchanger comes on.  When a pressure switch senses the fan is on, a gas valve is opened, and an ignition coil sparks to light the gas.  After another sensor verifies the burners are lit, a countdown timer for the recirculation fan is started to allow the heat exchanger to warm up a bit so that cold air is not blown out of the vents.  After a short time the recirc fan spins up & distributes the heat to the ductwork.

After removing the service access panel, I was hoping to find a pile of ashes or some other form of smoking gun.  No such luck – everything appeared to be in good order.  Then, just as I was about to get up and get my voltmeter, there was a whirring sound followed by a click and a buzz.  Moments later the recirc fan spun up.  The furnace was back in action although I had done nothing to inspire its course of action.

I hate intermittent problems.  It is much easier to find a broken part once it breaks and stays broke.

To cover all bases I checked the furnace’ User Manual and found that the furnace may not work in cold weather, and that I may need to take steps to keep my pipes from freezing.

In the meantime, though, the house warmed up, and stayed that way.  After that, other than an occasional short cycle, the furnace appeared to be working okay.

All was well until last week when Kim called me at the office to tell me the house was cold again.  I decided to cut out early and see if something would stay broke until I could get home.

This time I decided to start tugging on wires in hopes of finding a bad connection.  Bingo! – A wire easily pulled out of a factory-crimped connector on the recirc fan delay timer/contactor.  After crimping a new connector on, the furnace happily whirred, clicked, and buzzed back to life.

Sadly, the repair only lasted for about six hours after I bragged about it on Facebook.  In the middle of the next night, the furnace suddenly sounded like a clothes dryer full of tennis shoes.  The recirc squirrel cage fan’s setscrews had decided to loosen up after 16 years and let the fan bounce around inside of its enclosure.


Fortunately, since the motor shaft was not chewed up, the fix appeared to be limited to re-torqueing the setscrews.

Well, that’s all that was physically needed.  Before reinstalling the assembly, the wires were hooked up, and the house thermostat was set to turn on the fan only.  No joy - there was no power in the wires.

Getting my voltmeter involved, the trail was found to end where this tale started - the recirc fan delay timer/contactor.  When I pushed just right on the newly crimped connector, the fan spun up like it was supposed to.  After verifying smooth operation, the fan assembly was reinstalled.

After popping the cover off the timer/contactor, I was about to look for a break in one of the foil traces on the printed circuit until I noticed how burned the contactor’s points were.  It was obviously time to replace the whole thing.

But of course, since I needed it now, no one in town had one in stock, and a new one had to come in on the train from Pixley.  Fortunately, with a little finagling, I was able to make the recirc fan spin 24-7.  This made the rest of the furnace’s sensors & circuits happy enough to provide heat when requested until the replacement part arrived.

The new part was a Factory-approved replacement for the now obsolete original part, and was not physically identical to the old one.  At first I thought some new/different connectors were going to be needed.


But the part ended up bolting & wiring up without incident.  The fan and furnace now work when each is supposed to regardless of me pushing or pulling on connectors.  Success has been declared since the furnace’s performance has been flawless for many days now.

In summary, there were two distinct failures, and one red herring.  The first fault was with the recirc fan delay timer/contactor.  Most likely, a tiny crack in a foil circuit trace developed, and was sensitive to temperature changes.  Crimping on the new connector, AKA the red herring, flexed the board enough to “fix” the problem for a short time.

The second fault, and one that was new to me, was the fan set screws loosening up after that many years.  But to have two disparate failures at the same time amazes me.

But my sweetie is now warm, and that makes everyone happy.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Quest For A Trombone Cleaning Rod

Within a few days of starting practice on my vintage trombone, I decided the slide was not moving as freely as it should.  A good cleaning & lube seemed to be the best starting point to clear up the issue.

Although I was familiar with the generalities of brass instrument cleaning from my trumpet-playing days, YouTube was checked just to see if trombones required any sort of special attention.  Sure enough, in addition to a cleaning snake, all videos reviewed followed up with the use of a Trombone Cleaning Rod.   This tool is roughly three feet long, and has an eye at the end for threading on some sort of absorbent material.  The inner & outer bores of the slide are then gently swabbed out with the rod.

The man behind the counter at the downtown music shop was able to sell me the cleaning snake and some slide lube.  But he did not have a cleaning rod, and allowed that, as a guitar player, he had no insight into why one was not in stock.  So I went home and with only the new snake & my mouthpiece brush from 30 years ago and cleaned what turned out to be a very dirty instrument.

While every music store on the Internet had one for sale, the shipping & handling charges were more the rod itself.  My preference was to source the tool locally.

A week or so later, I stopped at a brass instrument repair shop, and was surprised to find they did not keep the cleaning rod in stock either.  While the technician allowed that they had one in their shop, he said the only time it was used was when slides came in gooped with too much of a certain brand of slide cream.  He inclined that, for routine cleaning, he thought a snake was sufficient as long as slide cream was used in accordance with directions.

I then posted a question on a trombone forum asking for insight on the tool’s use.  Of course some people immediately replied “Get one & use it!” without elaboration.  Other members recalled having one, but did not necessarily know where it was.  Some people thought using the tool was worth the effort; others did not.

One guy, though, sent me a message expressing his belief that swabbing after brushing was important, and went on to explain how he had made the tool out of a 3/8-inch wood dowel.  Since I already had woodworking tools, and a dowel was only 98₵, this appeared to be the way to go.

Sadly, it was not meant to be.  The dowel was so close in size to the inner bore that I all but could not get a paper towel in.  The helpful forum member’s trombone must have had a bigger bore because he said he used the modified dowel with patches of old sweat clothes.

Looking around the shop, I found an old brass welding rod.  But milling a slot in the end was going to be an issue.

Then I remembered another fellow posting that he used the rod that came with his shotgun cleaning kit.  Hey! I’ve got one of those!

While the aluminum rod was only slightly smaller than than the dowel, the screw-on plastic tip was notably smaller.

It worked out perfectly for holding on to a swatch of paper towel.

The inner bores both swabbed out clean.

The outer bores both had a tinge of green.  Can’t say I’m surprised because the first time the ‘bone was washed, big cylindrically-shaped chucks of green/black slime washed out.  And, I was careful to not push the snake too far into the end curve.

Out of curiosity, the outer slides were then swabbed with denatured alcohol to see if any additional coloring came out.  Not enough came out that I think a solvent is needed on a routine basis.

Afterwards, the slide was lubed with a fantastically small amount of Superslick, and then spritzed with water.

The jury’s still out as the whether or not the swabbing helped.  But I will most likely do it at least one more time to see if any more green comes out of the outer slide.