Archive for February 2009

BillBoards and BillBords

February 27, 2009

We do not like to travel but every now and then it cannot be avoided. Our last ‘now and then’ occurred last weekend. We are always glad to arrive at our destination. We are always glad to get back. What we don’t like is the actual traveling. It is boring. Especially when it is the same old route we always take to the same old place.

On this last trip I amused myself by reading the billboards. At least some of them anyway. One that caught my eye was an ad from a builder claiming ‘we build houses the way you want’.

When you are bored, you have time to think. As I thought about what I had read, I began to wonder what sort of company would say something so insane.

How many people hire builders who don’t build houses the way they want? Why would a builder even consider it necessary to make such an insane comment?

Have they not heard of architects? Maybe not. Perhaps they are a bunch of farmers who have experience at building barns. Barns, houses, only difference is a few more windows in houses. We can do that. Heck it will save money on wall material. Yeah, lets tell people we build houses too.

I don’t remember the builders name but I am sure going to be on the lookout for folk that claim to build stuff the way I want. They have no idea.

While on the subject of billboards, I could not help but chuckle at one looking for someone to advertise on their billboard. The billboard reads something like, ‘Does billboard advertising work, just did.’ That false assumption is followed by a phone number.

Now if I were advertising on a billboard, I would want to get people to call the phone number I provide in the ad. When they do, that is when billboard advertising works. Billboard advertising does not work for people drawing false conclusions. It didn’t ‘just work’ because I did not call the number.

In fact, even if I were in the market to put an ad on a billboard, I would not call that one because his advertising approach is moronic.

Automobile, tires, pressure, and maintenance

February 21, 2009

Our old Camrey was purchased used some time ago. It was equipped with a matched set of goodyear radials. They wore well and when they were close to worn out we decided to replace them with the same brand and type of tire. We went to the goodyear store in Plano and bought two radials at $100 each installed. That was all we could afford at the time. The other two tires were not as badly worn and could wait.

About two months later one of the new tires went flat due to a nail puncture. We had it repaired. The repair shop installed a plug in the hole. Two months later that tire flew apart at highway speeds. We took it back to the goodyear place expecting some sort of adjustment since it had less than 5,000 miles on it. They claimed it failed because of the plug and refused to credit us for premature failure. We foolishly bought another tire from them.

Two months later another of the new goodyear tires flew apart at highway speeds. We saved the tire for nearly a year thinking to confront the goodyear people with it but never did.

Life is just too short to waste time arguing with an uncooperative vendor who seems to be selling defective tires. Maybe they were seconds or blems. Perhaps goodyear was just having a bad year, but at $100 bucks a tire I had reason to expect better performance. We never did go back there and would not buy anything made by goodyear ever again.

We ended up replacing the defective goodyear tire with a michelin bought at the local discount tire place. We expected to replace the rest of the tires with michelin as well depending on how well the michelin performed. The michelin never blew up but require weekly attention to air pressure. It had a slow leak. We never did go back to get the other three tires replaced with michelins. I guess the prospect of ending up with four leaky michelins just did not appeal to me.

Some would say we should have gone back to have the leaky tire taken care of. Maybe so, but I find it nearly impossible to allow a place that caused a problem the opportunity to fix the problem. It usually takes more skill to fix a problem than it takes to do the job right in the first place. Vendors who botch a job demonstrate a lack of skill or ability that makes them ineligible to correct the misdeed. A botched job makes the customer loose faith in the vendor to the point that he no longer trusts them to do the right thing. Most reasonable people would not willingly go back to get screwed a second time.

So we did not go back. At least not until we felt we needed to have our tires balanced. That cost us two hours and $30 at the friendly discount tire place. It should have taken 30 minutes and would have if the sales guy had done what I wanted done instead of tying to sell me a set of overpriced tires I did not need. I guess the last straw was the mail-in rebate. Won’t be going back there ever again. That balance job lasted about three months.

We finally got to the point where we needed four new tires before we could risk taking a trip longer than 20 miles. We had a mismatched set of nearly bald tires that needed constant monitoring of pressure to ensure they were not going flat. The only really good tire was the michelin and it was showing signs of uneven wear and had trouble staying inflated.

On our next trip to Sam’s we decided to try their tire service while we shopped. We bought two dunlop tires, had them installed and the car was ready to go when we checked out after shopping. A month later we got another two dunlop tires at Sam’s the same way. The tires cost $50 each with installation and have been in use for over six months now.

Yesterday I checked tire pressure all around in preparation for a trip. All tires were at exactly 30lbs where they had been the last time I checked them almost four weeks ago. I think we have finally found a vendor who puts quality and service above B.S.

The money we saved by buying the tires at Sam’s more than pays for the Sam’s membership and Sam’s has the best prices in town for everything from gasoline to hot dogs. You can also get your tires balanced for only $15. Free balancing if you buy your tires there.

DVD Labeling

February 20, 2009

We have quite a collection of CDs and DVDs. Every since they became affordable we have been using them in place of floppy disks for storing data, audio, and video. They work for backing up small hard drives too.

When you have more than one disk you need to identify it. Label it.

There are several methods of labeling that provide professional results. Perhaps the most professional is the Lightscribe system. This takes a specially equipped CD/DVD writer and uses its laser to ‘write’ to the flip side of the CD/DVD leaving a visible etching identifying the disk. This takes a special drive and (I believe) special disks. Costs money. Not sure how much but if you do as many disks as we do, even a dime would have a significant effect.

A second way to identify is to use stick-on labels. First you print the label on an inkjet (most economical) or laser printer then you apply the label to the disk using a fixture to align the disk with the label. Works fine but has some limitations. CDs are not effected by paper labels, but DVDs can be damaged by paper labels. Evidently the higher density of data on a DVD combined with the higher temperatures inside DVD drives tends to play havoc with adhesives and paper that has a different coefficient of expansion with heat than the disk. In other words, you have to use special vinyl labels on DVD disks. Special meaning expensive.

After you put all that together, buy all the supplies (about 20 bucks for 50 labels, 50 bucks for inkjet cartridges), design the labels, then finally print and apply them to the disk, you are looking at a significant amount of investment in time and money.

You ask yourself, ‘is this trip really necessary?’ The answer is NO.
Save your money and time. Invest in a two dollar laundry marker, a sharpie works well, and learn penmanship.

Fancy labels are marketing tools. As long as you are not trying to sell your disks, you don’t need fancy labels, just legible identification.

Cheap Computers

February 19, 2009

I just found a 10 bay computer case with 480 watt power supply for around $30. Last week I bought a pentium 4 MB with IDE and SATA and USB for $40. PC-3200 memory for the MB is going cost around $30 for a 1gig stick. Probably want a DVD drive that reads AND writes. That is another $20. Keyboard at $10 and mouse at $5. Oh, and a harddrive at about $50.

MB has on board video, sound, nic, usb, sata, and ide. So that is it, a basic computer for….lets see…30+40+30+20+10+5+50..= $185 total.

Or you can buy a basic X-Box for close to the same price.

Oops, I forgot the CPU. Wonder what a 1.8gig pentium 4 sells for?

Ah-ha, Intel Pentium 4 at 2 gig, refurbished, sells for $11.50 bringing our total to $196.50.

That is less than I paid for two 8k memory boards for my S-100 CPM system in 1980!!

Of course before we put our money down we might want to see what ‘refurbished’ means. We might also want to consider the cost of a monitor. Hard to tell what is going on without a display. If we are willing to settle for a CRT based monitor we might get one for free. Anyone for dumpster diving?

Rats, I forgot the operating system. Well, Debian Etch would do a bang-up job for free. I hear they just release Debian 5.0 too.
Or we can go with XP but that is going to add another $200 plus to our $196.50. No, you don’t want Vista. Not enough hardware of the right kind (expensive) in this deal. Actually, you don’t need Vista but I can see where most users would be more comfortable using XP. So our final cost is going to be around $400. Buy this stuff on the internet from the Geeks and you can avoid paying tax in the purchase. Shipping is going to be around $20 or so.

Drake Case and Cover Screws

February 18, 2009

Now that I am completely done with the upgrades, mods and repair on both the R4C and T4XC, I figured it was time to install the screws connecting the bottom cover and top covers to the main chassis of each piece of equipment.

Takes #6-32 pan head, black oxide, plain slot, machine screws that are 1/4 to 3/8 inch long. Need 24 of them, 12 per radio.

I found lots of screws on the internet (pun intended). One outfit had the exact type of machine screw needed and was willing to sell in box lot quantities. Trouble was their ‘boxes’ held 10,000 screws and cost over $100. Not a prudent solution.

After a search of the ‘junk box’ I did find several dozen nickle plated, phillips head, 6-32 machine screws of sufficient length to do the job. They are now doing the job.

Not original but they actually look better. At least now you can tell if the screw is installed because they show up very clearly with their bright silver finish.

All I need to do now is find spares for the tubes used in these two radios and I will be set for quite some time to come.


February 18, 2009

I saw this modification on the web somewhere but don’t remember exactly where. Google on T4XC AM Mod and see what you get.

The mod is a simple matter of replacing the 220 ohm cathode resistor on the 6AU6 am modulator with a 1K pot. Then the 1K pot is adjusted to give 20 to 30 watts carrier output with the transmitter in AM mode and keyed on the air via the microphone.

Why do I need this? My thought exactly. I had always known that the T4XC had an AM function but why bother with it when it has such a good SSB feature?

I probably still will not bother with the AM function but this mod makes the AM function much more functional. You see the transmitter goes to ‘controlled carrier’ mode when doing AM. Carrier output is only about 10 watts or so when unmodulated in AM mode (dead mike). Power out increases when you talk up the mike but for those periods of silence between sentences the signal appears to disappear as the power level goes to QRP.

So, by increasing the bias resistor value from 220 ohms we can get more carrier output with a dead mike and the signal does not disappear as much. Carrier output increases to 25 to 30 watts. You could probably get more but it makes it hard on the finals.

The mod has you installing a 1K pot in one of the extra phono jack holes on the rear apron of the transmitter. After I figured out my pot would not fit such a small hole, I used a small PCB mount trim pot soldered to heavy wire extensions from pins 2 and 7 of the 6AU6 socket.

While working on the socket trying to remove the wires and one resistor lead off pin 2, I ended up breaking off the solder lug part of the tube socket pin. While it is not impossible to replace the socket, it is a major undertaking that I was not interested in undertaking. I ended up removing a pin from a surplus 9 pin socket and inserting it in place of the broken pin. I pushed the new pin down into the socket with the 6AU6. It worked and the wires and resistor were far easier to remove off the broken pin now that it was out of the radio.

Once the pot is installed, you tune up the transmitter for max power out in the tune position, switch it to AM making sure the SSB switch is in the XLSB position, and monitor your power out while adjusting the new pot. I set mine to output about 30 watts. Have not tried it on the air yet but it sounds okay on the receiver. Then it sounded okay before the mod too.

One last thing about the mod. You don’t need to leave the pot installed. Measure the resistance of the pot after the adjustment and replace the pot with a fixed resistor of that value. Note that the original 220 ohm cathode resistor is left with one end remaining soldered to pin 7 just in case someone wants to remove the mod and return the transmitter to stock condition. I figure if it is a mod worth doing, it is a mod worth keeping. Still, my T4XC now has an extra unused 220 ohm resistor hanging off pin 7 of the 6AU6 socket.

FEDX Tracking

February 17, 2009

I have never, personally, taken anything to the FEDX place to ship so I do not know if they charge extra for ‘tracking’. If they do, don’t waste your dime on their nonsense.

I have shipped things UPS and they really DO track stuff. At least their tracking system is set up to make you think that stuff is being tracked. That they know where it was 12 hours ago judging by the claims of having scanned the bar code on the package at specific locations.

FEDX does not seem to have that presence. They give you you a confirmation that it was shipped. They give you a delivery date. That is it. This has happened to me on five packages that were shipped via FEDX ground during the last six months. One of the shipments was delayed. When it missed the scheduled delivery date, they merely pushed the date out by a couple of days. Even then it was only done after the original delivery date had been missed by more than a day.

FEDX also has an email message service that sends you messages regarding the status of your package. I tried that on a most recent shipment and I did get an email message. The contents verified the day the stuff was shipped and gave me a delivery date. This is not tracking! I already knew that it had been shipped and should be delivered in five days from the ship date. There was no information in the message that was new. A complete waste of time and effort. This is the same sort of ‘tracking’ nonsense that USPS offers.

Then I began to dwell on the need for tracking and discovered that other than knowing when the package was to arrive, I did not care where it was otherwise. As long as it was delivered in good condition and on time I could care less where the delivery vehicle was located. Why? Because there is nothing you can do about it anyway.

So, you see, tracking is really worthless except as a marketing trick. ‘We have tracking’ So what!? We should be more interested in if they can deliver the package on time and in good condition because that is what really counts.

The next time you are in the post office and they ask you if you want to pay for tracking and delivery confirmation, ask them why you would need that. Will it get my package to its destination faster and safer? Same goes for UPS and FEDx.

Don’t pay for useless services or services you don’t need.