I Don’t Think

Those three words instantly disqualify the speaker from expecting any respect, credibility, or attention.

DC Power Distribution

This device is a plug-strip to provide power to devices requiring 12 volt DC power at up to 30 amps.

Such a plug-strip is available commercially but it is somewhat pricey at around $100. I had better things needing my $100 so I built my own plug-strip for about $20 worth of parts.

My plug-strip provides two groups of four 30 amp connectors per group. Each group is protected with a single in-line fuse. One group is powered from an old PS-30 power supply. The other group of four gets its power from a battery that is kept charged by a 100 watt solar cell.

The 8 connectors are held in a groove cut into a block of redwood. holes drilled through the wood block allow the wires to extend to the back of the wood block for termination.

The connectors are glued into the groove using epoxy. Epoxy is also used to glue a sheet of aluminum to the top of the wood block. The aluminum extends past the ends of the block and has holes drilled in the extensions to mount the plug-strip to the underside of a shelf.

Power comes into the block from behind through the in-line fuses. The wires are soldered to the mass terminations formed by the connections from the individual power connectors.

Make sure the connectors are working properly before being glued into the wood block. The silver plated tongue of the connector must be inserted far enough to engage the the metal leaf spring in the bottom of the connector housing. Otherwise the act of inserting the mating connector will push the tongue back into the housing an break the electrical contact.

Insulate all terminations with heat shrink or electrical tape. All interconnects need to be soldered.

I saw no need to fuse each plug-strip location individually but it could be done that way if you want. Just buy six more in-line fuses and holders.

Note that the fuses protect the battery and power supply. They are not designed to provide protection to devices plugged into the plug-strip.

Light/Dark Activated Switch

These are switches used to turn on lights at dusk and turn them off again at sunrise. Generally, a light sensitive device like a photocell, optical sensor of some sort is ties to an opamp comparator which energizes a relay to switch on the lights. A less sophisticated approach might be a simple mechanical timer. The timer does not need to sense light levels.

An even simpler solution is to use a low voltage mechanical relay energized by a solar panel. This approach assumes that a solar panel system is already in place. Even a 5 watt panel can develop enough power to energize a 5 volt, 150ma relay without significantly effecting its ability to provide useful electrical power.

For the solar panel solution to work reliably the relay needs to be sensitive enough to energise even on a cloudy day or the lights will stay on. Also, the relay needs to provide both normally open and normally closed contacts. The idea is to allow the solar panel energy to turn ON the relay which turns OFF the lights.

To prevent the 18 volts from the panel from over powering the relay a series resistor and 5 volt zener across the relay will keep the relay coil at a maximum of 5 volts. A capacitor across the relay coil would introduce some hysteresis to prevent the relay from cycling on and off at certain light levels.

The rig is so good, it is used by DXpeditions

So goes the sales pitch for a well known amateur radio manufacturer. To be fair, that radio is superior to most. It is sensitive, selective and can be used in crowded RF environments. Why it can even resist blocking interference from a ham next door running full legal limit. Is that really what is needed on DXpeditions?

DXpeditions go to remote locations, are assigned rare call signs, and operate where they are the only radio signal for many miles around. They don’t need special super equipment to make contacts because hundreds of distant hams are going to be falling over themselves for contacts with their rare calls and distant locations. These DX enthusiasts will be using high power and directive antennas to push as much signal as possible toward the DXpedition. The DXpedition is not going to have any trouble hearing them. So what is the real reason DXpeditions prefer that particular radio?

Turns out that the company making the claim offers their radios to DXpeditions free of charge!


When I was actively engaged in my engineering profession we used to speculate, ‘How many ducks does it take to make a roll of ducktape’. Or, ‘How do you make a dapterduck?’.

Of course these were all Bushism bumpkin distortions of the very usefull DUCTTAPE.

Imagine my surprise to find that some fool company actually produces a product they call DUCKTAPE. You can buy it at Wallmart for about $4.00 a roll but it is only good for taping ducks.

Ducktape is super thin, does not stick to everything equally well, and is probably made in China from hazardous waste with child labor.

Real DUCTTAPE is much thicker, fiber reinforced, and sticks to everything. You won’t find it at Wallmart. You have to go to a bonified hardware store. We found our ducttape at Sam’s. I bet Bill’s or George’s, or Herkomer’s has it too. Or you might try Cosco or Lowes. Home depot might have it too but there you risk the chance of having to hire someone who insists on showing you how to use it.


I had been using the Thunderbird email program but recently started using sylpheed.

Sylpheed loads faster and handles spam a little better than Thunderbird. Better in this case means easier with less user attention required.

The fact that Thunderbird is slower in loading is disturbing. Evidently it is doing something it does not want the user to know about. So I quit using Thunderbird.


You may already know that reasonable cost factory radio repair does not exist. Read on for proof.

If your radio acts up or stops working and you can’t fix it yourself, your best bet is to sell it as an as-is non-working parts radio and buy a new one. Maybe, this time, select a brand that is less likely to fail.

Here is why this is your best option.

If your radio was made by one of the big three (ICOM, Yaesu, Kenwood), good luck. Even if you do get an rma chances are the radio will be shipped back to you with a note that they could not duplicate the problem. Of course you will be able to duplicate the problem and the rig will join the many offered for sale after just having been to the factory and serviced. You can compensate the round trip shipping and $100 evaluation fee with whatever some poor fool pays for your nightmare radio.

Why do they do this, you ask. Because you are one of thousands in a nich market of toy hobby radios. The manufacturers don’t make any money repairing. The make money selling. They also know you will most likely buy another of their radios since you have already demonstrated that you don’t have the ability to repair the one you have.

I know of two personal experiences with radio problems. One involved an Omni-D. It was sent to the factory for service. They replaced two electrolytics and a resistor. The repair charge was $250 plus round trip shipping. At the time the radio was worth $500. The total cost of the service came to close to $300. A sick Omni-D could very likely have fetched $250. Add that to the $300 that was wasted and you would have had half the price of a new and more capable rig.

The second horror story involves a portable rig that got fried by a power supply failure. it was sent to the factory for repair. The factory promised repair after five weeks due to a backlog. Less than a week after they received the radio, they called back and declared it unrepairable. They implied that there might be some surplus boards available to replace the bad ones in the radio but the boards in the original radio were beyond economical repair.

A few days later I got an email from their sales guy offering me a replacement radio for 75% the cost of a new one, or I could pay them for three hours of technician time at $100 an hour. No mention was made as to disposition of my broken radio but they did declare that the replacement radio was only warrated for six months.

My first inclination was tell them to stick it where the sun does not shine.

After I declined their offer, they offered to reassemble my busted radio for an additional $100. This was getting close to ass kicking time!!!

I ended up talking to someone in sales that had a brain. I explained that I had no problem paying a tech $100 an hour as long as he was worth $100 an hour. A person who takes 3 hours to conclude he cannot repair something is only worth $30 an hour.

So I ended up losing a total of $160 for round trip shipping and worthless tech help.

I also have a pretty good idea why the factory used radio only carried a 6 month warranty. They buy the boards from a board manufacturer (possibly off shore) who gives them a 12 month warranty. The boards in the radio they were offering me were already six months old hence the six month warranty.

This may also explain why this radio is available as a no-solder kit. The soldering is done in a reflow furnace by their board manufacturer. Surprisingly, the radio is also available as a factory assembled radio at $100 more than the ‘kit’ price.

I have no problems with the radio. It is/was superior in all respects. I do have a problem with the sort of nonsense their sales guy tried to pull. Having lost all respect for this manufacturer I look forward to not having to do business with them in the future.

UPS or USPS which is the better shipping solution

Companies in the business of shipping do not produce anything. They merely provide a service. At best they safely deliver a customer’s goods to a destination on time and at reasonable cost. At worst the lose or otherwise damage the shipment. Fortunately loses are rare.

Since there is no product that can be evaluated, comparisons between carriers rely on convenience, price, risk, credibility, reputation and other service related factors.

If you use UPS at a UPS Store you will be charged nearly twice what UPS would charge at their distribution hub. This was true when these stores were known as Mailboxes Etc. The situation did not change when the Mailboxes franchise went under and became ‘The UPS Store’.

Since the UPS hub is a 30 mile round trip drive for me, saving ten to twenty dollars on shipping may not be significant when you consider the convenience of the neighborhood UPS Store. However, the local post office is just as convenient. USPS priority mail costs less than UPS ground at the UPS hub and gets to the destination in half the time.

The post office requires a from and to address on the package and a disclosure of contents.

UPS requires from, to, telephone numbers and more. They enter all this into their database and print out a label with most of this information available to anyone reading the label. If you do this at the distribution hub, you will be required to enter this information on their computer yourself.

I already have a job. I did not come to work for UPS. I also don’t need to have unnecessary personal information stored on their unsecured computers. If the information on the shipping label I provided is not sufficient, maybe I need to ship elsewhere. It is never a good business policy to annoy the customer.

Both claim to have tracking. That is you can obtain information regarding the last checkpoint cleared by your package.

USPS tracking tells you the package has been shipped.

UPS tracking reports multiple locations as the package progresses but a recent experience has me doubting the validity of the information presented.

Recently I had a package shipped via UPS ground from California. It tracked all the way to Dallas and then was delayed three days due to bad weather. There was no bad weather in Dallas and I suspect there was no package in Dallas either.

Additionally UPS offers services that I consider unnecessary and dangerous. Recently they have offered a ‘redirection’ service. If your package is in transit you can change its delivery destination. I consider this a valuable tool enabling theft at all levels.

So which is better? I have used both. Both have worked without incident but USPS beats UPS on price, delivery speed, security risk and credibility.

I tried FEDEX a year ago. I placed a 40 lb. box of electronics on their counter and was asked how fast I wanted it delivered.

When a customer approaches a service provider, the customer gets to ask the questions. The most obvious first question is ‘how much is this going to cost me’.

I did not like their attitude and have not been back since.

Computer Turns Itself Off

Sometimes my computer problems are software related but most often they are caused by hardware problems.

Recently I experienced a problem where my desktop was turning itself off. This destop is somewhat a cludge. Its top is off and one of three drive ports contains two SSD disks, one for windows, the other for debian. The operating systems are selected by moving the data cable from one drive to the other. In order to accomplish this the drives have extra long cables to allow their mounting tray to be removed for access.

After accessing the drives the tray is pushed back into the computer. The last time this was done the longer cable got jammed against the blades of the CPU fan. When the CPU overheated, it would turn off the computer.

Solar Power

I have had a small 50 watt solar system up and running for about two years. It keeps a single 12 volt automotive 24F class battery charged. The system provides power to light and run a modest 2 meter ham station located in my bedroom closet. The station is on all the time monitoring the local repeater.

Recently I have been considering adding a more capable solar system to compliment the 1KW emergency gas generator in the generator hut.

My interest in solar was raised when I discovered 100 watt solar panels priced at under $150.

The solar panel is not the only thing you need to build a solar power system but at $1.50 a watt, it becomes competative with gas powered generators.

So I bought a single 100 watt solar panel. It has been cloudy for the last two days since the panel arrived but even with light overcas the panel produces 20volts open circuit and 2.5 amps lighting the large filament of an automobile brake light.

The final system will have four 100 watt panels connected in series to produce up to 80 volts. Provision will be made to route the 80 volts to a 1000 watt sine wave inverter. The inverter costs $100 and will provide over 300 watts of 120vac 60 cycle power when the sun shines.