Entries from November 2009 ↓

Calendar Widget

I just noticed that the calendar widget on the lower left of this blog has some days in bold numbers and a greyed-out background.

It appears that those days are ones on which new posts were added to this blog.

Yeah, I know, is that really useful?

Useful or not, it think it is cool.

Sony DVD Player

I believe this DVD player was the first ever to be introduced to the market. I know it is at least 10 years old. Maybe older. My recolections about this device stop at ten years.

It was a joint Christmas present from our children. All three of the offspring pooled their resources to buy this thing for us as Sony was very proud of the product. As I recall it came in at around $300.

Last month it stopped working. It lost the ability to recognize discs. It kept tellin us there was no disc present when we loaded a DVD into it. Hey, I wonder if the DVD fairy turned it into a politician.

Last night I finally decided it was time to look inside this high dollar bit of technology and see if its brains had fallen out.

It turned out to be the spindle motor. The spindle motor had quit turning. Luckily it just had a stuck shaft. Dust, dirt, bubble gum? I did not find anything to clean out. I got it turning again by pushing on the spindle with my finger. One gentle push and it was off and running. Maybe it was just asleep or tired.

I ran a couple of DVDs through it. Let it run all night with the cover off. Both covers. The case cover as well as the drive cover. Big sign on the drive cover cautioned about looking directly into the laser. I was suprized to find it had a visible red laser. I was also surprised to find the little red dot started out at the center of the spindle and moved outward. I had always thought the head read from the outside to the center.

The drive is not all that happy with the top cover off. Seems the top cover contains a spindle tamer that helps stabilise the disc when it spins. With the cover off the disc sort of wobbles a bit before it finally gets up to speed. The important thing is that it works with the cover on or off.

Now the player is all back together and sitting, ready for use, in the console in the den. Hoping it will last at least as long as our DVDs last. No blue-ray here. Way to soon to get involved in another ‘Beta VS VHS’ like controversy. Besides, we don’t have another $300 to throw at blue-ray.

Computer Problem Solved

It is solved at least for now. This entire mess is occuring on a Dell Dimension E521. Overall this is a good computer. A decent machine. Like most newer computers this thing has built-in Ethernet, video, and sound. Currently all three of these features are disabled. Six months ago we disabled the sound. It quit working. We replaced it with a common PCI sound card.

It worked for about six months.

This computer is used primarily as a PVR. We record shows off cable, off air, and off anywhere we can get sound and video information of interest including surveilance cameras. For the most part this thing runs quiet. No sound even though it is equipped with an excellent pair of amplified speakers.

When we replaced the on board sound with an external card we noticed a slight reduction in sound quality. The reduction was not pronounced but it did have a different ring to it.

Five months later we noticed that the picture on the capture card was no longer ‘real time’. It never was real ‘real time’ but now it looked like it was way past time. Picture was several minutes behind the real video action.

The recodings were still good so we did not investigate the new problem. As time passed we began to suspect that we were once again getting screwed by windows again.

This week we needed to use the sound feature of the effected machine. No sound. Dead. Not breathing not moving not a peep.

Getting down to basics we replaced the sound card with the last SB live card we had for PCI. Turns out that windows XP is pretty good at installing new hardware on the fly. Five seconds after installation we were back up and running with full sound. Good sound too. The funny scratchy sound with the old card was gone now.

Also gone was the lagging video display. The Hauppaque video capture card was now performing as it should once more.

I just hope we are not doing something that is shelling out sound cards. Those cards do interface with the outside world in a most direct way. Plug in the wrong device into the right socket or vice-versa and you may be looking for another sound card.

The Price of 12 extra feet

I recently sanded and painted my auxilliary tilt over mast. This started out as my first and original tilt over mast about 30 years ago. Yeah, we have been in the same place for over 30 years! We like it here.

The original mast became an auxilliary when the neighbors tree got large enough to interfere with the masts function. When you can’t tilt the mast up and down without the tree branches shredding your antenna, it takes all the fun out of having a tiltover feature.

This thing was designed to tilt over toward the north. If it were not for the air-conditioning unit sitting on a concrete slab next to the base of the mast, I could make the thing tilt over toward the south.

Naw, that would mean I have to screw with moving the condenser unit. I could do that. I could even make a new concrete base for the thing. I could also end up chasing freon leaks for the next ten years.

Come to think of it, that thing does not need to be sitting all the way on the east side of the house where no one can see it (or hear it). I could move it to the patio. Shorter pluming to the A-coil, less of a cable run for electrical power, and the thing would be sitting in the shade for most of the day.

Naw, maybe in an other life I can do that. Right now I don’t need to be looking for work I don’t have time, money, or energy to do.

I can still put up beams at the 30 foot level and miss the tree but anything higher gets shredded unless it is just plain mast extention or vertical or J-pole. (I guess a J-pole is a vertical.)

No, I have not discussed the tree with my neighbor. He is hard of hearing. Just like my mother-in-law. The heaing impared sometimes take advantage of their handicap by becoming selectively hearing impared.

I am sure my neighbor would not be interested in selecting which limbs to cut and how far up to prune an otherwise beautiful 50 year old oak. Besides I am not interested in spoiling the looks of the tree either. That is why I put up a new tiltover mast 20 years ago.

Still, it is difficult not to try using the aux mast.

This weekend I decided that in addition to the sanding and painting, I would look into making this mast tall enough to support a full sized full wavelength 80 meter delta loop.

Well, the best I could do was 57 feet. I really needed 65 feet but that additional 8 feet was going to kill this project for sure. Even 57 feet turned out to be spooky tall.

The original, drill stem, tiltover topped out at 34 feet. I added another 11 foot section of steel pipe to that a few years ago. This time I added another 12 feet of light weight aluminum tubing salvaged from an old beam.

I get dizzy when I climb up on the roof, but now I get dizzy just looking up at the new mast. Standing on the roof looking up at it is a real thrill. Reminds me of six flags.

It was hell getting it to clear the oak tree. I had a helper crank the winch to raise the mast while I was up on the roof pulling the mast horizontally against its hinge pin to angle it out from under the lower hanging branches.

I guess God heard my four letter prayer because the thing finally pulled free and started up. It looked like the top was bent a little but that just turned out to be a slight bow due to the weight of 140 feet of old coax that I was going to use in place of wire.

Turns out the coax was too heavy. It also turned out that the clever way I installed a pulley at the top to allow the wire/coax to run freely ended up tangling the wire. After fighting the tree for half an hour getting the mast raised, I was not about to let it down to free a tangle that might occur on raising it again.

It was only 57 feet up but even with glasses I could not see what the problem was up at the top where the wire refused to co-operate. I even took digital pictures at telephoto zoom and zoomed them some more on the computer. Sure enough, it was tangled, but not enough detail to suggest how to untangle it.

Luckily I had added a second pulley and halyard at the very top just below my failed cable installation. Reluctantly I let the 140 feet of cable run off the top pulley, deciding to use the halyard to raise a more conventional (and much lighter) section of wire.

As soon as the cable cleared the pulley, the mast snapped up straight. Even with only one guy pullin it back from the house. The project now looked to have some promise. Guess maybe I will have to find some other use for 140 feet of old coax.

Now I have to measure some antenna wire. I have been tempted to measure off ten foot sections of the garage floor to make wire measuring easier, just never did it. It always made more sense to measure the wire directly.

Well, I already know that I don’t have enough room to accomodate 270 feet of antenna in a delta triangle fashion, and I am going to use an antenna tuner anyway, so getting an accurate measurement is not critical. Besides, it will be fun to learn to use the dip meter again. Antenna tuner or not, I still would like to know where this thing is going to resonate.

I am pretty sure I can take care of at least 200 feet of wire in a triangular fasion. The other 70 feet will be made up of a wide spaced spread of two paralled runs of 35 foot of wire going to the top of the tower portion of my main tiltover.

I am doing pretty much the same thing with my horizontal loop now and it works just fine. I am hoping the new loop will work even better.

ZZ Wave Net antenna

I found this on the internet. ZZ Wave Net. This is a dual band loop antenna covering 80 and 40 meters.

I have been using a horizontal loop at 30 feet for over a year now and also have experience with a 40 meter delta loop. The 40 meter delta loop was an effective DX antenna but was taken down in favor of a bobtail. The bobtail is a two wire (vertical wires) bobtail so it is not as good as a real bobtail but it is better than the delta loop.

I am hoping that the ZZ will be better than the horizonatl loop. It will certainly solve some logistic problems. The horizontal loop gets in the way of the tiltover tower. So the loop has to be taken down for the tower to tilt over. If the ZZ can replace the horizontal loop it will solve the tower tilt over problem.

The ZZ takes a 65 foot tower. The best I can do is 57 feet. That is to the tippy top part of my auxilliary tilt over mast. The only thing this mast will be supporting is the ZZ loop. The last 12 feet of this tower is one inch aluminum tubing salvaged from an old beam that lost an argument with a tornado.

I figure I can make up for the lack of height by moving the end supports further appart. Got plenty of room to expand to the SE but not sure about the NW. If problems arrise we will linear load the thing until it fits the space allowed.

I probably should have added the following as a comment but here goes anyway.

I finally got the antenna up and running. It is running along with the horizontal loop. I left the horizontal loop up for comparison. Both antennas are tuned to the same part of the 75 meter band. One with a homebrew tuner, the other with an old KW transmatch. Antennas selectable through a large rotary switch. This setup provides instant comparison.

I have been playing around with these two loops on receive only so far. It appears that the new loop is about two S units better on receive on some stations with no effect on others.

I had originally intended to use some surplus RG-62 coax for wire. The coax turned out to be too heavy for the mast. The upper 12 feet of the mast is one inch aluminum tubing and was too weak to really support the weight of 140 feet of coax cable. It was replaced with normal stranded antenna wire which worked fine.

The lower part of the loop is supported by the 2.5 inch pipe section of the mast and coax worked out fine for that run.

Final dimensions were a height of 56 feet with the ends at 9 feet. I had to build a support out of cedar 4x4s to elevate the SE end to 9 feet. The antenna is just like the ZZ Wave Net but installed 9 feet lower than recommended.

This morning (Nov 29, 2009) I had my first schedule with my usual buddy on 75 meters. The new antenna is working fine. The old loop gets me an S7 or so but the new loop gets me 10db over nine.

He was amazed at the difference between the two antennas.

Just finished taking down the old horizontal loop. Don’t need an S7 signal when I can get 10over9 on the new loop.

Camry Transaxle Repair

This was more of a replacement than repair of a 1995 LE.

Parts were obtained on-line from a wholesale parts vendor.

The drivers side was done first.

Remove the axle nut that holds the wheel hub to the wheel side of the old transaxle. This nut is visible after the hub cap is removed. This nut has a skirt and a cotterpin through the axle shaft. Remove the cotter pin and skirt.

I used a 30mm impact socket I had purchased at a NAPA store some years ago. This half inch drive socket was used with a half inch drive breaker bar to remove the nut. The nut and axle was treated with WD-40 and penetrating oil the day before attempting to remove the nut. After standing on the end of the breaker bar handle, using the car fender for ballance, and jumping up and down on the handle a dozen times, the nut finally came loose.

The passenger side was just even more difficult. It took a 10 foot section of pipe acting as a cheater bar on the breaker bar to loosen the nut.

If you decide to do this job youself, attempt to remove the axel nuts before you order parts. If you can’t get the axle nuts off, you will need to have the work done at an automotive shop.

CAUTION: Do not attempt to remove the axle nuts if the wheel has been removed. Trying to do that will severely damage the transmission. You need the friction of the tire against pavement and the weight of the car on the tire to act against the pull of the wrench.

Yes, you can save about $250 per axle if you do it yourself but that assumes you can complete the job. Parts cost about $170 for both driver and passenger side axles. Replacement of both sides at an automotive shop will run around $500. If you buy the parts and then find you can’t do the work, it may cost you $670.

Jack up the car as though changing the front tire. Raise it up a little higher than normal so you can put a jack stand under the car at the point where you used the jack. Take the stress off the lifting jack but leave it in place.

Next you have to remove the wheel. Place the wheel under the front end of the car so that if it should slip off jack stand and jack, the tire will cushion its fall.

You might get by with leaving the disk brake caliper in place but to be on the safe side I removed it. It is held on by two bolts. Use wire to support the caliper out of the way. Don’t stress the hydraulic hose and don’t disconnect the hydraulic hose.

This would be an excellent time to replace disk brake pads.

Remove the two nuts and bolt holding the lower ball joint bracket to the frame support. Use a jack to raise the wheel bearing hub against the strut so you can let the ball joint bracket studs clear their mounting holes. Then swing the wheel hub assembly out and away from the ball bearing frame support.

The axle shaft is splined and fits into splines in the wheel hub assembly. These parts may be stuck due to rust or corrosioin. Re-install the wheel nut backwards on the shaft and try to disloge the shaft with a mallet. The nut protects the shaft. The shafts might be rebuildable. The nut is not reusable. If this does not work, you will need to use a wheel puller to remove the shaft from the hub.

If you have not yet done so, drain the transmission of oil. If the car is old enough to do this repair, it is also old enough to have a transmission fluid change. Dexron-II Otherwise you may have the fluid leak out when you pull the axles.

Remember we are working on the driver side of the car for now. On this side the transaxle shaft is held into the tranmission with a C-ring mounted into a groove in the transmission end of the shaft assembly. Removal is done by leveraging the shaft hub against the transmission case with a screwdriver or crowbar and giving it a yank.

It did not come out, did it? There is not enough room to work under the car and there is not enough area on the axle hub to get a good hold. Besides, you don’t want to bring the car down on your head.

I ended up buying a 5 lb slide hammer to help the situation. Turns out it was close to worthless in the removal but made installation easy.

I ended up making a tool out of angle iron. I used a grinder to profile the angle iron to fit the curvature of the axle hub. The axle hub has grooves that act as stops for a clamp made from the angle iron. I used all thread stock and appropriate nuts to fit the all thread to make fasteners for each side of the angle iron clamps so that I could securely clamp the tool around the hub. Then I used a crowbar brought in from the front of the car, placed it between the transmission case housing and the angle iron tool and removed the axle with one snap. When you have two solid surfaces to brace against, you don’t need much room to accomplish this task.

Getting the new axle installed was just as much fun. Supposedly you can just slam the transmission end of the axle home and it will seat. My axle just kept bouncing back out of the mounting.

I finally ended up using my homemade clamping tool again. I cut a groove into the end of a one inch pipe. This grooved end was fitted into the center of the angle iron tool. The 5 lb slide hammer was placed at the far end of the pipe. Several good smacks later and the shaft had seated. I am pretty sure it was seated because I could not pull it out.

Now you thread the wheel end of the shaft through the wheel hub and manhandle the assembly back into place so you can re-install the bolt and nuts holding the lower ball joint.

Almost done now with this side. Reinstall the brake caliper and wheel. Torque the nut to spec. Install the nut retainer and cotter pin. Go do the passenger side.

The wheel end of the passenger side axle is the same as the driver side. The transmission side is completely different. This side uses an intermediate bearing, bolt and retaining ring to keep the shaft in place at the transmission. This bearing may freeze into its housing, complicating service. The bracket holding this bearing may need to be removed if this should happen. Not sure how complicated bracket removal might be. It looks like the same bracket holds the engine to the frame.

In my case the bearing came out easily after the retaining ring was removed. My car used a retaining ring that was formed from a section of square wire. It had one inch ears at its ends. It was very easy to compress the ring by using pliers to squeese the ears together and allow the ring to dislodge.

The replacement shaft was equipped with a standard C-clip that had been pressed out of sheet steel. These conventional clips have ears that have holes to accomodate C-ring pliers. That works great in cases where you can get c-ring pliers to compress and hold the ring for removal and installation. This is NOT one of those situations. There is not enough room between the bearing housing and the CV bearing case to use snap-ring pliers.

I discarded the newly provided snap-ring and reused the old snap-ring.

Installation is a matter of inserting the shaft into the transmission, seating the intermediate bearing, and installing the retaining ring. The bearing housing also has a screw extending below it. This screw should be torqued to 24 foot-lbs but it is not sufficient to retain the shaft. Without the retaining ring, the shaft will pull out of the transmission.

The easiest way to install the retaining ring is to compress the ears with locking pliers. Grasp the very ends of the ears and compress them until they are closed tightly against eachother. This is with the ring in place around the shaft. Now carefully pass the transmission end of the shaft through the bearing mount and into the transmission. Push the shaft in firmly, rotate back and forth to make sure it is seated and engaged. Now very carefully move the compressed ring with the locking pliers in place to the milled out area on the upper left side of the bearing mount. Ensure that ring is flush against the bearing all the way around and release the locking pliers to let the ring expand and seat in the groove provided in the mount.

Reinstall the lower ball joint mount. It is not as easy as it sounds, is it? Before you put the ball joint mount back you have to thread the wheel side of the axle through the axle hub. Depending on how much ‘bounce’ is left in your strut this can be a little tricky. You need to jack up the bottom of the ball joint and when you try that the ball joint/wheel hub/strut assembly will have a tendancy to move away from its destination.

I finally had to use my trusty come-a-long. One end fixed to the car frame on the drivers side and the other end hooked to the brake caliper mounting hole. Now the ball joint mount could be jacked without risking damage to the drive shaft.

I did not have as much trouble with the drivers side axle replacement. Perhaps the strut on that side was weaker.

Once the ball joint mount was installed the brake caliper needed to be reinstalled. Turns out the brake shoe was worn down to the point where it would not seat properly in the caliper. New shoes were bought and installed on both sides. If you have more than 10k miles on your brake shoes, plan on replacing them as a matter of fact.

Everything was put back together, fluid levels topped off, and the car test driven. The only problem was a leak at the drivers side transaxle where the axle enters the transmission. I suspect that I need to remove the drivers side axle again, pull the old seal, install a new seal, and reinstall the axle with a new retainer ring.

That probably will not happen this week or even next week.

So, moral of this mess is that if you decide to replace the transaxles, plan on doing the brakes, and replacing the transaxle seals at the same time. Might as well throw in an oil change too. You are going to get dirty rolling around on the concrete beneath the car, might as well get as much use out of the inconvenience as possible.

So, did we save $250 per axle? Perhaps only half that since we still have to fix the oil leak on the drivers side but we also saved $70 bucks on a brake job (front discs only) and $20 bucks on an oil change.

Hint: Don’t go to a car parts place to buy oil, go to Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart has decent prices on gasoline too.