Friday, March 16, 2018

E-Town (cont.)

I’m not sure how well it shows up in the snapshot but it’s snowing. Nothing is sticking but stills flurries. The mornings seems to start out nice and sunny but by mid-day, the clouds are back. We haven’t done any “touristing” as we are only here for a handful of days. By the time we get used to the time change, it’ll be time to head back to Alaska. Last night (Thursday) we did go to a regional food restaurant and had some Pennsylvania staples including a shared apple dumpling for dessert. No leaves on the trees, no spring flowers but at least most of the vegetation and grass is sort of green. Or at least a lot greener than back home.

Piaggio MP3
Photo from
We have been considering a Piaggio MP3 that a friend of ours has for sale. I was thinking of hauling it on the back of the 5th wheel but after looking at several carriers, the MP3 is probably too heavy. Between the carrier and the MP3, it would be over 700 pounds. That much weight hanging that far out behind the trailer wheels is just too much. It may even transfer too much weight off of the hitch to be safe. Unfortunate as I was looking forward to having something to ride while traveling. The same friend also has a scooter for sale so that may be another option.

And a short video of a player piano in the lobby of the assisted living facility.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


Monday evening and most of Tuesday was spent traveling. The flight from Seattle to Baltimore was delayed and we didn't arrive at the B&B until around 10:30pm but making the almost mandatory dinner stop at a Cracker Barrel added to the late arrival. We don't have any of these restaurants in AK and I think that there are only a couple in any of the western states.  BTW, the AllStays app claims that overnight RV parking is permitted on their lot. A good reason to stop there even if we aren’t traveling with an RV.

We are spending a couple of days here visiting family. It's not the warm, sunny destination usually associated with Spring Break. In fact, it's below freezing this morning and is only 5°F warmer than Fairbanks. Currently, there are little flakes falling...

Monday, March 12, 2018


It was yet another one of those days. Not only did we lose an hour of sleep due to this archaic practice called daylight savings time but there was this temperature to greet us in the morning. Not that I was planning on doing much of anything today anyway. In fact, I ended up just not feeling very well and taking some ibuprofen. I don't think the temperature had anything to do with it but it certainly didn't help.

I started to get ready for the morse code class which is going to be taught using Skype. I installed a ⅛” audio jack on the keyer so I can feed the output into a two channel mixer. The second audio input is a microphone so I can talk. The mixer is USB connected to the computer and the audio input is set to USB. I’ll need to test the set-up as the class begins around the beginning of April. This is the same setup that I used to record the session at the Internet2 meeting last October. The question is how well it works with that wonderful Microsoft product, Skype.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

More Snow...

The weather is looking grim again. This is the view just outside of where my office is at the university. BTW, the reason that I'm at the university today is that the truck was dropped off at the local dealer this morning for some recall work. Multiple recalls. The oldest one was from 2009. Two of them are automatic and the other two are dependant on their assessment. We'll see if any are done by the end of the day. It was convenient for the dealer shuttle to drop me off here than at home. Plus, I could still walk to coffee.

It turns out that they were able to do the two airbag recalls, parts had to be ordered for the steering linkage recall and the fourth one didn’t need to be done. After picking up the truck, I went to the Airhead get together at the Roundup Steakhouse. The best thing about this location is that it has a salad bar and very good service. It had stopped snowing by the time I headed home. More snow is forecast for later in the week...

Friday, March 2, 2018

Burying the Lead

Another slow week. Still too cold to ride much (-21°F yesterday, +2°F today). Lots of running around this week and needed to plow snow often for the first half of the week. Plus a followup visit was needed to the State of Alaska office as they typed my son's birthday into their system wrong and he was unable to do much of anything on their system. Surprisingly, the visit went very quickly and efficiently. The waiting room was almost empty and the person at the desk had no problem taking care of everything. I guess we just picked the wrong day last week as I was in and out in ten minutes.

The led conversion in our house continued. A couple of 40-watt halogen bulbs in pendant lights were replaced by 3-watt LED bulbs. Almost the same amount of light and the 4000K color was identical. The fluorescent tubes in the kitchen were replaced by LED tubes. The fixture needed to be rewired to remove the ballast. The new LED replacements were double ended so simply wire hot to the four tombstones on one end and neutral to the other end. Now, the kitchen is so bright that I may end up removing two of the tubes and use them in the utility room. Each tube is 18 watts and is equivalent to a 48-watt fluorescent. The picture shows the fixture without the oak cover and diffuser so you can see the LEDs that make up the bulb. In the whole house, we are down to two halogen bulbs. And one of them is the yard light. Do they make LED yard lights?

It's only March 1st and we are already getting 12 hours of light (i.e first light to last light on the figure). No one is looking forward to DST as that means it'll be dark in the morning again. At least for a while. The state government keeps saying that they will get rid of DST but the tourism industry seems to think that the tourists are too stupid to understand and will be confused and upset. I don't know. Maybe they're right...

But the highlight of the week was the Friday evening KL7KC amateur radio club meeting. Bob Heil, as in Heil Sound,  joined the meeting via Skype. He started with some history and explained how his whole audio career started with ham radio. In fact, it even states that in his permanent display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He is the only non-musician with a permanent display. It was a great presentation with no PowerPoint. Just off the cuff.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Any Excuse For a Ride

Clear skies generally mean cooler temperatures. I did tell myself not to ride when it's below 0°F but it was a pretty nice afternoon. Now that I'm retired, there really isn't anywhere that I "have" to be so finding somewhere to ride now seems to be a challenge. After cleaning out the refrigerator, there was now something that I "had" to do. Throw out the garbage and not just to the trash can in the garage. Ah ha, a riding opportunity.

We had gotten a bit of snow over the last couple of days and riding proved to be a bit more challenging than usual. The snow was deep enough on even the main paved road that 2WD was needed. 2WD has only occasionally been needed getting up the driveway and maybe getting up our subdivision road. This week was the first time it was needed on the main road. The snow berm running down the middle was over a foot and it neede to be approached at right angles and some momentum to blast through it and not get hung up. Any excuse for a ride.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

More Snow in the Forecast

Sunrise this morning was at 8:38am. This picture was taken about ten minutes before that. The clouds moved in and blocked the actual sunrise. The temperature was still in the mid-teens (°F) but warmed up to about 20°F by the middle of the day. Several days ago, the sunshine seemed very bright. Almost too bright.

Snow is forecast again for the next week or so so the plow went back onto the truck. But snow generally means that it'll be warm, at least according to Weather Underground, for the next couple of days. I've been watching the Olympics using the over-the-air antenna that I picked up from Amazon a few months ago. The antenna is working pretty well even though it's just sitting on a table in front of the tv.

Monday, February 12, 2018


That end of the cold spell that was being predicted for the last couple of weeks seems to finally have arrived. On Saturday night, it was still -18°F so the positive (°F) temperature on Sunday morning is feeling pretty nice.

The Ural made it out of the garage but not to coffee this morning. I rode it around the area enough to get the engine warmed up and do some sliding in the fresh snow. I didn't want to get all geared up since I was waiting for a phone call. The front and pusher tires are still only running about half of the number of studs as usual so there is some slipping just to get out of the driveway. None installed on the sidecar tire. I might try it like this for a while.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Still Feels Like Winter

In spite of NWS forecasts stating that it was going to be warming up, the days have continued being on the cold side. I was thinking that it was going to be Ural weather this week but now it looks like maybe not until next week.

Monday Morning - Still -20°F (-29°C). I'm guessing that I won't be riding to the Airhead get together this evening. But it's 9:10 am and the sky is all lit up on the south-eastern horizon as sunrise is in about 10 minutes. Pretty nice. Plus the daily high temperature is matching the sunshine again. In December and January, the high temperature for the day could occur just about anytime as there isn't significant warmth from the sun due to the low elevation in the sky.

Tuesday Afternoon - I finally got the correct resisters to finish the keyer to practice sending morse code. It works stand-alone but will also work with a radio. This type of key is required by the Skype class that I had signed up for starting in April. Most use mechanical switches connected to paddles. The green circuit boards sticking out are touch sensitive with the left pad a "dah" and the right pad a "di" so a very light touch is needed. The configuration is set by entering commands using morse code. Kind of an interesting way. The three of the four buttons on the front are for storing things in non-volatile memory such as your call sign. The red button is to enter command or configuration mode. The knob on top is to set the word-per-minute rate. The 9-volt battery is the box zip-tied to the right side and has the power switch. I'm glad to finally get it working.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Ural Top Box Done

Here are the two of the four threaded knobs holding the box onto the rack. The front two are 8mm bolts and the rear two are 6mm bolts. The only reason for the difference is this is what the hardware store had in stock. On this rack, all of the hardware is either stainless or aluminum to minimize rust. I mention this as removing the stock hardware was a hassle requiring generous doses of PB Blaster. I think rusty hardware is the norm for any Ural. About all that's left is covering the unused mounting holes. Instead of Gorilla tape, I may use the Eternabond roof repair tape. That stuff seems to stick to anything and never come off.

After the knobs are tightened, the box is really solid. And the positioning is just about right to lean against while riding. For the last couple of months, I was trying to figure out how to fabricate a rack with the stock bench seat and every solution I came up with would either put the top box too far back or too high. This seems like a good solution as the box is centered directly over the rear hub. I had considered getting a solo seat from Raceway or Ural of New England but they were way too pricey. Their seats are probably more comfortable since they have spring suspensions but we’ll see how this works. Some people complain about the Ural tractor seats but not everyone.

The lock on the top box is a generic key so I may replace it with something more secure such as the same key as the trailer compartment doors. I think that I may still have one left. And I will probably start riding again next week!

Sunday, January 28, 2018


I borrowed the title from Coop's last post as it seems to fit this hodgepodge of subjects though the “pourri” apparently means “rotten” or “putrid”. Sunlit trees and a dark sky is still my preferred winter picture. This was taken around 11:30 am when the sun is still at a pretty low angle and lighting thing up from below the clouds. The location is Creamer's Field behind the Fish & Game offices on College Road. We stopped so my mom can get some more snow pictures but she didn't bring her camera.

This afternoon (Saturday), was spent fabricating a rear rack on the Ural. There are four holes in the fender for either installing a rack or a second tractor seat. The seat would also have an additional steel that attaches to on top of the rear fender essentially doubling the thickness. For my home-made rack, I added two vertical supports which attach to the rear frame and provide most of the vertical support. I still need to pick up some rubber spacers for the front two fender bolts. And some longer bolts. I will probably disassemble the whole rack one more time to use blue Loctite on all of the screws. The hardware store didn't carry stainless nyloc nuts. There is about 22mm between the front of the rack and the fender. The fender bolts are mostly providing side-to-side and front-to-back support.

The Saturday evening project was this PaddleStick keyer. It came as a simple kit though the all of the components didn't match the instructions. Kind of a pain. The company (individual) is sending the right ones. Fortunately, they provided a schematic simplifying the task. Now, I just need to dig up a 9V battery and connector before I can test it. Maybe I can dig up some 2.2k resistors from my small stash of Arduino pieces. I’ve run into several code decoders based on Arduino boards. Hmmm, that seems like cheating.

On Sunday afternoon, I added the spacers and longer bolts between the rack and the fender. I ground the spacer to match the curve of the fender and bolted everything in place. The rack is incredibly solid. You could probably pick the bike using the rack. I Just drilled some holes in the box and the rack to fasten them together. I’m thinking of permanently attaching bolts to the rack and use some threaded knobs inside the box. This would allow me to remove the box with no tools. My son suggested making another small box or platform to attach to the rack when the box isn't attached. I like it when projects just work...

Friday, January 26, 2018

Ural Mods

How about this, a post with some actual motorcycle content. A few weeks back when I went to Delta with fellow Uralista, BruceW, I asked Mickey about a solo seat aka tractor seat. He mentioned that they were very reasonably priced from Ural so I had him order one. It was delivered to Fairbanks by Muriel as she had some errands to run. Mickey had also ordered a cloth seat cover as it seems to be a popular option for the solo seat.

The reason for the solo seat is that I want to install a top box. On last summer's road trip, KevinH was trading in his old Jesse top box for one of the new shorter "pizza box" style. He sold me the old one for the trade in value. I have been wanting more lockable storage for lightweight things like my helmet or camera and this looks like it'll work well. I just need to fabricate a mount. Ural does make a rack that bolts onto the rear fender that is sturdy enough to carry a passenger but at $120 I think that I'll just fabricate one out of aluminum angle. I suspect that it'll be sturdy enough for a top box. I'll probably wait until the garage warms up a bit. It was -29°F outside this morning.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Slight Radio Mod

I was told that it sounded like I was talking through a tin can when using the little dual-band HT radio. I took apart the microphone and discovered that the microphone was behind a tiny pinhole. I drilled the hole out to 1/16" which is about five times the diameter. The hole was literally the size of a pin. Problem resolved. I suspect that the tiny hole was to prevent overdriving the microphone.

The built-in microphone on the HT radio had a similar tiny pinhole over the microphone so I proceeded to disassemble the radio case and significantly enlarge the hole to 1/16". I wasn't sure how close the actual microphone was to the case so disassembly was the only way to be sure that I didn't accidentally drill into the microphone. I had assumed that my signal was just poor and it was one of those cheap Chinese made radios that many in the ham radio community don't care for. But for less than ½ the cost of a "name brand" radio. I had originally ordered the hand-held microphone accessory for the HT due to the reported poor sound quality but it didn't resolve the problem. Disassembly, drilling, and reassembly took maybe ten minutes.

I had posted about this earlier but hadn't been tracking the progress. I thought some may find this interesting. Right now, the difference between magnetic north and true north is pretty small no matter where in the world you are. Alaska is about the 11 o'clock position. I think that the movement of magnetic north is significant but I'm shocked that there has been no mention in the popular press. I had first heard about this in EOS, an AGU publication. Is this an unpopular message or is it just not newsworthy?

Monday Morning Update - I found a bunch of articles that bring up climate change as the most probable reason for the poles moving. So I guess it's in the "unpopular message to some" category.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

End of the Week Update

The temperature has been bouncing around all over the place from -22°F to +34°F and the forecast for next week is down in the -33°F range again. It has been turning the local roads into skating rinks with lots of accidents and cars in ditches. Kind of an odd January. The Apple Watch screen capture is the Carrot Weather app. It makes snide remarks whenever you ask for an update. I have since uninstalled it from the watch as battery life seems to be a bit short. It's only a couple of years old but seems to be better once I removed a pile of unused apps from it.

The warm weather and heavy snow have given much of Fairbanks the snow-encrusted look with many trees bent over from the additional snow load. And it has lead to many power outages and blinks (very short outage). Last winter, I enabled a temporary way to power the furnace and zone valves off external power but it may be time to plan and install a transfer switch and move some selected circuits into a subpanel.

Not much going on these days. It's supposed to be below -20°F for most of the week so I don't expect much to be going on. I figure that I better go ahead and post this now that the "end of the week" has already passed...

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Dual-Band Antenna Install

I've never been one to be reluctant to drill holes in a vehicle. The NMO (New MOtorola) mount for the dual-band (2m and 70cm)  antenna needed a ¾" hole in the center of the roof which is slightly smaller than the inside threaded piece seen in the picture. The outside thread has a rubber "O" ring to seal against the roof. The inside has “teeth” which dig into the painted surface on the other side of the roof to establish a good ground plane for the 5/8 wave antenna. Silicone grease is used on the “O” ring to ensure a watertight seal.

To protect the contacts and the threads when an antenna is not installed, a cap is screwed onto the mount. To do the install, I needed to mostly remove the headliner. Not only to route the cable but to locate the roof supports. I didn’t want to drill into them but wanted to be right next to one. Fortunately, the headliner in the truck can be lowered easily and the antenna cable is routed down the driver's side “B” pillar. 

For now, I’m just planning to use the antenna with the 8 watt Baofeng HT using an SMA to SO-239 adapter. I'd like to eventually pick up a mobile HF radio that also includes UHF and VHF. In this case, the main chassis will probably be mounted under the driver's seat. Before buttoning up the headliner, I used an ohmmeter to see if the "teeth" on the mount dug into the paint. The ohmmeter claimed 0.8 ohms so all is good at least as far as the antenna is concerned.

When testing the setup, I could clearly receive the call sign from the repeater but what is uncertain is whether my signal is reaching it. The pin on the SMA adaptor didn't look like it would actually reach the antenna contact. When I tried asking for a test, there was no response. I also don't have an SWR (Standing Wave Ratio) meter so I can't really test things. Actually, I do have one that I purchased 40+ years ago but I haven't seen it for over 20 years. Who knows what box it's in. So more research is needed...

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Vanity Call Sign

You use your FCC-assigned call sign whenever you use any amateur radio frequency which includes the local 2m repeater. The last two characters of my call sign were "PD". There is another active ham operator in the Fairbanks area who has the last two characters of "PB". These two were very hard to distinguish unless you use the NATO phonetic alphabet. Just about every time I've given my call sign, I get mistaken for the other person. The FCC has a program called "vanity callsign" so I went ahead and requested another call sign. The call signs are organized by location and license class and since I'm in Alaska (not very many people), I was able to choose from quite a list of unused call signs. Last night, an email from the FCC let me know that I was approved for AL6T. "AL" for "Amateur Extra" living in Alaska. I just looked at a list of unassigned call signs with that prefix and picked one that seemed easy to say and probably wouldn't get confused with something else.

While researching this process, I found it somewhat amusing that Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico are all given unique prefixes but the rest of the country is all lumped together. I guess we're just special...

I'm especially intrigued by two aspects of amateur radio. One is all of the digital communication modes that work with very poor signal to noise ratios, ridiculously low bandwidth, and low power and the other, which surprised me, is CW i.e. Continuous Wave or morse code. Also very low bandwidth. When I was younger, we had a key that I played with similar to the one on the left. One of the reasons I finally took the amateur radio test is that they eliminated the Morse code requirement. But now that I don't have to learn, I'm interested. I signed up for an online course called CW Academy taught by volunteers and they require the newer style of paddle key such as the one pictured below.

The course won't begin until April and will be meeting twice a week using Skype. The paddle key requires a "keyer" as it sends out a continuous stream of dots or dashes depending on which paddle is being pushed. The rate is adjusted using the keyer. Just about every modern HF (high frequency) transceiver has a keyer built in. I'm now shopping around for a mobile HF transceiver and antennae. Mobile so that I would be able to easily use it either at home or on road trips. Until then, I'm watching YouTube practice videos and trying out a couple of iPhone apps to try and get a head start. After all, at my age learning something new is getting hard...

Friday, January 5, 2018

Trip to Delta

On Tuesday, I went with a good friend to pick up his Ural from Mickey's shop down in Delta. He had taken it down after hydro-locking the engine when testing the underwater capability of the rig in a pothole. A very large pothole. On the way back, we stopped at a turnout to check the tie down straps holding the rig on the trailer and the air in one of the trailer tires. A good photo opportunity as it was right around sunset. The timestamp on the photo is 2:47pm and sunset was listed as 2:59pm. It was a warm (+37°F) afternoon and there was a lot of open water and overflow on the Tanana River. And this is January 2nd. Almost unheard of...

I deleted the Facebook app from my phone today. After checking battery consumption, it said that Facebook had used 57% of my battery and had almost nine hours of run time while in background. I had looked at the app this morning for about five minutes. After a brief online search, it seems that this has been a “known problem” for a while. The site runs just fine in either Chrome or Mobile Safari and you eliminate its ability to do anything in background.

Friday Update - After running for half a day of “normal use”, The battery is still 95% instead of the usual 65%. Sounds like a reasonable change to me.