Monday, April 30, 2018

Maybe I'll Leave the Studded Tires Installed

Welcome to Spring-time in Alaska. I'm sure there is a Monty-Pythonish song there somewhere. Or at least that seems to be how most people felt about this mornings snow. It isn't that unusual. Back in 2012, it snowed while riding to Anchorage near the middle of May. But short memories must be why we choose to stay in Alaska.

Yesterday, I was in the garage contemplating removing the studs from the Ural tires as well as swapping tires on the Prius. I guess the snow today must mean it's too early and I have a two-week reprieve from that task.

On Sunday, I had a rather odd encounter with another rider. He pulled up next to me on his flat black Harley and after the normal beginning-of-the-riding-season pleasantries, he asked why I had the led lights in the front turn signals flickering. After I said to make it more likely to be seen by other drivers. He then asked, "Why would that be a good thing?". Then the light changed and he took off.  I was sort of at a loss...

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Sure Sign of Spring!

I know that I probably used that phrase before but this is the sign that is almost universally accepted around here. The return of the birds to Creamer's Field Migratory Wildfowl Refuge. These are the wetlands between Farmer's Loop Rd and College Rd. They actually clear the snow using giant snowblowers that are normally used to clear the runways. Then seed of some sort is scattered around. In previous years, I've seen hundreds of swans plus uncountable numbers of other birds in these fields. I mention "swans" as they tend to stand out and even I can spot them. This opportunistic iPhone snapshot was taken on Friday evening around 7:30.

Maintenance Notes 53K

It was time to do some maintenance/repairs on the Ural. It looks like the foam rubber sleeve that keeps dirt and water out of the driveshaft spline didn't survive the winter. There just a small ring of material still hanging onto the driveshaft. There is only about ½" of space between the side of the tire and the driveshaft so I think it would rub when riding through snow. A new part has been ordered. When it arrives, the driveshaft splines will need grease.

I pulled off the spark plugs and they still look fine. The gap is still within spec even with over 20k km on them. Even though I have a new set on the shelf, I went ahead and left the old ones in place as the engine still starts and runs fine.  The spark plugs were removed so I can easily turn over the engine to adjust the valves. The valves on the right side were rattling a bit more than normal. They were slightly loose so I tightened both 0.002" to 0.003" clearance. The left side was still within spec but I tightened them to match the clearance of the right side.

Both thermocouples for the CHT (cylinder head temperature) gauge have broken connections at the spark plug end. Apparently, the wires need to be welded as solder would change their behavior slightly. In this application it wouldn’t really matter but I went ahead and ordered another pair of “J” type thermocouples from Aircraft Spruce. The other pair lasted for about three years but have been acting up for a while. I guess I need to handle them more carefully as they seem to be somewhat fragile.

About one cup of 20w50 synthetic blend was added to the engine. Still about 1000 km until the next oil change for engine and transmission. I really didn’t ride much this past winter. 

Now, I need to start tearing carpet out of the RV. I don’t look forward to that task… 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Bright Lights and Grey Skies

The electronic flasher came today from Amazon. To install it, I just needed to make three jumpers with male and female spade lugs at each end. These were inserted into the plug on the wiring harness and matched up with the appropriate terminals on the flasher unit. It works great. I then installed the LED bulbs in the front turn signals. I like this one particularly since it has the projector lens on the front making for a very bright turn indicator. After installing them, I figured that I may as well order them for the rear turn signals as well. The flasher works as advertised and maintained the same flashing rate even with the lower amperage LED bulbs.

Since they are LED, I now have the option of connecting them to the Skene Design Photon Blaster electronic module. One cut wire and a splice later, I had the left turn signal connected and tested. The left signal now has that distinctive flicker and really is pretty visible. The right turn signal is a bit more challenging as there is a single wire from the headlight shell, where all of the wiring is located, to the sidecar and is for the front and rear right turn signals. amber parking lights on the rear are not permitted so I will need to run a new wire for just the right-front turn signal. I have not started this task yet.

Update - I ran the wire from the sidecar front turn signal and connected it up to the Skene module. It is a lot brighter than the parking light on the sidecar and the flicker really makes it easy to see.

And, the solar is working. I set the charge controller to do an equalization charge so anytime the array voltage (red line on the first graph) is high enough, the controller will push the battery up to whatever is needed according to the battery temperature. Since the batteries are on the cold side, the equalization voltage is around 15 volts. The current is low as the batteries are fully charged. The only thing drawing power is the CO/propane detector and the Raspberry Pi monitoring the charge controller.

The weather was very dreary today. Not cold (50°F) but overcast. Everything is gloomy and grey. The following video is just a short loop around town and is sped up 8x like the previous couple of videos. I keep thinking of simply adding voice over to the sped up video and make it a vlog. But that seems like a lot more work...

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Spring Snow

Friday was windy, overcast and it looked and felt like fall. I had removed the gauntlets from the Ural earlier in the week but was having second thoughts. Maybe a week too soon. By late Friday afternoon, we were getting snow flurries. Nothing like the northern midwest last week but just enough to remind one that we were still in Alaska.

Saturday morning brought brilliant sunshine but it was still below freezing. The dark pavement was absorbing enough warmth from the sun to melt the snow but there was still a little ice in the shadows. I'm glad that I still hadn't removed the studs from the tires. Or at least the minimal number that I had installed.

I had ordered some LED bulbs to use in the Ural front turn signals and discovered that, for some reason or another, Ural chose to wire the turn signal sockets backwards. Instead of negative on the body of the base, it is wired to the base of the bulb. Time to dig out the soldering iron and shrink tubing again and rewire. But I still wonder why they would do that. My intent is to wire the front turn signals to the Skene module so they would flicker as well possibly improving my forward visibility. The Ural still has an old style flasher module that uses the current to the bulbs to determine the flashing rate. Removing the front bulb from the circuit causes it to flash very fast. On the BMW, I just added resistors to simulate the bulbs but that just consumed amps. The proper way is to change the flasher to an electronic unit which has a constant flash rate no matter what the load. Like many things, it's easier to just order from Amazon than deal with the local auto parts store as they provide parts based on the year/make/model of the vehicle. If you try to explain what you want, they just ask you for the year/make/model again as that is the only way they know to look up parts. There are exceptions but I get tired of trying to find that person. Once the flasher arrives, I’ll rewrite the lights and I’ll need to rewire the flasher as well. I think the one that’s installed has three connections instead of two. The third one would simply be a ground.

Todays Ural task was replacing the battery. The last battery came from Jed's 2015 Ural as it was still installed even after Ural of New England added the automotive battery. We used the stock battery location for a 12volt bus to simplify the addition of accessories. So it was barely 3 years old. The replacement battery came from Walmart. The only difference between their "premium" AGM battery and their regular AGM battery is that the regular one ships dry. You need to add the acid and charge the battery before use. After filling it with acid, I went ahead and installed it on the bike before connecting my smart charger. The smart charger just means that it has multiple charging profiles including one for AGM batteries.

The video below was shot this morning to show off our fresh dusting of snow.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

RV is Back Home

Finally have the RV back in the driveway. I picked it up around 2:30 pm and thanks to a good friend and neighbor SteveJ, we managed to get it into the driveway. It took multiple attempts to maneuver it in. The truck was in 4WD and low range due to the steep driveway. The resultant speed in reverse or 1st was less than walking speed at idle. This really helps.

Sunday, April 15, 2018


This post seems to have a little bit of everything. Ural issues, RV, ham radio, and technology. Though no travel or anything related to Barrow aka Utqiaġvik. The title of the post started out as CW challenges but over the weekend, more challenges kept arising.

For the Morse code class, which is generally referred to as CW, we use a practice program called RufzXP. It was written back in the days of Windows XP which explains the "XP" in the name. It sends random letters, numbers, and symbols to the audio port and you need to type it into a box. If you get it right, it sends the next series of characters slightly faster. Unfortunately, I have a hard time typing as well as listening. Especially for numbers and symbols. I seem to spend a lot of time looking at the keyboard for the letters. Especially when punctuation is sent. I believe the goal is to remember the letters and punctuation then type it in after it's sent. I have a hard time with that as well.

To help me with some of the audio practice files available for download on the CW Ops website, I installed a morse decoder on the iPad. Feeding the audio out from the laptop into the microphone input on the iPad, the app attempts to convert it to text. As you can see from the text in the image, the decoding is far from perfect. This particular file is pretty straightforward to read but some of the CW files have so much shorthand or abbreviations, I have a really hard time understanding the text even if I decode the Morse code accurately. I believe that understanding the abbreviations comes from experience. Here is an example of a conversation between two operators. I guess it really isn't any different than two teenagers texting. I added the meaning of the abbreviation in parentheses.

cq (calling) cq cq w1rm (the target call sign) w1rm de (from) n3am (the source call sign) k (ok) n3am w1rm ge (good evening) es (and) tu (thank you) fer (for) call ur (your) rst (received signal) 569 569 (numbers refer to the strength and quality of the received signal) qth (my location) is ct (Connecticut) ct es (and) name is pete pete ok? de (from) w1rm w1rm de n3am fb (ok) pete ur (your) rst is 589 in md (Maryland) md name is john john hw? w1rm de n3am k de w1rm r r (are) solid hr john wx (weather) is snow es (and) temp is 24 24 rig runs kw (kilowatt) to 5 el (element) yagi up 60 ft (height of antenna) age is 72 hw? (how are you receiving me) de w1rm w1rm de n3am ok pete gud (good) cpy (copy) wx (weather) is cla (clear) eemp 33 rig runs kw to 4 el yagi at 55 ft age is 70 ok? w1rm de n3am de w1rm all solid john nice to wrk u (you) agn (again) so soon will look fer (for) u (you) agn (again) on 40 (assume meters) take care es (and) 73 (best regards) sk (end of contact)  n3am de w1rm w1rm de n3am enjoyed the qso pete cu (see you) agn (again) sn (soon) 73 sk w1rm de n3am ee ee 
On Friday, I had planned to pick up the 5th wheel from the RV storage lot and bring it back to the house. But, when I went there, the large pile of snow was still in front of the trailer and it looked like they tried to move it with their plow truck. Not much chance of that as the snow pile was solid enough to stand on. Anyway, they were waiting for the loader to come and move the snow. Maybe Monday or Tuesday. Anyway, there were snow flurries on Friday.

On Saturday, I took the automotive battery out of the Ural and reconnected the stock motorcycle battery after having it on the charger overnight. It seemed to crank the engine over just fine. On Sunday morning, not a chance. Just click-click-click. So on Sunday afternoon, the automotive battery went back in. I guess it needs battery number 3. Maybe time for one from Walmart...

BTW, over 15 hours of daylight (sunrise to sunset) today and almost 18 hours of light (first light to last light)!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Errands To Run

Today was the day for lots of errands including putting the four golf cart batteries into the RV. The sidecar easily held the four batteries plus the group 24 battery in the plastic case. Over 400 lbs of batteries. I also had tools, cables, hardware, and other things to get the trailer ready to pull out of storage. I could definitely tell that the sidecar was really heavy.

But first, I needed to go to the clinic, then federal building and, naturally, College Coffeehouse. At the RV, step one was to remove the fabric cover. Since the trailer is still surrounded by snow, I left the cover piled up on the roof until it gets pulled towards the front parking lot at the RV shop. Then I can drop it to the ground and stuff it into the back seat of the truck. Today, I wouldn't have been able to get the truck within 100 m of the trailer. The Ural wound through all of the parked rigs easily. I installed the batteries into the front compartment and switched on the DC to the RV and flipped the breakers for the charge controller. A quick check showed the batteries around 60% and the Timetric monitor indicated 15 amps of charge current from the solar panels. A quick check of the trailer showed no evidence of moisture or rodents. The shop will pull the trailer out of its slot tomorrow (Friday morning) and I'll pick it up around noon.

The video is just playing with the GoPro again. Leaving home around 7am heading east into the sun on Farmers Loop Road. It really is nice to see the snow pushed off to the side of the road.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Some Ham Radio Activities

The Arctic Amateur Radio Club built a radio-in-a-box to lend out to newly licensed members who didn't have a radio to play with use. It is a Yaesu FT-2980R/E 2M radio with a maximum power rating of 80 watts. Accompanying it is a 12 VDC power supply rated at 30 amps. Both are installed into a 50 mm ammo box. There are a 120 VAC power and SO-239 antenna connectors on the top. They also provided a 2M antenna with a magnetic mount base. After setting up the radio for the Ester Dome repeater, I talked to a couple of local folks whom I had run into before. They said that this radio sounds much better than Baofeng BF-F8HP HT (8  watt unit) that I've been playing with. Apparently, when using the Baofeng, it sounds like I’m talking into a can. Maybe two cans with a string between them. While I’m borrowing this rig I should use the HT just to hear what it sounds like through the repeater.

I've been researching mobile HF radios for a couple of months and have it narrowed down to a couple of models. One of them has a matching screwdriver antenna that adjusts for bands from 70 cm through 40 M with a touch of a button. To me, that sounds convenient especially since I'm looking for a solution that'll work in the RV. I've been talking to Mike, another club member, who is getting ready to pick up his motor home and is planning a much more elaborate installation but, then again, he has been doing this radio stuff for quite a few years.

I rode to the club meeting on Friday evening and there was a fair bit of interest in the Ural. Some questions were just on the bike and there were quite a few inquiries on whether I was considering installing an HF radio. I'm told that talking to someone in Alaska is very popular. They were not suggesting talking while riding but more using the rig as a platform for the radio and antenna at a remote location such as the Arctic Circle.

On Thursday evening, the first class of the CW Academy level 2 course met. This is the morse code course that I had mentioned. The other students are from Nevada, northern California, and Oregon. I hope that I will be able to keep up. The goal by the end of two months of classes is to decode and send at around 18-20 words per minute. I'm barely half that right now. There are two software packages that I need to install for the class and both run on Windows. One of them, a contesting simulation program called MorseRunner, I found with a WINE wrapper (WINE Is Not an Emulator). Basically, a way to run some Windows programs within Linux or OS X. The other program is Windows only. Specifically XP. I dug out my Windows computer, a Lenovo Helix Ultrabook, and it needed a ton of updates including a major update to Windows 10. I guess I should restart this device more often. I think the last time was over a year ago when testing out the solar charge controller.We'll see if I can get it running under Windows 10.

And lastly, on the ham radio front, I met with two others to administer the licensing exams which are offered on the first Saturday of the month. I have received certifications to administer exams from two organizations. Unfortunately, no one had signed up to take the tests today.

And, finally, the temperature this afternoon was over 50°F here at the house. Hopefully, the snow will start melting quickly.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Another Farkle for the Ural

I had installed the Skene Design Photon Blaster conspicuity lights on the R100RT and believe that they really do increase your visibility. The LED lights flicker but if you are looking straight at them, your eyes don't see the flicker. But if you aren't looking straight at them, then there is a very noticable flicker. I had picked up another set for the Ural at the Salt Lake City MOA rally last July and I finally got around to installing them. With the BMW, they included mounting hardware but no mounting hardware was available for the Ural (big surprise there). They did give me a couple of sets of fender mounts. A trip to the hardware store for some aluminum spacers, some ss allen head screws, ss washers and locknuts was all that was needed to mount them to the fender. The wiring was run into the headlight bucket where I located the appropriate wiring trying to use the Ural wiring diagram. Unfortunately, things weren't labled properly and the colors were off but it was pretty easy to identify the right wires. It's nice that these things are so simple.

I ended up using the slow motion feature on the iPhone for the first time. I filmed a short clip at 120 frames per second to capture the flickering. The 12 second YouTube video was actually only 3 seconds. The flicker rate is really pretty fast and doesn't show up at all without the high frame rate.

BTW, Google finally enabled HTTPS for custom domains. I just enabled it in the settings. We'll see if this causes any problems.

Monday, April 2, 2018

More Spring Riding

Yesterday was April 1st and I must've managed to remove myself from enough email lists so that the only April Fools Day email was this one from Aerostitch. I can deal with that number. Right now, my email inbox has a grand total of one (1) email message and that is about the morse code Skype class that will be starting this Thursday. I guess that there is some Windows-only software that needs to be installed. I guess I will be digging out the Windows tablet.

Mother nature did have an April 1st joke for us. Between Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, we got about an inch or snow of fresh snow. And early this morning, the temperature was only 1°F. By the time I left for College Coffeehouse, it had warmed up. And now (2:30pm on Monday afternoon) it's all the way up to 28°F.

I recorded some more GoPro video and tried to use the new, updated GoPro Quik software but it locked up the machine (MacBook Pro, 3.3GHz I7, 16 GB, TB SSD) three times. After that, I just deleted the software. But, since I had taken the short video clip, I played around with iMovie some more. I haven't found an easy way to add simple text without using one of their presets but I'll keep playing with it. This video is under 2 minutes long unlike the ridiculously long last video.