Thursday, June 23, 2016

Riding with a Smile

It seems like a long time since I got away from home, enjoyed some exploring, and some riding twisty roads.  My last attempt was a ride to the Smokies in May.  Unfortunately, my bike had other ideas.  You see, the day I left it was 35 deg F with horizontal rain.  I made it into Ohio and south of Columbus before so many things on the bike stopped working that I ended up renting a Uhaul and towing it home.  I admit that I was cold, wet, and miserable during the ride.  Apparently, so was the bike and it had sense enough to say STOP!

This trip went much better with only one minor issue to remind me that my bike is getting old.  I was trying to learn the proper way to travel when retired.  Although I could have gone interstates and gotten to the ride base hotel in about 8 hours, instead I took two and half days of nothing but back roads to get there.  I figure that I added 300 miles to a 500 mile freeway trip.

Along the way, I found little towns with interesting names and a few minor adventures.  For example, south of Arabia, Ohio, I found this sign.  My favorite caption is "Caution, Expensive Curves Ahead".

In West Virginia, after riding through the Cabwaylingo State Forest, I found that the road was following an old railroad bed and went through a railroad tunnel.  Normally, a tunnel is no big thing, but this tunnel was a very narrow lane wide, about 1 mile long, and had no lights at all.  My poor headlight did almost nothing to illuminate the black walls, ceiling, and roadbed.  In the middle, I was so far underground that my glasses and visor started to fog up.  You might say that I crawled through that tunnel, first gear, engine at idle, both feet out trying to sense the road.  Boy am I glad no one was coming from the other direction.  Somehow, riding in a car doesn't do the situation justice, but this video from YouTube gives you a small idea of the experience.

Dingess Tunnel

Along the way, I rode through little villages with funny names.  How about Wolfpit, Krypton, or Busy.  I guess it's not surprising that Cutshin is down the road from Smilax.  Along the way, I climbed a tall mountain on a little road that was sometimes paved, sometimes gravel and never wider than 10 feet.  It was an amazing view of the valley from the top, but I couldn't find a place to take a picture between the trees, so I am left with a cute little waterfall to remember the mountain by.

I have to say that I really enjoy these rides.  The coordinated action of leaning and balancing the bike through a range of corners and, frankly, riding a bit quickly, gives great satisfaction.  I recently saw a story about a guy who is 90 and still riding his motorcycle.  I get why.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Analog Distraction

I mean well.  I try to keep myself focused on the project list and do it in order.  It's just that I am easily distracted.

The phono preamp sounds so good, that I have been listening to vinyl a fair bit.  That got me curious about the differences between turntables and planning some experiments for a future DIY turntable.  The problem is that the DIY turntable is way down the list.

So, I found myself buying a 25 year old turntable that has been modified by it's first owner.  That is a step up from my 35 year old turntable I have been using.

It's an AR ES-1, a very simple manual turntable, but with good bones.  Also, in very good shape for it's age.  I did a few modifications of my own.  I added dampening material to the base and fine tuned the tonearm and suspension.

The modifications done by the previous owner included a better motor and a Merrill platter.  The platter is made from acrylic with lead glued on top for dampening.

He also made up some very interesting feet.  Kind of a layer cake of two layers of cork,  two kinds of rubber, and double sided foam tape between each layer.  Actually, they remind me of some cookies my mother used to make.  Gram crackers with frosting in between.  MMMnnn.

Now I just need to fix the motorcycle and get back to that project list.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Phono Preamp

I know that all this electronic stuff and pictures of circuit boards is kind of boring for those of you who like cars and motorcycles.  But I like it.

The latest project is a phono preamp that uses vacuum tubes.  Why vacuum tubes you ask?  Isn't that old fashion?  Well, I'm new to it too, but the designer says that vacuum tubes have certain advantages like a wide dynamic range and, besides, he likes the way they look.  OK.  Good enough for me.

If you are curious why it's on a piece of plywood,  I hope to build a DIY turntable and stand in the future.  That may turn out to have a triangle shape.  Since the preamp should "fit" with the turntable and stand, I'm waiting until all that gets decided before designing the preamp enclosure.  What do you think, a big triangle with the points cut off?  Or maybe a trapezoid?

One of the unusual things about vacuum tubes is that they essentially need 3 power supplies and those are often in a separate enclosure to keep the tubes quiet.  In other words, there was lots to learn on this project and an extra dollop of complexity.

Tubes also take time to warm up and turn on.  Maybe 30 seconds before there is a little glow in the top of each tube.  No music comes out before that.  Kind of strange for our normal "instant on" solid state life.

Speaking of the separate power supply enclosure, I tried something a little unusual in the paint job.  I was going for "old leather", but I don't quite get there.  Oh well.  The power supply will sit in back on a bottom shelf, so no one will really see it.

The good thing is that it sounds great!  Background noise as good as a CD and a very dynamic presentation.  I guess I need to buy a few new records.

Friday, March 4, 2016

My father's version of steampunk

They say that you should always spend time with your parents and every question you can think of while they are still here.  Of course, my father passed away last year, so when I find something unusual in his stuff, I can no longer ask him what it was for or how it worked.  I guess what they say is true.

My father had a bunch of electronic projects, mostly things that he wanted to explore and made something that allowed him to do it.  Naturally, all that stuff came home with me when we cleaned out his house.  Now, he never expected or intended for anyone else to be interested it his little projects, so there is no documentation and almost no labeling.  Imagine my surprise when I open up an electronics test box and find this funky looking electro-mechanical device.

As for me, I have no idea what it was for.  I've studied it for a while and I think I can describe some of it's function, but why you would do this is a mystery.  I am open to suggestions.

In the meantime, I just love the way it looks.  I guess all the brass got me thinking steam punk.  But it's also got a combination of Rube Goldberg and something hand made early in the 19th century.

Anyway, here is what I see happening.  To start with, there is a DC motor that drives a gear reduction and a shaft mounted in oil-light bearings.  I don't have any idea where the motor is from.  The gears and shaft are likely left over from our slot car days.

Then there are two commutators mounted on the shaft with home-made brush holders on each commutator.  Don't you just love the brass tube with one end folded over as a brush holder?  One one end, the commutator makes a circuit with several resistors that seem to step down (up?) in resistance as the brush connects with each part of the commutator.  The whole thing connects to the opposite commutator in only one place.

I'm stumped.  But it does look cool!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Where did the winter go?

 This is one of those winters when I keep waiting for it to begin.  It's the end of February and it hasn't really started yet.  With a little luck, we will get a few inches of snow tomorrow, but it is too late to make up for the real winter I was hoping for.  You see, for the last 38 years of my life, I have spent the majority of winter on test trips in Arizona or California, etc.  I thought, now that I'm retired, I will get to enjoy a real, full time winter.  Not this year.

But that doesn't mean that I don't have pictures of snow to cheer me up.  Actually, this post was inspired by my friend, Doug, who is a native of the southwest ( a no snow kind of guy), but who has given winter and snow the old college try for the sake of some good friends.  So Doug, think positive thoughts.  Snow is wonderful.  Snow is beautiful.  You can always hire somebody to shovel.

My favorite breakfast restaurant.

 Anybody for hoops?

And easy parking.

Forgive me if I am reusing photos that you have already seen.  It's just that they are my favorites and make me want to get out and play.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Guido's Smile

Guido has been out playing in the snow.  Can't you see the smile on his face?

This weekend, it was sloppy, but Monday turned cold and Tuesday morning we woke to cold, powdery snow, the kind with good grip. ;-)

This naturally got me thinking about time spent with my friend, Guido.  He recently outran his extended warranty and is pushing 5 years.  Hmmmn.  Normally, I should be thinking about a new car.  Yet strangely, I'm not.

Two recent experiences came to mind.

Out in New York state, we pulled into a toll plaza and the guy in the window calls out, "Fiat Sighting!"  It was like he was playing "red car, blue car" and seeing a Fiat was something special.  I guess I was the red car.

Around Detroit, I mainly expect to see cars from the Big 3.  Even though the Fiat is technically a "Big 3" car, it really isn't main stream.  Plus, if you see another Fiat, you can bet it's an employee lease car.

I spent time with family in Chicago over the holidays.  There, you barely see a car from the Big 3.  Most everything is a Honda, Toyota, or a Hyundai.  I found it interesting that there were even fewer Fiats than in Detroit.  They certainly weren't as common as Mini's and other affordable but different cars.  I'm coming to the conclusion that the Fiat is really a rather unique and special car.  Not for everyone, but for those who understand and appreciate it...........

It reminds me of the story that my friend Doug told about riding his Aprilia motorcycle.  Someone unfamiliar with the brand asked what it was.  Paraphrasing, he told him that the Aprilia was an exotic Italian performance motorcycle.  Kind of like a Ducati, but far more exclusive.

That's Guido for you in a nutshell.  Different, special (to those who appreciate it), tons of personality, and great fun to drive.  Not expensive, but exclusive and individualistic in spite of a low price.  How could I turn my back on that?

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Hand-me-down Parts and Pieces from Family and Friends

What do you know, I finally finished a project!

I have this tendency to work at a project until I have solved all the questions/problems in my mind, and then set it aside.  Or, I will get the project working, but not put the finishing touches on it.  For example, I built some speakers in 1998 that have been my main living room speakers since then.  In the meantime, I have rewired them inside and created an updated crossover, but I never got around to finishing them.  They are still surfaced in raw MDF and the maple veneer is sitting in my basement.

This time, I had to finish the project because it was a Christmas gift for my niece who recently purchased a house.  The project was a small stereo (music always warms a house, in my opinion).  The idea was to use as many parts as possible that were leftover from friends and family.  Personally, I like the idea of knowing that something in my life has a history thru people that I know, especially from those that have passed.  I guess it's an engineer's way of remember those people.

10 or more years ago, I made a little amplifier for my friend, Bob.  When he passed away a few years ago, his ex-wife sent it back to me.  When we moved my father out of his house, I collected his DIY speakers.

Those components were the key ingredients of this project, but along the way, I was able to use parts from my brother-in-law's disassembled electronics, electronic parts from my parts bin, my father's parts bin, even the metal for the amplifier enclosure and the wood for the speaker boxes were already in my house.

The result was an 40 Watt per Channel integrated amplifier with 3 inputs (2 RCA rear and 1 for plugging in a smartphone on the front) and a volume control with an old volume knob of the 40's era.  Key components in the sound path were upgraded to provide cleaner sound and the coupling capacitor was chosen to match the sound of the speakers.  I got the word that lighter color and less shiny surface were preferred, so a satin, off-white paint finished the aluminum box, along with wood accents.

The speaker drivers are about 30 years old and came from a project that my father built when he first retired.  He had built them to go with a subwoofer, but we didn't have room for that in this system, so new boxes were designed and built to provide full range performance to the old tweeter and woofer.  The tweeter is a Dynaudio D-28AF from Denmark and was first class 30 years ago.  It still sounds and measures as if it were new.  The woofer is a Focal 5N401 from France.  30 years had aged the rubber surround so that it was cracked and in need of replacement.  Happily, I found new surrounds built to matching specs in the Netherlands.  The pair was put in a damped, bass reflex design with a bass cutoff of 55 Hz and a crossover specific to these drivers.

A little 2D CAD of the speaker box design.  Magnets from an old iMac to hold on the grille cover

 My niece already had her father's excellent turntable, but no way to play it because they lacked a phono preamp.  I brought along a DB-8 phono preamp built by a guy in NH.  Not handmade by me, but close enough.

Combine that with a Grace Primo to bring in music from the internet and the system was complete.  I have to say that I am please with the resulting sound.  In my niece's small living room, the speakers do a great job of filling the room without any strain.  The end result was clear, dynamic, and detailed.

Now, if I could just finish one of my own projects.