Friday, July 31, 2020

Office Visit

Today I went into the office for only the second time since March 12th.

As with the first post-lockdown visit, my reason for going in was to download large virtual machine templates (OVFs), and then upload them to a different system. I couldn't vMotion them between clusters, because they are on different network security zones and running different version of VMware ESXi.

The other task I had was to setup a new PC that a coworker and I will use for this sort of thing going forward. It's configured to allow Windows Remote Desktop connections and hardwired to the company LAN.

Our local IT guy did a great job of quickly turning around my request for the PC. It's a new Dell OptiPlex with an Intel Core i7-800 at 3.2 GHz, with 16 GB of RAM and a 500 GB disk. I was surprised to see that it came with a DVD drive. The OS is Windows 10 Enterprise. It seems like a decent little corporate desktop machine and is on a network security zone that will allow me to access anything I need to.

I have an old Netgear 8 port Gig-E Ethernet switch on my desk that allowed me to connect both my MacBook Pro and the Dell to my network drop. After setting up the PC I just used Remote Desktop from the Mac all day to do work on the PC. After I got home tonight I confirmed that it's working over our VPN connection.

Going into the office was a nice change of pace but I'm happy working primarily from home. I expect that to continue into next year.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Black Powder Shotgun Go Boom

A few years ago I loaded up some black powder 12 gauge shotshells in Magtech all-brass hulls, that I bought from Ballistic Products. This exercise was inspired by a video on the Survival Russia YouTube channel, which has since been taken down in accordance with their rule prohibiting videos that show how to load ammunition.

(The picture is a frame grab from an iPhone video.)

I did a few variants:

1-1/4 oz. of #7.5 shot on top of a compressed column of sawdust (in lieu of a cushion wad)
1-1/4 oz. of #5 shot on top of sawdust.

Also, some of the same payloads on top of lubricated wool felt wads. (I have a supply of such homemade wads for use in my Euroarms Magnum Cape Gun percussion 12 bore.)

And a patched .690 round ball on top a couple lubricated felt wads. All were loaded on top of 80 grains of 3Fg.

I tested one each of the #7.5 and #5s, and 3 of the PRB loads.

From 10 yards the #7.5 penetrated one wall of an empty soup can. The #5s went through both sides. Patterning seemed OK for a cylinder bore gun.

Accuracy with the PRB would be good enough to take a deer out to 40 - 50 yards or so.

Because these shells were loaded with black powder, I ran a couple patches wet with a Ballistol/water emulsion through the bore when we finished shooting. I repeated this at home and left the bore with a good coat of Ballistol.

The empty shells got put into a soapy water bath overnight. I found that a 12 gauge tornado brush was perfect for brushing out the inside of the cases to remove residue left from the glue I used to hold the over-shot cards in place.

Tomorrow I'll punch the primers out of the spent shells and clean the primer pockets. I'll also use some acetone to remove the load info I'd written on the side of the shells with a Sharpie marker.

Shooting these BP shells was a lot of fun and the cases should be reusable more or less indefinitely.

One thing I like about the Magtech brass shells is that they use large pistol primers rather than 209 shotshell primers. I use LPPs for .38 WCF and .44 WCF, so that's one less component I need to stock. Also, in normal times, pistol primers are less expensive than 209 primers. (All bets are off in this election/pandemic/civil unrest year, however.)

Friday, July 10, 2020

RT Systems Programming Software for the Icom 7200

With my getting back into ham radio I wanted to update the memory settings on my Icom 7200. You can do so via the front panel, and it's good to know how, but it's tedious.

The popular open source program CHIRP will talk to the IC7200. However, functionality is pretty minimal with this radio. For example, it works with the rig in live mode with changes you make in the application immediately written to the radio. It also misconfigured some fields in the memories, as I discovered later.

Years ago, shortly after buying the rig, I'd purchased  RT Systems' WCS-7200 programming software on CD from the New Castle, DE Ham Radio Outlet store. That CD disappeared, along with the product registration info. So, I decided to drop $25 for a new digital download of the program. (What the heck, it's good to support small businesses anyway.)

Unlike CHIRP, it runs only on Windows, but it can use the same USB A-B cable used for digital mode operations.

The WCS-7200 software is more mature and full-featured than CHIRP. For example, I entered in a bunch of frequencies into the spreadsheet-like UI, and it then allowed me to select a group of them and move them up or down for organization. It also has a Comment field, which I used to identify which frequency is for, for example "20M PSK31" or "WWV."

Unlike CHIRP, it doesn't operate in live mode, so I could tinker with memory organization, save the file locally, and then upload it to the rig.

Before closing the app I exported the memory to a .csv file in the Ham Radio folder I keep on Dropbox, opened it in Numbers on my Mac, and printed out a copy for reference.

I still like CHIRP for programming my Baofengs and it seems to work fine with my Yaesu FT-7800R, but in this case, it was worth $25 for the commercial software.

Incidentally, a good source of frequencies to input into your radio for making contacts or just monitoring is Also check out and

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Radiowavz 40M Dipole Antenna

Today's vacation day activity was to put up a Radiowavz 40M dipole. I got it in trade several years ago for an AR15 lower receiver. :)

Hams know that antennas offer better performance when erected in crappy weather, ideally a New England winter day. Not having one of those handy, hopefully a hot-as-balls SE Pennsylvania day will suffice.

It's currently supported on both end but not the middle, which as you can see, sags a bit. The end supports are 5 foot lengths of schedule 40 PVC pipe with an eye bolt on the end. Braided dacron cord is strung through each eye bolt and then secured to the end insulators of the antenna with a bowline knot. The halyards are then attached to a large plastic landscaping stake in the ground.

The feedline is a 25 foot piece of RG-8X coaxial cable running to an MFJ-4602 window pass-through panel.

After it was up and connected I texted a couple friends and we tried it on 80M phone using NVIS propagation. I was able to hear them but they could not hear me, which wasn't surprising.

I'd like to get the middle up higher so I'm going to look into a military surplus fiberglass mast. If I get the center elevated the resulting antenna will be an inverted-V, which will give me better performance.

I haven't made any QSOs on this antenna yet, but this screenshot from shows the results of calling CQ with 50W on JS8.

And this one from shows the results of transmitting 50W on WSPR.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Removing Stubborn Screws from an Uberti 1866 Sporting Rifle

AKA, "When I said get out, I wasn't asking."

Earlier this year I bought an Uberti 1866 Sporting Rifle chambered for .38-40 WCF. Uberti build beautiful guns but unfortunately, many of them seem to be assembled by a gorilla who applies 87,000 pound-feet of torque to screws that are slightly harder than cheese.

This rifle is one of them.

I wanted to remove the sideplates from the action to inspect the inside and lubricate it with Ballistol. I also wanted to replace the loading gate cover (AKA ladle) with a stronger, aftermarket piece.

After weeks of soaking in Kroil, I was able to remove the lever screw. However, I still couldn't budge the sideplate screw. Even though I used a properly fitting gunsmith screwdriver bit, all I managed to do was booger the screw head.

A few weeks ago I ordered a set of replacement screws that are properly hardened from VTI Gun Parts. (Part # 220-H.)

So, today I braved the hot, humid Southeastern Pennsylvania weather and went out to my backyard shop so I could use my Grizzly G8689 mini-mill as a drill press.

First, I drilled into the sideplate screw on the end where it screws into the right sideplate. This relieves some pressure on the threads.

Note the use of a center drill for starting the holes. This is important because they are more rigid than twist drill bits and you don't want the bit walking off to the side and damaging the receiver.

Then I flipped over the rifle and drilled into the screw head, and then used a screw extractor held in a tap handle to back it out.

While I had the rifle open I also replaced the lever spring screws. A trick to reduce tension on these so you can move them is to slide the lever springs to the side. This worked for the right hand screw but not the left one. So, back to the mill.

This time I put the screw extractor in the drill chuck and manually rotated it (my mill cannot rotate to the left).

After reassembling the rifle I adjusted the tension on the lever so that it's a little easier to work than before but still holds the lever up.

I won't be disassembling the rifle regularly. Even when fired with black powder cartridges, the .38-40's thin brass seals the chamber very well. Virtually no fouling makes it into the action. (The same goes for .44-40, which I shoot in an 1860 Henry and 1873 Sporting Rifle.) However, I can now easily get into the action should it be needed for repair.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Podcast Episode 1 - Tips for Working From Home

It's hosted on YouTube but is audio-only. Hopefully you find this interesting.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

New Workbench

Ever since we decided to move my daughter downstairs and allow me to reclaim my home office, I've been considering putting a workbench in. Although I have a workshop out back, it's not climate controlled. So, it's often uncomfortably warm in the summer, and frigid in the winter. I could really use a space in the house to tinker with stuff and fix things.

So, last week I ordered a Seville Classics UltraHD workbench from Home Depot. (It's also available from Amazon.) It arrived around 7:00 PM last night. I mostly put it together last night and finished up this morning.

It's very solid and went together pretty easily. The frame, pegboard backsplash, drawer, and shelf are all made from steel. The work surface is 1.5" butcher block, well-finished, and heavy. It came with a power strip that has two USB ports and an LED light that's mounted under the top shelf. It came with an assortment of hooks to mount on the pegboard.

The dimensions are 65.6" high x 24" deep x 48" wide. The top of the work surface sits 37" high. It's really the only thing I'd change. Being short I would prefer it to be a few inches lower.

It came with two tools for assembly: a stamped steel wrench and a long Phillips head screwdriver, which is magnetized. That came in handy although I mostly used my drill with suitable screw driver bits. It also came with a few spare screws.

My first project was to clean my 1948-vintage Remington 550-1 .22 autoloader. I put at least 100 rounds through it on our last camping trip, including a bunch of CCI .22 CB Shorts, so it was filthy inside.

Next up will be my Uberti 1866 Yellowboy. Since getting it earlier this year I haven't removed the sideplates. Unfortunately, Uberti has a bad habit of over-torqueing the action screws on their rifles, which combined with their cheese-like hardness means that there's a good chance some will be destroyed in removal. I therefore have hardened replacements on order from VTI Gunparts. After getting the gun apart I also intend to replace the loading gate cover (AKA "ladle") with a stronger, improved one. For now, I have penetrating oil soaking into the screws.