Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Restored Knight Kit Ocean Hopper Radio

I posted a few years ago about this receiver originally built by my father in 1967.

A co-worker of mine with better soldering skills than me replaced the main capacitor and brought it back to life.

The round white thing with wire wrapped around it is a tuning coil. To switch bands you swap out the coils. I currently have one for 40M in the radio but have others around here somewhere that I need to find.

I fired it up tonight for the first time since getting it back and was able to pull in a shortwave station from South Carolina, some Spanish language broadcasts, what must've been distant AM stations (judging by them playing Phil Collins and Manfred Mann), and finally, China Plus News from Beijing. Tuning in a station required you to futz with all the knobs on the front. It makes you appreciate modern digital tuning. Heck, it makes you appreciate superheterodyne receivers!

The antenna I have it connected to the Ultimax-100 40-6M end fed on my roof, which is setup as a N-S sloper. I cut a piece of lamp cord, stripped the ends, and put an alligator clip on one end. I connected the bare end to the Fahnestock clip on the radio and the alligator clip to the center conductor of my antenna feed coax.

Fun stuff.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Saturday Night Range Report

Last night I hit the range with Dad and put some more rounds through the Ruger SR22 along with my CZ P-09.

I put around 75 Remington Golden Bullet hollow points, 100 Golden Bullet solids, and about 60 Federal 550 bulk pack hollow points through the Ruger. The gun didn't have any malfunctions that weren't related to ammo. To wit:

--Four of the Golden Bullets required a second hit to ignite.
--Three of the Federals required second hits.
--One of the Golden Bullet cases split and needed to be pushed out with a cleaning rod.

This batch of Golden Bullets seems especially bad. Previous range trips in which I've shot a couple hundred rounds of it had no more than one misfire per trip.

That's the most problems I've ever experienced in one range session with .22 ammo. When folks point to the unreliability of rimfire ammo as one reason .22s aren't suitable for defense (ballistics aside), this is what they're referring to.

In contrast, I've experienced exactly one misfire with CCI .22 rimfire ammo, among thousands fired.

The Remingtons seemed loaded hotter than the Federals, something I've noticed before. They also spit a lot more -- after virtually every shot I felt unburned powder granules on my face. I won't be using it when teaching my daughter to shoot.

I continue to be pleased with the Ruger SR22. The SA trigger is smoothing out, although the DA pull remains long, heavy, and has a lot of creep.

My round count through the CZ was much lower. I ran one 50-round box of Speer 124 grain Gold Dot JHPs through it as a function check. My dad also put 30 rounds of Fiocchi 9mm 115 grain ball through it. As expected, it worked fine. The pistol has over 500 rounds through it so far without any issues.

Dad brought his S&W Model 67 with some .38 Special 158 grain LSWC handloads and his S&W SW9VE, aka the "Smegma." The SW9VE is an economy gun but gets a bad rap because it isn't as refined as the M&P. Dad's has been trouble free for over 1,000 rounds.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

More Range Time with the Ruger SR22

My daughter and I hit the range yesterday and brought along "her" Ruger SR22. I put 20 CCI SV rounds through it.  She shot it unsuppressed, so I had her use Remington Golden Bullet high speed brass-plated hollow points.

Golden Bullets don't have a very good reputation for quality but as of a couple years ago Remington seems to have improved them. They run well and give good accuracy in my Remington Nylon 77 and 550-1, so I wanted to see how the Ruger would handle them.

My kid put at least 150 Golden Bullets through the Ruger. We had one failure to go into battery that was resolved by bumping the back of the slide, and one misfire. After trying a second hit, then ejecting the misfire and rotating it 180 degrees, it went off. This isn't unusual with cheap bulk .22 ammo.

I'm happy to see the Ruger function well with the Golden Bullets. They were one of the few types of .22 ammo I was able to lay in a good supply of during the 0bama years.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Ruger SR22

I've recently been considering acquiring a second compact .22 autoloading pistol. A few years ago I picked up an Israeli surplus Beretta Model 71 Jaguar, which is a really nice shooter. However, factory magazines are unobtanium and if something breaks, I'm probably SOL.

This Father's Day I was given $100 in Cabela's gift cards, which I used last week towards the purchase of a Ruger SR22. The specific model I got is the 3604, which sports 3.5" threaded barrel.

About 5 or 6 years ago, Ruger introduced the SR22 which is a small DA/SA .22 semiauto pistol styled much like the Walther P22 (which in turn looks like a scaled-down P99). The Ruger has a much better reputation for reliability and durability, according to what I've seen online.

First some stats, then shooting impressions.

  • Action: Semiautomatic, blowback, with double action/single action trigger.
  • Safety: Combination safety/decocker
  • Hammer: External
  • Barrel: Stainless steel, 3.5" long with muzzle threaded to accept a 1/2x28 coupler*.
  • Sights: Three-dot dovetailed into the slide. Rear is adjustable for windage and elevation.
  • Weight: 17.5 oz.
  • OAL: 6.4"
  • Height" 4.9"
  • Width: 0.97"
  • Frame: Polymer with interchangeable grip sleeves.
  • Slide material: Aircraft aluminum, anodized black.

From Ruger's North Carolina factory, the pistol shipped with a chamber flag in place, two 10-round magazines, two extra magazine baseplates to replace the pinky rests installed on the mags, a lock, the thread coupler, and a wrench for the coupler. A thread protector was screwed onto the barrel. It came off with moderate force using the wrench.

It also shipped with two interchangeable grip sleeves. Mine was fitted with the one that has a palm swell. I have fairly small hands and it fits me well. My 13 year old daughter also liked how the gun felt.

And of course, it came with an owner's manual, literature about the NRA, and a couple Ruger stickers.

Before shooting the Ruger I field stripped and lubricated it with some FP-10, since it was bone dry.

Field stripping and reassembly is straightforward. Certainly a lot easier than my Mark III 22/45 Lite. To field strip, unload the pistol, drop the hammer using the decocker, and then open the takedown latch in front of the trigger. The slide can then be pulled up and to the rear, off the frame rails, and then slipped forward over the muzzle. Note that the thread coupler has a flange around it that will prevent the slide from slipping forward over the barrel. If the coupler is installed it must be removed prior to field stripping.

The magazines are easy to load. Each has a thumb button to aid depressing the follower.

I haven't shot it for groups yet but did get a couple hundred rounds through it while plinking at a few old hard drives and a self-healing rubber target. The first 95 were CCI Standard Velocity rounds shot through my Form 1 suppressor. I also put a lone CCI CB Long through the can, which as you'd imagine was very quiet. The remainder were Federal Automatch high speeds shot unsuppressed. The gun had no malfunctions.

A primary reason for buying the Ruger was to get a pistol that my 13 year old daughter could comfortably hold and shoot. It excels at that and she's trying to claim it as her own after shooting it this weekend. Even with my silencer she's able to hold it steady and frequently hit our plinking targets. My next step will be to get her shooting at paper.

Incidentally, being able to shoot it suppressed is a major advantage when training a new shooter. My can is hearing safe when fired outdoors with standard velocity ammo. Being able to give instruction in a normal conversational voice instead of having to shout to be heard is damn nice. Contact your reps and let's get the Hearing Protection Act passed!

My initial impression, along with my daughter's and that of my friend who shot the SR22 are all extremely favorable. I hope to run a few more different kinds of ammo through it soon, and shoot it on paper to check group size and fine tune the zero (which is pretty much on already).

*Most modern shooters insist that they be referred to as "suppressors." Their inventor, Hiram Maxim, named them "silencers." Under the National Firearms Act, they are "silencers," even if "suppressor" is a more technically accurate term.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Pi-Top Raspberry Pi Laptop

Earlier this year I learned about the Pi-Top, a kit for turning a Raspberry Pi single board computer into a laptop, from a friend's post on Facebook. A portable RPi-based system is something I've been interested in for awhile, because if it has enough horsepower to run Fldigi, it would make a neat, relatively inexpensive system to run digital modes on ham radio while in the field with low electrical power requirements.

Last weekend I was down at Microcenter in St. David's, PA to return a cell phone car mount that didn't work out for me*, when I wander over into the DIY section. A few years ago, Microcenter decided to cater to the maker movement and has been carrying a lot of neat stuff. Its what Radio Shack should've done instead of trying to be another cell phone hawker.

Anyway, I saw that they had the Pi-Top kits for sale so I decided to get one. The Pi-Top kit does not include an RPi, so I also got a RPi 3 Model B, which included onboard Bluetooth and WiFi.

The Pi-Top was about $265, while the RPi 3 was on sale for $30.

Laptop guts on my dining room table:

The kit was well packaged in a cleverly designed box and came with an 8 GB microSD card pre-loaded with a version of Raspbian customized for the Pi-Top hardware. The instruction booklet that came with it was pretty good but lacked any info about the OS, except a pointer to the Pi-Top website. It didn't even include the default login info.

Closeup of the USB hub (left) and the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B:

The Pi-Top case is molded from plastic and feels about like what you'd expect from a $250 laptop. Assembly was pretty straightforward except that I initially mounted the RPi too far to the right in the case. The cables that link the RPi and the USB hub aren't long enough. This results in the RPi being inset to the left inside the case, which makes using the USB ports inconvenient. The case also blocks access to the Pi's onboard Fast Ethernet port.

Click on any of the pics to embiggen.

Boards mounted in the case:

The Pi-Tops 13.3" screen is decent. It's nothing to write home about, especially after one is used to a MacBook Pro with Retina display, but it ain't bad.

The keyboard is OK. I wouldn't want to do any extended writing or coding on it, however.

The shiny plastic cover at the top of the keyboard slides in and out from the right side of the computer. This helps when trying to connect something to the USB ports.

Side-by-side with my mid-2009 15" MacBook Pro:

Because of the plastic construction and a lot of empty space within the case, it's very lightweight.

The Pi-Top doesn't ship with a speaker, so as it comes there's no audio unless you buy the $20 add-on speaker, or run a cable from the RPi's audio jack to a set of external speakers.

After getting it up and running I naturally ran apt-get update and apt-get upgrade to bring the system up-to-date. Normally this wouldn't cause any issues but something related to dpkg got munged and I had to do about an hour's worth of troubleshooting to fix it and restore the ability to install or upgrade packages. Unfortunately I don't recall the specifics and didn't take notes.

Last weekend was ARRL Field Day, so I dragged my Icom 7200 and the Pi-Top out back on Sunday to see how it would fair as a portable digital mode laptop. It decoded PSK31 well, but the screen wasn't bright enough to use without a lot more shade than I had available, so I kept losing the cursor.

There are buttons on the keyboard to adjust screen brightness but they aren't working. I'm not sure if they would have worked pre-update, but they aren't post-update. Such is desktop Linux. Flakiness like that is why I normally run macOS as my desktop UNIX.

The manufacturer claims a 10+ hour battery life and from my testing so far, it sips power.

So, would I recommend the Pi-Top? It depends. If you're an experienced Linux user in search of a portable machine with low electrical power requirements, it's worth considering. Keep in mind that it's also a low computing power device. Web pages render relatively slowly. The OS includes Libre Office. I have not putzed with it yet but based on prior experience with that suite, it's going to run slowly on this hardware.

* Don't try to use a magnetic mount with an iPhone 7+ in a MagPul Field Case. The first bump in the road that you hit, and the phone will fall.

Some Job Updates

Back when I started blogging, first at Building-Tux.com and then here on Blogger, I wrote a lot about my job. For the first few years I wrote about supporting my employer's commercial cable modem customers and our optical transport network. After that I blogged some about doing ongoing engineering related to the cable modem service. After that, my focus shifted, in part because I didn't feel that I had much of interest to write about.

Seventeen years later, I'm still with the same company but several jobs later. For the past few years I managed the product engineering lab at our corporate headquarters in downtown Philadelphia. That was good data center management experience but I got burned out by the end of last year. Towards the end of 2016 we underwent yet another reorganization and I found myself in a new group with some opportunity for advancement.

As of a few weeks ago I'm no longer a lab manager. I'm now Service Operations Lead for our lab operations team. A big part of this is to help craft our new operations model in compliance with the ITIL best practices. I also have a supervisory role over a few very talented senior-level engineers. So far, I've been extremely busy and I've been enjoying it.

One thing I like in particular about the new position is its location. From 2004 up until earlier this month I commuted into Center City Philadelphia. Now I'm going to our office in Downingtown, PA, about a 25 mile drive. Yeah, I have to drive, but I'm not dependent on the SEPTA Regional Rail lines. And I never have to sit next to some fat guy who smells like cheese, or listen to obnoxious obliviots prattling on their cell phones while riding the "quiet" car during my commute.

Also, back in April I got my fourth US Patent, which was a nice feather in my cap. (I'm a co-inventor on all four.)

Not dead yet, and an update on my newest Mac

Tonight I pulled ye olde blog and realized that I haven't posted anything here since February. Yikes. I have posted over on Survival and Emergency Preparedness, which if you don't read you should check it out. (I might be a bit biased in that regard.)

Anyhoo, in my last post I mentioned that I had a new 15" MacBook Pro on the way. I've been living with it now for several months so I thought I'd offer some subjective impressions:

  • It's fast as hell, even with several large applications open, e.g., Excel, Outlook, Chrome, Slack, and Skype for Business.
  • The screen is beautiful.
  • The keyboard is different from earlier Macs but I got used to it quickly.
  • I love the huge trackpad when I'm not connected to an external keyboard and mouse.
  • With 16 GB of RAM I am able to allocate 8 GB to a Windows 10 VM running in Parallels, and have decent performance in the VM. I most commonly use Windows to run the vSphere Client (still a better UI than VMware's web client) or Visio 2013.
  • Having only USB-C AKA Thunderbolt 3 ports is a pain in the ass. I have to use an adapter to connect to my 27" Thunderbolt display, or connect most common USB drives, or to Ethernet if I'm not using the Thunderbolt display with its integrated Gig-E port.
    • I got one of these Anker USB C to USB 3.0 and Gig-E hubs. It has worked well for me although I haven't tried pounding on an external USB drive with it, just flash drives and Ethernet.
    • The Anker hub worked with my FTDI chipset USB to Cisco console cable. (And of course the point of buying the latter was to minimize the number of dongles attached to my laptop. Grr.)
  • The Touch Bar is a gimmick. Most of the time I don't even see it because I run an external monitor, mouse, and keyboard, so the machine's lid is closed anyway.
  • Battery life is very good.
  • It's super thin and not too heavy.
  • Apple no longer includes the power cord extension with the machine. Just the wall wart and a single USB C cable. The older power cord extensions are compatible with the new power supply, however.
  • I fucking hate that it doesn't have a MagSafe power connection. The MagSafe connection on my other Mac laptops, and my daughters' MacBook Airs, has prevented damage more times than I can count. This is a massive step back.
Overall I am happy with it but would have preferred the retention of at least one USB 3.0 port and I want my damn MagSafe connector back. (Griffin sells a USB C to MagSafe adapter but it's rated for only up to about 60W. The 15" MBP uses an 87W power supply.)

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Solution for Broken Time Machine Backups and a New Laptop on the Way

At work I use a late 2013 13" MacBook Pro with Retina display. Most of my files are kept in our corporate Box.com account, which is a handy way to ensure that they are backed up. However, I was using Time Machine to ensure application settings were also backed up, and in general for a "belt and suspenders" approach.

Unfortunately, Time Machine stopped functioning back in October. I kept running into this problem.

I tried all sorts of fixes, including disabling application throttling for it, to no avail.

I have a new 15" MacBook Pro on the way and want to be able to move all my old settings over to it, so I revisited the issue yesterday. After trying several of the fixes I found online, again with no positive results, I decided to upgrade from OS 10.11 El Capitan to 10.12 Sierra. That fixed it.

My laptop is bound to our NT domain and I found that after the upgrade my NT account was locked. It turns out that there was a known bug with Sierra causing this. Applying the OS 10.12.3 update fixed that. I also had to upgrade to the later versions of the Symantec VIP soft token app and the Pulse Secure VPN client. The older versions I had weren't compatible with Sierra.

Other than fixing my Time Machine backup and requiring a couple application updates, Sierra isn't dramatically different from El Capitan. I deleted the Siri icon from my dock -- I don't use it even on my iPhone.

Hopefully, I'll have the new MBP by the end of the week, but at the rate our IT department is working it may not be until next week.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Some More Range Time With the C96 Broomhandle

Yesterday I took my Mauser C96 Broomhandle out to a friend's place and we put another 50 rounds through it. As with the first 100 rounds it ran flawlessly with the Prvi Partizan 7.63 Mauser ammo.

Our target was an 8" steel gong from about 15 - 20 yards and it wasn't any problem keeping the rounds on it. We shot it both without and with the stock. I'm not sure if was the natural lighting or that my eyes weren't as tired, but I found it easier to focus on the front sight this time when it was stocked, vs. the first trip when I shot it indoors under florescent lighting.

Compared with a lot of other semiautos, recovering the brass was easy because it ejects the cases almost straight up. By laying out a tarp on the ground we didn't have to do much searching for them.

New Router

A couple years ago I installed an Asus RT-AC66U 802.11ac router at home. A few weeks ago it started acting flaky, requiring frequent reboots, and finally crapped out entirely yesterday. To get our home network back online I took my Comcast XB2 Arris TM862G gateway out of bridge mode, enabling routing and WiFi.

The performance stunk, largely because it's 2.4GHz only and I'm in a subdivision, so I get a lot of interference on that band. The fastest I could get on speedtest.net was about 20 Mbps down, totally unacceptable for what should be ~100 Mbps service.

So, yesterday afternoon I ordered a Linksys WRT1900ACS router from Amazon, selected one day delivery (I have Prime), and it was dropped off this morning while I was eating my oatmeal.

My initial impressions are generally favorable and setup was straightforward. Performance is plenty acceptable. After installing it I ran a test and got about 96 Mbps down. I just ran a test and got this:

I can certainly live with that.

The Linksys offers some features I'm unlikely to take advantage of, e.g., USB ports to serve files or a printer. However, it does support DynDNS and NoIP, so I may setup OpenVPN on it for remote access and possible as a private VPN for when I travel.