March 2017
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For those concerned people

I have received a few comments and off line inquiries about my well being and the status of the Engineering Radio blog in general.  First, let me say; thank you for your concern.  There are many things going on right now, both professionally and personally.  Some of those things are good and some are bad.  In other words; typical life stuff.

First, from the professional side:  The company (?) I work for has undergone some internal changes. We are, in general, very busy and I myself have at least five or six irons in the fire when it comes to projects.  These include things like two complete studio projects, a couple of transmitter site rebuilds, some STL installation work, a couple of new IP data links, etc.  On top of this there are, of course, maintenance issues and emergency calls, irate general managers, frugal owners, old equipment, and so on.  We have had a pretty good cold snap over the last weekend (-10 to -15F), which has lead to numerous failures; pipes freezing, diesel fuel gelling, UPSs quitting, etc.  <s>All in, it has been so much fun I cannot believe I actually get paid do to this </s>.  If you have worked in the business for a while, none of this should surprise you.

When I get time, I will put together some posts on the above projects, as some of them are quite interesting or at least somewhat entertaining.

Secondly, from the personal side:  Youth hockey season is here and I have been carting my son around to practices and various hockey games in upstate NY and western Massachusetts.  Last weekend, his team played in the Empire State Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York.

Lake Placid hand shake

End of game hand shake, USA rink, Lake Placid, NY

For any fan of Hockey, a trip to the Herb Brooks Arena can be a semi-religious experience.

In addition to this, another common radio engineering problem has occurred; marital discord.  So much so that alternate living arrangements have been considered.

Thus, my time and very often my mood has been constrained.  Hopefully, after youth Hockey season ends in next month, I will at least have more time to do some quality posting.  Your patience is appreciated.

As my Russian friends say:

Political Warning! Turn away now if you wish to remain blissfuly ignorent.

На сей раз Путин прав.

Who do you think you're foolin' with?

Who do you think you’re foolin’ with?

For those of you who don’t govoroo pa Rooski (speak in Russian), it says: Na sey raz Putin prav.

What, specifically, is he right about? Syria: Who caused it, the resulting humanitarian crisis, the refugees in Europe, and so on. Also, the question: What is the difference between a moderate rebel and an immoderate one? Well… Starting with the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the US involvement in the region has been either grossly incompetent or blatantly evil or perhaps a combination of the two. Remember the humanitarian bombs in Libya? The opening salvo of 138 tomahawk missiles ($1.2M each)? To be sure, Muammar Gaddafi was no saint, but compared to the people who are running Libya now, he was Ma Teresa.

The US has spent approximately $500M training these “moderate rebels,” but according to the CENTCOM commander, number only “four or five.”  They are just pissing away money and our kids are going to have to pay it back.  When will somebody stand up and ask: What the hell is going on around here?

By the way; Путин не мой герой, which makes it even sadder still.

The Sportable 3306LED02 Baseball Scoreboard

This post has nothing to do with radio engineering, but is full of geeky goodness, nonetheless. My son is playing Little League again this year. This is his first year in the majors division, and I have to say, I have been thoroughly enjoying watching his games. There is, of course, one minor glitch in the matrix; the scoreboard, which occasionally looks like this:

Little League Scoreboard, missing LED segments

Little League Scoreboard, missing LED segments.

Now, that is more of an annoyance than anything else. I know what inning it is and what the score is. Truth be told, most of the time the scoreboard is being run by one of the parents (read: a mom) and they can become distracted at times. Very often, the ball/strike/out count is not correct, which in turn causes the home plate umpire to angrily stare up and the scorekeeper’s window.


As I was saying, more of an annoyance…

Regardless, I thought to myself; jeez, I fix things, perhaps I should have a go at that sign. So I spoke to one of the Little League board members who was more than grateful for any assistance I could render.

Thus, one afternoon, after work, I got the ladder out and started poking around to see what I could learn.  These signs are relatively simple.  Each digit on the sign has one circuit board.  Each circuit board has seven segments.  Each segment has fourteen LEDs in series.  There is a Toshiba ULN2803APG, which is a 16 pin darlington driver, a LM 317 voltage regulator which is fixed with a 62 ohm resistor.

Scoreboard single digit circuit board

Scoreboard single digit circuit board

Approximate schematic scoreboard circuit board segment

Approximate schematic scoreboard circuit board segment

After poking around with the DVM for a while, I determined that the bad segments were due to open LEDs.  I measured the working LED’s and determined that each LED was dropping about 1.7 volts.  I took a board home with me and rummaged around in the parts bin until I found some orange 5MM LEDs that matched the voltage drop of the ones on the board. I confirmed my ladder top troubleshooting findings on the work bench using the DVM in diode mode.  I also noticed that the Fluke DVM had enough current to light the LED, thus making troubleshooting much easier.  There were three bad circuit boards with various segments out.

Scoreboard LED voltage drop

Scoreboard LED voltage drop

Scoreboard individual LED testing good

Scoreboard individual LED testing good

A few minutes with the soldering iron and presto:

Scoreboard, repaired

Scoreboard, repaired

Sign repaired.  I little further research and I found that an Everlight MV8104 LED (Mouser part number 638-MV8104) is a near perfect replacement.  Literally, a 23.3 cent (US) part.

In all fairness to the company that  makes the scoreboard, this unit was new in 2003 or 2004.  It has spent at least 11 years outside in upstate NY, which is not a tender climate.  They will replace the digit circuit boards for 175.00 each, plus $25.00 shipping.  My repair work used 9 LEDs ($2.10) plus about two hours troubleshooting and repairing vs. $600.00 plus perhaps an hour to replace the boards.

Happy Labor Day

Modern Art

After replacing a burned out FM antenna for one of our clients, the question became; what do we do with the old antenna?  There were several options:

  • Throw it behind the transmitter building and let weeds and poison ivy grow over it
  • Take it to the scrap yard to get what ever money we could for it
  • Give it away to somebody
  • Turn it into a fountain

I have scrapped these old antennas before, they are made mostly of hard yellow brass, which does not net too much at the scrap yard.  In fact, by the time I finished removing the Radomes and separating the metal, I had more time into the job than it was worth for both myself and the client.  Therefore, I present to you the ERI LPX lawn fountain:

ERI LPX2E Rototiller FM antenna used as a fountain

ERI LPX2E Rototiller FM antenna used as a fountain

Upon completion, my wife and daughter, who are natural born skeptics, even had kind words to say. It seemed like a simple project at first; enlarge the dry well for the basement sump pumps and install some type of mounting base for the old antenna. It turned into a little more than that.

Mounting base for ERI antenna fountain

Mounting base for ERI antenna fountain

It took several hours of backbreaking labor, a concrete form and a few bags of ready mix concrete to create the mounting base. Several wheelbarrow loads of gravel, some rocks from the old wall in the woods and a pond pump from the hardware store round out the installation.

ERI LPX2E Rototiller FM antenna fountain

ERI LPX2E Rototiller FM antenna fountain

I am not sure what else to say.

Nice Olympic Hockey coverage, NBC

Hockey is about the only sport I care about these days.  The Olympic hockey rivalry between US and Russia has been epic ever since the Lake Placid games in 1980.  Why then, does NBC not broadcast the game live?  In order to see the game live, one has to subscribe to NBCsn, which is in the premium tier on my cable system.  No, they would rather force people to pay lots of money because they can.  Such if life in the land of Monopoly.

Well, for every problem, there is a solution.  Mine involved a VPN connection to somebody else’s network.  I watched the game, but the commentary was in Russian.  I didn’t understand most of it, however, as to the results of the game; I got the general feeling that the Russians were not amused:

Not time (for/to) smile

Not time (for/to) smile

It seems the referees made a few controversial calls, including denying a Russian goal because the US net was out of place.  I wonder how that will be mentioned on the repackaged replay.

There were other streaming options as well, one just needs to hunt around to find things.

In the information age, it seems the establishment’s control of the narrative is slipping away.  I view this as a positive development.


С Рождеством!

Which is Russian for Merry Christmas! The translation is roughly Christ is Born! (S Rozh-dest-vom). Whilst the Russians do not celebrate Christmas until January 7th, it is the thought that counts.  I have been learning Russian over the last few months, mostly listening to lessons while driving very long distances to various client locations.  I like it because it is difficult.  Why do something easy?

In keeping with the holiday spirit; Happy Hanukkah, Feliz Navidad, Happy Kwanza and then there is Festivus for the rest of us.

Festivus Ale

Festivus Ale

Actually, one could also use PBR. It’s a hipster thing.

Mozilla Lightbeam

Not related to radio, but interesting nonetheless. Mozilla, the designer of the Firefox web browser has come up with a cool way to see tracking data for any HTTP sessions. It is an add-on called Lightbeam. I tried a little experiment, after installing lightbeam, I surfed around a little bit then looked at the results. A screenshot of the graphical output is below:

Mozilla lightbeam graphical output

Mozilla Lightbeam graphical output

The round circles are the sites that I visited. The triangles are third party sites connected to the visited site. During the real Lightbeam session, a mouse over the icon will show the name or url. It is an interesting exercise. Visiting 27 web sites nets a total of 172 third party sites or approximately 6 third party sites per visited site. Commercial news sites like CNN and NBC seem to have the most connections to third party sites. In this case, it appears to be mostly innocuous advertizing. Even so, it is an enlightening experiment.

And… Writer’s block

It seems I am having trouble coming up with topics these days. It happens to everyone, or so I am told.  There are several excuses that I could throw at you; I am very busy with school work, I am also very busy with field work, and a certain weariness that comes with that.  It is also partially a feeling that I have done all this before and there is nothing new to impart. Nothing new under the sun these days, or so it seems.  I could rehash some worthwhile old topics, but alas; there is this issue with motivation or the lack thereof.

In the mean time, feel free to browse through any of the previous 620 or so posts.  I be back in a few…

The 4CX250B ceramic tube

4CX250B ceramic vacuum tube

4CX250B ceramic vacuum tube

It’s a cute little thing.  These were often used for driver tubes in FM broadcast transmitters.   With the naming conventions of ceramic tubes, we can tell quite a bit about the unit without even looking at the data sheet.

  • The first number is indicates the number of grids in the tube, 3 makes it a triode, 4 tetrote and 5 pentode.
  • The C means it is a ceramic tube
  • The X indicates it is air cooled, a V is vapor cooled, W is water cooled, M is multiphase
  • The 250 is the plate dissipation is watts
  • B is the design revision.

Thus a 4CV100,000 is a vapor cooled tube capable of dissipating 100,000 watts, something one might find in a high powered MF or HF transmitter.

Other bits of critical information about tubes would be maximum plate voltage, maximum screen voltage, maximum grid voltage, maximum screen dissipation, maximum grid dissipation and filament voltage.  Something to keep in mind when tuning a transmitter.

This particular tube is installed in the driver section of a Continental 816R2 transmitter.

Continental 816R2 driver section

Continental 816R2 driver section

I have noticed that these tubes have a much shorter life than there predecessors.  Back ten or twenty years ago, they usually lasted 12-14 months.  The latest set lasted only 8 months and both units failed catastrophically.  That points to one of two things; either something in the transmitter has changed or something in the way the tubes are manufactured has changed.  Once the new tubes were installed, I checked all of the parameters against previous maintenance logs.  I also checked things like air flow, dirt and other possible culprits.

I could find no changes in the transmitter.  The only thing I can think of is the fact that the tubes are installed horizontally, which causes the elements to warp and eventually break or short.

Continental 816R2 transmitter, WFLY, Troy, NY

Continental 816R2 transmitter, WFLY, Troy, NY

I am thinking we may try to convert the driver section of this transmitter to a solid state unit.  The transmitter itself is 24 years old, but is still works and sounds great.  I’d hate to get rid of it because of its driver section.


A pessimist sees the glass as half empty. An optimist sees the glass as half full. The engineer sees the glass as twice the size it needs to be.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
~1st amendment to the United States Constitution

Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.
~Benjamin Franklin

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. To be your own man is hard business. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.
~Rudyard Kipling

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers
~Universal Declaration Of Human Rights, Article 19 was discovered, and not invented, and that these frequencies and principles were always in existence long before man was aware of them. Therefore, no one owns them. They are there as free as sunlight, which is a higher frequency form of the same energy.
~Alan Weiner

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