Big

This morning my subject well is empty. There is nothing that needs saying. So I went back to basics. I conducted a random word search in the first book I could lay my hands on:  Lee, the last years. I failed to note the page that fell open. I only remember the word my finger pointed to: BIG.

The year is 1956, the month is October, the day is 15. I’d just enlisted in the air force, taken my oath, and boarded a train bound to Texas. Though second thought were no longer an option I still wondered what I’d left myself get into.

I was among strangers, standing in the coach waiting for the train to leave the station when perhaps the largest man I’d ever see. suggested we should go to the last car and wave goodbye to the folks. I didn’t have any folks to wave to, but I went along just the same.

The train began moving the moment I closed the door behind us. Everyone, my fellow enlistees and people standing on the platform, were all waving and shouting farewells back and forth when the conductor joined us.

A conductor of a Kansas City Southern Passenger Train probably had to have many years in his wake. He certainly fit the image.

“Hey!” he shouted, his voice that of a very old person, “you can’t be out here.”

We all turned and we probably would have silently obeyed, but the big man was not accustomed to bending to another man’s will.

“Wadda you mean we can’t be out here?” he shouted down at the top of his head.

Without a doubt, the conductor had faced similar situations, so instead of responding, he turned on his heel and reentered the coach.

Without another word we followed, the young giant trailing behind.

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Y2K+17

BBC reports on a Facebook employee, Antonio Garcia Martinez, who has quit his San Francisco job and moved to a newly acquired parcel of land in the San Juan Islands. He predicts that technology will soon overtake our economy, forcing sixty percent of the population out-of-work.

Not many of these out-of-work people will have the funds to purchase these new products of which he speaks – self-driving is what he mentions in the interview.

However, if by chance his hunch is correct and the masses come for his stuff they may not rush him. They may wait in the bushes. Eventually, he will nod off. What then?

Is Antonio suffering from paranoia, or Y2K+17?

Fear

A close friend of mine was unable to face the world without a drink under his belt. I was years coming to realize that.

We all thought that it was funny when during a hospital stay the nurse found a fifth of Old Crow in his bed sheets. She’d raised hell with him. We laughed.

He kept his problem hidden from others, for the most part, but there were times when the glaring truth could no longer be kept secret.

One summer he worked a temporary job driving a mint harvester at night. It was an alcoholic’s dream-job. In the darkness no one could see him taking a nip from his thermos. His drinking problem remained unnoticed until the night he apparently hit the hooch too hard. The boss discovered him driving the tractor across the field perpendicular to the proper direction and fired him.

Later he took a job driving a taxi at night. It was also perfect. No one could see what he was doing. But one night a passenger with a sharp nose sniffed something  and reported him to the supervisor. He was fired in middle of his shift.

Some years earlier he’d lost a leg in a truck accident, so he naturally moved slower than others. He was probably about 65 when he was afflicted with cancer on his tongue. After the cancer was removed we, the family, went to the hospital to visit him. He moved around as easily as the rest of us. I’d known him 40 years, yet I hardly recognized him. He had been in a constant stage of drunkenness all those years and I was unaware of it.

He passed on at age 70. After he was gone I came to realize he lived in constant fear.

Which brings another situation into focus.

A middle-aged lady I’ve come to know shows evidence of a drinking problem. She’s obviously been at it long enough she’s learned to maintain a controlled environment. No one notices she has a snootful because they’ve not seen her in any other state. Not until recently did I realize she is dealing with a failed marriage and the loss of her comfortable home. There may be other issues of which I’m not aware, because I’m only an acquaintance, not her confident.

But I’ve come to know her well enough to suspect she cannot cope with life while she’s stone sober.

Delinquent

I think about you every day, but I’ve been extremely busy. My 22-chapter Rose series will be finish out in September. I finished a seven-chapter serious that is in the final states of edit. And another story is showing itself. I can put off a lot of things, but I have to capture the stream while it’s running.

Thanks to those who keep checking. I appreciate your support.

Toroid Whisperer

learning patience one turn at a time

de bill K7WXW

On the bench in front wire coils of me is a half-empty printed circuit board in a vise, that I am not working on right now, and a just-finished one, which I am. It is supposed to be a QRP antenna tuner, a piece of gear that matches antenna impedance, which can vary, to an unchanging radio impedance. While a careful physical inspection of my work doesn’t reveal any misplaced parts, solder bridges or other assembly calamities, the tuner isn’t tuning. It is doing nothing other than being about as passive as any grouping of passive components I’ve ever worked with. Signal in, nothing out.

I have a suspect or two. This kit involves winding and installing toroid inductors, something I’ve never done before. The instructions are straightforward but the details are daunting: counting turns of wire around a tiny ferrite donut, with taps along the way and making three sets of overlapping windings. I find it easy to miscount turns or put a tap in the wrong place and getting the enamel insulation off the 24 AWG wire so the coil can be soldered into the board at five points is a real challenge.

Unlike most components — capacitors, transistors, switches, lights — that a kit builder buys in ready-to-use form, inductors usually arrive as a ferrite core of some sort and a bundle of wire. The sight strikes fear into the heart of a new builder: winding inductors has such a longstanding reputation for being difficult that there are folks who get paid to make them for hams that don’t want to make their own. I am not one of those hams. So far.

Since getting my license, I’ve built half a dozen small kits like this antenna tuner. When I figured out that I wanted to explore home brewing, it seemed better to start with gear that someone else had already designed and which works if built as instructed. Kits provide a gentle introduction (or in my case re-introduction) to schematic reading, soldering, electronic components identification and all the other things that make up the how of building electronic gear. Kits were a good entry point for me; though I’ve had to do rework on every project, I’ve not had an unfixable failure. Yet.

This time, though, I am stumped. After trying and failing way more than once to correctly wind and install the two inductors in this kit, I am starting to think it’s time to call a toroid whisperer. I didn’t account for left vs right handed winding consistently, so some of the wire ends finished on the wrong side of the coil. I miscounted (twice) the number of turns to a tap. I wound one of them correctly (I think) but didn’t get all the enamel insulation off two of the wires, which I figured out after I had soldered three others in place. I am not sure what other variety of mistake is possible but it seems likely I will discover them all before I get this thing to work.

Toroid winding is a lesson in accuracy, patience and letting go. Especially letting go. When I find it hard to admit that I’ve made a mistake — like I did while winding these inductors — I end up investing a lot of time and energy making less-than-well-thought-out repairs. Let me spare the new toroid winder some pain: trying to fix a badly wound toroid is always a mistake. Even if you manage to move the tap into the right position or whatever — which is hardly ever possible – the end result inevitably has some other kink or nick that will haunt you later in a much harder to find way. The only thing than a not-working toroid is one that sorta works. So… lesson one is admitting when I’ve bungled something, stepping back from it, and almost always, starting over from step one.

Winding toroids also teaches that accuracy is paired with patience. Twenty-two turns is not twenty-three or twenty-one-and-one-half. Ending up inside the toroid is not the same as outside. When you make an inductor, if you get it wrong, the circuit doesn’t work as it should or doesn’t work at all. And the only way to get it right is to work slowly, methodically, and patiently. It is difficult to count turns or get wire to lie flat if you are in a rush and easy if you aren’t. A well-made toroid inductor is a physical manifestation of accuracy borne of patience: it has the right number of turns going the right distance around the donut with the right spacing. It looks like it was done by somebody who cares about doing things right as surely as one that doesn’t says the opposite.

The inductor sitting in front of me, which I have clipped off of the printed circuit board, does not have this look. I can see where I rushed the winding: it isn’t evenly spaced and doesn’t lay flat against the toroid. Under a magnifier I can also see where I left enamel on two of the leads, which means they weren’t making good contact in the circuit and at least two spots where I kinked the wire trying to correct the winding direction.

After clearing the printed circuit board through holes of the wire bits and solder left when I removed the inductors, I set it aside and start clipping the wire from around the each toroid. I will work on them during tomorrow’s bench session, after I read the instructions again, study the drawings and track down a fresh roll of wire. I will set aside an hour for each, rather than fifteen minutes, and check all the connection points with a meter before I solder either of them onto the board. I figured out a way to check the windings for direction and count: make a photo of the finished inductor, print an enlarged copy, and tick off the windings with a pen.

I imagine that this approach will greatly improve the chances of my antenna tuner tuning. Maybe I won’t need the whisperer after all.

Coffee Call

Each morning Barb and I take our coffee to our small, north side deck where we engage in conversation and observation of the world about. The morning we discovered a bug transporting something much larger than himself. We decided it was probably an ant, considering the fact they are able to carry a load several times their own weight.

However, the load this bug was moving apparently approached his limit. He was struggling. Everytime we moved he paused and waited. By the time our Coffee Call was finished he had moved about twenty inches in an easterly direction.

We respect life in all forms. If creatures don’t interfere with us we don’t purposely create problems for them whether they be ants, wasps, crows, or skunks.

When we moved back inside he may still en route.

A knob Twister

Image From the Internet

More than fifty years have passed since I left the old home place. Standing on the cellar wall, peering into the ashes and half-burned timbers that fill the place where I spent my winter nights, I hear the voice of Bob Wills or Red Foley, or maybe Ernest Tubb. I cup one ear to be sure. But the restless cottonwoods assure me it’s my imagination run wild. I’m hearing the ghosts of my past.

In this sooty hole beneath what was once the living room I’d experienced the golden age of radio. With a wire in the cottonwoods and a white Arvin 5-tube radio I’d earned from coupons on hog feed bags I enjoyed The Grand Ole’ Opry, Louisiana Hayride, and another that escapes me. But these fun-filled programs were transmitted only on weeks ends.

During the weekday evening I enjoyed Jack Benny, George Burns and Gracie Allen, The Whistler. The Shadow, and scores of other stories.

There were no full descriptions like those on television. I didn’t need them. I’d seen the girl with the yellow hair in the grocery store, just as I’d seen the guy with thick glasses in the drug store. I recognized my characters. Had you been sitting beside me during those winter nights you would have recognized yours too.

Great Legs

Jan Wilberg rung my bell the other day with a list of things she missed. We must be kin, somehow. Further down she mentioned having great legs when she was younger.  That rung a bell too.

Back in the 1950s when I was in boot camp sometimes shorts were the uniform of the day. As a result someone pinned the name Legs Laughlin on me. And it stuck.

So I asked a friend, “What the hell’s wrong with my legs?”

“I don’t know. They look twisted.”

“Thanks buddy. Thanks a lot.”

Cycling To Grand Canyon…er Almost

The temperature was up and the sky as blue as the Pacific the morning we drove into Williams, Arizona. After acquiring permission to leave our car parked at the visitor’s center we unloading the Burley Sama and attaching the Bike Friday Trailer. Our plan was to ignore the Grand Canyon Train that was waiting at the depot and begin the sixty plus miles to the South Rim. However, when we approached the gathering of anxious passengers a gunfight broke out. With no convenient place to take cover we sat on our tandem like two clay pigeons and watched two masked men make off with the strongbox. They hadn’t cleared the platform before the Williams Marshall appeared from nowhere and shot them both dead. Two young fellows came from the coffee shop and dragged the outlaws around behind the building.

Since our departure was already delayed we parked the bike and paused for coffee. While there, the marshall and his two dead men entered from the back and ordered coffee.

We were an hour behind schedule when we departed, but no worries. We’d go as far as we could and then make accommidations to suit the situation (this is what cycling is all about – keeping it fun).

Road repair was underway and we traveled between a windrow of red, volcanic ash and the shoulder. No worries. The windrow provided a welcome barrier between us and the speeding tour buses.

Some disance north of Williams we came upon a StarMart. Not knowing what may lie head, we wheeled in for coffee and donuts before proceeding, a welcome break, indeed.

We were about forty miles north of Williams when thunderheads appeared on the horizon. With them came gusty winds and a few rain drops the size of my thumb. Weather at this altitude can turn on a dime – more rain, hail, even snow. And there was no shelter available other than what we brought with us, bungied to the lid of our trailer. The tent.

Small, roadside stands of stunted trees offered a break from the wind. After choosing one large enough to accommodate our Burley and trailer we pitched our tent and settled in for the duration.

Morning brought no change, but with twenty more miles to go plus another sixty back to Williams we decided to turn back.

The undulating road was endless. The wind was relentless. At the crest of one hill our legs had turned to rubber. Leaning the bike against a tree we sat down beneath it to rest.

“We’re out of food, aren’t we?” I asked.

“Almost,” my bride replied, producing a very small jar of peanut butter from a pocket and a plastic spoon from another. The jar was half empty, only three servings each. But delicious, nontheless.

At the bottom of that hill we encountered the windrows of red ash which the tour buses had churned into rusty slurry. And soon we appeared one in the same.

We were exhausted by the time we reached our beloved StarMart. Inside, two ladies were folding Grand Canyon sweatshirts. The expressions on their faces told us how we must have looked as we pushed through the door. After drinking a full pot of coffee and  devouring a dozen donuts we resumed out trek toward Williams.

The comfort of the motel room we rented under the critical eye of the manager was delightful.

Would I make the trip again? In a heartbeat.