How To Set Up a Raspberry Pi as a NOAA Satellite Receiver with RTL-SDR

 

For Project TIROS, I’m building a briefcase-style NOAA satellite receiver using upcycled parts centered around a Raspberry Pi. In this video, I will walk you through the process of installing the necessary software components to use the RTL-SDR module on a Raspberry Pi for NOAA satellite reception.

See more of Project TIROS

Get the RTL-SDR dongle on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2Du84p7

PlayStation Classic Controller Teardown

Continuing on our quest to hack the PlayStation Classic and coming off the heels of the console teardown last week, I thought it might be fun to also take a peek inside the PlayStation Classic’s USB controllers and see how they’re put together.

The PlayStation Classic is still a lot of fun. Grab one on Amazon (and hack it): https://amzn.to/2BOteef

Airwolf Theme (2019 AirborneSurfer YouTube Channel Trailer)

It’s time for a new channel trailer highlighting all the awesome stuff since I kicked this place into high gear! Share this with your friends and get ready for lots more awesome stuff this year!

PlayStation Classic Teardown

In my quest to hack the PlayStation Classic, I have to first open up the system to see what’s inside and what makes it tick. In this video, we’ll teardown the PlayStation Classic console and explore its insides, determine the state of its build quality, and see what kinds of electronics are hiding inside!

It’s a good console, you should get one on Amazon (and hack it): https://amzn.to/2BOteef

How To Upgrade A 3DS SD Card On A Mac

I recently purchased Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D and it’s too big to fit on my 3DS XL’s SD card. In this video, I’ll show you how to upgrade your 3DS SD memory card and save all your data using a Mac. You can also use this method to backup your existing SD card data in case your handheld is ever lost or stolen.

The Twilight Zone Mystic Seer In Action

Project: Serling is an electronic reproduction of the “Mystic Seer” prop from the Twilight Zone episode “Nick of Time”. In the show, William Shatner’s character becomes obsessed with the seemingly correct predictions of a coin-operated fortune teller machine. The version being built for element14 Presents is a Raspberry Pi-powered device that uses a thermal printer to deliver randomly-selected answers to yes or no questions.

Watch the full video at element14! 

See more on Project Serling here

Project Pripyat: Redux

When I started Project Pripyat, I was still very out of practice when it came to designing and assembling electronics beyond the breadboard, I was using TinkerCAD exclusively for 3D design, and Arduino was still a new platform for me. I was also in a helluva rush to produce a cache of content in anticipation of the launch of element14 Presents (as well as Clem, James, Andy, and Karen who rounded out the original cast after The Ben Heck Show ended). As such, I was never really happy about the form factor that the Geiger counter ended with–I was just happy to have it working! Over three years (and a global pandemic) later, I finally decided to slow down my production and really concentrate on putting the effort and attention into my projects that–either through neglect or ineptitude–I had not been able to before.

The carcass of a once proud projectProject Pripyat was the first proper element14 Presents project that I completed, but it was also the first one that I cannibalized for parts. Project Xybernaut demanded more power while I was running up against a deadline, so I broke open the hot glue seal on the 3D printed enclosure and reallocated the PowerBoost board and LiPo battery. The carcass of my once-proud project has been languishing on a shelf ever since.

Armed with a little more savvy and a bit of pluck, I decided to finally pick up the pieces and rebuild my homebrew Geiger counter while renewing my efforts to more robustly document my projects. The first objective, of course, was to write my “backlogged” documentation–details of how I built the device in the first place including the circuitry and Arduino code. Since then, I’ve come up with a new case design and started to gather the necessary parts to rebuild.Project Pripyat 2.0 Concept

Pictured: A hot messMy old board layout is a hot mess: huge blobs of solder holding together bundles of wires that are supposed to be power and ground buses, hot glue everywhere, uninsulated solder joints and little-to-no separation between high and low voltage sections. I’m thinking of either soldering a new circuit on protoboard or going ahead and designing a custom PCB for the project. I had actually given thought to producing a PCB as part of a kit that I could sell on Tindie, but I really haven’t gotten that far. I think that, in reality, I’ll likely solder a new protoboard version for this iteration and leave the custom PCB to v3.0.

Finally, I’d like to redesign the probe wand that I used originally. As much as I really like the aesthetic of the Shure 55SH-inspired design I originally came up with, I’m arguing with myself whether or not I want to build something more “hardened” using metal conduit or similar materials. The redesign would likely be more “accurate” (as an original design can be, I suppose) and feel more like something that could have existed. The two problems I foresee are having a window to expose the GM tube and the fact that the proposed materials are conductive so I would have to take extra care to design something that had little risk of shorting the tube and delivering a nasty surprise to anyone holding the probe!

Meanwhile, though, I will start ordering case parts and getting them prepared.

Using An Arduino To Drive A Geiger Counter

It's a moving coil-style analog meter
Moving coil-style analog meter from a CDV-700 (jonshobbies.com)

Traditionally, a Geiger counter like the CDV-700 series is a completely analog device–the device output is driven entirely by the analog electronics. Electrical pulses passing through the Geiger-Müller tube during ionizing events are run through a speaker cone, generating the characteristic clicks of a Geiger counter. That voltage is also directed into an electromechanical meter that displays the average clicks over a given amount of time. For Project Pripyat, I wanted to have the option to drive several different kinds of output with minimal rewiring and I want to be able to save data gathered and send it to a computer. The easiest way to accomplish all of these objectives was to pipe the GM tube output into an Arduino, and I just so happened to have a bunch of Nanos in my parts bin!

Arduino code for a Geiger counter

The Nano has a pretty low tolerance for excessive voltage on its digital pins, so I had to incorporate a pretty hefty voltage divider into my circuit design (from 400V down to <5V) to prevent frying the thing. The code itself was a work of trial and error, mostly playing around with various ways to drive the analog meter. Since the Arduino does not have true analog output (only pulse-width modulation), I decided to let digital pulses “kick” the needle into the appropriate position on the meter. The more frequent the pulses, the more the needle will be displaced. It’s basically PWM, but there’s no averaging being done in software. The v1.0 code, therefore, is rock-basic simple. It is almost entirely pin definitions, based on the “Blink” example sketch, but it’s snappy and serves its purpose as a “minimum viable” solution.

const byte interruptPin = 2;
attachInterrupt(digitalPinToInterrupt(interruptPin), blink, LOW);

In the sketch, we define several pins on the Arduino and how they’ll be used. Pin 2 is going to serve as an interrupt and is attached to the pulse generator in the circuit. In my Geiger counter circuit, the pulse generator is actually reverse-biased to become an interrupt generator. Every ionizing event detected by the GM tube causes the 2N2222 transistor to ground the signal line connected to the Arduino which will be picked up as the interrupt signal. Upon detecting the interrupt, the Arduino will jump to the blink interrupt service routine which changes quickly changes pin states for the LED, meter, and piezo buzzer. The counter sketch has a resolution of about 3 milliseconds which is significantly lower than the theoretical dead time on the SBM-20 tube, but this project is more of a concept demonstration and exploratory toy than anything else, so I’m not worried about it.

One other item to note: When simply given a high/low signal on one pin, the piezo buzzer’s clicks are extremely soft. Connecting the ground terminal of the buzzer to another digital pin held low and swapping the high/low pins during the ISR effectively doubles the deflection of the buzzer and results in a much more satisfying click!

/* Project Pripyat v1.0
 *  by Matthew Eargle https://airbornesurfer.com
 *  for element14 Presents
 *  CC-BY-SA 2018 AirborneSurfer
 */
 
const byte ledPin = 13;
const byte interruptPin = 2;
const byte speakerPin = 5;
volatile byte state = LOW;
volatile byte speaker = LOW;

void setup() {
  pinMode(ledPin, OUTPUT);
  pinMode(speakerPin, OUTPUT);
  pinMode(interruptPin, INPUT);
  pinMode(6, OUTPUT);
  pinMode(12, OUTPUT);
  pinMode(9, OUTPUT);
  attachInterrupt(digitalPinToInterrupt(interruptPin), blink, LOW);
}

void loop() {
  digitalWrite(ledPin, LOW);
  digitalWrite(speakerPin, LOW);
  digitalWrite(6, HIGH);
  digitalWrite(12, LOW);
  delay(3);
}

void blink() {
  digitalWrite(ledPin, HIGH);
  digitalWrite(speakerPin, HIGH);
  digitalWrite(6, LOW);
  digitalWrite(12, HIGH);
}

A Homebrew Geiger Counter Circuit

As discussed previously, a Geiger counter is a fairly simple circuit that takes a high voltage and runs it through the switch-like Geiger-Müller tube and into the meter mechanism. To build a Geiger counter, we need to look at three basic parts: a high voltage source, the GM tube itself, and the counting mechanism.

3 Parts of a Gegier Counter
3 Main Parts of a Geiger Counter

DIY Geiger Counter Circuit

After a bit of research, I decided to base my own circuit on this design by markusb on RobotShop.com. In this circuit, built around a Röhre ZP-1320 GM tube, the high voltage source is provided by a 40:1 transformer and charge pump that supplies the requisite 500V. Of course, a transformer requires an AC input, so a 555 timer in astable mode feeds an alternating 5V to the transformer. The metering side of the circuit uses a 555 timer to generate an electrical pulse that can be fed into a microcontroller or analog counter.

555-based Geiger counter by markusb (RobotShop.com)
555-based Geiger counter by markusb (RobotShop.com)

SBM-20 Geiger-Müller Tube
SBM-20

For Project Pripyat, I’m using a Soviet-era SBM-20 (СБМ-20) GM tube that we had lying around the shop, and I’ll need to adjust the circuit somewhat to power it. I like the oscillator-transformer concept, and I’ll keep that in tact, but I think I can simplify the charge pump somewhat and still provide a reliable 400V to power my tube.

I also want to run my Geiger counter off a rechargeable LiPo battery, so I’ll add a 3.7V pack and an Adafruit Powerboost 500 module to provide a stable 5V (and handle battery charging). On the counter end, I’d like to be able to have extended functionality such as data logging or triggering various outputs, so I’m going to send the GM tube pulse to an Arduino Nano (after passing through a voltage divider, of course).

After quite a bit of trial and error, I’ve come up with this:

Project Pripyat Breadboard LayoutProject Pripyat Schematic

As you can see from the schematic, I’m using a different transformer and a simpler rectifier circuit than the model’s diode ladder. I also tweaked the oscillator slightly, using only an N-channel MOSFET instead of the NPN-MOSFET combination in the original design. The NPN transistor, though, serves a new purpose as the pulse generator that drives the digital input for the Arduino. From this configuration, I can add a piezo buzzer, LED, analog meter, or any other output as well as save data to memory or pipe it to a computer via serial connection.

There are a couple of important things to note with this circuit: First, I have to reiterate that it is a high voltage circuit and you will likely get popped pretty hard if you’re not paying attention. I accidentally touched one of the capacitor terminals on the charge pump during testing and received quite an unpleasant surprise! It’s unlikely that you will suffer any lasting damage, though, but caution is the order of the day whenever high potentials are involved. Second, if you choose to use a different GM tube for this circuit, you will need to adjust the resistor and capacitor values in the charge pump. The film capacitors that I used are rated for up to 700V and the first version I assembled (using 5 capacitors) built a potential in excess of 600V (and literally screamed at me). Third, and it should go without saying, this is a device used to measure ionizing radiation and ionizing radiation is a hazardous phenomenon. Please take all precautions to limit your exposure to beta and gamma particles by using alpha sources for testing and storing your radioactive samples in appropriately shielded containers.

Project Gibson: How To Build A Home Server

Hacking The Gibson
MGM

I’ve always been a bit of a media hoarder. It started in the Napster era, downloading MP3s and burning them to CDs. Of course, there was also retro game emulation, but NES, SNES, and Genesis games were measured in kilobytes; those titles could easily fit on several floppy diskettes if I needed to back anything up. At some point, the cost of hard disk storage came down enough to make consolidating my literal binders full of backup discs a practical choice: a shoebox full of USB hard drives took up less space than the equivalent binders. Eventually, my knack for collecting and repurposing second-hand hardware led me to some discarded NAS enclosures, and I dutifully filled them with those hard drives I had previously stored in thee aforementioned shoebox. Of course, this ad-hoc assemblage of networked devices could only extend so far before it became a monster–there was one NAS for my music, another for video, another for backups, one for my wife’s media–and they all lived in a noisy cubbyhole just below the living room television. The COVID-19 pandemic gave me an excuse to finally hit the reset button on the whole unwieldy, dusty, noisy mess.

Like many others during the early pandemic lockdowns, I took to reconfiguring my living situation as a means to not only to occupy myself and avoid the anxieties of the outside world, but to also improve some part of my living situation. The collection of NAS enclosures was hard to clean, and because it was hard to clean, it made the fans less effective, which made cooling less effective, which made the fans work harder, which made the system noisier. Switching everything to a combined enclosure seemed like the logical first move in rebuilding my media center, so I set about planning to build a fully-functional server that could handle at least the 10 hard drives that made up my current NAS solution and be extensible and upgradeable to meet any future demands. I had built stand-alone PCs before, so the theory was familiar to me, but I had never tried to assemble anything on this scale before. I was going to need to do some homework!

Project Magnavox (before the NAS takeover)
Project Magnavox before the NAS takeover

The Project Magnavox HTPC that I built back in 2014 seemed like the logical starting point. My wife and I had upgraded to an Android-powered smart TV already and made the original set-top box concept obsolete. The motherboard, processor, and memory were still more than capable enough to decode 1080p video, so basic file management should be a piece of cake. This would also offset the total cost of the project as I wouldn’t need to purchase those parts. The bulk of the cost would be sourcing a suitable enclosure: something that could house at least (10) 3.5″ drives, something that has good airflow for cooling, and something that doesn’t take up a lot of space. Additionally, I would need SATA Y-adapters to attach all the drives to the motherboard that I already had, and I would need to find an appropriate OS that could power the whole thing without much overhead.

How Does A Geiger Counter Work?

US Army Checmical Corps technician surveys radioactive contamination with CDV-700 series Geiger counterIf there is one piece of technology that is uniquely associated with the Cold War aesthetic (apart from the atomic bomb itself), it is the handheld radiation survey meter depicted in civil defense and popular fiction of the era. The survey meter–typically a U.S.-made CDV-700 or one of its variations–is probably the first image one conjures when they think of a “Geiger counter”, and is often considered a highly technical piece of equipment (they were usually handled by specialized government officials, at least in contemporary depictions). The reality, though, is that the Geiger counter (or, more accurately, a Geiger-Müller counter) is an extremely simple device based on a circuit that’s no more complicated than a toggle switch!

CDV-700 Survey Meter
Bullet308, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Geiger-Müller Tube

The technology at the heart of the Geiger counter is the specialized Geiger-Müller (GM) tube. The basic operating principle of the GM tube was developed by Hans Geiger in 1908. Geiger was developing a technique to detect alpha particles based on a principle developed by John Sealy Townsend some ten years earlier. This ionization mechanism, whereby particles are charged by their impact with another ionized particle, is known as the Townsend discharge or Townsend avalanche. In 1928, Geiger and his PhD student Walther Müller developed a sealed-tube version of Geiger’s alpha detector that could reliably detect beta and gamma particles in addition to alpha particles.

Visualization of Townsend avalanche
Dougsim, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

How Does A Geiger Counter Work?

The Geiger-Müller tube itself is a variation on a vacuum tube that is filled with a noble gas (usually argon or xenon) at low pressure and acts as a relay switch. One of the tube’s electrodes has a high electrical potential applied to it, usually around 400 volts. Being a noble gas, it is normally resistant to the flow of electricity and does not allow current to pass through. When an ionizing (alpha, beta, or gamma) particle strikes an atom of the gas in the tube, the atom sheds an electron causing it to become electrically charged (ionized). The freed electrons collide with other atoms and ionize them, and the process is accelerated by the high voltage applied to the anode (the Townsend avalanche) until the resistance of the gas in the tube drops enough to allow the voltage through to the cathode. Once the tube discharges, the gas reverts to its original inert, highly resistive state and the process begins again when another particle enters the tube.

Cutaway illustration of typical Geiger tube and counter
Svjo-2, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The characteristic clicking sound of the Geiger counter is made by directing the pulsed voltage from the tube’s cathode into a speaker while an analog meter measures the frequency of the pulses, converting it into microSieverts (or röntgens, in the case of older Cold War-era units made before the adoption of the SI standard). It should be noted that the Geiger counter cannot measure the type of ionizing particle detected, only that one was detected. GM tubes are often designed with certain encasing materials to “filter out” lower energy particles such as alpha or beta, but a tube designed to detect alpha radiation cannot distinguish the different types of particles because the materials will not block higher energy particles. Dosage is inferred by knowing the source material being measured, but the energy of the particles themselves cannot be measured with the device.

 

How To Make An Aviation Cocktail

A few weeks ago, my wife and I started cleaning out her mother’s kitchen of the ~40 years of detritus she’s been holding on to. In the fray, I managed to save some really beautiful glassware such as these coupes.

My mother-in-law works for a law firm and one of the attorneys gave her these phenomenal sets of crystalware at Christmas. She didn’t want to part with them out of guilt, but she also *never* used them.

“Take them!” she yelled with her thick Cuban accent. “If you’ll use them, take them!”

Now, I’ve never really been one for fancy glassware (excepting the various branded pint glasses I collected for years), but I’ve always secretly wanted to have a really cool bar setup for entertaining.

So, under the guise of acquiring some really nice crystal wine glasses that Barbie has always wanted to use, I brought home my favorites.

Tonight I’m going to (forgive the expression) break them in.

Now, over the last 18 months, I’ve become a bit of a cocktail aficionado. I mean, I was already into the tiki scene since, like, 2008-ish, but I never really thought about learning to make these drinks myself. All that changed when COVID decided that I couldn’t go out anymore.

At the same time, I rekindled my appreciation for Alton Brown by watching Quarantine Qitchen on YouTube. Brown and his wife Elizabeth live in my hometown and I’ve always considered him kind of a “TV uncle” along with LeVar Burton and Adam Savage.

Seeing Brown’s eclectic collection of glassware inspired me to look around for some interesting pieces on my own, but eBay prices are way too high and thrifting really wasn’t a thing for a while (I still want to pick up a couple of those vintage Delta in-flight service glasses, though!)

So, tonight, after an extremely difficult month, I’m finally going to sit down and enjoy one of my favorite beverages. It’s a classic gin cocktail from the dawn of an era:

The Aviation

First, though, I need to decide on a glass: Do I go with the classic “Marie Antoinette” round coupe or the more stylistic, angled “Martini” coupe?

For tonight, I’m going with Marie just because she’s about a half an ounce larger (also so I can pretend I’m Leonardo DiCaprio in that Great Gatsby GIF)

via GIPHY

Okay, got a clean glass. First thing we’re gonna do is fill it with ice and set aside to chill.

First, let’s talk about hardware. Unlike many modern bartenders who prefer a fancy Boston shaker, I’m very partial to the Parisian shaker.

It’s got a nice period silhouette, but it’s only 2 pieces–unlike the cobbler variety most used by home gamers.

I like it over the Boston because (A) it just looks better, (B) doesn’t require a glass, and (C) seals better.

The Boston is for showing off, and I never strain with it (but many bartenders will tout that benefit anyway)

I can’t recommend a graduated jigger enough! Measurements get much faster and easier than eyeballing. Japanese or hourglass, it doesn’t matter (I just happen to like the look of the Japanese style)

Last thing is a good spring strainer. A Boston shaker can be used as a makeshift strainer, but if I’m going to strain a drink, I’m going to strain it!

This guy will get all those tiny ice flakes out so they don’t mess with the experience of a neat drink.

I’m going with the classic Savoy recipe here, but I’ve been playing around with the recipe some. Biggest change is that I’m going to be using violet liqueur instead of creme de Violette–because that’s what they had at Bevmo!

It’s really such a small amount only for coloring that it doesn’t appreciably affect the flavor. Despite what some purists will tell you!

Okay, let’s start with the good stuff! I am a fan of Sapphire going way back to my early 20s, but I haven’t bought it in over a decade. I switched to beer for a long time, and I picked up Beefeater for my tiki stuff since it was going to be so heavily mixed.

Not that there’s anything wrong with Beefeater! But if I’m going to be doing mostly gin, I want to taste my favorite.

That’s 1.5oz into the tin!

Maraschino liqueur fell by the wayside for a long time, but it is absolutely delicious and adds a nice, round cherry flavor to boozy cocktails like the Aviation, Manhattan, and Hemingway. We’re going to use 0.75oz for our concoction.

I don’t have any fresh lemons, but this will do for tonight. I need to get a couple of citrus trees for the apartment…. 😉 Throw in 0.5oz of lemon.

This is *not* the good stuff, but it’s what they had. Again, it’s really mostly for color and just a slight perfume of violet. Use 0.25oz at most.

Throw the ice from your glass in the tin and shake! (Yes, shake!) You don’t have to get violent here, just enough to mix and get the tin cold.

via GIPHY

Strain it into that chilled glass. Don’t that look something!

Now for the garnish! Most plebes use some of those neon red cherries that come in Dole fruit cocktail, but I’m gonna fancy it up a little bit for my new glass.

My step-sister and I discovered these at Trader Sam’s when she was out here for a conference a couple years ago. They’re stupid expensive, but so goddamned delicious!

And there we have it! Of course, keeping with the aviation theme, I had to use one of my Southwest Airlines swizzle sticks!

Delicious! And, as promised, my best Gatsby selfie 🍸

Now, there is very likely a contingent of you who reel at the thought of shaking an aviation (“You’ll bruise the gin!”). I get it, especially with a top shelf gin like Sapphire, you don’t want to lose those nice top notes from the juniper and pine.

However, we have to take into consideration the complexity of the drink. By adding Maraschino, lemon, and Violette, we’re replacing much of the top notes with these new flavors. And when I shake a drink like this, I go just long enough to get the tin cold. On top of that, the ice dilutes the drink a little bit to give it a smoother texture. The shake also creates a tiny bit of foam, reminiscent of cirrus clouds, which help give the drink it’s distinct appearance (the drink is supposed to evoke the idea of an open sky, hence the name).

On the other hand, if this were a martini, you’d better believe I’d be stirring!

At the end of the day, it’s your drink! Make what you want how you want, and don’t let anyone shame you for being unorthodox. Just don’t be that asshole who drives drunk or ends the night praying to the porcelain gods!

Have fun, y’all. Hug your loved ones if you can.

The Meter That Won The Cold War

This ancient piece of technology might be one of my most prized tools. Obviously, it’s an analog multimeter, but it has an interesting history.

It came into my possession many years ago when my dad was clearing out his toolbox, and he thought I ought to have it.

Now, my dad is *not* an “electronics guy”. As a recently retired firefighter engineer, he’s much better with flow controls and assessing structural integrity. He’s the kind of guy who would reverse-engineer those Tuff-Shed structures at Home Depot by sight and memory.

However, he had this multimeter in his tool box because he inherited it when *his* dad, my grandfather, passed back in 1986. He just didn’t really have a use for it, so it sat there for the next 15-20 years when he decided I should have it.

Now, something you have to realize about my grandfather, affectionately referred to as “Grumpy”: No one, and I mean NO ONE, was allowed to TOUCH his tools–much less USE them! I have reports that he would literally scream and throw things at anyone who dared.

Except me.

Grumpy was a complicated man. He was a tech sergeant in the army during WWII. He landed at Normandy and survived. He beat a Nazi to death with his bare hands. He climbed a flagpole under fire to tear down a Nazi flag. He was basically Brad Pitt in Inglorious Basterds.

Needless to say, he had a lot of demons. He had some very serious post-traumatic stress, but machismo and lack of diagnosis prevented treatment. (Side note: Please take care of your health, both mental and physical.)

After the War, Grumpy went to Southern Polytechnic to study electronics and got a job at the Lockheed plant in Marietta, GA (Air Force Plant 6) working on the C-130 Hercules and, later, the C-5 Galaxy.

By the early 60s, Grumpy was head of his department. His job was to check the wiring on every aircraft that rolled off the line. All of it. Every plane.

Which means that every Herc since then and every Galaxy (including the original prototype) built until he suddenly passed away of a heart attack in 1987 had its electrical systems checked off by my Grumpy.

Those planes have in excess of 5 miles of wiring inside them. That brings be back to the early 1980s, when I was but a toddler.

For some reason unknown to the rest of the family, he really mellowed out around me. He saw something in me, they say. They also say that I’m very much like him–except not so agitated.

Grumpy was an early adopter of new technology that he could use. He bought a TI-30 pocket calculator when they first went on the market in the US. He never bought a computer, though, because he couldn’t see a use for one. Typewriters were good enough.

My cousin remembers getting his hand slapped for picking up that calculator, but I had no such repercussions.

In fact, I often took it outside to play with it–in the barn–gleefully pressing buttons in the dirt. Grumpy seemed to enjoy seeing that happen. He let me play with it.

(Incidentally, I also have that calculator. I’ll tell that story one day.)

Now, back to the multimeter….

This is the Micronta 20,000 Ohm/Volt 28-Range Multitester, RadioShack catalog number 22-022. It was produced from 1967-1973 (thanks to radioshackcatalogs.com for helping me narrow down the production years) and was Grumpy’s go-to tool at work.

I’m not sure when this particular unit was purchased (if anyone has a clue on where I could find a production date, please let me know), but I was able to grab the catalog pages featuring it. Here’s it’s glorious debut in 1967

(Note the typo in the previous advertisement)

And here it is in FULL COLOR in 1968

Nearly the exact same layout in the ’69 catalog

A nice green motif for a new decade, 1970

Yellow for 1971. Notice the addition of engineers to the “Used by more…” headline copy.

Back to BW for 1972 and a $1 price increase?! Must be stagflation.

Another year, and another $2 price jump! This would be the final year that the 22-022 would appear in a RadioShack catalog. For the record, $17.95 in 1973 is $108.83 in 2021!

And here’s 1974, the page is blue because the 22-022 isn’t there anymore and all the multimeters are built with cheaper plastics so they’re sadly not as robust. Grumpy also had the 22-027 in the top right corner. That’s another restoration project for later.

So, like I was saying, Grumpy worked at Lockheed Plant 6, and his job (among other things) was to check all the wiring in every plane that rolled off the line. This was *his* tool.

The 22-022 came out in 1967, and assuming he bought it that year (I can’t substantiate this because I don’t have proof of purchase, but Dad says he remembers Grumpy getting it for Christmas of either 67 or 68), that would mean that this specific multimeter was used to test every plane that rolled off the line from 1967-1987 (or at least 73-87).

Some of those Hercs ARE STILL IN SERVICE (though, I’m sure, the original wiring has been replaced in the last 40+ years)

What’s more, the C-5 had it’s first flight in 1968, and I know Grumpy signed off on the prototype.

It’s entirely possible that this humble RadioShack multimeter was part of that assembly process, which makes it–in my book, anyway–a significant piece of aviation history.

It’s like if Igor Sikorsky’s grandson had one of his wrenches or if one of the Wrights’ progeny had some of their woodworking tools.

Maybe not *quite* the same.

Oh, did somebody say “restoration”?!

Although the multimeter is in great shape (just a scratch across the face that doesn’t affect reading), the probes disintegrated when I tested it. I’ve tried to find needle-tipped probes like it had, but I haven’t been able to find anything yet.

Meanwhile, I did find these vintage needle-tip probes on fleaBay, and they’re a perfect fit!

I also like the right-angle connectors a little better than the original straight connector. Part of me is still considering replacing the pin jacks with proper banana jacks, though.

“Knackered” doesn’t even begin to describe the condition of the original box. There’s one staple left (and it’s not really holding anything) while the rest is held together with 40-year-old masking tape (that’s crumbling worse than a bad cookie)

My first priority is to build a pouch like the ones later RadioShack products came with. Something to provide a little protection to the box itself while being a durable container for the piece.

It’s also gotta look like it originally belonged to the piece, so something that has that early 70s aesthetic.

Brown vinyl. I’m going to use this compact cassette case (another hand-me-down from my dad, actually) as the design model. It’s basically a hinged box with a vinyl wrap that’s folded and glued to look like it was sewn together. (We’ll talk about those cassettes another day….)

To start, I just ran a basic box shape, open on top, through the 3D printer. It’s just 1mm thick on each side, but that will be plenty enough to hold its shape once I wrap it.

I’m not going for super rigid here, just something to prevent the box from further incidental damage.

Fits like a glove!

Next thing to do will be to source some brown vinyl and come up with a template.

Okay, I’ve played around with the design and I think I’ve got something that will work. Hold on to your butts!

So far, so good!

The edges on the front and back are folded over and glued while the edges of the sides will wrap over the corners underneath. This will give it the illusion of being sewn together.

Also: Shout out to @HarborFreight super glue gel! It’s like regular old super glue, except it doesn’t run! Why didn’t I discover this sooner?!?

This might be my new favorite plastic adhesive.

It’s coming together! One side is a little low, but–like everything else–I’ll fix it in post!

Almost there! Just need to put a trim piece around the mouth.

All the hard parts are finished. I just need to find a snap closure for the flap. There’s probably one floating around at the shop.

After searching through several options for snaps (sew-on and riveted), I picked up a pack of these nice antique brass magnetic snaps.

With a liberal application of super glue, I think that we’re finally going to call this done!

I’m debating with myself whether or not I want to engrave Grumpy’s name on the flap. I think there’s enough room, but I just don’t want it to be cramped. I’ll play around with it some more and update if I decide to go that way.

Constructing A Shrine To Atlanta Hockey

It should come as no surprise that I’m a bit of a hockey fan. If you’ve followed me for any amount of time, you’ve likely seen the occasional #AnaheimDucksGOOOAAALLL or even the #BelieveInBlueland hashtag peppering my Twitter timeline.
Truth is that my love of hockey goes WAY back. I discovered the sport thanks to a particular 1992 Disney film. I grew up outside Atlanta, so hockey really wasn’t a thing people understood or even knew about–other than we beat the Soviets in it that one time at the Olympics.
Every so often, I might’ve been able to catch the last few minutes of a Knights game if I were flipping through channels and saw it at the right moment–assuming the reception was decent enough to see what was going on (Kennesaw Mountain is hell on TV signals, especially today).
I begged my parents to take me to The Omni for a game, but I would get alternating responses about it being too expensive or a more accurate “Ugh! I don’t want to go to Atlanta!”
Sadly, the Knights moved to Quebec in 1996 before I ever got a chance to see them in person. Another year would pass before the news that Atlanta would be granted an expansion team in 1999.

NHL hockey
In Atlanta
For the first time in almost 20 years
And I’d be old enough to drive

Let’s fast-forward a few years. I went to my first game in 2000 and it was one of the most visceral experiences of my life. The noise, the energy, the camaraderie of the fans–I was hooked and made it my mission to spread the Gospel of Hockey Love to everyone I knew!

Thanks, Giant Bird. You are my friend. I want to pet you and feed you some bird seed.

I would catch a live game any time I could, but I mostly enjoyed watching at home (whenever I had access to cable television) and, later, I was an early adopter of various streaming services that would provide those games (especially ones suffering a local blackout).

This brings me around to a small collection of memorabilia that I have. I picked up a handful of commemorative hockey pucks from various sources (mostly eBay or Frank & Sons) since moving to California.

Call it a way to hold onto my roots; I have a puck representing each of the professional hockey teams that played in Atlanta. I even have one for the 2008 All-Star Game held at The Phil.

For years, these pucks have been languishing in a small mailing pouch waiting for a way for me to properly display them. I figured it was high time I did something about that.

So I picked up a shadowbox at the local craft store and set about to design a way to hold these pretty bits of vulcanized rubber.

Incidentally, an NHL regulation puck is 76mm in diameter and 25.4mm thick.

The basic design could hardly be simpler. I just made a rectangle the size of the shadowbox and laid out the arrangement of the pucks as appropriately-sized circles. This is about the easiest thing I’ve ever done in Illustrator.


I saved the layout as an SVG and imported it to Fusion, extruding it to the requisite height before adding a backplane to fill in the remaining interior volume.


Since my printer can only print up to 200mm square, I needed to chop it in half and print as two pieces.


I’ve had this gold PLA filament for years, but it’s still good and I’m going to paint the thing anyway. I feel like I’d rather paint my pieces than buy so many differently-colored filaments. Probably because I don’t print as often I you might think I would.

I blame my trash Robo 3D printer for my printing angst. My first experience was a second-hand, not-ready-for-prime-time Kickstarter model with no documentation and less support.

Things are much better now, but I still often subconsciously avoid design and printing.

Halfway done! It’s at a 0.8mm layer height with 10% infill because at the end of the day, it’s a glorified spacer.

I’ll smooth everything out during the finish.

Both halves printed and glued. Now to pray that nothing shifts or settles while the epoxy cures.

Quick coarse sand to smooth out those lumps and hit it with a coat of primer.

Another sanding and primer followed by yet another sanding and one final coat. The face should be pretty smooth at this point. A couple coats of acrylic and it’ll be done!

After a few coats of acrylic, it’s ready for the pucks. They’re an extremely tight fit, so if I want to remove them I’ll probably need to break it.

And the final product is under glass! I’m not sure where I’ll hang it. If Barbie has anything to say about it, it’ll be in my office (and not at home). I’m just glad to finally have a home for these guys, and I think I’ve done right by them!

Fun fact: 3/4 of these teams are now in Canada (hence the joke that Atlanta is just a training market for new Canadian teams). The Gladiators are the last hope for pro hockey in the A (even though they play in the northeast suburb of Duluth).

I used to have a Gladiators T-shirt that declared “NOT MOVING TO CANADA”. I wore it while walking around Toronto once and got a few weird looks and a lot of laughs.

Hockey Love is strong in the south, but you’ll never convince the corporate overlords.

Pretending To Be A TV Mogul (or: Why I Built An Automated Broadcasting Rig)

Hey, remember that iMac I was working on last week? The one that I was putting Mojave on just ’cause? Well, I told you I had a project in mind for it!

Also: For the record, it’s an early ’09 model, not a ’10.

Anyway, I’ve always been a bit of a broadcasting nut. I always loved/hated the politics, the business, and the technology of commercial broadcasting.

In fact, in high school/early college, I wanted to make a career of it.

Even before then, I was recording “radio shows” and “TV programs” with friends. Much of it was parody–inspired by Dan Aykroyd sketches, Tiny Toon Adventures, that “Stay Tuned” movie, and Wayne’s World–but I played it seriously (which was part of the fun)

More than the programming, though, I was fascinated by the technological infrastructure. How radio equipment works, how signals are converted, but especially how that can be exploited.

When I was 14, the school band went on a trip to Panama City. My best friend brought a small FM transmitter like you would plug into a CD player to listen over a car stereo, and I hatched a BRILLIANT scheme.

After a covert mission to Radio Shack during a lunch break, we had exactly what we needed to build that elusive dream of all Gen X kids (and some of us Xennials): an unlicensed radio station.

It didn’t take long for us to get into a LOT of trouble with the adults 🤣

Anyway, I’ve always romanticized broadcasting. Fortunately, after a wave of consolidation and format changes in the late 90s (as well as the unfiltered reality related to me by industry vets), I saw where the industry was going and got out before I grew to hate it. That’s why I gravitated toward YouTube early on, but it’s very noisy and just doesn’t feel the same. YouTube is more like an old VHS exchange while running a production, aesthetically, feels different?

So, this bit of personal history brings me back around to the project at hand. I know that with today’s technology, literally anyone can broadcast. There’s really no gatekeeping anymore (which is a good thing), but I still love the idea of “curated” content. I love the idea of having a “channel” that plays constantly changing content, and I love the idea of being able to produce that content without necessarily “going live”. It’s not just making videos, but creating an experience beyond the video.

So I wanted to build a little homage to analog broadcasting. I wanted to capture some of the essence and the nostalgia of the old ways without getting caught up in the whole “content mill” mindset. Something that people could drop in, have something unique served to them, then stay and chat or just move on without commitment. Something that could run itself, automatically generating that curated content without my input.

So to start off, I built what might be the epitome of mid-90s automated analog TV:

The Weather Channel

It’s simple, but it’s proof-of-concept for a little side art project that I’ve been kicking around in my head for a long time. Eventually, I want to add more concepts like simulated EBS, station ID, sign-offs, and other goodies.

And, of course, programming.

The biggest thing is that I want it to be fun. I want there to be interesting little surprises for people who watch, and–really–I want people to take part in it in some way.

There’s no other goal here than to have fun, so expect puzzles, Easter eggs, and plenty of irreverence. Eventually, I want to position this concept kinda like a zine-meets-public-access where people can submit content and share without the disparate nature of something like YouTube. I’d love to see this become a sort of discovery engine for other like-minded artists where real humans are finding oddities and curiosities and presenting them. I’d even love to see communities spin off and thrive on their own.

For now, though, just enjoy the wallpaper.

twitch.tv/airbornesurfer

On Game Design: Difficult vs Frustrating

I was thinking a little bit about video games this morning and the differences between a game that’s difficult (or even extremely difficult to where it’s almost impossible to finish without the help of Game Genie or save states or anything like that) versus games that were just arbitrarily difficult because they wanted to just fuck over the player.

Like, the difference between something like Ghosts ‘n Goblins that’s arbitrarily difficult for the sake of being arbitrarily difficult because they just do things to make it arbitrarily difficult throughout the entire game and then when you finally finish the game–if you finally finish–you don’t actually finish the game! You have to start over and then there is an item that you have to collect somewhere in the game that you don’t know about and you don’t know the whereabouts of it and it’s entirely random where it shows up and you have to get that and you have to finish the game again and you might get the good ending because it depends on how you played the game originally.

I feel like that is not the mark of good design. It’s not the mark of a good game, and–especially at the end–it’s not at all rewarding! It’s just been so frustrating to get to that point that you’re rewarded with a simple “Congratulations” screen and that’s about it! It’s like “No no no no!” I mean, at least give me a credits crawl or something! Maybe rudimentary animation? Give me something to be proud of!

Of course, this is the earlier 8-bit era games, and this franchise–especially being a port of an arcade game–is meant to be extremely difficult. These games are meant to eat quarters, but there’s a difference between being just arbitrarily difficult and being difficult in a fun way that encourages replay. I don’t believe the NES port of Ghosts ‘n Goblins encourages replay. It’s a frustrating game that is not fun enough to play again; however, the later ones are okay–like they’re fun diversions. The arcade version is actually kind of fun to play through, but the console versions–by and large in my experience–have just been arbitrarily difficult and they’re set up to be that way so that you play them for a long time. In my experience, though, it just means they get thrown into a corner (or traded or sold) and never touched again by that player.

Contrast this to something like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the original one that everybody hates but I actually enjoy). Everybody loves to hate that original Turtles game, but I love it. I think it’s a lot of fun, it’s unique, and it’s more interesting than the beat-em-ups that came later. Granted, I do love Turtles IV on the SNES because I think that’s a beautiful port of a really fun arcade game and the console version actually adds to the arcade game. Of course, the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade was ported to the NES as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game and it was amazing when it came out and it was a lot of fun and it was great to play to be able to play the arcade game at home but it and its successor The Manhattan Project just don’t grab me the way the first one does.

Maybe it’s because I had the first one and I really enjoyed playing it a lot, putting a lot of time and effort into playing it and getting good at it. Maybe I’m different because I never felt that the dam level was all that difficult? It seems everybody hates swimming under the dam and doing the bombs, but I’m like, “That didn’t take me long to learn and get through it!” It’s difficult, but it’s not so difficult that it becomes frustrating and has that arbitrary feel to where it’s just full of “gotchas”. Ghosts ‘n Goblins is full of gotchas, but Turtles is just a genuinely difficult, skills-based game. It’s not a memory-based game where the difficulty lies in simply memorizing all the patterns and knowing exactly where the enemy is going to be before it appears on the screen.

Turtles, like many well-designed games, is a game where you really have to develop certain skills in order to progress through the game. You have to learn how the dam works. You have to learn to lay out of the dam. You have to learn the swimming mechanic. You have to learn the map of level 3, And yeah, that’s a little bit of memory work, but there is there’s a Metroidvania-like discovery mechanic, and there’s a lot of skill-building involved where you’ve got to start getting good at using the individual turtles to your advantage because they all have different strengths and weaknesses and you have to be able to play that. Then there’s certain jumps that you have to make, and you have to make them a certain way, and you make them with the certain turtle (because of his weapon).

There’s a lot that you have to learn and a lot that you have to know, but there’s a lot that you have to actually be able to do versus something like Ghosts ‘n Goblins which is just run and gun and know where the bad guys are going to pop up. It’s not like you can watch the screen and time it, you just have to know before it happens, and that is the difference: You have to know before it happens.

If you can’t look at the screen and see what’s going to happen as it’s happening, and instead just have to know it’s going to happen before you see it, that’s a mark of bad design.

There have to be visual cues in order for the game to be fun. When you can see the visual cues, you can learn them. Then you can apply that to other places in the game versus just having to know where everything is and memorize the whole game in order to be able to beat it. Visual or auditory cues are the key to good game design. You don’t want to spoon feed anybody like modern games do, but you don’t want to leave them without any way to figure out the problem. It’s a delicate balance, and some games do it really well while some games do not.

Then there are games like Fun House (NES) which is very much skills based, but also memorization. In this title, you have to be good at controlling the avatar through its unique control scheme and you have to learn the layouts of every level! Meanwhile the designers did a decent job of placing cues and directing the player where to go. Once you’ve played a level two or three times you know how it works, but you’ve run out of lives and now you have to go back and you play it again, but there’s a fair “continue” mechanism that won’t set the player back too far and there are enough lives that troublesome spots aren’t detrimental.

A good design for a game keeps you playing; It has replay value. A well-designed game is just addictive enough, and it’s just difficult enough to warrant another try. Turtles is an extremely difficult game, but it’s also fun. Fun House is an extremely difficult game, but it is also fun. Mickey Mousecapade is ridiculously difficult! I’ve only beat it once (and I think I did that by accident), but it’s actually fun. It’s challenging–not something that is beyond your ability as a mere mortal–but just challenging enough to test your ability, and that’s the difference!

You don’t want games to be so difficult they’re not fun, but you don’t want them to be so easy they’re not fun either. I look at modern equivalents like I Wanna Be the Guy or  VVVVVV and they’re just difficult for the sake of being difficult, but they’re also doing it in a tongue-in-cheek way and you go into the game knowing that! You go into the game knowing that they’re just fucking around with you and they’re playing against all these different tropes that came before–all these different conventions. So they set it up and they’re all tricks! Every design element is there to trick the player, but it’s specifically done that way and it’s more of an artistic statement, I think, in how can conventions can inform our decisions and how we can play off of those conventions to misdirect and I appreciate what they did. These titles may be arbitrarily difficult, but they’re arbitrarily difficult for a specific reason. They are arbitrarily difficult because they’re setting you up for failure on every screen and that’s part of the fun. It’s subverting those tropes and those conventions, and it makes for a very fun experience even though it is hopelessly difficult.

There’s a lot of commentary on game design in those pieces, and even though I’ve never felt compelled to play through either of those examples, I appreciate what they’re saying. These games fit into the gaming landscape much in the same way that films from Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker fit into the larger landscape of cinema. These are pieces that play with established conventions and techniques, and while not always considered “good” by critical standards, they know exactly what they are and why they exist, and they delight in deconstructing everything you thought you understood about the medium.