Category Archives: Technology

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.

Installing Mojave on a 12-year-old iMac

Let’s take a trip, shall we? I used to use this 2010 iMac at my office before it became hopelessly outdated. It’s spent close to the last half decade in storage at the shop (just off the left side of the screen in videos, actually). I’m gonna try to repurpose it

I forgot the account password, so I’m going to reinstall the OS

Silly me! Despite the wallpaper, it already has Mavericks on it

I wiped the hard drive to perform a fresh install of Mavericks. For some reason, I *really* hate entering my Apple ID. Probably because there’s always about 8 hoops I have to jump through (yay multi-layered security?) because I refuse to carry the Fruit Fone.

I actually have 2 of these lumbering beasts. Maybe I’ll put some flavor of Linux on the other for funsies.

Actually, thinking about it. It’ll probably be more useful running a newer version of Ubuntu than trying to force a newer version of OS X.

Still, I’M GONNA HAVE FUN TRYING!!!

Well, THAT took forever….

Well, there’s no big 🚫 over the icon. Let’s see if we can just run the app

Poop. That would’ve been TOO easy.

Gonna try DOSDude’s patcher and see what happens. dosdude1.com

Basically, this application patches the installers for newer versions of OS X so they’ll work on older Mac hardware. I’ll have to do this for every incremental update through Mojave.

This is promising….

Thinking aloud: If I do end up putting Linux on one of these, will it still have the chime? I don’t think it will, but I don’t recall ever trying to find out.

I came to really enjoy the chime. I was *mad* when Apple silenced it with the High Sierra “upgrade”.

Pretty sure the chime, then, is part of the OS and not, say, a bootloader? That would take some research.

MUAHAHAHAHA!!!

Seriously, though: I relish when something that *shouldn’t* work does. I feel like Alan Cumming in GoldenEye (even if I am just using a publicly available tool written by someone else)

Another half an hour waiting for the OS to install. I’m going to put this aside for the night and get some sleep.

Got up this morning and went to check on the Sierra install, but instead I got a big 🚫. Something obviously went wrong, now to see if I can recover.

“Success! Success! They’ve done it! They’ve done it!”

The trick is that you have to use a very specific version of the installer app with the patch–otherwise it will not install correctly. I managed to find a copy of 12.6.06 on archive.org and it worked a charm!

Let’s see how far we can ride this train. Hold on to your butts!

Aww yiss

LET IT RIDE!!!

It is done! I present to you, in sheer defiance of Cupertino, a 12-year-old iMac running the last version of OSX to support 32-bit apps! As much as I’d like to try, I’m going to hold off on upgrading to Catalina–this will serve my needs just fine.

Let’s See If I Can Get A Boxee Box Running

Dug this thing out of a box a while ago. Never had a chance to play with it until now.

I’m an XBMC user from WAY back (8.10), and–despite the fact that Boxee had allegedly violated the license in making this commercial product–I was actually excited about a set-top box that any Joe Schmoe could plug in and use. Alas! It was just a little ahead of it’s time.

I was an early adopter of the concept, rolling my own HTPC from a used Dell Optiplex that I picked up for $100 at a local refurbisher. That thing lasted me several years until I had to downsize!

So, anyway, I never bought a Boxee Box, but I ran across this and wanted to see what the fuss was about, so here’s for an evening diversion. Pour yourself a drink and let’s play with this bad boy!

The box promises an Intel processor, full HD 1080P (2010 eat your heart out!), and easy set up.

Along with that SWEET QWERTY remote! Smart TV manufacturers should take note.

Quick check on the Wiki says it’s an Intel Atom (1.2GHz) with PowerVR SGX535 integrated graphics. 1GB RAM & 1GB NAND on board. It’s a CE4110 SOC, so I don’t think it’ll be worthwhile doing anything with the board itself–especially with a locked bootloader–but we’ll see!

You gotta hand it to the designers, this came around during a time when everyone was making their own proprietary UI, mostly on Blu-Ray players, so your options were usually Netflix and maybe Pandora. No other apps. Certainly nothing that would play YOUR files!

Nice name dropping for those “content partners” (aka “someone wrote a plugin for XBMC that scrapes this content”)

The QR code points to m.dlink.com/boxeebox which is, of course, long dead.

I don’t suppose there’s a mirror anywhere. A cursory search didn’t come up with anything.

Okay! Let’s open ‘er up!

Not much here. It’s actually smaller than I expected.

This remote is pretty awesome, though. I wonder how much Netflix paid to put that dedicated button on there πŸ€”

Let’s fire it up and see what we get!

Typing on the remote is a little awkward because there’s no shift (just caps lock) and keys are multiplexed with numbers and symbols.

Well, that’s not good. And I don’t have an Ethernet cable laying around…or do I?

Aha! Eureka!

Well, it was fun while it lasted! I wonder if this has to do with the servers being long dead.

I can’t tell if I’ve got a problem with the network interface or if Boxee just isn’t seeing the server it expects. Either way, I don’t think I want to put any more effort into getting it working. Especially if the only thing I can really do is run Boxee.

I did some checking and really, all I can do is put a hacked version of Boxee on there that runs more like Kodi 18. Which would be cool if I weren’t already running Kodi on my smart TV. πŸ˜•

I could install an Alpine environment on the Box, but I’d have to access it from inside Boxee, which makes it less than useful. I was kinda hoping for a cool looking little lightweight PC that I could turn into some fun appliance. Oh, well.

I do like the goofy “rising cube” aesthetic and the LED panel behind the Boxee logo on the front. I may cannibalize the parts and do something fun with them later.

Stay tuned.

How To Install Pi-Hole on FreeNAS

I’ve been playing around a lot with my FreeNAS installation since assembling it last year as my “Pandemic Project” (which, of course, would become the first of many), and I’m constantly looking for new things to implement. Advertising has been a thorn in my side since the early days of the internet, so it seemed only logical that I should see what all the fuss with Pi-Hole was about!

Pi-Hole is most readily installed on a Raspberry Pi, but I’m trying to consolidate as much of my infrastructure as possible, so I thought I might have a go getting it working on the server. Unfortunately, FreeNAS is based on BSD while Pi-Hole is written for Linux (so there’s no plugin available), so we’ll have to install it on a virtual machine.

Installing Ubuntu Server on a Virtual Machine

The first thing we’ll need, of course, is the installation media. There’s a flavor of Pi-Hole written specifically for Ubuntu, so that seems to be the logical choice! My recommendation is to install the most compact version available, and the netboot installer image allows you to pick Ubuntu Server with minimal options. It’s a little difficult to find the correct download, so just grab the URL below:

http://archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu/dists/bionic/main/installer-amd64/current/images/netboot/mini.iso

Of course, if Bionic Beaver is outdated, just change the /bionic directory to the current version!

Back in FreeNAS, go to the Virtual Machines menu and add a new Linux VM. Give it a name that you’ll remember (“pihole” is a solid choice) and set the virtual CPU count to 1 and the memory size to 512MiB. On the Disks page, create a new AHCI disk and set its Zvol location to /data/pihole and size to 4GiB. When you get to the options for installation media, select “Upload an installer image file” and choose the mini.iso file you downloaded earlier. Once all your settings are configured, you can boot the virtual machine and install Ubuntu. The VNC option opens a virtual terminal that will allow you to connect to and interact with the virtual machine through the installation process.

If you are prompted for DNS servers, use Google’s (8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4) as a default for now.

When the install completes, Ubuntu will prompt you to remove installation media and reboot. Once you are disconnected from the VNC, stop the virtual machine and remove the installation media by deleting the CDROM from the “Devices” list under the virtual machine options.

Setting up Pi-Hole

Restart the virtual machine and connect to the VNC. Log into Ubuntu and invoke the following commands:

sudo apt update
sudo apt upgrade
sudo apt install net-tools
sudo apt install wget

The first thing we need to do is set up a static IP address for the virtual machine. Use ifconfig to find the local IP address.

In this example, the device is called β€˜enp0s4’.

We will now need to change the settings for this device by editing the netplan config. Invoke the following command:
sudo nano /etc/netplan/01-netcfg.yaml

You will need to change edit the file so that it look like the image below. Pay special attention to the number of spaces for each indentation.

Once this is complete, reboot the VM.

After rebooting and logging back into Ubuntu, install Pi-Hole using the automatic installation script, just like you normally would.

wget -O basic-install.sh https://install.pi-hole.net

sudo bash basic-install.sh

Before you log into

Once the script finishes, you can access the web UI by navigating to [PIHOLEIPADDRESS]/admin. Make sure to change your password!

The last thing you’ll need to do is set up your router’s DHCP settings, but that’s best explained by Pi-Hole’s own documentation.

Using Pi-Hole For Whole-Network Ad Blocking

Internet advertising was once a fairly benign minor annoyance that spiraled into the oft-lampooned dark world of pop-ups on top of pop-ups. In these early years, simple ad-blocking plugins for popular browsers like Netscape Navigator (and its successor, Mozilla Firefox) were enough to keep these nuisances at bay, but as advertising technology got more sophisticated, Web 2.0 became more commercialized, and surveillance capitalism became the business model du jour, ad-blockers have moved from convenience to absolute necessity while simultaneously become more difficult to implement at the browser level.

Most commercial websites now can detect ad-blocker software and refuse to serve content in response. In these cases, it becomes necessary to allow some level of ad servicing–usually through whitelisting specific sites–but this also comes at the extended (and immeasurable) cost of privacy. Advertising networks track users’ movements across the internet and serve consistent ads based on that user’s specific browsing history. In this Brave New World, a user’s very identity is a commodity that must be exchanged in order to participate in society. One must sell their soul in an asymmetrical exchange to merely experience the world outside while the buyer resells the soul indefinitely and reaps exponential profits.

Pi-Hole is an application that adjusts the balance of power back into the hands of the user by allowing ads to be served, but intercepting and dumping them into a “black hole” before being displayed. Additionally, Pi-Hole blocks trackers from “phoning home” by directing their calls into the same virtual black hole, thus allowing the user to retain control over their identity. The result is a cleaner, safer, and more pleasant user experience with faster page load times and less noise in the browsing experience. Granted, Pi-Hole does have a few flaws that are more difficult to work around (such as Google’s first-party tracking), but by-and-large, the application is well-worth the few minutes that it takes to set up.

In my current network arrangement, I have Pi-Hole installed on a Raspberry Pi Zero W plugged into a 5V wall wart and connected to the WiFi. It’s not the fastest arrangement, of course, but it has a very low power consumption and serves my needs at the moment. I have also tried using Pi-Hole installed on an Ubuntu virtual machine in my FreeNAS server, but I noticed that it resulted in a noticeable increase in system resources (and noise, considering the case sits behind my sofa) so I migrated to the Pi. If you have the hardware to spare, I would probably recommend a Pi3B+ or better as the right nexus of speed and power consumption.

Installation on the Pi is fairly straightforward, following the directions of the Pi-Hole website. The most difficult part seems to be arranging the DNS settings on your router (which isn’t altogether difficult, but it doesn’t enjoy the virtue of an automatic installation script). I will put together a setup guide for the FreeNAS instance in a future number, for those who may be inclined (or whenever I upgrade my server and stuff it in an air-conditioned closet).

Pi-Hole is not a silver bullet to stop advertising and privacy-invading browser trackers wholesale, but I do recommend it as another tool in the ever-growing arsenal that users can employ to reclaim some of their own power on the internet. I’m still playing around with the idea of obfuscation, and seeing if it is even worth considering (it probably isn’t, but it may just be for fun), and I have been implementing other changes that have made my life–both online and especially off–better and less stressful than it used to be.

Texas Instruments Computer Fun: “Class of 2001” (circa 1988)

Ah, those halcyon days when there was so much promise and optimism for the millennial generation!

Actually, I have opinions about the term “millennial” and how it applies to the Class of 2001. It’s weird for me.

How To Add A Speaker To A Raspberry Pi

For Project Rankin to come alive, I needed it to have some level of audio, but I didn’t want to plug some USB solution in or even use the on-board mini jack if I could help it, so I figured out a quick hack to get sound from the Raspberry Pi A+ out to a simple speaker.

Watch the complete Project Rankin

Music by Anders Enger Jensen

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Very First Website

It went live 30 years ago today, and it’s still up on its original server.

screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-10-30-59-pmThank you, Tim!

For more information on the original website and the early World Wide Web, check out CERN’s website!

How An AC Adapter Works

As part of Project Rankin, I need to be able to convert 120VAC to a more usable 5VDC, so I’ll be using a ubiquitous wall wart. However, I want to keep it as clean and tidy as possible, so I need to wire the adapter directly into the project itself. While I’ve got the case off, I’ll walk through the basic components and how an AC adapter works.

Watch the complete Project Rankin

Music by Anders Enger Jensen

Holiday Fairy Christmas Light String Teardown

Teardown and exploration of how a string of fairy lights/Christmas lights/holiday lights works. Part of the Project Rankin series that intends to build a holiday ornament powered by the AC electricity in a light strand.

Watch the complete Project Rankin

Music by Anders Enger Jensen