Nathan Lowell, Author

I have now read every novel available from Nathan Lowell and I am eagerly awaiting more.

Nathan Lowell’s superpower is being able to write about “normal” people in a way that draws me in. Most of his characters are everyday people living ordinary lives, right up until they are not. Their motivations and desires are easy to understand and usually uncomplicated. But his stories are not straight-forward. They have twists and turns that keep me guessing and wanting more.

I plan on listening to the podcasts of his books, that will take some time as I have a lot of podcasts and audiobooks in my playlist to get through but am happy to have Nathan’s to add to the mix.

The Wizard’s Butler by Nathan Lowell

Book Cover of The Wizard’s Butler by Nathan LowellMy favorite Nathan Lowell book yet! This is the first Nathan Lowell book set in modern time but is a fantasy novel through and through.

It took me a little longer to read this one than the others as I savored every bit of it. It does follow some tropes that I have seen and read before, mainly the “muggle surrounded by magic but is ok with it” one but done in a way that I found very engaging.

I really hope there are more in this series soon.

Tanyth Fairport Adventures by Nathan Lowell

Book Cover of Ravenwood by Nathan LowellAnother series by Nathan Lowell, but instead of Science Fiction, these are Fantasy. Tanyth Fairport is an old lady who has been traveling the last 20 years collecting information about herbalism from the old woman of Korlay.

We follow along with Tanyth for a couple of years as she grows into… well I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s pretty cool.

If you like fantasy that isn’t full of spell casting and dragons, then this series is for you.

Shaman’s Tales by Nathan Lowell

Book Cover for South Coast by Nathan LowellMore fiction from Nathan Lowell set in the same universe as Trader’s Tales, Smuggler’s Tales, and Seeker’s Tales but this time we are dirtside on St. Cloud. We follow along with the Kruggs, Piranos, and a cast of others who are trying to find themselves and happiness.

I really appreciate the chance to explore the shamans of St. Cloud and these books really pay off. They span a much longer period of time than the Solar Clipper books and delve deeper into the emotions of many characters.

The Shaman’s Tales series includes South Coast, Finwell Bay, and Cape Grace.

This series can be read out of order, they may be a great starting point for someone just starting to read Nathan’s books.

Seeker’s Tales by Nathan Lowell

Book Cover for In Ashes Born by Nathan LowellI am continuing my reading of Nathan Lowell’s novels with the Seeker’s Tales series using Kindle Unlimited and a Kindle Paperwhite. In Seeker’s Tales we continue along with Ishmael Wang and Phillip Carstairs on a new adventure in a “new” ship.

I am still in awe of Nathan Lowell’s ability to weave a story and effortlessly create characters with so much depth and life in them. These books are really about the characters, the plot is secondary, in a good way.

Seeker’s Tales includes, In Ashes Born, To Fire Called, and By Darkness Forged.

I recommend Nathan Lowell’s books to anybody looking for something to read, give them a try, they may not be for you, but I love them.

QSL Cards

QSL Cards

QSL Cards

I really enjoy receiving QSL cards. During the COVID event I am only sending cards to US addresses, but look forward to sending them around the world in the future.

Here are some of the cards I have received in the last few months.

Shack Power

Powerwerx MEGAbox

Top of the Powerwerx MEGAbox

We have been having some power outages in our neighborhood recently so my plans for a portable power station have been moved up. I have done a lot of research and decided to spend the money now instead of spending more time trying to find something cheaper.

Battery

The battery I have chosen is a Bioenno Power Lithium Iron Phosphate 12V, 40Ah LFP Battery (PVC, BLF-1240A) and here is why:

  • 12V: All of my ham gear runs off of 12 volts and there are many other available tools that will also run off of the 12 volts. Using a 24V battery is tempting but requires more electronics to get the voltages I am looking for.
  • Charge Current: 6A, this is easily supplied by an external power source or by solar panel(s)
  • Max Discharge: 40A, my radios need around 21 amps to function well
  • Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4): Lead Acid sealed, gel, or old-school are heavier than I want to deal with and do not provide a weight to power ratio that is appealing to me. There are also a lot of other things that make LiFePO4
  • 40Ah: I want to be able to keep a radio running along with phones and tablets for a full day… but I also have to keep a budget in mind so 40Ah is what I bought. A 100Ah battery would be a lot better but is out of my price range.

A negative of the Bioenno batteries is that they are not to be used in series or parallel as they each contain their own Battery Management System (BMS) which is not designed to be used in a multi-battery configuration. The BMS in Bioenno batteries is very highly thought of and works remarkably well.

Box

I chose the Powerwerx MEGAbox because I wanted one box that can hold the battery, charger, extra cables, and more. I also wanted USB-C and a light built into the box, when I looked at small and simpler boxes then included the cost of adding USB-C and a light it was almost as much as the MEGAbox. The light is kind of annoying with its seemingly endless number of modes, but it is a good light and is easily replaced if it gets too annoying.

Powerwerx MEGAbox

Inside of the Powerwerx MEGAbox with PWRGate and PWRCheck+

I am able to fit everything into the box and didn’t have to add any holes or make any major modifications to it. More details below.

Power Management

I needed a way to charge the batter via external power and solar, preferably with MPTT. Based on reviews and information from podcasts and such I chose the West Mountain Radio Epic PWRgate. The Epic PWRgate is rated up to 40 amps, instantly switch from external power to battery power, will charge Lead Acid, Lithium Ion, and LiFePO4 batteries, has advanced features available when plugged in to a computer via USB, has an optional temperature probe, and comes in a metal case that is very easy to mount.

Power Measurement

To measure the power coming from and into the battery I chose the West Mountain Radio PWRcheck+ for its easy-to-read screen and ability to store a lot of data that can be read back later on a computer. The PWRcheck+ is totally unnecessary, but I wanted a way to track the performance of the battery and figured it would be a good way to troubleshoot any issues that may come up.

For use with the solar panel, I got a Powerwerx Watt Meter – DC Inline Power Analyzer to have an easy way to see how much power is coming through the panel. It doesn’t have the features of the PWRcheck+ but it doesn’t cost as much either.

Solar Power

For solar I got the Bioenno Power 100 Watt Foldable Solar Panel (BSP-100-LITE). Its too big to take hiking but is a great size to carry in the back of the car and use for a field-day or to charge the battery on a sunny day when the power is out. I wanted enough wattage to give a decent amount of power to a battery but still be foldable and easy enough to move around. For the price I could have gotten 2 aluminum framed panels with twice the wattage, but they would not have been very portable. At some point I will probably buy those panels, but for now the foldable panel will do.

Shack Power

My mains power supply is a SamlexPower SEC-1235M with the Fan and Powerpole mods documented by Phil Salas – AD5X. I have also upped the voltage it outputs to 14.6 volts which the Bioenno battery prefers.

Modifications to the Box

I removed the top PowerPole connecter on the MEGAbox, took the connectors out and replaced them with Yellow and Gray connectors, Yellow for Solar input and Gray for power supply input, and they run to the Epic PWRgate which also has the battery and “load” plugged into it. I use Velcro to hold the battery in place along with the PWRgate and PWRcheck+. That keeps the outside of the box clean and offers a decent amount of water resistance.

In Use

Day-to-day the box sits under the ham shack desk plugged into the SamlexPower power supply keeping the battery topped off. About once I week I leave the power supply turned off and run on battery power until it gets down to around 11 volts, at that point I turn the power supply back on. It works great. I take it outside every now and then to plug in the solar panel to get used to using that setup and learn how it works in the field. The solar panel is ok, but not amazing.

W6NEL Shack

The Shack with the Powerwerx MEGAbox under the desk

I am very happy with my Battery Box solution; it has already been tested in an outage where it kept my son’s tablet charged until the power came back on. I look forward to using it in an upcoming field day to really test it.

Smuggler’s Tales by Nathan Lowell

Milk Run by Nathan LowellSmuggler’s Tales is in the same universe as Trader’s Tales and includes some of the same characters but is told from Natalya and Zoya’s point of view. I read these on my Kindle Paperwhite and Kindle Unlimited.

Smuggler’s Tales includes

Mr. Lowell, or should it be Dr. Lowell, has done such an amazing job building out this universe and by giving us 3 more books from a different perspective is wonderful. There is more action in these stories than in the Trader’s Tales, but the tone remains the same.

Trader’s Tales by Nathan Lowell

quarter share by nathan lowell

This is the first series of book that I read on my new Kindle Paperwhite. These books are available to purchase from Amazon as ebook, audiobook, and paperback versions. Instead of buying each book individually I subscribed to Kindle Unlimited to read them all.

Trader’s Tales includes the books

  • Quarter Share
  • Half Share
  • Full Share
  • Double Share
  • Captain’s Share
  • Owner’s Share

These books follow the life of Ismael Wang and his antics between the stars. I REALLY like these books; they are exactly what I was needing when I found them. They are not full of action, violence, fantasy, war, or death. They do not make up a sprawling space opera that spans centuries nor do they contain deep technical details about how people are able to live in space.

To me these books are a window into a world where cities in space are the way things have been for a long time. Where people work hard to be the people they want to be or need to be but struggle with all of the things that get in their way and either rise to the occasion, try to ignore them, or get crushed by them. The characters are all very believable and I have fallen for Ishmael and his friends. I look forward to reading more about the lives they lead and where they end up.

Don’t get these books if your looking for a ton of action, but if you are in the mood for a good adventure story this may be the story you are looking for.

Kindle Paperwhite

amazon kindle paperwhite book reader

While studying for the Amateur Radio license exams I decided I wanted a new Kindle to read them on. Looking at the different versions of Kindle’s available I chose the Paperwhite for its price, size, backlighting, and water resistance. We have an original Kindle Keyboard and it still works, but it is larger and heavier than the Paperwhite, is not water resistant, does not have a backlight, does not have a touchscreen, and is awkward to hold. I was hesitant to buy a new Kindle as I had not been using the old one very often until I started studying for the license exams which is what got me to use the old one a lot.

Now that I have the Paperwhite Kindle, I use it a lot. It is small enough to fit the pocket of my hoodies, light enough that with a Pop-Socket installed on the back of it I can hold it for hours, when there is enough light the screen without backlighting is easy to read and when there isn’t much light the backlight does a great job making it readable. It would be great if the color of the backlighting was something other than blue, I would prefer an amber color, but that would probably require more power from the battery than the blue.

I like to boost the font size up pretty large, that allows me to read much faster than when I am straining to read smaller text. I have mostly read technical manuals and fiction novels with it, I have tried to use it to read PDF files, but with PDFs you cannot adjust the font size, so I mostly stick to Kindle formatted documents.

The battery lasts a good while for me, I usually charge it one a week or so when using it for a couple of hours a day. Yesterday I read on it for about 10 hours, finished an entire book, and that used around 30% of the battery. The brighter you have the light and the more you use Bluetooth and Wi-Fi functionality the shorter the battery life will be.

I am now also subscribe to Kindle Unlimited and am using that subscription to read a lot of different science-fiction books. Its really cool having so many books available at my fingertips, but I think the $9.99 a month price will probably make me cancel it after a couple of months.

Here are my 3 favorite things about Kindle

  • I can read the books I get from Amazon for the Kindle on iOS or Android phones and tablets along with Kindle devices
  • The waterproof Kindle Paperwhite can be used while in the bathtub or at the pool without wrapping it up to keep it dry
  • I don’t have to find space to store or go through the process of selling all of the books that I have read

Devices

I live in a house with multiple tablets, phones, and even Kindles. I really appreciate that I can pick any of them up and continue where I left off for any book that I have been reading. It is not perfect, there are times when a device will screw up and send me to the wrong place in the book, when that happens with an audio book it is really annoying to find my place again, but with an ebook, it is not so bad.

Waterproof

I like to soak in water… a lot. I regularly sit in our bathtub for 3 hours at a time. With most of my devices I have to put them in a Ziploc bag before taking them into the bath with me, but with the current iPhone and Kindle Paperwhite I don’t have to do that anymore. I am careful with them and haven’t submerged them yet, but Apple and Amazon claim that they would be find if they took a plunge into the bath.

Storage

We have 8 bookshelves in our house and a couple in the garage and they are all full. The large “Science Fiction” bookshelf and the “Travel” bookshelf are so full that the shelves are 2 deep in books. This is after we have gone through the books multiple times giving, trading, and donating hundreds of books. Buying more physical books to fill the house really doesn’t interest me. Using the Kindle and big iPad Pro to read has been a fantastic experience for me. But of course there are physical books I just have to have, usually the big electronics or other technical reference books, because I do love spending time pouring over them and turning to random pages and learning something new.

Amazing Ham Radio Results

Here is a map of the contacts I have made so far, a couple were using RemoteHamRadio.com but the bulk were from my home using FT-8 over 20, 40, and 80 meters. I really blows me away that I have been able to reach so far with a bit of wire strung up in the trees.

Map of the world with ham radio contacts marked

W6NEL Ham Radio Contacts

The State of My Radio Shack

In ham radio the place where you keep the bulk of your radios is known as your shack. I currently have 2 radios and 2 antennas set up in my shack.

Icom IC-9700

The IC-9700 is an all mode, tri-band transceiver covering 2 meter (144MHz), 70cm (430/440MHz) as well as 23cm (1200MHz). In my area there is not much traffic on the 70cm or 23cm bands. There are plenty of repeaters on 70cm, but they are rarely used.

I have the radio connected to a Comet GP-95N which works with all of the bands the radio supports. I have the antenna at the top of 1 and a half fence rale toppers which has it up around 27 feet high. Due to local terrain, both natural and mand-made, I struggle to get signals from the West, but am able to hit repeaters 60+ miles away to the North East 30 miles away to the South.

I primarily use the radio to check into local nets and to ragchew with people on the 2-meter repeaters. The North Fulton Amateur Radio League NF4GA repeater on 145.47Mhz is where I hang out the most, but I also regularly scan all of the repeaters I have in memory and drop into conversations every now and then.

I hope to get an antenna(s) at some point so I can work satellites and do Earth-Moon-Earth (EME) with the 9700, but that is probably a couple of years away due to cost and limited space to put antennas.

Icom IC-7300

The IC-7300 is a High Frequency (HF) plus 50MHz radio that covers the 6 to 160 meter bands.

It is connected to an MFJ-2010 Off-Center Fed Dipole covering the 6, 10, 20, and 40-meter bands. With the space that I have available I don’t think this antenna can be beat. I have it running from a tree in the front yard to a tree in the back yard with one end around 25 feet high and the other over 40 feet high.

With atmospheric conditions being what they are, I have decided to contrate on 20- and 40-meter bands using the FT-8 digital mode. I have been able to reach California, Washington State, North Eastern Canada, Belize, Ecuador, London, Spain, Hungary, and others. I am really amazed at how well such and inexpensive antenna is working for me.

With an LDG IT-100 Autotuner between the radio and antenna I am able to use the 80-meter band, but even with the tuner the Standing Wave Ratio (SWR) is high enough to cause my transmissions to be very weak.

Other Bits and Pieces

I also have HamClock set-up on a Raspberry Pi with the official 7 inch touchscreen so I can keep track of UTC time, solar activity, satellite positions, and sun/moon position. It is really handy.

I also have a Raspberry Pi set up with HamPi, but have not put it to use yet. The IC-9700 can be worked remotely without a separate computer, but the IC-7300 requires a local computer that you VNC into to control the radio.

Plans

I don’t plan on adding much more to the shack, but I do plan on setting up remote control of both radios, I think it would be really cool to be able to use them while traveling or even from another location in the house.

My next project will be adding a radio to the car along with studying for the Extra exam, learning Morse Code (CW), and other digital modes.

Studying for the Amateur Extra Exam

I found myself floundering a bit after passing the General exam. I had been in “study” mode for a few weeks and not having anything to study left me feeling… odder than usual. So I decided to start studying for the Amateur Extra exam, why not?

So far I have read the ARRL Extra Class License Manual cover to cover. I found it much harder to read than the Technician or General manuals, not because the content is more complicated or detailed, but because the writing and editing are not up to the same quality as those other manuals. There are many errors and many passages that are written in ways that confused me.

Now I am on to reading and listening to the The Fast Track to Your Extra Class Ham Radio License by Michael and Kerry Burnette. You may recognize the title and authors from the book I used to study for the General exam, but this is for the Extra. I really enjoyed the General book, both on the Kindle and on Audible so decided to stick with them for the Extra.

This time I have also purchased The Fast Track to Mastering Extra Class Ham Radio Math  along with the recommended Texas Instruments TI-30XS. Statistically, memorizing all of the formulas and being able to do all of the calculations is not necessary to pass the test, but I have decided it is something I would like to learn. There was a time in my life that I really enjoyed math, let’s see if I can rekindle that flame.

The Fast Track Ham website https://fasttrackham.com/ is also a great help with a handful of videos to help explain some more of the math and practice exams for each chapter of the books. I really like the way the “by chapter” practice exams build upon the previous chapters. That works well for me.

And to round out my studies I am also using HamStudy.org website by SignalStuff to do even more practice exams. I really appreciate how HamStudy allows you to work through all of the exam pool and use flash cards to find your weaknesses and concentrate study time on them.

My plan is to take it slowly and learn the material well and hopefully take the test sometime in November. Wish me luck.

General License Exam

As I said in a previous post, I got my Technician License to fly drones (quadcopters) and didn’t really learn much in the process, I just memorized the answers. But once I decided to get a General License I decided I really wanted to learn something.

I started with the ARRL General Class License Manual and read it cover-to-cover. While doing that I attended the QSO Today Virtual Ham Expo where I met Michael Burnette, AF7KB in a chat room who wrote The Fastrack to Your General Class Ham Radio License and he recommended his book to me which I immediately bought on Audible!

Yes! A technical book in audio book format! Michael is a great author and a great narrator. The audio book is fantastic and I highly recommend it to hams that listen to audio books. I was able to listen to it at 2 times speed to speed up the process, it takes more concentration to follow at that speed, but I think I actually learned more because I had to concentrate to follow him. I also bought the Kindle version of the book so I could see the figures, photos, and illustrations as they were being described in the audiobook. I ended up also reading the Kindle version cover-to-cover.

I also bought the Patrick Maloney LLC Ham Study app for iOS and used that to take many practice tests.

Between the practice tests in the Ham Study app and on the Fast Track to Your Ham Radio License website I got my average score up to 80% or so and completed around 20 tests without failing (I failed plenty before I got to that point.)

I used the Find an Amateur Radio License Exam Session search to find a local test in my area, right now there are many “in-person” testing sites listed that are not actually open, but I found one about 45 minutes from my house in Dallas Georgia hosted by the Silver Comet Amateur Radio Society.

We tested on Tuesday night in a picnic pavilion at the Dallas Chamber of Commerce. It was a great location, with COVID I really like that we did the testing outside. John, W4TXA, the president of the society and his team, did a great job of overseeing the testing and kept everything on track.

I passed the General Exam and then took a shot at the Extra Exam which I did not pass, but that’s OK, I am very excited to now be able to talk on the HF bands.

Ham Radio

In 2015 I earned my technician ham radio license so that I could legally fly my drones via a First-Person View (FPV) camera that used the ham radio bands to transmit. I bought a study aid for my iPhone and spent a week or two doing practice tests until I was passing them pretty easy. I didn’t read any books, go to a class, or even talk to anyone else about it at the time.

I took the test locally and passed. I spent a couple of years drone racing and goofing off in parks and a couple of flying fields, but I spent a lot more time fixing than I did flying, so I don’t really fly anymore. I bought a Baofeng UV-5R and upgraded its antenna, but did not make any contacts with it, so it just sat on a bookshelf collecting dust.

Now, 5 years later, I have decided I want to really dive into ham radio, get my general license and maybe even an extra license. But this time I am actually going to learn something!

I have bought the ARRL General Class License Manual, the Ham Test Prep: General appThe Fast Track to Your General Class Ham Radio License audio and Kindle books, joined ARRL, and am listening to a lot of podcasts and watching a lot of YouTube videos. More importantly I am taking my time and digesting the information and learning more than just the test answers.

It has been a lot of fun so far, there is so much to learn and it brings together a lot of geeky things that I really like. I am spending a lot of time on local VHF repeaters listening to advice and rag chewing, I have even taken part in a handful of local Nets where ham radio clubs meet to check-in and discuss various topics.

My plan is to take the General test in late September or early October, I won’t have the money to buy an HF radio and antenna until then, so no need to rush.

Sleeving Gaming Cards

I have recently gotten deep into card games, not collectable card games like Magic the Gathering, although I have done that in the past, but games like Legendary and Munchkin, and Dresden Files where there are a lot of cards, a lot of shuffling, and generally the potential for rough handling.

With my Legendary game there are a handful of cards that get used at the beginning of every game, so they see a lot more use than any other cards in the game. After just 5 solo games I could already see those cards taking a beating and showing signs of wear. A big part of the fun of these card games is not knowing what card is coming up next, so having cards that stand out is not a good thing.

With some of my existing games I have used the Ultra Pro Deck Protector Sleeves, they work well. They provide plenty of protection, shuffle well, and handling is ok. They are a bit too slippery for my taste and are quite a bit larger than the card which contributes to a large stack of cards not staying stacked very well. Also, they get expensive when you want to protect thousands of cards. Ultra Pro also has more expensive sleeves that address the slipperiness issue, but the price is well out of the range I would spend for anything other than the most valuable of cards.

Then there are “penny” sleeves. I have never tried these, after reading a lot of reviews I decided that they weren’t worth the trouble.

My research brought me to Board Game Geek (BGG) and the Card Sleeve Sizes for Games post. Wow, so much information to digest. After reading many, many, comments there I decided on KMC Perfect Fit Sleeves.

For my Legendary Marvel collection, I needed around 5,000 sleeves. I ordered the KMC Perfect Fit Sleeves from Amazon and they arrived in a couple of days. A $120 just for sleeves, are you kidding me? I could have bought 5 expansion sets with that money! (Ultra Pro Matte Sleeves would have cost over $250.)

I love these sleeves so much. The cards slide into them easily, they fit perfectly with very little extra space, have just the right amount of slipperiness for shuffling and stickiness for large stacks to stay together, they are very clear and when a card is sitting on a table it is hard to tell it even has a sleeve on it.

As an added bonus, for cards that are super valuable or will be used by someone who is abusive with their cards you can use the KMC Perfect Fit Sleeves as inner sleeves and Ultra Pro sleeves as outer sleeves to double protect your cards.

If you have decided to sleeve your cards I highly recommend KMC Perfect Fit Sleeves.

Legendary Leagues

I have really gotten into Upper Deck’s Legendary Marvel card game, as previous posts have shown, and a big part of that are the challenges provided by Legendary Leagues.

Here is the description from their website:
“The Legendary League Series are unofficial leagues for competitive solo play of Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game and Legendary: Villains. It was started on BoardGameGeek.com with the Marvel Legendary base set by Jesse Olivier in 2013, DarthEd has run the hero league since season 2, and Travelsized has run the leagues that feature the Villains sets as well as the Starter Leagues. In each league, individuals will be competing against each other in solo play in multiple scoring categories in order to see who is the most Legendary!”

What I get from Legendary Leagues is new challenges every month to play solo but with other people playing the same challenge. Then we discuss the challenges on the Board Gaming Geek forums. In one of my early games I mis-understood the rules of one of the cards and the guys in the forums were great in explaining the correct way to play. Overall the people on BGG are great, but the folks in the Legendary League forums are fantastic and always there to help.

I have yet to come out in first place in one of the challenges, but I recently came in 5th out of 20+ which made me very happy as I tend to choose heroes based on how much I like the character instead of based on optimizing my chance to win.

A Legendary Storage Solution

Legendary Cases

Hobby Lobby Art Cases full of Legendary Marvel cards


Storing around 5000 sleeved cards that you want to be able to easily get at and play with is a bigger problem than I thought it would be. I found some people using the medium size expansion boxes and some cutting and gluing to make some really cool cases, but I don’t want to cut up my boxes. I found a 3d-printed storage solution, but it added a lot of weight to the original box and didn’t come close to holding all of the cards.

Then I found out Broken Token makes inserts for “All Media Artist’s Supply Sketch Box” sold by Hobby Lobby and I already really like Broken Token inserts. With a couple of online coupons, I got 2 cases for half-off and bought the inserts which all arrived in a week or so.

The art cases are well made, the handle is strong, the hinges keep the lid from flopping open, and the locks are sufficient. The insert fits very tightly, even requiring a little bit of sanding, and even without gluing it into the case I don’t feel like it would slide out unintentionally.

I chose to stain both the cases and inserts with a Cherry colored Min-Wax stain, it took two coats to get the color I wanted, actually they are still a little pinker than I would like, but I think they look a lot better than the natural wood they were originally.

Each case weighs around 25 pounds with both the original version and Villains along with all of the expansions up to New Mutants. Pretty soon I will be buying a third case to hold the coming 2020 and 2021 expansions that Upper Deck has planned.

closed art case

Closed art case

Open art case

Open art case with Broken Token Insert

Team Black Sheep Vendetta Tips

dave-nelson-20160626-0001

I have gone all in with the TBS Vendetta, I have put the ZMRs and the Shendrones Krieger away. I am now exclusively flying a pair of Vendettas that I have named McCoy and Hatfield.

The Vendetta is not perfect and it is not indestructible. It is a multirotor for experienced hobbyists and it is not for beginners. I would only recommend it to someone who has built more than 2 difference quads of their own and gone through the experience of tuning, flying, crashing, and breaking.

If you are a beginner I recommend you either buy an ImmersionRC Vortex 250 Pro or take the time to build one of your own from parts you ordered online. Look for locals that will take you under their wing and help you out, sometimes it only takes an experienced pilot seeing your plane fly in person for a minute to tell you exactly what you need to do to fix it.

The Vendetta

You can learn more about the Team Black Sheep Vendetta on the TBS website and there are a lot of great instructional videos that various people have put together. I am not into making videos so I am going to offer my suggestions via this blog post.

I bought the Vendetta because I was no longer having fun building and maintaining quadcopters. I rebuilt my ZMRs 5 times and built a Shendrones Krieger that I was never able to get to fly right, don’t get me wrong, I think the Krieger is one of the best frames on the market and capable of being the most agile and fastest plane out there, I just don’t want to spend any more time rebuilding it or tweaking on it.

The Vendetta comes almost ready to fly, add a receiver, set it up via a couple of pushbuttons and you are ready to fly.

The 3 things you may want to change with the Vendetta as soon as you get are replacing the camera, securing the rear LED cover, and adding a 5V power connector.

Camera

I do not like the ZeroZero camera, I do not like the inability to change its settings without opening it up and clipping wires to it and I do not like the quality of the video it outputs. TBS has updated the camera and I have one of each, an updated one that came with a little orange sticker on it and one without, and I do not like either of them. So I have replaced the camera with a Runcam Swift.

dave-nelson-20160628-0002

This is my first time using the Swift, but I have used the RunCam Sky many times before, in fact I have 5 of them on various planes and still in the box. The Swift offers very similar performance to the Sky and to the HS1177/PZ402M. It is easy to change the settings and easy to install it in the Vendetta.

The Swift comes with many different methods for mounting it, for the Vendetta you can use the flat back plate and the brackets that are on the ZerZero. But first you should harden the Swift to protect it from crashes, I have been known to hit trees head-on at over 30 miles an hour with my quads so it is important for the FPV camera to be tough.

I use E6000 to and a bamboo skewer to glue down the capacitor and the sensor, doing a Google search can show you a lot of other people recommending this and there are other methods and other adhesives you might want to use.

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I do not recommend gluing the circuit board to the housing, issues can arise where the circuit board ends up crooked in the housing, which would cause a fuzzy picture. But I do recommend adding a bit of foam tape to the back plate to hold the circuit board in place while making it easy to remove.

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Once the Swift has been toughened and it is time to remove the ZeroZero from the Vendetta and remove the video cables from the 4-pin micro JST connector, I use an X-Acto knife to gently pry up the little piece of plastic holding the cable and then pull it out. A Google search will get you some good videos showing this in action. Then do the same with one of the cables that came with the swift so that you have an empty 3-pin connector.

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WARNING: The pin-out for the Swift is different than the ZeroZero.

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Now place the wires from the Vendetta into the 3-pin connector being sure to get it right. For the white cable I wrapped it in a bit of electrical tape to keep it from shorting out on something in the plane.

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Next take the brackets off of the ZeroZero and put them on the Swift, it is an easy swap and easily fits. Make sure you have an antenna attached to the Vendetta before powering it on, ALWAYS ATTACH AN ANTENNA. In fact I keep an antenna attached at all times to my quads, I only take it off when I have to. Back in the day I burnt out 3 $75 video transmitters by not having an antenna attached.

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This is the time to setup the camera, out of the box Wide Dynamic Range is not turned on and that is the most important change to make. I also lower the contrast and sharpness as I feel it make it easier to see small tree branches and other thin objects.

Now time to put the camera into the plane and get ready to fly.

LED Cover

In my opinion the LED cover is the only real design flaw with the Vendetta, it is a piece of plastic glued to the carbon fiber frame, the glue gives out with the smallest bump, even a soft landing can cause it to pop out. I replaced it a couple of times, I really like the looks of having that translucent cover over the LEDs. The LEDs and the circuit board they are on is fragile and needs protection.

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The best solution I have found is to drill some holes in the cover and use small zip ties to hold it in place.

Transponder Power

For the Drone Racing Club races I participate in I need a 5v female servo lead to connect a transponder.

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The easiest place to get this from is the Servo output on top of the Cube, I was able to solder these wires without taking the Cube apart. Use a nice long cable lead and you can run the cable and connector to the front of the quad and hide it inside the frame behind the camera and front bumper when not in use. I choose to leave the signal cable unconnected for now.

I also think you could use this connector to power a RunCam HD 2 or other action camera, I haven’t tried that yet, but plan to soon.

WARNING: Do not do anything that makes the Cube taller, you will want that space between the top of the Cube and to top of the frame for when the screws holding the front arm sheer off and you need to push the tray up into the frame to get those screws out.

Overall

I really like the Vendetta and plan on it being my exclusive multirotor for a good long while. I like the way it flies and it is easy enough to repair.

Here is a video of me chasing some wings at the Pecan Patch.

Great Planes RealFlight 7.5 Review

RealFlight is an RC flight simulator that you can use to practice flying RC planes, helicopters, and multirotors (drones). It is a lot cheaper to crash in the simulator than in real life.

RealFlight is a good flight-sim, I feel like there are other sims out there that have better physics and are more realistic, but RealFlight feels like the most polished and has many more options than any of the others. But to get the most out of it you will have to turn to the community around it.

There are many versions of RealFlight available and it can be very confusing picking the right one. You can get just the software, with a cable, or with a controller. To make it a bit more confusing there is more than one cable available. I went to my local hobby shop and bought Great Planes RealFlight 7.5 with Wired Interface which is currently $129.98 at Amazon.

If you buy this version you will also need a controller, I use the Spektrum DX6 controller (transmitter) and like it a lot. It is available on Amazon for $199.52 right now, which is a great price.

A great feature of RealFlight is that you can install it on as many computers as you want, but to use it you have to have the Interlink cable with its built in reset button to run it.

RealFlight will not run on MacOS so I primarily use Bootcamp and Windows 8 to play it. But I sometimes use Parallels with Windows 7 or Windows 8, it works but requires a fast Mac to work.

Community

After getting the software installed and you’ve taken a couple of test flights I recommend going over to RCGroups.com and downloading the RCG online field and then the RCG Killer Quad. After installing them and giving them a go you can see if RCG is hosting the field for multiplayer to have some fun with other RC Group members.

If the field does not offer you enough challenges you can open it up in the editor and make it more challenging. I added more gates and removed the stadium seating from mine.

The next place to stop is the Knife Edge Software Swap Pages. These are aircraft and airports created by other players.

Troubleshooting

The only problem I have had with the software is that when I load a new multirotor and try to fly it the plane flops around until it is crashed. This is fixed by flipping the auxillary switches, ‘Y’, ‘U’, ‘I’, and ‘O’, for me it is ‘O’ that usually does the trick.

Improvements

I hope that that next version of RealFlight includes more realistic physics, more realistic graphics, and a simpler interface.

Competition

Phoenix RC is the direct competitor and has its own flaws.
FPV Freerider is a multirotor FPV specific sim with a handful of maps.

Give them all a try, it is a lot cheaper than wrecking and rebuilding your planes.

Getting into RC Helicopters

Last year I saw a video of a guy flying a remote control helicopter upside down… A HELICOPTER… UPSIDE DOWN!

I watched that video and others like it over and over. So I started saving my money and researching what kind of equipment I needed to learn how to do that myself. I started off with a cheap toy helicopter, then moved to a more expensive one that was much more powerful but still a toy and then finally with a hobby-grade collective pitch heli.

There is such a huge difference between a “Hobby-Grade” and a “Toy” RC vehicle. Mainly it is the ability to fix it and upgrade it, you usually cannot do that with a toy, and hobby-grade usually also means more power.

I bought a Spektrum DX6, not the DX6i, but the new DX6 with the really nice gimbals, voice, and 250 plane memory. It is my first real transmitter so I do not have anything but toys to compare it to, but I really like it.

The helicopter I chose was the Blade Nano CPX, it is a tiny (nano) collective pitch helicopter that is capable of flying upside down. But a funny thing happened. As soon as I had the Nano CPX I started watching videos of guys racing quadcopters through the woods.

Racing through the woods flying quadcopters in first-person view while wearing goggles is so amazing! So immersive! Better than any video game could make it. But there I sat with all this money sunk into a helicopter.

I decided to learn to fly the helicopter until I could successfully fly it upside down, then I would move onto quads.

After crashing a lot and spending a lot of money on replacement parts I broke down and bought the Phoenix RC software because it has the Nano CPX in it. I was really impressed by Phoenix because I crashed the heli in the app in the exact same way that I crashed it in real life. I spent a hundred hours or so practicing in the software and slowly got better with the real thing.

I never got good at flying the helicopter; it was too fast for me to fly it indoors but so light that it was difficult to fly outside. And the cost of repairs was crazy, I spent more on replacement parts in a couple of months than I spent on it new. At that point it just wasn’t fun.

I went to a couple of local events with guys flying large helicopters doing all kind of amazing tricks, their skills are amazing and exciting to watch. But my desire to fly helicopter is totally gone.

I was able to fly it upside down a couple of time successfully and I will probably never fly it again. I will probably sell it and all of the parts I have for it soon. Let me know if you are interested.

Now I am on to flying quadcopters. More about that soon.

The Fold by Peter Clines

What the heck is Joe Ledger doing in a Peter Clines novel, haha, I jest.

I really enjoyed 14 by Peter Clines and when I saw his new novel The Fold in Audible I grabbed it and gave it a listen. The audiobook is narrated by Ray Porter who also narrates the Joe Ledger series by Jonathan Maberry so when I hear his voice I hear the voice of Joe Ledger. But this book is not much like the Ledger series.

The lead character, Mike Erikson, is a really smart guy with a photographic memory and Peter Clines does a great job of making him likeable and relatable.

This book didn’t get me too excited, I enjoyed it, but it fell like a compilation of other sci-fi books and movies. There is nothing new here if you have been reading and watching science fiction for awhile. But it is a solid effort, the narration is great, and the characters are fun if a bit predictable.

From the publisher:

Step into the fold. It’s perfectly safe.

The folks in Mike Erikson’s small New England town would say he’s just your average, everyday guy. And that’s exactly how Mike likes it. Sure, the life he’s chosen isn’t much of a challenge to someone with his unique gifts, but he’s content with his quiet and peaceful existence. That is until an old friend presents him with an irresistible mystery, one that Mike is uniquely qualified to solve.

Far out in the California desert, a team of DARPA scientists has invented a device they affectionately call the Albuquerque Door. Using a cryptic computer equation and magnetic fields to "fold" dimensions, it shrinks distances so a traveler can travel hundreds of feet with a single step. The invention promises to make mankind’s dreams of teleportation a reality. And, the scientists insist, traveling through the door is completely safe. Yet evidence is mounting that this miraculous machine isn’t quite what it seems – and that its creators are harboring a dangerous secret.

As his investigations draw him deeper into the puzzle, Mike begins to fear there’s only one answer that makes sense. And if he’s right, it may be only a matter of time before the project destroys…everything. A cunningly inventive mystery featuring a hero worthy of Sherlock Holmes and a terrifying final twist you’ll never see coming, The Fold is that rarest of things: a genuine pause-resister science-fiction thriller. Step inside its audio and learn why author Peter Clines has already won legions of loyal fans.

©2015 Peter Clines (P)2015 Audible, Inc.

I rate The Fold a 6 out of 10 and recommend it to anyone who has run out of other books to read.

The Martian by Andy Weir

I have been hearing about The Martian from a lot of friends over the last couple of months and it sounded to god to be true so I put it off. I really shouldn’t have.

I bought the audiobook from Audible and listened to it about as fast as I could. It has a lot in common with the many recent stranded stories like Gravity and Cast Away, but it is so much better than them.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who has ever dreamed of Mars, being an astronaut, an engineer, or a space botanist. Really I recommend it to anyone at all, it is a great story and R. C. Bray does a fantastic job narrating the audiobook.

From the publisher:

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive – and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first.

But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills – and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit – he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

©2012 Andy Weir (P)2013 Podium Publishing

I rate The Martian a 10 out of 10 and recommend everyone give it a read.