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Author: Dave Nelson

Junkyard Pirate Books by Jamie McFarlane

Book Cover of Junkyard PirateAfter finishing the Nikki and Bob Series by Jerry Boyd I dug around in the Kindle Unlimited store and found the Junkyard Pirate Books by Jamie McFarlane.

The 3 books in the Junkyard Pirate series have a lot of tropes from other books I have read, but they definitely tell a different story. I enjoyed reading them enough that once I finished them, I moved right on to the Privateer series also written by Jamie McFarlane.

Overall, I rate the series a 9 out of 10 and recommend them to anyone looking for some fun sci-fi.

BooksFictionHappy

Surface Mount Soldering Kits

Evil Mad Scientist The 741SE Discrete 741 Op-Amp
Assemble and ready to go

In my previous post I wrote about the QRP-Labs QCX-mini amateur radio kit which only has through-the-hole components to be soldered by the enthusiast but had problems with some of the surface mounted op-amps and my desire to learn how to remove those surface mounted devices (SMD) and install new ones. To learn how to do that I bought a handful of kits to practice on.

First up is the Gikfun DIY SMD SMT Welding Practice Soldering Skill Training Board Ek7028 which was a pretty great kit to assemble, when finished it isn’t much to share as it just blinks some lights in the middle of the circuit board, but it comes with 124 LEDs, capacitors, and resistors and 2 ICs to solder to the board. I even practiced correcting “tombstoning” and removing then replacing components. The 1206 and 805 sized components were pretty easy, I did those with my Hakko 888 fine tipped soldering iron, but the 603 and 402 components I used the hot-air rework station.

The Gikfun kit was a challenge but it also gave me a lot of confidence to get the fancier SMD kits assembled.

I purchased 2 kits from Evil Mad Scientist, The 555SE Discrete 555 Timer and The 741SE Discrete 741 Op-Amp which when finished make great desk toys/conversation starters and can even be used to make working circuits.

I actually assembled the 555 Timer first, I followed the provided instructions by installing components as they were stored in their packaging a few at a time. I applied a dab of Chip Quik SMD291AX REWORK SOLDER PASTE 5CC 63/37 NO CLEAN SOLDER on each pad and then used the hot-air rework station to melt the solder. It worked really well and by the end of the kit I was full of confidence.

At the top of the page is the completed Op-Amp and below you can follow along with the steps I used to assemble it. Unlike with the 555 Timer I applied paste to the entire board by hand, a solder mask is not supplied with the kit.

solder paste on a circuit board
Solder Paste Applied

Then I placed each component. The solder paste did a decent job holding the components in place, I developed a rhythm of getting the component onto the board with a bit of it stuck in the paste then maneuvering it into its correct position followed by a tap on the top to set it down into the paste.

components in paste
Components in the Paste

And finally, I moved the hot-air rework station’s wand across the entire board moving quickly at first to warm up the entire board then more slowly and finally concentrating on each component until the solder flowed.

soldered components
Soldered Components

The finished kit puts a big smile on my face, I am very excited to do more SMD kits.

Soldered Components Close-Up
Soldered Components Close-Up

The only thing that bothers me about using the hot-air rework station and soldering paste is that the soldering paste has an expiration date. I have been told that it is good for about 6 months and if refrigerated can be used up to a year, but after that it doesn’t work as expected. I have solder wire that is 30 plus years old and works as well today as it did the day I bought, that won’t be the case with solder paste.

ElectronicsHappy

QRP Labs QCX-mini

QRP-Labs QCX-mini
Assembled QRP-Labs QCX-mini with dummy load and replacement op-amps.

The QCX-mini is a continuous wave (CW), think Morse Code, ham radio kit that transmits and receives on one band only at around 5 watts. I had been waiting for the release of the QCX-mini kits for a while and was able to order one as soon as it was released. I also bought the aluminum case and the 50-ohm dummy load.

The kit was pretty straight-forward to assemble, I am very proud of my soldering on this kit, it is the best I have ever done, but…

When I was done and went through the alignment process it didn’t work. I went off to the QCX forums to see what I could do. Turns out there is an issue with the pre-installed surface mount op-amps used in some of the early kits. The solution is to check the voltages of each op-amp, there are quite a few of them, and then replace the ones that aren’t working as designed. Also using an oscilloscope is recommended to collect more troubleshooting information.

I bought a 10 pack of op-amps directly from China on eBay, they arrived a lot faster than I expected.

I bought an inexpensive scope for Ali Express, the DSO FNIRSI-150 Digital Oscilloscope full assembled with P6020 BNC standard probe, along with an extra probe. I’ve turned it on but haven’t learned how to use it yet. I am hesitant to use the scope as some members of the forums have shorted out their radios breaking a lot of components in the process, the surface mount components are so small I can see myself doing that.

This also led me to buy a hot air rework station. After a lot of research I bought the Sparkfun Hot-Air Rework Station – 303D. I chose this unit because I trust Sparkfun and they stock replacement heating elements for it.

But I have never soldered surface mount components or used a hot-air rework station so I bought a handful of SMD kits to practice on, there will be blog posts in the future about those.

As of right now I have a non-working QCX-mini which I am pretty bummed about. QRP-Labs is in the process of making some design changes to the radio and my plan is to buy one of the new kits when they are available instead of trying to fix the one I have. Even though the radio doesn’t work I am not upset about it, I believe they are pushing limits and doing their best to create a great kit experience and a great radio for us.

I look forward to getting my hands on the next version of the QCX-mini and using it to make a lot of contacts with it.

ElectronicsHamHam Radio

Nikki and Bob Series by Jerry Boyd

After finishing all of the books Nathan Lowell has written so far I tried some books recommended by my Kindle, or more correctly “Advertised” on my Kindle, and what a total waste of time. I find it hard to describe just how BAD those books were. But then I found Bob’s Saucer Repair by Jerry Boyd.

There are currently 14 books in the series, I am on book 9 and reading through a book every other day or so. These stories are science-fiction light with lots of humor, a fast pace, not a lot of depth, and a ton of characters.

I highly recommend these books to anyone looking for some fun and light science fiction.

BooksFictionHappy

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.

BooksFictionHappy

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.

BooksFictionHappy

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.

BooksFictionHappy

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.

BooksFictionHappy

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.

BooksFictionHappy

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.

HamHam RadioHappy

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.

ElectronicsHamHam RadioHappy

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.

BooksFictionHappyUncategorized

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.

BooksFictionHappyUncategorized

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.

BooksElectronicsFictionHappyNon-Fiction