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Category: Happy

Happy posts that may cause happiness and bright faces along with frowns that have been turned upside down

Barefoot Shoes

Vibram FiveFingers KSO EVOI have been making the slow transition from overly padded, unstable, and heel drop shoes to zero-drop barefoot shoes. My knees have never felt so good.

I have never been an athlete and have never really enjoyed running. There was a short period while I was in the Navy that a group of us got into working out together and would regularly go for runs. But I was never very fast and never enjoyed the running.

I started with Altra Superior shoes that have some mid-sole padding and very little heel drop. I wore those for about 3 years off and on. When I first started wearing them I would get pain in the ball of my left foot. But by switching between different shoes and taking it easy when I needed to, I got used to them. Then I started wearing Converse All Star Chuck Taylor shoes which are zero-drop and don’t have much more padding than the Altra’s I was wearing.

Recently I have decided to take the plunge into full-on barefoot shoes. I now have a pair of Vibram FiveFingers KSO EVO and a pair of Merrell Vapor Glove 5 shoes. The Vapors are good solid shoes, light weight, good fit, comfortable, and when on sale they are a great price. But I have fallen in love with the FiveFingers!

I’ve only been wearing the FiveFingers for a week, but I am already running in them and really enjoying it. My legs feel stronger, my balance is improving, my arches are strengthening, and feeling the ground beneath my feat wakes something up in me that I haven’t felt before.

If you decide to give barefoot shoes a try, take the advice that so many give. Take the transition slow, like really slow, like at least 6 months slow. Zero drop or low drop shoes like the Altras are a great starting point, then on to shoes with less and less padding and sole until the time feels right.

Happy

Inline Skating

Skating on the Silver Comet Trail
I made it to the 5.3 mile marker on the Silver Comet trail for a total skate of just over 11 miles.
I am having so much fun skating. I wrote an initial post that talked about my history with skating, all the different type of skating I have done and the skates I have owned, but wow was it a long-winded mess. So here is the short version.

I started skating when I was 4 years old taking lessons at a local rink in rural Ohio. Even though I didn’t enjoy it at first by the time I was 6 I loved it and looked forward to going to the rink and skating for hours. It was someplace I could be alone with a crowd of people, be independent, play pinball and video games, and once per day they had a session where I could skate as fast as I was able.

When we moved to Georgia, I didn’t skate anymore, I took up skateboarding, but it was never much more than transportation. So, no skating from 12 until in my twenties.

In the Navy I discovered inline skates while in Charleston South Carolina. I loved skating in Charleston, it was a very flat place with lots of pavement and back alleys to have fun in. I spent many days in my skates in the early morning and didn’t take them off until late at night. I tried to continue skating when I got to Guam, but the streets there are paved with seashells that destroy skate wheels and there was no place to buy replacements, so I didn’t skate much.

Once out of the Navy I had other things on my mind and didn’t try to get back into skating until I was 50 years old. I was overweight and out of shape, skating wasn’t the fun that I remembered.

Then life smacked me in the face, and I involuntarily lost 80 pounds and needed to find a way to exercise. I tried the skates that I had and was amazingly able to clumsily skate around a parking lot. I skated the flat parking lot a few times and then moved on to the roads of neighborhood. I still felt clumsy and fell down a few times, but it was getting to be fun.

Then I saw Bill Stoppard announce a new version of the Adapt GTB skates. I followed the instructions on the Adapt website for measuring my feet and discovered that my skates should be a size smaller than what I had, that was a surprise. I used to skate in Roller Blade size 11s, the Sebas are size 10, and the Adapts I bought are a size 9 and fit perfectly.

I now believe that skates should fit so that every part of your feet is cradled by the skates, your toes shouldn’t be crushed, but you also shouldn’t be able to freely wiggle them. That also means that your skate are going to have a painful break-in period even with heat molding. Once they are broken in the control and comfort you have will amaze you.

Now I am skating 3 plus miles 3 or 4 times a week with a 10 mile stretch here and there. I still feel clumsy and still fall every now and then, but with more time in the skates I get a bit better every time I skate.

Happy

Roland Fantom 8

Roland Fantom 8

I wanted to document why I have decided to buy the Roland Fantom 8 for my current needs in learning to play the piano and having fun making goofy music for myself, so here it is. Keep in mind that I have not received it yet and don’t expect to have it until late July.

The main reason is the keybed, the “88 Key (PHA-50 Wood and Plastic Hybrid Structure, with Escapement and Ebony/Ivory Feel, channel aftertouch)” feels amazing to me. When I compare it to the other keyboards, I have had access to the downward force required is medium heavy, the bottoming out is a good thunk without being mushy or hard, and the return is fast enough to almost stick to my finger.

The sounds are great, with thousands of presets to choose from and an amazing amount of customizability and sound design options, it blows my mind. There are a lot of people who do not like the “Roland Sound” but I am not one of them. While I had the Fantom 08 I found hundreds of sounds that I really liked. With the Fantom the V-Piano sounds are fantastic with customizability options that will let me get piano sounds I am after.

Next is the construction, the Fantom line is built like a tank with lots of metal. The faders and knobs feel premium. The screen is large and bright enough to easily read while being responsive to touch. The solution for fader and knob position when changing presets, there are LEDs around or beside the control to show the controller’s saved position versus its physical position, is great.

Ableton integration is the next important functionality for me. I have invested a lot into Ableton, the software license, the training, and the time. With the beautiful screen on the Fantom and the way Roland is showing clips and tracks, it’s great.

Inputs and Outputs are important. The Fantom uses a standard power cord with no brick so it’s easy to get a longer or right-hand cable for it. MIDI in, out, and thru to control multiple instruments. 4, count them, 4 pedal inputs for hands free manipulation. 2 balanced XLR/TRS inputs, multiple USB ports, 2 CV/GATE outputs, 2 Sub outputs, and more. I doubt that I will ever use them all, but it is nice to know they are available.

What other keyboards did I think about?

The first was the Yamaha P-125 which is a relatively inexpensive digital piano with a really nice Graded Hammer keybed that I still like a lot. I may still get a one used at some point, but the lack of inputs and outputs would make this an instrument that would be in some other room and only used for piano lessons and noodling around.

When I visited Check Levin’s I had a chance to play with a lot of different keyboards I can’t afford. The employees were very helpful and glad to let me plink around on everything in the store. I worked my way from the Nord Stage to the Piano and finally the Nord Grand. The Nord Grand is something else, it is amazing! As a digital piano it is a dream, the keybed felt absolutely perfect to me. If money were no object I would have one set up in my living room where I would gush over it every day.

The Arturia KeyLab 88 MkII was also on my radar, but I have yet to put hands on one. As a controller it does not make its own sounds and is reliant on a computer or another piece of hardware. Also, the word on the street is that the keys are very heavy. Those 2 concerns kept me from ordering one.

HappyMusic

Another Keyboard, Roland Fantom 08

Roland Fantom 08

In March Roland announced the Fantom 0, typically pronounced Fantom “Oh”, a lighter and less expensive version of their flagship Fantom series of synthesizer workstations. I had been very happily playing the Novation SL when I saw a video with the Fantom 0 and wow, it blew me away. Up until this point I had never heard of the Roland Fantom or Fantom 0. I didn’t know that Roland made workstation keyboards with Ableton integration.

Why the Fantom 08?

What really attracted me to the Fantom 08 is the ability to make sound without a computer or other external equipment. The sound presets of the Fantom 0 are really good for what I am doing and look forward to doing. The Supernatural Piano presets are nice, with a little tweaking and reverb I think they sound great. The Strings are solid and among the Synth sounds I found a lot of bass sounds I really like.

The next thing is the keybed. I ordered the Fantom 08 before any of the local music shops had them in stock, so I really worried about this. Up until this point my favorite keybed was the Yamaha P125 Graded Hammer Standard (GHS) keybed which is light and fast. The PHA-4 Standard Keyboard: with Escapement and Ivory Feel keybed of the Fantom 08 is heavier and slower than the Yamaha. I kind of like the heavier, it allows me to rest my hands on the keys without triggering them. But the slower speed of the return, the time it takes a key from the bottom of its travel to the top position, feels sluggish, they key does not feel like it is glued to my finger. Not a big deal, but maybe it is.

The screen! Having a nice big touchscreen where you can really see what is going on is amazing. For sound design being able to see exactly what you are editing is fantastic. The screen is responsive to touch with very little lag.

Faders and knobs, oh my. They feel great.

What I Don’t Like

Even though the Fantom 0 is a 2022 computer it is based on the Fantom which was released in 2019, a lot of the computer integration is coming from a 2015 or earlier mindset. The way the keyboard’s firmware is updated along with adding new sounds requires a USB thumb drive and juggling it between multiple ports on the back of the keyboard.

The interface is very clunky and different from anything I am familiar with. If you are not familiar with the Roland way of doing things, be ready to watch a lot of videos and to read the manual closely. But there is good news, if you learn one Roland product there is a good chance you can apply that knowledge to other Roland products, so in the long run I think it is worth spending the effort to learn it.

Software drivers are required to use the keyboard with a computer. This bugs me a lot. I am ok with advanced features requiring a driver, but basic MIDI and Audio should not require drivers. But you can avoid the drivers by using an audio interface that includes MIDI input and output.

Did I Keep It?

After almost a month I decided to return the Fantom 08. I loved the keyboard so much that I decided I wanted more! I returned it and ordered its big brother the Fantom 8 which I should arrive in a few months.

The Atlanta Guitar Center has both the Fantom 8 and Fantom 08 on display, I spent a lot of time playing them both and decided that the PHA-50 keybed, V-Piano sounds, extra memory for sound expansion, and metal construction are worth the extra money to me.

P.S.

I am also keeping the Novation SL, it is a great controller and I plan on keeping it.

HappyMusic

A Different Kind of Keyboard

Novation SL MK3
Late last year I decided I wanted to learn how to play the Piano and to create some music. After a reasonable amount of research, a lot of research, I picked Ableton as my Digital Audio Workflow (DAW) and that led me to buying a Novation Launchkey 61 MK3.

Novation Launchkey 61 MK3

The main features that lead me to buying the Launchkey began with its Ableton Live integration. The quality of the really surprised me for a $250 keyboard, the keys are very “synthy” meaning plasticy and springy. But for the price, 61 keys, 16 pads, 9 faders, 8 knobs, transpose controls, a good sequencer, and arpeggiator it is pretty amazing.

But I made the mistake of going to Guitar Center too many times playing with Yamaha digital pianos and that got me to thinking I would like weighted keys or at least semi-weighted.

Novation Impulse 61

That led me to buy a used Novation Impulse 61 for $225. It’s a pretty old board and its integration with Ableton is not as good as the newer Launchkey, but it will work with other DAWs in ways the Launchkey can’t.

I really liked the keybed of the Impulse but after a couple of weeks with it I learned about the SL.

Novation 61SL MkIII

What can I say, the 5 LCD screens, CV control, semi-weighted keybed, and all those extra buttons on the Novation 61SL MkIII have really sucked me in. I love this keyboard for playing VST and other software synthesizers. Being able to see what it is the knob is controlling is HUGE! At $700 the price initially felt steep, but with all the features and the great keybed I think it is more than worth it, I think it’s a bargain.

Dig in deeper to all the features on the Novation website.

HappyMusic

2021 iPad Pro

I found myself using my 1st generation iPod Pro 12.9” from 2015 and 5th generation iPad from 2017 a lot and decided it was about time to upgrade.

I am using the iPad for:

  • Read books from Amazon using the Kindle app and technical books with the O’Reilly app
  • Write notes and manage tasks with Obsidian
  • Read comic books with ComiXology, the Marvel app, YAC Reader, and Smart Comics
  • Web Surfing with Chrome
  • Email with Fastmail
  • Reading Reddit
  • Watching videos using various streaming services
  • A game here and there, primarily Pinball, Chess, Solitaire, and Soduku
  • And other Internet “stuff”

None of these require a “Pro” iPad, but I have learned from my experience with the 1st generation iPad Pro that in an Apple product, a Pro device will be useful longer than the non-Pro version. We go through an iPad about every 2 years with our son, he doesn’t abuse them, but they get used 18 hours or so a day which really stresses out the battery causing it to begin to fail after about 2 years.

I’m not sure that the battery in the Pro devices is any better than those in the non-pro devices and I don’t use my iPads as much as Eli but I do no the 6-year old iPad Pro is still running strong where the 4 year old iPad only works for a couple of hours before needing charged.

Here are the other features that made me want the Pro over the non-Pro iPad:

  • Better screen
  • Better sound
  • USB-C charging and accessories
  • M1 processor which will hopefully mean that its usefulness will be 5 or more years
  • A good keyboard so it can be used to easily take notes

I picked the 11-inch iPad Pro over the 12.9-inch due to weight and bulkiness. The larger one is amazing for reading comics and watching movies, but the extra bulk and weight make it harder to use. I really like the idea of the larger screen, but I spend a lot of time holding the iPad and taking it from room-to-room, and the increased weight and bulkiness is enough to cause me to leave it behind. With the smaller one I find myself taking it everywhere.

Combined with a keybooard it is delivering on the promise of a lightweight portable with long battery life that NetBooks and the MacBook Air made, although it feels like it weighs more than the MacBook Air.

I’ve had the 2021 11-inch iPad Pro for a couple of weeks now and absolutely love it. With the right software and keyboard it is an amazing productivity and entertainment tool.

ComputersHappy

Privateer Tales by Jamie McFarlane

Rookie PrivateerAfter reading Jamie McFarlane’s Junkyard Pirate series I went looking for more and found Rookie Privateer the first in his Privateer Tales series. Like the others, I read these on a Kindle Paperwhite.

I made it through the first 12 books in the series one after another during March, April, and May and stalled out on number 13. I plan on getting back into them later. Amazingly there are now 19 books in the series.

This series is pure space adventure following Nick, Liam, and Tabith from humble beginnings on a space station to traveling across the universe confronting hostile aliens and violent pirates.

I hihgly recommend the series to anyone who loves a good sci-fi adventure and rate it a 9 out of 10.

BooksFictionHappy

Ham Radio Morse Code Oscillators

4 oscillators
My 4 Oscillators

In my efforts to learn and use Morse Code I bought a straight key and an iambic paddle. The straight key is an MFJ-553 https://mfjenterprises.com/products/mfj-553 , in my opinion it’s an inexpensive choice without being “junk”, I doubt I will ever use it on the air. The iambic paddle I chose is an HA8KF magnetic paddle, unlike the MFJ key this one is a work of art and will be the key I use the most until something different comes along.

Oscillators like the ones below are used with keys to produce the sounds that we know as Morse Code, the keys only create electrical contacts and maybe some clicking sounds, the oscillators make the dits and dahs for you without using a radio. They are great for training and practice by yourself or with a group.

Oscillators for Straight Keys

NFARL Oscillator
North Fulton Amateur Radio League Morse Code Practice Kit

NFARL Morse Code Practice Oscillator – a very simple practice oscillator with a built-in touch module that acts as a straight key so you can practice without an external key. This oscillator is about as basic as an oscillator can be, it includes a mono input for a straight key, a buzzer for tone, and 2 CR2032 batteries which will power it for a very long time.

The best thing about the NFARL Morse Code Practice Oscillator is it is very easy to assemble and can be used without an external key so it makes a great “learn how to solder” project.


Nightfire Electronics CPO – it appears that the one I have is no longer sold, the version being sold now, “Rev C”, does not include a speaker. This another simple oscillator that uses a 9v battery for power and a 1.5” speaker for output.

For a simple oscillator I really like this one, once assembled and put into an Altoids tin it works great and is very loud.

Oscillators that Support Iambic


Hamgadgets Ultra PicoKeyer – the PicoKeyer is so much more than an oscillator or code practice tool. It comes in a great molded case with 3d-printed front and back panels, much nicer than putting it into an Altoids tin. You can listen to it through the built-in speaker or plug in an external speaker. It can even be plugged into a radio as a keyer. It includes a QSO counter for contesting… and so much more. As a beginner who doesn’t have all of the letters down I find changing the settings of the Ultra PicoKeyer challenging as it’s only method of telling you what setting you are changing is through Morse Code.

I really like all the features of the Ultra PicoKeyer and expect that I may find a use for them as I become more proficient in Morse Code.


QRPGuys Code Trainer – a very straight-forward code trainer oscillator with the added feature of “sending” practice codes. I haven’t used the sending feature yet as I am still learning the individual characters. I really like that all of the components are through-hole components that were easy to solder, it was a little more challenging than the NFARL CPO, but not much harder.

The QRPGuys Code Trainer is currently my favorite oscillator. When plugged into my paddles and external speakers it sounds great, much better than the other oscillators, and it is what I am using for Long Island CW Club classes on Zoom.

I think all of these oscillators are pretty great and that as I learn Morse Code and my skills improve, I will find uses for all of them. I am keeping an eye out for a Morserino-32, it seems like it is a great tool for learning Morse Code.

HamHam RadioHappy

Dice Throne

I discovered Dice Throne through their Marvel Kickstarter and after backing it decided to get the other Dice Throne games to go along with it.

The big pitch for Dice Throne and the mechanic that makes it a bit different from other games is that there are characters to play that are very simple and ones that are very complex with a nice mixture in between. Between Season One and Season Two there are 16 characters to choose from with a complexity rating between 1 and 6. But don’t be fooled, complexity does not translate to simple and hard to play, with some combinations of characters the simple characters are a lot harder to play well and win with than the more complex characters.

Most importantly, the gameplay is very well balanced as long as the players are equally good/bad at playing the game. Since it is a dice game with the Yahtzee mechanic of being able to re-roll your dice up to 3 times (unless something changes that) there is also a good amount of luck involved.

A 2 player game can take anywhere between 30 minutes to 2 hours depending upon the how fast the players make choices. Sadly, the base game does not include a solo game… but I got around that by playing a 2-handed solo game, which doesn’t work great, but it let me get an idea of what playing 2 of the characters is like.

Enter Dice Throne Adventures, it is a totally different game that allows for a solo or multi-player game where the Dice Thrown characters are used to battle bad guys, monsters, and bosses… but it is on back order and I have no idea when it will be delivered.

We’ve played a couple of games so far and I am really enjoying it and I am looking forward to playing all 16 of the characters.

I rate Season 1 and Season 2 of Dice Throne an 8 out of 10 and recommend it to anyone with access to at least one other person to play it with.

GamesHappy

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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