Covered Topics

Please see the list of the topics I've covered. It's located near the bottom of the page. Thanks for stopping in!!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Book Review: One Second After

There has been considerable talk in the media lately about the fragile and vulnerable nature of the US Power Grid. Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Department of Homeland Security, recently commented in her 'farewell' speech that "a large scale cyber attack is inevitable" and "it's a matter of when, not if." She went on to say that "an unprecedented natural disaster is also likely on the way." This past November 13-14, a massive test called "GridEX" was conducted involving several government agencies and various private entities. "GridEx" was a series of simulations designed to test America's readiness in the event of a cyber attack or physical threat to its electrical infrastructure.

Recently, National Geographic ran a TV movie called "American Blackout 2013". As of a couple weeks ago it was available to watch on youtube. "American Blackout 2013" was a fictional account of what happened to several people in various scenarios during a widespread failure of the US electrical grid. While the movie had several technical holes common to Hollywood productions, I thought it captured pretty well some of the interpersonal dynamics among the people involved.

The book "One Second After", by William R. Forstchen, takes the concept of a widespread electrical grid failure due to terrorism to the next level. In the National Geographic movie, where the computers that control the grid were hacked, everything running on batteries still worked. Cars still ran as long as they had gas, cell phones would still turn on, etc. In the book "One Second After", things were orders of magnitude worse. ALL solid state electronic devices were affected by a massive EMP (electromagnetic pulse) caused by a terrorist's nuclear bomb. Cars stopped running; cell phones quit; no radios, TV, or even land line phones were working. Planes fell out of the sky and crashed because of EMP induced control and instrument failures.

Those who have ever read the 1950's novel "Alas Babylon", which dealt with a fictional nuclear exchange between the US and Russia, will immediatly recognize elements of that writing style in "One Second After". Like "Alas Babylon", this book serves as a warning to the wise about an all-too-possible future. Indeed, the book contains a forward section by Newt Gingrich, and "was cited in Congress as a book all Americans should read" according to the blurb on the rear cover. Regardless of one's political persuasion and general opinion of the man, and his rather faulty description of what an EMP actually is, Mr. Gingrich makes some valid points in his Forward.

The story deals with a retired military man and recent widower living in North Carolina in a small town. John Matherson already had plenty to deal with raising his children alone and teaching at the local university. Then one afternoon the EMP hit. For some time people didn't realize the extent of what had actually happened. Cars simply stalled on the highway through town; the electricity quit and all telephones went dead - so there was no communication from "the outside". Gradually it dawned on people that something very serious was afoot. During the ensuing weeks, people ran out of food and medicine. Within days, people in hospitals and nursing homes died due to life support systems failing as generators - if still working - ran out of fuel. Criminals went out and stole food; junkies wanting a 'fix' stole medicines from the local nursing home. Without giving away the whole plot here, one can guess the story covered all the things that would likely happen to individuals, towns, and the country overall, during and after such a catastrophic event.

My 'Take-Away': Given the nature of my local community (it DOESN'T function AS a community with neighbors who are 'awake' and connected with each other), as well as my recent several months' work experience as a licensed nurse's aide in a long term care facility, both the movie and especially this book have certainly given me considerable pause for thought. Fully half the people I care for would NOT survive a week without electrical power, refrigeration, and medicines - all things supplied in one way or another via our nation's electrical grid. EVERY nurse, aide, EMT, paramedic, doctor, etc. would have the terrible moral decision to make between caring for family v.s. slogging it out as best as one can at the hospital, nursing home, etc. to care for patients and/or residents where they work. Everybody would have to make that universal decision as to how much they will do to help unprepared neighbors who come begging for a can of food, medicine, etc., as well as what they will do to defend their property against theft.

Truly, one owes to one's self to read "One Second After", think about one's own situation, consider what they would do in a grid-down disaster scenario, and HOPEFULLY make at least some rudimentary preparations.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Casting Aluminum

During my work on my Master's degree, I was extremely fortunate to have access to a complete machine shop and foundry through the school. The students there can take a "Materials and Processes" course that teaches the rudiments of welding , lathe and vertical mill, metal forging and casting. I actually obtained special permission to take this undergraduate level course as an elective during my last semester of graduate work. As soon as I complete this post, I will be uploading a video I took of an actual pour to my YouTube site.

Below is a photo of the C-clamp I machined into a finished project from a casting I also made.

Here is the direct linkto the video:

And here is the link to my main YouTube site:

My New YouTube Video Site

Along with this blog, I now have a companion video site called "Karl's Lab Report" on YouTube. You can find it here:

I plan to post various technical, how-to, and other videos to the site that I feel will be of interest to my viewership.

Please stay tuned for more details.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Shortwave Radio Converter

I built this about 27 years ago to receive international shortwave broadcasts through a car AM radio. This circuit tunes the 9.5 to 10 MHz and 12 - 12.5 MHz shortwave bands. Back in the day I would listen to the BBC World Service, Radio Canada, Radio Moscow, Deutsche Welle, Radio Australia, and many others. Radio France gave excellent reports on the radiation cloud that rolled across Europe from the Chernobyl mishap in 1986. Several times daily, they would read off a list of all the major cities in Europe, along with the radiation levels in each one. I was "glued" to my radio following the progress of this. The information was of good enough detail and quality one could actually plot it on a map, graphically monitoring the progress of the situation.

The VFO and mixer circuits were taken from the 1979 issue of the ARRL Radio Amateur's Handbook. I built them from the publshed schematics, then tweaked some of the component values for better performance. The VFO coils are wound on glass 3AG fuses that had their elements removed. I heated the end caps with a soldering iron, removed them, took out the fusable element, and glued the caps back on. Then I wound the coils using #28 magnet wire, using the metal caps to solder the wires onto. I used Bohning "Fletchtite" archery glue to secure the windings so they wouldn't move. The variable capacitors were very old, surplus units bought I-can't-remember-where. Looking at the left-hand-side of the photo: The control on the left-hand front of the box is the band selector switch. Next to that is a variable capacitor used to tune in stations. On the rear of the box (in the right-hand-side of the photo) there is a solitary variable capacitor used to tune the antenna for whichever band one is listening to. The whole unit is built in modular form - the VFO has its own board and the mixer is on a separate board. This allowed me to develop and refine the system one module at a time. The VFO is built using "ugly" or "dead-bug" type construction. Its circuit board was made by scoring a copper-clad circuit board with a knife into a grid pattern. The mixer board was actually laid out, then etched using ferric chloride solution.

After many years of sitting unused in an RV, being subjected to all kinds of temperature extremes and even a roof leak, this little device still works. Not only does it still work, the tuning has held calibraton!!! It is within 5 or so KHz of where it was when built. This attests to the quality of the components I used to build it, as electronic components generally drift in value with age.

If I can ever find the original schematic I drew, I'll post it in a future blog entry.

Within the past several years, I have heard China Radio International, Radio Australia, various Spanish-speaking stations, etc. on this unit. Regrettably, the BBC has gotten away from broadcasting quality news programming on shortwave, instead focusing on satelite broadcasts aimed at various target audiences - telling them either what they want to hear or whatever the Powers That Be WANT folks to hear.

To use the converter, simply tune the car radio to an empty spot on the AM dial between 1.40 and 1.55 MHz. Connect the converter between the external antenna and the antenna input on the radio. The converter runs on the car's 12 volt supply; an internal zener diode regulates the supply voltage for the circuit to 9 volts. Use the band selector switch to choose the band to listen to. Reach around the back of the box and turn the peaking control for maximum signal. Then simply tune the right-hand front panel control to tune around for a station. The lower band - the 9.5-10 MHz band, offers the WWV time station from Ft. Collins, Colorado. These WWV signals are very useful not only for checking your watch, but also the RF and audio signals provided are extremely accurate and may be used for equipment calibration. WWV may be heard on 5, 10, 15, and 20 MHz - these broadcasts are done around the clock, 365 days a year. Again I mention those because they are an excellent way of checking the calibration and even the operation of a shortwave radio. Basically, if you can't hear WWV, you will likely NOT hear much else, either.

Soon, in a future post I will delve into the features to look for when buying a shortwave receiver and what to listen for on your radio.

Today at A Near-by Lake

Had today off and decided to head out to the woods. Lord knows I have enough chores and projects to last me a decade, but I used the time to take care of myself. When I go to the lake, I often see a blue heron at the Southeastern shore. Today, it stayed put long enough for me to shoot this picture through the dense undergrowth along the shore. He's well cammoflaged, but I still thought this was a dramatic shot in its own way.

You can double-click on the photo to enlarge it.

Hope you enjoyed seeing this as much as I did today :)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Amateur (Ham) Radio and Emergency Operation

I have been involved with amateur, a.k.a. 'ham' radio for many years. One aspect of amateur radio that doesn't get nearly enough public attention is its continued use during emergencies. People assume that cell phones will always be available, even if land lines and Internet access are out of commission. Depending on what the emergency is, this is sometimes the case. Often, however, the cell towers are damaged by the same event that impacted the rest of the infrastructure. Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and fires are but a few situations that could knock out cell phone service in an area. Then there's the spectre of a total failure of the US power grid - which would cause nearly ALL other infrastructure to fail within hours or a couple days, depending on how long it takes for backup generators to run out of fuel or batteries to become depleted. Even the Feds are taking this seriously - See the following article for details:
GridEX Drill
I was not active with 'ham' radio for a number of years, but since volunteering with a local group of civilian emergency responders, and also seeing the condition the world in general is in, I decided to dust off my old equipment and get back into the fray.

There are amateur radio frequency bands in the "HF' spectrum - that area above AM broadcast and below about 30 MHz; as well as other bands in the VHF - between 30 MHz and 300 MHz; iand in UHF - between 300 MHz and 1 GHz; and even in the microwave spectrum - between 1 GHz and 300 GHz. While there are uses for HF radios during emergencies, the discussion here will be limited to the 2-meter VHF and 70-cm UHF bands.

Both 2-meter and 70-cm band hand-held radios are used extensively for portable and emergency communications. The 2-meter band covers VHF between 144-148 MHz, while in the United States the 70-cm band covers UHF between 420-450 MHz. In Canada, the band is restricted to 430-450MHz. Both of these make extensive use of repeaters - radio stations that receive the low power signal from the portable radio and re-transmit that signal at higher power, on a slightly different frequency, so that the range is greatly extended. A repeater may be located on a tall building or a mountaintop to provide "line of sight" coverage over a large area. Amateur radio repeaters are generally owned by an amateur radio club. These may be either "open access" - available to nearly anyone, or "closed" - meaning restricted to members of the club which owns and maintains the machine.

All of that said, these hand-held radios may also operate without the use of a repeater in "simplex mode", meaning they can "talk" directly to each other if within range.

These radios offer compact size, light weight, and low power consumption - all of which are vital during a civil emergency. With the advent of small, relatively cheap solar panels, many amateurs now use solar power to recharge batteries or even operate their stations directly. Range varies widely depending on the local terrain, how much power the radio puts out, what kind and height the antenna is, etc and can vary from a couple miles to as much as 50 miles if working through a repeater.

The radio in the above picture is a 2-meter radio I have owned for about 20 years. My apologies for the relatively poor image quality; the lighting was not good and furthermore my photographic tripod has gone missing. The 2-meter band, as mentioned above, covers from 144-148 MHz. Radio Shack sold these, as well as a 440 MHz version, for several years during the 1990s. I was lucky to get one before they quit carrying them. I picked 2-meters because this was the most popular VHF band at the time and there were a couple active 2-meter repeater clubs in my area at the time. Indeed 2-meters is still quite heavily used. The object lying next to it is an upgraded telescoping whip antenna I bought separately. The so-called flexible "rubber-duckie" antenna that came with the radio doesn't perform well; the telescoping model is considerably better; an external J-pole or 1/4 wave vertical antenna mounted on a car or house roof is truly the way to go if you want optimum range. This radio has a low power setting of 1.5 watts; on the high power setting can run as much as 5 watts when powered from an external 12 volt supply.

What I Like About This Radio:
1) It has a jack for external 12 volt power right on the top of the radio. This allows one to power it directly from a car battery, solar panel, or other relatively long-lasting source. And by using external power, you realize the full 5 watt output this rig is capable of.

2) The 7.2 volt rechargeable power pack may be taken apart and rebuilt at home; luckily for me since mine is trash after 20 years. There are instructions for doing this online. So unlike many devices, the battery pack is NOT some factory sealed, unserviceable unit that must be thrown away and replaced at high cost.

3) Programming the radio from the keypad is quite easy compared to most units made within the past 10 or so years - and best of all is easily done WITHOUT the use of a computer. Instruction manuals, as well as repair manuals, are still available online. Having something that is easily reprogrammed will be vital during an emergency. You do NOT want to have to drag out a laptop simply to set your radio to talk simplex with someone! This radio amply meets that requirement.

4) It STILL works after 20 years! And that's after sitting around unused for 15 of those. The unit still held in its internal memory the settings for the last repeater I monitored 15 years ago! At some point, the lithium battery that powers the memory will have to be replaced, but there are also instructions online for doing that.

5) Unlike today's handi-talkie radios, this one does NOT try to be all things to all people. It does one thing - 2-meter FM communications - and does it really well.

6) It's got an honest-to-gosh BNC connector on top for the antenna. NO weird adaptors needed to mount different antennas here, unlike what I've read about some of the newer import models!

What I Don't Like About This Radio:
1) Some parts are no longer available - including some of the transistors used in the RF section. So if these fail or get damaged due to hard use, you're pretty much done with it.

2) Battery life - is short. Keep more than one extra battery pack with you if you will be using it heavily where you might not have external power handy. Fortunately these radios came with a separate battery pack you could load with alkaline or other rechargeable batteries. I'd keep that loaded with the new nickel/metal hydride type units.

3) These units ARE bulky by today's standards. Today's hand-helds are not much larger than a cell phone. That said, this is both a blessing and a curse. While compactness is great, it also means tiny little pushbuttons on the keypad. At least with the bulkier older radio, someone with man-sized fingers and hands can operate the keypad WITHOUT mashing several keys at once.

4) No product support available now. As with everything Radio Shack sells, once they decide to do away with the product line, there's no more support when things go wrong. Such is indeed the case here :(

A Couple Quick Notes About Amateur Radio

You DO need a license to TRANSMIT on the 'ham' bands.
But ANYONE, even without a license, may LISTEN IN - and this could be a real asset during any sort of emergency. While official news sources may be keeping quiet "so people don't panic", etc., 'hams' and even CB'ers likely will be talking about what they are seeing and hearing. Granted, one needs to take whatever one hears "with a shaker of salt", but 'ham' and shortwave radio could still once again become a primary source of news "from the outside".

With the near elimination of the morse code requirement, if one is willing and able to learn some basic electronics, as well as the rules and regulations governing amateur radio, it is NOT difficult to get a license these days. Unlike a couple decades ago on back, exams are no longer administered by an FCC employee in an office located downtown in a major city; most local 'ham' clubs offer classes and have volunteer examiners who can help you learn what you need to know and administer the written test.

Through eBay and local ham radio clubs, one can buy gently used equipment at reasonable prices. If one needs a portable hand-held 2-meter or 70-cm radio and is short on funds, they can pick up a radio like mine for around $50 used. One can also look into the new Chinese import brands such as Baofeng and Wouxun. While these are probably NOT built like Kenwood, Icom, Yaesu, etc., you cannot beat them for the money. Indeed, one can buy a dual-band Baofeng handi-talkie for about $50 - or roughly what my HTX-202 might sell for used. The main complaint I read about the Baofengs is they are quite difficult to program from the keypad; most users do that task using their laptop computer. I would NOT like that aspect of it if I needed to program in another frequency during an emergency.

Once a person has a license and some equipment, they not only will have a powerful resource during emergencies, but also have access to the many fascinating aspects of this hobby.

Geodesic Domes and Other Interesting Stuff

Given the very real inflation in food prices (which the main stream media and government continue to insist isn't happening), I have been looking for ways to grow vegetables into the late Fall and Winter season to augment my groceries and save money. As I was researching materials and techniques for building a small greenhouse to extend the growing season, I came upon this interesting site:

Granted, this thing is MUCH larger than what I need at present. But the design may be scaled up or down, and has numerous advantages of structural regidity and good performance in windy locations. It would be ideal for long term camping or even as expedient housing in an emergency. The parent site,, has some good links for other do-yourself projects as well.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

More on Blowguns

A while back, I wrote a post about making and shooting a homemade blowgun. Shooting blowguns is becoming quite a popular sport - both in the United States as well as in Japan. And it's inexpensive and thus affordable by nearly anybody. It's also one of the safest of the shooting sports if one uses some common sense.

My previous blowgun post may be found here:

Recently, I have found some other web sites on blowgunning that I think are well worthwhile to check out. A couple general interest ones are here:

This one is a great discussion group that covers all aspects of making and using blowguns.

The guy who did this site has an engineering background, and offers some interesting analysis as well as some construction ideas of his own.

Here is an organization devoted to furthering blowgun shooting as a sport.

Measuring Performance
Anyone seriously pursuing the shooting sports will at some point want to measure the velocity of their projectiles. Velocity has a direct impact (no pun intended) on both accuracy as well as, in the case of hunting, how effective it is at killing the intended game. Relating to blowguns, velocity measurements also give a quantitative measure of how one's lung power is developing over time.

Regular readers of this blog have also seen my "Poor Man's Ballistic Chronometer" plans. This definitely follows the old adage that "necessity is the notherhood of invention." I did not have the money in the family budget to buy a ballastic chronometer for measuring dart and arrow velocities, so I did some research and built my own out of about $15 in electronic parts. The article, done in two posts, starts here:

The engineer I mentioned above had a somewhat similar idea, though he did things a bit differently. He has written some cool looking software that is free for downloading. Looks like a viable idea, though I doubt it would work well outdoors or in environments with a lot of background noise. Here's his setup:

A Word of Caution:

This should be common sense, but in view of how rare a commodity it is in this world today, the following bears mentioning:

NEVER aim a blowgun at, or shoot at, another person or any animal you don't intend to kill and eat!
There have been some news stories about people who have shot at ducks and geese in municipal parks with blowguns, resulting in darts still being lodged in their bodies. Do NOT do a stupid stunt like that! This gives ALL of us who engage in blowgunning as a sport a bad name and could result in blowguns being made illegal EVERYWHERE - as they already have in Kalifornia and Massachusetts.

If you want to hunt small game with a blowgun, as some folks successfully do, make sure you have the right type of equipment and comply with all local laws!

Children and teenagers should be well supervised when using this or any other weapon.

Sport blowgun shooting can be a fun and safe activity for people of all ages and from all walks of life. Blowguns, darts, or the makings for doing your own, are available just about anywhere and are quite inexpensive. I did mine and the darts for about $10 worth of supplies found at the hardware store and/or around the house.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

An Experimenter's Site Worth Checking Out

Occasionally, I find a truly unique website posted by a fellow experimenter. This one, by Nyle Steiner K7NS, definitely fits that description. Indeed, it shoes that remarkable things can be done WITHOUT modern devices. Some of his stuff definitely has a sort of Jules Verne-esque "steampunk" feel. VERY COOL!

This site features homemade vaccuum tubes, homemade semiconductor devices, several schemes for broadcasting speech and music over a light beam, and more.

Some of the technologies featured date back to the early 1900s, but are doable by the amateur scientist today.

Fascinating stuff!! My only caveat is if you decide to replicate Mr Steiner's experiments in which small pieces of galvanized metal are heated, I'd suggest doing this OUTDOORS with a small fan to blow the fumes away from you - said fumes are highly toxic.

As always - Have fun and stay safe!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Water Everywhere, But Nary a Drop To Drink

In a recent post I mentioned how potable water is becoming a scarce commodity. Indeed, only about 3% of all the world's water is drinkable - the rest is seawater. Of that drinkable 3%, a substantial amount is in a huge lake in Siberia. In much of the developing world, there is still a huge burden of disease and mortality due to drinking contaminated water. Diseases such as typhoid and cholera still plague the Third World. The World Health Organization estimates there are 3- 5 million cholera cases world wide and that of these, 100,000+ will die. This is cholera alone; typhoid, river blindness, and other diseases compound these numbers.

Here in the United States, we do enjoy drinking water standards that are the envy of much of the world. That said, that does NOT mean that all is well here. It isn't. Any google search of "tap water contamination", or anything along those lines, will turn up a plethora of articles about the heavy metal contaminants, the harmful microorganisms, and even prescription drugs in measurable quantities in municiple water supplies. Fluoride, which is routinely added to municipal water supplies here in America, was used in the drinking water in Nazi prison camps to make the prisoners easier to manage. The Nazi doctors knew well that fluoride lowers IQ and brain functioning, reduces a person's volition, and is basically a poison. Yet we deliberately put this in OUR drinking water???

Even without these issues, water quality is still impacted whenever there is a hurricane, or a water main breaks in a city, etc. Annually, there are tens of thousands of water main breaks in America due to infrastructure that was outdated 80 years ago. This not only causes water outages for millions of people, but it also provides opportunities for pathogens to enter their water supply during the break and repair process. During the Katrina disaster in New Orleans, there was oil and gasoline from cars, sewage, and many other pollutants introduced into the municipal water supply due to the flooding. This is normal during such flooding events, and such conditions may last for weeks - even after service is restored.

As part of my college studies, I have made simple, cheap, but effective water purification one of my areas of personal research. The most popular methods are:

1) Boiling or distillation - while these are effective, they use LOTS of fuel. In many Third-world countries, and in post-disaster scenarios, fuel for cooking or boiling water is a scarce resource.
2) Chemicals - Chlorine Bleach or Halizone are well known by outdoorsmen and others, but these impart a bad taste to water, don't last long in storage, and are not always available. Chlorine can also combine with other chemicals in water to produce carcinogenic (cancer-causing) compounds. Also, something - such as activated charcoal - still has to be done to remove chemical pollutants.
3) Micro-pore filtration - works well. Basically this uses a ceramic fliter element that can filter stuff to less than a micron, which keeps out most microorganisms. These filters are expensive, can clog, and also generally aren't available during emergencies and in Third World countries. Also, something - such as activated charcoal - still has to be done to remove chemical pollutants.
4) Carbon filters - or "activated charcoal" - does a great job removing chemical pollutants from water, but another method is needed to remove the microorganisms that cause Giardiasis, cholera, typhoid, etc.

I am personally researching several alternative methods of water purification - some are easily replicated at home by someone with reasonable mechanical skills. These include:

1) Solar water purification - while NOT a filtration system, sunlight can and does kill pathogens if the water is exposed onge enough. Some method of pre-filtering would still be needed to remove particulate matter that could harbor pathogens. The pre-filter could be as simple as several layers of coffee filters. The solar method can be as simple as leaving a plastic water bottle lying in the sun all day. A curved aluminum foil reflector would be placed behind the bottle and used to concentrate the rays so both sides of the bottle are irradiated.
2) Ultraviolet light - UV light in the 260 nm wavelengths is widely used in industry and food processing to kill pathogens. Likewise, it is used successfully to decontaminate water. Similar in concept to the solar purifier, it is generally done with special fluorescent lamps and is more easily controlled and repeatable than the solar method. Also needs a pre-filter as does the solar method.
3) Ozone - an elegant solution, ozone kills pathogens AND neutralizes numerous chemical pollutants. Ozone is a special, highly reactive form of oxygen molecule that has three oxygen atoms, rather than the normal 2 that we breathe in the air. Ozone may be generated via UV emitting fluorescent lamps or by electrical corona discharge through air. A car ignition coil with a simple transistorized oscillator circuit can generate the 20KV or more needed to make a decent corona discharge in an enclosed tube fed with air from an aquarium pump.

It should be pointed out that sources such as rain water or water pulled from lakes and streams should ALWAYS be pre-filtered due to the presence of fine particulates that microbes attach themselves to. Indeed, my own lab tests show that using a simple paper coffee filter to remove these particles causes a substantial reduction in bacteria even before any other methods are employed to decontaminate the water. In exigent situations, a tee-shirt or a bandanna folded multiple times can work too. In a future post I will detail an easy and cheap way to test your water at home for bacterial load, and will go into more specifics on homemade water filters using common household materials.

Meanwhile, here are some links to articles dealing with bad stuff in our tap water:

Friday, June 14, 2013

Jobs and Natural Resources

As we all know, jobs and natural resources are increasingly scarce in today's world. While this is mainly a tech and DIY related blog, occasionally I will mention issues I think are related to the subjects at hand. Jobs and natural resources are an imperative for nearly all my readership - indeed the two are intertwined.

No doubt anyone buying groceries has noticed the prices of food trending sharply upward within the past couple years, despite government and media claims that inflation "is nearly flat". Food prices are going up for a variety of reasons. These include the following:
1) Fuel costs. Oil is used to make fertilizer, run the farm itself, refrigerate the product, and truck it to market. The typical food we eat has travelled some 1600 miles from its point of origin to our table, according to some sources.
2) Commodities Speculation. Commodities speculators are wreaking havoc with the prices of precious metals, fuel, and food.
3) Fuel alcohol production. Programs designed to create fuel alcohol to supplement existing fossil fuels are diverting resources from food production to fuels. Corn that was used to feed our cows and chickens is now being fermented into alcohol to run vehicles.
4) Devaluation of the Dollar. Due to our government's drunken-sailor style spending spree and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's policy of "Quantitative Easing", which is essentially a process of creating money out of thin air with nothing tangible to back it, the value of a dollar has severely eroded. A simple law of supply and demand economics - when you have more dollars chasing the same supply of goods, the buying power of a dollar decreases - and prices go up as a result.
5) Water. Simply put, we're running out of fresh, potable water. 97% of Earth's water is in the oceans and cannot be used directly for drinking or irrigation. And we're in danger of pumping some of our most important ground water aquifers dry.

Per point number 5 above, see the following article:

Without raw materials to make and grow stuff with, we can't have job growth, either. The job situation is far more complicated than that, at this point. America's current employment situation is by far most attributable to lopsided treaties such as GATT and NAFTA which place Americans in direct competition with people earning a fraction of what it costs to live in America. On top of lopsided treaties, we have simple bad management on the part of local and state governments which makes it harder to start or maintain a business. The following article details what some states are trying to do about it:

I invite my readers to do further research into these and realted issues; only by arming one's self with factual information can one NOT be misled by all the disinformation, misinformation, and half-truths being disseminated out there.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Painting PVC Pipe

Just during the past week, someone came to this blog after a google search dealing with "how to paint PVC". This is indeed a good question, so I thought I'd briefly touch on this topic.

Can PVC pipe be painted?
In a word - yes. That said, surface preparation is critical, as it is with painting anything else. There are also some other small but important details to keep in mind when doing this:

1) The surface MUST be clean of all oil, dirt, dampness, etc. or any coating you use won't adhere properly. I typically do this with rubbing alcohol and a clean rag.
2) The surface should be lightly scuffed with steel wool or a very fine grit sandpaper - such as 600 grit or finer. Once you sand or steel wool the pipe, CLEAN it AGAIN with more rubbing alcohol and a clean, lint-free rag.
3) Use a paint designed for PVC. If you don't, you will be disappointed. More on this below.
4) Good spray can technique applies here - use several thin coats rather than one thick one to avoid runs and drips. Also, spray with the can 10" or a foot (30 cm) away from what you are painting. Keep the can moving so you don't build up too much paint on one area. If you haven't done much spray painting, practice on some scrap first before doing your critical work.

Coatings for PVC:

Years ago, I attempted to apply a cammo paint job to an antenna mast I built from PVC pipe for my homemade portable QRP ham rig. I used either Krylon or Rustoleum - I don't remember now. The paint job looked beautiful when freshly done, but proceded to flake off whenever the pipe was bumped. I could scrape the paint off easily with my thumbnail.

Since then, Rustoleum has come out with a primer that works on PVC and some other plastics. Krylon, if I remember right, has come out with a small assortment of colors that work directly on plastics, including PVC - no primer needed. The trouble with the Krylon product is the color selection for their plastic paint is, in my opinion, rather limited.

By using the Rustoleum primer as a basecoat, you can use whatever color you want from their standard line of spray paints. I actually used Krylon's flat "Hunter Green" paint on a 50 caliber blowgun I'm making for a friend. The base coat was Rustoleum primer for PVC. It seems to have worked OK so far. A few accidents here in the lab while handling the pipe don't appear to have caused damage. See the photos for the products used as well as the blowgun.


1) I have not, to date, subjected any of these painted surfaces to severe, real-world testing yet. What I can say is that casual handling and occasional droppage against other objects hasn't apparently caused chipping or scratching. So compared to the antenna mast described earlier this IS a huge improvement.

2) ANY time one applies a solvent-based coating to PVC or other plastics, the base material is weakened somewhat. One should take this into consideration if one decides to use any kind of paint on something like a PVC archery bow that is subject to significant stress during use.

Hope this information helps someone. Have fun and stay safe.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Update - May 30, 2013

It's been quite a while since I last posted. During the intervening time, schoolwork got quite heavy, and when I wasn't doing that and teaching part time I was taking care of a family member who recently lost her battle with cancer.

One piece of good news: I completed my Master's degree in Applied Technology with a 4.0 grade point average.

Future Personal Plans:

1) Will continue to do consulting work, prototyping, technician work, and part-time teaching as those opportunities become available.
2) I may explore other career options such as nursing, EKG technician, or other allied medical field.

This Blog - Going Forward:

This blog will still cover projects and tech topics that web traffic statistics for this site show my readership to be interested in.  However,  in the future, it will focus more on things relating to Biology, medical and possibly chemistry topics. The emphasis will be on "do it yourself" topics.

Also in the works are more posts relating to archery and other decidedly "low tech" pursuits that are readily doable for low cost and under less than optimal conditions.