Marine Radio Month?

Given that we hadn’t seen a marine radio in nearly a year, it was odd to see three in the same month.  Two Uniden’s, a Solara and an Oceanus VHF Marine Radios, and an Icom IC-M700.  The Solara had a defective microphone cable while the Oceanus suffered from a broken n-connector.  (Note to self, don’t try to force a standard UHF connector to mate with an n-connector.  They really aren’t intended to work together!)

The Icom was more interesting.  A visit to the vessel was required so the setup could be tested properly.  An SSB radio, the unit wouldn’t talk nicely to its auto-tuner, or the antenna.  Separating the setup and isolating the radio localized the problem to the radio itself.  Turned out the radio had bad connections on the RF output that flexed at the most in-opportune times.  Returning the radio to the shop was required, followed by re-installation and testing.  Perfection.

Decommission of a Radio Repeater Site

Complete tear-down and decommission of a mountain-top repeater and radio site in Raymond, on top of Holy Cross. Removal of all equipment, and deconstruct a 70′ tower, removing all antennas, tower, and radio-related equipment from the site.  It’s a shame, the view from the location is amazing.

1989 Corvette Bose Car Stereo

On a scale of 1-to-fun, this unit scores a giant…  ugh.

For those unaware, this system is composed of a head unit with CD and tape player, AM/FM tuner, and amplified speakers.  The tuner is a separate box from the head unit, and the amplifiers are incorporated into EACH speaker.  They’re well known for the failure of the amplifiers in the four separate speaker cabinets.

In this case, however, the tape unit was ‘stuck’ with a tape in it, refusing to eject.  The client had one simple request:  Just make the tuner work.  Easier said than done.  To work on the unit on the bench required all three pieces be pulled.  Of course, the wiring harness then became an issue, since numerous connections are required between the pieces just to test.  A reasonable person would expect that pulling the tape from the unit would solve the problem, but such was not to be the case.  Compounding the problem, the tape drive’s belt was broken, as well as one of the tape spindles.  Replacing them did not solve the problem, and required further investigation.  Luckily, we actually had the service manual for the unit, which allowed us to dive into it much deeper than most service shops.

In the end, it turned out that there were more points of failure in the setup – and the switch that signaled the rest of the unit to indicate a tape in the drive was also a point of failure.  We did manage to get the unit working to the customer’s satisfaction – at a fair and reasonable price.

Network Rewire

One of the local businesses in Aberdeen was dealing with network connectivity and telephone issues, in part caused by a system that had been kluged together over many years.  A review of their existing system revealed poor connectivity on multiple fronts, followed by a telephone KSU that had melted due to overheating issues.  Moving the network switch, modems for network access, and installing a new telephone system to a wiring closet (consolidating an otherwise complicated network) with properly installed and fresh wiring, resulted in a stable network and telephone system that satisfied the client.

Story of the Sewer Inspection Camera System

A local plumbing company came to us with a problem.  Their 250′ sewer inspection camera system had died.  They aren’t inexpensive to purchase and they really needed the unit to work to their satisfaction.  Pretty hard to see what’s going on inside a sewer pipe otherwise, right?

Our answer?  Of course.

This was an interesting piece of equipment consisting of a CRT monitor (old school, picture tube) with a VHS tape recording unit in a pretty solid metal housing.  From there you plug in a magic wand – let’s think a king-sized colonoscopy inspection wand with a light, camera, etc. – which plugs into the monitoring unit, allowing you to see (in real time) what’s going on in that pipe.  What I really liked was the microphone on the end of the probe so you could hear the water from 250′ away.

This was a fairly old unit and it had obviously seen better days, but the quality of the picture was surprisingly good.  For $8,000 one would expect this to be the case.  This unit showed it’s age by failing it’s vertical scan – a thin line across the screen was the result.  After replacing all the capacitors, which had aged and leaked, and cleaning up the circuit board, the unit generally worked – except that it wouldn’t properly lock the horizontal sync signal.  After spending a few hours looking for the source of the problem, it was determined that the simpler solution would be to put a reset button on the unit, forcing horizontal lock.  That worked great and the unit has a beautiful picture.

Not many people in Washington that could/would take on the project.  This is pretty typical for TechLab.

1987 Called…

Client brought in a problem:  Old data worth a lot of money on some old floppy disks.  Old.  Floppy.  Disks.  5.25″ floppy disks.  C’mon, people!  I know I’m old, but do you feel compelled to make me return to my middle years?!

So the customer needs the data back from the disks, but doesn’t have a computer to work with.  “I think it was DOS 3.3.”  No underlying application to open the files.  In a database.  Can it get any better?

Digging through the collection of odd saved items filed under 1980’s we found a high-end 486 DX-2/66 that made me feel even older than I did the day the disks walked in the door.  A little clean-up, replaced fans, checked the hard drive and found it fairly functional.  Replaced the operating system on the drive with an old copy of DOS 6.22, hoping it would run without too much drama.  Somewhere around here I know there’s an old set of dBase III floppys I’ve hoarded.  Ah!  Found ’em!  Amazingly I had a 5.25″ drive, gave it a cleaning and checked the dBase disks – woo hoo!  Installation successful!

Let’s take a look at those data discs and see what the story is.  Oh, damn…  I knew it couldn’t be that easy.  The data on the disks isn’t reading well – a problem that can occur because the magnetic media is old and losing its magnetism, or for a few other reasons.  Some say it’s scary that I remember those days, and the process for aligning the heads of a 5.25″ drive.  The nice thing was that you could slightly mis-align the heads to compensate for non-compliant drives and recordings, a headache in the ‘old days.’

It took some doing, but we were finally able to read the data reliably and import into dBase, giving us a method to work with the data.  After some research to find instructions related to dBase we were able to extract the data in a form that was usable – and slowly write the exports to floppy so we could migrate it to a modern SQL database.

I was happy with the outcome, as was the customer.  Customer felt the data would be the equivalent of $300k to reproduce.

Video Surveillance for Drive-by Vandals

The client complained that someone drove by his business and shot out his windows with a BB or pellet gun of some type, probably a fully automatic type, judging by the damage done to the building.

A careful review of the premises and consideration for traffic on the streets around the building allowed us to develop a layout for surveillance cameras that would provide optimal observation of the perimeter of the building and drivers around the building to be observed.

One of the points raised during the survey of the building went beyond the concept of recording and observation.  Frequently, it is in the client’s best interest to fully inform the world regarding the existence of cameras.  The clear knowledge that cameras are functional and recording has a significant impact on the behavior of those who know they’re being observed.

No further drive-by shooting craziness has been reported since the blatant installation of the surveillance system.

AIS and The Fishing Boat

This was fun, until Bob lost his lunch…  LOL

Customer needed to know what was going on around him while he was out on the water.  As a commercial fishing vessel, he needed a solution and AIS was the answer.  Automatic Identification System (AIS) provides automatic tracking of ships and identifies vessels by electronically exchanging data with other nearby ships, AIS base stations, and satellites.

In this case, the client wanted to take his laptop out on the boat and overlay his charts with the AIS data to provide him with electronic intelligence:  Who else is fishing in the area (assuming they have an AIS)?  What large vessels are likely to interfere with fishing operations?  What vessel is closest in the event of an emergency?  ASI can provide all this information in an easily digested format.

In this case, the client needed the system set up, installed and tested on-board the vessel.  A trip out with the boat into open waters during a crab-run seemed like a great time to do this.  We were able to set the unit up and do some preliminary testing, but wanted to see how the package would work under real conditions, so we headed out to pick up the pots.  Probably shouldn’t have stayed below-deck with the diesel fumes, probably should have eaten something before going out, a few different lessons learned in the process that resulted in an engineer hanging over the gunwale looking at the water as it flew by.

The test was productive and the outcome positive, at least for the AIS project.  A few hours of presence on semi-dry land restored the engineer’s stomach.  What a fun experience!