Minister, Siren, Salve

I have a long and complicated history with U2. They penned a mountain of great music that has dotted my life with joy throughout my ages, and stood as a lighthouse when I wandered and wondered what was out there to be had, seen, felt, known, shared. I grew up with them, and gleefully enjoyed their artistic output on a social and personal level, while quietly looking away when their press politics came to the mic.

They were there to minister to me when few others were around to take notice.

Success is a strange thing, and it twists and distorts what is genuine. But despite the pressure, they still managed to get some amazingly truthful, soulful, and bright material out through the noise. For that, I’m thankful. I think I’ll always be grateful for the fruitful venture of Bono, Edge, Adam, and Larry, and their parade of producers and engineers.

Drowning Man: unusual song structure throws a lifeline

The Unforgettable Fire: a siren call, stretching me skyward through a dark time

The Fly: a zeitgeist among friends, a touchstone, an anchor

Lemon: having nothing left in my life, I danced in my dorm room on first listen

Last three are from “No Line On the Horizon”, a salvation.

Magnificent: bright, victorious

Fez – Being Born: that chorus of voices grabs me every time. Lights flash past like memories. This is what motion sounds like.

Cedars of Lebanon: most delicate sound to date. The worst of us are a long, drawn out confession. The best of us are geniuses of compression.

Icom IC-706mkII Fan Mod

My mobile rig is an Icom IC-706mkII HF/2m unit that’s been doing me well for months, semi-permanently installed in the car. Lately I’ve been noticing signs of its deterioration, getting signal reports that I’m either cutting out or the audio has a sporadic “electric shock” sound. I’ve been trying like hell to track it down, thinking my custom power cables were either sub-par, that my car’s electrical system (battery, alternator, regulator) were getting edgy, or that my final transistors were starting to fry. All of those options were scary to consider.

The symptoms exhibit more strongly when it’s hot outside and I’m chatting away on a local repeater on the afternoon commute. Eventually, the radio starts freaking out and I have to sign off.

As it turns out, my radio is overheating. The internal fan’s not doing its job.

I took it inside for examination. With the covers off, I put the radio on CW mode, half power, into a dummy load, and held down the key. The fan would only run while I had the key or PTT down, and never outside of that. Even when it was key-down, the fan took a long time to kick over; the driver circuit would attempt to start the fan, but didn’t have enough voltage to push the fan blades except after a few kickover attempts. So it never gets cooling if my talk times are less than 15 seconds (and the heat builds up over the QSO). I was afraid the fan was dying, but when I removed it and drove it with 12v, it blew like a champ (thankfully). So something is wrong with the fan-control thermal circuit.

I found a few references on various radio boards where others have had the same symptom on their own Icom IC-706mkII (and the mkIIg as well). Apparently, the original Icom IC-706 was designed so that the fan would blow constantly. When they designed the mkII and mkIIg, they added a fan circuit to limit the noise and current drain. Unfortunately, once that circuit gets marginal, it stops being useful and actually contributes to the radio’s demise.

Among the references is a rework involving the addition of a 200Ω 1W resistor between L50 and J2 (on the IC-706mkII, at least) which will provide a constant voltage to keep the fan moving at a slower speed. The benefit is that the fan controller won’t need to start the fan; it just ramps up to the right speed.

Two 100 ohm 1W resistors in series for 200 ohms (identified by screwdriver tip), wired between Vcc and the fan.

I soldered a pair of 100Ω in series and shrinkwrapped all connections so they don’t contact the radio circuit (I left the body of the resistors uncovered for cooling), then flew the rework over the board between solder points. It doesn’t appear to wobble or vibrate much, and there’s enough cooling inside that hot case to keep it from frying.

Orange wire (identified by screwdriver tip) soldered to coil L50.
Orange wire (identified by screwdriver tip) soldered to hot side of fan connector J2.

It’s been a week since the rework, and the radio’s still doing OK in the car. I’m still getting spurious reports of noise, but I think my radio’s got an EMI sensitivity when I drive near electric utility substations (EMI/RFI has always been a problem with my 706). But otherwise, it’s doing alright.

It sucks when we have to modify a production device due to engineering mistakes, but thankfully we have the public resources to help us find our way and stay on the air.

Pinch To Talk

Behold my score from Austin Summerfest:

MFJ-564 iambic paddle

I’ve had an iambic paddle on my ham radio grocery list for a while, and now I have one. I guess this means I have to get better at Morse Code to be able to use it frequently. Right?

All shined up and ready to go out.

Picked it up second-hand for about forty bucks. To make it mine, I removed the 1/4″ plug and soldered my own 1/8″ plug to make it compatible with my Yaesu FT-857. Then I tore it down and gave it a complete spit-shine with alcohol wipes, eyeglass cleaner, and a lot of polishing.

I noticed this paddle is representative of the mid-grade build quality of some MFJ products: the heavy metal base is merely chrome-plated, and some of the base has small pock-mark oxidation. The nylon insulators and pivots are a little worse for wear. Some of the adjustment screws could use a dot of threadlock to keep them from walking out of their loose tolerances. But, overall, it’s still solid and highly usable.

Piiiiinch For Looooong and Shoooort Beeps Aaaauuu-to-maaaa-tic-lyyy

To operate any paddle, you simply press sideways in one direction to make a “dit” and the other to make a “dah”. What makes this “iambic” is that there are two paddles, one for dit and one for dah, and if you squeeze both at the same time, you get an automatically-generated string of “dit-dah-dit-dah-dit-dah“, much like the iambic meter you find in poetry.

The paddle itself doesn’t generate beeps. It’s just a specialized switch. You need an external keyer to take the paddle inputs and generate an output for the radio. Luckily, most radios have a keyer circuit built-in. Mine has a bunch of options like key speed and ratio between dit and dah lengths (1:3 is common).

For the record, there is no hard rule for which direction on a paddle is dit or dah. That’s up to the individual to sort out what is comfortable. Many right-handed operators choose to put dit on the left and dah on the right. It can always be reversed by crossing the connectors or using the radio’s menu if it has that option.

Now that I have all I need to send code (a paddle and a straight key), my last obstacle is myself. Knowing how to send is half the equation: I need to learn how to copy code, to hear what someone else is sending and transcribe it (speed experts do it all mentally and even recognize whole words by sound). That’s the hard part, and there’s just no way for me to do it other than with lots of listening practice.

Wish me luck.


Most of you don’t know this, but I grew up in a seriously disadvantaged situation. From my 7th grade onward, my family lived in a housing project. Yes, we lived in “the projects”. For most of that time, we were the only white family in the entire neighborhood, and we had to endure our own unique hardships because of it.

I lost count of the number of bricks thrown through our windows inscribed with the words “Whitey go home.”

But I admit this much: systemically, we had an advantage on our neighbors. We didn’t have the burden of being people of color. I’ve heard of the phrase “twice as much effort, for half as much gain”, and I’ve seen it firsthand. Everyone in the hood struggled, but we were the few who got out.

When I’m told by someone to check my privilege, this is where I come from.

I had a multitude of opportunities thrown at me to help me rise from my station and see the bigger world around me.

I was in a federal program called Upward Bound that aimed to lift kids out of disadvantaged situations and push them into college. I have this program to thank for showing me that I could make my way at OBU, despite all my hardships.

I had well-meaning people at my church go out of their way to pick me up, take me home, fund my trips to youth camps, in order to help me be a better person. Some had selfish interests, some were genuine. Most wanted to help this scrawny white kid out. And I appreciate every one of them for what they did.

Even after lifting me up out of the morass of being in a hostile scene, I still had to contend with the social competition of the white kids. I mostly lost, but I still showed up when I could.

They say adversity makes champions, but that only holds true for those whom all other advantage has been handed. The game is rigged, even for people like me for whom the game was written to win. Once you’re in a situation where you don’t have to struggle for food, shelter, and clothing, you get into a new struggle for the best diets, the classiest homes, and the most fashionable threads to give you an attractive advantage over your peers. The successful ones rise to the top like cream in vat of milk, like the most explosive gas in a fractional distillation column.

If you’re at the bottom of the needs pyramid and concerned about how to make your government assistance stretch until the end of the month, you’re not going to win.

So, yes, my privilege has been checked thoroughly. Thanks for asking.