Icom R75 Tuner Repair

It’s apparently a common failure mode for the rotary encoder which processes the tuning knob input to fail in the Icom R75 (and many other Icom receivers and transceivers). Mind did recently.

A bit of background: most radios these days are completely computer-controlled. There is no variable capacitor connected to the tuner; the radio synthesizes its intermediate frequency under computer control, and if there is a tuning knob, it merely is a device for sending input to the computer. It may appear to be more traditional than a set of up/down buttons or a keypad, but it’s merely a show. A useful “show,” as tuning with a knob is often more convenient than using buttons.

The symptom of a dead rotary encoder is pretty much what logic would tell you it is: the radio still operates, and you can change frequencies by entering them with the keypad, but the knob simply does nothing.

There’s several fixes detailed in the initial link above. Initially, I was debating what to do and procrastinating the job, because none of them are cheap (replacing the chip in the controller requires de-soldering and re-soldering a surface-mount device, since I don’t have any equipment to do that, I’d have to buy it, since I couldn’t locate anyone who had it to lend, and there goes the clear price advantage of that option).

Then my (un)employment situation resolved itself, so I did the easy out and simply ordered a replacement from Icom, which costs just under $90 (not the $130 it is rumored). From the repair manual (which you should definitely download, as it shows how to take the set apart so you can get at the encoder), the part number is 6910012480. That part number may differ for products other than the R75, so please obtain a service manual and check it to be sure in that case.

OK, I suppose the real “easy out” would have been to send the thing in for repair. That would have doubtless cost at least twice as much as fixing it myself did, I was reasonably sure what the culprit was (the symptoms made that pretty obvious), I’ve taken apart reassembled electronic devices many times, I know the precautions to take to avoid damaging things, and this particular repair didn’t even require me to warm up a soldering iron.

So it was pretty much a no-brainer to do it myself. That said, the way the Icom parts person was taken aback at a mere customer troubleshooting his radio then having the audacity to order a part with which to repair it did make me have a little bit of doubt. Which was unfounded: when put back together and powered on, I was rewarded with a fully-working receiver.

Different than I Imagined, but Nice

P9291828wThe main difference between how I imagined the North Fork Skokomish Valley (a.k.a. the Staircase area of Olympic National Park) and how it actually was is that I had imagined it as being much more broad. In fact, there really wasn’t much of a flat valley bottom at all once one got above the campground.

It was, however, full of mile after mile of intact lowland forest, pretty much as I had imagined. It wasn’t all huge old trees (natural calamities do “reset the clock” in forests), but there still were an awful lot of them.

I also did manage to successfully make a couple of PSK31 contacts operating portable, so chalk up another goal for the summer season as accomplished.

The campground was surprisingly well-patronized, given that it was a weekday in late September and the water had been shut off. It’s probably just as well I didn’t even try to get a spot there last summer.

Sleazy Recruiter: Darshan Patel of Sumeru Inc.

Let’s see now: How many ways does this say “pure sleaze”?

Ignores clearly-stated grographic preferences? Check.

Cut-rate Indian outsourcing? Check.

Sloppy mail merge that doesn’t even use or produce correct English grammar? Check.

Date: Sun, 27 Sep 2015 09:24:57 -0400 (EDT)
From: Darshan Patel <darshan.patel@sumerusolutions.com>
To: xxxxx@xxx.com
Subject: Urgent Requirement :: Release Manager :: St. Petersburg,
 FL : Direct Client Sent

We are sourcing for Release Manager with one of our
Direct Client in St. Petersburg, FL.  Please go through
to the job description below and of you feel comfortable
with the required skills and responsibilities, please
reply me back with your updated word doc resume and Table
with your details to darshan.patel@sumerusolutions.com or
contact me for more details at 202-370-6920.

Back from Camping / Heading out Camping

Got back from the Mount Rainier faerie Gatherette yesterday afternoon, and didn’t quite finish putting everything away from that outing. Doing so was on today’s agenda, as was planning the rest of the week.

My new job starts with the new month on Thursday, so I have three more days of freedom. The idea of going to the Staircase area of Olympic National Park struck me. I’ve always wanted to go there, yet never have. And the more I’ve thought about it, the better the idea sounds:

  • One of the things on the list for this summer was doing some ham radio stuff on the HF bands while camping. I’ve finally got my portable HF transmitting antenna working properly, after spending all summer on it as mostly a “back burner” item,
  • As mentioned before, I’ve long wanted to see that area of the park. As in, for decades,
  • The weather forecast for the next few days is warm and dry,
  • I over-prepared for the past weekend’s camping, so I have leftover supplies begging to be used this season.
  • I’m really only in the mood for a quick, overnight trip, having just gotten back from a multi-night trip, and
  • One night is all I really have, since I need today to tend to various things around the house, meaning tomorrow is the earliest I can leave, and I need to spend Wednesday night at home so I can show up at the office on Thursday.

I call the above process, when I get an idea and the more it seems to dovetail nicely the more I think of it, “convergence.” It’s generally a sign I really should pursue it. So unless I think of unforeseen complications or such things unexpectedly come up, that is exactly what I plan to do.

Mostly Interview Burnout

Looking back, I can see how on one recent interview I didn’t get an obvious sub-question I should have, and how for the job I did land, the only reason I survived the whole interview process so well is that it was mostly done in the form of at-home questions, some of which I was battling the early symptoms of interview burnout on.

So what happened today was the first question (which I answered fairly well) pushed me over the edge and it was all downhill from there. Given that, it would have only gotten worse had I persevered. Ending it early was the best option.

I’m apparently in the minority in thinking this option is best. Most of the “experts” advise persevering. But really, perseverance is not always a virtue. No one thing is; life isn’t that simple. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing. Knowing how to recognize futility and give up is also a virtue (in moderation, of course, excessive lack of perseverance also a bad thing).

How it can be “good” to exhibit to a prospective employer that you’ll value some silly formality about “perseverance” even when it costs them money and your effort produces nothing but frustration escapes me. Me, I’d want an employee to quit a pointless task (and communicate this, of course) as soon as it became clear to him the task was probably pointless.

Well, That Was Thoroughly Unpleasant

Had an interview today at a highly regarded company where I was very qualified for the job being hired for and where I would have probably really enjoyed working.

Alas, as luck would have it today is also a very down day intellectually for me. I completely drew a blank at a very easy and obvious problem. Twenty  minutes were allocated for solving it, meaning I should have been able to do it in about half the time*, based on my normal track record for such things, but I couldn’t even get close to a good solution.

* Update: Try one minute. That’s how long it took to solve the problem now that I’ve decompressed from that nightmare.

What is one to do when such a thing happens? Answer: cordially end the interview early. It is utterly pointless to go on: I have never, simply never, ever gotten a job anytime I’ve stumbled even moderately during an interview — and I really stumbled big this time. Going on just for the sake of going on is: a) profoundly unpleasant, b) a waste of my time, and c) a waste of their time.

So that is precisely what I did.

It’s one of the big headaches with hiring someone: you’re trying to decide whether to spend a lot of money on someone, based on a very tiny sampling of who they are. And it’s a statistical fact of life that tiny samples can be highly unrepresentative samples. Just the way it is.

The silver lining is I already have a firm, written job offer. So I’ll just accept that one. Problem solved.

It’s interesting to speculate as to why it happened. Perhaps it was some subconscious desire to move away from the typical startup environment. I do tend to crave change, and the culture of what I call “mandatory fun” (part of many startups these days) at my last job was starting to get to me. The other job — which I will now accept — is at an established firm and is something of a counterpoint. Yet there were some extremely desirable things about the place where I just bombed (I mean, if it was obvious I didn’t want to be there, I would have just rebuffed their interview and signed with the other place already).

Or maybe it was some desire for stability and an answer. If this interview had gone well, it would have created an uncertainty stage for me. I’d be on a camping trip (which I don’t want to blow off, I’ve been camping far too little this year), out of email and phone contact, stalling a sure thing, in the hopes an unsure thing would materialize. This way I have my sure thing before I leave.

Or maybe it was just “interview burnout.” Interviews are hard for me (I’m a very introverted person) and furthermore I’ve had a lot of them recently, so interviewing itself has become something of the sort of rut I depise.

Realistically, I will never know, and further analysis will produce little or no information of real value to me. Moreover, both the missed opportunity and the one being taken are what I call “generic tech jobs”, which I view mainly as medium-term holding patterns until I can get something that really engages my passions. That means something to do with botany or advocating ecological sustainability. Such a thing is going to be a long-term enough process that I’d be broke before I found something if I insisted on such a job or nothing; hence the need for a holding pattern.

Time to get on with life.

Sleazy Recruiter: Atul Mishra of Net2Source

Just in case there was any lingering doubt that Net2Source was the worst sort of sleaze outfit:

Date: Mon, 21 Sep 2015 12:36:02 -0400 (EDT)
From: Atul Mishra <atul.mishra@net2source.com>
To: xxxxx@xxx.com
Subject: Opportunity for Apple Macintosh OSX

Hope you are doing well,
My name is Atul and I'm a Resource Executive  at Net2Source. We
have a requirement with our direct client for Apple Macintosh
OSX. If you’re interested please share me your updated resume
along with your expected pay rate and availability.
Job title:             Apple Macintosh OSX
Location:              Rye, NY
Duration:              Long Term

Where is the Null of my HF Loop Antenna?

I’ve been wondering that, since I’ve been using it to null out noise sources, yet I had long forgotten what the pattern of such antennas is.

I couldn’t just use the antenna itself plus noise to find out because I live in town and there’s potential noise sources all around. I couldn’t use the antenna plus signals because the ionosphere compromises the source-directionality of signals that pass through it, and it’s an HF-only antenna. (I suppose I could have spent most of the day delving into the physics of it, and coming up with the answer, but that would have taken most of the day and I just wanted a quick answer.)

Checking on-line wasn’t very helpful. I found articles claiming that both the null and the lobes were “in the plane of the loop”! Part of the issue, I think, is that there are different geometries of loop antennas. What one would tend to think of as the “plane” of a large, flat, air-core loop is perpendicular to what one would tend to think for a compact, multi-turn ferrite loop stick antenna.

A simple experiment with one of my old tube radios (which have a large, flat air-core loop antenna for the medium-wave broadcast band) and KVI’s signal on 570 KHz povided the answer: for “flat” loop antennas with a large diameter and low number of turns, the null is along the plane the loop exists in. It was pretty definitive: when I got the radio aligned so I had difficulty hearing KVI, its back (on which the loop is mounted) was aligned directly on a line running from KVI’s Vashon Island transmitter to me.

So there you have it.

Note that the while the peaks of a loop antenna are very broad, the nulls are by contrast very sharp. I’ve noticed this when nulling out interference; a slight bump on the HF loop antenna (changing its position by mere inches) often makes a significant difference.

Receiver Review: Bearcat 210 XLT

I bought one of these used for $10 at the Puyallup Hamfest last March, and it’s been a great addition to my lineup of receivers. I use it to monitor a couple local ham repeaters from the main living room so I won’t miss a call if I’m not in the radio room. For that purpose, it’s a steal of a deal at $10.

It is over 20 years old. Which means:

  • Don’t assume one you see for sale works. I looked at two at the Hamfest, plugging in and trying both. Good idea, as the one I passed on had some glitches.
  • No trunking; that technology was in its infancy a quarter-century ago.
  • No digital modes like P25. Same story as above.
  • “Only” 40 memory channels in 2 banks, not hundreds in dozens of banks.
  • No tone or digital squelch, carrier squelch only. Not a terribly big deal, as carrier squelch will still work in such situations.
  • “Wide band” FM only; it way predates the recent narrowbanding mandate. Not a big deal, just turn up the volume to compensate. Plus the ham repeaters I monitor still all use wide band.

It’s not all bad news, though. It has some nice features:

  • A simple user interface. It doesn’t have many features, and there’s basically a dedicated key or control for each one. I didn’t need to use a manual to figure out how to use it; it’s that self-explanatory.
  • A built-in power supply, a big plus if you leave it powered on for extended periods (as one tends to do with a scanner).
  • A nice bright vacuum-fluorescent display that’s easy to read in dim conditions.
  • Decent audio. I can easily hear it anywhere in the main part of the house.

It’s a scanner, not a general-purpose communications receiver. There’s no tuning knob or S-meter. It receives FM only in most of its range, and AM only in the air bands. Not a big deal for me, as I bought it to scan FM, and it works just fine for this purpose.

I even sometimes eavesdrop on the local police and fire services with it, because I’m in one of those areas that’s never adopted either trunking or digital technology for its public service communications.

All in all, if you can live with their limitations, those old scanners can, as mentioned earlier, be a steal of a deal.