More uBITX Errata

Published at 18:39 on 29 May 2018

The instructions are unclear on how to connect the rotary encoder. If you look at the encoder from the rear (shaft facing away from you), with two terminals on the left and three on the right, the correct way to wire it is with the black wire on the top terminal and the brown wire on the bottom. The diagram and the written instructions show those two wires reversed, but the photograph in the instructions shows them connected correctly.

Correct wiring for the uBITX encoder.
This is the correct wiring.

I guessed (incorrectly) that the way in which two pieces of information indicated was the correct way was the way to wire them. I also guessed (correctly) that since the two wires on the other side were for a normally open pushbutton switch, and the middle contact on the encoder side was grounded, the controller was simply detecting which of the brown and black wires were getting grounded in which order to determine the direction of the shaft rotation, so there wouldn’t be any drastic consequences to wiring those two wrong, just reversed tuning.

Naturally I opened it up again, warmed up my soldering iron again, and switched the two wires around. Every normal radio in the known universe has a tuning knob where turning it clockwise makes the frequency go up, and it was very annoying to have a radio that acted in the opposite way.

Warning: Bad Instructions for uBITX

Published at 08:43 on 29 May 2018

The official instructions for the uBITX transceiver kit recommend wiring the hot side of the audio out to both the tip and ring connectors. I consider this to be a faulty design and thus an error.

If you plug a stereo device into the jack wired per those instructions, it will work. If you plug a monaural device into the jack, it will cause a short circuit between ring and sleeve, because the sleeve on a mono plug is longer than the sleeve on a stereo one (the tips being the same size, and there being no ring). This short circuit can cause the receiver’s audio section (specifically its output transistor) to self-destruct!

Contrast that with wiring it with the hot side of the audio to tip only, as I recommend. That way you have something that works completely with a monaural device and works somewhat (left channel only) on a stereo device. Works (to at least some degree) with both versus works on one and self-destructs on another. It’s pretty darn obvious which is the better engineering choice.

This is mentioned on, but it isn’t mentioned as prominently as some other errata are (or even labeled as an error), so I figured I’d mention it here. In my opinion, it definitely is incorrect, because it qualifies as faulty design.

It’s particularly nasty because the uBITX receiver is of course a monaural device, making it only logical to assume it has a standard monaural output. Murphy’s Law means that uBITX wired per the standard instructions will sooner or later have an unwitting user (a guest, someone at Field Day, etc.) fall into this pitfall that was laid for them.

What they were trying to do is use a stereo jack in a manner that causes both stereo and monaural devices to fully and properly work. There is a way to do that: use a stereo jack whose sleeve is isolated from ground, and wire ground to ring and hot to tip. This will cause a mono plug to get signal presented at tip and sleeve, and a stereo one to get signal presented at tip and ring. The latter will result in both speakers being connected in series, if the sleeve is isolated from ground.

If the latter is not the case (and it cannot be with a metal case and the stock jacks furnished with the uBITX), ring and sleeve will end up being shorted and you’re back to seeing a signal in the left channel only. Not drastic, but not the full universal performance desired, either.

Instead of using a nonstandard technique that paves the path to a future mishap, it’s far better to just wire it as a mono device and use an easily-obtainable external mono-to-stereo adaptor if you want to feed audio to a stereo device.

Dudleya lanceolata

Published at 19:23 on 27 May 2018

Dudleya lanceolata, taken at Crystal Cove State Park.

I was hoping to see a Dudleya on my recent quick trip to Southern California (which mostly dealt with family matters, leaving little time for nature). I was lucky and managed to locate one in bloom despite there being a multiyear drought there. (Sorry, no picture of the leaf rosette; it was buried in a dense, low shrub and impossible to get a useful photograph of with the limited equipment I had with me.)

And yes, I know the focus is on the crappy side. Chalk it up to using an autofocus-only compact digicam on a bright day when the preview screen was hard to see in the harsh sunlight.

A Tale of Two Airports

Published at 09:04 on 27 May 2018

At Sea-Tac, I arrived to find all luggage windows closed save for two, despite a crush of incoming passengers. A huge line snaked through the terminal to those two.

I got into it, and within minutes was told that there was a problem with one of the conveyor belts, so the pair of agents was being shifted to another set of windows. Everyone was told to move to the new set about 100 feet away.

No measures were taken to ensure anyone’s spot in line was preserved. A number of people who had just arrived managed to get in front of those of us who had been already waiting for a while.

The whole process took fifteen minutes. At Sea-Tac, this hardly rates a mention. Once I almost missed a flight because I had only arrived at the terminal a mere hour before the scheduled departure time, and the wait to check a bag was nearly fifty minutes.

Then I have to get through security. Without much explanation or clear signage, two of the security checkpoints have been converted to pre-check only. Those two were in a row. There were no signs pointing to a non-pre-check security checkpoint. Naturally this caused me to get into the wrong line and have to wait twice to go through security.

At Orange County’s John Wayne Airport, there were three agents staffing the baggage check windows despite it being a far smaller airport with far less passenger influx. There was no wait whatsoever. The security checkpoints were clearly labeled and again there was no wait.

I was about to get annoyed because there were no seats anywhere with outlets near them, then I notice a row of carrels with desks, each with a pair of outlets, for those with laptop computers to use. Instead of having to hunch over my computer while it’s on my lap, I am sitting at a desk much as I do at home.

Maybe I wouldn’t hate flying quite so much as I do if my home airport didn’t so abjectly suck.

Barney Frank, Bankster

Published at 07:54 on 25 May 2018

Barney Frank’s claims that Trump is not gutting the regulations that were passed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis should be taken with not just a grain but a large block of salt, given that he now sits on the board of a bank poised to profit from the deregulation (no doubt at taxpayer expense when the next crisis rolls around).

And the Dodd-Frank regulations themselves were weak in the first place; they failed to fully replace the Glass-Steagall Act (which itself was repealed with no small amount of Democratic Party complicity).

It’s not just the Republicans that are at fault; the Democrats are the party of banksters and capitalism, too.

Peat Bogs: A Bit of Tundra in Our Backyard

Published at 11:17 on 24 May 2018

I’ve been out of town a fair bit recently, so this is a photo that was neither taken on Bainbridge Island nor even does it show a plant that grows here, for the plant depicted above is the Cloudberry, Rubus chamaemorus.

Seeing this flower for the first time was a highlight of my recent trip to BC. The one in the picture is one of the southernmost wild-growing Cloudberry plants in the world, as this plant’s range stops at the bogs of the Fraser River Delta, just north of the 49th parallel. It’s mostly a plant of the arctic tundra, but some populations do wander well south of the arctic in bogs.

Burns Bog has long been a forgotten and neglected part of the Vancouver metro area. There’s now efforts to preserve the parts of it that haven’t been drained and converted to other uses, but facilities for visitors are still very limited and not easy to find. Those interested in visiting a part of it that’s open to the public on their next trip to Vancouver can find the driving directions here.

Why do we see plants of the arctic tundra in peat bogs? It turns out that bogs mimic many of the soil conditions that form in the arctic. Like the arctic tundra, whose soil is prevented from draining by permafrost, bogs contain highly acidic waterlogged soil.

Why is Cloudberry found in these bogs, but not in ones just slightly further south, which have almost identical soil and environmental conditions? My best theory so far is that it has to do with migrating birds: before it was urbanized, the Fraser Delta was a huge complex of freshwater and tidal wetlands that served as a major wintering area for waterfowl, and at least one bird over the millennia arrived with a Cloudberry seed riding somewhere on it or inside its gut. Smaller peat bogs to the south failed to serve as major attractors of wintering waterfowl and thus never had this plant introduced to them.

The bog at IslandWood here on the island has no Cloudberry, but it does have a lot of Labrador Tea (Ledum groenlandicum), a plant whose common name references one northerly region and whose scientific one references another (Greenland), thus revealing its status as an arctic tundra plant.

Gmail Gets Suckier

Published at 10:41 on 18 May 2018

It’s always sucked because Google profiles you based on your emails, but Gmail gets suckier and suckier as time passes due to their security measures. Every time I do something the least bit unusual (like connect from a new wireless network) it blocks my IMAP logins and raises a security alert.

Wednesday, Gmail locked me out because I was coming in via the UW network as a guest there. Today, I’m on the road, and Gmail is locking me out because I’m using my old iPad plus my Karma hotspot to access it instead of my laptop and the very same Karma hotspot.

I can re-establish access by logging in via the Web, but:

  1. That totally defeats the purpose of my having an email client and using IMAP in the first place. I happen to like the fact that IMAP lets me use the same email client (with the exact same user interface) for all my email accounts.
  2. IMAP also uses less Internet resources than an interactive web site, which can be a plus in marginal situations (which do routinely happen when connecting to the Internet via a cellular network).
  3. If their web site lets me in, then IMAP should logically let me in as well.
  4. None of my other email providers have fascistic security like this.

I suppose Google hates the fact that using IMAP, because it implies I’m using a dedicated email client, which lets me freely choose email providers yet have the same consistent UI for each. Google apparently wants me to use their Web UI and get used to it, so I’m locked in to their service. In my book, that’s yet another reason to dislike Google.

As it is, I’ve been slowly moving to using my Apple account for most of my mail, anyhow (because I don’t like how Google profiles me). Most of what goes to my Gmail inbox is from mailing lists that I simply haven’t bothered to cut over yet.

I guess it all shows that it’s time to continue with the gradual process of moving away from Gmail.