Some frustrations, some successes.  That’s the way things go I guess.

I need to get some projects moving and completed; particularly the old guitar tremolo circuit.  That one has been hanging over my head for a year and has sort of taken on the character of a job.  Not good.  So Saturday, I figured I’d knock out some stuff after Evan left to return to his last semester at the university.

I went to tackle the tremolo.  Aaaannnddd… it didn’t work.  After some tinkering, I got frustrated and walked away.

Then I figured I’d work on my wooden handplane project.  That is going well but I reached a point at which I need to use the blade and its associated hardware to size the opening in the middle.  But I don’t have a blade.  Doh!  I went and ordered a nice iron and cap iron from the guy who wrote the book.

So I figured I’d take my airsoft pistol outside and plink at some cans.  It began to misfire.  Doh! Again!  I went and watched TV with Melissa for the rest of the day.  You can’t fail when watching TV unless you consider watching TV itself to be a failure.

Sunday, I looked at the gun.  It’s pretty cold outside and the act of letting off pressure from the propellant gas lowers the temperature of the magazine even more which seems to be making the seals start to leak.  Perhaps due to stiffening of the O-rings due to low temperature.  Also, the magazine has a teeny little piece of plastic that seems to lock the slide back after the last BB is fired which broke off and was jamming the follower.  According to the almighty interwebs, I’m the only one to ever experience this which is pretty unusual.  I disassembled the magazine to get the fragments out and now it feeds pretty reliably until it gets cold again.  Apparently, cold weather is not that great for airsoft.  Now the slide does not lock when the last round is fired but that is not a big deal.  I think I need to start loading the BBs from the top rather than using the speed loader since the speed loader occasionally lets go of the follower and it snaps to the top with a bit too much force for my liking.  That may what broke it to begin with.

On a side note, I bought this pistol because it is at least 10 times cheaper than a real gun and you can fire it in the back yard without scaring the neighbors or accidentally killing anyone.  Plus, no gun range fees.  But apparently I’m the only person over the age of 14 to have ever bought one since all the video tutorials on youtube are voiced by teenaged boys who can’t drive yet and, in many cases, whose voices have not changed yet.  Oh well.  I’m enjoying plinking in the back yard so no big deal.

Then I went to look at the tremolo.  I looked for parts that may have been in backwards (like the transistor) and then pulled all the alligator clips off the bypass switch and soldered on actual wires throughout to make sure I had a good ground connection.  The presence of lots of hum was making me believe that was a problem.  As soon as I hooked it back up to the battery I knew it was working.  I tinkered with it awhile and was quite happy.  I felt like the king of the world actually.  So I fired off some self congratulatory emails and tweets and decided to call it a day.

Also, Mel and I tried out the Main Street Tavern (which is new) and were pleasantly surprised with it.  It’s always good to find a good new restaurant in town.  I’m always a bit bummed when the kids head back to college and the house gets quiet.  These little successes made the day a bit more pleasant.

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I’ve been trying to learn electrical engineering in my spare time.  It’s been going fairly well even though I have produced very little.

I was supposed to have learned some of this in college.  I was required to take an electronics class but it was a self-paced lab where we read from a book and built stuff on a breadboard and I learned almost nothing.  A self-paced lab with no instructor is fine for somebody with sufficient motivation but I lacked that motivational part.  The lab was in the afternoon when my friends were off throwing a Frisbee, I thought it was nerdy (ironic since I apparently did not think that my major of physics was nerdy), and several other things.  I passed it and promptly went on with life thinking that electronics was magic.

I understood it to be powered by magical smoke.  If you ever did anything that let the magic smoke out (which was obvious from the smell), the item never worked again and the magic was beyond understanding.

I got by with that for a long time.

Then I met a guy who told me that it was all really simple.  In my mind, this clanged like a box of cymbals in a monkey cage.  Electronics simple?  Impossible.   Then, over time, he set himself to proving it to me.  Just a little bit here and there. 

Then a perfect storm of circumstances occurred which made me revisit the whole thing.  First, I subscribed to Make Magazine which features lots of electronics projects.  Then there was my friend the guitar player who decided he wanted to learn how to create his own effects boxes.  That did it.

My EE friend has said one thing that rings true for me and that is:  the old days of wiring discrete components together are gone.  Using integrated circuits that do well-defined things has turned electronics into a lego set of functionality.  To a large extent this seems to be true.  I have built several things on the breadboard that produce sine waves, square waves, etc. 

It remains to be seen if I can design something myself that will work after being hard-wired together on a circuit board.  My tutor however has many examples from his own work of custom-made circuit boards that do wonderful things so he can usually prove things to me that I have trouble believing. It’s pretty empowering.

One thing that stands out to me more than anything else is how cheap it is.  My friend loaned me an old oscilloscope (he has two!) so that I can check things more easily and precisely.  Other than the ‘scope, everything else is ridiculously cheap.  The most expensive integrated circuit I’ve been able to find that applies to something I’m interested in is $10.  Everything else can literally be had for pennies.  Plus, it doesn’t take up much space.  These two things are in stark contrast to woodworking.  Perhaps this is why my Dad got into electronics tinkering as he got older.  When they had to move away from the sketchy neighborhood he lost his workshop and turned to electronics and perhaps this is why.