Lifelong Learning Knowledge should be uncompromisingly sought after and freely given away.


Homesteading, here I come!


My wife and I purchased a new home back in June of 2015 and were blessed enough to get a wonderful home (that needed some serious love) and an acre of land in a corner lot surrounded by horse farms. It's an amazing home, mostly because my wife has made it such, but we hadn't really leveraged the outdoors too much. Well, that's all going to change as soon as spring hits. We have big plans for making the most of the land we have been blessed with and I'm excited for the inevitable journey it will become. Go over to and follow our journey.

I put this blog together to capture all the things I've tried, learned and failed at so that my children could someday learn even more about who their father was and how life is really about living, loving and learning.

My wife and I are going to share our homesteading journey but didn't want to individually blog about it on our personal blogs, so I set up a new site just for our homesteading journey. A site that friends, family and the occasional internet wanderer could read, perhaps enjoy and most importantly learn from.

My mantra is: "Knowledge should be uncompromisingly sought after and freely given away."



Tactial Simplex Repeater For 2M HAM Radio Operators

Cell Phone TowerBeing a technology geek for me doesn't stop at writing code or hacking gadgets, it extends to even communications and specifically RF (Radio Frequencies). I'm a licensed HAM radio opeartor and have been for some time now. It's true that I love electronics but dang I hate that they require support from a fragile supply of electrons from the wall. When it comes to HAM radio and it's historical use as emergency communications for our nation, I wanted to build something that would allow my small 2M HTs to communicate over wider distances and be free from mains power. I wanted something portable, tactial, that I could use anywhere anytime I wanted. While this is certaintly not the first tactical simplex repeater built by someone, I think it turned out amazingly and much less expensive than something you would buy off the shelf.

First I had to create set of criteria or goals for the build:

  1. Cheap(ish) cost to build (< $400)
  2. Used for days without intervention
  3. Self contained and portable
  4. Support 2M frequencies
  5. Remotely enabled/disabled
  6. Maximize 2M HT distance
  7. Rugged enough to withstand the outdoors
  8. Ready to use whenever I needed them


My first idea was to use some Pelican 1300 cases I had laying around, free is always better than not. I also wanted to keep the batteries maintained while in the vehicles (these were portable devices I wanted to keep in each car). Unfortunately as you'll read below the original batteries I wanted to use (always do your math first) didn't provide me with the parameters I needed for talk time so I had to get larger batteries and thus had to ditch the Pelican cases and opted for the fatty .50 caliber ammo cans (not the regular .50 cal cans). These boxes are metal, water/air tight, rugged and cheap.


Unfortunately my first idea was to purchase 12AH 6V batteries which did fit in the pelican boxes but really didn't provide me with enough talk time, I was shooting for 12.5% duty cycle which equates to about 3 hours of transmit time a day and 21 hours of receive time a day. I calculated duty cycle using DC=100*(Time On) / (Time On + Time Off). I figure 3 hours of TX time a day would be suffecient in the case of an emergency but I also wanted to build in some padding just in case. Once I had calculated my duty cycle I needed to calculate the power consumption of my system in both TX and RX states. Using my handy dandy multimeter, I measured the power at RX (idle) to be 110mA and TX to be 1.4A. That means that my average power consumption over 24 hours would be 271mA. With this number is was trival to plug in the values to figure out what sized battery I would need, I used an online calculator that used Peukert's formula for calculating battery life. Ulitmately I decided on a 35AH 12V battery which would give me approximately 37 hours of runtime at 25% discharge (higher discharges ultimately shorten the life of the battery).

Now the task was to figure out how to replinish the juice in my battery, solar is the way and I settled on a Renogy 30W solar panel. Why you ask, well the panel gives me about 1.3A of power on a sunny day, it's somewhat portable, and Renogy sells great quality solar panels for outdoors.

Power Conversions

As with any solar setup, I had to purchase a solar charger to ensure my battery was correctly charged by the panel and ensure the battery was never overcharged. The solar charger I picked up is the Renogy 30A model, more than enough for a single 30W solar panel configuration. The solar charger also has another nice feature which is that it has load terminals. These terminals allow you to hook up your load (the radio gear in my case) and the charger will automatically disconnect the load if the battery voltage drops too low. This particular model solar charger has about 20 different modes you can select for how it manipulates the load terminal (dusk till done, dusk then xx hours, etc).

With the battery and solar system figured out, I had a few more power conversions I needed to address. Namely the radio which has a max input voltage of ~8.4v, the repeater module accepted a wide range of voltages so our 12v battery voltage was fine for it. As for the radio, I had to purchase a buck converter that would effeciently drop the 12v to the ~8.4v required. I found a cheap one on Amazon which was rated for way more power than the radio would need and was manually adjustable so I could easily dial it to the voltage I required. I hacked up a battery eliminator cord for my radio and ran it directly to my buck converter, works perfectly and never gets even warm to the touch at 8W TX on the radio.

Radio Gear

As for the radio (the most important part actually), I decided on a Baofeng, more specifically the BF-F9 V2+ HP 8Watt Tri-Power HT. I wanted to keep costs down, but also wanted the little bit extra TX power this version gave over the cheaper 5W models available. Baofeng is a manufacturer of cheap HAM radios (but have been surprisingly reliable) but costs containment is a goal so no Yeasu HTs or the like were an option. The decision of which simplex repeater (voice recorder and playback device) was easy, there are not many available from reputable supplieers so the ADS-SR1 from Argent Systems was my choice. It had great specifications and was easily managed remotely using DTMF tones. Fit all the criteria I needed.

The last tiddly bit was the connectors for the radio and the antenna selection. A female SMA connection is more common now that these chineese radio manufactures are using them but eBay was still the only source I could find that had them with various other ends. I chose a female SMA to BNC pigtail. The reason for BNC was simply because the antenna I wanted came in a BNC type connector and I really wanted a stronger attachment point that SMA. I wanted as good gain as I could but also try to maintain my goal of portability. It took me several days to find what I was looking for and I finally decided upon the MFJ-1714 telescoping antenna from MFJ. It's got great gain and works better for this setup than any others I could find. It collapses down and can easily fit inside the can but reaches ~40" when fully extracted. I'm really loving this antenna!


The build on this project was actually lots of fun. I was able to leverage my favorite tool, the hand riveter which I used to build a cradle for the battery which prevents it from moving around and damaging the other components. Other than that, it was a pretty simple process of drilling a couple of holes, one for the antenna and the other for the 12V cigarette lighter socket which is how the solar panel plugs into the box. A box of super strong Velcro from Lowes finished off my build, I simply secured the radio and other components to the sides of the interior. I'll post some pictures of the build later this week once I get a chance to get my new shack setup.

Final Thoughts

I've tested the range of this repeater on 147Mhz with it sitting on the top of my house. I'm able to clearly transmit and receive on a Waesu 5W HT from about 8 miles away with the repeater sitting on my back patio, elevation to remove any obstructions would clearly extend the range significantly but that's for another day. Overall I'm very happy with the build and the results, once I have an opportunity to get this thing higher in the air and perform a more extensive range test, I'll update this post.


DSC Alarm + Envisalink3 + DSCServer + SONOS = Alarm Announcements!

Electricty Chaos

Image courtesy of antpkr at

Long title and a large degree of entropy? Nah! This is a system that was built in layers but the components are largely used and fairly niche in their use. I've just decided that I'd use them to provide something even more niche, an alarm zone announcer for my house. Sounds cool to you then keep on reader, otherwise go back to your other boring business reading materials...

This all started when my wife and I decided to buy our "forever" home. A wonderful home on a bit of land in the city where our families lived, thus, the "forever" home label. The problem with our forever home is that it's a 2 and 1/2 story home and I'm always concerned with security, mainly the security of my family while we are home. I could really care less about someone stealing my junk as long as my family is safe. I wanted a way to ensure we would be aware if someone entered our home while we were home, awake or sleeping.

Long story short, I purchase a DSC Powerseries PC1864 system and the wireless sensors to put on each door and window. After we moved in and I got the system operational I realized the hectic process of leaving each morning would likely result in the alarm not getting armed so I sought out a way to remotely view and control it. I found the Envisalink3 card for my system. Nice little tool but the software is massively lacking in both features and security (no SSL for goodness sakes). That led me to the DSCServer software written for Android and Linux by MikeP. Great product and was the last piece to the puzzle for me....

Well, that was until I noticed my in-laws ADT system had a cool feature which would verbalize the zones that get opened...I loved that so much more than the beep...beep...beep my system made when a door was opened while the alarm was disarmed. Searching the interwebs left me empty, nothing was available to plug into my security system to give me that same awesome feature, I guess I'd have to roll my own. That's where my SONOS system (a total of 5 speakers) comes into play, it's got a wonderful full-featured API and it only took a few minutes to find a full-featured PHP library to control my system.

I leveraged the same raspberry pi that I was using for DSCServer to run apache2 and fixed up a nice PHP page which would announce which zone was opened based on a query string parameter passed to it. I then added an action for each zone in DSCServer to call the URL with the correct query string value for each zone. Volia! My SONOS speakers will quickly pause, a nice British lady will announce which zone was opened, and then the speaker goes back to whatever it was doing before the announcement.

I'm hard to please and this solution while dependent on layers of technology, works exceedingly well. There is a 2-4 second delay in the announcement which I'm strongly suspecting is the lack of power on my Raspberry Pi running DSCServer. I'm going to upgrade it to a Raspberry Pi 2 and see if I can reduce the lag time some. Otherwise, this project is complete.

As always, I believe knowledge should be free and freely shared. The PHP page I wrote is attached to this post for all to use. I've also linked below to the components I used (I'm not endorsing any retailer, it's just where I purchased).

DSC Powerseries Alarm & Envisalink3

DSCServer Software For Envisalink3

SONOS Speakers (I have several Play3s and Play1s)


Title: zoneOpened (457 clicks)
Size: 1 KB


Does this B.O.B make me look like a prepper?

Image courtesy of

It's funny to me that it takes a show about a zombie apocalypse to get folks thinking about something as simple as preparedness. I was a cub scout and then a boy scout and I never forgot the motto of "always be prepared" or was that MacGyver that said that, I forget. Regardless, the concept of being prepared or as I like to say "better prepared" for the curve balls mother nature or mankind can throw at us is something I've always considered common sense.

I've been reading, researching and prepping for things that happen to folks that seem unlikely to happen to my family or myself for more than 10 years. Does that make me sound like the paranoid "prepper" the media makes a person like me out to be? Seriously, I find it quite ironic that the media would have folks believe that boy scouts are paranoid anti-government terrorist. But that's exactly the same concept boy scouts are taught, be better prepared for when the unforeseen occurs. Oddly and thankfully even our government is telling you that you should be more prepared!

Anyhow, I digress, this post is meant for my family and friends (or blog followers) that after watching the previously mentioned zombie apocalypse are interested in a B.O.B (Bug Out Bag or 72-Kit). I've attempted to distill the years of research into an easily consumable blog post on exactly what it is that you need to build a B.O.B and some fundamental knowledge you should acquire whilst building your bag.

First, let's start with what you need to know. You must realize right now that the most crucial and powerful force multiplier you can have in a survival or general emergency situation is KNOWLEDGE. That's right it weighs nothing, takes up no room in your bag and will be there to save your hide when all your equipment has forsaken you. Knowledge is also the one thing most folks will never take the time to acquire as it does require a time investment and let's face it; most of the folks reading this blog want the B.O.B checklist so they can sleep better knowing that they have some knick-knacks safely stowed away in their vehicle. But its knowledge that I would urge everyone to truly invest in. Learn CPR, take a class for free; learn how to weld; teach your family how to get out of the house in case of a fire; show your children how to grow vegetables in the back garden. Expand your knowledge of self-sufficiency every single day.

Secondly, you need to realize that a B.O.B is a tool and you must understand its strengths and its limitations in any given situation. I'll focus the rest of the blog post on building a general purpose 72-hr kit most commonly referred to as a bug out bag. The name bug out bag came from military aviators that had to keep a kit on-board in case their plane went down. The concept was to have a compact survival bag that could keep their butts alive until they got rescued. That concept applies with most preppers as well, the B.O.B is meant to be a bag that you can quickly grab and hit the road, giving you 3 days' of provisions and tools to get to a more secure and better supplied shelter. Remember this, your B.O.B is not meant to sustain you and your loved ones for more than 72 hours, its primary purpose is to get you home or to your bug out location safely.

I subscribe to the basic concept that a B.O.B is a tool to get me home or to my bug out shelter as well, but I've built my B.O.B to also serve me equally well when I may need to help someone that has been in a car accident or if I find myself with a flat tire at 2AM coming home from the family vacation. I think the equipment I carry can help me with a zombie apocalypse or a flat tire equally well. Will I sale you one? Absolutely NOT. The journey of building your bug out bag serves to enhance your knowledge (and save you money) of its contents and their many possible uses in an emergency. Don't fool yourself into feeling comfortable just going out and buying a bug out bag.


The "God, please help me through this" B.O.B Build Guide:

 1. The Bag. What? You thought I'd say a gun?

The bag is probably the most critical component of your bug out bag. Seriously, you don't need to spend a small fortune on the bag but don't skimp here. The bag needs to be double-stitched on the seams and ready to carry all your equipment for the long hike to wherever you are going. Nothing like busting a seam on the bag and not having any way to carry your equipment to ruin your day. I purchased my bag from an online retailer; I found a great back-to-school deal on a quality made backpack. Those bags specifically marketed as bug out bags usually carry a 2000% mark-up and are made in the same Chinese factory as my backpack. Something like this will do you nicely and won't break the bank. If you really have extra cash burning a hole in your pocket, I LOVE the Condor 3 day assault bag.

 2. The rule of 3's (remember that knowledge is key)

Now that you have a decent bag, let's start with the basics. The rule of 3's is PARAMOUNT to survival and you better go read about it right now if you have no idea what this is! Let's assume you have clean air to breath and move on to shelter. I prefer a tarp for shelter normally and given the idea that we are most likely going to be on the move whilst using the B.O.B, I think it's worth the weight and space it takes up. I recommend you get an all-weather tarp like this one which is large enough to make into a lean-to and light enough to not consume too much space. As a secondary to this tarp I also recommend a Mylar blanket for each person in your family per B.O.B., you can pick them up at Wal-Mart in the camping section or buy them online for about $1/each. If you are like me and "paranoid" you can pick up some cheap rain ponchos as well. I keep 3 in my bag.

Now that we have the first two covered, let's move on to the more pressing concern, Water. Water is heavy just over 8lbs per gallon so it's going to be the biggest consumer of weight in our bag. I opted to go with emergency drinking water pouches as it would pack better and provided redundancy in case my bag got punctured by a zombie with a spear. I got mine at Sportsman's Warehouse locally for under $1 each but you can buy a box online easily enough. Those in the survival world know you need at least a gallon per person per day (not including grey water for washing, etc.) but I've elected to only carry 4 pouches per person per day in my bag. I will leverage a water filter like this to acquire additional water as required.

Finally on to our last rule of 3's need which is food. While food could really be left out of your B.O.B (it is only supposed to support you for 72 hours), I've elected to carry some anyhow. I feel the added weight and bulk is offset by the increase in morale and "HOPE" it will bring. Plus I get mighty grumpy when I'm hungry. I recommend mayday bars, they last a long time and fill the caloric intake requirements but they taste like crap.

3. Health & Hygiene

This category of items is far too often overlooked by those building a bug out bag but it's just as important as any other category of items. Yeah, everyone packs a small first aid kit, I recommend this one, but who carries tampons? Yep, tampons. Probably the most useful survival tool mass manufactured today, not to mention a really important thing to have in your bag for the significant other who will most likely be with you. There are literally a zillion uses in a survival situation for a tampon but I'll save that for later, in the meantime if you are interested, check this out. Additionally I carry the following items:

  • Moist towelettes - Clean hands and other body parts to keep down grime and improve overall body hygiene. Get these from your local restaurants, don't buy them. I carry about 2 dozen of them in each bag.
  • Medicines - I carry at least 3 days' worth of any meds that my family is currently taking. I also augment my first aid kit with anti-diarrhea, anti-acids, ibuprofen, acetaminophen and Benadryl. These are all packed in bottles with labels if prescription and I include a silica packet to ensure moisture isn't an issue.
  • Alcohol based hand sanitizer - Keep hands clean and can be used to help start fires in damp conditions (with a tampon or course). A small travel sized bottle for each person in your family is fine.
  • Sunscreen - Yet again, often left out and can seriously ruin your day if not used in those long day walks back to your house/shelter (you should avoid this in a real situation). Get it anywhere but make sure it's > 15SPF.
  • Roll of toilet paper - I remove the cardboard core and compress it with my vacuum sealer. You can just place it in a Ziploc bag. Obvious uses  in addition to being a fantastic fire starter.
  • Chapstick - Great for those chapped lips in the winter months and can be used with cotton to create a long burning fire starter for really damp kindling. Mix with ash and rub under your eyes for snowy setting to prevent glare, rub on pending blisters to prevent them.
  • Underwear and Socks - Don't forget your underwear and socks! Actually these are really important. Please, please include at least one change of both of these for each member of your family in your bag. Getting wet in a cold climate will kill you and these will go a long way to keeping you warm and clean. A full change of clothes would be great but is often too heavy and bulky to fit, I opted for the minimal.

4. Tools & General Equipment

A person can really easily go overboard in this category of items. Please keep in mind that the idea is that you will be carrying this bag with you as you retreat to a more permanent and better supplied location so don't be tempted to put everything you can in your bag, it's easy to do with items from this category. I have equipped my bag with the following items:

  • 550 Paracord (Rope) - Too many uses to even attempt to list. You MUST have this in your bag and you MUST carry at least 50ft of it. I recommend 550 paracord since it's light and extremely versatile but honestly any well-made rope that you can easy fold tightly into your bag (or loop on the outside securely) will work. I've ordered from these guys and they have the true mil-spec paracord (7 strand) stuff in all the colors you could want. Don't buy colorful cord though, stick with dark earth tones. This cord supports 550 STATIC pounds (thus its name).
  • Gloves - Leather is what I carry, obvious uses. I carry two pairs.
  • Can Opener - I carry the famous P-38 can opener which has tons of uses other than opening a can of spam.
  • Multi-Tool - Ah, no bag could be complete without one. Don't skimp here, a good tool can save your hide. Leatherman makes a wonderful tool. The OHT model seems interesting but I've got a super tool 300. Its uses are obvious.
  • Cooking (stove & supplies) - Lots of choices here, because I camp, I have the JetBoil system in my bags but honestly I recommend a good camping cup and use of a good 'ole fashioned fire. Get yourself a nice cheap fork from KFC next time you pick up some fried chicken. Otherwise spend some serious money (for a spork) on this.
  • Fire Starting Tools - A BIC lighter sealed in a vacuum bag or regular Ziploc bag. I also carry a sealed pack of weatherproof matches. You can buy the matches at your local camping store or even Wal-Mart in the fall when they put out more camping gear. If they don't come in a watertight container, put them in one. Ziploc to the rescue. Also ALWAYS, ALWAYS carry at least three methods of fire starting as a fire will save your hide in a survival situation not to mention the morale boost it will give you. I carry a flint tool as my third fire starting tool. You can pick up a flint tool at Wal-Mart or any camping store.
  • Long Burn Candles - Once again, a camping store is your friend. Coleman makes some, others do as well. You want at least 8 hours burn per candle. I keep two candles in my bag.
  • Glow sticks - Yep, not for an impromptu rave but to ensure you can see at night, mark your path, etc. These things are great; they emit no heat, pack easily and last for 12 hours. I have six in my bag. Pick them up at Wal-Mart or cheaper online. Red is supposed to help prevent you from losing your night vision but I had green so that's what's in my bag. The SnapLights are good quality and have a hook on the end which is very handy indeed. These can also be used in place of road flares if you have car trouble at night.
  • Radio - Hand crank is nice but they are typically too heavy, too expensive and too big. I got these and they rock. Cheap, light and run forever on one set of batteries. A radio is a great source of information and general morale booster when on the lamb in a survival situation.
  • Sewing Kit - A small sewing kit is great to have in case those double sewn seams rip or you need to stitch up that open wound until you get medical help. I actually carry a small back cutting suture for that and highly suggest you don't actually use this  for medical purposes.
  • Signal MirrorGet one with a sight hole which makes targeting the reflection much easier.
  • Signal Whistle - You can get these at Wal-Mart or any camping store. Avoid cheap metal that may rust or otherwise breakdown in humid environments.
  • Compass - Really a core piece of equipment. Know how to navigate with a compass it'll save your hide for sure.
  • Nalgene Bottle - Don't bother wasting your money on cheaper bottles. Get a 32 ounce wide mouth and be done with it. Used to carry/store water but I also use this as a waterproof storage device when packed away for fire starting equipment and tissue paper. I carry two in each of my bags although one would be sufficient.
  • Fixed Blade Knife - Everyone has a favorite survival knife but if you don't I have a love for S.O.G knives and pack one of these in each bag. Get a good quality knife, don't skimp. Also pick up a cheap sharping stone and learn how to sharpen your knife (preferably practicing on a cheap knife). CHECK YOUR LOCAL AND STATE LAWS If YOU INTEND TO STORE YOUR BAG IN YOUR CAR WITH A KNIFE.
  • Cash - Carry $100/day in small denominations. I would recommend $5s or $10s. Learn from hurricane Katrina; ATM machines and banks are not going to be accessible in an emergency and cash is king. Unless the government has fallen and then you can use this as fire starter. Optionally you may carry small amounts of silver or gold for use as currency.
  • USB Memory Stick - Put all your important personal information on this FOB and make sure it's encrypted somehow. Wrap it in alternating layers of foil and plastic wrap to protect it from damage and keep in your watertight Nalgene bottle. I also pack photo copies of picture identification in my bag for each family member. Remember while zombies may not care who you are, those with a pulse may require it from you.
  • Flash Light - I recommend two dependable small flashlights with extra batteries for each. Don't spend lots on them but they are super handy so don't spend $1 on them either. I actually have camping gear so I carry a head lamp in one of my bags.
  • Fishing Kit - I bought a tiny basic fishing kit off eBay and got 4 kits for like $7 shipped. Perfect.
  • Survival Book - Don't not have this. Even if you think your skill set is top notch. I highly recommend the SAS survival book for folks.
  • Atlas - Pick up a cheap atlas for your local area. Yeah, even if you have lived there your whole life, you never know when you may need to take a route that isn't obvious. I got mine on sale at Wal-Mart for $1.75. I really don't recommend a GPS for your bag, but if you have one you want to throw in the bag, go for it.
  • CPR Kit - I carry one of these for $3.50 but make sure you take a class and your instructor can give you advice on which type of small kit to carry. Remember that when doing mouth-to-mouth, don't blow too hard; more than likely they'll throw up and that's not what you want in your mouth! These kits don't include a mouth barrier; if that's a concern for you, the other kits on that page do include them.
  • Firearm - You knew it was coming. Honestly no kit is complete without a firearm for personal protection and potentially to aid in hunting; although small game caught with a snare trap would probably be more effective. I recommend a gun that you are comfortable with but ideally at least a 9MM hand gun with at least 25 rounds. Many folks carry a .22LR pistol and that's fine, put whatever you think makes sense for you in your bag, this is YOUR bug out bag after all. PLEASE CHECK YOUR LOCAL AND STATE LAWS REGARDING THE STORAGE OF A FIREARM IN YOUR BAG IF IT'S KEPT IN YOUR CAR.


Closing Thoughts

Remember that you should absolutely not try to find a bag to buy that is already complete. Part of building your bag is understanding the use of the items in your bag, besides there is a ridiculous mark up on these types of all-in-one bags. Start your bag with the most important items first and then continually add to it till your check-list is completed. Start with the 3's and you'll instantly have an advantage in an emergency situation. Review your bag contents and refresh the items as appropriate every six months. Ensure your family understands the use of the items in your bag and involve them as much as possible in the process of building it. Don't be tempted to buy lots of expensive "gadgets" especially those that require any type of electricity; they'll be the first things you discard.

I really enjoy talking with people about preparedness and how they can become more prepared to deal with life's emergencies. If you have any questions about this post or preparedness in general, please drop me a line or comment on this blog below so that others may learn from the converstation.





Why did I wait so long to toast my boards?

PCB Toaster OvenI've recently redesigned my Retro WiFi Radio project to include some "extra" functionality and the design requirements required some tiny spacing of the components in addition to some tiny SMD parts. While I'm all for hand soldering SMD when needed, I wasn't looking forward to attempting this board build by hand...I really needed to look for a better, faster and more reliable way to solder SMD boards. I'd read articles from Adafruit and some other sites about utilizing electric skillets to re-flow boards but I've also read plenty that say it's not the ideal way to re-flow. I even went  as far as to "Watch" some eBay listings for a few cheap Chinese re-flow ovens. I knew folks had been having lots of luck using a PID controller and a toaster oven and after reading reviews about those cheap Chinese re-flow ovens, I figured my $50 investment in a toaster oven from wally world would be the safest gamble. I knew I wanted a toaster with no digital controls (easier to hack up, I suspected) and dual top and bottom heating elements. I also had read some good reports using toaster ovens with a fan which supposedly prevented hot/cold spots in the oven. I found a Black and Decker at Wal-Mart for about $40 that fit the bill perfectly so I made the plunge, I sure hope it would reach high enough temps fast enough to hold a good re-flow profile.... The first test for the toaster before tearing it apart was to ensure it'd get hot enough without any modifications.

My particular oven has both a "Baking" and "Toasting" settings with the difference being the "Baking" setting enables the convection fan. I tested the oven in both settings to ensure it'd easily exceed the required 250C my lead-free profile would require for re-flow. It didn't take any time at all for the toaster to exceed my temperature requirements in both settings. Looks like I got myself a champ here folks! Given the fact that I had already purchased an appropriate solid state relay for a different project and I had a spare Arduino laying around, I knew I could quickly throw together a PID controller and test the toaster's ability to hold a profile. I used a sketch from these great folks (which they use for their Arduino re-flow shield) and an LCD display I had laying about. I had a working PID controller in about 45 minutes. So far, this project was looking like it was going to be super easy! Why hadn't I done this before? Using my Fluke meter (with temp probe), I manually charted the temperatures of 3 re-flow runs and while not as accurate as an industrial re-flow oven, I think it'll do just fine. My first few boards worked perfectly and I must say, it's WAY faster and easier than soldering by hand! Bring on those 0603 resistors now!  


Not one to leave good enough alone, I decided there were a few easy things I could do to improve the responsiveness of the toaster and help it follow my profile more accurately. Here's what I did to the toaster to "improve" it and the results. 1. Added reflective "flue tape" to the inside of the toaster's internal metal walls (back wall and bottom with ceramic fill inside cavity) as well as the glass front door (minus the "peep" window). 2. Filled internal voids with ceramic fiber insulation wool. Got some cheap from eBay

Unaltered Toaster:

Time to 250C (Toast Setting): 3:41.3 Time to 250C (Bake Setting): 6:46.9

"Improved" Toaster:

Time to 250C (Toast Setting): 2:25.8 Time to 250C (Bake Setting): 3:53.6


Tasty Home Medicine

Today, I decided I would try my hand at a simple Irish home remedy that turned into a popular soft drink. GINGER ALE! Ginger ale was used some time ago to treat anything that ailed you but now thanks to John McLaughlin, it's more commonly associated with a refreshing soft drink.

Ginger has long been used to help settle upset stomachs and ease nausea, it's these proposed properties that really made me want to give it a try. My wife has been suffering from nausea quite badly lately and I thought this would be a fantastic solution (if it works). It's all natural and quite easy to make.

Here's my recipe for Ginger Soda:
• 2 Cups Fresh cut ginger (slice into about 1/8 inch slices)
• 2 Cups filtered water
• 2 Cups white sugar
• 1 tsp Pure Vanilla Extract
• 2 tsp Dry Ginger Powder (not required but adds to the zippyness)

Combine the ginger, sugar and water and heat until simmering. You'll simmer the mix until the liquid has reduced to about 1/2. It'll be syrupy in consistency. Add the vanilla and dry ginger powder and stir well. Remove from heat and strain mixture. Let the syrup cool to room temperature and then add about 3 tablespoons syrup to 16 ounces soda water (this will vary on individual tastes), stir well and enjoy! If you want, you can add a bit of fresh Mint and a squeeze of lime to zest it up a bit!

But WAIT! Don't throw away that ginger! It will make a fantastic treat and here's how. Take the cooked ginger from the recipe above and mix it well with 1 cup white sugar. Make sure each slice is liberally coated with sugar.  Place the coated ginger slices on a cookie tray evenly spaced out and put in a preheated oven at 225F. Let them dry for about 3 hours in the oven, they should be dry but still chewy! Yum-O!

Ginger slices ready to simmer.

Ginger slices ready to simmer.
Ginger ready to go!

Ginger ready to go!

Candy ginger ready to dry

Candy ginger ready to dry

Candied Ginger

Candied Ginger

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