A few of my readers might remember that Saturday was Ham Holiday, the annual Oklahoma amateur radio “ham fest,” or convention. I have been a licensed technician-class operator since 1996; my call sign is KC5TFZ.
Though there were seminars, most radio amateurs, including me, go to these things for the flea market, hoping for a bargain or two, and to stock up on items that are not typically sold by retailers, such as coaxial feed line or antennas.
This year’s event was at the slightly shabby Biltmore Hotel in Oklahoma City. The main flea market room was overcrowded with ham operators, mostly overweight old men with strange odors and tacky taste in hats.
I bought some RG-8X coax and some connectors. I had fun looking at antennas, radios, military surplus electronics, and many other items such a clientele might buy.
Back at the barn, I scattered my stuff out on my workbench. The garage is pretty hot this time of year, but I have a big oscillating fan that makes it bearably. I hatched a plan to clean and rewire all my rooftop antennae.
One thing that I’ve been meaning to discuss about electronics is what I think might be one of the biggest consumer rip-offs of all time: battery packs. Ostensibly a convenient way to power everything from handheld scanners to children’s toys, these rechargeable boxes are hiding a dirty secret: there’s nothing special inside them. Usually priced in the $60-$100 range, if you crack these things open, which is difficult because they are often glued shut, you will find that they contain regular rechargeable batteries, soldered together to make up a pack of the correct voltage and amperage. The problem is that they are usually made from the cheapest possible cells, which go bad one at a time. But when one cell fails, the whole pack is trash, meaning it will cost $75 to replace a pack because a $2 cell inside it failed.
The solution I adopted a long time ago was to use battery boxes for all my devices that allowed it. They are the size and shape of the battery packs, but hold individual cells that can be taken out and replaced one by one, so when the pack starts acting up, you can make it like-new by replacing just one cell.
I’ve also been working at the bench on various maintenance items, like trying to adjust the throttle on a Ryobi string trimmer, repairing the leaking fuel tank on a lawn mower, and making more room in Abby’s corner of the garage.
The Ryobi is another consumer rip-off: the throttle adjustment is made by turning two knobs, but the knobs are set inside a steel fitting with flat heads, so they require a special tool to turn. The cynic in me thinks this is just to force consumers to go to a Ryobi dealer to have someone with that tool make the adjustment for a fee instead of letting us do it ourselves.
Despite my frustrations, I’ve been doing good, hard work outside this summer. The drought that plagued us for years is, at least for now, in abeyance, so there has been plenty of mowing, trimming, lopping, and chain sawing for me to do.
Cleaning and organizing the garage is also an ongoing task. I mentioned earlier that Abby wants her own corner, like she had many years ago when she gardened more, and I am trying to find a place for everything so I can facilitate that. It can feel a bit like playing musical chairs, moving the clutter here and there, so the real solution is probably to have some kind of garage and/or yard sale.