Can a cigar box guitar sound be improved?

If the cigar box is big enough and the bridge well positioned on the surface of the box then the guitar will be loud enough to play acoustically for small groups. The bridge needs to be at the rear of the cigar box, but not too close to the edge of the box or the box surface won’t vibrate much and will sound quiet if played acoustically.

However they sound very good and are louder through an amplifier. Since DIY is my obsession I build my own. They are all “practice amps” which is to say of low output power, but are all quite loud for my uses (learning to play).


ADDENDUM: Star grounding is an important technique to get the best sound from an amp. All the several ground connections of the input, power supply, and output sections of the amp are grouped together separately and then joined to the power supply ground which is pin #4. Here is the schematic for the Smokey amp with all grounds shown (It is common not to show the input/output grounds).This (above) shows the three groups of grounds in the circuit.

Below is a diagram of star grounding for this circuit.




First of all, the Smokey amp, named because the commercial model is built into a rigid cigaret box. This is the easiest, quickest guitar amp I have built: an LM386, 3 capacitors, and one resistor. It runs on 9 or 12 VDC and sounds good through my 8 inch speaker and is loud enough for use in small rooms (practice amp again). The board is from Adafruit Industries.

When I first built this years ago it did not work. It needs a 100 uF electrolytic capacitor between pin 6 and ground.

If one plays the strings lightly then the tone is clear. If one plucks the strings harder there is a little dirt (distortion).

I put a 100 uF capacitor between the power supply and pin #6 (the positive lead of the capacitor placed right at the pin) and added another 47 uF capacitor in parallel with the output capacitor for a little more bass response and a 2.3K resistor between pins #1 and 8 to limit gain.


Here is the “Little Gem” from This is based on an LM386 amplifier chip and runs on 9-12 VDC. It has a volume and gain control and plays clean or gritty.

This is the schematic which I altered to improve it for my build: I removed the output 25 Ohm volume control and used a standard 10kOhm potentiometer at the input between the 0.01 capacitor and pin 2 on the LM386. I added a 0.1 uF ceramic capacitor between ground [correction of text] and pin 6 (i.e., in parallel with the 100 uF capacitor). Finally and very important in my case I did not leave pin 7 open, but attached a 10 uF capacitor between the pin and ground. (the negative side of the cap goes to ground). This latter addition removed instability (0scillation) at high gain and high volume.

Possible upgrades include the addition of a buffer (current amp of high input impedance) before the LM386 circuit: “Little GemII” or Ruby amps are examples from the same website.

The ultimate upgrade is a good size speaker. They sound OK, but somewhat tinny, through a 3 inch speaker, but very good through a Celestion 8 inch speaker, for example.

Cigar box guitars, part two:


Well, then, I made one more which is acoustic only:

I decided to build another guitar. (See the past post on building the first one.) I had purchased a very nice box and decided I would like to build one with a magnetic pickup. The box is cedar, the neck is poplar and the strings are Martin 80/20 acoustic. I used the D, G, and B strings and the instrument is tuned open G (GDG).

There are instructions all over You Tube , C.B. Gitty, and an e-book by Gittyman available.

The trick is to go slowly and double check. Certain tools are needed, but nothing unusual. I made an error in my build, but I think I solved it.

I bought the box on e-bay. I did the painting later.Measured cutouts for tight insertion of the bottom of the guitar neck which occupies the box. Another piece of wood is glued to the part of the neck that will be in the box  for strength and stablility.

Here is the assembly of the box and neck. I did a little decorative painting to make it look old and hand made. Then I drilled two holes in the box with a Forstner bit so it can be loud enough if played acoustically.

The bridge is a cut down 1/4 inch bolt and the strings are stabilized with the hollow part of rivets for leatherwork. The nut at the other end of the strings is a smaller bolt fit into a cutout shallow trench. The grooves on the bolts hold the strings in place.This is the magnetic pickup. I put it too close to the neck. A deep groove must be cut in the back part of the neck (in the box) to fit the pickup and this weakened my neck so it bows when the strings were tuned. I thought the piece of wood glued to the underside of the neck would stabilize it, but there was just not enough length from the groove to the edge of the box. I drilled this “too short” space and placed two large screws between the neck and the neck support piece (inside the box) and so far so good.

The photo below is complete, except for insertion of the pickup.


Canadian Adventure!

Last week my daughter and I went on a Canadian fishing trip to Black Island at the Lake of the Woods. She came to Fond du Lac and we drove to Duluth and stayed overnight at a very nice suite, having been given a free upgrade (thanks). We had dinner at the nearby Texas Roadhouse. The next day we drove on to Baudette, MN and crossed the border.

I had to get out of the car to dig out my passport from my wallet and the border guard questioned me about that. But my heart was pure and she let us cross into Ontario. Then we drove on to Morson for pick up by a boat from the Island. We bought our licenses at the North Pier park and pickup point (cash only).

Much of the first half of the trip was through farmland and scrub, small towns, and not much traffic north of Oshkosh and after Duluth we had little traffic. Then we were into continuous pine/ spruce forest the rest of the drive. The roads were very good: some expressway, four land divided highways, and then two lane farther north.

The boat driver, Nibs, picked us up and Julie and he carried our baggage into the boat since I was having some back problems (I helped loading the food supplies some). And we sped along the lake to the Island.

Forming thunderhead, but we had no rain.

The Black Island Resort is tier one in every respect. EVERY respect.

The three day routine was a full breakfast at 0730, get in the boat at 0800, fishing, shore lunch (very good; very traditional) , fishing, and return to the Island at 1700h. Then a fabulous and overly generous dinner at 1830. The cuisine was Canadian/U.S. fare and was very good. The guide, Greg, did all the icky stuff in addition to guiding. After dinner we read our kindles, showered, and went to bed.

This was Julie’s first experience fishing and she “done good.” That first day she caught one of each species except muskie. That is, walleye, small mouth bass, perch, crappie, and northern pike. And a few rock bass too.

Our technique was bottom jigging and trolling. Our baits were either frozen minnows or leeches (better). We did not do any casting, I suspect, for safety reasons.

The weather was excellent although hot and we burned even with the repeated use of sun screen. I learned that in the future I will wear light weight long sleeve shirts and sun gloves.

Early morning sun. Monster walleye,  smallmouth bass, and northern pike.


Pelicans and eaglets.






The shoreline, our boat, lunch comin’ up! Our cabin.

We took a south and then east route home after crossing into the U.S. at Baudette, avoiding or bypassing all the cities except Grand Rapids, MN which had a traffic jam! (10,000 population). We made it home in one day without problem.

A little airport on the way.


Tonight—>fish for dinner.

Next year I plan to take my son on this same trip. It is a wonderful father- daughter or father-son bonding experience.

Elder’s advice for young people

There are “life skills” not taught in school. Sometimes they are not taught at all. Experience is not the best teacher when considering major life decisions although it is a way to learn.

I list here what I consider the most important matters and will add to the list as I think of it. My presentation is “only my opinion” and cryptic because it is up to you to do the work.

Start here: Practice, to learn to respect others and yourself. Respect property. Respect everything that exists.

  1. Spending and saving  your money: Purchases of a purely personal nature deserve consideration. If I see something I want to buy I usually write a description down and look again in a day, a week, or a month. If I still want to make the purchase (and have not thought, “What was I thinking?”) and I can afford it I go ahead.

Generally it is not desirable to buy on time. This is most commonly done with homes and cars and may be necessary. Calculate the true cost based on the down payment and interest and check with several lenders. Only buy what you can afford: don’t risk losing your home, having your car repossessed, or living on Ramen for a year. Remember that the totally cool purchase loses it glimmer after a while.

Save some of your income and start doing so early. >>I am not an investment advisor<<  I invest in index funds and particularly like If you do not know what this means, start reading. Wise investment is part of taking care of yourself.

Always have a “significant amount” of money immediately available for emergencies. You be the judge how much.

2) Love, sex, marriage: I won’t philosophize on the meaning of love except to say nearly everyone want it and many don’t know what it is. It is not about YOU! Ignore the lyrics of (nearly) all popular songs. The way to find love is to first develop oneself into a mature man or woman. This may be expedited by individual therapy or group therapy or certain groups that seek to assist personal development for the purpose of discovering who you are and what you need to become (change). Check it out and avoid anything freaky.

Sex, i.e. copulation, is a biologic drive intended to urge and cause humans to reproduce. It can be a shared loving experience between lovers. Can it “cement” a loving relationship? I don’t know. It is not itself the basis of a long term relationship.

Stable marriage is a huge value to one’s quality of life. Each person can share a life intimately with another person, share decisions, raise their children: love and work together.

3) Appearance: Unless you are doing work or play that can damage your clothes, I recommend always dressing well. This need not be expensive. Clothes should be clean, unwrinkled, and fit. Avoid bizarre dressing especially at work

4) If you are not getting what you expect or want from a situation (relationship, work, friends, where you live…) then try, seriously and wisely, to repair the situation and if you cannot make it good, then get out. Do not hope for the best, expect a miracle, or grouse about it to yourself or others. (This is where experience was a HARD teacher for me).

5) Education is critical. Not necessarily college, but maybe college. In this culture you must know something and/or be able to do something to have a comfortable life.

6) Brief nuggets of advice:

When stressed and being pulled in all directions, BREATHE!

When you have a task to start or complete, DO IT NOW! (Zig Ziglar)

Read The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz then post a copy of the agreements where you can see it everyday until it is yours.

When you feel lethargic, unmotivated –> “Get into action!” Choose something to do and get into it. this works.

7) The law of attraction and repulsion (by a famous author): If you present an open friendly persona people are attracted. If you present an angry negative appearance and behavior people are repulsed from you. Don’t FEEL happy? Well, fake it until you make it.

8) As you develop your work life and activities be sure to spend a lot of quality time with your immediate family and your family of origin unless the latter are a serious problem for your well being.

That is all for now. I will add what occurs to me and welcome comments.


Update woodworking

My daughter and I went to the Field Museum in Chicago last fall and I noticed a long serpentine bench in the Paleo section that I really liked. It had wood slats for the seat and the frame and legs were steel. I build a small approximation from wood.

The frame and legs are poplar. I used pocket hole joints (using the Kreg tool) to hold the frame together. The long horizontal pieces on the base are for stabilization since the seat is narrow. The oak slats for the seat were cut with a circulars saw and grooved on the underside with a router.

Lots of measuring was involved.

The frame and legs are glued and screwed together and painted gloss black (I always forget a primer coat) and the oak was stained  golden pecan treated with two coats of polyurethane.

I think the next one will have maple slats since the oak was so hard to work.

What style? No comment at the  Field Museum as I recall. I will call it modernist in design.

Are you familiar with Gainclone audio Amps?

About 15 years ago the Gainclone amp was the new best thing in the DIY audiophile world. The history starts with a very expensive commercial amp whose name I do not recall. The actual circuit used two inexpensive microchips and only a few other discrete components (that was the genius of it), and a high end supply. The sound reproduction was excellent. DIY’ers designed and built many examples usually with the best capacitors, maximized power supplies, and beautiful enclosures to produce truly stunning amplifiers.

I had never heard one and was curious. I did not need high power output and had decided at some time that mono sounded as good as stereo to me, so I decided to build an amp with an LM1875 chip, put it in a utilitarian, but clean, enclosure and see what I thought.

My initial attempt to build it from scratch failed so I purchased the K 50 kit from A thread titled Beginner’s Gainclone, HiFi LM1875 on ( indicated that the Paia product could be improved so I modified a number of components. (I will post the schematic when I find it and scan it, but several schematics are posted in this Diyaudio thread).

Since my source is stereo and my amp is mono a simple resistor mixer network is needed at the audio input to avoid soundwave cancelling. It is not a big deal to build and does make a difference in sound quality.

I decided to set this up in the basement (man cave) and bought a 8 Ohm Infinity bookshelf speaker from The speaker is very good, but directional and audio is best heard when the listener is at a distance, but in front of the speaker. I don’t suppose anyone needs to know that.

The chip uses a split power supply: V+ 0V (ground)  V-. I was not interested in building a power supply because it would be heavy, require a larger case, and be expensive (the transformer) so I made my own.

I purchased two regulated wall power transformers from which  were rated at 12 VDC and 2 Amps. I cut off the plugs and used a box cutter to separate the two wires on each unit, stripped off the insulation for 1/2 inch.The wires are marked so one can distinguish positive and negative visually. I chose the positive from one unit and the negative from the other wall supply and wrapped these together and soldered them. This is 0V. Then I applied solder to the other two leads separately to strengthen them. The idle supply current at +/- 12 VDC is ~55 ma, so I have an overbuilt power supply too.

I have read that the amp sounds better using an unregulated power supply, but I don’t know any more about that.

Next the amp was mounted in the box and the chip back was isolated from the case with a mica insulator and mounted to the enclosure which serves as the heat sink. Since my amp is mono and low power this works fine.

The relation of voltage input and power output is  linear with a steep slope. The full power amp uses +25v 0V -25V or 30-0-30and puts out  20 or 30 watts. Mine puts out about 6-7 watts.

This barely readable schematic contains my mods to the K50 schematic on their site.

My pedestrian enclosure–>

The case is spray painted with hammered silver paint.

The knob is for the volume control and the toggle switch disconnects the speaker for <mute>. The volume control is stereo and I used it only because I had it available.

The back shows stereo speaker connectors, the on/off switch, power input, and audio input.

The item on the left of the last picture is a headphone buffer amp that I use as a pre amp. It adds current and makes the speaker output fuller. I thought the sound was a little thin until I added the buffer.

CONCLUSION: The build became straightforward once I went to a kit. Some knowledge of electronics is necessary, but one does not need a lot of knowledge. Certain building tools are needed too to assemble the circuit, make the case, etc. But that is part of the fun, eh?

The internet has  all the information one could want.

The sound is quite good (No it isn’t! It’s great!) although I may be biased since I built it.



Update : New Starmax mount

This little catadiopetric scope is pretty nice. It was possible, but inconvenient, to use it on my equatorial tripod mount since the little scope’s  mounting bracket is on the side instead of the bottom of the optical tube.

Parts: 1.5 inch “L” shaped aluminum strip cut, shaped, and drilled to fit the tripod mount; piece of poplar cut to size and drilled, bolts, locking nuts, and wing nuts. then paint to make it pretty.

Final form

Update: regenerative receivers

A few more pics of my AM and short wave regenerative receivers.

Left to right:G3XBM, 40 meters, JFET; Stan Gibilisco, AM broadcast band; Selenium, et. al, short wave; Normal Leal (Antique Radio Forum), space charge tube radio 12 VDC, AM broadcast band; and VK3EYE, 40 meters short wave using ceramic resonators instead of a coil in the tank circuit.

Bottom photo: Selenium again (refer to the Radio Boards Forums under solid state designs) using an LM386 as an envelop detector, AM broadcast.

I found these designs on You Tube, websites, Antique Radio Forum, and The Radio Board Forum.

Making wood airplanes: toys and models

UPDATE: Here is a more detailed airplane I made for my son. It is a Ford Tri-Motor. These were produced in the late 1920’s to early 1930’s by Ford Motor Company and were the first commercial airliner. They were also used as military transports, air ambulances, and even a portable operating room. One can take a flight in one for a fee at EAA in Oshkosh, WI.


START: I watched Steve Ramsey’s You Tubes about making little trucks and airplanes for children’s toys and decided to give it a try.  I went to a smaller scale. These are not detailed models. There is a lot of childhood fantasy in their execution. They look pretty good so I decided to do a blog essay about them. Most models are between 4-6 inches long. I am now expanding into more detailed models.

I have favored designs from the WW1 era since the airplanes are usually rectangular in shape and easier to make than more aerodynamic designs.

To start I peruse images on Google and Wikipedia for line drawings that I can use to make stencils and also to decide on painting styles.

Here is a complete list of hand tools I have used so far: good lighting; a vise with a leather patch to hold pieces, but not mark them on the jaws of the vise; a hacksaw; a coping saw; some chisels that are sharp (part of the tool use learning); a set of quality files including finishing, bastard, rat tail and a mini triangular file (the mini files come as an inexpensive set); a small block plane; sandpaper (100 and 220 grit); and glue (Titebond II or contact cement and poster glue for the stencils).

I use an electric drill, a sander, and a jigsaw for the fuselage, but all the other work is done with the hand tools. A builder needs some skill with hand tools and this can be learned from woodworking with hand tools books or videos and then starting with simple designs.

These are the first two designed for my grand daughter. The first is a toy airplane and the second one is my interpretation of a Bristol M1C.

I have more detail in the next one which is a model of a Nieuport 11 aircraft for my daughter. The black outlining is present on the real aircraft and does make the model stand out (I used a fine permanent magic marker).

The next one is an Aironica Champion for my wife. I use 1×4 poplar for the fuselage and 1/4 inch oak for the wings and propeller. This latter is a little thick, but it cuts easily with little risk of breaking.

I found a nice line drawing to make a stencil. I put a blank sheet of paper over the line drawing on a large piece of transparent plastic and hold it up to a bright light and draw. The blue tape prevents the pasteboard glue from sticking on the wood.










Next I shape the fuselage with chisels and files


and cut grooves (dados) for insertion and gluing of the wings and landing gear. The tail is shaped on the sander near the end of construction of the fuselage.

Another groove is cut for the tail section, pieces are glued together . The wheels are for RC airplanes and fitted into the coping saw grooved landing gear. The axle is an unfolded paper clip and secured with super glue. Unfortunately I forgot to take photos.

The spray paint is called Marigold and is just right for this model. (I had to scrape it all off when I applied too heavy  a second coat). The windows are marked with permanent magic marker freehand. I rested the airplane on the workbench to stabilize it and the lines went on easily. (thank God!!).

Here are some final views:

Note: Am I being doctrinaire?

This has been suggested and the answer is, well, yes I am in regard to diy projects. My intent with the blog is to offer something that I know works. This almost guarantees success. After succeeding then one can go one’s own way with confidence…

Otherwise my opinions have formed from “being there” or reading and watching videos especially about WW1, the War to End All Wars.

Catadiopteric telescopes

img_2832My 9mm eyepiece in place.img_2834

I forgot to mention one of the best designs of telescopes. These scopes are composed of a series of lenses and mirrors that permit a long focal length in a short tube. A correcting lens on the front cleans us spherical aberration too. That is all I know about this design.

Some months ago I thought I would like to have a scope with a long focal length for viewing planets. At the time Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn were in the sky at night. I wanted a unit that was light and smallish so it would be easy to set up. And not expensive!

I purchased an Orion StarMax 90 mm Maksutov-Cassegrain scope from Amazon on sale for $209 Prime. It came on a well constructed altazimuth base (refer to previous comments about scope mounts) and will fit on my equatorial mount if I rotate the scope 90 degrees to the right so its mounting base is in line with the tripod. This puts the targeting scope in an odd position, but it works. The focal length is 1250 mm and the tube length is 9 inches (23 cm). The overall length including the star diagonal is 13 inches (33 cm). The “maximum useful magnification” under perfect viewing conditions is reported to be 180X using a 7 mm eyepiece. That is pretty tight and I would not buy such a lens until you are sure your situation will permit useful views with it. The good quality eyepieces included provide 40X ad 125X.

I have used it to see the planets and the view is very sharp. The images are small, but I clearly see the ring of Saturn (but not the separation of the rings) and a little of the bands of Jupiter. I have not looked at deep sky objects yet. The field of view is narrow because of the long focal length so the scope is optimized for planet and moon viewing, but should work for DSO also especially at low power.

This scope can be used for terrestrial viewing if you buy an non inverting star diagonal. (The dedicated astro scopes present an inverted image.)

If I had only one  telescope I would go with this design, but with a larger diameter like 6 to 8 inches(15.25-20.3 cm) and perhaps a shorter focal length too unless one wants to concentrate on moon and planets. Prices go up with increasing diameter.


HOW EYE (get it?)MAKE MEAD, part 3

Once the fermentation starts it will be intense for several days. A billion bubbles (carbon dioxide) arise in the must and bubble through the air lock. It should be complete in about 1 1/2 week. Then there will be NO bubbles coming up through the airlock. The fermentation stops when the sugar is gone or the alcohol level is high enough to kill the yeast.

Now let the forming mead sit in a safe place at room temperature for a couple weeks. Gradually a tan debris will form on the bottom of the carboy. This is the dead yeast. If you added fruit this will fall to the bottom or float to the top also. Give it some time so a lot of debris reaches the bottom and then it will be time for the first racking.img_2825

Racking is the process of siphoning the mead  from the sediment at the bottom. This will help clear the mead and prevent an unpleasant taste from the last glass of your bottled mead (the lees).

I strongly suggest you buy the siphon device shown and described in part 1. It works so well –> put the flexible tube end in the bottom of the lower carboy, pull the plunger back on the siphon, position it in the mead above the sediment and gently push the plunger in and the mead flows into the lower carboy. The equipment is cleaned before use.


At this point I return the bottle to a safe place and check it now and again. When the mead has largely become clear-perhaps 6-8 weeks- do a second racking. Some like to do a third racking. There should be no debris on the bottom now so it is OK to pour a little in a wine glass to examine in the light and to taste.

The mead has been aging all this time and can continue to age in the carboy or in the bottle. It’s the brewer’s choice. Bottling it is done the same as racking. Be sure to clean the bottles well before filling to the narrowed neck. Label the mead with the brewing date and contents.

I like to age it for 6 months total as a minimum. We have recently drunk some mead I made in 2011 and in 2005 and it was excellent so apparently it does not spoil with age. I always have served it chilled.img_2824


HOW (0) MAKE MEAD, part2


There are so many ways to make mead. I will explain the way I do it and include only the necessary steps to have a good product. I have never made a straight mead, but always add fruit and maybe spices.

Again: cleanliness and patience.

This formula will use a one gallon jug or carboy. The process is not hard. I am being as detailed as possible.

Obtain three pounds of honey. I get it during the summer from the local farmer’s market. The honey will likely be solid so start by putting the bottle in the sun or in a pot with hot water. Buy your yeast from a brew shop or online (see below).

Using a good size plastic tray or other large container (I use a large white plastic pot for making beer which has a spigot on the bottom) add two tablespoons of the cleaner to two gallons of tap water. One gallon and one tablespoon is likely enough if you are cleaning in a tray. Disassemble your air lock and place in the solution along with your large funnel and a large stainless spoon (if you will boil the must). Clean for at least two minutes. The funnel will need to be rotated so all surfaces get cleaned and this can be done by hands washed in regular soap. Then lay out all parts on a clean towel to dry. No rinsing.

I put about one half inch of the cleaning solution in the carboy and cover the opening with my clean palm and shake it up several times to coat the inside with the cleaner then drain.

The “must” is the combination of honey dissolved in tap water. Opinions vary, but I always add the honey to about a quart of hot water in a large cleaned steel pot (like one to cook spaghetti) and boil it for 10-15 minutes. This pasteurizes it. A proteinaceous debris will rise to the surface and needs to be scooped off with the spoon. Boil the must slowly and stay with it because if boiling too fast the must will overflow and cover your stove with sticky honey in an instant.

Next I fill the sink with about four inches of water and add all the ice cubes from the refrigerator and put the steel pan containing the must in it to cool to merely warm.

Next pour the must through the funnel into your carboy and add one Campden tablet (crushed if you like). Then add yeast nutrient. Read the directions on the package to find out how much is recommended.

If you plan to add fruit and spices now is the time. Apples and oranges need to be washed, cut in SMALL pieces and put in the carboy. I have lately been using unopened natural fruit juices without preservatives and will give a try to frozen concentrate.

Then add enough tap water to the carboy to take the fluid level to three inches from the top of the bottle, but no higher.

Fruit like cranberries and grapes should be washed then frozen in the refrigerator, thawed and added to the must. This is to break the skins so the juice can get out. Mashing them with a clean spoon is a good idea too.

Officially the Campden treated must should sit for 24 hours…yeah, no. I give it a few hours and proceed.

I usually put a full packet of yeast in a clean cup and add warm, not hot, tap water and mix it up and let it sit for 10 minutes or so before pouring into the must. Other people just pour it in from the package.

Don’t use bread yeast. It fades out at an alcohol content of about 8%. I use Lalvin EC-1118, Red Star Pasteur Champagne, or D-47 yeast. Which does not matter much.

Next put the assembled air lock in the carboy opening (don’t push it in to hard or the stopper may end up at the bottom of the bottle) and add enough water to it to cover the vents in the bottom of the center dome shaped part.

IMPORTANT: Just before or after adding the yeast swirl the carboy to dissolve air into it. I usually swirl for ~10 seconds 3 0r 4 times. The yeast must do aerobic metabolism to increase in mass before switching to anaerobic for fermentation to proceed.

Put the carboy in a safe place that is at room temperature.

Fermentation usually starts in 4-6 hours, but sometimes 24 or 48 hours.img_2821






How (o) make MEAD, part 1

Mead is an ancient alcoholic drink made from honey, water, and yeast. It is not difficult to make and I find it to be a lot of fun. I especially like to watch the bubbles.

NOTE: the honey in mead is the source of sugar for fermentation and may add some taste. The finished mead does not taste like honey at all.

Terminology: Adding apples or apple juice–>cyser. Adding fruit–> melomel. Adding grapes–> pyment. Adding spices–>metheglin. It is all mead though.

Part 1 will list minimum equipment needed to make mead and then part 2 will be about actual techniques that I have used.

The two underlying requirements for success are cleanliness and patience. Sterility is not required, but one does want to minimize the risk of contamination by bacteria or wild yeasts.

  1. Glass carboys -two. I have some 5 gallon carboys, but that is a lot of ingredients for one fermentation so I have gone to 1 gallon bottles so I can start several meads faster. I make one mead, bottle it, and then start another.
  2. Airlocks-several. These are one way valves, made of plastic, and come with a rubber stopper. One may be included with each carboy. They allow the carbon dioxide to be evacuated from the fermentation while blocking contamination. {alternatives include the use of balloons or condoms with needle punctures in the end. A balloon must be cleansed before use}.
  3.  A large mouthed funnel. Mine is plastic and used only for mead.
  4. An auto siphon. This is such an improvement over other ways to rack the mead that I regard it as necessary. I bought a Fermtech unit from Amazon.
  5. One step cleaner-this is not a bleach and with not damage hands or clothes {I have not tested it on clothes}
  6. A dedicated large plastic bucket or tray to used to hold the cleaner solution and your smaller parts.
  7. Bottles-I use the ones pictured with the camimg_2829img_2828img_2830ing top plug. Cleaned wine bottles would work too, but one will need new corks and a cork installer tool {a rubber mallet? Maybe}.
  8. Campden tablets-sulfite tablets to kill organisms.
  9. Where to get all this? Your local brewing shop, online brewing shops, and Amazon. I have used all three sources with success.


An absolute (-ly wonderful) beginner’s bow


This is  an easy to make bow to introduce people to archery. The weight of the bow is no more than 10 pounds, but it is very smooth to draw and shoots well.

Learning proper shooting style and developing an interest in archery requires a lighter bow so the shooter is not struggling with the draw.

The bow is made from 3/4 inch unflattened cpvc pipe (pale yellow-tan color) and is 53 inches in overall length. Two notches (nocks) are cut and filed into each end, 1 inch in from the end of the tube. The bowstring is the usual paracord, but does not need to be the strong 550 cord. In fact any reasonable cord or string would do. The brace height is 6 3/4 inch in this particular example and an overhand knot is placed in the bowstring to serve as the nock point for the arrow. The grip is made from the rough adhesive tape used on wooden stairs to avoid slipping.

The bow would have somewhat higher draw weight if it were shorter, but don’t shorten it more than a few inches to avoid the risk of collapsing the bow.

The builder needs to research the proper length and stiffness of arrows for this light bow. This is important so the arrows fly true and the student is satisfied. (I don’t remember what arrows I used.)


Best Robot<-- here

This is a beetlebot. It is purely electro-mechanical with no  electronics or programming to make it operate. It scoots along very nicely and gets itself away from obstacles with verve and elan (kidding).

This is my wife’s robot. She calls her Ruby Foos in honor of the wonderful restaurant we visited in Montreal (?) 35 years ago.

The latest and clearest build directions are on this You Tube: The Beetle Robot version 2 by Jerome Demers. I downloaded several high resolution photos from his website so I would be sure to get the wiring done correctly.

He designed a very nice shell. I used a 4 inch plastic bottle cap which I pained and then glued a wood block to the center underside. I glued two small neodymium magnets to the block so it snaps on the metal strip holding the motors.

This robot is somewhat more complex to build than it first appears and one has to solder, but if one can work from high resolution photos there should not be a problem. Good luck and enjoy if you build it.


Robotics, part 2

This is my remote controlled robot based on the same motor system as the Arduino robot, but controlled by a Raspberry Pi Zero. The bot is run from a computer keyboard to which the Zero is connected by wifi. On my iMAC I use Microsoft Remote Desktop (free) and on the Zero I use xrdp (also free on Linux) to command and control the bot. This bot and its command and control system are marvelous.

I wanted to learn my way around  Linux and Raspberry Pi is an excellent tool to do this. Then I wanted to learn some Python. I have spent about 9 months learning and building little projects. Then the idea of robots just appeared in the  night-time mist…

It is built on a Tamiya chassis and uses a Tamiya gearbox, so she is known around here as Tami

Complete and total instructions are on You Tube by sentdex: Raspberry Pi with Python for Robotics 1 up to video 11. He went on to make it autonomous, but I did not want that. His website includes a valuable narrative for each video and he develops the code on the left side of each page: Python Programming Tutorials>Robotics> the hyperlink in the second paragraph about his now featured robot. For some reason he chose to bury the information on the robot I built, but it is all there.

I enjoyed making this bot. It is neat that “it actually works!”

If I wanted a remote control car or tank to play with, especially if one has children waiting, I would buy a complete RC vehicle and have fun.

P.S.: That black cylinder in the first picture is the power supply for the Zero. It is a cellphone charger and power supply (5 VDC, 1 Amp) by ANKER that I liked so much I bought another. It was $13.00 on Amazon U.S.



Final form




>>>Just for fun (aren’t they all?)<<<


  1. Report to Ft. Sam Houston, TX (near San Antonio), or else.
  2.  You’re in the army now. It is hot.
  3.  Get in line for a quick, short haircut. Now you are presentable.
  4. Buy uniforms at the uniform shop just outside the gate. Rank goes on the right.
  5. Don’t irritate the natives.
  6. Learn to march. Still hot.
  7. Take a ride in a medevac helicopter and an ambulance truck and visit an aid station setup.
  8. Go to the shooting range. The bullet comes out the end with the hole. Don’t shoot anybody.
  9. Immunizations every Friday x4; sick over the weekend.
  10. Night time compass course in the Hill Country. Neato! Watch out for rattlers! BTW, you have been shot. Come on and get in the truck.
  11. Graduate, photo, go on leave, get orders.
  12. Yay, TEXAS!!

<My orders said Vietnam Transient Detatchment, APO San Francisco. I thought my duty station would be in SF maybe doing physicals, etc. When we discovered I would be crossing the international date line my poor mother went batsh*t. I regarded it as an adventure for my time, plus I was not a line officer.

Hobby robotics, part one.

UPDATE: I changed to a 2S li-po battery and the robot runs faster and runs well on carper too.

Some years ago I became interested in the Arduino microcontroller and more recently the Raspberry Pi computer. Initially I wanted to do some physical computing projects (programming devices to sense and to run physical devices). I made LED’s flash, stepper motors and servos rotate, built  a permanent wireless weather station and an infrared burglar alarm and then decided robots were the next thing to do.

It takes some time and effort for a beginner to become familiar enough with Arduino and run the IDE (integrated development environment), but the IDE provides many examples and the internet is full of Arduino programs. –I never wrote any original programs, but did minor modifications to some I found on line–.

The IDE has, now and again, trouble finding the software ports on my iMAC. <I solved this and will sent anyone who NEEDS it the information.>

The whole Arduino “thing” is open source, btw. One can purchase microcontroller copies at pretty low prices that usually work well. <Beware of microcontrollers that require a unique set of drivers.>

My first robot was a complete kit from His site provides detailed instructions and the code to copy/paste into the Arduino IDE. One can alter the code to influence speed and ping range.

This robot is autonomous and obstacle avoiding. It runs on a hard surface anywhere it wants and uses a ping sensor (sonar) on the front to detect obstacles and stop and turn to avoid them. It can get out of some pretty tight situations. I used a different battery pack and placed it in the center of the robot to improve wheel traction.  IMG_2832

IMG_2835From right to left:the ping sensor on a servo (rotates 180 degrees), H bridge motor controllers, battery pack, and Funduino, an Arduino clone.


This is an arduino freestanding range finder using the ultrasound sensor. It is quite accurate. Instructions and code are on the internet in many sites. Try Adafruit or Yourduino, if interested, to make this project

References: You Tube: Paul McWhorter, best; et. al., LEARN;, Wiki;

books by Simon Monk

Wireless weather station on Instructables by Debash Dutta.


What is going on here? The battery pack supplies ~9 VDC to the Funduino, which then powers the H bridge, servo, and Ping sensor. In usual operation the Funduino software tells the H bridge to run the  robot forward (one motor clockwise; the other counter clockwise), the H bridge delivers a reduced voltage to the motors which are each 3.3VDC, I think. The Ping scans on the servo and sends a signal to the Funduino if an obstacle is encountered. Depending whether the obstacle is in front, left, or right in relation to the Ping, the Funduino will signal the H Bridge to change whichever motor direction is required and then return to normal forward motion. “Smarter than your average bear.”

EAA, 2016: Vietnam aircraft demonstration

VERY nice demonstration with some of my favorite aircraft. It could use some C-130, F-4, F-100, F-105, Sikorsky’s, but they are nearly all unavailable (except the C-130 Hercules). What? No Loaches?

Puff (Spooky) may be too much for modern audiences

I flew as a passenger on C-130’s and a couple times on Huey helicopter gunships and once on a loach. Sometime in the future I will do a piece on Cpt  Bob’s (truthful) war stories.

Visiting the Adler Planetarium

A couple weeks ago I took the Hiawatha train to Chicago Union Station to visit my daughter and son in law. We visited the Adler Planetarium (Adler was a Chicago businessman who financed it). I had not been there for ~ 40 years. The building’s architecture is as interesting as the Astronomy displays.

The downstairs part has a large display of the history of Astronomy in various cultures and telescopes on display. Upstairs is a detailed display of the American Space Program from the start to the Mars rovers and Jupiter probes. The presentation projects the feeling of the 1960s-70’s when the program was at its apex for human exploration and ends with the robotic probes.

There are also movies about Astronomy which we did not attend.

In front of the planetarium is a statue of none less than Tadeusz Kosciuszko, a hero of the American Revolution (and much, much more). I knew it was he because his sword is a Polish saber (szuba). And of course, I had seen it years ago. {Four hooves on the ground means he was not injured or killed}.

Weather was excellent!

Photographs: Solar system, Gemini, Beaux Art decoration, Antiques scopes, Huge scope mount, The General

Ref: Space Race, Cadbury. This is a truly fascinating account of the race to space by the USA and the USSR in the late 1940’s-70’s. Be warned though, Stalinist Russia was a horror.



Archery Bows from PVC Pipe

A friend sent me a video on trick archery and that got me interested…I found many You Tube presentations about bows and settled on the best for DIY bows: Backyard Bowyer (Nick Tomihama) His videos are detailed and his books have even more information.

One needs a work surface (I use a folding workbench), a heat gun (I use a Wagner HT 1000), aluminum foil to place on the work surface under the pvc tube (this increases the rate of heating the pvc), one or two 2×4 pieces of lumber (I use one and the garage concrete floor), and leather gloves (pvc gets hot). If you don’t like the result just reheat the tube and it will return to its original shape. Three fourths inch diameter schedule 40 pvc pipe is fairly easy to work with the heat gun. One inch provides a stronger bow and takes quite a while to turn into a “wet noodle” for forming. PVC gives off gasses, I understand, so work in a ventilated, open area.

The limbs of the bow need to be flattened as much as possible for “springiness” when drawn and shot. Weight is adjusted by the diameter of the pvc, length of the bow, reflex and deflex of the limbs and how the tips are formed. A lot of experimentation is thus possible. My favorite to date of the ones I have built is the 3/4 inch blue one. (The black bow is excellent also).

I use one half inch cpvc to for an arrow rest and mount it to the bow with the abrasive adhesive tape used on wooden stairs to prevent slipping. This provides a very nice handhold. A piece of the fabric side of velcro is attached above the arrow rest to the bow finish is not worn off.

What I call paracord comes in several strengths, not just 550. Her bowstring is rated at ~50 pounds and is thin enough not to seize the arrow nock and slow the arrow. I should probably use a real bowstring. One end of the string is just an overhand loop knot, the opposite uses an adjustable bowyer’s or archer’s knot and I use a simple overhand knot for the knock point after experimentation with the string height above the bow.

This bow I made for my wife uses 3/4 inch schedule 40 pvc.  It is the nicest DIY bow yet with a smooth pull and a really pretty paint job (black on the back and red on the belly of the bow.) I used reflex only (limbs bent away from the shooter when the bow is unstrung) and just enough reflex to give it some draw weight without over stressing the pipe and risking failure. The siyahs (flat part on the ends) are a couple inches too short so the bow creaks as it is drawn from the string sliding along the bow surface. A nice touch I think.

I use aluminum arrows and they fly true. Workspace and result:IMG_2823


Here are a few more. I purchased the black horsebow from ETSY. The pvc arrow quiver is pushed into the ground next to me when I shoot. There is a bunched up rag in the bottom to protect the arrows.


This is me before I learned how to shoot


“The Great War” on You Tube

If you are interested in the events leading to and during the war I  recommend the above. Indie Neidel and crew do a weekly news report type update about events of the week. He also does additional reports on other topics related to the war, leaders, kings, et. al. All is described by narration, photographs and maps.

Once one “gets past” the suffering, death, and dismemberment it is clear that WW1 was a time of tectonic shift in military strategy and tactics from the latter 19th century to modern warfare because of new technology, cultural upheaval and destruction, and political change and collapse. Populations were displaced and starvation and disease were common during the war and afterwards.


WW1 reference: the incredible last day of the war

The incredible orders issued and followed and huge casualties of the very last day of the war right up to 11:00 AM local time on what was to be called Armistice Day (November 11, 1918).

“The Last Day of the War,” Dr. Alan Brown, You Tube, 58 minutes.

This war is one 4 year lesson about the tragedy of leaders, followers, and strict obedience {And I am a conservative} in what is likely the most absurd event in human history.

WW1 is a “teaching moment” par excellance.

ACOUSTIC ABSORBERS, are they really useful?

This article is for those who listen to music through room speakers and musicians practicing with their instrument.

Physics: the sound waves from speakers spread in all directions, mainly out the front of the speaker, but at a wide angle. Some of these wave reach your ear directly, but much of the energy is reflected off hard surfaces (walls, floor, ceiling) and reaches your ears out of phase (later) than the direct output from speaker to your ear. This will smear the sound and and cause tinny echoes too. {I used to thing this is what music from a stereo sounded like}.

There is usually not much that can be done about the dimensions of the listening room, but the surfaces can be altered to absorb much of the random sound reflections.

Initial reflection points are estimated based on the location of the listener in relation to the speakers. There are first reflection points to each side, behind, below (floor) and above (ceiling) the listener. AND behind the speakers {exception includes some speakers that radiate backward as part of their design}.

The side points are estimated by having another person pass a mirror at the listener’s head level along both sidewalls. When the listener can see the speaker on that side on the mirror: that is the point. An absorber goes there. The floor can be handled by a large rug or carpet, a large absorber on the wall behind the listener will take care of that area. I did not put anything on the ceiling, but put a couple smallish absorbers higher on the back wall.

The absorbers behind the speakers are the most effective for cleaning up the audio and should be the full size of the speaker and mounted on the wall. I like to have the speakers about 12-15 inches out from the wall.

My absorbers are two inches thick and were DIY, of course, but they can be purchased commercially. I think I used Owens Corning 703, but Roxul is said to be just as good and less expensive. I have six of various sizes.

This is the way I did it. One can be much more the engineer if desired, but don’t put up too many of these or it will deaden the room.

Oh, do they improve sound quality? You bet they do!!IMG_2731IMG_2733


references: Audio Karma–>listening spaces

ATS Acoustics (where I bought my supplies and sell completed absorbers too), other commercial operations


Many You Tubes about room acoustics, making your own panels, etc.


Rx for vigorous “golden years”

Here is my prescription for maintaining vigor in old age: Start by acknowledging this is you at this age right here, right now.

1) Maintain mental alertness and function: read history or whatever you like, learn a language (to speak a language you will need a partner in the work), learn a new skill such as electronics, RaspberryPi computing (use You Tube), astronomy, quilting,

2) Maintain physical strength, in fact, optimize it: e.g.,walking, lifting (light) weights. I enjoy Planet Fitness and fortunately is is only about 1.25 miles from home. Use exercise to lose weight if needed and this will make you feel better too. We do a non rigid paleo diet and I think I feel better and don’t so easily put on weight on this diet.

3) Develop flexibility: Inflexibility is one of the most often heard complaints about old age. You can fix that with Hatha Yoga. I recommend AM yoga on DVD (do it anytime) by Rodney Yee or find a course at your local hospital or YMCA, etc.

4) Maintain social interaction: being married (happily) is good for your health, but expand into other areas. Where? Start with what is of interest to you and find a club. If nothing is of interest then join a volunteer or service organization and help others (or, do this anyway as it is an excellent way to improve mood and sense of belonging).

5) Review your medications with your doctor: some you may no longer need; some may have adverse side effects that could be moderated or removed by a change of therapy.