Today while my wife was having lunch with one of her best friends in Glastonbury, Connecticut, I stopped in the Fine Cigar and Tobacco shop to kill a little time and enjoy a smoke.
The Fine Cigar Shop is a fabulous retailer, with a well stocked walk in humidor and a nice selection of humidors, torches, cutters and other supplies. It is also one of the few local tobacco shops where you will find today’s stick, The CAO America, available. It was at Fine Cigar where I discovered this less popular stick in the CAO World cigar line. I had previously smoked and enjoyed several of the other cigars in the series including the Brazilla, the Colombia, and the Italia.
The America is absolutely beautiful to behold with its distinctive pinstripe barber pole wrapper and its red, white and blue band and foot band. The double wrappers are a Connecticut broad leaf Maduro and a Connecticut Shade Capa which have a nice oily dark brown appearance with some small veins. The cigar is firm from foot to cap and well packed with fillers from Nicaragua, Italy, the Dominican Republic and the United States, bound with a Brazilian binder and capped with a somewhat sloppy looking double cap.
The Landmark is a 6 x 60 Gordo and the America is also available as a 6.2 x 54 Torpedo (The Monument) and a 5.0 x 56 Robusto (The Potomac).
The cold draw was flavorful with predominant notes of dried fruit and some spice. I enjoyed the flavor of the cold draw very much, but did feel it wasn’t as potent as it could have been.
Upon lighting the America, the initial flavor noted was mild pepper, cedar and some slight nuttiness as I worked my way through the first third. The one word that I would use to describe the experience of the first third overall would be “dry.”
It was not unpleasant at all, but the flavor, though good, did not seem to be as intense as it could have been. I also noted a very slight bitterness and that the draw was somewhat loose and the burn uneven initially, needing occasional touching up with my torch to prevent canoeing.
Into the second third and the predominant flavor continued to be a mild pepper and some wood. There was a very slight creaminess noted and some nuttiness in the second third.
In researching the CAO America, I had found another review online where the reviewer described the cigar as having a ‘cardboard’ taste – definitely not a word you often see in cigar reviews, and not a word that is complimentary.
I would have to say that while I would probably not have identified this flavor on my own, once I had read this, I definitely agree that there was a certain cardboard flavor particularly in the second third. The burn evened out in the second third and the draw seemed to have tightened up a bit and was good from here on out.
The final third was not significantly different than the second third. The flavor notes remained spice, wood some nuttiness and some cream – again the taste of the cigar was overall pleasant, but milder than I’d have liked or expected. Also worth noting, the CAO America produced a beautiful firm salt and pepper ash that got to nearly 2 inches before it broke off.
Overall I’d rate this cigar about a 7 out of 10 – definitely pleasant, very mild – perhaps too mild – and definitely worth smoking again. The gorgeous red white and blue labeling and pin-striping would make this a fine choice for a Fourth of July cookout.
I had a great visit to the Fine Cigar and Tobacco shop in Glastonbury today where I enjoyed my CAO America Landmark in their lounge watching the first Spring Training game (Mets beat the Braves, 4-3 – yay!) with two locals, Art and Rick. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
I have always been a big fan of the homemade Valentine – nothing says tradition to me than a handcrafted paper heart, embellished with lace, foil and/or glitter. I’ve made plenty of these paper hearts for my Valentine over the years, but for 2019 I wanted to take my game to the next level. In my experience, most anything can be improved by adding electronics – so why not the humble Valentine?
The trickiest part of the build was making sure that the polarity for each of the LEDs was correct. This wasn’t difficult as the cathode for all of the LEDs were oriented to the left side of the PCB, so it was just a matter of taking an extra moment for each LED to make a mindful check that the shorter lead was inserted on the left side of the board.
I attached the LEDs in four groups of seven each, again working slowly and double-checking each to make sure polarity was correct before applying solder.
When the moment of truth came to test the circuit, I was relieved that it worked. Despite working meticulously to install the LEDs with the correct polarity, it would be a real chore to identify any that were installed incorrectly after the excess leads were nipped off.
Now that the flashing heart was done, the next question was, “How do I present it to my beloved?” The circuit board doesn’t fit well in a paper envelope so I’d need something three dimensional. Cigars to the rescue!
One of the many nice things about being a cigar smoker is that if you’re any good at it, you will eventually collect a surplus of nice wooden boxes which make for great project cases. I had just the thing in my collection – a small nearly square wooden box that originally contained Erin Go Bragh Irish Creme Cigarillos (a delicious quick smoke, btw).
The Velleman heart was a perfect fit – I could easily mount it inside the box and use a NC push button switch to power the circuit when the box was opened. This would be a snap and yet there was plenty of room left over. Maybe too much room? So I started wondering – how I might use the free space to make this project even better?
After more reflection and more research online, I came up with the idea of turning this valentine project into a music box that would play “our song” [Moon River, by Andy Williams] when the box was opened.
SparkFun had what appeared to have just the thing I needed – an all-in-one Arduino based MP3 trigger kit – the Qwiic MP3 trigger. The board comes complete with an on board 1.4W Class-D mono amplifier, and it can read from a micro SD card, and be triggered to play with a single switch closure. The price was right too – just $19.95 as of this writing – so I placed my order.
The only problem I saw was the admonishment on the SparkFun website that the MP3 trigger board must NOT be powered by anything greater than 3.3 VDC. Yikes – the plot thickens!
There were two options for making the 3.3 volts for the MP3 board from the existing 9 volt battery. I could either use a linear regulator or a buck converter.
A buck converter is a little more sophisticated in design and it steps up current as it steps down voltage. A linear regulator is a simpler design and doesn’t reduce current but instead it dissipates as heat the voltage times the current drop.
Given my space constraints in the tiny cigar box and the overall simplicity of my project, I decided to use a linear regulator but first I needed to ‘do the math.’
The published documentation for the MP3 trigger states that the board has a current consumption of 40mA at standby and 150-300mA driving an 8 ohm speaker at full volume. The Velleman flashing heart kit documentation states it consumes 8mA and a Duracell 9 volt alkaline battery is rated for 500 mAH.
So, conservatively assuming the max current consumption of between 158 and 308 mA during full volume playback, the battery should last 1.62 – 3.16 hours. Since the Moon River MP3 is 2:44 long, I could expect at least 35 to 69 plays before the battery died. Ultimately as I did not change the stock volume setting of 10 (out of 32), the actual battery life should be much better than my conservative calculations.
Building the voltage regulator was a snap. The simple circuit calls for nothing more than adding a pair of capacitors to a TI 3.3V LM1117 voltage regulator chip.
After I built and tested the voltage regulator circuit, I did not have to wait long for the Qwiic MP3 Trigger to arrive from SparkFun. It showed up just a couple of days later. along with the fresh microSD card and a USB C cable I also ordered.
According to the online documentation, when the No.1 pad on the board is shorted to ground, the Trigger will play the MP3 file saved to the SD card named T01.mp3.
I inserted the new SD card into the board and plugged it into my PC via the USB-C cable and Windows 10 immediately recognized the device as external device “E:” I was able to simply drag and drop a properly renamed copy of my Moon River MP3 from Google Music. So far, so good.
But, when I first tried to test play the MP3, there was no joy. The SparkFun website shows the device playing the T01.mp3 by shorting the proper contacts with a pair of tweezers, but this wasn’t working for me.
I studied the photo on the SparkFun website closely and then I realized my error. The board needs to be powered but disconnected from the PC. When I unplugged the board from the computer USB port and hooked it up to my voltage regulator circuit and shorted the number 1 contact to ground it worked perfectly!
My final concern was whether I would need to incorporate a second NC push button switch to trigger the MP3 after the board is powered up. The online documentation stated that the board may take up to 1500 ms to power up. I had hoped if I needed a second push button, I could place the first one closer to the front of the cigar box and the second closer to the hinge for adequate timing.
I wanted to see what happened if I applied power to the board with the No. 1. contact already shorted. Would the MP3 begin playing when power was applied?
YES Indeed! The MP3 automatically started playing in this configuration just as I had hoped. The music also stopped when power was disconnected, and would immediately start again from the beginning when power was reapplied. This would be absolutely perfect for my music box application as I could employ one NC push-button switch to provide power to both the heart circuit and the MP3 circuit causing the LEDs to flash and the music to play when the box was opened and stop whenever it was closed.
All that remained was mounting all into the cigar box. In determining the layout, I realized the biggest constraint was that changing the battery would be impossible if I used the built in battery clip on the back of the Velleman heart..
I thus opted for moving the battery to an easily accessible spot on the left side of the box, making a simple battery holder by gluing a dowel snugly up against the battery. I attached a second 9V battery clip with the polarity leads reversed (red to black and black to red) to supply power the heart.
Everything else was mounted inside the cigar box using hot glue – not elegant but very practical. The power on push button was placed in the top left corner on the hinged side of the lid, the voltage regulator is on the bottom of the box near the back on the right side, and the MP3 trigger is cemented to the front right side. The MP3 board has a 3.5mm stereo jack which remains accessible if anyone wanted to plug in a pair of earbuds to hear the music in glorious stereo.
The mini 8 ohm speaker was attached to the front of the box using the 2 sided adhesive provided with the speaker.
I decided I did not want to refinish the little cigar box to make it look like anything other than what it is – an electronic valentine made on my workbench – this thing screams “James.” For an added touch of workbench authenticity, I made a valentine greeting for the lid with my Dyno label maker…using red tape, of course!
This was a great project and along the way I learned about voltage drop regulators. Working with the SparkFun micro controller board was fun easy and educational. I am aware that the board has many more features that I did not need for this project and that performance can be tweaked by editing the sketch in the Arduino IDE – something to consider for next time.
The 7-20-4 cigar brand goes all the way back to 1874 when Roger G. (RG) Sullivan started his cigar company in New Hampshire. The distinctive numerical name came from the address of his factory at 724 Elm Street in Manchester, NH.
The popular 10 cent RG Sullivan 7-20-4 cigars were handmade with a Havana filler wrapped in a Sumatra wrapper and remained popular until Cuban Embargo forced the company to close in 1963.
In 2006, New Hampshire based cigar retailer, Kurt Kendall, decided to revive the brand name as an homage to the past. Importing tobacco from five countries, KA Kendall’s 7-20-4 boutique blend has been winning critical praise since its launch and Kurt continues to launch new varieties under the 7-20-4 brand.
My personal interest in the RG Sullivan brand comes from the fact that my maternal grandfather, Matthew Dziadosz, was a cigar smoker and he was brand loyal to RG Sullivan, smoking both the 7-20-4 and Dexter cigars produced in Manchester, NH.
Knowing the brand was defunct, spotting the distinctive 7-20-4 label on a box in a local cigar shop a few years back gave me pause. I purchased several 7-20-4 sticks that day, which I enjoyed while learning the history of the brand’s recent rebirth.
I have enjoyed several of the KA Kendall 7-20-4 cigars in recent years, including the Factory 57 and barber pole wrapped Hustler series. This past weekend, whilst up in New Hampshire to watch the Super Bowl with dear old dad, I spotted 7-20-4 cigars at the Two Guys Cigar shop in Seabrook and am reviewing here the standard 7-20-4 Toro and the newer 7-20-4 WK Series Robusto.
7-20-4 WK SERIES ROBUSTO
This recent offering from Kurt Kendall is a tribute to his son, William who passed away in 2011.
The wrapper is a nice mild Ecuador CT leaf. The filler is Nicaraguan and Honduran, bound with a Honduran binder.
The cigar has light to medium tan appearance, with smooth seams and several small veins. The stick was very firm, towards the stiff side and felt a bit dry. I was saddened to see the nice triple cap cracked when punched. Perhaps this particular cigar had been stored improperly or exposed to the cold? It was my first and only WK Series to date, so I will reserve judgement here.
The cold draw was flavorful – the predominant flavor I picked up on was cedar and a nice sweetness, like bakery. I read another review online that described hints of butter cookie and I definitely got that.
The first third had a good but slightly loose draw and a perfect burn. The flavor profile was predominantly cedar with some initial sweetness, some cream and nuttiness were also noticed.
By the second third the flavor opened up a bit, the cigar became very creamy with predominant cedar and some spice. I noted a definite butter cookie flavor happening here.
This continued into the final third, a similar flavor profile of cedar, cream and butter cookie. All throughout the last two thirds the draw continued to be a bit loose, but good and the burn was absolutely perfect.
I would rate the WK Robusto from KA Kendall’s 7-20-4 line a solid 8 out of 10 and a cigar I would definitely look for again.
7-20-4 GRAN TORO
The 7-20-4 Gran Toro is a beautiful classic looking cigar with its 56 ring gauge and 6.5″ length. The outer leaf is a dark chocolaty brown showing few veins, smooth seams, a single cap and a pigtail. The cigar was well packed, firm to the touch and just slightly toothy.
The filler is a blend of Nicaraguan, Honduran, and Mexican leaf tobacco, held together with a Colombian binder all inside a Brazilian wrapper. A puro, this stick is definitely not!
I really loved the cold draw of this cigar – earthy, dried fruit, some spice and a hint of molasses were all noted. I took my time and enjoyed drawing on the unlit cigar for a while before starting it with my torch.
Upon lighting the cigar, the first flavor that hit my tongue was red pepper, but not strong pepper – more like a sweet red pepper flavor. There was also a nice flavor of wood, more oak than cedar. A very pleasing flavor combination off the hop.
The flavor profile continued well into the second third as well – nice red pepper, oaky wood and along the way some floral notes were introduced.
This flavor profile continued into the final third and right down to the end – sweet red pepper, wood and earthy floral notes – this was a very tasty cigar, but surprisingly a bit milder than I would have anticipated.
Throughout the cigar, the burn was razor sharp and the draw was very good. The 7-20-4 Gran Toro produced good smoke and a sturdy white ash.
As I mentioned I am brand loyal to Ken Kendall’s resurrection of the 7-20-4 label and I feel a connection to my late grandfather whenever I light up one of these great cigars.
Today I traveled back to the Merrimack Valley to visit a high school buddy, Larry, who like me, has caught the vintage electronics bug.
An increasing number of vintage radios, phonographs and – gasp – 8-track players – have been finding their way to Larry’s home, and as you might expect, most need a little TLC to return them to fully functional status.
Larry was under the mis-perception that I am some sort of electronics genius because I was able to resuscitate those dead radios back to life. Ha! So when he recently called me asking for help with his 1940s era Admiral console radio and phonograph that had a low volume problem, I thought it was a good time to stop giving Larry fishes and give him a fishing lesson.
The Admiral 7CS5W is a 1948 6 tube superheterodyne AM band only radio receiver with a 78 RPM record changer in a side-by-each console arrangement. Larry’s complaint was that whether the radio or the phonograph was playing, the volume was too low.
We downloaded the set schematics from the www.radiomuseum.org website and I showed Larry how to read the schematic, working from left to right, identifying the different stages of the radio circuit. We focused on the final audio stage which included a 6SQ7 phase inverter and a pair of 6K6 power output tubes.
We started our work by testing all of the tubes, starting with the above named audio stage tubes, using my grandfather’s EMC 205 tube tester. We tested all tubes for shorts and quality and all passed.
It was time to pull the chassis and see what was going on underneath. Looking at the chassis, I immediately noticed a hole where the original canned filter caps would have been – clearly someone had already serviced the radio and had replaced the electrolytic capacitors.
I was mildly concerned that because the tubes tested good, as they did, and someone had recently recapped the radio, the low audio problem was going to be more complex to solve.
We discovered that while someone indeed had previously serviced the radio, and had replaced the two electrolytic capacitors, he only replaced about half of the wax caps. Also more interestingly, those replacement caps did not look that new. The electrolytic capacitors were a pair of large General Electric cap that I’ve never seen before. The other replacement caps were a variety of blue-green paper caps that I was also unfamiliar with. I would have to guess that this radio was last serviced in the 1970s or early 1980s.
So, starting with the filters, we recapped the entire set. Larry was a quick student, absorbing what I taught him about how capacitors function and why they need to be replaced – see my previous blog post about recapping The Glendon RCA receiver.
We needed to manufacture a pair of 30 MFD electrolytic caps as the stock I brought did not have that value. For each we wired a 10 MFD and a 22 MFD in parallel to produce a pair of 32 MFD capacitors. When working with old radio circuits, capacitor values aren’t critical. As long as the replacement caps has the correct voltage rating or higher, it’s generally o.k. to replace the original with a higher value. For the .002 MFD caps in the Admiral, we used .005 MFD replacements.
After about 2 hours work and a lot of good conversation, we had the two electrolytic caps and ten of the wax and paper caps replaced.
Now was the moment of truth – would the recapping improve the low audio? Only one way to find out. We put the tubes back in, reinstalled the chassis in the cabinet and reconnected the speaker, antenna, and phono connectors and braced ourselves for the ‘smoke test.’ How did we do?
Replacing the capacitors completely resolved the low volume problem. The radio and phonograph ought to be good for the next 30 years.
In the end we saved another beautiful old radio , we launched Larry on the road of vintage electronics repair while catching up and I also disavowed him of his mis-perception that I’m some sort of a genius – not a bad Saturday at all.
I stopped by the Owl Shop after work today, a chilly late
January Monday, with the Alec Bradley Nica-Puro Rosado Gordo in shirt pocket. The cigar was a gift from my brother in law,
Liam, who shares my love of cigars. Liam
and I have enjoyed several sticks together after family gatherings and the
conversations have always been as good as the smokes. Liam and I are both fans of the Alec Bradley
line; I have never smoked the Nica-Puro before.
The Gordo is a hefty 6.2” 60 ring gauge cigar. As the name suggests, this is a Nicaraguan
puro – a Nicaraguan double binder and core of long-fillers from Nicaragua’s 3
main growing regions — Jalapa, Condega, and Esteli — are wrapped in a handsome
Nicaraguan Rosado leaf.
Appearance is a nice oily chocolate brown, the Rosado
wrapper is smooth with a couple of small veins and no seams. Construction was very firm, with some
softness noticeable just beneath the beautiful double-band. The triple cap was impressive.
The cold draw was very flavorful. Delicious notes of dried fruit, spiciness and
The first third started off with strong notes of cedar, pepper,
earthiness and some cocoa and nuttiness.
The burn was excellent, and a perfect draw. The
ash was salt and pepper and firm – and didn’t break off until about the inch
and a half mark.
By the start of the second third, the flavor became creamier
with continued strong notes of cedar, nuttiness and pepper. There was a hint of leather and some
cocoa. The burn continued to be perfect
throughout the second third.
Final third became creamier and the cedar and pepper notes
continued right to the end and the burn remained perfect. The cigar needed no touching up and never
became bitter or stale tasting. The smoking
time was an hour and forty minutes.
The AB Nica-Puro was about as good as a cigar can be. I would score it a 10 out of 10, a rating I don’t give often – but this is a true classic.
The first was a circa
1955 RCA Model 6-XD-5A “The Glendon” AM broadcast receiver. The radio was promised to be ‘operational’
but ‘not restored.’ The second prize was
a coupon to WJOE Radio, a favorite local
vendor for radio restoration parts who also attends the NEARC Show each winter.
I used the coupon to stock up on a couple of capacitor assortment boxes
realizing I could use the capacitors to recap the Glendon at some point.
That “some point” came just
two months later in April when after listening to the radio for just about an
hour and a half I heard a loud sizzling sound, followed by a loud “pop!” and
then loud buzzing from the speakers.
Sure enough, upon
opening the set up I discovered that one of the wax capacitors, No. C11, on the
power line had exploded.
A lot of folks are under
the misimpression that when restoring old radios, the number one problem is
that the old tubes have gone bad and that finding replacements is hard and
expensive. The truth of the matter is
the absolute number one affliction that antique radios suffer is failing
capacitors. Replacement caps are
plentiful, and inexpensive and many radios can be brought back to useable life
by just recapping the set.
Over time wax and paper
capacitors fail and the dielectric in large filter caps either dries up has
leaked out. A capacitor that fails
appears in circuit as a resistor and will not block DC while allowing AC signals
to pass as they should. A sure sign that
caps have failed in vintage radios is the presence of a predominant loud hum on
the audio output.
Replacing capacitors is
generally straight forward and easy. It’s
simply a matter of removing the old capacitors and replacing them with modern
day equivalents. Many times, you can easily
read the values off the old capacitor once it is removed, but it’s also always
a good idea to download a copy of the schematic and work from that.
There are two values you
need to be concerned with when replacing capacitors – the capacitance value and
the voltage rating.
Capacitance is measured
in farads – typically microfarads (MFD) or in picofarads (pF). 1 farad is equal to 1,000,000 microfarad, or
capacitors, an exact match for the capacitance value is seldom critical,
especially when working with consumer grade AM radio circuits. If you are unable to find a replacement cap
with the same value, it is generally o.k. to use a close or higher value
capacitor in the circuit.
You can also combine capacitors together to create a capacitor with the proper value. The math is simple – if you connect capacitors in parallel, their value equals the sum of the individual capacitors.
The second value you
need to be concerned with when replacing capacitors is the voltage rating which
is often abbreviated WVDC (working voltage, direct current) on the capacitor
and on the schematic. Always be sure to replace capacitors with new units that
are rated at the same working voltage or higher.
So, returning to The
Glendon, I replaced C11 and all the other wax capacitors. I noticed that the previous owner had
replaced the electrolytic filter caps already.
The schematic called for a 30 MFD and a 50 MFD filter cap. The previous owner installed a pair of 450
volt 47 MFD caps so I left well enough alone.
Sure enough, my recap job brought this fine old radio back to life and it spent last summer as my chair-side radio on the front porch for Red Sox games. And what a year it was for listening to Boston baseball on the radio!
RCA VICTOR CO., INC. MODELN 6-XD-5C “THE GLENDON” SPECS:
Year: 1954/1955 Tubes: 12BE6 12BA6 12AV6 50C5 35W4 Circuit type: Super-Heterodyne IF 455 kHz; 2 AF stage(s) Tuned circuits:6 AM circuit(s) Bands: AM BCB only, 540 – 1600 kHz Loudspeaker: 2 Loudspeakers / Ø 4 inch = 10.2 cm (not stereo) Power out:1 W (1.5 W max.) Material: Plastic Dimensions (WHD): 12.5 x 7.5 x 6.375 inch Antenna: Build in loop antenna Power consumption: 35 watts. Other: has audio input jack to connect Victrola record player.
One of the saddest things about my hobby of restoring vintage radios is the absolute lack of quality programming on the broadcast bands today.
Not only is the golden age of radio long gone, today’s AM airwaves are chockful of hate filled right wing talk and syndicated FM commercial radio is mostly insipid crap music. A couple of summers ago, I built a 2 tube regen radio receiver kit with my 10-year-old niece, and while the build was quality time spent together, in the end she was left with a radio that is of no use to her.
But, while there may be very little worth listening to on the broadcast bands today, there is no shortage of excellent programming available as podcasts – good music, true crime, documentaries, comedy and even drama – free for the taking for enjoyment on your smart phone or other device. This cornucopia of content can make ‘watching the radio’ wonderful again.
There are three easy ways to play modern podcasts and other recorded programs on a vintage radio.
The first is to add an “AUX IN” to a vintage radio, like many new radios have. The circuitry is simple and with a handful of parts, including a 1/8 stereo jack, you can easily play the output from your iPod, smart phone or CD player through the radio’s AF stage.
This “AUX IN” mod is popular with radio repair folk who restore vintage radios for resale. Look at what is available for sale on http://www.radioattic.com and you’ll find many radios for sale with the mod. If this interests you, check out the YouTubevideo by D-Lab Electronics here.
The second method is to add a Bluetooth receiver wired into the radio’s AF stage like the “AUX IN” jack mod above. This mod is attractive as the listener can easily transmit podcasts and music from their smart phone to the vintage radio.
For me, the third method that I am profiling here, using a low power transmitter to ‘broadcast’ programs to my vintage radios is a bit more authentic as ‘real radio’ transmitting a modulated RF signal to the receiver where the ‘whole radio’ is being used from the RF to the IF to the AF.
So, a few years ago I decided to build the SSTRAN AMT3000 transmitter kit. It is a popular solid state transmitter that costs about $100. As of this writing, it is not clear to me whether the kit is still available or not as the www.sstran.com website still has an announcement on the home page stating that as of November 12, 2017 they are not accepting any new orders. However the catalog page and shopping cart still appear functional.
I had considered other options including a scratch build or this $40 tube based AM transmitter kit. The tube option had two solid arguments going for it – it was definitely cheaper and using a tube-based transmitter seemed a better match stylistically for most of my antique radios as they are tube based.
However, the AMT3000 won out as it had a few qualities that the tube kit did not offer. These included separate up-front controls for gain, modulation and signal compression. The AMT3000 is also easily tuned to different frequencies on the AM broadcast band by setting DIP switches.
I had also read several online reviews and discovered that the kit had a very good reputation. The fit and finish were attractive too so the SSTRAN kit won out in the end.
I recall it took me two, maybe three evenings to construct the kit. The build was easy thanks to excellent documentation, good PCB layout and no toroids or coils to wind. There was a single surface mount IC, however, but it only has 14 leads and spacing was wide enough that I had no difficulty with my middle aged failing eyesight and shakier dexterity.
In the top left view above you see there are two audio in jacks. This is a mono transmitter, but you can feed a stereo signal through the two jacks which are combined to mono. I use a stereo to RCA jack patch cable to connect the transmitter to my PC or CD player.
The transmitter comes with a wall wart step down transformer that puts out 11 VAC; the voltage regulator can be seen with the heatsink above.
A PLL synthesizer references the 4 MHz crystal to precisely set the transmit frequency. The DIP switches mentioned above to tune the transmitter is seen just below the heat sink on the voltage regulator. The manual includes a table showing the settings to tune across the AM broadcast band.
Notice the three RF chokes, which can be switched in or out of the circuit with jumpers to reduce hum caused by stray RF. Two chokes isolate the power input and the third isolates the audio input ground from the PCB ground.
On the right side of the board you will see a four position DIP switch used to switch several inductors in and out of circuit to assist tuning the indoor long wire antenna supplied with the kit. The instructions describe the construction of a base loaded vertical outdoor antenna that can be used to transmit up to a 2-mile radius which I have not built. When using the external antenna, these inductors are switched out.
For my purposes, I have setup my home AM broadcast station on the operating desk of my ham radio stationon the second floor of my house. As I amonly interested in transmitting a signal to radios within my house, I am usingthe provided long wire antenna which I have hanging out a second storywindow.
My transmitter is tuned to 1,000 kHz which is a relatively dead spot on the AM dial in New Haven County, despite the number of signals coming from NYC to the southwest and Boston to the Northeast. I get little interference day or night.
My transmitter is connected to a beater Dell laptop I bought refurbed from Walmart.com for a song. I installed Ubuntu and use the Beatbox app to manage the queue of podcasts and MP3s. I leave the station on 24/7 so now there is always something worth listening to on the radio.
I mentioned above that the AMT3000 has a compression control, which is a real nice touch. Turning down the compression increases the hi fidelity of the signal, music actually sounds better to my ears than what is typically heard from commercial AM stations.
If you are looking for an AM transmitter to bring life back to your vintage radios, you won’t do any better than the SSTRAN AMT3000. It is a real solid performer and simple enough build for anyone with moderate soldering skills. I have gotten many years of satisfaction from mine. Every December I use it to transmit holiday music to vintage radios placed throughout our house during our annual Christmas party – it’s a fine way to showcase the radios I have lovingly restored.
SSTRAN AMT3000 SPECS:
FCC Part 15 Compliant
Emission type: A3 Amplitude Modulation.
Modulation Type: Series Modulation.
Modulation Capability: 100%
Carrier Shift: less than 0.5%
Broadcast Frequency Range: 530 kHz to 1705 kHzin 10 kHz increments (a 9kHz increment version is also available for non-US radios)
Frequency Response: 10Hz to 20kHz
Audio Input Level: 200mV for 100% modulation
Audio Input Impedance: 4 ohms to 50K ohms
Final DC Input Power: 100 milliwatts (full legallimit per FCC Part 15)
My favorite scratch build of 2018 was the capacitor discharge tool designed by and published by Mr. (Paul) Carlson on his Patreon website, Mr. Carlson’s Lab.
Mr. Carlson’s Lab is the best YouTube/Patreon channel I have found dedicated to electronics repair, restoration, building and most importantly, theory. His lab is simply amazing, his expertise is second-to-none, and his willingness to share what he knows is beyond generous.
Paul’s presentation style is easy to follow and well-paced, making the material easy to absorb and his attention to detail borders on obsessive. He not only guides the viewer through construction step-by-step, he takes the time to explain the theory behind each circuit and occasionally challenges the viewer to solve problems along the way.
There is simply no better place to gain a quality electronics education at any cost. Many of the Mr. Carlson’s Lab videos are available for free on YouTube, but for those like me, wanting to learn and know more, Mr. Carlson offers an in-depth electronics course via Patreon. The capacitor discharge tool I built was presented on the Patreon site in a pair of videos.
In the first video, Mr. Carlson introduces the concept and specs and provided the list of components needed for the build, He challenged his viewers to attempt to design the circuit themselves and the best viewer circuits were showcased in the second video where he revealed his design for the project followed by step by step build instructions.
The circuit is composed of four 1k 50 w resistors wired in series to provide a load to drain charged capacitors. There are two LEDs wired in parallel with dropping resistors and a 5.6 v 5 w Zener diode to control current direction. Depending on polarity, one if the two LEDs will light when the probes are connected to the cap and will dim out as the cap is discharged. The other set of probe leads us into a standard voltmeter to show the cap charge. This way I can be sure when the cap is safely discharged.
My finished and tested project is shown above. By connecting the output probes to my Ohm meter and getting a 4K ohm reading, I confirmed the load resistors were properly wired in series. For the next test, I shorted the input probes and watched the ohmmeter drop to zero, confirming that the probes were correctly wired and were not open. Lastly, switching the VOM to the DC voltage scale and applying the same input leads across a 9v battery I could read the 9v on the meter and observe one of the LEDs lighting up. Then reversing polarity of the probes on the battery the other LED lit confirming proper wiring of the circuit.
Do you subscribe to Mr. Carlson’s Lab? Have you built any of his original projects? Can you recommend any other YouTube channels for learning electronics? Please add your comments below or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sunday, December 30, 2018 and I am at the Owl Shop in New Haven, watching the
final Pats game of the regular season.
Brady & company are hosting the NY Jets and playing for a first
round bye in the playoffs.
Today’s cigar is the Punch Bareknuckle Rothschild. It’s a short 4.5” 50 ring gauge stick with a
dark, oily and somewhat toothy sun grown Ecuadorian Habano wrapper. The cigar
features a distinctive foot band.
Construction is nice and firm from foot to its neat double-cap. Inside the Bareknuckle contains Honduran and
Nicaraguan long fillers, laced with flavorful ligeros.
Today’s Bareknuckle smoke is my second. I purchased a pack of five from cigar.com for
$24.00 which makes this a darn good value at $4.80.
Other online reviews of the Bareknuckle that I consulted
note that this full-flavor offering from Punch is a welcome return to the label’s
previous reputation as most of their offerings have become far milder in recent
years. For what it’s worth, I typically
favor a milder cigar, however will enjoy medium to full body sticks from time
I cut today’s cigar with a straight cutter; typically, I
prefer a punch or a notch cutter. The cold-draw is very flavorful, and I pick
up strong notes of cocoa, fruit and earthiness.
The first third.
Appropriately enough, the Bareknuckle starts off with a
flavorful “punch” from the very first draw.
The initial flavor is a strong woodiness that initially tastes oaky to
my palette but quickly develops into a nice cedar. Also notable at the start is a good amount of
pepper. The draw is just about perfect,
and the burn is good, although a bit uneven.
Ash is a nice salt & pepper but broke off just over the
half inch mark.
Flavor remains cedar, pepper with a slight hint of vanilla at
the end of the first third.
At the end of the first quarter, the Pats are up 7-3 over
The second third
Draw remains very good and the burn has even upped on its
own without touching up.
The vanilla notes are getting stronger, with the nice cedar and
spice still predominant. By the midpoint
the vanilla starts taking the lead. It’s
distinctly vanilla, not the creaminess experienced in most cigars – it’s very
At the mid-point the draw suddenly became much looser and
the cigar needed re-lighting. This also
happened with the first Punch Bareknuckle I smoked a few weeks ago.
At the mid-point the draw suddenly became much looser and the cigar needed re-lighting. This also happened with the first Punch Bareknuckle I smoked a few weeks ago.
The last third
The last third starts off with the cedar giving way to the vanilla notes accented by pepper. Throughout the entire cigar, these three flavors – cedar, pepper and vanilla – were balanced nicely. At the very end, the cigar needed touching up again. Despite the good and even burn, the cigar wanted to go out again.
As I stated above, I generally prefer milder cigars, but the
Punch Bareknuckle is a wonderful medium- to full- bodied choice. I enjoyed my first Bareknuckle with a
double-shot of Jack Daniels on the rocks, and today’s stick was enjoyed with a
pot of Lapsong
Souchong, my go-to non-alcoholic beverage choice to enjoy with a fine cigar
as the tea’s smoky flavor pairs well with most sticks.
Total smoking time was about an hour and fifteen
minutes. I rate the Punch Bareknuckle
Rothschild a solid 9 out of 10, and will definitely be keeping some in my
humidor for when I am craving a cigar with more intense flavor.
The most exciting and satisfying kit I built in 2018 was the
Altair-Duino, an Arduino based emulator of the Altair 8800, the legendary
microcomputer designed in 1974 by MITS (Micro Instrumentation and
Telemetry Systems) and featured on the
cover of the January 1975 issue of Popular
Although I was only 9 years old when that issue of PE was published, I remember reading and
making photocopies of the article at my local library a few years later.
At such a tender age, I didn’t have any of the resources
needed to build my own Altair. It would
have taken me two and a half years to have saved up the $439 cost of the kit at
my $2/week allowance, and while I had access to my grandfather’s radio and TV work
bench, his parts bins contained hundreds of vacuum tubes but hardly any
transistors and no computer chips.
So imagine my excitement when I discovered this year that a
modern day emulator was available in kit form.
The Altair-Duino kit is offered by KB0WWP, Chris Davies and based on the Altair 8800 emulator project published
on hackster.io by David Hansel. The Altair-Duino kit comes complete
with a high quality etched PCB, bamboo case, replica face plate, and all
components and hardware.
What’s even better is the price – online inflation
calculators suggest that the original Altair kit’s $439 price tag would be
equivalent to $2,057 in 2018 dollars, but the complete Altair-Duino kit is only
It is worth mentioning that another modern day Altair
emulator option for retro computing fans is Mike Douglas’ Altair 8800 Clone (www.altairclone.com) which is available
built for $621 at the time of this writing.
Building the Altair-Duino was straightforward and simple for
my kit building skills, which I would rate as proficient. Using the very good documentation found
online on the http://www.adwaterandstir.com site I built the complete kit in about 5 hours’ time
over two days.
Assembling the kit involves soldering 72 resistors, 36
transistors, 36 LEDs, and 25 toggle switches on the top side of the PCB. The bottom of the board holds the Arduino Due
and a Bluetooth board, the SD card, and a few discreet components to regulate
the power supply.
The fit and finish of the kit is exceptionally well done. The beautiful face plate serves as a handy template for properly aligning both the LEDs and the toggle switches when attaching them to the PCB, and the shallow wooden cabinet is pre-drilled for the rear connections panel and has a cut out slot on the backside so the builder can easily access the SD card which comes pre-loaded with the Altair software.
The Adwater & Stir website has an excellent operations page that includes
a link to the
original Altair 8800 operations manual which can be used with the
Altair-Duino as it is 100% compatible with the original Altair 8800. The operations page also provides easy to
follow step-by-step directions that I found easy to follow and useful for
I connected my Altair-Duino to my PC via the USB cable and
Windows 10 recognizes the device on COM 4.
The Altair-Duino can also be connected via a serial cable or Bluetooth.
Using the recommended terminal program PuTTY, I have had fun
experimenting with a couple of the various pre-loaded versions of BASIC: Bill
Gates’ 4k Altair BASIC and MITS 16K ROM BASIC, have puttered around with
SuperCALC and have enjoyed a nostalgic trip through the Underground Empire of
There is much more that can be done with the Altair-Duino
and I look forward to experimenting further.
Have you built an Altair-Duino or do you have the Mike
Douglas Altair 8800 clone? Did you have
an original Altair back in the day? I’d
love to hear from you – please comment or drop me a line at email@example.com.