Thursday, February 09, 2017

Brighten up your scanner's LCD display

I recently moved from the back country to a more people-active area and had a need to upgrade my old radio scanner to a version that can understand EDACS trunking. While you can listen to trunking on a conventional scanner, it's annoying with EDACS and you can't follow any conversations, you only get random channels and talk groups.

I have been watching old Radio Shack scanners on ebay and set a limit of $40 for any purchases. So far I've nabbed a pair of Pro-97's and Pro-95's and a Pro-433 to go with my ancient Pro-2005 and Pro-34.

Love these scanners, for now they will work with the current trunking system. One problem, though: The Pro-95 has a really dim, ugly green back light on the LCD screen. Here it is, compared to the Pro-97 with its nice, bright orange display:

My goal here is to change this horrible display from green to orange. This modification will work on the nearly identical Pro-93 and probably the Pro-94 as well.

The only purchase I had to make was the surface-mount LEDs. I sourced them on ebay here. If that link goes dead, just search for LED 0603 orange. You could probably use size 0805 or 1005 but I wouldn't try any bigger than that.

Radio disassembly

It is quite simple to access the LED, just take care not to rip things apart. Take your time. Remove the battery cover and battery holder from the back of the radio and remove the four long screws.

Carefully pull off the back half of the case. Nothing is attached to it, just set it aside. Then carefully pull the rear PCB assembly away from the front PCB by detaching three plugs. One is on the left and the other two on the upper and middle right. The right-hand plugs are small, only two prongs and powers the LEDs and something else I don't know. The longer one on the left connects the two large PCBs. They come apart easily. The speaker wire will be attached. You can unhook it if you wish or leave it in place, it's not too bad to just fold the case off to the side.

Now you need to remove five screws to remove the front PCB from the front half of the radio case. Be careful here, the LCD screen will swing loose and the back light diffuser will fall out. Don't damage the small cable on the screen.

Removal and replacement of LEDs

Carefully flip up the LCD out of the way and be sure not to damage the cable. Remove the diffuser panel to expose the two LEDs you want to replace.

As you can see, the LEDs are quite small. For reference, I put a penny in the picture. The penny is 19mm wide. The LEDs are less than 2mm across.

Be sure to identify which polarity on your LED. The cathode will go on the right. LEDs can be marked differently, use Google to see types other than this.

Now for the intricate surgery. You need a very fine, low-wattage (I used a 12-volt, 15-watt) soldering iron and a toothpick. Wedge the toothpick under one side of the LED and desolder that side, the LED will pop loose on that side. Then remove the LED by desoldering the other side.

Sorry I don't have a picture of this step, both hands were busy!

Now position the new LEDs. Hold the LED down with the toothpick and solder one side then the other. It is NOT easy to keep the LED in place. You could try fine-tipped tweezers. I found the toothpick easier. You will be chasing around the LED on the PCB and it will flip over and spin around, but you'll eventually get there.

Once soldered in place, you can plug in the radio and test. Just be sure not to short anything out while it is disassembled. Remove the silicone keypad from the front case and place over the PCB and press the light button.


Put it all back together

Now we want to reassemble everything. Roll up a bit of cellophane tape and stick it where you want the diffuser to go. Mark the position of the LED receptacles on the very end (thin edge) to help you line it up, then stick it into place and carefully flip back the LCD. Leave this loose, because it'll inevitably sit crooked when you place the front cover back over the assembly.

Be VERY, VERY careful that the LCD is sitting properly in the front case, otherwise you will crack the screen when you tighten the five screws on the back.

Make sure you put the speaker cable back in the notch at the side of the front PCB, tighten the five screws to hold on the front case half (MAKE SURE NOT TO PINCH THE LCD SCREEN OR YOU WILL BREAK IT), push on the rear PCB with the three plugs lined up, put the rear case back on, tighten the four long screws, and you're done!

Not an exact match, but much, much brighter and easier to read than the lame green! I suppose yellow LEDs might be an alternative, a project for another day!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

How to display correct HFDL ground stations in Sorcerer

I have noticed some people using Sorcerer to decode HFDL shortwave aircraft messages. Unfortunately, Sorcerer is no longer supported and the ground station ID list is hard-coded into the program, and wrong! Annapolis is no longer a ground station and Albrook has been added.

The program does search for an updated list in the registry. Here is how to put the updated list into your registry.

First, open your registry editor. Previous to Windows 8 it  was as simple as hitting the start button and typing "regedit" in the search box, then hit enter, and the registry will open. In Win8 you just type "regedit" on the start screen. You might have to run as administrator.

Now in the registry editor you want to navigate to "HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Sorcery" and here you will find a list of various keys Sorcery needs to decode radio signals.

(A) is the HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Sorcerer
(B) is the Sorcerer folder (blocked, sorry)

Now right-click on the Sorcerer folder at (B) and then go New>Multi-String Value (C). The editor will wait for you to type in the file name, type "hfdl.txt" (D). Hit enter, now the file is saved.

Now double-click on hfdl.txt (E) and the edit box will open. Here you want to cut-and-paste the current HFDL ground station list (F) exactly as it appears. You need the "UNKNOWN" ones in there. Below is the current list. After you paste this, click "OK" and close the registry editor. You're done! Now you can open Sorcerer and run the HFDL decoder and it will correctly read the ground stations.

Here is the ground station list:


I'm still working on how to correct the ICAO IDs, they are bit-reversed (the six letters are backwards and also bit-backwards (0011 is 1100). I think  need an accompanying program to parse them out and correct them, I'm working on a program to do this as well as plot planes on a map and make it easy to edit a database of planes heard.

Good luck!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Visual Studio: "Build Tools x86 Element Not Found"

Microsoft has released a free, full version of Visual Studio for hobbyists and small businesses called Visual Studio Community.
Neat. The previous Visual Studio "Express" has many features disabled and the professional versions are pretty expensive.
I attempted to install VS Community via the web installer and kept coming up with "Build Tools x86 Element Not Found." Searching for a solution to this didn't give me any answers that solved this problem.
I managed to solve it on my own. Here's how:
Dump the web installer and download the ISO. It is a little less than 7 gigabytes.
In File Explorer, right click on the C Drive and create a new folder. I used "VSCommunity" as the folder name.
Open the ISO you downloaded with 7-Zip or your favorite unzipper and extract the ISO to your VS Community folder.
Find your way to the "Packages" folder, then the "BuildTools_MSBuild_x86" folder. There you will find the "BuildTools_MsBuild.exe" program. Double-click it and it will install.

Now go back to the top level of your VS Community and double-click "vs_community.exe" and the program suite should install without a problem.
You're welcome.

Friday, September 19, 2014

High resolution weather satellite pics with RTL-SDR

Russia launched a weather satellite last July that downlinks LRPT digital images on the same frequency band that NOAA broadcasts archaic, poor APT analog pictures.

These LRPT (Low Resolution Picture Transmission) actually are superb compared to their analog counterparts, 12 times the resolution. They can be decoded using a simple RTL-SDR radio and some free software. Full instructions here.

It takes quite a bit of fussing to get the gain settings on your RTL-SDR correct, you're lucky to get a good, high pass of the Russian satellite, called Meteor M N2. I finally managed a good shot of the Great Basin (mainly the state of Nevada) today. Clearly visible are the lakes of Tahoe, Great Salt Lake, Mono, Walker, Mead, and many others. The contrast of the basin-and-range of the Great Basin is visible clearly.

Currently (Sept. 19, 2014) the satellite is using only the red and green channels so the picture is tinted funny, but still quite striking.

Great Basin USA

Thursday, December 26, 2013

How to move Vista/7 Free Cell (and other games) to Windows 8 and 10

Update: Works on Windows 10!
Another update: Windows 10 Anniversary Update (ver. 1607) breaks this hack. However, there is another solution, check here.

Windows 8 doesn't include the classic solitaire card games (and Mahjong and inkball) contained in Vista/7 (or XP). Instead you have to download them from the Windows store and they aren't as good as the older games. So you need to move them from your Vista/7 machine to your Windows 8 machine and make a quick modification so that the games know that they're now OK to run on 8.

First you need to locate your Microsoft games folder. To do this click on start, then right-click on Computer, then left-click on Explore.

This opens Windows Explorer. You want to double-click on the C: drive and navigate to c:\program files\microsoft games\

Right click on Microsoft Games and copy the folder.

Assuming you know how to do this, now navigate to your USB stick in the same way you found the C: drive, right click and choose "paste." If you're smart enough to link your computers together you can just copy the files directly through your network router connection.

Make sure when you get to Windows 8 you copy the Microsoft Games folder into the c:\Program Files (x86)\ folder, this is where the 32-bit programs go. All the solitaire games are 32 bit, don't confuse yourself with whether or not you're using 64-bit Windows, it doesn't matter.

Now you want to navigate to c:\windows\system 32\ and find the file CardGames.dll

Copy this by right-clicking and choosing copy. Then paste this to your USB stick (or copy through your network) same as you did with your Microsoft Games folder. Copy the CardGames.dll file to each of the games folders or they won't work (they will say they can't find the file).

You might want to save your high scores and win streaks as well. To do this, navigate to c:\users\(your computer user name)\AppData\local\Microsoft Games and copy that folder to your USB stick, too. When you move it to Windows 8 put the folder in the "same place" there by dragging and dropping onto the AppData\local folder.

If Windows 8 gets fussy about what you're doing in the Program Files folder, you will have to log on as Administrator. Or do the following steps on your old Vista/7 machine. You pick.

Now you need to install a program that can edit the games applications. The reason you have to do this is that the games look for the version of Windows you're using to make sure they will work (for instance, the Vista games won't work on XP and the program needs to know that). What you're about to do is modify the program so it knows that Windows 8 is OK to run the program.

This looks scary but it's very easy as you'll see.

Go to this website and download the free hex editor:

HxD Free Hex Editor and Disk Editor

Download the zip file, extract it to the folder of your choice, double-click the "setup.exe" file, install it to the same folder and run the program. It will look like this. Go to "File Open"

Find the game you want to modify, in this case it's Free Cell.

The file will open and you will see a bunch of columns of "hex" numbers (0-9, A-F) and a column of text translations of the hex pairs.

You want to find this line: 7D 04 83 65 FC 00 33 C0 83 7D FC 01 0F 94 C0

Use Search-Find to do this. The line may start in the middle of these columns, or not. Just find the right string.

Make sure you choose "Hex-values" as well. I just searched for "7D 04 83" that was good enough.

The program will highlight 7D 04 83

Click on the 7D and change it to EB

The EB will be highlighted in red.

Now File-Save the program.

That's all. Your game will work now in Windows 8. Make this edit for every game in the Microsoft Games folder (except inkball, it isn't needed). Then navigate back to the Microsoft Games folder, right click and then click "Send to Desktop" to put an icon for the game on your desktop so you can find it easier.

Again, if you want to transfer your scores from your Vista/7 machine, in addition to transferring the Microsoft Games folder to the Program Files (x86) you want to transfer this:

c:\users\(your computer user name)\AppData\local\Microsoft Games\

This contains all your scores and win streaks and also backups of those in case you ruin a win streak and want to restore it.

If you want to start fresh just skip this step.

XP notes: Instead of moving "CardGames.dll" (because it doesn't exist) you just move the file "cards.dll" and I don't think you have to do any hex editing of the games (haven't tried it yet, I'm happy with the Vista versions).

A Google search will reveal a "patch" circulating that will do the above editing for you, if you trust the program, go ahead and try it. I found it on

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Fix scratched glasses with Rain-X

I've read many blogs and DIY sites about removing or minimizing the effects of small scratches in reading glasses, but none mentioned Rain-X, an automotive windshield glass protectant.

Other fixes include rubbing wet wood ashes, or Brasso, or Lemon Pledge. Others use rock polishing material such as aluminum oxide. The ashes, Brasso and rock (or metal rouge) polish actually will cut a layer of plastic off your specs and requires quite a bit of work to shine up your glasses like new. The Pledge is a wax that fills in the scratches and makes them seem less noticeable.

I remember when I was first introduced to Rain-X by off-road racer Ivan Stewart. He explained that Rain-X fills in the minute pits in your car's windshield. Water, snow and other wet material just beads up on your windshield as a result and flies away or rolls off. I've used this product off and on for decades. I even drove through a thunderstorm near Lake Elsinore and didn't need my windshield wipers, it's that effective.

I wanted to fix up some reading glasses and tried the other methods with unsatisfactory results. I didn't have Pledge so I just used a candle. It helped a tiny bit. The wood ashes, Brasso and rock polishing compound didn't work at all, in fact the Brasso just made the glasses worse by imparting a dull haze to the plastic.

Looking through old boxes for something else one day I found a new bottle of Rain-X, I hadn't used the product in quite some time and totally forgot that I had used it many years ago on a regular basis. Hey, that fills in microscopic pores on your windshield, would it work on glasses? Answer is YES!

Here's what you do, it's quite simple.

  • Clean glasses thoroughly with window cleaner and soft rag.
  • Wash your hands (actually just a fingertip) well to remove any oil.
  • Apply one drop of Rain-X to the glasses surface.
  • Rub around with a fingertip, let dry a bit, rub some more, let dry, keep doing this until the light scratches in your glasses disappear and the Rain-X has dried to a thin, invisible layer.
  • You're done! You will have to re-apply the Rain-X fairly often but hey, with only one drop at a time and a couple minutes, a bottle of the stuff will last you forever and you've saved money on repair or new glasses!
  • Works on plastic, and I'm sure it'll work on regular glass, too since it was designed for cars.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Mysteries of Mount St. Helens

Panorama from the south rim of Mount St. Helens looking north to east. The volcano left of center is Mount Rainier to the north, and Mount Adams is to the right (east).

On May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens erupted with a fury, destroying over 200 square miles of dense forest land in just a few minutes, killing 57 people and causing over $1 billion in damage.

I was less than a year out of high school and working in the sports department of a small newspaper in San Diego County. I saved newspaper clippings from that day, being an afternoon paper we had the news of the event from that morning.

Ridiculous headline (right) that I hate to this day. I took this news seriously, having had a rock collection as a kid and always finding geology the most fascinating of all the sciences.

Hiking was a far-off thought for me at the time, being an 18-year-old I was more interested in having a daily job and putting myself through college. It wasn't until the year 2001 that I put on serious hiking shoes, and that year I successfully day hiked Mount Whitney. I also had explored the many volcanic areas along Owens Valley in Eastern California, including Mono Lake, Mammoth Mountain and Devil's Postpile. I still lived in San Diego and really hadn't thought of making the drive to Washington to hike Mount St. Helens until I moved to Reno, Nevada in 2006.

Finally, in March 2008, I reserved the permit to hike the volcano in September. I picked that month because I felt the weather would be nice and the trails would be snow free. I also wisely chose the weekend nearest to full moon. The Saturday hiking date turned out to be my sister's birthday.

With the permit I also received a T-shirt saying "I climbed the volcano." Well, as of March I hadn't yet, the T-shirt sat draped over a chair for six months, I refused to put it on until I actually stood on what was left of the mountain. It sat there on the chair a daily reminder, I counted the days, every day.

Finally, the day arrived. I took off Friday from work and drove 11 hours to Cougar, Washington, where the permit was waiting. I took back roads to Mount Shasta along the way and enjoyed the beautiful forests of northern California and Oregon.

Then I arrived in Portland during afternoon rush hour and very nearly quit. Saw Mount St. Helens off in the distance, it looked much, much bigger than I had thought it would be and way, way steeper. Yuck, this is not going to be good, I'm over my head.

After such a long drive and leaving Cougar at 8 p.m., I decided to skip pitching a tent and instead reserved a room in Longview, about 90 minutes away. It was a decision I didn't regret.

I dilly-dallied the morning of the hike and didn't start off from Climber's Bivouac until 10:15 a.m. A couple from Vancouver, Wash. started behind me but passed me on the mountain later in the day. I'm a slooooow hiker.

There is a campground at the Bivouac trailhead, which was full. Looking through the forest up at Mount St. Helens, it looked so very far away, but the hike is only around four miles, with two through forest and two on the steep slope.

The forest section is a nicely shaded hike, relatively flat, and a good area to let your mind wander to subjects such as Sasquatch. Ape Canyon and Ape Cave are nearby and named for the elusive biped.

Even in September, the trail is quite lush, and wildflowers are in bloom.

Hikers make a gradual climb to treeline over about two miles. Along the way there are breaks in the forest, where views to the south begin to take your breath away before you even begin to climb. Even on this hazy day, I had good views of Mount Adams to the east and Mount Hood (barely visible, right) to the south in Oregon, not far away across the Columbia River. From here I thought often of the Sasquatch reports all around this area on the BFRO web site.

Finally, the business of climbing the steep flank of a volcano strikes, and strikes hard. There is no trail up the side of Mount St. Helens!

At treeline, you're greeted with a lava flow consisting of large and small boulders. Here and there are sticks suggesting a route. For the next mile and a half  up you pick your way through this jumble of rocks and slog your way up a difficult 45-degree slope.

In places there is something of a dirt trail, but not much. Mainly you weave your way in and out of these boulders. In many places you're Class 2, using your hands to pull yourself up or balance. It's not difficult route-finding.

This particular route is known as "Monitor Ridge" for obvious reasons. Mount St. Helens, being one of the most active volcanoes in the world, is heavily studied. Here you can find one of the instrument platforms.

Finally the lava flow gives way to the steepest part of the mountain, covered in very loose, fine ash. The view here is spectacular. That's Mount Hood off in the distance, 60 miles away. Directly below center, where you can see the forest has been logged, is the trailhead and Climber's Bivouac area.

In between the many lava flows spilling over the sides of the volcano are glaciers with crevasses deep enough to hurt yourself in if you were unfortunate enough to fall into. But, I heard from another climber that Mount St. Helens is easier to climb in the winter.

Here you can see why that might be the case. What you see below is solid ash, fine particles of volcanic glass. Those two dots lower left of center are other hikers. Every two steps forward and you're sliding back one step. Trekking poles are a big help. Your shoes will fill with ash. You will be covered in ash. It gets into everything, and you're sweating your way up. It's a mess. But then you reach the rim and all that is forgotten.

The devastation really hits you. The entire top and north flank of this formerly Fuji-like mountain has completely vanished! Hundreds of square miles of nothing where forest used to be. Spirit Lake (upper right) suffered a tsunami in the supersonic blast, spilling water over its far ridge and dragging back thousands of denuded trees which still float in the lake.

The trees shift position with the wind. You can see them hugging the far shore with Mount Rainier in the distance about 50 miles away. Imagine the hills beyond the lake were once covered in forest.

Inside the crater is a pair of steaming domes plugging the earth's interior, and around them is the crater glacier. It's hard to see because it's covered with ash. The rim of Mount St. Helens continues to erode, with large pieces falling into the crater every few minutes. So far the interior of the mountain has grown back over 1,500 feet.


Above headline is for Kerri Honeysett, a Facebook friend who found me in a search because I happened to mention Mount St. Helens one day. She studies stratigraphy because of this mountain, which displays its layers like nowhere else, you can clearly see them built upon each other as it grew and erupted over the last several thousand years. Below is Spirit Lake and off in the distance is Mount Rainier.

And you can see my shoes. On the way back down, the soles of BOTH shoes blew out. I had to stop several times to empty them of ash.

Even on the devastated slopes of the mountain, here and there life has found a way. The lava flows are dotted with small clusters of wildflowers.

It was getting late so I stuffed my pockets full of ash and pumice souvenirs and made my way back down. It wasn't too easy, and finally darkness made its way over me. Two hikers even came back up the slope to offer me a headlamp, but I said thanks, I have two. I hadn't checked the batteries in either one, and when I finally reached the last boulder field before treeline I was navigating mostly by light of the full moon. Once back in the forest, my headlamp was barely on but I could see well enough thanks to that moon.

About 45 minutes from the trailhead I found something curious. About 30 feet off the trail, two hikers with headlamps were off trail, walking around each other apparently in circles, as if they were looking for something or getting ready to find a spot to (fill in blank). Neither said anything, and they hadn't seen me because of my waning headlamp. Finally they did see me, and both came to a dead standstill and stared at me going by. I wasn't going to ask any questions. Two people in the forest in the dark off trail in the liberal northwest...figure it out.


I don't have a picture of Bigfoot so here's a picture of treeline from the initial field of boulders. Somewhere in these trees, about 15 minutes after I encountered those two weirdos, I was about 30 minutes from the trailhead. Out of headlamp light but also coming out of the forest I heard a very shrill, louder-than-a-peacock whistle, two whistles, one low and one high. Extremely loud. I'm sure those extracurricular people hadn't made their way through the forest to do this. And a few seconds later far, far off to the west, I hear what sounded like a man's voice repeating the whistle tones, just in a voice, uuu-uuuh, UUUU-UUUUH? Like that, ending higher pitched with a question mark. You judge. Maybe sasquatch, maybe campers from the bivouac. I did read one report on BFRO describing shrill whistles like that. I dunno. I haven't found anything on the internet about native birds making such a whistle. It was extremely loud and not human, I would know a human whistle.

Finally, back at the trailhead at 10:15 p.m., 12 hours after I started. Even being dog tired, I didn't have much of a problem driving back to Longview. Shortly before midnight I kicked back in bed and popped open a beer. Next thing I knew it was Sunday morning. The beer was sitting there with one sip out of it.

Drove home to Reno on Sunday, taking the long way around through The Dalles and around Goose Lake, the Lava Beds in Modoc County, Alturas and finally home late Monday morning around 1 a.m., and back at work a few hours after that. And here, five years later in 2013, memories solidly intact. What an excellent trip.