Mom’s Alarm Clock

It was 1980 …

Palo Verde High School in Tucson, Arizona had an excellent Industrial Arts program. Years before, in the early sixties, the Tucson Independent School District had the foresight to offer training in many industrial trades, building our school with an external set of buildings for shop classes. We had auto, wood, welding, sheet metal, machine, and electronics shops. They didn’t call it a “magnet” school back then, they just started building them that way.

At registration, in the onset of my freshman year, I rushed across the cafeteria to trade computer punch cards with a teacher and enroll in the rotating program of courses that in my case started with electronics.

Yearbook picture of the Electronics Club

The semester began with lots of training on basic circuits followed by experiments at the school’s Lab-Volt benches. Near the end of the quarter, with all the basic stuff accomplished, it was time to construct our final project: An LED digital clock. Our teacher, Mr. Reynolds, explained that after our parents ponied up the cash, he’d order a clock module kit for each student from Digi-Key. Mom agreed to fund my endeavor, and I agreed to build her a digital clock!

I knew about Digi-Key already. Back then, the electronics magazines like Popular Electronics had mail-in cards inserted in them where you’d circle a few numbers, send them back to the publisher, and the corresponding companies would send you their catalog or information on. Free stuff in the mail! Yes, I was already getting the Digi-Key catalogs, but this would be the first of many components I’d actually receive from them.

A 1979 Digi-Key ad for the clock modules and kits

The kits themselves were pretty basic. You’d get a National Semiconductor MA1023 clock module, a transformer, and four pushbutton switches. What you did from there was up to you. Assembly involved soldering and wiring the switches and transformer to the module and then wiring the transformer to an AC cord. My personal customization was to add a speaker and volume pot to make it an alarm clock.

Mr Reynolds required that we make or modify some kind of enclosure for the project. I think most students used the standard plastic enclosures with metal lids that they drilled, cut, and filed to suit.

For my enclosure, I chose to bend some yellow sheet plastic into a three sided C-shape. First I drilled the holes and made the cutout for the display bezel. Then I used a plastic bender/folder fabricated by our sheet metal and drafting teacher, Mr. Mentzer. That was made from a refrigerator defroster heating element and some heat retardant panels. At home, I hand crafted the pine sides using a jigsaw, router, and belt sander.

The clock module in back, speaker and switches up top, the volume pot to the left and the AC transformer to the right
The switch on the volume knob enabled the alarm.
You can see the MA1023 model number stamped in white on the PCB.
I made this vented back from uncoated masonite and covered the speaker with some printed fabric from Mom’s sewing notions. An underwriters knot was used as an internal strain relief for the the power cord

I was pretty proud of the work I did on that early project. Mom used it for years, and it still works great today.

Hardware … and Software

Yep, I go both ways. My penchant for hardware was fostered in the 3rd grade. My uncle got me a “crystal” radio kit for my birthday.

Science Fair Crystal Radio Kit

I also spent many after school hours at a friend’s house working on the Radio Shack electronic X-in-one kits. The first being his 100-in-1.

Science Fair 100-IN-1

Many others followed: My own 10-in-1, then a 150-in-1, and so on.

At the time, software was not a thing for kids my age. My interest in electronic circuits did get me looking at Popular Electronics magazine at the city and Jr. high school libraries. Eventually, I convinced my mom to get me a subscription for myself. I’d read those monthly issues in great detail, and I’d pick up old issues at bargain book sales.

Popular Electronics

Next came the subscription to Radio-Electronics.


My freshman year in high school finally provided me access to a TRS-80 Model I after school. The data processing classroom had two, and certain respectful students were allowed to learn on them until the janitor came to clean the room and lock the door at the end of his shift. I went out and plunked down $5.95 plus tax to get this manual so that I could start learning BASIC.

BASIC Computer Language – Instruction Book

I learned BASIC at home, with the computer, but then came into the classroom to try my programs. I also tried some programs out at Radio Shack, but would usually get shooed away by the sales team before I got very far.

It wasn’t too long before I started hearing about the ZX80, and then the big price drop happened at the introduction of the ZX81. I ordered an assembled unit and 16K memory expansion for about $150. I had my first computer.

ZX81 Kit Advertisement

From there, I got into the computer magazines: Compute! and Byte.


At that point, I was of both worlds: Hardware … and Software.

I still tend to work right there, right at the bare metal interface of the two worlds. That duality always comes up in my job interviews. When I saw the following video for the first time, I realized that I’d forever remember it in every interview going forward.

The Origin of Job Interviews

School Maker Faire

My exhibit table

My good friend Joey Ramirez was heading up the School Maker Faire® at the elementary school and he asked if I’d like to present my Star Display as an exhibitor. I’m definitely a Maker Faire kind of guy, so I jumped right on board.

The two-hour after-school event was put on by Joey and the PTA, with the help of the Thinkery and the local robotics teams. Sponsors included: Pawsitively Healing Veterinary HouseCalls, Steiner Cleaners, and RG Orthodontics.

Our family’s been immersed in the local STEM and robotics groups for years, so there were lots of friendly, familiar faces. I was glad to show what I’d been working on recently, and I was impressed by what they had accomplished since we were here.

A few of the other exhibits and activities


The robotics team hosted a nice interactive LEGO® robotics “play” area on their FIRST® FLL competition arenas. They also brought along two 3D printers that demonstrated the new equipment and skills they are using.

Student exhibits

Numerous school students presented their own tech and craft skills:

  • a giant rocket model made from PVC pipe
  • a plethora of Nintendo Labo projects
  • some excellent and arty craft glue projects
  • a flying Captain America shield made from cardboard and duct tape

The Thinkery

These exhibits were top notch and really got the kids involved in making:

  • Marble run chutes / sculptures on pegboard walls
  • Drawing with buzzy, wobbly, scribble bots
  • Building electric circuits that lit up and spun corks around like tops.

It’s a Major Award!

I was rather surprised that they handed out awards for the adult run exhibits, but it was a nice gesture on the part of the PTA. It made me feel like I’d won the science fair.

Wait… Doesn’t “coolest” override “coolest use”?

Well, it wasn’t a science fair, and maybe I didn’t really “win” after all, but I sure did enjoy it. I’m sure to be seen wearing my “winner” ribbon around town for at least 1.21 months. Thanks for the invite Mr. Ramirez, and thanks for bringing us all together to show our “maker” sides!

Our Eclipse Day Adventure

August 21, 2017. The day had arrived!

The eclipsolunatics arose before the Sun, dressed, and descended to the feeding area. In case you didn’t notice, we added a fourth while we were in Wichita. Our niece/cousin (in pink) who had some free time to spend with us before school started.

My white version of the eclipsolunatic shirt touts the 7/11/1991 eclipse

When we stepped out of the hotel at the crack of dawn, the worry seemed to drain away. You could see an eclipse in this weather.

It wasn’t perfectly clear, maybe a little hazy, but not bad at all
Eclipse day

We were on the road from Kansas City, MO to St. Joseph, MO as the Sun came up. A trek of 30 miles. More signs heralded the event.

St. Joseph is only a few exits away. You could walk to the centerline from here
The journey is almost over! I hope the spot we picked is still available
No traffic! That’s a relief! It sure does look cloudy up here
N39.780147° W94.786578°

By 7:00AM, we’d made it to the viewing site. No crowds. No traffic jams. The sun is shining. Why are we here so early?

The spot I’d picked was the parking lot of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church. I’d e-mailed ahead to ask permission to use a few slots. I’d received the green light from Steve K. (facilities) and Fr. Christian.

We found a Red Cross trailer on the lot and used it as one of the walls for our shelter

I heard later, the trailer was a pre-staged advance preparation in case there was a disaster in the area during the time frame of the eclipse.

We started setting up, and then I realized the church patrons were arriving for daily 8AM Mass. I’m not sure how I missed the timing of that on the website, but I started to realize we had the time to attend, and it was the right thing to do. There was still a go/no-go decision to be made about staying at this spot, but it was too early to make the decision. 10:00 was the right time. We paused our set up and went in.


When we came back out, we realized it had rained. Nothing but the tent and the vehicles got wet. The sun continued to shine, and we decided to continue our set up.

10:00AM. I set up the telescope and attached the camera

I connected the inverter to the car battery and set up the 24” computer monitor and hood. The family devoured “eclipse nuts”. Those are annular dough cakes covered with powdered sugar or chocolate icing. You can get them in packs of 6 at the gas station. If you take a bite out of one it looks like an eclipse. You see, there is more than one kind of eclipse nut. Our boy kept himself entertained with a little Hot Wheels track fun. He took the time to video his setup and luckily got this shot of the nearly completed observatory.

8/21/2017 11:50AM N39.514919° W94.787881° Near Dearborn, MO

Hey, wait! This isn’t where where were at 10:00AM. What happened?

Well, at 10:15 as I was completing the last steps of the set up, I looked to the South West, and saw rain heading our way. Looking at the radar, I realized we were in the path for an extended shower that might soak our plans. We decided to pack all the eclipse gear in the SUV, all the other stuff in the car, and try to scoot out from under the downpour in the SUV, leaving the car. We were packed in about 20 minutes and nothing was damaged by the rain that started.

We needed two adults in the SUV. One to drive and one to navigate away from the clouds. We found a hole in the clouds and pulled off the highway. A commuter lot just happened to be at the exit we tried, and there were still parking spots available. Everyone else that was there was doing the same thing.

Did our plans change? You bet they did. Plan B was in place. The continuous chance for rain meant that we wouldn’t risk setting up the scope or shade tent for the rest of the day. We had to stay agile and mobile chasing the holes in the clouds.

This shot was taken from some accidental video and shows the rain falling right across I-29

We got to see the first of the partial phases here. We missed first contact (C1) by just a few minutes. We did get to see a small bite here. The sunspots were evident in the binocular image.

The hole we were under closed just a few minutes later. We were the first to abandon this spot, and we moved on, following the hole to the north east.

The cloud cover was not easy to predict. There were two layers moving in different directions. Following one hole didn’t always result in a clearer sky.

8/21/2017 12:55PM N39.571806° W94.684278° Near Faucett, MO

With plan B still under way, we chased the holes in the clouds. Two layers of clouds made it impossible to use the news radar for anything but avoiding the huge cells. We sought out light spots and chased them down the back roads. We moved East on State Route [H] to the intersection of [H], [Z], and [Y]. North on [Y] to (116). (116) to [E]. Man oh man. It’s getting dark. It’s only 15 minutes to totality. We need to stop. Every place around has the purple fencepost markings indicating no trespassing. Don’t park there. OK, right here. We have a triangle between the roads. The middle must be county property. Stop here. Draw the line in the sand, and hope the clouds give us a hole.

We were at the South side of the triangle at [E] and [DD].

Have you seen this fellow? Stay well clear of him. That’s an eclipsolunatic. Do not get between him and his prey.

N39.571806° W94.684278° Near Faucett, MO
We’re all here in the SUV. We’re playing the waiting game.

When the rain stops, we can get out and use our glasses, binoculars, and cameras. When it’s raining we can look through the windows and stay dry.

A bright boy realizes we can use the sunroof to look at the eclipse: “That’s why they call them sunroofs!”

A smile? Eclipse chasing might be fun.

The guy in the front seat is too busy to notice. At least we have snacks.

There are alpacas watching us from the fence line back there.

Are we going to see anything other than it just getting dark? Partial phases? Totality? Corona? Prominences? What about all that other cool stuff I told everyone about? I just don’t know.

Camera Model: NIKON D7100
Original Date/Time: 2017-08-21T12:45:28.1
Exposure Time: 1/3200
Shutter Speed: 1/3200.00
Aperture: 6.00
F-stop: f/8.0
ISO Speed: 1000
Lens: 70.0-300.0 mm f/4.0-5.6
Focal Length: 250.00

Once we were parked, and a hole “opened” (I use the term loosely), I was able to take a few shots through the windshield with the D7100. The filter was cutting out too much light, so I did the unthinkable. Don’t look! Too late. Eclipsolunatics are fast and loose. I wanted closer (300mm) and tighter (focus) on this one. Totality is about 20 minutes away. Hand held.

Camera Model: NIKON D7100
Original Date/Time: 2017-08-21T12:58:44.4
Exposure Time: 1/20
Shutter Speed: 1/20.00
Aperture: 4.53
F-stop: f/4.8
ISO Speed: 1000
Lens: 70.0-300.0 mm f/4.0-5.6
Focal Length: 210.00

The next hole that opened let more sunlight through. I used the DIY filter with the Thousand Oaks Black-Silver Polymer here. I was also able to stand outside the SUV. Less than 10 minutes to go. Hand held, leaning against the SUV.

Time to Start the GoPro

The video is here.

The rain let up! Just a few minutes left. The clouds have cleared. Everybody out!
(still frame from GoPro video)
Another eclipse chaser arrives behind us
(still frame from GoPro video)
Look! a hole in clouds!
(still frame from GoPro video)
Look! a hole in clouds!
(still frame from GoPro video)
It’s starting to get dark! The clouds were pretty thick. We didn’t need the glasses at this point.
(still frame from GoPro video)

These three photos are the money shots. They’re still frames from the GoPro video. I can’t even believe we could see it. The clouds parted just enough. It was still amazing. In the video you can hear us say so.

This one is the diamond ring
Mid eclipse. You can discern the corona through the clouds.
Maybe the diamond ring, maybe just a hole to let more of the corona light through.

I didn’t have the D7100 or telescope out on a tripod due to the nearby rain. The GoPro video is what we ended up with.

Looking North to the rain that passed us.
Looking NW at rain and the day rushing in.

Our son took these three stills of totality on or Samsung Tab-E. I cropped them to 16:9.

Looking at the exiting partial phases. Back to the “weeny sliver”. That’s a technical term used by eclipsolunatics.
A post totality panorama of the site

The photo is blown out some. The white is not blue sky. Just lighter grey. He’s playing with a fallen sign that said “Backwoods ->”.

New family tradition? Eclipsewiches. We were starving after that chase. It’s raining.

We ended our chase of holes in the cloud cover and headed back north to St. Joseph to get the car. Lots of traffic was going South to Kansas City. The flow leaving the centerline went on for hours.

Eclipse Science and Safety

Yesterday, our Cub Scout pack turned out a week in advance of the solar eclipse to learn about science and safety. We also worked on requirements for their 2017 eclipse patch.

BSA Solar Eclipse Patch

The lesson was structured as a “reverse quiz”. The attendees asked canned questions found on randomly drawn slips of paper. Our eccentric instructor answered as best he could. I think he might have been sneaking peeks at his notes. Nobody can keep that much eclipse info in their head at once.

These pictures were frame captures from video taken by the scouts.

These binocular solar filters have been given “professional” facings.
Looking for sunspots.
One scout’s design adds extra solar shielding from a box making it cooler and removing some internal reflections on the inside of the glasses.
Looking for sunspots.
Demonstrating a pinhole box viewer.
Demonstrating an pinhole box viewer made from paper tubes.
What it looks like during totality.
Who will be able to see the eclipse on August 21st?
What is the pinhole effect?
Put on your solar helmet, Box Man!
What is the diamond ring effect?
There’s a DIY solar filter made from the Silver-Black polymer film from Thousand Oaks Optical on the front end of the telescope.
Hopefully the number answering yes will increase this year.
Checking out the sunspots.
There’s still a sliver! Approaching totality in this video from 1991.
Get ready to try something like this during the eclipse!

I used holes from a push pin. You might try something bigger. Maybe a bunch of different sizes to see what works best