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Completing the Circuit

May 9th, 2011

Finally Grounded

I had another remarkable day.

I’m trying to build a “Powerman” amp. Some tinkerer on the web came up with this. He took the case from an old PC power supply, and he crammed a bunch of amp parts into it, hence the name. I listened to some sound samples online, and I thought they were tremendous. Clear, hot, and sort of shimmery. Just what I want.

Today while I waited for the parts to arrive, I tried to get going on a PCB, or printed circuit board. If you don’t know what this is, it’s a slab of plastic coated with copper. Instead of using wires to connect things like resistors and tubes, you cut away the copper on the board until you have separate electrical paths separated by plastic, and they become the “wiring.” You solder your components to the board in the appropriate places, and you have a circuit that works.

The “printed” part comes from the fact that you can literally print these things. You create some sort of template and print it onto the board, and then you apply a solution that eats copper. The printed stuff protects the copper you want to keep. What’s left is the pattern that becomes your circuit. I don’t know if they do it much differently in factories, but this is the basic idea. I am too lazy to look up industrial PCB manufacturing.

When you do this at home, you have to create a black and white pattern and print it on photo paper. Then you use an iron to melt the toner (I guess) onto the copper plate. You remove the paper, and you’re ready to add the solution (“etchant”). You can also use a battery and a salt solution and remove the copper through electrolysis.

Feel free to correct the details, because there is no way I’m going to do it.

Here’s the hard part: making the diagram. I guess if you really wanted to, you could draw it on a piece of paper, scan it, and print that. But that’s no fun, plus it would be ugly, and it would be tedious. So what do you do? You use circuit design software, and then you use special software that turns your circuits into PCB images.

I spent like 4 hours today trying to understand a free program called PCB Artist. I never did get anywhere with it. I can understand calculus. I can understand physics. Sometimes I almost think I can understand my car insurance policy. But software written for engineers? It tends to be pretty hideous. Engineers have their own culture, so when they come up with new stuff, they kind of assume you already have all the old stuff memorized, because all you do is sit in your room smoking dope and doing nerd stuff. And sometimes they get angry when they have to accommodate normal people who know what the sun looks like. There are probably still engineers who think Bill Gates and Steve Jobs will burn in hell for giving up on command-prompt computing.

PCB Artist has a help file. HAHAHAHAHAHA. Oh, man. Engineers…WRITING. Never a good thing. It has flow charts where it ought to have paragraphs. Even Dilbert would vomit.

So I gave up. But then I made an amazing discovery. I already had free versions of two expensive programs: Multisim and Ultiboard. Don’t ask me how I got free versions. I downloaded them a long time ago. I don’t think they support them now. But they work fine. On top of that, everything is pretty intuitive.

I managed to create my own schematic symbol for the 6021 twin triode vacuum tube. I felt like I had climbed Mt. Everest on roller skates. I haven’t figured out how to get it totally integrated into the software, but I don’t really have to do that. The tubes are going to fit into op amp sockets, so as long as I can come up with a circuit with two sockets in it, I’m fine. The software already knows about sockets.

Very cool.

A bunch of the parts arrived. I have a Hammond aluminum chassis, lots of resistors, numerous capacitors, et cetera. I felt like dumping them in a pile and letting them pour through my fingers. I love this stuff.

Over the weekend, I located an amazing book on vacuum tubes. It was written in 1952, for the military. The great thing about that is that the military EXPECTS you to be stupid. It’s not like university math and science texts, which always have incomprehensible, agony-inducing passages preceded by the word “obviously.” Now I know how vacuum tubes work! Fantastic! I should be done with the book next week. I looked at an awful book on tube guitar amps, and it was as useless as a Honey-Baked Ham store in Pakistan. Totally worthless. But the military book was a breeze. Why aren’t there more books like that?

I’m actually going to be able to do this. Not just this circuit, but circuits in general. Simple ones. And it’s coming together just as the guitar is starting to work. It is now easy for me to do things that were impossible a month ago. My hands are doing things which, I’m pretty sure, aren’t even physically possible. I’ll be brave and say I expect to be able to play “I Know a Little” very well, at 90% speed, without fear of screwing up, in a month.

The nuttiest things are happening. When you pick a guitar, you have to be accurate to within a couple of millimeters on every stroke. The natural impulse is to crab up your hand and move the pick with cramped movements of your fingers. I’m swinging my hand from the elbow, not looking where I’m going, and I’m whacking the strings I need to hit, reliably and smoothly. It’s like sinking a basketball over and over from 50 feet. When you play this way, you can play much faster and more rhythmically than you can by moving the pick with your fingers. It sounds crazy, but it’s true. A person with no fingers at all should be able to flatpick as well as anyone, as long as he can find a way to hang onto the pick.

As I get more accurate, I spend less energy on mechanics, and I have more brain capacity to apply to making the music sound good. I can listen to it and enjoy it. And my left hand feels like it’s swimming in the fretboard. Sometimes I feel like I’m singing with my hands.

I don’t know what’s going on, but a month or two back, I got the definite impression that my life was going to start working much better toward the end of April. I saw it as a pivotal week. I think from now on I’m going to succeed in areas where I used to fail.

This morning, I started feeling that God was blessing me. I felt that he was putting things in motion for me; bringing me wonderful things. It’s hard to explain, but I couldn’t help bending my knees at one point, as if someone were showering me with heavy gifts. I thought I’d blog it. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll be just another crazy, and no one will care. If it does, I will have given God his glory, and unlike most people, I will have done it in advance.

God works. And the ideas I’ve had about him are all panning out. Especially tongues. I’ve only managed to get two people at church on board with it. One of them is using a timer to pray in tongues every day, as I suggested.

I’m going to go on ahead. I’m going to be like Joshua and Caleb. I don’t know how to bring people along with me; I wish I did. Jesus himself had limited success at that. But I have learned that when you get ahold of something good, and you decide to embark on a course of action that will dramatically improve your life, nearly everyone you know will find an excuse to stay behind and rot. The slavery they know looks better than the milk and honey they’ve been promised.

Maybe this is why a good marriage is such a treasure. Maybe the best thing that can happen to a man is to find a woman he doesn’t have to outgrow and leave behind.

I know there are disappointments in this way of life, but they are always disappointments in human beings, not God. I don’t care about those things. Human beings were created to be disappointing. We are told most of them go to hell. If they manage to achieve salvation, it’s a big deal. Asking for any improvement beyond that is wildly optimistic. Most Christians remain babies until they die, just like unsaved people.

I pray sincerely for people to change, and I go on with my progress. There is hope for anyone who will submit. I don’t know who will change and who will not. I hope some of the folks who disappoint me will come around.

If I manage to make a PCB amp, I’ll put up photos. This will be so cool, I may not be able to stand it.

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6 Responses to “Completing the Circuit”

  1. WB Says:

    I think you’re right about most Christians…and what Jesus said to the Church at Laodacea makes me fear for so many in the Body of Christ. But here’s something for you–Isaiah 4, with chapter 3 describing the punishment for not following the Lord and obeying His commandments…There is a remnant and if Ezekiel and Joel are any hints, this remnant will accomplish much.

    I hear a growing talk and see a growing group of Christians that want and seek to burn for Christ. It’s coming–for those who are willing to deny self, quit being lazy, and seek Christ with all their heart.

    As always, your writing is a pleasure to read and an inspiration to move onward. Keep it up, brother…

  2. Steve H. Says:

    Thanks, Ward. I believe God’s blessings are going to start falling on individual believers instead of our entire nation.
    Let us know where you’ll be during hurricane season so we can avoid the storms!

  3. ScottH Says:

    “I located an amazing book on vacuum tubes. It was written in 1952, for the military…Why aren’t there more books like that?”

    1. It takes a lot of time and thought to clearly illustrate and explain how to do something on paper.

    2. It’s a protection racket. If people could quickly learn how to do something they wouldn’t need experts to do it for them or professors to teach it to them over several years.

  4. Elmo Says:

    Been years … (deen’t know you was so afflicted?).


    I couldn’t find my way round a circuit board, but I didn’t let that stop me … from buying/building a 300B/SET kit amplifier, somewhere round ten year ago.

    Any extry jingle jangle I might have in future? I’ll grab me up one a them lil spring wound, suitcase, acoustic sebenty ate platterspinners (for like say when the power goes out).

  5. Ted Says:

    PCB’s haven’t really changed in a long time, the tech has just gotten better and the circuits have gotten smaller. Oh, and more layers.

    It’s photographic. A blank pcb would be like a sheet of plastic with coper foil laid on it. You coat this with photoreactive goo that hardens with exposure to light, print out a negative of your circuit on a transparency, and expose it to light. You wash it in acid, and voila, the unwanted copper is gone and you have a PCB.

  6. Ted Says:

    But that’s the complicated way. If you’re only making one, and the circuit isn’t overly complicated, heavy duty aluminum foil and an exacto knife could cut your circuit.