Getting Silly: The Virus Doomsday Flashlight

What do you do when you have a lot of time on your hands, a whole case of “Altoid” style metal boxes for a project that never came to fruition, and a bags full of surplus electronics parts? If you’re me, you end up with stuff like this:

I used “doomsday” because I can’t spell apocolypse, appocololips, apocalypse by the way. Is this “project” silly? You bet. Don’t care. We all need to be silly once in a while.

So I was sitting around this morning staring at all this stuff on the shelves down here in my version of a mad scientist’s laboratory (I’m not really mad, only slightly eccentric.) wondering what I could do that would A) kill time because dear lord I was getting bored (so, sooo bored) after being in self imposed exile for weeks, B) be really, really cheap, C) be fairly easy to do because even though I was bored, I’m also lazy, and D) use up some of the junk I have laying around like that bag full of weird little switches. So there I was with a bunch of small metal boxes, a bunch of LEDs, a bunch of switches that aren’t good for much of anything, at least not for anything I normally tinker with, and I started thinking – ooo, it’s lunch time, let’s go eat.

But after lunch I thought hey, there is no such thing as having too many flashlights, is there? I mean whenever you need a flashlight either you can’t find one, or the batteries are dead, or someone took out the batteries to stuff in the remote for the TV or to power a robot or weather station or something. Even better, maybe MrsGF might stop wondering if she needs to call someone about my “problem” with accumulating various parts and gadgets and similar stuff if I actually use some of this stuff to crank out something remotely useful.

(Sidenote: LEDs are a lot of fun to play with, and cheap to boot. A few LEDs, some resistors, a 555 timer, a few transistors, maybe a microcontroller, and you too can have a lot of fun building really cool and utterly useless little gadgets)

So first I need a 3V power supply of some kind because the LEDs I got want to be fed about 3 volts. AA batteries work well for this. (So would AAA batteries, BTW) Two AA batteries together will put out 3V so… Oh, I didn’t have a battery holder thingie. Ah, well, no problem there. Just solder the suckers together. Solder the negative pole of one battery to the positive of the other with a hunk of wire, solder jumper wires on, and away we go. Instant battery pack.

Is this safe? Um, maybe? Probably not? Is it easy? Not really. It’s a pain in the neck. Solder doesn’t want to stick to those suckers. (Hint: scuff the surface of the battery with fine sandpaper. Seems to help the solder adhere.) But this is a doomsday flashlight, remember? You don’t need neat and tidy and professional looking, you just need something that works. Jury rigging is encouraged.

Speaking of jury rigging…

Solder splashes are an optional accessory. The leads are just twisted together here, but I did eventually solder everything together before I packed it into the box. You really don’t even need to solder anything. Just securely twisting the leads and wires together and wrapping everything in tape would be good enough.

What about actually making some light? That’s the easy part, really. A couple of resistors for current limiting, a couple of LEDs, and away we go.

Now for mounting the LEDs in that case. How the heck do we do that? I don’t have any of those fancy mounts… Well, we’ll just drill some holes just barely big enough to shove the LED through and add lots and lots of glue.

Now, to sort through this lot to find a switch that might work…

The problem when you buy bulk lots of stuff labeled “100 Misc. Switches, $1.99” is that the chances of you getting anything actually useable out of that lot is pretty slim. Still, we work with what we got. All of those are momentary contact switches that stay turned on only as long as pressure is applied to them, and they aren’t really suited for what I want. Unless… Ooo, I know! Use the lid of the case as the switch. Close the lid it puts pressure on the switch and turns it on. Open the lid and it turns off.

And this is what I ended up with. LEDs glued into holes drilled in the end of the case. Lots of plastic tape to insulate the wires. The batteries wrapped in tape and held in with a self adhesive velcro pad, and the switch glued to the top of the battery conveniently makes it exactly the right height to turn on when the lid is closed. Damn, that was lucky there because otherwise I had no idea how I was going to mount that switch. Ooo, can you say serendipity?

And, damn, it actually works??? Yeah, it does. Closing the lid puts enough pressure on the switch to turn it on. Open the lid and it turns off. And puts out a surprisingly large amount of light, too. Damn, I actually made something useful? Wow!

It also uses very, very little power. I put it on the meter and it draws about 0.005 amps. A set of AA batteries will probably keep this thing going 24/7 for a couple of weeks. Which is good because changing the batteries in this thing would be a royal pain in the neck, them being soldered in like that.

Total cost on this, excluding the batteries, is maybe a buck at the most? Most of this stuff like the LEDs and the switches were bought in large lots as “surplus” in a moment of weakness when I was scrounging around on-line. (“Ooo, that’s a real deal! I’m sure I’ll need 1,000 miscellaneous LEDs in the future”) It took maybe half an hour to put it all together, and it only took that long because I’m easily distracted. And because it took me 10 minutes to find a roll of electrical tape.

Radio Stuff. Emphasis on Stuff.

So let’s talk amateur radio for a while. Especially about stuff. As in where the hell did all this stuff come from, anyway?

I semi-retired a year or two ago. I generally have my summers off and only work for special events in the theater, fill in if someone calls in sick, deal with emergencies and things like that. Which means I should have lots and lots of spare time to fiddle with radios and stuff like that, right?

Yeah, right…

This morning was the first time in probably a month or more than I had all the equipment

Damn, that’s a terrible picture

turned on and actually used it. Much to my surprise it actually all worked. I didn’t have anything start on fire, no smoke, no cats came leaping out from under the desk with all their fur standing on end. I didn’t even have to resort to strong language. Amazing.

I finally put a decent cable on the iambic paddle to replace the cobbled together POS I’d thrown together so I could test it when I first got it.

Then I remembered I don’t do CW in the first place. So how in the world did I end up with not one but two Vibroplex CW keys?

It’s like a lot of other stuff I’ve accumulated over the years. I just — justĀ have it for some reason. There’s a 500 foot long spool of LMR-400 coax sitting in the basement. I just ran across a bag of 50 very good quality PL-259 connectors in a drawer the other day. Right after I’d just bought a bag of 25 of them because I needed one and didn’t think I had any. Under that bag was a VOM I don’t remember ever buying. Which is okay. Can’t have too many VOMs, right? Maybe? I mean, everybody needs six or seven volt ohm meters, right?

Eldest son stayed over night a couple of weeks ago and found a new, never used GAP Titan vertical antenna in the box under the bed in the spare room upstairs. Oh, that’s right, I picked that up about three years ago and never got around to putting it up because it was easier to just string up a dipole. Then I stumbled over a DX-Engineering vertical with the complete mounting kit and all the accessories down in the basement. All still in the boxes. Which I bought because I forgot I had the GAP antenna sitting upstairs.

Where did all this stuff come from? How did I end up with two HF amplifiers? Suppose I could sell one of them, but how the hell do you ship a delicate, 100 pound amplifier full of vacuum tubes and a power supply as big as my head?

Some of the stuff I do need. The big dummy load I use for testing, the big antenna tuner. The oscilloscope comes in damned handy sometimes.

But how did I end up with 200 Anderson Power Pole connectors?

I’m convinced people are breaking into the house late at night and instead of stealing stuff, they’re shoveling more stuff in here.

Granted, some of the stuff is genuinely useful. I picked up some LED light panels intended to replace the dome lights in cars. Got those for about $2 each and they’re great for undercounter lighting. Especially if you already have 12V power supplies running to power other equipment like I do here.

But what in the world am I going to do with all those relays I salvaged from the old boiler controllers when we installed the new heating system at work?

And where in the world did that bloody great IBM mainframe tape drive come from? Okay, so it’s really neat to watch it thread the tape through itself using puffs of air to guide the tape, but come on… I suspect eldest son snuck that into the basement when I wasn’t looking. He’s even worse than I am when it comes to snagging stuff like that.

I was looking for the cable cutter the other day, opened the drawer, and there were six laser tubes rolling around along with front surfaced mirrors and other associated stuff. Found my weight set that I used when I serviced, tested and certified scales. Don’t know why I have that either. Get rid of it? Well, what if I ever need to test a scale, hmm?


I need to get rid of some of this — this stuff.

But not my collection of M&M dispensers. No sir… And I really do need six volt ohm meters. And I’d like to hang onto that extra transceiver just in case. And, well, you never know, maybe I’ll actually use that whole drawer full of PL-259 connectors. And the laser tubes…

I’m doomed, aren’t I?