Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Chuck the Writer takes stock of Trivia Season 2008

Everyone who knows me understands that I have a jones for competitive trivia competitions. Maybe it goes back to 1981, when my Street Academy high school team annihilated three other high schools on a local television quiz show.

For the past three years, I've been playing trivia competitions at local bars, restaurants and taverns, playing as that one-man "Street Academy" team and winning my fair share of games. I've picked up victories this year at several bars in the Capital Region area, including Graney's, Old Chicago (several times), Elbo Room, Broadway Joe's, Brown's Brewing and Recovery Room.

How dominant was I at Recovery Room? After winning three times in six weeks, management told me I was ineligible to win there any more - because other people were complaining that it wasn't fair that I won all the time. Think about this for a second. This is like telling the New York Yankees that for the rest of the season, Derek Jeter has to wear a blindfold in the infield, Mariano Rivera has to spit the baseball over the plate, and Alex Rodriguez has to step in the batter's box with a table leg because someone on the Kansas City Royals squad whined too much that the Yankees were beating them too often. Frickin' crybabies.

This trivia season, however, has been a case of "just a few points short" in the major events. I missed the first $1000 Elbo Room tournament championship by one miserable point. I lost the 2008 Trivia Bowl on a question that nobody knew - and the only team that won put in a 3-point "safe bet" and took the trophy home. And after six weeks of hard-fought battle at the Saratoga Trackside Trivia Tournament, I missed one key question about the location of the first McDonald's and watched as Tres Hombres, for the second year in a row, got the end-of-track-season trackside barbeque and a race named after their team.

How frustrating was it? In July 2008 I tried out for "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," aced the written test, aced the interview, aced a second interview - and six weeks later, received the generic post card that informed me that I was not selected to be a contestant. I rationalized the snub by figuring I fit in the demographic of the white 40ish slightly balding, slightly paunchy glasses-wearing college-educated contestants that would have taken all their money. Believe me, game shows learned their lesson after watching Ken Jennings run the table on Jeopardy! for the better part of two months, they don't want me repeating the feat.

So the ultimate dream for me in 2009 would be the following:

1. Winning this year's Elbo Room Trivia Tournament.
2. Winning the Trivia Bowl and getting the championship chalice back.
3. Winning the Saratoga Trackside Trivia Tournament, and cheering on the winner of the first annual Street Academy Stakes.
4. Finally getting my shot on a competitive trivia television show like Jeopardy! or Millionaire or even that 5th Grader show.

Can I do it - if I can't, it won't be for lack of trying.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Chuck the Writer debuts his new RCA mech boards

Okay everybody, here they are. These are the newly repainted RCA Victor mech boards (what the turntable and tonearm sit on) that will be used for my first two restoration / "Chuck-i-fi-cation" projects.

First off is the "Petty" board, so named because the serial number on this RCA Victor 45-EY-2 phonograph has a "43" in it.

The board at one point looked like this...

Remember the rust stains and those annoying white paint specs? After a shot of Rustoleum primer and a couple of layers of blue spray paint... it now looks like this -

Now ain't that swank? You'll notice that some portions of the mech board weren't painted, those were because parts have to move or pivot on those points, and they can't be gunked up with paint. Those parts will be covered with tonearms and turntables and the like, so there's nothing to worry about.

Oh yeah, there's that other mech board, the one on my RCA Victor 45-J-2 non-amplifier player that I've called the "Sun" project...

When I first got the player, the board looked like this -

All together now ... EWWWWWWW

But, after some sanding, a shot of primer and some Rustoleum...

Now you know why it's called the "Sun" project!

And just to show you what it could look like as the project progresses, I "dry-fitted" the turntable, tonearm and brand badge back on this unit for a second, just to show a nice photograph of what this turntable might look like down the road...

Feel free to drool. :)

More to follow...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Chuck the Writer recalls those departed

As 2008 winds to a close, I want to take this moment to remember those who have lived their life to the fullest. These are people who, in one way or another, have made an impact on my life.

This nice lady is my sainted grandmother, Betty Miller. She passed away in March. For the years when I did not have the support or caring from my parents, I always knew I could count on her for support, understanding and care. This is a woman who, even in her 70's, would take me on the weekends to the Boston Museum of Science, the New England Aquarium, Larz Anderson auto museum, Paragon Park at Nantasket Beach, anywhere a family would go to spend some time. In addition to a tonload of wonderful memories, I still have that 1991 Pontiac 6000 that she bought - and barely drove - and by having that car, I still have a part of her in my life.

Next up is this young man here, Rich Mahady. What's funny is that I actually met Rich in 1992, while I was working on some research involving Albany-based sports teams. Apparently Rich was a season ticket holder for the departed Albany Choppers (International Hockey League), and we talked about the legacy of the Choppers - which I later turned into an article for Hockey Digest (his quotes are halfway through the article).

Fast forward to 2005, and I discover that Rich is "Trivia Rich," a former money-winner on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and a tough opponent on the "Lynch's Mob" team at the old Hooters Trivia nights. Eventually Rich left Lynch's Mob and joined my "Street Academy" team, and we won some considerable prizes together. This photo is the last time I saw Trivia Rich; I had acquired possession of the Trivia Bowl trophy, and wanted to make sure to take a picture of Rich with it. He is truly missed.

And finally...

I found Ruth Wallis' old LP's and 45's in my grandmother's basement. These records were my first introduction into "blue party" music, the songs that would NEVER get played on the radio because they were too risque. In 1997, I had the opportunity to interview Ms. Wallis for Goldmine magazine, and that article eventually led to an off-Broadway revue of her greatest songs and ballads, "Boobs: The Musical."

All these people will be missed. The Afterlife has three more angels in its population.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Chuck the Writer and Repainting RCA Mech Boards

It was a very snowy weekend in Albany, a perfect time for me to work on my RCA Victor 45 RPM phonographs. Right now I've got two dissected and disassembled players - a 45-J-2 phonograph which I'm currently referring to as the "Sun" player (for reasons I will explain later), and a 45-EY-2 phonograph with amplifier that I've nicknamed the "Petty" player (part of the serial number has a "43" in it, in honor of Richard Petty).

Yesteday I took several of the internal parts from both units downstairs, where I applied copious amounts of Gojo pumice on each part, then scrubbed them off. Later on I'll add some 3M rubbing compound to polish the parts up, because as I was taught by the Kieronspal DVD videos, clean parts make for solid, dependable parts.

You should have seen these parts beforehand. They were black and greasy and sticky and gunky. They don't look sticky and gunky now, do they?

Now, I need to show you the two mechanical boards, the metal plates upon which the turntable and tonearm rest.

Here's the "Petty" board, complete with rust and pitting and those annoying white paint marks.

And the "Sun" board, with rust and pitting and gungus - and look, the "Sun" board still has the RCA Victor brand on the lower right corner.

Usually these RCA Victor brands are held on by three metal pin clips, which was the case with the Petty board. However, this one had the RCA Victor brand applied with what looked like a weld. After further discovery, I found out that the brand was being held with a backing of wax, which loosened up after I heated the bolt points with a small butane lighter. Then after that, it was a simple step to remove the RCA Victor brand from the Sun board.

Once both units were debranded and stripped of almost all necessary points (I couldn't successfully remove the reject pivot point), I sanded each mech board with 100 grit sandpaper, removing as much of the dried paint and rust and puckering and pitting on each mech board.

Then I taped up the reject pivot point and a couple of other parts on the mech boards, and gave each mech board a nice light coating of Rustoleum primer.

Results - here's the "Petty" mech board -

And the "Sun" mech board -

I'll be adding a second primer coat, then later will repaint each mech board with an enamel-based Rustoleum spray. More fun stuff to follow...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Chuck the Writer and Three Weeks to Go in the Elbo Room Trivia Tournament

Well, I get a three-week break, actually.

Due to the holidays, the Elbo Room Trivia Tournament won't gear up again until the first week of 2009. There will be three more weeks of qualifying, and then the top eight teams go to the finals on January 29. That's where the $2,000 prize comes in.

As of now, here are the standings. Those teams in green (including my one-man Street Academy team) are "locked in" - in other words, we have enough points to get in the championship round, even if we just answer "Bob Saget" for the rest of the preliminaries. Teams in yellow are still on the bubble; teams in red are on the outside looking in.

So where are the scores? Here are the scores:

  1. Woo Hoo A Go Go - 23 points
  2. Big Red Machine - 22 points
  3. Street Academy - 22 points
  4. Stern Fans - 18 points
  5. Beer Addled Brains - 15 points
  6. Mayhem - 14 points
  7. Brown Van Experience - 6 points
  8. Tres Hombres - 5 points
  9. Liquor in the Front, Poker in the Rear - 3 points
  10. Donna Martin Graduates - 3 points
  11. Clay Aiken's Skidmarks - 3 points
  12. 40 oz. Bounce - 1 point
So I get a couple of Thursdays off. Good. I could use a breather.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Chuck the Writer and the RCA Victor Restoration Project

Okay, this is the start of the restoration project.

As you might recall, this is the unit in its original "purchased from eBay" condition. Note the copious amount of white paint droplets and rust pittings on the baseplate.

As you can see from the serial number and information here on the right, this is an RCA Victor 45 RPM player, model 45-EY-2 (turntable with built-in amplifier and speakers in the base), powered by 115 volts, 60 cycles and 50 watts of power. It takes three electron vacuum tubes, modesl 35W4, 50C5 and 12AV6, of which will get replaced later on. This unit was designated with a serial number X824347. For the moment, until I can come up with a better nickname, I'm going to call this one the "Petty Player" in honor of Richard Petty, one of the greatest race car drivers that ever lived. Besides, he drove that #43 STP car for so many years, and I see a #43 in the unit's serial number, so there you go.

Here's a shot of the inside guts of this player. Looks okay, but there's a lot of dust and gunk in here, especially around the motor and chassis mounts and springs. This will definitely need a bit of a cleaning.

This morning I went through the unit and began disassembling it, pulling parts and screws and washers and clips off left and right. This is what the baseplate looks like after it's been stripped of things like - oh, I don't know - the turntable, the tonearm, the reject knob...

One thing I forgot to strip from this bad boy - the nameplate. Out it comes, like removing an incisor from the gums of a meth addict.

More to follow...

Chuck the Writer and the RCA Victor Restoration Project

So I tore apart the first player I received through the mail, using it for spare parts.

What you see here is the first RCA Victor 45 RPM player I will attempt to restore. This is a 45-EY-2 player, with a built-in speaker and amplifier in its base. As you can see, the top plate is spotted with paint and rust, and I'm not even going to bother trying to plug it in - I was without power during the ice storm, I don't want to go back to that point.

On the positives, the bakelite chassis is in good shape, and that brown color won't be there for very long once I get finished "Chuck-i-fying" it. The volume knob is missing, but I'm going to poach a volume knob from another unit that's on its way to me. I have purchased replacement NOS vacuum tubes to replace the ones inside the unit now. I do not yet have a concrete idea as to what colors this bad boy will be painted or styled with, but I will come up with some ideas as the project evolves.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Chuck the Writer's Long National Freezing Nightmare Is Over

Power has been restored to the Miller household.

I would do the dance of joy, but I can't move my frozen muscles.

Damage assessment - all the food in the freezers and fridges must now be discarded. Also, my ViewSonic monitor got fried from the blackout and is now a piece of junk; I ended up going to Circuit City and picking up a Samsung T190 monitor and swapping it in.

I also discovered that at one point, I was sleeping in a house that was as cold as 45 degrees. Holy meat locker, Batman. The temperature's rising now, I've got the heating system in the house going at full blast, and we're up to at least the mid-50's.

I don't want to go through another week like this ever again. EVER.

If I had enough cash, I'd move to Miami right now. Until a hurricane hits - at which point I'll kvetch about moving back to Albany.

Chuck the Writer is still surviving the ice storm

It's Monday. I haven't had power in the house for four days. National Grid says that power should be restored to my neighborhood by Wednesday evening at the earliest. For the third straight night, I sleep under every cover I can find in the house, to make sure that someone is inside the house and taking care of things. I wake up and I'm colder than the rear end of the fifth man on the four-man bobsled team.

Before I leave for work, I turn on the water faucets to make sure they run. I make sure each toilet in the house flushes. I don't want the pipes to freeze. It's supposed to get into the 50-degree mark tonight, maybe I'll open a window and let the cold air out.

Last night I came home and my side of the street was pitch black. No street lights. Nothing. If and when the power goes back on, I'll have to throw out all the spoiled food - virtually everything in the fridges and freezers.

My wife and her father are in a motel downtown. I want them to stay there and stay warm. I'm willing to take the cold in the house if for no other reason than to protect my home.

I've been through these cold snaps before. I survived the Blizzard of '87. I survived the Blizzard of '78. I also survived those days when, as a kid, I lived in a mobile home trailer park. The wind would rattle through all that galvanized steel that most people call a mobile home. My mother would try to jigger the faulty radiating heating unit to get more heat in the house, and after a while the whole house would smell of kerosene. On the occasions when the heat actually did work, I would take the vent grid off the floor of my bedroom and stick my feet in the vent pipe, so that I could receive just a little more warmth on my toes.

That trailer burned down in I think 1979. Supposedly it was an electrical short that tore through the entire trailer and burned it to the ground in moments. I'm not sad to see it go. That trailer gave me a lot of horrible memories. It still does today.

And even though I'm freezing in my bed thinking about when National Grid's going to get my house back to the 21st century, I realize that even in the coldest night, I've got it better than I had as a kid.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Chuck the Writer is surviving the ice storm somehow

Friday morning, around 3am. My wife wakes me up.

"Chuck, the power went out."

Half awake. Figure it's a momentary blackout caused by all the crappy weather we had the night before. Nope. Lights are flickering on and off - then they die completely.

The Ice Storm of 2008 hit us right in the face.

I've been through this before - my neighborhood was clobbered in the Blizzard of '87, to the point where the only two entities that had power were my day job and my night job with radio station WWWD (I'll cover 3WD in another post). We lost power on Sunday and did not get it back until Thursday afternoon. I made my family stay with their relatives while I stayed in the house throughout the chilly week.

This has been no different.

We lost power Friday morning. I still came in to work, as there was power there and we were scheduled to have a holiday party that evening. The party was cancelled (the venue did not have power, nor did most of my co-workers).

I've been checking National Grid's storm page any chance I can get near a computer with internet access. Last time I looked, Albany County still had 33,000 houses without power, and the earliest estimate of power returning to us would be Wednesday.

For the past two days, I've had my wife and her father-in-law stay at a motel, while I stayed at home and made sure no crackheads looking for copper pipe to steal come busting through our house. I've taken breathers at the local shopping mall, sitting through "The Day The Earth Stood Still" (it was a warm theater, that's the only benefit that film had for me).

My whole neighborhood looks like a tornado tore through it. Tree branches ripped off their stumps. Downed power lines. The freezing rain making thin trees bend like they were bowing to the King of Nature. It's just horrible out.

I even went into my day job office this morning, if for no other reason than to shower up at the building's fitness center, charge up my cell phone, and check my e-mail.

I'm okay, and I check on my family every so often to make sure they're comfortable.

I've been through a storm like this 21 years ago. I wonder if this means that in 2029, I'll have to go through this all again. If that's the case, remind me that in 2028 I have to move to Florida.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Chuck the Writer and the RCA Victor Restoration Project

You are looking at what has got to be - and I'm being generous on this comment - a wreck. And I don't blame you for saying that.

This is an RCA Victor 45 RPM record player, specifically a model 45-J-2.It was manufactured in the 1950's at a time when the RCA Victor record company wanted to create a new proprietary phonograph speed, one that would allow RCA Victor to sell records without having to license patents from their rival Columbia. It was a gaudy gamble, but surprisingly it worked. The popularity of these players helped RCA usher in the 45 RPM record, arguably the perfect format for pop songs - more durable than a 78, and easier to store than a rack fo LP's.

This 45-J-2, along with several dozen other models, employed a turntable/motor system known as RP-190. This model actually has a connecting plug that allows the phonograph to connect with a radio, so it didn't need an internal amplifier. The spindle could hold 12-15 records at a time, all ready to drop, one by one, so that the top songs of the day could be heard in rapid succession.

However, as you can see from the picture above left, this phonograph has had better days. The cabinet is cracked, the tonearm practically fell off its post, and the power cord and phono plug look as if they were chewed by badgers. Therefore, this unit is about to be stripped of all workable pieces, gears, grommets, washers, clips, clamps, and internal ephemera. Whatever can be salvaged for parts WILL be salvaged; the Bakelite case will be used to test various cleaning and restoring solutions. And in an effort to practice electronic repair, this unit will be my test subject, where I can practice such things as soldering, component replacement and the like.

As this progresses, I hope to show you the progress of my work. I also recommend that if you are so inclined to work on a project like this, I wholeheartedly recommend eBay seller kieronspal's DVD instruction series on RCA Victor RP-190 repair and restoration.

So for now, it's time to tear this bad boy to bits. And just in case I have to answer to anyone of authority... RCA Victor unit Model 45-J-2, serial number K 394512, as seen here and as above, is now being gutted.

More to follow...

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Chuck the Writer's Not Fond of Holiday Customer Service

So I'm busy working on restoring my home office on what I call "Project Retro Nuevo," in essence, incorporating vintage materials to work with modern technology. With that in mind, I recently acquired on eBay a vintage 1970's Western Electric touch-tone desk phone. It's big, it's bulky, it's green and I could probably knock out Kimbo Slice if I hit him in the head with it. Oh wait, somebody beat me to the punch on that one.

The only problem I had with the phone was that if I wanted to plug it into my home phone system, I had to get the phone cord plug replaced. The previous person did put a modern phone plug on the phone itself, but the little latch that keeps the phone jammed into the jack broke off - meaning all it takes is one little pull and I'd be going "Hello? Hello?" and no one would hear me.

I figured, hey let me go to Radio Shack and let them put a new jack on it.

Yeah right.

What happened was I didn't step two feet into the store before some wet-nosed pimply-faced attendant named Matt walked up to me, and said "Hi welcome to Radio Shack, can I help you find something today?"

I showed him the phone and asked if someone in Radio Shack could just clip a new phone plug on the existing wire and I would pay for the time.

"Oh no sir, we can't do that," but then he dragged me to the back of the store, pulled a $40 wire stripper off the wall, put it in my hand, pulled some phone plugs off another wall, put those in my hand, then herded me to the register where he rang up my purchase (after trying to get me to buy batteries and asked if I wanted a subscription to one of the top magazines out there), and I was out the door and had no idea how to put this thing together.

The back of the wire stripper did have some directions to it, and between them and a link on eHow.com, I was able to get the clip put on by myself.

Then I had to go to the Apple Store, as I needed a new USB-to-iPod connector for my clear-faceplated iPod. Of course, do I get the cute-as-a-button emo girl who's more than willing to help me find the correct wire? No, I get what looks like someone who just rolled out of bed, strapped on his Apple Store T-Shirt of the day, and when I told him what I wanted, he kept trying to steer me over to the MacBooks and trying to convince me to buy a MacBook!

Ahhh.... no. No offense to Mac users, but I kinda like the idea of being able to use my technology without having to upgrade every six months because Apple's products aren't that forward-compatible (and I speak from experience, you ever try to convert Apple IIe programs into Macintosh software? It didn't work in 1985, and I don't see it working today).

All I needed was a frickin' USB-to-iPod transfer cable, and eventually I found it pinned on a store rack. $19 plus tax later, I'm out the door.

The worst, however, came yesterday when I had to deal with Verizon.

Years ago, my wife (whom I really really love, even if I didn't know that she reads these blogs - hi honey) signed the family up with Verizon for cell phones. It was one of those "buy one, get two phones free" deals. She got the one phone, my daughter Cassaundra got one phone and I got a phone. I got one of those blah Motorola phones that didn't even have the ability to turn on a GPS if you dialed 911. Drove me nuts.

But that's history. In 2007, I got a BlackBerry and I like it. However, when getting the BlackBerry, I was informed that my wife had to sign for it, as she was the "primary" on the account and that I was the "secondary" on the account. So... I had to get Vicki to come down to the mall and sign at the Verizon store to allow me to get the BlackBerry. At that time, I asked if the store could put me on the account as a "primary" as well, so that I wouldn't have to bring my wife down to the store every frickin' time something needed to be changed on my phone.

They said sure, no problem.

So yesterday, I go to the Verizon store because of an issue on my bill (I was paying $40 a month for a data plan that I didn't need), but they wouldn't talk to me about the plan - guess why - wait for it - because my wife is the primary on the account and they don't have any record of me having primary access.

That sound you just heard was my lid popping off.

So once again I had to wait until Vicki got done with her hair appointment (they did a really good job on her hair, btw), have her come back down to the Verizon store, and once again put me back on the account as a primary. We also got the bill knocked down $30 a month by my going to another data plan (apparently the one I had required corporate e-mails, which I really don't use).

Absolutely pitiful all around.

But at least my phone works, I've got the USB-to-iPod transfer cable, and I can talk on my cell phone for $30 less a month. I guess I'll take my small victories where I can find them.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Chuck the Writer makes one part from two

People know know me understand that I hate buying things right off the shelf - especially electronics. This goes back to probably the early 1990's, when I purchased a 386 Packard Bell laptop from Sears. Boy if I could go back in time right now I would have taken that laptop and thrown it in the Hudson River.

Think about this for a second - 386 processor. Monochromatic screen. Bulky like a Russian tank. Battery power that lasted about 30 minutes at best. A phone jack for an 8000 baud modem. And having to use dial-up to access America Online 1.5. Argh. And forget about upgrading the thing - the best Packard Bell could do for me was get me a "math coprocessor." Whoo pee. And when someone snapped off the power cord in the back of the computer, I was left with an expensive paperweight. Sending it to Packard Bell didn't get anything resolved, they lost the lapper and eventually sent me a desktop with a Pentium 1 processor and a monitor that had the equivalent weight of a Buick.

But I digress.

Last year I built my own computer system, complete with an ASUS P5W DH Deluxe motherboard, and a ton of bells and whistles. One of the things I wanted the computer to handle was the ability to import any data from any storage format - CF, SD, MMC, even 3 1/2 floppy (I wanted to add 5 1/4 floppy, but realistically... ).

Eventually my 3.5in bays held two devices - a generic Mitsumi floppy disc reader, and a generic CompUSA multicard reader capable of handling CompactFlash, SD/MMC's, MS and SM. I don't use MS or SM, so all they are are empty slots and reversible initials to me.

A few weeks ago, the multi-card reader didn't want to read my cards any more. I figured it was a cheap piece of shit and was just giving me trouble. So as a backup plan, and since CompUSA doesn't exist any more, I went to NewEgg, the online computer store, and purchased a Rosewill RCR-FD200 7-in-1 internal card reader with floppy drive.

Out came both the floppy drive and the multicard reader, in went the RCR-FD200. After a couple of adjustments (I had to find a different USB reader on my motherboard because the mobo didn't initially recognize the new equipment), everything is back to normal. I can access my floppy discs, CompactFlash and SD/MMC in one slot. Of course, this now means I've got a gaping 3.5in hole in my computer chassis... so if anybody has suggestions on what I can put in that slot (keep it clean, 'kay?), I'd appreciate it.