Melania Trump

While I was watching Melania Trump’s now-controversial speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention last night, the speaker mentioned a date that was particularly meaningful to her but also caught my attention. I wondered aloud, was I in her home country of Slovenia on July 28, 2006, the day she became a citizen of the U.S.?

After a quick review of my blog archives, it turns out the answer is no. I was there three days later.

KK1B Straight Key

It’s been over a year and a half since I renamed my blog to my amateur radio callsign, but so far I’ve made few references to the hobby.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, if you wanted to get a ham radio license in the United States, you needed to be able to demonstrate proficiency in sending and receiving Morse code. Some years ago, the FCC eliminated the Morse requirement for the lower license classes. Later, it eliminated the requirement for all the classes. I was licensed after that time, explaining how I can have an Amateur Extra class license without being able to receive or send even my call sign in Morse.

Recently, as my interests have been moving towards simpler, more compact radios, I decided to start bridging my knowledge gap by learning Morse. There are some great tools out there for learning how to receive Morse, my favorite so far being Morse Machine for Android. Eventually, though, I’ll need to be able to send, and for that I’ll need a key of some sort.

After doing a lot of reading on the subject, there seems to be two schools of thought on what type of key to start with. The minority opinion is that if you anticipate graduating to paddles, where the wrist movement is side-to-side and the length of the dits and dahs are controlled electronically, then start with paddles. The predominant opinion, though, is to start with a traditional straight key and graduate to paddles when you’ve mastered the manual spacing. This is the school of thought I bought into.

Having decided my first key would be a straight key, then I had to decide which straight key. I wanted something small enough that I could easily travel with it, but substantial enough that I could use it as my regular key at home. After reading a lot of reviews, I bought the KK1B Straight Key from American Morse. Its components are precision-machined in California. The key is available only as a kit.

Within a week of ordering, the kit arrived, all of which fit in a 4″x6″ padded envelope. It was almost another two weeks before I found some time to open the envelope and begin assembly. That was yesterday morning.

The instructions recommended opening the interior packages over a container of some sort, since some of the parts are tiny. Here’s what the key looks like out of the package.

KK1B Straight Key kit from American Morse

The screwdriver and the nail file were not part of the KK1B kit, but that itty-bitty Allen wrench in the container did come with the kit.

The first challenge was walking through the instructions once before starting assembly. I realized I was a bit vocabulary challenged for this exercise. Clevis? Shoulder washer? I eventually figured out what these words meant through context. Also, the instruction manual had recently been revised, as the black knob in the lower left corner of the photo above was until recently not part of the kit. There were a few minor issues with the instructions and the parts list that I eventually figured out.

The first assembly step was in fact the hardest. The base came with some burrs that would need to be removed. This is what I used the nail file for. I think I removed more sand from the nail file than aluminum from the base, but it worked. If I were to do it again, I’d get a fine metal file and use it instead. After the deburring and placing the shoulder washers, which will keep the brass contact bar from electrically grounding to the aluminum base, here’s the result:


The rest of the assembly was relatively straightforward. Some of the machine screw lengths were close to one another, and putting a screw one-sixteenth of an inch too long through the wrong hole became obvious quickly. Keeping a ruler handy was helpful. Here’s the base with the contact bar installed:


Two more screws attached the knob to the paddle and the paddle to the operating lever. Take a close look at the photos above and below, particularly at the center hole in the contact bar, and you’ll notice a change I made. The parts list mentions two 4-40 x 1/4″ machine screws. The kit comes with two 4-40 machine screws that are around 1/4″, but one is clearly longer than the other. Initially I put the longer one through the base and into the center hole in the contact bar. I then realized the remaining one was too short to attach the paddle to the operating lever. I’ve seen photos of the kit before the knob was included, and I think it used a thinner paddle, in which case the shorter machine screw probably would have worked. I replaced the screw in the contact bar and used the longer screw in the paddle.


Bringing the components together with the spring installed, it looks like this:


It looks lopsided because the spring is forcing the level into a full up position. From here I installed the two long thumb screws. The one on the left is directly over the spring and is used to control the tension. The one on the right controls how far the level travels between its up and down positions. With some adjustment of the thumb screws, as well as the terminals for attaching the key to a radio, it looks like this.


I put the five-dollar bill in the background to provide an idea of the size of this key. It’s tiny!

The KK1B kit took me just under an hour to put together, and I’m not someone who builds from kits often. The only thing left to do is to make a cable to attach the key to a radio — or perhaps just to a practice oscillator for now.

Golden Nugget, Las Vegas

Façade of Golden Nugget, Las Vegas

On our last trip to Las Vegas, we decided to stay on Fremont Street for the first time. After exploring our options, we chose Golden Nugget, which is sometimes described as the most Strip-like hotel in the Downtown area. Whether you’d agree depends, I suppose, on what you like or don’t like about the Strip.

The good

My first impression of Golden Nugget was positive when we set our bags down in what was certainly the nicest room I’ve had in all my trips to Vegas, including rooms that cost twice as much. It was modern, clean, comfortable, and roomy. The front-desk clerk apologized for the view of Fremont Street because of the noise on a First Friday night, but the room was high enough and the glass was thick enough that it was a non-issue.

Another highlight of the stay was a steak dinner at Vic & Anthony’s, which had been recommended to me years ago by travel blogger Tom Bartel. A couple of perfectly cooked steaks, along with the impeccable service, made the five-hour drive from Phoenix seem worth it.

And on what turned out to be one of the hottest weekends of the year, I appreciated the location on Fremont Street. It was delightful to be able to walk out of the hotel and be in one of a half-dozen other hotels in five minutes, all without leaving the shade.

The bad

We expected hot weather in June, so Golden Nugget’s pool area was a major selling point for us when we booked. However, the pool area was practically unusable, largely because they let non-guests use the pool for a fee. By early morning we couldn’t find a place to lie side-by-side and gave up. At least we could drown our disappointment in cocktails from the bar next door.

Another disappointment was the resort fee, which included almost nothing of value. I’ve grown accustomed to the resort fees charged by Vegas hotels, a practice that borders on fraud, but this is the first time I’ve paid a fee and not gotten in-room coffee.

Which leads me to another complaint, which is that Golden Nugget doesn’t have a decent coffee shop. There’s a Starbucks, but I’m no fan of Starbucks, and even if I’d settled for their shitty coffee this one time, it wouldn’t have mattered since they weren’t open 24 hours, which in Clark County ought to be grounds for denying a business license.

On the other hand, as I mentioned earlier, other casinos were just a short walk away, and the coffee shop in Four Queens was full of customers at 4 am, including several LVMPD officers. That’s usually a good sign.

The balance

So would I go back again? If the price is right, yes. The good was quite good, and the bad is avoidable now that we know our way around a little better. As for the in-room coffee, we’ve already bought a travel-size electric tea kettle for our next trip later this month. We’re not staying at Golden Nugget, but I’m not taking any chances.

Foreign sources

This past Sunday morning, just before 8:30, as part of our ongoing struggle to improve our French listening skills, Kathryn and I decided to tune into an internet stream of France Info, a state-owned French news radio station. We had gotten up early and gone to the gym, but at that point we hadn’t heard or read any overnight news.

A few moments later I paused in disbelief as I heard the horrible news about the nightclub shooting in Orlando.

I was shocked, but as if on cue, one of my good friends sent me a message about the same news. We started chatting back and forth, and I confirmed what I heard in French about the location and number of fatalities is what he heard in English. He then hinted there might be an ideological motive to the crime, but that nothing had been confirmed.

That last part confused me as much as the initial news shocked me. I replied,

French radio is saying it was Islamic terrorism.

Three days later, I’m still amazed — if not necessarily surprised — that a government-run radio station in another country felt free enough to state a fact that our own government and our supposedly free mainstream media still treat as debatable.

If you’re wondering if I have a point to make, I do. My closest friends and family have already heard me say this many times, but for the benefit of everyone else, here it is:

If you’re not getting at least some of your news from a reputable foreign source in a language other than English, you’re probably not well informed.

I know most of my friends have had at least a little training in at least one major world language other than English. Some of you are enviably fluent in more than one. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, I’d like to issue a challenge to all of you:

At some point this week, spend at least 15 minutes reading one or more front page articles from the website of a major foreign newspaper written in a language other than English.

If you need to, blow the dust off your dictionary and use it. If you’re rusty, you might use the whole 15 minutes reading a single paragraph, looking up most of the words. That’s cool. On the other hand, if you have solid skills in several languages, consider brushing up on the one that’s weakest.

It’s important both that the source be from outside the U.S. and that the language not be English. Much of the foreign language media inside the U.S. is controlled by the same corporations that control the mainstream English-language media, and much of the English-language reporting outside the U.S. is either regurgitation of U.S. wire stories or straight-up propaganda.

If you accept my challenge, I’d love you to come back to the blog and share a comment about what you read and what you learned.

If nothing else comes of this, you may discover there’s a difference between what the world thinks of the U.S. and what our mainstream media tells us the world thinks of the U.S. They’re counting on you not to bother to check.

If you’re genuinely English-only — I know a few of you are — pick a major world language and spend the 15 minutes on a web site devoted to basic phrases in that language. You never know when you might need them.

Deep-fried Oreos at Mermaids

One of my favorite treats in Downtown Las Vegas is the deep-fried Oreos at the snack bar at Mermaids, a dumpy little dive of a casino on Fremont Street. The double order Kathryn and I shared this past Saturday afternoon set us back $2.14, tax included.


This will almost certainly be our last order, since Mermaids is closing later this month. I hear the property is now owned by the owner of The D. If the snack bar ever does reopen, I imagine it’ll be full of twenty-somethings and the Oreos will cost $6.50.

Kathryn and I are currently taking a break from driving and having a cold soda at a McDonald’s in Kingman. We left Las Vegas just over two hours ago and will be on the road again shortly.

We’ve safely arrived in Las Vegas and checked into our hotel. I would have posted an update from Kingman, but for some reason my phone hasn’t had a data connection since I left the Valley. I’m currently using the Wi-Fi in the room. I’m not in a rush to solve the problem right now, but if I’m out of touch, that’s why. I may need to find a backup phone for my backup phone.

I’m interrupting over four months of blog silence to announce two things:

First, I had to transition to a backup phone this morning, meaning my Signal database has a new set of keys. I posted a page with an image of my Signal public key if you’d like to use it for verification.

Second, Kathryn and I are heading out on a road trip this afternoon. I’ll post status updates for those among you who want to know we survived the long drive through the desert.