Setting Up A Lab & First Experiments

Many experimenters start out with a multi-tool of some sort. The multi-tool of choice these days is the Leatherman or Gerber Multi-Plier, although I know a lot of retro old-school types who still carry Swiss Army Knives (SAK). The various “Tinker” and “Mechanic” models are very popular. I used to carry a Leatherman Wave. My current EDC tool is a Super Tinker SAK, and I will grab a full-sized screwdriver or pliers when the opportunity presents itself. The SAKs and multi-tools are very conveinent for field work, but aren’t the equal of even a small tool kit. Since you are just beginning right now, you should get a small to medium sized tool box or tool bag, and begin to fill it with tools as you need them for various projects. Among those tools should be one of the less expensive multi-tools or SAKs. You can find the smaller Leatherman Tools for under $30. A Victorinox Super Tinker SAK is about the same price. Get whatever you like. You should start with a decent set of regular and phillips screwdrivers, torx drivers, allen wrenches, assorted pliers (needlenose, slip-joint, and channel-lock), a pair of wire cutters (diagonal cutters), wire strippers-crimpers, a ratchet wrench set with both metric and US sockets, a claw hammer, ball-pein hammer, some assorted vise-grips (at least a 10WR and 6LR), a 25-50 watt soldering iron, and a VOM (multimeter). All of this will fit in a medium-sized toolbox.

Along with your tool kit, you will need a space to do your work. My previous “workbench” was an old 4 1/2’x3′ table in the corner of my den/library. Some shelves are attached to the walls above the bench, and my toolbox is sitting on top of a small 3-shelf bookcase next to the table. Before I moved upstairs I had a folding table in the basement that served as my work area, and before that I found this old table I had made a small workbench out of a piece of plywood and 2x4s. Now I’m back to using an old door in a shed next to the garage. Whatever works. You want your workspace to be in out of the way spot. The best would be an outbuilding on your proverbial “back forty”, a basement, or a garage, but circumstances may not permit that. In that case, any out of the way corner you can put a table and a toolbox will do. You don’t want to have to set up and break down your project every time you want to work on it, and you don’t want muggles inadvertently messing your work up. In some instances, you won’t want muggles stumbling across your work at all. Some of them can be less than understanding in regard to your tinkering and experimentation. Local hackerspaces can be useful if you are really limited in space and/or tool availability. Many I have visited were well equipped with nice electronic and machine shops, and had knowledgeable staff that were ready to help beginners. While eventually you’d like to get your own personal setup up and running, a good hackerspace can be a great help for the beginner.

You will want a computer of your own. Using your parents’ machine, especially if shared with your siblings, becomes a problem when you want to experiment or have thoughts you wish to keep to yourself. Older computer hardware is available cheap from a number of sources. Load an open-source OS on it, and you are good to go. The ultimate hacking computer these days for many is this machine that fits in your hand called a “Raspberry Pi.” Attach a USB keyboard. Use an old composite monitor or a video modulator and old TV set for the display. Load up a copy of Linux. You are ready to go! You can store your polemic on small sold state drives that you can hide anywhere. A copy of GnuPG helps keep your thoughts private in case someone stumbles across them. You don’t want to wind up like Kiera Wilmot, but I digress. The 512 MB Raspberry Pi is only $40, and is money well spent. The Pi comes with Python as a programming language. It too is open source. Finally, we have an experimenter’s computer in the old-school tradition of the Apples, Ataris, Commodores, and Timex/Sinclairs we had as kids. They did rocket science with less powerful machines! One of the nicer things about the Pi is that it only needs 5 volts at 700mA over Micro USB to run. With a portable LCD TV, 12V 7AH gel-cell, and a voltage regulator you can have a nice off-grid system for your remote secret laboratory that’ll run all night! Add a couple solar panels, and you wouldn’t even have to go home to charge your batteries!

While you’re working in your secret laboratory, you’ll want to keep a nominal ear on the outside world. Whether your choice of ear candy is Nights With Alice Cooper, or Coast to Coast AM, a small AM/FM radio can almost always be found on the shelf for a couple bucks at the local Goodwill. I bought a Radio Shack DX-375 “Voice Of the World” AM/SW/FM receiver that on clearance 25 years ago for those boring night shifts as a security guard. With a Grundig Medium Wave loop antenna, also a clearance sale find from Rat Shack, I can pick up AM stations across the country.

Late night Medium Wave listening is one of those ways to find “a certain truth” as I have mentioned in previous rants. When you find yours, you can use the GnuPG software on your Raspberry Pi to keep it private. Plying the electromagnetic aether looking for a certain truth is a pastime that many of us partake in, to the point where the pursuit of the fey wavelengths becomes an exclusive course of study. Should you start down along this path, consider yourself warned and welcomed! Seriously though, you can’t go wrong with starting out by discovering what AM broadcast and shortwave stations you can receive with simple cheap home-brew equipment like a galena detector.

Author: Ticom

2 thoughts on “Setting Up A Lab & First Experiments

  1. Wilbur says:

    You said: “Late night Medium Wave listening is one of those ways to find “a certain truth” as I have mentioned in previous rants.”

    Sometimes I think I miss the days before 24/7/365 connectivity, when a late night voice or music on the radio sometimes was the only connection between “here” and “elsewhere”. An AM car radio was the sole link to “civilization” while driving along a deserted New Mexico desert highway at 3 in the morning. I caught myself listening to the early morning farm report as if it meant something to me, even though in a couple of days I would be back home in Florida with no connection to New Mexico farms.

    Or late night listening to Clear Channel AM stations playing country/soul/blues crossover music that was the early stages of the new rock and roll. Since local radio stations that played music popular with teens went off the air at sundown it was Clear Channel or nothing. We spent lots of summer nights aimlessly driving around or parked at the local drive-in restaurant listening to WLAC/Nashville Tennessee in between the Florida lightning crashes.

    But, I suppose it’s better now with infinite choices for entertainment at the click of a link rather than the limited spin of a dial. Although, sometimes I wonder if young kids today ever feel that sense of magic we used to get over the AM radio.

    1. Ticom says:

      I don’t think it’s any better, because the magic isn’t there.

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