The Tale of the Tech Bros, or, Don’t Toast Your Brakes

Looking down from Shasta Bally
Looking down from Shasta Bally (click for fullsize)

Let me tell the tale of the Tech Bros and Shasta Bally.

Shasta Bally is a mountain in Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, between Redding and Weaverville, California. It’s not exactly a widely well known place, but it’s pretty neat, and Whiskeytown Lake (an artificial reservoir) has the distinction of having one of those weird fascinating bell-mouth spillways that descends into the void somewhere.

The peak of Shasta Bally houses a weird little complex of radio towers and buildings. It’s home to KRCR-TV, KNCQ-FM, and countless microwave and 2-way radio relay stations, as it’s the only peak that has unobstructed line of sight paths to the cities of Red Bluff, Chico, Redding, and Weaverville. Amazingly, one of the few things it does not have up there is an old Western Electric Long Lines site; they used a relay station out to the east instead on Hatchet Mountain.

Access to the peak is via a very… interesting… little unpaved road. It is maintained sporadically by the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management, I forget which. It is closed to the public in the winter and a Sno-Cat or helicopter (!) are required to access the peak once snowfall has occurred. In the summer or fall, though, you can get up there via a 4WD vehicle with nice knobby tires.

It’s not exactly a fun drive though. Ever time I made it, if I was in my Subaru Forester, the road was just too much for it and would overheat the transmission (the rare case of an SUV actually being approprate for the conditions, yet, the conditions being too rough for the SUV? not your average grocery run). With all the frequent stops to let it cool down, it took a long time to get to the peak. Coming back down also required repeated stops to cool the brakes as the low gear wasn’t low enough to control descent speed.

If I went up in a 4WD F150, it’d deal with it better, and would manage the downhill just fine, but I pretty much had to put it in 4LOW 1st or 2nd gear.

One day I was up there working on the KNCQ-FM transmitter.
On the way up I found the road was unusually jammed. I was in the Forester, so I was at a snail’s pace with all the stops for cooling. I was behind a strange convoy of six brand new 4WD Ford and Toyota pickups going up, all of which had parking permits in the window from Oracle Corporation, which I’m guessing indicated they were all tech bros on a weekend trip up from the bay area. They were going up much more slowly than I normally would even WITH all the cooldown stops!

We could normally take this off the air for maintenance as needed as long as we had the aux over on Linguini Mountain running – the KNCQ transmitter would just overpower it on the air and your receiver would hear whichever signal is strongest thanks to capture effect. I was spoiled by this I guess, you can’t do that with 8VSB television! Oh well. Anyway, I had the aux up, and had just started looking into why the transmitter was having intermittent glitches on air when I found the harmonic filter, a very large and expensive assembly you sure as hell can’t buy a spare of at the corner ace hardware, was burned up. Oops.

Then the radio in the corner went from playing lousy pop country to static. The aux had died. There was no way to bring it back up by remote control because its transmitter was a piece of turd that didn’t reset from the remote – once it was out, it was out until you physically reset it.

The confused and increasingly angry phone calls began. I had to get over to the mountain on the other side of the lake to reset that aux as there was no way in hell I was going to be able to get the old Continental 816R running with the filter that crisped. It’d just arc out. I walked out of the little “camouflaged” green shack (which stood out like a sore thumb because the Forest Service required it be camouflaged by being painted forest green despite the fact it was above the tree line on a mountain made of gray granite!) and started back down the road.
After the first switchback I found myself behind the same convoy of six trucks.

Their brake lights were on solid.

Shasta Bally road. The grade here is about 25%.


uh-oh.

One thing you will learn if you drive heavy trucks cross-country or in mountainous terrain, or if you deal with super steep long roads like this, is that you CONSERVE your brakes. You do not ride them. In fact, you want to manage your descent speed with engine braking first, then use the brakes in very short bursts or for emergencies. This is something tech bros driving around San Jose do not know about I guess. All of them were riding their brakes.

About one mile down the road (elevation change = probably about 800′), the smoke started rolling out of the wheels of the TechBro convoy and they all came to a dead stop. Luckily, most of them did so into areas where the road was wide enough to pass.

Also lucky I guess that they COULD stop — if you were to suffer a complete brake failure on this mountain, your only way to avoid being yeeted off a cliff would be to jam your vehicle in the trees or scrape it against the mountain face on one side of the road until you get stuck in it. Neither would be particularly great and I can’t really entirely fathom how one would get a tow truck up there to recover a broken down vehicle.

I stopped too and got out and helpfully instructed all of them how to downshift and get themselves off the road…. and how to get to the Les Schwab Tire Center back in town to get their brakes replaced.


I had never seen so many ‘tribal’ tattoos on fake tanned skin before in my life.

Upon arriving on the other mountain I found the aux’s antenna was toast, but I could swap things around and put a Crown transmitter on it which would cheerfully broadcast into a wet piece of pasta, so we were back up again. Exactly how this was resolved afterwards is a blur in my mind, though the ultimate solution was “watch as the Carr Fire burned over the whole mess and we got to rebuild it all in a working state”.

I dunno, I’d just call up Thanos and surrender

Proof we live in the worst possible timeline:

For the uninitiated, FMUSER is the company behind the atrocious little CZH series FM transmitters that sometimes last for entire days out of the box and obliterate half the band in their vicinity.

Tuned out

I’m sorry, I can’t put up with listening to the day’s news anymore, it’s all just illogical rubbish, let me just listen to ham radio operators talk on the radio about talking on the radio over a  synthwave soundtrack—

There’s a custom URL option in youarelistening.to but I’m not sure exactly how it works so— try this here. Hit play on this and open the stream link below.

KE6USA Repeater (new window)

Hello, My Name Is E-Waste

Holy heck. I think I’m looking at a piece of terrible broadcasting history here— the Tektronix RFA400A.

It ran Windows NT Embedded.

It has a dual Pentium Pro Slot 1 400 Mhz backplane PC inside, which does not boot, and chances of finding a replacement are probably zero. I’d guess probably about 31 of these boards were ever made and the other 30 have already been thrown in a Homer Paint Bucket full of acid by some gold scrapper in their backyard.

I’m estimating chances of being able to repair this thing at approximately HELL NO percent. Thankfully we have far better, newer test equipment in place already. YEET!

The backplane PC (click for fullsize)

RF downconverter on the bottom of the chassis, small squares at left are relays

Because my style is more distinguished

I kinda chuckled today at the nonsense with the browser tab open to a cheap looking vinyl lingerie set appearing on Faux News today, both because the commentator never considered his whole screen would be shared on air, and because… that’s just boring, man.

Maybe it’s just that we’re a lot different but this is more my style: the badass gloss PVC ballgown, with quite functional padlocks.

I’m pretty sure they can make it in other colors as well — Misfitz seems to make some off the rack stuff but also offers a ton of custom options. I’d probably want it in purple or red.

I have a different dress from them and I totally love it. The PVC fabric feels really nice and heavy without being inflexible, and it smells like 1855A coax, which amuses me far too much. The belt isn’t part of it, though it’d be freaking amazing if they had a rainbow glitter fabric like that for trim. It’d also be nice if it had epaulettes for a radio speaker/mic, but who else ever uses that?

Yeah, I’m all classy like that, and I’m making a mental note to leave tricolor foaming wax visible on the studio computers that can feed the router. Sacramento, y’all need more TCFW in your lives.

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