RF Cafe Moved to Erie, PA, in May of 2008
RF Cafe is now located in Erie, Pennsylvania. We got tired of the long, hot, humid summers in the South and
searched for a location in the North that 1) was affordable, 2) was not land-locked (i.e., close to a large body
of water), 3) had friendly people, and 4) had a low population content of Illegal Aliens (all of NC is full of
them). Erie delivered on all four requirements, so here we are.
The house we bough upon first arriving in
2008 was an 1950s vintage rancher with a mere 920 sq. ft. of living space, but it had a full, totally dry,
unfinished basement and a 1½-car garage. It sat on about 3/4 of an acre, just west of the Erie International
Airport (it only flies to Canada, just across Lake Erie). We did a total restoration of the house and property,
but ended up moving out after 2½ years because the dual train tracks were so close that the noise was highly
annoying, and the heavily loaded trains would make the place rumble. The declining housing market had sapped most
of the improvement value on the house, but we made up for it on the new house we bought in December 2010. The new
house sits on a hillside with an incredible view of Lake Erie (only about 2 miles away). It is a late-80s split
foyer design with about 1,500 sq.ft., fully finished on both levels, and it has a 2-car garage. The lot is a more
manageable ¼-acre. Plus, it's in a neighborhood with sidewalks and wide roads. In May 2008, when we moved to Erie,
these houses were selling for close to $200k. We paid $135k for it in December 2010, after selling the other for
$123.5k - quite an upgrade for an extra $11.5k.
Melanie standing on our back porch.
of Canadian shoreline from our back porch.
Snow on April 6, 2011. The farm belongs to the
campus annex here in Erie. It's nice to overlook this instead of a sea of rooftops.
Melanie in her Music Room. We decorated it in a pseudo Victorian motif.
To the right is a view of our back porch. It's a nice 12'x18' aluminum and glass model that faces NNW. Polaris
(the North Star) is about 10 degrees to the right of the centerline. In the spring of 2012, I plan to add a 6'x6'
extension to the northeast corner (left in the photo) along with a concrete pier rising up from the ground to hold
my Celestron 8" telescope. The southern view from there is blocked up to about 20° from the horizon, but the
northern view is virtually unobstructed.
On a clear day, the water tower of Port Rowan, Canada - 42 miles away - is visible. On a clear night, we can see
the navigation hazard light. Photo taken May 11, 2011. RF Cafe altitude is 897 ft ASL. Lake Erie altitude is 571
ft. ASL. Port Rowan altitude is 602 ft ASL. Our porch is about 4 ft higher than the road, so it is at about 330
ft. above Lake Erie. The
Port Rowan water tower
is 170 ft tall, so the navhaz light is about 201 ft above Lake Erie. A
Line of Sight calculator
estimates a total LOS for these altitudes of 46 miles, which is consistent with my observations. The Canadian
shoreline is in sight from east to west.
Snow can come as early as October and as late as May here in Erie.
I love it - always have.
Even though we only have one vehicle (Jeep Patriot), the 2-car garage is nice
because there's enough space that an outdoor utility shed isn't needed. The lower level of the house is only about
2½ feet below ground level, and that's only on the west end. The garage is at the east end is at ground level (see
photo of back porch). That means no water issues and no sump pump.
I built a small workshop on the lower
level that gets plenty of outside light and the wall I built has three large inside windows and a glass-filled
French door. The photo below was taken back in January 2011. I'll post some recent ones soon that show the nearly
A storm's a-brewing to the west. It's cool to watch the weather move in from over Lake
Here is the beginning of the workshop. I included lots
of inside window area and ½ of a
French door with
15 glass panels. That will keep in the huge amounts of
sawdust that I manage to generate, while letting lots
of light in. Three high output fluorescents on the
guarantee no shadows while working. Custom built-in
workbenches wrap around 3 walls. I'll post an
finished photo soon.
Mt. Airy (superseded by above)
Melanie and I moved into our new house in Mt. Airy, NC, on April 13
(a Friday!), 2007. Mt. Airy's claim to fame (other than now being the headquarters of RF Cafe) is that U.S.
movie star Andy Griffith was born here.
If you have watched the
Andy Griffith Show that ran
in the 1960s, then you will remember references to local areas, the most notable being Mt. Pilot. Mt. Pilot is
actual a reversal of
Pilot Mountain, a prominent peak to
the south of here.
Mt. Airy is unofficially referred to as "Mayberry," and it seems like half the
businesses here are named after Goober, Aunt Bea, Gomer, Floyd, and the other cast of characters. Even the local
mall (very small) is named the
One of the best aspects of most of North Carolina (in regions other than the the largest cities like Raleigh and
Charlotte) is that housing costs are unbelievably low. Our 1.3-acre acre house in Kernersville, that had a 4-car
garage and an 8-acre lake across the street, just sold for $171k, and we bought this new house, located on a
little over an acre, for a mere $130k (we also bought the 1+ acre next to it for an additional $18k). Property
taxes are around $1k in both places. Try doing that in just about any other town. An engineer or technician can
live like a king in the Piedmont-Triad area (Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point) when working for outstanding
companies like RFMD, Tyco, or a handful of other high-tech establishments.
Here is the official RF Cafe workshop. It is a combination of electronics equipment and model airplane
equipment. See below for the electronics bench. There is not much time available these days for pursuing
modeling, but most of what I do anymore has replaced nitro fuel power with electric power. The new lithium-based
battery technology and brushless motors have provided power trains that equal, and in many cases exceed, the
fuel-powered versions. Here is my
The other side of the workshop contains the household maintenance and project equipment and supplies.
Everything is within the modest budget of RF Cafe's proprietor (that's me). Bench top versions of a band saw,
drill press, grinder, belt sander, and power miter saw are used both from a cost and available space standpoint.
I have a respectable collection of power hand tools like a couple drills (including a hammer drill), a grinder,
planer, orbital sander, corner sander, belt sander, reciprocating saw, circular saw, saber saw, etc.
Official RF Cafe electronics workbench. I have sold off some equipment over the years because most of what I
needed was available in the labs where I worked. Only the essentials remain, like an oscilloscope, triple output
DC power supply, DMM, analog multimeter, and very importantly, a Metcal
SP200 instant-on soldering system. After using a Metcal for the first time when working for Xetron, in
Cincinnati, OH, I cannot bear to wait for a soldering iron to heat up. It also does a great job of maintaining a
constant tip temperature regardless of the heat load (to within reason, obviously). Almost all of my test
equipment has been purchased through
eBay. Here is a free tip (not my idea) that will serve you well.
If you really want the best chance at winning a bid at a good price, never place your bid until the last
possible moment; I normally wait for less than 10 seconds left. That is called "sniping," (not snipping). Doing
so discourages the back and forth price increases throughout the auction. Just be sure that the price you snipe
with is the maximum price you are willing to pay, since you only have one shot at it, and there could be someone
else lying in wait just like you.
I installed this whole-house surge protector (GE Industrial Systems SurgePro™) shortly after moving in.
Sitting atop this hill, we receive quite a lot of lightning strikes so the $80 is a small price to pay. I have,
and still do, always used local surge protectors at the receptacles, so this is an extra level of protection. We
are not the highest point around, but I am seriously considering installing a
lightning rod. That
wonderful invention by Benjamin Franklin prevented the rampant lightning-induced fires in Philadelphia's tall
buildings (where they were installed). The official RF Cafe UPS (uninterruptible power supply) is an
APC model NS1250. It provides surge protection and power backup. Here at the hilltop of Mt. Airy, we get
more than our fair share of power outages, too, so this UPS's ability to let my entire
Dell XPS 400
computer system to run for about 20 minutes on backup is a really nice feature for riding through the hiccups.
One of the most annoying features of the brief outages is that the cable modem and wireless router. They are
also plugged into the backup outlet to eliminate that hemorrhoid. To top off the whole suite, I have a
Troy-Bilt, 5550 W portable gasoline powered generator (no, it is not left over from the
Being an amateur weather enthusiast, which is a natural compliment to my interest in all flying things
(airplanes, helicopters, rockets, parachutes, etc.), I of course have an obligatory weather station. The
official RF Cafe weather station shown is made by
La Crosse, and includes
a remote wireless anemometer, thermometer, and hygrometer. The inside unit sits on the official RF Cafe work
station. Somehow during the household move in April, I managed to misplace the cable that goes between the local
receiver and the computer, so my software is not recording a log of the local weather at the moment. For the
same reason some people memorize pi (π) to the 100th decimal point, I
like to track weather statistics. NOAA has nothing to fear from my efforts, but they are certainly more accurate
than what I can get from
AccuWeather.com. Sure, I do not have the
Nexrad weather radar capabilities of AccuWeather, either, but with my newly acquired vantage point that
sports a 180° of the Blue Ridge mountains, I can usually look out the window and see weather rolling in.