Monday, December 26, 2011

New location! New brake lights!

So a few months ago I bought this:

I found it for dirt cheap and it only needed a little bit of work, including a new speedometer and new horns. And some TLC. I thought I might be able to make some money by flipping it. Then I decided instead that I should move to Florida:

So I loaded it into the truck bed and put Sue on a trailer and drove 14 hours. And I think it put a little stress on the truck's springs:

It ended up making it down just fine, but it was a little worrisome. (Those will be getting replaced pretty soon.) But! About the same time as all of this, I designed and built a circuit that will hopefully connect to Sue's center brake light, so whenever the brakes are pressed the center light flashes eight times and then stays on until the brakes are un-depressed.

Currently Sue doesn't have a center brake light because I removed it to remove the back dashboard, so I could put some speakers in back there, and when I pulled the cover off the entire housing for the brake light disintegrated. So once I get a new center brake light built I will be able to attach this to it:

The only thing I couldn't quite figure out about it is that it seemed like it wouldn't flash exactly eight times every time at first. If I flipped the switch for it off and on without waiting a few seconds, it would behave erratically. This was fixed by putting a capacitor from the positive rail to the ground rail but I'm not sure exactly why this stabilized the behavior of the circuit. I have lots of ideas about why but there's no telling exactly why without an oscilloscope and some other things. More pictures in the future when Sue gets fixed up!

USB for the Truck

Well Verizon decided that their "unlimited" data plan is more "unlimited*" than truly unlimited, and they restricted my ability to tether my phone to my computer for the time being. At the same time I am moving to Florida so I wasn't about to have the internet folks come hook it up at my apartment in Tennessee right before leaving. ANY WAY even though I haven't had internet I've still been building neat things.

I had a GPS charger hooked up to a motorcycle (because the motorcycle doesn't have a speedometer that works) but it wasn't weatherproof. So the mini-USB port on the end got corroded and unusable and I cut it off. I decided I would use the business end of it to wire up a female USB port to the dashboard of my truck.

Here you can see part of the shell for the electronics that would normally plug into a cigarette lighter-type outlet, and the female USB port I am planning to wire it to.

These are the electronics that convert the 12V from the car battery down to the 5V needed for USB and other miscellaneous things like GPS units. The converters I've built in the past have used a regulator, which wastes a ton of energy. This unit is a buck converter which is much more efficient than a regulator.

All I really did at this point was solder in a fuse on the 12-V side (since the one the original equipment had was embedded in the plastic shell covering the electronics), solder the USB port up (making sure to solder the data wires together, as I learned in a previous post), wrap electrical tape around all of the sensitive parts (including the entire electronics module, it had exposed electrical parts that I wouldn't want rubbing on things inside the dashboard), and clip it in to the wiring for the CB radio.

I used JB weld on the inside of the piece of black trim to hold it in place. If you zoom in you can see some of my sloppy work with it. It is very strong though. The only problem is that I believe I clipped it too close (electrically) to the CB radio, and now if the truck is off for longer than 15 seconds or so the radio forgets what channel it was on and resets to channel 9. This is only a minor problem though, it may or may not be fixed in the future.

Any way, I can now charge anything by USB in the truck now! Cell phones, iPods, GPS units, anything that runs off of 5V. I suppose I only did this because I could, I have two 12-V cigarette lighters that I almost never use (not to mention the 120V AC outlet), so it's not like I'm pressed for numbers of outlets. Still neat though!

Monday, October 31, 2011

"...So I can winch things?"

So the last pictures of my truck's new bumper weren't super. So here are some great before and after shots! Also this is making me realize that maybe the 105-pound bumper and 90-pound winch squatted the suspension down a little more than I thought, so I will soon be going back in to lift it back up. Fun times!

I managed these pictures by driving in to the wildlife management area with the old bumper, taking pictures, driving out and putting the new bumper on, then driving back in, removing all the leaves from the trees. trying to get in the same spot as before, and taking another set of pictures. It was a hard day! Also, Lake Jocassee magically fell 40 feet.

OH NO the stickers give it away! Yeah, these were taken on different days, in different seasons. You got me. Bonus: On my way back to Tennessee some old guy mistook my truck for a racing vehicle of some sort because of all the stickers. That's a victory in my book.

Sunday, October 30, 2011


The key lesson here is easy so I'll get right to it: Disc brakes are much easier to work on than drum brakes. That being said, here are some highlights and before/after pictures from my recent brake job on the Dodge 1500. Maybe there'll be a lesson in here somewhere...

These are one set of front brake pads before replacement, showing obvious signs of wear.

These pictures are before and after having the rotors turned at O'Reilly. The drivers' side rotor was seized on the hub pretty solidly, it took about fifteen minutes of banging on it with my 3-pound dead-blow hammer before it finally popped off, just as I was about to give up. The rotor on the passenger's side came off after three good hits. There was plenty of thickness/life left in the rotors at only 64,000 miles, but they did have a slight warp to them which was causing the steering wheel to freak out (scientific term) whenever the brakes were applied. That has been fixed, and everything is ship-shape.

Brake pad before/after comparison. Not much left on the old ones.

Everything has been put back together on the front! Shiny, turned rotor and new pads. It took me about half an hour to figure out how the retaining springs on the pads went back on but I eventually got it. Sometimes it just takes a little bit of concentration, and the realization that it'll all fit back together just like puzzle pieces.

Time for the rear brakes!

I decided that the rear rotors looked pretty good, so I did not have them turned. Rear brakes on any vehicle usually only provide about 30% of the stopping power so the components are usually smaller and wear out slower. (On this particular truck, the front brakes have two pistons per caliper and the back brakes only have one.) I also didn't have the parking brake rebuilt or replaced, since the truck has such low mileage.

Old pads, still in the caliper assembly.

And a comparison of how much they had worn down, side by side with the new pads.

This also shows some of the corrosion that has occurred over the years. I think the truck may have been driven in a salty area.

Finished! Everything went smoothly, only minor speed bumps to this job. Everything is clean too! I went through a whole can of brake parts cleaner. Super! No real lesson here so I'll finish it off with an awesome picture of a breaker.

Talk about a smart grid! Har har.

Monday, October 10, 2011

New Toy...For A Little Bit

(A quick update on the last post: I forgot to mention I didn't drive out to or back from California. Google Maps isn't really intended for plane rides. The rest of the mess on the Eastern Seaboard was driving though.)

So when I flew out to California two weeks ago, there was an interesting film selection for the in-flight movie. The category is one I've always found interesting because if even one minor thing was changed in an otherwise formulaic storyline it would be the most interesting movie ever because it would have broken the "rules" of the Chick Flick.

For example, if for some reason the protagonist of whichever movie didn't end up with the right guy in the end. I think in real life this sometimes happens, because real life is rarely like the movies. I can't think of a single example of some couple I know that's together because the guy was overly persistent (see: When Harry Met Sally). Social norms aside, I'm also wildly attracted to movies and books with surprising endings, which are not necessarily "surprise" endings, although those are good too (Fight Club and The Sixth Sense spring to mind). Good examples include 2001: A Space Odyssey and 1984.

But any way, I thought about this later on in the trip when I had plenty of time (while I was putting a new starter and battery terminals in the Blue Bomber, our family's '96 Honda van with nearly 200k, in the picturesque and lovely town of New Haven, Connecticut) that maybe in real life when the girl doesn't end up with the right guy, or things don't work out between two people, that maybe this would just be cutting the movie off in the middle. There's still more life to get to before the end of the movie. So, maybe the otherwise superficial movies are relatable to real life, but end of the movie isn't obviously approaching.

Now comes my opportunity to tie this thought into a new project: I am currently in the care of a very large Dodge Ram. It's currently parked next to my Frontier. It's the 2005 Big Horn edition of the 1500, and the engine is approximately four thousand times larger than the V6 in my truck. I am taking care of it for a friend of mine while he's deployed in Iraq, and when I got it, it only needed the brakes rebuilt and an exhaust leak somewhere welded shut. Now it seems to have developed a problem with the EGR valve, which in my opinion shouldn't be built into cars at all, but once it's designed to be there, if it malfunctions it will kill the mileage on whatever vehicle it's on.

I've heard that a good way to fix a stuck EGR valve is to spray the inside off with carburetor cleaner and the plunger will magically spring back to life! So I took the air box out of the truck to give myself room to work:

Then I unclipped the wire from the top of the valve (the valve itself is the soda can-shaped thing to the left and slightly below the alternator, if you're looking at the engine from the front of the truck, which in these pictures is on the right). The next step was unbolting two 8mm bolts and two 10mm bolts holding the valve on the engine. The reason this is interesting is because it's a Dodge so I was expecting the bolts to be standard, not metric, but apparently Chrysler builds some of the Hemi engines in Mexico, where they use metric tools. Like the rest of the world except the United States. Frustratingly. Any way! This is not really surprising, as almost no cars are completely built in any single country any more regardless of brand name.

Once the valve is out (being careful not to lose the two thin seals attached to each side of the valve) I sprayed it excessively with carb cleaner and worked at it with a screwdriver to try and get it free. And apparently it worked!

(That says 22.3 mpg. It averaged 18 driving from Fredericksburg, VA to Manchester, TN.)

...for a little bit. After driving it around for a little bit getting amazing mileage (actually about 4 mpg better than my much smaller Nissan), the check engine light came back on and I started losing mileage, which I assume is the result of the (apparently unfixable) EGR valve. But! This repair is currently in the middle of the movie! The truck just needs a little bit more work, a little bit more persistence, to get to the end of the movie, which will most likely involve a brand new EGR valve.

And even though I like to talk about how working on cars makes me feel better because everything is right in front of you and makes sense and fits together in rational ways (unless it's the electric system on a British car), sometimes things just don't work out. But they will eventually! Once you make it to the end of the movie and get the new EGR valve. Or make it to any number of other things that this metaphor could potentially apply to...

(Hint: This metaphor was not originally thought of in regard to truck repair but it fits! And ironically, the check engine light came on while I was driving the final leg of my vacation. But! Now the truck has cleaned battery terminals and a battery, starter, and alternator that have all tested good. Plus fresh oil! And I've learned a lot already about Mopar engines, like how once you disconnect the battery and reconnect a new one, that the computer has the starter turn the engine over about a flobbidy jillion times so it can get the cam and/or crank sensors re-calibrated. Thankfully. I thought I had broken something.)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Minor Jobs

As cliché as it is for a blog to comment on how often it doesn't post, I actually have an excuse! Almost everything I've been working on for the past four months have either taken much, MUCH longer than I've hoped to finish, or have been failures, or has been interrupted by me traveling to South Carolina for a week, Germany for a week, and California/New England for two weeks. So far I usually don't post until after I've completed a project, unless it's a big project that I do in parts. But here's the run down on some minor stuff that I have done, and updates on what I haven't finished.

Before that though! I was just on vacation and here's where I went! If the link is short enough to fit here:

View Larger Map

If that's not working then here's a link to the map. Make sure to zoom in on New England! That was where half the adventure was.

Google Maps!

If that's not working then here's a condensed list of places I went: San Francisco, CA, Brattleboro, VT, Newport, RI, New Haven, CT (which I only stopped at to put a new starter in the van I was driving), and Washington, DC. I did a lot of visiting of friends in California and New England and also a lot of surfing in California and Rhode Island. That's 50% more states than I've surfed in to date! Also I saw this in the Haight-Ashbury part of San Francisco and I am extremely jealous:

One day I'll have a 280Z for my own. On to more tangible things now! Mostly because I'm terrible at taking pictures of my vacations. I have lots of good stories though.

The stereo amplifier, for some reason, keeps burning its voltage regulator out. I've rebuilt the power supply four times now (which is a hassle because it has a JB welded heat sink) and then I thought I realized one night what my problem was and I ripped the amplifier circuit out of the breadboard to start over, except I was in a questionable state of sobriety at the time I thought I figured it out (we were having a party and it was on the table in the kitchen), and I haven't quite figured out what I had figured out when I tore it apart. So I'm trying to reconstruct all that on my desk now. I need to get this finished because Sue's back on the road and she needs the head unit that's currently driving the speakers in my spare bedroom. So when this amp gets finished it'll drive the speakers here and Sue will have a head unit with an aux input.

I also spent about two months working on repurposing (government word) an old DirecTV satellite dish to transmit and receive Wi-Fi signals. In theory the antenna would have an 18 dB gain over a typical router antenna (and add an element of directionality). However, Wi-Fi is in the 2 GHz range, and I am used to working with radio waves that are two orders of magnitude larger. Larger waves are much, much less finicky. So whenever I feel patient, I'll go back and try and calibrate the biquad element that's attached to this big dish that's sitting in my spare bedroom next to my ironing board, mountain bike, and truck bumper. (More on the bumper later).

Next! There was one good day of wind this past summer and I went out on the windsurfer but the old joint that holds the mast to the board ripped. There was wind from the point of it breaking until the new one came in the mail. There hasn't been wind since even though we're several weeks into Fall, which should theoretically be when the wind starts to recover from the muggy, stagnant summertime. Haven't seen it yet.

One of the smaller jobs that is ongoing with my truck is trying to keep the paint from falling off. I think I have come up with a good (and pretty cheap) way to accomplish this:

This isn't the only spot on the truck that's starting to lose its paint, just the worst. It was obviously repainted before I bought it, and best guess is that whoever did it didn't know anything about the purpose of primer. Oh well, the truck was very, very inexpensive for me, and I beat it up when I take it off road, so there's no sense in it having a good paint job when it's just going to get run into a hedge or other obstacle. Special thanks to my parents for providing almost half of those stickers.

Speaking of paint, I painted Sue's wheels, which are sort of new! I found them on a 1998 Nissan 200SX SE-R (basically, what Nissan called the racing version of their Sentra Coupe in the late 90's). They needed TLC, and that's what they got. Except for Discount Tire breaking one of the center caps and losing another, and Nissan not stocking the center caps at any dealer any more, making it impossible for me to get replacements, they look much better now. In the future, I plan on putting on a very expensive suspension (Sue needs it, she's probably never had the shocks or springs replaced) and tinting the windows.

Also don't think I've forgotten about the Turing-Complete Slow Cooker. I'm just waiting for the winter when it gets dark too early to do anything productive outside after work.

On an unrelated note, this was a good day:

I am also wondering if my blog should be more personal and/or accessible/interesting to people/persons that aren't me. Maybe I'll give that a shot. Wish me luck!

Failures and the Truck's Bumper

Time to try something new! I just put a new bumper on my truck. And, since it was made out of steel instead of plastic and aluminum, I was obligated by natural law to put a winch on it. What started this project was an "altercation" offroading around the Tennessee/Alabama border in which my truck suffered from a minor case of getting its bumper ripped off. While this could be regarded as a "failure" of sorts, I would like to try to intersperse pictures of my new truck's bumper with some commentary on other types of failures! This may end up being very cheesy. But they are good pictures so it would theoretically be possible to just scroll through them. Problem solved!

That's the old bumper. Pre-ripping. It's currently in my spare bedroom.

Picked up the new bumper from a UPS semi in a vacant parking lot in Manchester since he couldn't get the truck to my apartment. Got a flat tire in the process by running over a piece of flashing and a screw. Live and learn I suppose.

I had an interview with an automotive company in South Carolina a little over a year ago. It was the worst interview of my life (it was six hours long and done in stages with horrible unsolvable interpersonal challenges, unless you are reading this and you are from said car company and you remember me from before, and you would like to hire me now, in which case the interview(s) was/were actually FANTASTIC, and I am just trying to illustrate a point now, in my blog). Despite my generally poor experience, they did ask me a very interesting question during the "standard" part of the interview that I have thought about extensively since then.

I added the green stickers for the usual reason: prevention of rust.

The usual interview question would have gone something like, "What are some of your weaknesses?" which is my least favorite question to answer in an interview but one that I am prepared to (hopefully) schmooze my way out of. It's an open-ended, fairly useless HR question and requires an answer that is just as meaningful as the question. Any way, the interviewers had a different take on the standard question, which was "What was your biggest failure?" I gave an answer so bad that I could easily answer it now with "The last time someone asked me that question."

I ended up having to hit the bumper mounts excessively hard with a hammer (read: one of the linemen from work used the hammer) but it went on. Those metal ridges on the top were getting in the way, it's like the front part of the frame is two pieces, with a cap on the top. It was about a quarter inch away from working. I think the truck was in a minor front-end collision before I bought it and so the frame was slightly bent. There was also evidence that the frame was welded post-assembly. This type of event would certainly be a good reason to re-paint a vehicle, which it looks like happened as well. It's like I'm a private detective in a murder mystery! Any way...

In retrospect I have determined the correct answer to this question, which is that there ARE NO FAILURES. As long as I learn from my mistakes, which, if this blog is any evidence, I do all the time. Recent failures I've learned from (I am not making any of these up) include using a propane torch on a wooden deck to solder an antenna together, making sure to unplug the dryer before fiddling with its wiring (yes, I am an electrical engineer, but I don't remember them teaching us any common sense), using the mast from my windsurfer to take a satellite dish off the roof of a house, and getting stuck on the New Jersey turnpike while being a Southerner who isn't used to having to pay tolls or the smell of Newark.

Whose awesome shadow is that? This guy, with the thumbs. Also, Sue says "Hi". The winch hasn't been installed yet. Wait until the next picture.

Even normal, run-of-the-mill failures are easy to learn from. I failed three exams (out of five) (in a row) in a class called ECE 427: Communications Systems, one of the hardest classes on the face of the planet and ALSO in a particular area of electrical engineering which I am neither A) good at or B) interested in even a little bit. I still made a C (almost a B actually) in the class because I learned how to... not fail the exams.

I think if this question is asked in the future I could always start off with a half-true joke: "Oh, you mean besides with women?" [Cue awkward laughter in interview room from people who are pretty much strangers...] Perhaps, maybe, that's not the right way to approach the question.

With winch installed. Truck power! Sorry about the low light, it was stormy today. There will be more pictures when I get to take it offroad, hopefully this weekend at Lake Jocassee, one of my favorite places in the entire world!

Long story short: Even though I seem to have come to very cheesy conclusion about life, it is still a good lesson to learn. There are no failures! Maybe a famous person said something more quaint about it. And now, as a bonus, my truck is more manly, awesome, and less prone to failure while on the trail. Maybe I'll even get to use the winch to help people get out of snow drifts this winter!

Also here is a CAKE song as a reward for reading this whole thing. It's one of my favorite songs.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Tornadoes are Everywhere!

Back on the east coast a tornado was pretty rare. There was one water spout outside Sullivan's Island when I was living there, and I worked a 22-hour shift in Beaufort repairing tornado damage to power lines once, but in Tennessee there's a tornado within 50 miles of me probably once a week. On a related note, I have a radio scanner which doubles as a weather radio! I used to have it in Sue, and I'd listen to the Clemson police arrest streakers running across Death Valley and bust underage drinkers. That's about all they ever did I think.

The only problem is I either lost the power cable for it, or used it for something else. But! This was the perfect excuse to build a 120VAC to 12VDC rectifier. Actually, kind of a boring and common job. But! One thing I will note is my use of LM7812C voltage regulator instead of a zener diode. I figure it's better at regulating to 12 volts than one teeny diode is. The other thing is that I'm pretty sure it's more able to dissipate its waste heat. Which is why I attached a cheap heat sink to it. Its thermal conductivity with air lowers the chip from 65 degrees C per watt to about 25. Which is OK, because the regulator only handles a small amount of power normally.

I've had it on non-stop in weather alert monitor mode for about three weeks now, with no problems.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

I am Known for my Environmental Streak.

My TV was mentioned in a previous post for being very awesome. To the best of my knowledge it's at least five years older than me, making it around 30 years old. It has two knobs (VHF and UHF) and a button that pulls out to turn the TV on and pushes back in to turn off AND turns for volume. There is no remote control and, needless to say, no sleep timer.

Well I had another microcontroller sitting around so I decided to build a sleep timer. I usually have some sort of sitcom on when I am going to sleep, especially on the weekends, but I don't like the (future) ramification of an increased power bill with the TV on for 10 hours a day. Especially if I'm not actively watching it.

When I am paying my own power bill in my future apartment (in less than a month I suppose) I want even the timer circuit itself to be energy efficient, so I designed it so that when it is off, absolutely nothing is drawing any power. No transformer or rectifier or LED drawing a teeny bit of current, not the slightest watt wasted. Plus the perks of 11.5 hours less of TV operation per day. This makes me very environmentally conscious! I can now sell carbon credits, but I'm not sure how much power the TV actually draws is because my ammeter is cheap and only works up to 200mA AC. But hopefully less than 1.2 kilowatts because the relay I used can only safely break 10A. (Don't worry, I put in some fuses and such... for safety!) Any way, here is a quick video of how this works:

Timer Circuit, part 1

I attached all of this behind the lightning protection on an old surge protector my dad gave me probably more than 10 years ago. I cut the hot (black) conductor inside the surge protector and attached one wire to each of the new ends (one going to my timer, one coming from the timer) and then just attached a third wire for a system neutral/ground.

To preface: I have never cut Plexiglas with anything other than a computer-controlled laser. As is apparent from the pictures, I did not have one of these. But I think the finished product still looks pretty neat! Beats a black Radio Shack project box any way.

I don't think I mentioned in the video, but the light switch on the side is a bypass. If the switch is on, the timer can be on but will not be able to shut the TV off, and vice versa. The universal OFF switch for the entire device (if the timer is running it cannot be stopped besides removing power to the microcontroller) is the original on/off switch on the surge protector that this is attached to.

The only real problem I had is that I mounted the microcontroller too close to the top of the box, and caused a short circuit in it's 12V power cable. It didn't do anything damaging, only caused the relay to not activate. I remounted the microcontroller lower in the box, replaced the power adapter, and now it is just dandy.


So for some reason the bypass switch shorted out. Probably because I found it in a house I used to rent, and my landlords were notorious for buying really, really cheap things around the house. Like CFL bulbs that would burn out every month, or a chain on the back door that was made out of brass and broke after two days. ANY WAY. I coincidentally got my first supply of ATtiny microcontrollers and decided that this was a good chance to liberate the Arduino from this project and play with an ATtiny. And I went ahead and added some functionality while I was playing around.

There are a few details about this project that I didn't share, such as how I was able to allow this device to consume zero power when it is off, and as a note to myself in the future, I wrote it down in my green book. So there.

So the functionality I wanted to add was an adjustable timer. Before, I took an EXTREME programming shortcut with the Arduino as far as the timer functionality went. Pushing the main button automatically started the timer by turning on the Arduino, setting the system time to 0900 hours, and then waiting for 0935 to shut off. Regardless of what time it actually was, every time power was turned on, that's what the Arduino did. It was also impossible to stop the timer once it was started, unless you unplugged the entire device or flipped the switch on the surge protector, which is hidden behind my desk normally, and very hard to access.

I removed the bypass switch (which was faulty) and wired the ATtiny up to the breadboard, adding in a 5V DC regulator for microcontroller power. I also added some control circuitry for a potentiometer (timer length adjustment), an extra LED (existing LED will be used for power indication, and the new one for timer indication), and two new pushbuttons. The existing pushbutton is wired to 120 AC and momentarily delivers power to the circuit when it's pushed, which turns the microcontroller on. But this means that it can't be used as a microcontroller input to turn the circuit back off. To solve this problem, I added a smaller red pushbutton that the microcontroller monitors. If this second button is pressed, it turns everything off (including itself). The new small black pushbutton starts and stops the timer. This also allows me to eliminate the bypass switch, as I can now turn everything on (with or without the timer) and off electronically.

WHEW that was a mouthful. Long story short, it works pretty well now, and is a little bit more user friendly. The buttons are easier to push than it seems. The plexiglass in the picture is extremely clear...

Thursday, May 26, 2011

$5 Radio... RETURNS!

Everyone remembers my $5 radio! If not, rather than adding on to that entry from almost two years ago:


Any way, I have been thinking almost since I built that power supply that it is too bulky. At first it was kind of neat to show off, it looked original and unique, but it's hard to put it behind a shelf or on a desk (the reason I bought the radio in the first place is because it would go well as a shelf for a flat panel monitor) and it was cumbersome or impossible to deal with. I thought about encasing the power supply in Plexiglas but this would be expensive and, frankly, more work than I think it's worth.

So! I took apart the radio to see what was inside. Oddly enough I hadn't done this yet. My original idea was that I could use the power button on a relay of some sort to make sure the transformer, wherever I decided I wanted it to go during this rebuild, wouldn't be energized all the time. I still have to pay the electric bills!

There was a lot of space inside the radio! AND when I cut through the wires on the switch I found out a few interesting things. The first was this was simply a switch: open or closed. Easy to work with. The second was that the radio uses 28V AC as logic, at least for turning itself on and off. I don't think the switch handled all of the power, just simply told the radio when to look like it was turning on, which I am only guessing at based on the fact that the radio has memory buttons and no internal battery. It would need some sort of power all the time (in a standby mode or similar).

I decided to make it extremely simple. I ran 120VAC in to the switch, then back out of the radio about four feet to the primary side of the transformer (and I attached the neutral here as well). The extra wiring means the switch controls the transformer, and no energy is wasted in hysteresis and core losses in the transformer when the radio is off. Then I ran (existing) wire from the secondary of the transformer inside the radio. From there I implemented my original voltage divider scheme, only instead of the resistors screwed in to a wooden plank they are JB Welded to the underside of the plastic case and soldered together. This is a much better construction: the JB Weld will hold better and will insulate the plastic from heat transfer (theoretically) and the solder joints are much lower resistance than what previously existed. I also eliminated one switch while keeping the same functionality, and there's no sketchy "HOT!" labeling to scare off the Safety folk if I were to HYPOTHETICALLY use this radio in my office at work...

When it's all back together, the transformer sits comfortably far away from the radio, and the radio looks like it was meant to be there! This is also a perk because I currently have a disassembled satellite dish, unfinished amplifier, and a random microcontroller project going on in the same area. Feel less cluttered and/or nerdy! Well, it's the best I can do. The only thing that I am not sure about is whether or not the switch can handle 120VAC. There was nothing on the switch indicating it could or could not, so I decided to take a chance. We'll see how it goes!

OH! I also added a fuse. Just in case. You never know.