ShopTalk Sunday: Free Electronics Course (Part 2)

The Radio Detective is in for the summer heat.  We’re in the a/c bubble until after Labor Day, so why not?

Last Sunday we introduced the newcomer to electronics. We elected to repair a simple vacuum tube voltmeter (VTVM) because there are no tuned circuits as you’d find in a radio.  A couple of tubes, a sensing bridge, a meter amplifier and a bunch of scaling resistors with a power supply.  Basic stuff. These are super solid, durable (to a point) precision tube type test equipment.

Resistors, capacitors, and a basic orientation to how schematics and block diagrams work was sketched.

As we wrapped up, the workplan for approaching the restoration was laid out.  Since then, we’ve completed the whole thing and we’ve got some notes to share along the way.

Working the Plan

Here’s how the “best laid plans of mice and George” worked out.

  • We will have a list of squawks from the functional test.

The functional testing was straight forward.  Got a couple of standard value resistors from the parts bins.  These were reasonably close on the Ohm’s measurement. But fresh battery voltages didn’t agree with a known-good digital meter. One thing I’d forgotten about the HeathKit VTVM was it has an odd test probe design.

There’s a lever around the probe tip.  Which you have to remember to twist into the right position or your readings won’t make sense.  AC voltage and resistance measurements one way, DC voltage readings the other.

(RTFM means read the freaking manual if you’re not familiar!)

VTVM tip close up
Most VTVMs have some kind of switching in their measurement system All this does is put in a 1 megaohm resistor in series with the tip when measuring DC Volts Twist the lever over the other direction clockwise point to you for measuring AC volts and Ohms
  • Tightening of grounds.

To my surprise, the expected corroded grounds were all fairly secure and not as corroded as feared.  Turned into a 3-minute screwdriver testing period.

  • Replace the (likely) dried up capacitor in the power supply.

Before replacement of components, first do a simple measurement (especially on capacitors) to ensure there is really a problem to fix.  In this case, the capacitors were still good and within 10 percent of book values.

Part of me wanted to replace them anyway. But I don’t have many “canned” capacitors on hand.  When I need something special, I check and they usually have something that will work. But they are on vacation until the 14th and I want this project buttoned up in short (no puns!) order.

  • Change the reference battery.

This was really cool. What I found inside the VTVM was no battery box but a “mystery circuit” that had not been in HeathKit’s manual.  I’ll walk you through what you’re about to see here:

This is the "mystery circuit"
1 Top left if a purple wire Originally it came from the range setting switch up to a C cell battery which was in a battery case attached with the two flathead screws 2 The white wire with dark trace is 63 volts AC form the filament lighting winding of the transformer picked off at a tube socket 3 On the terminal strip behind the termination for the white wire wtrace that black thing is a diode Which turns the AC to ripply DC 4 Under this is a dropping resistor and a filter capacitor small under the solder lugs 5 From this left most lug two silicon diodes are stacked so that 14 volts is produced thus replacing the battery

This is what makes Electronic Detective Work rewarding!  Because then you go hit the web and see who else has used this simple circuit on an HM-13.  Sure enough? YouTube contributor Bob Sumption has a dandy video about it:

Measured and it seemed to work. Again, other than warming what was (dull and ugly) a possibly cold solder joint, I try not to replace components that are still serviceable.

  • Test the 6AL5 and the 12AU7 tubes and note strength or replace as needed.

Easy-peasy on this:  Out comes the B&P old-school tube checker and everything was good.  The 6AL5 (the dual diode (7 pin base)) was 87 percent while the 12AU7 (dual triode (9 pin base)) was about 93 percent both sides.  A little DeOxIt on the pins and back in with the tube covers replaced.

Most people don’t know this, but there’s a little nib that sticks up from 7 and 9 pin metal tube bases.  This tells you by feel, where the “missing pin” for indexing is aligned.  Good thing to know when working in tight spaces with big oversized man-hands!

  • FaderLube all the pots and the switches, drop of gun oil on the switch shafts.

This was easy, although there was a good deal of turning the unit upside down, this way and that, to get the fluids where I wanted them.

  • Confirm function of the neon power indicator light.

With the unit’s electronics in good order, the cover went back on and power was applied.  Sure enough, the light was working…

VTVM back together
Ready for final cleaning and service tagging
  • And measure the resistance of the test leads.

This is something I learned from bitter experience when very young.  Don’t trust that your test equipment leads are good.  Like anything in motion for a long time, they do break.

Fortunately, these were in good repair.  About 0.73 ohm on the test lead and about 0.55 ohm on the ground lead.

  • Last part would be to open up the HeathKit assembly manual and confirm the calibration of the unit.

HeathKits are a joy to work on.  Because they take complicated things and write them in such a clear way, you’d almost have to be an idiot not to get something working.  Here’s part of the alignment process to give you an idea.

( ) Set the FUNCTION switch to the OHMS position.
( ) Set the OHMS ADJ control for full scale (infinity).
( ) Set the probe tip to the AC / OHMS position (opposite side of the DC marking).
( ) Adjust the OHMS control for a full scale (INF) reading on the top scale.
( ) Short the probe tip and the alligator clip test lead together; this should cause a zero meter reading. If it does not, adjust the ZERO ADJ control (with the leads shorted) to zero the meter pointer. Then separate the leads and repeat the preceding step and this step until
no change in the meter readings.

Seriously, I am cheerleading the return of HeathKit products because they’re just so damn much fun to build.

I did leave the book for the DC Calibration.  Because I was too lazy to take all the screws off for this part:

( ) Insert the test lead phone plug into the input jack.
( ) Set the probe tip to the DC position.
( ) Set the FUNCTION switch to the DC+ position.
( ) Set the RANGE switch to the 1.5V position.
( ) Touch the tip of the probe to lug 1 on the rear wafer of the RANGE switch (blue wire).

That lug is inside and Ure is lazy.  Flip up to the +DC 15-volt scale.  Then get a fresh Amazon Basics 9-volt battery and measure it on the “known good” digital multimeter:

Fresh 9-Volt battery is a little over 9-1/2 volts.
Now we have something close to a calibrated voltage reference that may be as good or better than the lug 1 voltage This is because most components have a 10 percent tolerance Im guessing this is actually closer

Now, knowing the 9-volt battery is really 9.557 volts, we then look back to the calibration steps:

( ) Adjust the DC CAL control [on the circuit board] until the meter needle falls directly over the small red dot on the meter face.

In our case, we set the meter to 9.557 volts.

I won’t bore you with the A.C. calibration.  Except to say that the digital meter placed AC line voltage at 120.73 volts.  And with a tiny adjustment of the AC CAL control, the VTVM now agrees.

Service tag that and put it on the shelf ready to sell on eBay?

Restored a bit and ready to sell
The service tag tells me the tube readings a little about the mystery circuit and that I also double checked the AC line voltage with my Fluke 87 meter I think people who buy used electronics want to know how a unit was tested and how it performed A kind of Professional Courtesy approach I hate only tested to power on equipment

Sometimes of the year are better for selling ham radio gear than others.  I like to sell in the fall so as to hit the “long winter nights” electronics crowd.

Vacuum Tube Prices

The economy has gone “full circle” now for electronics hobbyists since the Major and I were getting our first soldering iron burns more than 60-years ago in Seattle.

Back then, as young soon-to-be ham radio whiz kids, it was fun to get the odd television chassis handed to us so we could scavenge for parts.  I’m here to tell you, I just bought a “scavenge” radio last week on eBay.

Found an old Motorola five-tubes radio on eBay complete with shipping for a Buy It Now of just $27.

Thing is, the tubes in this unit are of interest for an upcoming project (restoration of a Drake 2B and 2BQ combo).  The 12DT8 tube is for the FM portion of the radio. But Drakes always need 12BE6’s and 12BA6’s.  Now, toss in a tuning capacitor to salvage worth $15 bucks plus shipping on eBay.  Now put in a 4- or 5-inch permanent magnet speaker ($5-10 bucks) and by the time I was done, it looked like $60 worth of tubes and parts from a $27 outlay.

Pretty damn interesting what’s happening with tube prices on eBay.  Electronics inflation is coming along as expected. Given they are more EMP resistant that silicon chips (in most cases) and they have a unique analog sound, there’s a whole cult following on the web.  Focused on restoration not only of ham gear but things like classic Fender guitar amps and the like.

If the world hangs together, we see a case for common vacuum tubes outpacing long-term performance of simple commodities – maybe even gold and silver – because they are based on a serious value-add.

The New Office/Ham Shack Layout

Where is my office/ham shack headed?  For 8-hours a day – and as many as 14 – I sit in front of a 55″ UHD monitor.  That’s my world – mostly.  But there is also a lot to be done with ham radio repair, Morse code operating, and that’s even before we get into “special projects.”

This was covered in Wednesday’s Peoplenomics subscriber report.  Because so many of us in our “rocking chair years” have absolutely no interest in sitting around for the Grim Reaper to come calling.

The VERY real problem?  Some of us have been fortunate enough to save enough money over more than a half century of work to literally be able to afford anything.  Within reason, up to some budget number.

G2, now on his way back to a major server farm build-out, pointed this out to me:  “Dad, you have too many interests!  You gotta shed some!”

“Oh yeah?  Who sez so?”

The hardest part (in the PN report) was time and effort allocations before we all go to Life Reviews and into the After Realms.

The second hardest part has been deciding which equipment to leave at the main radio operating position.  For simple Morse code, the Drake 2B and matching Q multiplier can’t be beat.  eHam reviews are spectacular. The transmitter paired with this is the Hallicrafters HT-40, but the VFO is another prize (hornswoggled from WmRR).  Together with a small electronic keyer, this will be the “basic, always get through, 75-watt Morse lash-up.

The second level up from the desk will be solid-state alley.  One of the Icom 761s, the Kenwood TS-590, and possibly the TenTec Jupiter. The HeathKit SB-220 linear will be switchable between ’em by swapping ALC and keying lines through a four-position stereo phono switch.  (Amplifier keying circuit and ALC line to the amplifier.)

Then the top shelf will be a Hallicrafters tube line up. Either the SX-117 (another of the best ham receivers ever made) with an HT-44 transmitter.  The Loudenboom amplifier, too. OR I may roll out one of the SR-150s. Ultimately, this will come down to a measurement-based shootout for 20-meter sensitivity.  Whichever one wins, will be augmented with outboard JPS DSP audio processing.

The existing Fond Memories station will remain, but only for a while.  It’s the Gonset GSB-100 and the Johnson Thunderbolt amplifier.  Along with another Drake 2B/BQ combo.

Toss in a couple of SDRs and an ATS-25 and basic HF coms are golden.  Tge last pieces of the puzzle include special purpose radios . For chores like monitoring local emergency services.  A CB radio plus GMRS transceiver round out the tactical thinking.

Supporting this, I need to wire in the transfer switch and build a small “gas power equipment building. A column or three on that will be fun.

The problem is that every time I settle on a plan, my eye goes off catching another “sparkly” deal on eBay.  Just last week, there was an old Hallicrafters SSB transmitter/receiver pair listed for just under $1,000.  They looked phenomenal.  Since I already own them (plus the $1,000 companion linear amplifier) I find dopamine driving me into the click forest online to make sure it’s still the best possible choice.

It’s like in day-trading the stock market.  If you are not constantly questioning and rethinking your plan, you might not spot a bad decision early – when course changes into Future are least expensive.

Next Sunday we’ll talk about some basic Shop Safety and delve lightly into recycling simple electronics.  We’re going to rip apart a clock radio and get some useful parts from it.

Write when you get rich,

33 thoughts on “ShopTalk Sunday: Free Electronics Course (Part 2)”

  1. Another thought provoking post. I was with you throughout and am encouraged to look into Heathkits again. I put together a code oscillator when I was a kid but that was about the time motorcycles and girls got in the way.
    My take away this morning was your statement to be continually questioning and rethinking your plan. Excellent. Reminds me of a book I have a book around here somewhere by Richard Feynman, Thoughts Of A Citizen Scientist. I see similarities in your writing.
    Well done George.
    Stay safe. 73

  2. Mason jar puff bread

    simple recipe.
    1/2 tsp. salt
    1 Tbsp sugar
    1 cup of milk
    2 cups of flour
    ( powdered sugar cinnamon mix in a spice shaker)
    oil in a pan
    put the dry ingredients in a bowl heat up the milk .. mix beat and roll..( then divide it into equal portions) roll these into a ball..
    take your tortilla press flour it and press it into tortillas cut these out with the Marge mason jar lid.. take a small pill bottle and cut your hole in the center.. fry in hot oil till golden brown.. then dust with the sugar cinnamon
    now if you make just round flatbread.. don’t cut the hole and use it for your sandwiches..

  3. A goodly number of those reading this column will remember the venerable old “D-104” microphone. CBers often call it the “lollypop” mike. Usually a crystal or ceramic mike element, and often seen with an ampifier in the base, it can provide excellent ham radio punchy audio — or it can over-drive the piss out of most radios that really don’t need an amplified mike. But it looks great, and recalls the True Romance value of old-timey ham radio. (By the way, a current hand-held mobile mike version of it is on the market, and it is a superb performer, making for lots of crystal-clear communications “punch” on modern rigs for HF and VHF — as long as it isn’t set too high — keep it well under a “3” setting)

    (use with restraint and good engineering practice)
    (This is now my ‘go-to’ mobile mike.)


    In local PBS TV music programs like small folk and jazz groups, an excellent and professional level mike strongly resembling the D-104 is often seen these days. I can’t believe it really is a D-104 — but it LOOKS a lot like one. A hockey-puck with metal screen grill, and all-too visible screws, seen with a high chrome finish. Very diesel-punk styling.

    Anybody know what that is?


    When the balloon goes up:
    7.299 by day; 3.999 by nite
    call on the “xx:15s and the xx:45s”
    self ID phrase: “business model”
    No NCS or head shed.

    • I’ve got an old D-104 that doesn’t have the amp in the base. Got it from an old friend now SK. Used it for a while then replaced it with a Heil. Sits on the shelf now. I gathered parts to put together a Heil Pine Board Project a few years back. Might be a good winter project to get the old thing out on.

    • I got a black & gold “Night Eagle” lollipop from a CB’er at the swap meet. Then got a ‘banner flag’ for the top with my callsign on it… very retro ‘announcer mic.’ But modern rigs all use an electret mic now, so I rebuilt the thing. Actually sold the ceramic/crystal element for a profit on eBay. And Bypassed that horrendous amplifier with built in sound effects for the CB’ers. So now I’ve got a great looking retro mic with modern sound that plays well with modern radios.

    • not that long ago..the old printshop closed . a friend was taking out the old equipment.. offered it to me. dam I wanted it the small press and the plate making equipment.. he scrapped it out got twenty bucks.. all of it in pristine condition having been taken care of by the retired newspaper owners..
      if you watch little house on the prairy.. the harlots phone operator station came from my home town.. in the movies the television station with the big cameras. that actually came from the local trash guy..if you had something dropped it off at his place..when he died his wife auctioned it all off to movie studios for props..

  4. Pita pockets

    so easy and the best sandwich
    1 tbsp sugar
    1 cup of warm milk ( room temp)
    1 tbsp flour
    2 tsp of yeast
    mix this together let sit covered..till it bubbling.
    4 cups of bread flour
    2 tbsp oil
    now grease your bowl kneed the dough let raise about an hour( grease your hands)

    take each piece of dough roll them into a ball and press them into a round roll them flat about 3/8 inch thick flour the surface and let them rest about a half hour to an hour covered.
    put the oil in your pan or your griddle with pan spray
    put a couple on it let fry about a minute then flip like a pancake keep doing that after about the third time you will see them start to puff up.. each circle should be about 6 inches across..
    once browned let cool cut in half and fill it up..

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    Homemade Gyro Meat
    1 medium onion, quartered
    1 pound ground lamb
    1 pound ground beef
    4-5 garlic cloves
    2 teaspoons salt
    1 teaspoon dried oregano
    1 teaspoon cumin powder
    ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
    Equipment: 9 x 5 inch loaf pan
    For the Sandwiches:
    Pita bread
    Onion slices
    Tomato slices
    Tzaztiki Sauce
    Crumbled feta cheese

    Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit,
    Place the garlic cloves in a food processor and pulse until very finely chopped.
    Add onion and puree until smooth.
    Add ground beef with all of the spices. Pulse until the mixture becomes like a paste. Scrape down the sides of the bowl in between pulses.
    Place the mixture in a loaf pan. Compact it as much as possible. I love my ham luncheon meat pan..
    Bake for 45 minutes till 1 hour.
    Allow the pan to cool at room temperature completely. Refrigerate at least 2 hours before removing from the pan.
    Remove from pan onto a cutting board. Using a sharp serrated knife, slice it thinly. Pour all of the pan juices over the slices along with any of the fat that has gelatinized. It adds so much flavor when heating it up for the sandwiches.
    At this point the gyro slices can be placed in a freezer safe bag and frozen for future use.
    To make the Gyro sandwiches, place a cast iron pan over medium heat and cook the gyro slices until they are browned on both sides.
    Warm the pita bread slightly. Place some chopped lettuce, onion and tomato slices over the pita, the warm gyro slices and tzatziki sauce with crumbled feta. Serve immediately. Enjoy!

  5. Here is where I got my recipe that I totally love.. she uses a standard loaf pan.
    the ham pan is the best..I suggest grind it twice after mixing the ingredients.. this mixes the ingredients ..
    another thing is a meat sock in the luncheon meat pan..its pressed and easily removed.. then slice it.
    the cucumber sauce is delicious..sprinkle feta cheese and lettuce enjoy

  6. For dinner today we are having roast with onions and roasted carrots..baked potatoes and simple biscuits..
    biscuits well I know everyone knows how to make biscuits..
    2_ cups of flour or biscuit mix
    1 1/2 cups of cream mix it up
    place on floured surface then
    pat flat to about a half inch thick then cut them out place in a greased pan cover it with an egg wash and bake at 450 about fifteen minutes
    then brush the tops with melted butter..

      • I gotta laugh. While the rest of us are fixing electronics, LOOB is fixing dinner.

        While George is collecting old radios, LOOB is collecting kitchen gadgets. Hoarding comes in many forms, apparently.

      • it was delicious to..
        I like yo slice my roast before baking it. then I tie it together or put it in a meat sock. bake at 450..
        I love my meat slicer.. my grandson made me a table for the corn extruder this morning and he has an old washing machine motor I can have.
        the town is going toet me set up the extruder and corn two weeks they are having a donation breakfast at the park to try and get donations for the pool.
        I think I am going to use the berry basket for the donations.
        it sits in a shed now..i saved it and the story of it when i was really little.
        the old family story that i was told by a great great uncle..
        is when lewis asked clark to join him.. william made up a shit ton of baskets for everyone in the family.. told them he had a hankering for berry pie..while they were out picking berries he snuck away.. leaving them without provisions for the winter. the Hero in their life was Daniel Boone that heard of what he did and traveled to them to help them get the provisions they needed for the winter..
        you won’t read about that it was an old story told to me by a realitive..
        when they were burning everything that was the one thing they let me have to put toys in..well he wasn’t a favorite or even acknowledged until my mother’s they name parks roads etc of him..
        what a great time yo put that basket to some useful purpose..
        maybe what lands in that basket will benefit the kids in town..

      • gravy is almost another food source lol.. I made a lot of it too thinking that what I would do is save the gravy and whatever roast beef was left I would go and chunk it up make a beef gravy and then all you have to do is toss some vegetables in it later on. what happened was it was only just enough for a sandwich of the beef left and the gravy there wasn’t even enough to dump out of the dish hahaha.

  7. Yo Radioman G,

    How about a short course on radio/microwave transmissions ? Historical background info from Ruskie side of spectrum..used to cross those beams over CONUS and created some seriously anomalous weather patterns/behavior -in the 70’s. Rumored to be cause of roswell incident – “microwaved”. They zapped the wrong guys..

    Anyways, along those same lines – spark gap generators and other jamming frequencies self generated by homehandy bastards who no likey “imperial storm troopers” droning in on their private lands/lives. Save those old microwaves – parts.

    Perhaps a little peaky at some Keshe tech – see Iranian and Russians tech only used for “Good” read defensive purposes, for now.

    Dudes & Dudettes – please o please take notice of china joe’s sweet Oil deal with Chyknees business partner – Strategic Oil Reserve has been SOLD DIRECTLY to CCP !

    Prove ME WRONG – I’m begging hear – DEBUNK those TREASONOUS acts – just this one ACT of selling OUR (USA) strategic oil reserves to feather the pedophiles family trusts (Off Shored) – OBVIOUSLY.

      • Hope ?
        dont do hope, worst strategy ever – never pans out..

        crypto is poised for greater success going forward, very big BEAR has entered the “BIG game” and is lurking in very near backgound. All are waiting for this big Bears’ next moves, after entering the scene.
        Whatever happens – know on the other side, crypto will Run Again..sheetcoins and BTC.

        Effectively have 2 Financial Systems Now – BRICS & Dicks. Guess who has all the Gold and Silver ?

        Sheetcoins should be treated as personal Cash Register – In and Out, taking PROFITS/Licking Ure Ice cream as you trade. BTC store of Value/”Digital Gold” – HODL

        Better odds than powerball/mega million..XRP, XLM, DOGE, SHIB, Bitcoin Cash…Shitcoins 4 Fun and Profit.

        • I would imagine the countries that still produce oil, and the countires that back their currency with oil, are the ones with the precioius metal. No one knows why buy dan woudl detroy oil and gas in theis country, whywith 10% going to the big guy, who knows what goings on a liningthe pockets Rosneft, Gasprom, Burisma, Sinopec, nothing to see here folks move along lol.

    • Great manufacturing ingenuity with what looks like a home garage shop. I am curious as to what type of mic element they use & who makes it. Probably a trade secret. But kudos for testing each one for response… and the fallout rate is higher than I expected.

  8. My ham shack is an old table placed in front of a window in the spare bedroom so I can look at the greenery outside. So it is necessarily ‘low rise’. When I was gifted an old Kenwood TS-450 pure analog rig, I had to build a riser shelf above the existing rigs to place it on… just alongside the computer monitor that fits just below the window sill. Gotta update my shack pix on QRZ soon. Now I’m absolutely out of room. Cannot block the window view, so I will never get to the high rise stack up the wall that George apparently has. Just as well. I refuse to become a museum collector.

    I note George is still ‘stacking’, and refusing to say anything about an IC-7300 for the solid-state shelf… terrified that he might like it and get rid of all the other stuff! LOL! With a stack that high, you are lucky you don’t live in earthquake country! (Said the survivor of a 6.9 bomber, with no damage!)

    • Before I retired there was a large remodel or actually downsizing of the data center at the office. I was leaving one day and as I went into the garage by the freight elevator I saw a bunch of network racks standing alone and lonely looking. I saw the network guy nearby and asked if these were being trashed. He said take all you want. So I loaded 4 into the truck. They look dandy in the ham shack but my wife said I could only have one in the house if it is put in the corner where she cant see it. Got tired of moving the others around and gave them away.

  9. I am posting this because it is interesting; I do not intend it as a political endorsement:

    In order to buy into this, it would require trusting a trial lawyer. There are other candidates who can fill this same role; I’m just not sure how many of them could actually make it onto a ballot. And write-in candidates are no longer in option in most jurisdictions.

    • “Black swan events describe economic events that come as a complete surprise and have a major impact.”

  10. Dam that didn’t work lol..
    watching tv and I thought.hmm I will skip the evening meal..
    then they showed it.. someone eating pancakes..
    instead of that I made French toast.. half cup of cream two eggs beaten. ( you can put cinnamon I dont)
    but.. cut the crust off in one piece save that..
    then soak up the bread and fry it.. dust it with cinnamon and powdered sugar or just some yummy maple syrup..( real maple syrup from Canada cannot be beat )
    the left over egg wash..buck that in the microwave for a couple minutes..
    tomorrow morning I am going to make the wife her favorite..hidden toast..two slices on top of each the center take a small piece of ham and a small cube of cheese.. then take a cup and cut a circle in the center..
    butter the bread with the hole in the center fry put an egg in each of the holes.. flip and serve..
    now the circles with the cheese and ham.. brown it on both sides..
    the piece of crust wrap it pinwheel style secure it with a tooth pick and dip it in egg wash like French toast and fry it both sides.. remove the tooth pick and enjoy with pure maple syrup..
    you can also chop it up spice it and dry it like croutons.. or put it in a bowl take two beaten eggs.. mix onions peppers a little Mrs dash a little sa?t and pepper… mix it completely making sure its all well coated..spray Pam or butter your frying pan.. pour it into the pan and fry it.. then flip it..take a plate place on top of it turn it over then fry it on the other side.. coat the top of it with pizza sauce or just regular tomato sauce put your favorite topping on it cover it with cheese put a lid on it while the cheese !
    melts plate it and cut it like a pizza..


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