Wednesday, December 13, 2017

A Likely Solution to the Fermi Paradox

A plausible solution to the Fermi Paradox is presented today over at SMBC.  The actual probability of this being the solution?  As always with these sorts of things, that's still anybody's guess.

Remember to read the mouse-over text and hit the big red gag button at the end.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

How the IAEA Works

... and serves as the eyes and ears of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty enforcement.  Explained in cartoon graphic form over at PhD Comics.  Worth your ten minutes.

First the caves...

Remember this post from this past September?

Scientists are closing in on warm caves under Antartica which could support secret life
Now comes this:
Fossil hunters find man-sized penguin on New Zealand beach
That's a somewhat misleading headline.  Fossilized bones were found, not actual 6' tall living, breathing giant penguins.

What next, shoggoths?  Elder Things?  Or perhaps even worse?

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Learning by Doing, Pt. 2

Another camp-out with the ham club (see Part 1 here), and as before there were many lessons learned.  Learned from getting out there and setting up in the field, in not entirely friendly weather.

Success: The FT-817nd radio, LDG Z-817 autotuner, and LNR EFT-10/20/40 antenna all worked together perfectly.  Yes, I know that LNR says their antenna doesn't need a tuner, but I'm here to tell you that in the real world it does.  Anyway, with nothing more than 2.5 watts and PSK-31 digital mode (driven by a cheap Linux laptop), I was knocking out contacts from New York state to Venezuela.  And how about that antenna.  It took all of 5 minutes to put up, strung between two bushes and over a convenient tree branch.  Simple, fast, and (if this matters to you) just about invisible.

Fail: The new/used cheap, light, strong Therm-a-Rest sleeping pad I picked up was just too thin to use on recently snow-covered gravel.  Slept cold on my back all night.  Should've used a thicker pad, given the conditions.  But I just had to try out the new pad, and brother did I learn its limitations.

Success: Anticipating operating in cold and windy weather, I used the big Eureka 9x9 dome tent.  It was a sort of roughing-it plush, giving plenty of living and radio operating room that was sheltered from the wind. That made all the difference.

Fail: I'd been looking for the small tent's 7x4 footprint polyethylene ground cloth for some time now.  I found it alright, packed in with the big tent.  Ended up using it under the sleeping half of the tent, and minorly suffered with dampness seeping up through the floor elsewhere.  No biggie, but I've got to get a new properly-sized ground cloth for this tent ASAP.

Success: The little Anker USB charging stick did a great job of keeping the cell phone topped off.  Judging from the 4 led "fuel gauge," it holds about 4, maybe more full charges.  With light use this might keep a cell phone alive for as much as a week in the backcountry.  Or it could be a real butt-saver if the cell phone's mapping software is needed in a pinch.  That one app alone can burn through half a phone charge in the blink of an eye.  Including its charging cord and mesh keeper bag, it comes in at 5 oz., and is well worth the weight.

Miscellaneous furniture thoughts: A 18"x12"x3/4" foam pad made a dandy radio operating seat, while a really nice fold-up mini-chair I've had for years didn't work nearly as well.  Just a matter of being easier to lean in to the radio when sitting on the foam pad.  And once again, that little 18" square table proved just right for getting the radio & laptop up enough to conveniently operate.  OTOH, on a true backpacking trip even that would get left behind, in favor of woodland tables of opportunity (i.e., logs that don't seem to be harboring malevolent wildlife).

Probably won't bother with when hiking: Bringing the big 12 AH Bioenno battery for the FT-817nd when backpacking.  At a hair under 3 lbs, it's hard to justify hauling around all of that energy when 8x Eneloop Pros will give a day hike's worth of power for 1/5 the weight.  Of course, this only goes for a QRP radio; the FT-857D requires the the bigger battery, but that's more of a car camping proposition.

Maybe/Maybe Not for a hike: Laptop & SignaLink box vs. iPhone (which I'm carrying anyway) & bluetooth keyboard & external speaker.  There's a 3.9 lb difference here, but the operating speed the laptop gives over the iPhone (not to mention operator fatigue) makes it a wash, so it will come down to the particular trip.  Day hike where I'm not carrying a tent and stove and etc.?  Take the laptop.  Multi-day backpacking trip?  iPhone & kbd hands-down.

BTW, all of this weight-fiddling gets the base pack down to 28.1 lbs, including the associated (if minimal) radio gear.  Somewhat lighter if just going for a day hike.  If not exactly lightweight (let alone ultralight), this is entirely manageable.

Fail: Didn't take any pictures.  Too late now!

ps 12/12, two more successes worth mentioning:
- Even though it was too wet and cold to lighten up and hike in (not to mention that we'd rescheduled to another non-hiking campsite), I'd still packed in with the Osprey Atmos 50.  When one old Marine who'd spent time hauling an 85 lb ALICE around Vietnam a while ago tried it on, he took some convincing to hand it back!
- Made a contact with a friend co-piloting a 737 on 20m SSB.  That was unusual!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Yeah, it really is that bad.

Usually the web comic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal is funny and brainy.  Today it's just brainy, but this time brainy as in "massive screaming migraine headache" kind of brainy.  Health insurance costs have gone batshit in pockets all over this country.  Here, just go read and weep.  And don't forget to read the mouse-over text and to hit the big red gag button at the end.

Free markets work.  Politically connected corporatism doesn't work at all.  Centrally planned systems can seem to work for a while, until they run out of other peoples' money.  This has been experimentally confirmed time and again over the past hundred years.  What is so hard to understand here?

Friday, December 8, 2017

A Good Day to Hunker Down

Here, the weather map says it all:

So much for the backpacking trip I was going to start this morning!

ps: Here's a bit more, starting with big fluffy flakes piling in:

Thursday, December 7, 2017

New Buffett Album of Old Recordings: Buried Treasure

Dusty tapes lost for decades in a Mobile AL studio...  hard to resist.  If you like Buffett's early work, this is earlier still, when he was trying (as he discusses in the commentary) to emulate Gordon Lightfoot.  Well, things got better from there, much better, but even so it wasn't a bad start.  Most of the songs are simple studio recordings of Jimmy with his acoustic guitar doing his own compositions, but there are enough surprises to spike things up.  The live cover of California Dreaming with the Junior Miss contestants singing backup has to be heard to be believed.  The guy always could put on a good show and get people wrapped up in the music.  Maybe the best part is that you can hear echoes of work he would be cranking out in the next decade or so, hints of good things to come.

Also noteworthy, every other track is Buffett talking about his early career, what went into a particular song, etc.  He also mentions that there were about 120 songs unearthed, and this disk is labeled "Volume One."  Buffett's never been one to leave money on the table, so I'm guessing we'll see Vols. 2 thru N rolling out at some six-month-to-a-year intervals.  Something to look forward to.

So yeah, Buried Treasure is an apt name for this album.  It's not for everybody, but if you think you might like it, you probably will.