Tuesday, December 31, 2013

MoAM? Lives!

And their new album DEFCON 5...4...3...2...1 is pretty damn good.  The sound is there, most of the sci-fi sound clips have been omitted, and some vocals are even present.  It's kind of serious that way.  It's a good CD to drop in before switching on the soldering iron.

Even though they're taking their music more seriously on this new album, it's good to see that they're still having fun at the shows. (music starts 8 minutes in, it's just a bunch of crowd woo-woos until then)

Monday, December 30, 2013

It's mid-winter, the year's over, and it's gray outside. Here, have some depressing stuff.

The Last AM [Radio] Station
How will it end?  Here's a near-future quasi-scifi guess.  Amusing story, but I really don't think it'll work out this way.

The 38 Most Haunting Abandoned Places on Earth
Especially haunting since I used to take the kids to one of them.

Man, I need more coffee and a bike ride.  Lung crud is lifting however, thing are looking up for the new year.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Relevance Evident, Legacy Assured

On the BBC's World News front page today, not only was the death of Mikhail Kalashnikov noted, in another lead story's picture we see his namesake in use:
Whatever you may think of the man and his inventions, he did leave his mark on history.

Movie Review: The Hobbit, the Desolation of Smaug

Short and sweet review: this movie wasn't that great.  While the overall plot line stuck to Tolkien's story, mostly, there were large and largely needless re-writes that sucked the charm and wit right out of Jackson's movie.  Furthermore, the occasional insertions of bits of the back-story were alright, but after a while they began to overshadow the main plot.  As its own story The Hobbit – at least Tolkien's version – stands on its own.  There was no need to shape it into a Lord of the Rings prequel for this movie version.

Apart from these re-write problems, the acting was very good, the set design was perfect, and the special effects were top-knotch.  They manage to drag it up to 2.5 stars out of 4.  It was enjoyable to watch, but it could have been so much more.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

More on Movies: Upstream Color Redux

As seen over at Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.  Hey, it's Saturday morning, right?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Been Busy. Here, have an amusing youtube segment.

Dueling Theremins performing Principles Unknown, from Man or Astro-Man? and special guest.  There are flames toward the end, be ready for it.  Enjoy!

New Year's resolution: more practice time on my theremin.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Movie Review: Upstream Color, the Thinking Person's Zombie Flick

I don't know what to say about this one.  Upstream Color, from the guy who brought us Primer, is  engrossing, in a put-the-pieces-back-together way, kind of an unfun version of The Hangover.  But it's much, much worse.  It's not a lost night of wild fun, it's a grand tour from the inside of the life cycle of a mind controlling parasite, focusing on the relationship of two of its hosts and their stories, and the criminals who use the parasite – or does the parasite use the criminals?

Here, watch the trailer.

Bottom line: 3.5 stars out of 4.  I won't drag on this review any longer when this reviewer says everything else that I'd say.

Added thrills: While this movie is fictional (I hope), it just sticks together a bunch of horrifying real-world things, like scopolamine and the criminals who dose people with it, mind-controlling parasitic fungi, and the whole Haitian zombie thing.  Want to have fun dabbling in this on yourself without all the chemicals?  Here you go!  It's been said before regarding modern physics, but it's worth repeating in the current context: not only is the real world stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Back on the Bike

Damn pneumonia.  It's dragged on so long that it's turned into oldmonia.  The latest round of antibiotics seems to have knocked it down, but this isn't the first time I've thought this.  Managed to squeak out 18 slooooow miles today.  I stayed upright and kept the pedals generally turning in the correct direction, about all I can say.  No significant coughing or other problems though, that is a good sign.

Goal for the rest of 2013: Beat this infection down.
Goal for 2014: Rebuild cardio abilities by mid-spring.  Then go enjoy some real mountain biking before the woods get hot.

Time to go take my vitamins & supplements.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Today's Science Lessons

How to ID brown recluse spiders.  Fire Fire Fire!!!

It's like the Blair Witch Spider.  No kiddin'.

Here, have some bubble pulses in an amazing demo.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Hurricanes are a small price.

The People vs Winter over at YouTube.

Compared to (attempted) life in the the frozen wastelands north of I-10, tolerating the occasional hurricane down on the coast is truly a small price to pay.

Movie Review: The Europa Report

This is some of the best hard science fiction I've seen in years.  The setup is simple: NASA flyby probes find interesting signs of possible life on Europa, and a public/private manned venture is sent to find out just what is going on.  Why manned?  More flexible, more on-the-spot data taking ability, more adaptability, you name it.  And brother, do they find something – and to the story's everlasting credit, it's something actually scientifically plausible (hint: it's not Yet Another ET Wonderland).  But there are certain problems, like a solar storm that knocks out their Earth comms link half-way to the destination, followed by a disastrously unsuccessful repair spacewalk.  Just enough goes wrong to make the mission a real pain in the ass, while leaving the goals still seemingly achievable.

For all that, this movie's got a couple of serious problems.  The main one is the choppy editing gets in the way of the story.  Yeah, I understand the found footage concept, and it's used effectively here, but come on, have a little mercy on the audience.  It's just a brutal mess of a film to watch.  The second problem is that some of the astronaut characters are just a little over-acted, and the parts are just a little over-emotionally written.  I'm not expecting a shipfull of stoic Vulcans here, but the one engineer constantly pining for his family got old.

Those are two big problems, but the rest of the movie gets carried off with aplomb.  As I said at the start, this is some of the best hard science fiction I've seen since Contact, and the ending holds a surprise twist – totally in character for the surviving astronauts – that had me guessing right up to the last seconds.  But man, that choppy editing really got in the way of the story, so much so that I had to watch it twice (yes, in a row) because it was both that good (the story) and bad (the editing).

Here's the trailer.  The movie is actually quite a bit smarter than that trailer makes it look.  Despite the massive editing problem and overwrought emotions here and there, it's still a really good movie, somewhere in the 3+ star range.  Had those two problems been reigned in, it could've been a solid 4.  Yes, the rest of it really is that good.

ps, two days later: I was telling someone over the weekend about this movie.  He'd heard about it, and even went so far as to look up the trailer... then decided it was just another "monsters in space" flick.  Now on my recommendation he's going to go back and see the movie.  This illustrates the self-inflicted damage that studio marketing can do when they go for the cheap thrills.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

And Here It Is!

The 2015 Mustang:

Not bad at all!  Style-wise, it's not the radical departure I was expecting a year ago, but the leaked spy photos and renderings kind of took the edge off that surprise.  The real questions are all about the new suspension.  How's it handle?  How's it perform?  The V6 and V8 engine options seem awfully similar to the current offerings, but now what about that turbocharged four cylinder option?  On the face of it, that's just too damn small for a car like this (and a reflection of the pathetic Mustang II), but does the turbo and modern engine control make it into a worthy player?  Only time – track time – will tell.

Anyway, here's a basic comprehensive article and a picture flip-page at the L.A. Times.  Extra articles at Fox, MarketWatch, and Businessweek, in case somebody decides to get stupid and start paywalling articles.   Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Ten Things Every Mountain Biker Should Have Done

Small caption and 3 minute video over at Dirt Rag.

After you've watched, here's the list:
1: build a bike
2: ride at night (best footage in the video)
3: ride in the snow
4: ride in another country
5: sleep next to your bike
6: explore a new trail
7: cross a mountain range
8: ride a race
9: visit a bike park
10: ride to the sea

My report card:  (And this is going down on my Permanent Record.)
1: 80%
2: check
3: major geographic limitations here; does racing through ice-covered puddles count?
4: 0%, unless you count Moab, but that’s more like another planet
5: check
6: check
7: close but no cigar; again, major geographic limitations here
8: check
9: not so much
10: check; making up for some of the geographic limitations in #3 & #7, I could do this on a kid’s tricycle
Total: 5 solid, with GED credit for a couple more.

Things I’d add to the list:
a: maintain & build trails (in order of importance)
b: use an mtb for non-recreational, non-commute purpose: disaster relief, hunting, medical rescue, smuggling, etc.
c: teach somebody else to mountain bike
d: ride hard enough to require a hospital visit afterward
e: effect MacGyver-class trailside bike repairs, preferably in the middle of a race
f: do an adventure race
g: get something published in a major mtb publication – even if it’s a music or beer review
h: road bike, & do it well
i: counter-attack an attacking dog
j: work on professional friendships on a mtb trail (as opposed to the more typical golf course venue)

Well that’s ten more items, and considering that the list ends with the letters i and j, we’re off on the imaginary axis.  Time to call it a night.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

With Friends Like These, AM Radio is So Screwed

Nostalgia.  Sports.  Local programming.  Minority broadcasters.  Intimate connections with listeners.  Imbedded in our national culture.  All presented over at NPR in about five minutes.

But no discussion whatsoever about the one thing that sets broadcast AM radio apart, where it excels over other common U.S. broadcast bands:

Listening to that news story is a lot like watching an inept salesman try to move a sports car without ever mentioning performance.

Previous facepalmery on the same topic seen here.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Yeah, ISON's Pretty Much Gone

Too bad.  I was hoping for a light show this week.  But as Bad Astronomer put it, "predicting comets is like predicting cats."  Anyway, here's a time lapse composite, from over at Space Weather:
Yeah, just like an auction.  Going, going, gone.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Low Power FM Stations: Five Coast Applications

As pointed out by American Bandscan, the FCC has released the new list of LPFM station applications.  Many of these won't make it through the full process and get on the air, but as of this week there are five applications in the Coastal counties.  West to east, they are:

  1. Diamondhead, Hancock Co. Amateur Radio Assoc.
  2. Long Beach, USM Gulf Coast Campus
  3. Gulfport, Islamic Center of Gulfport
  4. Biloxi, South East Region of Christian Education
  5. Ocean Springs, Ocean Springs Friends of WUSM
Two of the four should be pretty easy to receive here in The Bay, and maybe two more will be possible with an good tailwind.  Ought to spice listening up a little around here.

Still Stuffed from Turkey?

Not into the whole Black Friday lunacy?  Then here, have a lethal dose of neutrinos.
Courtesy of

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Some Like It Hot

Others, not so much.  From the BBC:
A California judge has temporarily curbed production of the popular sriracha Asian-style hot sauce after residents of a Los Angeles suburb complained of the factory's odour.
Could put a crimp in things.  Personally, I go through about a bottle of the stuff a year.  With a half-full* bottle left, I'm sure things will get sorted before the fox really begins to gnaw.

*half-full: always the optimist.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

When it rains, it pours.

I try not to blog more than one feature item a day, but things just stacked up and so here are five.  Happy Thanksgiving!

I Will Bike This Road Someday

"The Forbidden Road of the French Alps," over at Messy Nessy.  Click through, many more spectacular pictures there.


Lesser cars can have racing stripes:

However on Mustangs these are properly known as invasion stripes:

Are we clear on this point now?  Good.

MoAM?: Defcon 5...4...3...2...1

Man or Astro-Man? has a new album out, Defcon 5...4...3...2...1.  Been out since late May.  Mine's on the way, but... how the hell did I miss this until now?


Seen here.  Possibly the most unearthly things I've seen since the last time I watched Kagemusha.

Traversable Achronal Retrograde Domains In Spacetime

You work out the acronym for yourself.  Here's the paper describing the basic physics.  No foolin'.  The construction however... presents certain engineering difficulties at this time. (Which, if this thing can ever work at all, makes it no technical problem whatsoever.)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Movie Review: Captain Phillips

Very good movie, waited too long to see it, it's about to go out of theaters so catch it now or wait until sometime in '14 to get it on disk.  In case you've been out of the loop, it's a straight-up telling of the 2009 hijacking of the Maersk Alabama off the Somali coast, and insofar as I could tell, it does tell the story straight up.  Acting and production were both top-notch, and it is a compelling story.  It is intense and there is some bloodshed, so leave the kids out on this one.  Put it all together and it rates 3.5 out of 4 stars.

Guess This Means CX'ing the Seawall

...today, and next weekend too.  Deer season's in, and "modern guns with dogs" phase started yesterday.  Here's the MDWFP page on the matter.  Primitive weapons phase starts on Dec. 2, wood's will be good to bike then for a couple of weeks.

Orange Jersey: don't leave the trailhead without it.  And opening weekend, don't leave the trailhead at all.

Vote for R.A.H.!

The Missouri House of Representatives is selecting a "famous Missourian" to induct into their Hall.

Robert Anson Heinlein is currently running in second place.

Please go vote for him: http://www.house.mo.gov/FamousMissourianVoting.aspx


(This post has been reblogged in its entirety from The Smallest Minority.)

Time to go ride my bike.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

November Fourth Ward Cleaver's Up

And it may be the last one.  Maybe.  Read about it here.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Placeholder Post for a Quiet Time

A little bit of wet weather, the final push to get a paper written, no bands or unusual music to speak of lately, no upgrades on the car, and no serious biking... but I'm still here.  Even this evenings's Last Radio Playing show was a re-run.  Maybe something interesting by the weekend.  Time to call it a season on some of the pepper plants and re-plant those niches in the garden, that'll take maybe an hour on Saturday.  Collards and kale are growing like, well, weeds and the Swiss chard is looking a little perkier these days.  Any harvesting is at least another month away though.  Movies... Captain Phillips will still be around for another week, Catching Fire opens this weekend.  Reviews will be forthcoming.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

So Very, Very Wrong

On so many levels:
Yes, that's right, in 1976 Ford contemplated making a Mustang station wagon.  With wood panel sides at that.  Makes the Mustang II look not so bad, doesn't it?  Here's a photo article of Mustangs That Never Were over at Fox News.
Now look, there's nothing wrong with the concept of a shooting brake, a sort of gentleman's sports coupe for hauling around sporting gear while hauling ass in style.  But there's nothing stylish about turning the Mustang into a reject from the AMC Gremlin labs.  Fortunately, saner heads at Ford intervened and – though it took a while – the Mustang was saved from being perverted into a cheesy grocery-getter and was eventually turned back into what it should be.

Back to the main point, with the roomy trunk and fold-down back seats, the current version of Mustang damn near is a shooting brake.  Man can it hold a bunch of mullet nets, mountain bikes, lumber, or any number of shooty things.  But one thing that it isn't and never could be is some damn station wagon.  What was Ford thinking?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

View Over the Bars into Tuxachanie Creek

Nice ride in the woods today.  Nothing remarkable, except for its perfection.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Movie Review: Ender's Game

Pro: Stuck to the main story.  Good acting & special effects.

Con: Weak ending/epilogue, but it was the same as the book.  Overall, the movie somehow never quite connected.

What to say after that?  A rather large sub-plot in the book (in which Card essentially predicts the blogosphere having a heavy influence on politics) was neatly excised from the story.  It wasn't needed here, would've weighted things down, and isn't really adaptable to a movie.  Even though it's a spectacular sci-fi coup for Card, dropping it from the script was a good call.

After that, so much of the story is Ender's personal inner struggle.  It's hard to get something like that on film.  Guess the director did his best.  It sorta worked, but not quite.

BUT.  Here is the noteworthy thing about this film: It stuck to the story.  Whatever else its flaws, it stuck to the story.  They didn't bring in some hack writer, toss out the book, keep the tile and a couple of characters' names, and con everybody into a big opening weekend (example, and yes my prediction for that movie panned out).  For once, Hollywood stuck to the story, and the results – despite the novel's problems – were pretty good.

Three out of four stars.  If it interests you at all, go see it!

Mustang Rattle Solved

Since I got it (May '12, has it really been that long?), there's been a little bit of rattle in the front wheel wells.  Not enough to.... well, I did take it in, and it wasn't enough for the half-deaf mechanic to hear.  But with colder weather, the plastic fender liners were sounding out what seemed a death rattle, and on both sides to boot.

Cool weather's a big plus for these jobs here, because the bugs are mostly asleep.  It's a consideration when the ground you're rolling around on is fire ant ground zero.

It was no big deal as it turns out.  The liners needed to be pinned between the rocker panel end and the metal fender tab, but both sides had been assembled with the liner flapping in the breeze behind the fender tab.  Once I tore into it, it was pretty obvious how it was all supposed to fit together.  A little bit of prying with a plastic bike tire lever to pop things over followed by a fun 80 mph test ride, and we're back to solid and silent like Henry Ford intended it to be.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Blues Tuesday

Tuesday again, and again they're playing the blues this evening over at WQRZ (103.5 FM) and on Last Radio Playing at WWCR (5.070* shortwave, 6 pm CST).  Get your serotonin fix today, it's got to last until Friday.

*Frequency valid for a limited time only!  Remember, scheduled shortwave frequencies have to slide around as the days shorten and lengthen with the seasons.  So check the broadcast schedule (again, link; search on 'last radio') early and often.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Good Run Back

Got away early this morning after a weekend at the Seafood Festival.  Light traffic on the 340 miles back, so I made it in 5:20 flat.  That works out to 64 mph average, and at 29.9 mpg.  I'll take it.

Here, have some random pictures I took:
One of the parade floats.  Really, it floats.

Fire orks barge being prepped.  The show was impressive!

Some weird-ass car parked in front of the Gibson.  It had a spark plug and gas injector on the tailpipe, that was pretty cool.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cannonball Run

A new trans-America car record has been set.  Critical statistics:
Here's an article about how it was done at Jalopnik.
And no, it wasn't a done in a Mustang, the car was an old Mercedes.  Impressive nonetheless.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Don't try this one at home kids.

In fact, don't try it anywhere.  But it's still awesome.

Camera Clearing

No overriding theme here, just some interesting picture that have been floating around on my camera for the last few weeks.
Last melon of summer.  It never ripened, just stopped growing with the cool weather

Lazy Mag's new seasonal.  Pretty good!

Lunch on Columbus Day.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Relevant Song

Trip Around the Sun
"This year gone by ain't been a piece of cake."  Yeah, you could say that.  But I've seen worse, things are looking up.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

In Case You Don't Read "Foxtrot"

Here's last Sunday's comic:

Lesser Brains May Be Destroyed

But mine wasn't.  Three Illusions That Will Destroy Your Brain over at Slate.  Your ten minutes of 'huh' for the day.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Review: Gravity

It's good!  The plot is kind of thin, but it's more of a character- and action-driven movie.  On that level, the movie is a 100% success.

Some of the orbital mechanics is cheesy, so turn off your analytic mind on those parts and enjoy the special effects.  Then there's a shuttle in orbit over two years after the last one landed, and some other space hardware figures in that hasn't been launched... Like I said, turn off your analytic mind and stop poking holes in the movie.  It's an cheap easy game, but totally beside the point here.

See it in 3-D, at an IMAX theater if possible.  It's that kind of immersive experience.  Don't screw around and let this slide off the big screen while you think "Darnit, but I'll catch it on Blu-Ray."  You will regret it if you let this one go.

Bottom line: 3.5 out of 4 stars, just for the sheer damn spectacle of the thing.  (But Rush was slightly better, so if it's one or the other, go see Rush.)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Calvin & Hobbes Documentary

Due out October 15th.  Trailer here.

Long Road Back

But I'm well along it.  After a multi-month bout of pneumonia and a month and a half of healing, I was able to crank out my usual 5k evening run.  Well almost, had to walk one stretch of about 50 yards to catch my breath.  It's so much better than a couple of weeks ago!

Coming over the railroad track crossing on the way home with a quarter mile to go, I was about done when this song came on the ipod.  Finished with plenty of gas in the tank.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Review: Rush

Short and sweet review: It's a movie about two Formula 1 race drivers duking it out for the top spot in the 1976 season.  The backdrop is interesting enough – fast cars and racing action, keeping the sponsors happy, wild 70's 20-something fun and games – but the real story is in the contrasting portraits of the two drivers.  One is a cold, blunt, calculating, yet slightly awkward Austrian who knows his stuff and has the consistent results to show for it.  The other is a classic British playboy who exudes natural driving talent, while remaining blissfully unencumbered by any considerations of engineering.  He is a man who has found his place in life, and he is fully determined to make the most of it.

You can't help but to simultaneously like and loathe each racer for his manner.  What's more, they clearly have that same the same sort of like/loathe aspect to their rivalry and quasi-friendship.  It's a nice trick, and it lets a viewer slip into the main characters' heads just a little.  And the cars and action are fun to watch.

Bottom line: 3.5/4 stars.  You can read other folks' opinions over at Rotten Tomatoes, but they largely concur.

As a final note, Gravity is out and by all accounts it's great.  I'll be seeing it very soon.  But it is sucking up all of the cinematic oxygen right now, and as a result Rush may not linger much longer in theaters.  Get yourself down to your best nearby theater and see it on the big screen, before you miss the grand spectacle and are left with nothing more than a Blu-Ray disk and lingering regret.

Ham on Rye

This Velveeta ad is so cheesy that it'll have you reaching for the rye whiskey bottle too.  No, sorry, I can't give you your sixteen seconds back.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Hurricane Season's Not Over Quite Yet

Monday Morning, I stopped on the way to the car to snap a picture of a hurricane lilly:
Nice, huh?

So by Wednesday we have:

Pffft.  No, it's not too late for a good one either.  Remember the Thanksgiving joy Kate brought?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Back in the Woods

Another fine day in the woods at the Bethel Bike Trails in DeSoto NF.  First woods ride since June, and first woods ride since this pneumonia started up.  No issues from that crud, just the usual comeback rustiness.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Two Songs

Doing bills this morning, paying the credit card, "Halloween Jack is a real cool cat / and he lives on top of Manhattan Chase" popped into my head.  So here's Bowie's Diamond Dogs.

The other song on my mind this morning was Pumpkin Head from Cowboy Bebob.  It kicks off like a demented robotic parrot grand marshalling a Mardi Gras parade, keeps motoring on from there.

Enough of this foolishness, I'm back to listening to Cajun pop on KLRZ for the rest of the afternoon.  Got a mountain bike to prep for tomorrow.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Smarter than our grandparents?

Or are we just more abstract?  It is a very complex issue, but the raw fact is that IQ scores show a long-term rising trend.  James Flynn makes a good run at explaining what is going on in this 18 minute TED talk.  In it, he makes three main points: (1) The number of cognitive workers has steadily increased over the past century.  (2) All of this cognitive working out has improved our ability to think abstractly.  (3) But unfortunately we're losing some of our grasp of basic history and facts, for reasons he leaves largely unprobed.

He does make some good points.  I'll leave you to ponder while I get to the lab for another stimulating day of Krell-fu.  [insert theremin sound effect here]

Monday, September 23, 2013

Some of the New(ish) Physics Explained

Bohemian Gravity (8 minutes)

Rolling in the Higgs (4 minutes)

For once, I am at a loss for words.  Certainly not at a loss for laughs though!  The guy is good.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Right on Time

Today's the fall equinox, and look what the Weather Fairy brought this morning:
Sixty six degrees, mmmmm!

You know, the best thing about fall around here is that outdoor activities are feasible throughout the day, and leisurely mornings are again possible.  In summer, you launch at dawn to enjoy the relative cool, while the middle part of the day is spent nooning out inside.  But fall days work on my schedule, and it does feel good.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Sweeping Summer Away

A big cold front:

Well, cool-ish anyway.  The 80 degree nights are probably done until next June:

In any case, I'm about done for this summer.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Whither A.M. Radio?

Update 9/19: As if on cue comes this article about the FCC Chairman's recent comments on how to rejuvenate broadcast AM.  Yes, this proposed new arrangement of deck chairs should really help with the buoyancy issues, never mind the icebergs and that inconvenient gash in the hull.

In a tab-clearing exercise, I direct you to an article at the NYT, A Quest to Save AM Before It's Lost in the Static.  Go read, it's short, I'll wait.

[musical interlude]

OK, we're back.  Interesting article and I am all for saving AM, but I'm afraid that its major proponent, Mr. Ajit Pai, is barking up the wrong tree with all his talk of localism and nostalgia.  Those just won't pay the bills.  Looking deeper, we see that at its heart broadcast AM radio is two things: amplitude modulation (AM, get it?) and chunk of the medium wave spectrum from about 0.5 to 1.7 MHz.  Follow the links to Wikipedia if you really want a refresher, but I'll try to cut to the chase.

Amplitude modulation's big advantage is that it's butt-simple to make an AM receiver.  You can make one with a little more than a rusty razor blade and some wire.  AM's big downside is that it's susceptible to noise, especially around power lines in cities and during lightning storms.

The medium wave (MW) spectrum's advantage is that it propagates very efficiently via groundwave out to 20 to 100 miles both day and night, using only about 10% of the power required by FM stations, which operate at much higher frequencies.  But MW's really big advantage is that it propagates by skywave to as much as 500 miles at night, as seen in the figure below.  This makes it ideal for regional broadcasting of things of regional interest: sports, state-wide talk shows, certain kinds of music, and – most especially – emergency broadcasts.  MW's downside is that there isn't a lot of bandwidth in its spectral range, so you have to choose between severely restricting either the number of broadcasters or the sound quality.  The FCC's predecessor agency chose the latter, and we're stuck with that crappy sounding legacy.

Daytime groundwave & nighttime skywave MW coverage, from broadcast AM article at Wikipedia.

NB: amplitude modulation and medium wave spectrum are not inextricably linked.  You can have AM in other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum (e.g., CB radio), and you can modulate in the MW spectrum using other modes, such as digital encoding.  (Confused?  Then re-read the second paragraph.)

Digital modes used to be NASAspensive, but in these days of $3 DSP chips cost is not the show-stopper it once was.  But digital modes have their own set of problems.  A hybrid AM/digital scheme tried in the U.S. had severe problems and has been pretty well rejected, while pure digital systems are not permitted.  Yet.

The regional aspect is perhaps broadcast AM's strongest point.  But even  this capability is no longer unique, with the advent of internet and satellite radio.  AM's still unique in that it combines regional with free and robust, and that does make it still the king of emergency broadcasting.  Which is really nice, speaking as someone who went through a wide-reaching blackout in Katrina, but relying on emergency broadcasting revenues isn't a viable business model.

As for Mr. Pai's localism argument, conventional FM broadcasters do quite well (even the most powerful FM stations can only radiate to about 50 miles, it's limited by the Earth's curvature), and the new class of low-power FM stations is increasingly filling the ultra-local niche.

So what is left for broadcast AM radio?  Regional nighttime broadcasting for the commercial purposes listed above, and then especially for emergency broacasts.  A someday-hope of a workable digital system.  And a huge installed base of transmitters and receivers.

What's in the future?  My guess is that things will totter onward as-is for maybe a decade more, as legacy equipment and legacy users fade away.  After that, AM will be down to a few threadbare broadcasters scrapping over a 5% radio market share.  From there, I'm guessing we'll see a change in regulations to allow pure digital modes.  FEMA might step in to buy up and preserve a few high-powered stations for emergency regional broadcasts in plain old amplitude modulation.  I'm guessing it'll be some combo of these two.

AM's MW spectrum is too cool of a resource to just let lay there and go to waste.  But all of its weird legacy, quirky propagation properties, and a public that has become unaccustomed to using it are going to make rough going for a few decades.  In the meantime, I'm going to go have a cold beer and listen to Eddie Stubbs spin records (yes, actual vinyl in many cases) on WSM.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

First Pics of New Gen 6 Mustang

Still pretty rough, but here's a screen-grab:

taken from this video, down around the two minute mark.  Maybe the best part is that the car's being downsized a bit.  I mean, I like the ability to fold up a mountain bike and stuff it in the trunk of my 2012 and all, but a Mustang's really not supposed to be an SUV.

Also, more pics here at mustang6g's forum.  For that matter, mustang6g's main page usually has some interesting stuff, including this mildly conjectural rendering:
From the photo of the prototype at the top, this guesstimate looks pretty close.  Not sure about that nose yet, but I might be able to get used to it. I prefer the wide-grill look of the 2011-12's (and 1970-73's as well):
but with the right paint scheme the 2015's nose kind of grows on me.  Throw in a judicious downsizing to make it into the racy coupe it's supposed to be and Ford will probably have a big winner.

Firearm Murder Rates Down 49% Since 1993

And the public is largely unaware, as seen at Pew Social Trends.  Here's the main point:

But why is the public unaware of this good news?  Because of know-nothing reporting in the legacy media, that's why.  "AR-15 Shotgun," anyone?  A fair measure of scorn should go to know-nothing demagogues too, who have prattled on for decades about non-issues like "shoulder things that go up."

Monday, September 16, 2013

So... clothes make the man?

Enclothed Cognition explained here in a two minute video, courtesy of youarenotsosmart.

I had some smartassey to insert here, but decided to scramble off to work instead.  It's always good to finish with a verse from a Joe Strummer song:
Hey ho hey / It's the acid test. / Got a busy day, / I'm wearing a vest.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

2013 Ig Noble Prizes Awarded

In case you missed the festivities.  I won't bother describing, here's a link to the article at the BBC that covers the bases.  Enjoy!


After watching The Truman Show last week, one brother suggested the following video on Seaside, where the movie was filmed.  Nice place, sensibly built.  This video is worth your 15 minutes.

You know, this New Urbanism thing has a lot of good points.  It is unfortunate that too often its most forceful proponents zip past the advantages of good zoning only to crash headlong into the swamp of central planning.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Lung Update

The situation continues to improve.  Got 80 miles in on the road bike and another 10 on the CX to boot this week, so things are OK in that department.  Off the albuterol now.  I don't need it anymore to breath in the mornings, it was giving me hideous welts and itches, and made me too amped up to sit and do physics.

Next week, I'll try road sprints and maybe hit the trails on the weekend.

Pneumonia stinks.  Avoid it if you can.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Movie Review: The Numbers Station is irrational.

Having been properly warned by Rotten Tomatoes, but hoping for a competent techno-spy thriller, or at least a guilty pleasures-type movie, I Netflix'd up this glossy-looking movie and sat down to watch.  OK, let's take care of the big problem in the plot first:
she: "Oh noes, we r trappd in this fully functional Cold War bunker radio station with teh bad guyz trying to drill in!" 
he: "And our phones linez r cutt!  We cannot calls for helps!"
With a plot hole that big from the get-go, there's no recovering this plummeting turkey.  All that is left is good acting by Cusack and Ackerman, competently executed stunts and explosions, an interestingly gritty setting, and a lot of spiffy Macintosh computers that somehow go "*dwerp*" at every keystroke.  There are several other lesser plot holes to round things out, but I won't belabor the point.

This movie does not even rise to the level of being a guilty pleasure.  One out of four stars.  Now if only I had a 100,000 Watt shortwave radio station to blanket Hollywood: If there is no story, then we don't care.

ps: If you don't know about numbers stations, go learn over at Wikipedia.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

So, think you had a bad day?

Probably nothing like as bad as Anthony Weiner's Tuesday:

  • Loses NYC mayoral primary with less than 5% of vote.
  • Wifey doesn't show up for concession speech.  I'll wager he'll be making further concessions – in court – soon.
  • Next, he was chased through a McDonald's and into an alley by Sydney Leathers.  Even if we didn't already know who she is, just being chased by someone with the name "Sydney Leathers" is frightening enough.
  • But all good things must come to an end, and while being driven away Weiner wished accompanying members of the press a cheery "Good Luck!" in the manner of the Hawaiians.
Details and amusing video at gawker.

On one hand, it's depressing that this guy got as far as he did in politics, in life, and no doubt in finances.  On the other hand, it is encouraging that 95.06% of the voters of NYC finally saw him for what he is.  Good riddance.

Sunday, September 8, 2013


Ugh, waiting for these darned lungs to heal from this bout of pneumonia.  Biggest problem is sometimes they just don't really open up and absorb oxygen the way they usually do.  Getting better though.

The old roadies thought that smoking cigarettes (yes, you read correctly) opened up their lungs and let them breath better on climbs.  Not about to try it, but it does make an amusing picture for our modern eyes:

Offbeat Movie Weekend

Finally watched Being John Malkovich and The Truman Show this weekend.  For almost fifteen years I've been urged by friends and family to see these, and having finally gotten around to it, I can see what all the urging was about.  Man, the strangest stuff happens down on 30A.

If you want the full low-down on them, click on the above links and see their respective Wikipedia pages.  Much has been written about each, and I won't try to tack on to it here.  I will give a bottom line rating for each though: 3/4 stars for Malkovich, and 4/4 stars for Truman.

Final note: Probably not best to watch both back-to-back.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

57 Grams of Protein

First real road bike ride in over a month, and my legs are were killing me.  The solution?  Behold Baconator!
From the Wendy's web page: 2 grams of fiber, 940 calories, and 57 – fif-tee se-ven – grams of protein.  nom-nom-nom-nom-burp

This bout of pneumonia is definitely on the way out.

ps: To get the same amount of protein out of tofu, you'd have to eat three cups of the stuff.  But who the hell wants to eat three cups of tofu, and what would it do to your guts if you did?  Yech.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Dark Side on the Web

Well, we all missed it around here.  Probably wasn't on the BBC's World Service West Africa Ascension Island transmitter, and the ionosphere has been lousy lately anyway.

Luckily, it's archived on the web.  Enjoy!

Afterword, Monday 9/2: The program (programme?) is only available on the web until 11:02 GMT today.  Give a yell if you have to have an .mp3 of it.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Price of Madness

So last Friday I had the opportunity to drive a friend's new/used '08 Mustang GT (where GT = V8 + cool accessory package).  It's a very fine car, and we both agreed that his and my '12 V6 are about the same with slight differences everywhere.  The '05–'10 V8s, stock, are all in the 300 hp range.  By 2010, they'd crept up to 315, but that was about it.  The newer '11-'14 V6s are in the same power range, 305 hp stock, with a bit less torque.  But drive'em right, and they're about the same in performance (evidence), and they certainly felt the same zipping around last Friday.

OK, so what were the significant differences?  The '08 V8 just has that sound.  Glasspack a V6 all you want, and it can sound cool, but a V8 will sound cooler.  The V8 has a smidge more torque on take-off.  Nothing a driver can't work around, but the difference is there.  And then we get to milage.  I know, I know, but these cars are both daily commuters, and $hit $tacks up when the ga$ bill comes.  He's getting 21 mpg, while I'm getting 25-ish.  Well, maybe more like 23 when I drive like I mean it.  So, beginning Sunday and ending with Monday's commute home, I tried driving like a sane person and managed to eke out 26 mpg.  (29 mpg is easy to get on interstate trips, but that's a pony of a different color.)  By coincidence, my gas bill arrived in the mail yesterday too.  No road trips on this month's bill, just daily driving, perfect for a comparison.  So I did some math: what would be the monthly dollar difference if I continue to drive like a lunatic and suffer 23 mpg, or if I try to tone things down a bit and economize at 26 mpg?

Answer: $26.30 per month.

I think we know my response.
Rock on.