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.