Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Future is Now, Explained

Over at – where else – xkcd:

23 Things to look for when you see SW VII again.

Of course this is spoiler packed and I'm mostly posting this as a reminder to myself, but here are some things to watch for over at io9.

Raining buckets outside.  Hmm.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Movie Review: The Big Short

This is a glorious mess of a movie, a fun-with-a-brain story of three groups of investment guys who all come to the same conclusion about the housing mortgage finance industry circa 2006, namely that this turkey's about to blow.  The script is full of snappy dialogue, like something Quentin Tarantino might have written twenty five years ago, and the all-star cast delivers it with aplomb.  Small asides delivered by guest commentators to help the audience keep up with the financial jargon are simultaneously jarring, humorous, and very welcome.

About the cast, Steve Carell's barely-in-control crusader carries the movie.  It's not an explicitly comedic role, but the way Carell plays it we can see the humor and goodness in the character, rather than just labeling him a jerk.  The rest of the cast does a fine job too, and while Christian Bale got top billing, Carell steals the show.

One expectation I had going in, maybe it was implied in the trailer, was that these three investment teams would somehow merge into one supergroup, and go in sort of an Oceans 11 direction.  Didn't happen.  The story jumps from one group to the other, and while they occasionally cross paths along the way, it is three separate tales showing the debacle from three different angles.  It's an effective technique, but just don't expect some grand unification of the cast.  Real life didn't happen that way, and neither does this movie.

Finally, there are some catchphrases taken from today's political situation thrown in, like soy sauce on top of waffles.  They're unwelcome, out of place, and mar an otherwise fine film.  In ten years the script writer will regret those lines, and in the here and now they knock a viewer out of the story, and knock a half star off the movie's overall rating.

Bottom line: 3 stars out of 4.  This is one of those films like Wag the Dog that looks behind the curtain and explains the what and how of a complex situation while simultaneously entertaining a smart audience.

Monday, December 28, 2015

FT-857D is All Together Now

Over the last few weeks I've posted a few things about a new radio: the purchase, initial setup, side rails, a go-bag, etc.  It's finally all coming together now, as you can see:
Yes, that is a cartoon ham on the bag.  Courtesy of the Darling Daughter.

There are a few more details, mainly revolving around the need for portable power before taking this thing hiking.  LiPO batteries are out there these days, and so are the prices.  Will have to do some more research analysis paralysis in the new year on these.  In the meantime, those side rails do a good job of protecting the faceplate and rear connectors from casual bumping around.  They're cheap insurance against broken controls, handy for handling the radio in a cramped truck, and are, well, pretty damn tacticool looking all around.  

Between the rails, the bag, and the mini-manual, this has all I need for the field.  Oh yeah, antenna and power source, but those are another couple of posts for another couple of days.

Anyway, everything got a full shake-down this past weekend for car camping by setting up and clamping to the truck's power system out in the yard.  Managed a half-dozen contacts from MD to AZ without any trouble at all.  Things are working out pretty well with this radio.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Star Wars VII Review: No Spoilers

Remember how you watched The Fellowship of the Ring for the first time back in 2001 with half-dread, hoping against all hope that it wouldn't stink on ice?  And remember how it didn't, and you could just sit down and enjoy the damn movie the second time through?  OK, this review is now telling you that Star Wars VII doesn't stink on ice, and is in fact pretty good.  So just relax and enjoy the show the first time through.

3.5 stars out of 4.

English is Not Normal

As seen over at Aeon, and reprinted in The Week.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas, All!

The Christmas Comet returns!

See y'all in a couple of days.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

2015's Greatest Hits

Yeah, there's still a little more than a week left in 2015 and this is a little early.  But the time just feels right to put out this year's wrap-up post.  There will be a few more posts, but I don't have anything significant on tap: some pirate radio notes, FT-857D hiking kit tuning up, maybe pictures from a bike ride.  The best is here already.  So without further ado, here is the best month-by-month, plus one special mention.
Reviewing the Hubble Telescope's Accomplishments - astonishing
When Hobbies Collide - a VHF antenna on the CX bike
Book Discussion: "The Heritage of Heinlein" - learned a lot
Tuxachanie Trail Conquered - with radio, of course
Happy 100th Dad! - he's the one on the right
Book Review: The Martian - the hard stuff
Sci-Fi Anthology Review: Carbide Tipped Pens - hard, baby, hard
Initial Notes on the 6BTV Vertical Antenna - it's OK
Restaurant Mention: Peche, New Orleans - best fish I've ever tasted
"Where's the Flux?" Paper & Articles - probably warrants a follow-up soon
Six Inconvenient Loose Ends in Physics - in loose ends, there is research
More on Experimental Confirmation and Philosophy - still pondering
and Special Mention from January, Book Discussion: Marie Laveau, Voudou Priestess

Hmm.  I see some themes here: hard hard science fiction, radio of various sorts, the intersection of science and philosophy, some biking and outdoors activities, and... random life.  What will 2016 bring?  Maybe some adventure racing, maybe some Theremin playing, definitely more music.  Ah well, time to pack it up, see what tomorrow brings.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

40 Watts from Nowhere: A Pirate Radio Memoir

Just finished 40 Watts from Nowhere yesterday, a decade old memoir revolving around setting up and running two pirate FM radio stations in California in the mid-'90s.  It goes about the way you'd expect: a big idea is born, setup pains, weird shit happens, shit gets weirder, FCC steps in and shuts things down.  It's an interesting story, but ultimately it is a story from another time and another place.  It's 20 years in the past, and internet streaming sites and LPFM have rendered all of this UHF-beams-in-the-night drama obsolete.

Still, there are some jewels to be found along the way to the final bust.  Specifically,
  • If you're going to do marginal stuff, keep your co-conspiritors to a minimum.  A radio station needs DJs, but the member roll sort of got out of hand.  Be picky about who you trust.
  • The happenstances that keep the FCC off these two stations' backs seem improbable, even farcical, but they're just the normal SNAFUs that occur frequently at the intersection of regulation and technology.
  • If you're doing marginal stuff, don't be surprised if you get zapped for somebody else's marginal stuff.  And vice-versa.
  • If you leave your apartment key under the dog dish on the porch and let a bunch of unpaid DJs know where it is so that they can come and go as they please, don't be too surprised when most of your worldly possessions go missing.
  • Dating a heroin junkie is never a good idea.  Never.
  • Letting a mainstream TV crew into your pirate radio station may be an even worse idea than dating a heroin junkie.  You won't have any say in the story they make of the footage, and they'll just make up some lurid narrative to draw gawking eyeballs.  It's what they do for a living, like a cat that catches and kills songbirds.  You can't even be mad at the cat, only at yourself for opening the door to this abuse.
  • If you can see your remote gear getting raided, going up and confronting the raiding party isn't going to do any good.  Instead, it's called "getting arrested."  Remote gear is expendable and deniable – that's why you made it remote to begin with, right?
  • Despite all of the above, you should absolutely go do off the wall stuff like this, especially if you can dragoon a few friends along.
It was a fun, quick read but, as I said, it's a tale from another time and place.  Currently, it's out of print, but still reasonably priced online.  Tune in later in the week for a grab-bag of pirate radio and its present descendant forms.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Like it was custom made to fit.

That little Yaesu FT-450D radio I'd picked up last week is so portable that it warrants its own carry bag.  So I measured it and started casually looking around for something suitable.  BTW and for reference, including all knobs, heat sinks, etc. its outer dimensions are 6 1/4" wide, 1 3/4" thick, and 11 long.  Didn't take long to find what I was after down at the Army-Navy store:
Here's a link to the exact model.  Quoted dimensions are 7 1/2" wide, 1 3/4" thick, and 11 1/2" long, but it's actually a bit thicker, maybe a little over 2".  The point is, the radio fits, and it'll almost certainly still fit with these side rails (not the one with the battery box, scroll down; black, please) attached to keep from dinging vital parts.  And that little front pocket with the pad and pen in the picture?  Perfect to keep the microphone under control.  Comes in your choice of colors, as long as it's something drab.  I went with the almost-white khaki, mainly to keep the contents cooler if left in the sun.

No, you can't operate with the radio still in the bag.  Don't be a dumbass, it would block airflow and cook the thing, you couldn't get to the coax connectors on back, and the speaker would be covered and mghlphffed.  This bag is just to carry things, and to keep them from getting dirty and scratched while you're out roughing it.  Also to note, very little else will fit in the bag.  Conveniently the MFJ-939Y and LDG YT100 tuners look like they'll fit into another copy of this bag too.

Anyway, it's a near-custom fit for comfortably under $20.  This is a good world.

Some Interesting Maps

I like maps, how about you?  Something about them, it is as if just looking at a map is a first step to visiting a new place.  Anyway, over at CNN there's a collection of unusual maps.  Some are propaganda, some are raw information retina-to-brain displays, some are shocking, all are interesting.  Here's one, but you should look at the rest:
Human Movement and Ebola Spread, 2014

Friday, December 18, 2015

Thursday, December 17, 2015

More on Shortwave Blues

WWCR's just published their latest schedule, here are the Last Radio Playing blues show times (CST) & freqs:
  • 1:00 am Saturday, 3.215 MHz
  • 2:00 pm Saturday, 12.160
  • 3:00 pm Monday, 9.350 (but sometimes something else plays...)
  • 6:00 pm Tuesday, 5.890
  • 6:00 pm Friday, 5.890 (yes!  Friday's back!)
  • 7:00 pm 1st Friday, 4.840
Yeah, I know, "that ol' devil music" playing on WWCR.  Enjoy the incongruity of the situation.  Or just enjoy the music already.  Allan Gray plays the good stuff.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

More on Experimental Confirmation and Philosophy

I keep trying to get to these articles and blog posts, but I still haven't finished everything.  So before it all becomes too stale, here they are, presented without comment.

- Why Trust a Theory?  Announcement for a joint physics/philosophy conference.
- Related, accessible article at Forbes.
- Blogged preliminary proceedings summary in parts: 1, 2, 3.

Well, not much to say yet, beyond what I've already said last January.  Perhaps more commentary later.  Stay tuned.

A Shocking Lack of Graphics

It has come to my attention that in Saturday's and Sunday's posts relating to this new radio I have neglected to post a picture of the little puzzlebox.  So here you go.  The main body is actually about twice as deep as the perspective in this photograph makes it seem.  Still, that's not very big at all.
Everything checks out fine.  That's always a concern with used gear, but in this case the seller was right on the money: it's a good, fairly new, clean rig, all in working order as advertised.  And it wasn't that hard to program in the local 2m repeater channels, plus another one over Apalachicola way for use while on trips.  Not bad, not bad at all.  Perfect for camping trips.

Imagine What This Could Do for Bike Frames

Flash Bainite: Revolutionary steel treatment pave the way for radically lighter, stronger, cheaper cars.  !!  At gizmag.

I don't know what to say after that.  Maybe "Shut up and take my money!"  Except that radio last weekend took a chunk of it.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Weird, Frustrating, Fruitful Day

Poked at the new radio some, figured out quite a bit.  Might be 80% of the way there.  Youtube is yourfriend, because that Yaesu manual sure as hell isn't.  It's like it was written by and for cats or some other non-humanoid beings.  Fortunately Nifty publishes a set of re-written manuals, and they seem to at least understand the rudiments of human information processing.  The Big Brown Truck of Happiness should be arriving mid-week with one.

Main thing: in initial check-outs, this bargain used radio seems to be 100% functional.  Made a handful of regional contacts, and talked to some friends in Biloxi via 2m (preferred) and 40 & 80 meter NVIS (sorta out there).

Then I rode the CX along the seawall.  A bald eagle swooped overhead on the west end of Waveland beach, latched onto a fish in the shallows, and lit about 100 yards ahead of me.  I tried to get a picture but he spooked and headed for a distant piling.  Too bad, no picture for you, but it was still spectacular.

The new radio doesn't have an internal tuner.  Rather, it expects you to have your own damn antennas set up right.  So I spent an hour before dark punching a calculator and tweaking the  80/40 NVIS ("HAARP Jr.") out back to get the SWRs right on the money for the 80m General voice band and for the extension tips for PSK31.  Time well spent.

After that, Sunday evening phone with family and friends.  Two more must-calls tomorrow evening, but that's tomorrow.

So all in all not a bad day, just kind of weird and frustrating.  Time to get my gear ready to head out tomorrow and do battle with poorly crafted Fortran again.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Meanwhile, up at the hamfest...

There was a hamfest in Poplarville today.  Side definition: hamfest (n), a ham radio swap meet and small-time vendor show.  No actual pork products are involved.  The usual stuff was out in force: tons of old "boat anchor" radios and power supplies, tables of spare parts that would put a well-equipped Radio Shack (should such a thing even exist anymore) to shame, booths selling callsign-engraved knick-knacks, and several lame jokes about arriving and leaving early could be overheard.  In short, all the usual stuff.

It was however a smallish affair, maybe half the sheer volume of stuff packed into the Poplarville National Guard armory at the same event three years ago.  I don't think the event's so much in decline however, it's just no longer over-stuffed.  For all the right-sizing going on, I still found what I was looking for, a good clean used Yaesu FT-857D.  I need a second radio that's small enough to take camping or even on a hike, and this one fills the bill.  To be sure, it is a deep menus puzzlebox, but most of the settings fall into the set-it-and-forget-it realm.  Anyway, it was good to find it used, because that saved me a couple hundred bucks.  I anticipate that it'll take me a few weeks to get it all sorted out to the point that I'm ready to take it camping, but so far I've made a few contacts on HF with it and they were no trouble at all.  Need to sort out programming in the local VHF repeater frequencies next.

Needed to pick up a handful of wire insulators, was even looking at them on a table just as I was leaving, but with a new radio in my arms my brain was overloaded so I passed.  Got to put in a small parts order soon anyway.

So, successful day.  Just... lots of manual to read, and a puzzlebox to sort out in the upcoming rainy days.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Art Bell Hangs It Up

Well it was a fun five months, but the weirdos creeping around Art's house and the death threats against him and his family were too much.  You can read his closing statement here.

It's terrible.  Terrible that the person or persons making the threats and doing the creeping did so, and terrible that they didn't get caught, or worse.  Terrible that they've won in the end.  Terrible that the world is now a little more bland place.

I wish Art and his family all the best, and here's hoping that this brings the harassment to an end.

ps Saturday: The End?  Perhaps not.  The show continued last night with a new host.  We shall see.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Supper at Mimi's

It's all I've heard that it is: good food, drink, interesting off-the-tourist-path part of New Orleans.  Here's the main web site and here's the menu.  We had the coffee Kahlua glazed salmon, grilled pork tenderloin, fried brussel sprouts, and Marignated olives.  All good, all about what you'd expect.  Though I did subsequently have to look up pinxo and I'm not sure what to say about the Trust Me.  Anyway, pretty good place.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Two New Music Recommendations

(1) Morgan James | Wikipedia link | recommended youtube sample.  She's the real deal, with a natural talent brought to high polish through formal training.

(2) Public Service Broadcasting| Wikipedia link | recommended youtube sample.  If that tune and video don't have you yearning for adventure, see a cardiologist ASAP.

Both are A+ performers, each of very different sorts.  If either video interests you, dig around, there's plenty more on the web that I need not re-type.  I enjoy each immensely, and highly recommend both of them.

Been meaning to blog on each of these for a while, but had the words jam up.  Happens sometimes.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Silca Bike Pumps - the news is mixed

After a long weekend of errand-running and off-road cycling, it is time to resume blogging.  So, Saturday I had a small bike gear maintenance task before me: While inflating road bike tires, the handle on my 13 year old Silca floor pump would ride back up if I didn't keep pressure on things.  It was easy to guess that it was the check valve, and it was simple to diagnose and repair.  There's an obvious bolt screwed into the bottom brass body of the pump, and as things should go with any quality tool, the bolt came out easily enough and there on the end of the check valve
, right on top of the o-ring, was a fleck of brass left over from when the pump was manufactured.  It is a rare thing when fixing an older piece of equipment that the problem is so up front and obvious.  After removing the fleck, adding a light coat of synthetic grease on the o-ring, and bolting things back together, the pump's as good as new.  All's good, right?  Maybe.

Out of curiosity I looked on line for Silca's current status.  They're still around, and what's more they've moved to America!  So, let's look at the line-up... hmm, some "trophy" pumps for $450, some artist's signature pumps for $800, hmm, where is the main line-up?  None.  Bottom line is that there isn't a line of reasonably priced pumps anymore.  Silca's gone all artisanal on the cycling world.

Now, on one hand I do appreciate finely crafted tools.  A good pump that will last decades but initially cost 2-4x as much as a cheap-but-functional plastic pump is a bargain, and a joy to use. But... we're talking $100, maybe $150 maximum here.  $450 is way out of line.  A $450 pump simply does not rattle around in the toolbox.  You don't loan it to a buddy a the trailhead and say "toss it in the back of the truck when you're done, nobody's gonna mess with it."  Your kids don't take it down the street to fix a friend's flat.  It's no longer a pump, it's ... a status symbol?  Art?  Whatever it is, it's not something that a grad student skimps for a month to buy.  It's not something that your favorite bike shop leaves by the front door for customers' use. It's not something that a young up-and-coming racer can afford.  Effectively, the affordable quality tool that was a Silca pump has been removed new production.  What a shame.

Now, there are two silver linings in this dark cloud.  First, reasonably priced repair parts are still available from this new Silca company.  Secondly, vintage Silca pumps are available on eBay in the $40-$80 range.  They may be a little scratched up, but they do last decades.  The older of my two pumps is fast approaching the 30 year mark.  And as just pointed out, any required parts are available.

Here's a list of relevant links:
the new Silca site
eBay Silca pumps
NPR asks What makes a bike pump worth $450?
Wired takes on the $450 pump too
finally, leave it to Popular Mechanics to give this a proper blue-collar sendup.

Look, I don't begrudge an over-the-top ultralux gizmo for a high-end professional's 50th birthday gift.  It is kind of cool.  But really, the world needs good quality workman's tools.  A pump that you can use, without having to rush in with furniture wax and touch-up paint afterward.

Final thought, it is sad to think that I have probably bought my last new Silca pump, ever.  While I do have two and will probably never use up either one, if some tragedy strikes, a lesser pump – or maybe one of those eBay beauties – will take its place.  I won't be giving a $450 pump as a gift.  Who wants a white elephant to feed and guard?  Again, the only remaining silver lining is that repair parts are available, and these things were built for hard use and easy repairs.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Hey, wanna win some tires?

Bicycle Times is running a drawing.  Enter here.  Free!

ps: "Gun with Dog" deer season is out this weekend, "Primitive Weapon" season is in.  Good enough for me, see you on the trails.

Monday, November 30, 2015

This is Your Brain on Grad School

From xkcd:

You know who you are.  You also know that you have been warned.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Stupid Medium Wave Tricks

So the other night, a ham buddy and I were talking on 2 meter VHF, chewing over some technical issues.  We were using minimum power, about 5 watts, because we live only about a quarter mile from each other.  In the course of things, I mentioned that I'd been playing around on the 160 meter band, he said that his main antenna might be able to tune that low, one thing led to another, and before it was over we were conversing on 153 meters at all of 2.4 wavelengths' distance.  For reference, that's about like using walkie-talkies at the dinner table to ask to pass the salt.  A single Watt on each end was more than enough power.

I guess it was primarily a ground wave path, although both antennas are horizontally polarized.  There is a railroad embankment between our two houses, so line-of-sight isn't generally possible.  OTOH, 160 meter band wavelengths don't really notice a small railroad embankment.

This exercise reminded me of a late Cold War era communication system, the Ground Wave Emergency Network (GWEN; here's the Wikipedia article).  The idea was that, following a nuclear war, the ionosphere might be looking a tad ragged around the edges and it would be great to have a backup system that instead relied on ground waves, hence the name.  Inevitably there were problems, but it is interesting from both a technical and historical footnote perspective.

Back to last Tuesday's exercise.  Yes, 2 meters is a much more suitable band for this sort of thing.  It is good for line-of-sight paths, and doesn't get in your neighbor's Wheaties two states over the way 160 meters can.  But there is a lot to be said for trying "stupid stuff that everybody knows won't work" from time to time.  You never know what you'll find.  In this case, a rock-solid comms link reminiscent of an old Cold War method.  Not really good for anything – if I need to borrow a pair of lead shorts,  I suppose that I could just as easily walk over and ask directly.  But it was technically interesting, and a good time was had by all.

Not In My Back Yard, but not in the usual NIMBY sense.  No, really, I don't have one of these in my back yard.  I only wish that I did.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Black Friday Commentary

Tuesday is the 1st.  It can wait.

Well Of Course

Of course the Crusaders fought off the Elder Things while the Saracens held back the horror of Cthulhu.  As seen in this series of genuine simulated Medieval paintings.
Some future historians – possibly not of this Earth – will be very, very confused by all this.
Hat tip to The Unwanted Blog for pointing out this imaginative series.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

Roast beef, red wine, chased by Irish whisky.  *burp*  Good nap.  Happy Thanksgiving – a wish for all, but also a statement of fact.

More tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Truth About Turkeys

And the truth about their pardons.  Interesting how these small traditions get started, and it's equally interesting how the origins of this one were beginning to get lost in the mists of time.  How many other warm-and-fuzzy traditions had similar, harmlessly goofy starts?

Come on people, this is just an agricultural product.  Once again, we shall indulge in roast beast in this household, sans the "one or two sliced white onions" of course.  It's better for all concerned.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Michio Kaku on Art Bell Tonight

Ought to be interesting.  You can get it on 5085 shortwave, or just stream it from the web site.  But really, try to get it on shortwave.  The late night weirdness just comes out better when it's bounced off the ionosphere.  Kaku is one of the more straight-up guests, but you can always count on the last-hour callers to bring the weird.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Meanwhile, down at Oak Street...

Today was the 9th Edition of the Oak Street Po-Boy Fest over in New Orleans.  Here's a street scene (not my snapshot):
It got even more crowded, and was pretty much a big happy mob by 2pm.  Luckily we arrived just after 12pm so the lines weren't too long.  I guess we ate at... five?  six? different places, usually splitting a small size so the we could keep on sampling.  Most memorable was a sort of Thai duck barbecue with cilantro and Siracha sauce.  After that... oysters and bacon.  And char-grilled oysters on the half-shell.  There were several others, but it blurs together.

Here are some articles from the Times-Picayune: a general write-up, and this year's winners.  And of course, many, many pictures.  See that blue sky in the picture above?  Perfect sweater weather, it could not have been any better for this sort of event.

Then it was off for coffee and more coffee to wash a way the sleepies before the drive home.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Another Fine ACME Product

OK, this is an intentionally destructive test to wring out the engine shard containment parts.  Still impressive, in that humorously catastrophic way.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Dirt Rag / Bicycle Times Surveys: Win Free Stuff!

Helmet give-away here.

DR Mega Sweeps, featuring a $3500 mountain bike.  Oh yeah.

BT Mega Sweeps, with a $700 folder 'round town bike.  Hmmm, I could make use of that too.

Obligatory bright images of The Goodies:

Click on any to embiggen.

I still want a Retro Encabulator, but they don't seem to be giving one of those away.

Eat Your Bacon Anyway


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

New Rockwell Retro Encabulator

Oh man, got to pitch for one of these in the next capital upgrade cycle.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Now Coffee's Good for You – Again

Following last summer's report that coffee's bad for you, we now have a new paper out stating that it's good for you.  Paper here, synopsis at NPR here.  Hell, go have some while you read the punch line from the abstract:

Conclusions — Higher consumption of total coffee, caffeinated coffee, and decaffeinated coffee was associated with lower risk of total mortality.
Works for me. 
Well, as I said back in July, MDs are so cute when they're trying to do research.  It's like watching a box of puppies scrambling all over each other to get at a scooby snack.

Thursday is World Toilet Day

As seen in this photoessay at Reuters.  No, I'm not reproducing the pictures here, you can click through yourself and see what it's all about.

Considering the state of the world at the moment, I'll say that this is a most appropriate day to mark.

Good News, Everybody!

The guy who had the heart attack on the trail Sunday is expected to make a full recovery!  (No, not me, nor anybody in Sunday's picture.  It was the cameraman.)

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Just Before Deer Season...

Season Listings here.  Looks like today was the last shot, er, chance to go mountain biking before deer season begins in earnest.  Yes, yes, there are all kinds of primitive weapons and youth seasons, but the numbers of people aren't out there for those.  "Gun and Dog" season is the start of the heavy stay-out-of-the-woods stuff.  But it's only for a couple of weeks.

Anyway, here's a group shot, er, photo from this morning's ride:
Yes, that's someone with a bright blue cyclocross bike, and just to the right of him is a guy on an Ellsworth downhill bike.  We cater to all types, but it's rare that you see a CX and a DH being ridden successfully together.

Also note the stylish, seasonal attire sported by three smart riders.  That fashionable orange hue can be your too, for a big $14 in the deer killin' section of Wal-Mart.  Starting, oh, about now, don't leave the trailhead without it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Everything is NOT Broken

After last year's collarbone disaster, I am happy to report that on today's mountain bike ride exactly nothing got broken.  Here, enjoy some theme music.  Did all the trails, and Briar Patch and Bailout twice.

And here's an interesting view of things on one of the trails.  It's got almost nothing to do with today's ride, but it is on the same trails and fun to watch.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Heady Lamar's 101st

As celebrated by Google:
In case you missed it on today's search page.

Time-Lapse Assembly of the ISS

As animated over at APOD.  Busy folks.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Seafood Festival, 2015 Edition

Just back in town from a trip over to Apalachicola for the Florida Seafood Festival.  I'm sure some pictures will trickle in from friends and family over the next week or so, but I don't have any at the moment.  In the meantime, here's a bullet list of the highlights: 
  • 1am arrival, a six hour after-work drive.  That works a maximum of once per week.
  • A quick check-in with all the shops (here, here, and here; oh and here) in my building downtown.  Everything's cool.
  • Lunch at Dolores' Sweet Shop.  Greek salads all around!
  • Quick trip to consult with a friend on an RF transmission problem.
  • Nap.  (see first item)
  • Backyard get-together featuring cheap rye whisky, very good cigars, and flawless oysters from Allen Seafood.
  • Parade.  Sort of saw a lot of it, mostly caught up with old friends.
  • Lunch of gumbo at 13 Mile Seafood's retail shop.  Day-yum!
  • A quick turn through the main festival booths.  Didn't get much, just a truck window decal proclaiming "Mullet Life."
  • More visits with old friends.
  • Beers at the Oyster City Brewing Company.  Had their Red Snapper IPA for the first time, very good stuff.
  • Another backyard/beachfront get-together, this time featuring a bonfire and smoked mullet dip.  Oh yeah!
  • Minor furniture re-arranging, packing out, saying of good-byes.
  • The heaviest rain hit before I'd left the city limits.  It only got better from there on the drive home.  An easy six hours.
Good weekend.  More later.  I am sure that I left out something more than the pictures.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Just That Easy

...and with inverse-matching invasion stripes too:
Not actual car, but close enough for a blog pic.  Mine doesn't have leather seats.

Video of how to install.  Trivial, no tools needed, so simple even a Camaro owner could do it.  It's mostly an appearance thing, but it has a nice feel.  I'm looking forward all the more to the next opportunity to wind things out.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Six Inconvenient Loose Ends in Physics

Colorfully listed as "zombie physics" just in time for a Halloween article,  here is a list with brief explanations of six things in physics that one would hope would be explained by now but aren't.  Huh.  The one that bothers me most is the fluctuation of Big G.  Well, in mystery there is research, and these "zombies" are the life blood of physics.
Obligatory graphic pinched from the article.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

In case you haven't seen it.

Goes together like peanut butter and chocolate.  Throw in a pair of vice-grips and you have everything you need to colonize the galaxy.

Placeholder: Classic Cartoon

Work... bills... head cold remnants... still digging through gear from last weekend's camping trip.  All that exciting stuff.  Heavy rain forecast for the rest of the weekend, starting mid-day today.  That pretty much nixes mountain biking.  At least it's not an asteroid.  Think I'll go try to tune in some pirate radio  (Halloween weekend is good for that) and get down to putting this rat shack back into some kind of order.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

CQ DX Worldwide Contest Weekend

I'd never really gotten into ham radio contesting before, but this weekend was the big one, the local ham club was camping out in Desoto National Forest where it's very RF-quiet, and another operator explained the ropes to me.  I made a laughably small number of overseas contacts, maybe a dozen or so, but it was fun and a learning experience.  Here are a few images from some of the stations' pages at

Amazing what you can do with a little wire and 100 Watts.  Didn't get to use the random wire however.  The USFS has seen fit to trim all limbs below 30' from the pine trees in the Airey Lake campground, so a single point hanging inverted V 40/20m was all I could swing.  It worked well... enough.  Not a serious contesting station, just seriously fun.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Let this be your final warning.

You know who you are.  And it looks like I'm gack back to work today; sniffles gone, minor sore throat.  Nothing I didn't ignore on a regular basis as a graduate student.  But then, zombies don't have functioning pain receptors, right?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Busy Times

Despite all indications to the contrary, I haven't stopped blogging.  Week-o-meetings at work last week, camping trip at Airey Lake with the ham club, and now a head cold.  I will ride again, and with content!, but a nose-blow and a nap both seem like good ideas at the moment.

Do not adjust your computer.  We are experiencing extreme lethargy at the moment.

Hey wait, there's some content: a short history of test patterns at Wikipedia.  Here're the arcane meanings of the standard test pattern we all grew up knowing – and wondering – about:
So that's what all that meant back in the day.  Wish I'd known, I could have geeked out even more as a kid.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Warner Bros. should hire this guy.

Look, I joke about my bike crashes and laboratory explosions, but in reality those are few and far between.  On the other hand this guy.... Put down your coffee and go watch.  No, really, put down the coffee and swallow.

I may have popped a stitch (yes, from a mountain biking injury) while watching.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The quasi-Random Wire Antenna

These things are about the worst imaginable antenna that even begins to make sense, are big goofy fun, and work surprisingly well.  Here's the basic idea:

Just that easy.  Now, you will need a tuner to match the transceiver's expected 50 Ohms, and a very good ground to give this one-legged wonder something to "push" against, but beyond that it's stupid simple and free-as-in-beer cheap.

Now the question of "how long?" naturally arrises, and that's why this post refers to quasi-random.  (Not pseudo-random, that's something else entirely.)  I mean, if we're worried about the length at all, then it's not really random anymore.  But some lengths are known to be, if not exactly unworkable, really freekin' difficult.  Specifically these are at integer multiples of half-wavelengths of any frequency(ies) one might wish to use.  Electrically speaking, these are like trying to open a door by pushing on the hinge side.  So... just go through all the ham bands and eliminate these and you end up with a set of magic lengths that ought to generally work, if the minor deities of RF smile and a squirrel doesn't crap upon your handiwork.  Sounds like a lot of work, but fortunately for us all a really smart guy at the University of Delaware wrote a program to handle the grunt work, and he posted the results on the web right here.  In case that page ever goes away, here's the main result:
As usual, click to embiggen.  Lengths that are covered by the colored blocks are not so good.  Here is a color code to the bands:

A 136' hunk of wire works really well all the way down to 160m, but a 36' wire will give you everything you really need for 40m and above – and that's where the real action is anyway.  If you've got to do 80m NVIS as well, 71' will get it done.

Last Winter, I managed to work all over the Southeast and even out to California on 160m with one of these on only 100 Watts.  I started out with 36', but kept patching on more wire to add lower bands and didn't quit until I got to the bottom.  Kind of a sick looking antenna, all twisted together and wound around the yard.  Sure, it's wasn't the most efficient thing, but when a band opening occurs, usually almost anything that even sort of works is enough.  This evening before dark, I broke down and cut a nice piece of 12ga to 136'.  We'll see how it does in the next week or so.

If you're a new ham operator, you can learn an awful lot very quickly playing with one of these.  And if you're an experienced operator who, say, wants to have some kind of antenna to leave up at the hunting shack, beach cottage, or some convenient, RF-quiet spot in the woods, a random wire fills the bill.  Just remember, it will need a good ground.  RF burns are no fun.

Friday, October 16, 2015

"Where's the Flux?" Paper & Articles

First let me say that I don't think this is aliens.  But if a stray lottery ticket landed in your lap, wouldn't you go "hmmm" and check the numbers?  (No, you're not winning the lottery either.)  Anyway, here is the paper causing all the fuss, and two more accessible-yet-informative articles:
KIC 8462852 – Where's the flux?  Yes, they actually named a serious paper that.
Bad Astronomy's commentary – actually, a pretty good article.
The Atlantic weighs in.  One more for the liberal arts majors.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Movie Review: The Hobbit 3, Battle of Five Armies

As with part 2 of this series, it just wasn't that good.  Maybe  a little better than part 2, which in retrospect I'll demote to 2 out of 4 stars, and give this one a 2 also.  Again, the acting and effects were top-notch, but there was too much extra tacked on to bring things to the studio-demanded three movies.  "... thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread."

Let The Martian be your guide moviemakers: If you're starting with a well-known, well-regarded book, you'll probably make more money if you stay faithful to story.  Worked for LoTR, Harry Potter, and many others.  In contrast look at the film adaptations of I, Robot, World War Z, Starship Troopers, and the like.  Sure, they made some money, they didn't turn out to be juggernauts with decades-long sales tails like their source material.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Watch that Front Brake

Don't let it lock up.  Details in this oldie-but-goodie article at Dirt Rag.

Look, real physics with vectors and things!  And they got it right!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Happy Columbus Day

Seemed like a good day to go hit the woods.  Beautiful weather.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Catching Up Around the House

Redecking the ramp into the garden shed was one of those jobs slated for last Fall that was sidetracked by an unfortunate fall.  Finally got to it this weekend, here are the results:
Couldn't get the grill in or out without two people, so there hasn't been a lot of grilling lately.  That will change come suppertime!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Movie Review: The Martian

Yes, by all means, go see this movie.  In 3D, IMAX if you have one nearby.  Or at least a good theater.  Four out of Four stars.  There, is that enough review for you?

While there was some adaptation from the novel, the movie is faithful to the source material, as in "Peter Jackson films Lord of the Rings" faithful, perhaps a tad closer.  Several really cool sub-plots were dropped just to shoehorn things into 2:20, so there's your motivation to read the book.  Doesn't matter whether you read the book ahead of time here, see or read first, your call.

Perhaps the most jarring thing the movie brought was the 70's music soundtrack.  The protagonist's sorting through his crewmates' belongings for something – anything! – to help keep him sane mostly yielded a bunch of disco music and Happy Days videos.  Funny, either reading or watching, but it is far more jarring to be pelted with the stuff in a theater. Davie Bowie's Starman was used to good effect however.

There is an epilogue of sorts, a "where are they some years later" addition to the movie.  It's a welcome annex, and it works.  The book didn't need it, but after all the hydrazine-powered action on the big screen, this helps to decompress the audience so that they can walk out of the theater and safely drive themselves home.  Maybe the studio's lawyers suggested it, I dunno.

Look, the movie stuck closely to the book, and and that is what makes it great.  If you want a review of the book, here's my previous post.  Oh hell, here's the main point from the review:
The plot is very simple.  If you've watched the trailer for the upcoming movie, you pretty well have the whole thing right there.  Yes, it is a simple plot, simple like chess: easy to get the overview, but actually playing a tough game through to the end is the hard work and the joy of the entire exercise.  There is no character growth, except perhaps for one young flight controller.  These are adults we're dealing with here, they're already developed.  What a relief not to have to slog through pages of weepy-ass "Why am I even bothering?" prose and just get to a gripping story for once.  In short, they act the way actual engineers and scientists act.  Let me repeat: what a relief.
Yes, go read the book.  Yes, go see the movie.  Unlike some great classics, it doesn't much matter which order you do it in.  They each have something to offer that the other medium can't, and in this they complement each other.  Just... get to the theater before this one's off the big screen.