Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Upcoming Lunar Eclipse on Saturday

Read about it here at Shadow and Substance: "Astronomy portrayed simply... with less lines and less numbers and with more animation!"

Monday, March 30, 2015

Lubarsky’s Law of Cybernetic Entomology

Lubarsky’s Law of Cybernetic Entomology:  There’s always one more bug.

Brother, is that ever true.  Stare a the same damn model for fifteen years, and they still pop out occasionally.  Their occurrence does seem to be reducing exponentially with time however.  I predict that thirty years hence, my successor will still be finding increasingly small fractions of bugs in that particular program.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Solar a Go Go

Just spent the weekend in the woods camping with the ham club.  We ended up running three of the four radios as well as the all-important coffee grinder off of my little portable solar system.  Two radios were co-located in one screen tent and ran directly off of 12VDC, while the third was about 100 feet away, which required stepping up the power to 120VAC, lots of extension cord, and a step-down power supply.  The stepping-up part is shown on the right, in the form of that little Cobra power inverter.  Worked like a charm, and even ran the coffee grinder without complaint.  A 140W Kyocera panel kept the entire system topped up all weekend – we had nice weather.

If you want to get started on your own small solar system here's the best article on the net to get things rolling.  Also for your edification, here's a short article by a man who's living the solar *ahem* dream.  Thanks, but one weekend was enough for the moment.

Still, it made for an interesting experiment in remote radio operation.  If you're interested in the specifics of the system, it's built around the same main components as this kit.  Nice stuff, but a little spendy.  If I had to do it all over again, I'd probably go with these people.  Very reasonable prices, although it is kind of hard to tell from their crappy web site.  Sorta-local too, in Hattiesburg.

Ah well, it was a good weekend in the woods, camping in beautiful weather.  What more can one ask for?  

Friday, March 27, 2015

Everybody's Daily Moment of Zen

In today's Astronomy Picture of the Day we have:

If you're not checking out APOD regularly, you're missing out.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Blank Slate

Here's the second story space that I'll be converting to my downtown Apalachicola apartment over the next few years:
The drawing is to scale, give or take a few percent.  It's good enough for basic planning purposes.  The left and top sides face two streets, the bottom side faces another building about ten feet away (good people next door), while the right side faces out over a small courtyard on the lower part and two single-story buildings (dashed lines) on the upper part.  There will ultimately be a small river-view porch somewhere on the right side.  Plumbing enters the building at the lower right.  (Conversely, the local microbrewery is catty-corner off the upper left.)  Bathroom and a small kitchen will be required, as will various living space demarcations.  The two small offices at the top end are original and should probably stay, but that is not set in stone.

So... any interior layout experts want to take a crack at helping me design this thing?  You have my email.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Disk Access Faster than RAM?

Talk about some sloppy research.  Here's the article.  It has links to the original research paper.  Go read, at least the somewhat lighter article; I'll wait.

OK, so I guess it comes to a surprise to some people, but hand-packing on-the-fly-allocated storage using Java or Python probably is slower than slinging the same information to disk.  Because, I don't know, since about the Carter administration, OSs and I/O controllers have stored things in (usually) dedicated ram that allowed the CPU to rampage on with better tasks.  Then the relatively inexpensive controller could do the waiting for the disk to come around for the next write.  This is not rocket science, this is rudimentary data buffering.  Nothing I wasn't doing with a PDP-11 30 years ago.  Except that in that case it was nuclear data to 9-track tapes, which were orders of magnitude slower than the processor could theoretically feed them.  Even so, with clever pre-culling of the data and double-buffering schemes, the output times were essentially nil.

I notice though that the article does not address getting the data back off the disk.  That is another matter entirely.  But even that can have remarkable efficiencies if the the read cycles are not entirely random.  Why are these techniques mysteries to the authors?

Use the tools before you, people.  Some very smart engineers have spent decades sharpening them, and I doubt you'll do any better by hand-knitting your own flint blades.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Book Discussion: "The Heritage of Heinlein"

Hmm, a good time saver here.  This book is a thorough, top-to-bottom discussion of Heinlein's body of fiction, taken with a major period for each chapter:

  1. A new Calling: For Us, the Living
  2. Early Professional Writing
  3. Transitions
  4. The Juveniles for Scribner's
  5. The "Classic" Period
  6. Stranger in a Strange Land
  7. The Final Period
If you are familiar with Heinlein's work, these will stand out as obvious demarcations.  Naturally a book of this sort is very spoiler-riffic, so it is not for readers new to Heinlein who wish to enjoy his works afresh.  But for the old curmudgeon who has read nearly everything the man wrote, it can provide some new insights into various stories.  More importantly, it relives said curmudgeon of re-reading some of the earliest and late-period stinkers.  For example I never really liked I Will Fear No Evil, but having read it in my early 20's, I always felt that I owed the book another chance.  However, after reading these authors' analysis of the work, it now seems that my remembered impressions of that book are justified.  Like I said, a good time saver.

One unexpected point hammered home in this book is how shot-through with solipsism are Heinlein's stories after 1945-1950-ish   Hardly something I ever expected from The Grand Master of Hard SF, a writer who has inspired generations of hard-nosed scientists and steely-eyed engineers, but there it is.  Hadn't really noticed, until now.

In the end, I gained a few new insights into Heinlein's work, and saved myself the trouble of plowing through a half-dozen of his lesser novels in hopes that they were not as bad as they seemed when I read them two or three decades ago.  (In all case the authors confirm that, yes, they really were that bad.)  But for Heinlein's better stories, these analyses were a welcome refresher for the plots and themes, sometimes with several new viewpoints I hadn't considered.  Altogether, a worthwhile read.

As a final note, this is definitely a book you should consider buying on kindle rather than in print: $16 vs. $40, respectively.  That differential is a fair chunk of the price of a new kindle e-reader!  Here, have some cover art:

Again, a worthwhile book.  And despite having a fresh copy of The Authorized Heinlein Biography on my shelf, I'm going to take a break from Heinlein and go read other things for a few months.

Whacky Jeep Concepts

Some of them even interesting.  Article over at Fox.

Yes, it's been light posting lately.  Heavy work plus an impromptu Apalach trip kind of been soaking up time and brain cycle.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Now via Beam

Last year's slim JIM antenna worked well enough in clear weather, but in inclement weather it wasn't quite making the trip to the Biloxi repeater.  Scratchy sound, poor signal reports, etc.  Out with the old, in with the new:
MFJ-1763 2m Beam Antenna

Packing about 8 dB more gain over its predecessor, it makes the trip to Biloxi in style on only 5 Watts.  Took a bit of doing to tune down the SWR, including figuring out that tuning to higher frequencies in the 2m band entailed lengthening the driven elements – exactly the opposite of the way one might expect.  Fortunately the threaded elements backed out and locked down, and all is good now.  Getting excellent signal reports too.

No rotor needed.  The entire mast turns easily enough, and mounted on the back porch it is easy to access.  Just need a compass bearing, and those are available on QRZ.com.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

My Neighbors Would Freak

In my neighborhood, with a swampful of these beasts just down the street, putting these things on the lawn would be akin to crying "Fire!" in a crowded theater.  Still, cool picture and a fun DIY project.  Here's how.

Friday, March 13, 2015

White Line Fever

This makes my palms sweat and my collarbone ache:
Don't try this one at home, kids.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Who named these things?

Link to Anytone/Baofeng/somethingortheother's new line of hand-held radios here.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Another Heinlein Movie?

Hmm, seems there's word of an adaptation of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress on tap, as seen here.  Not a lot of details, but when the movie "news" site's author lumps X-Men stories in with science fiction, I wouldn't expect much real news at the site.  The working title of the moment is Uprising.  I suppose a name change is in order, otherwise a bunch of 50 Shades fans might troop in the first weekend expecting... well, not expecting a science fiction story.

We shall see.  I suspect it will not come out well, but will reserve judgement until there's real news of the project.

BTW, hat tip to The Unwanted Blog for pointing out this tidbit.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Movie Review: Predestination

First, much about the movie including links to the trailer and the short story on which is is based over at this post from last September.  Go take a read and come back.  I'll wait.

OK, got all that?  Good, here's the review: 3.25 stars out of 4.  The movie largely stuck to the story, fleshing it out as needed to fill out an hour and a half.  There were no ruinous deviations from the story, a seldom seen phenomenon when classic sci-fi runs up against filmmakers.  A lot of the dialogue was lifted straight from the original, another plus.  Hats off to the people who made this thing!

The biggest change was that a dark undertone was given to the whole affair.  In the original short story, the protagonist seemed to a very free agent with much autonomy, whereas here in the movie there is more of a controlled bureaucratic organization and there are some wheels-within-wheels organization-building going on in the background.  Despite this, it never overshadows the main plot.  Also, there's a short epilogue-ish thing that wasn't in the original.  It feels tacked on and unneeded, at least if you've already read the story N >> 3 times.  Maybe it works better for a cold viewing of the film.  I will admit that it does wrap it up better than the "whew, that was some workday" have-a-drink-and-hit-the-rack original ending.

The look and feel of the movie are about right.  Snook is outstanding as The Unmarried Mother, Hawk is good as The Bartender.  Some of the retro-future stuff may come off as really flippin' weird if you're not already steeped in Heinlein's body of work, but in the context of when this was written (1959), the mid-60's through mid-70's are a nice blend of "yes, we're building a moon base" and the way things actually worked out.  It requires some suspension of disbelief.  If you can roll with that, it's a good show.  The places the look and feel could have been better were in the 40's and 70's noir scenes.  They... just didn't feel comfortable in their fedoras and trench coats.  Dunno, maybe it needed better camera angles and more slouch.  Also, and it's a minor point, even though "Old Underwear" received its mention in the bar scene, there was nary a bottle of Old Overholt in evidence.  This was an Australian production, and perhaps it's hard to come by in the Antipodes.  (I did have a taste while viewing however, so it was not entirely absent.  Authenticity is paramount.)

It's a lot of movie, and a lot of mind-twist to swallow for the unaccustomed.  However if all of that sounds good to you, you're in for a good movie.  Between this, Terminator, and Primer, you could have all of the major time travel themes under your belt in a single weekend, and do it in good style.

BTW, it's out on video already.  No, it never hit the silver screen within driving distance, but the wait wasn't too bad.

Re-viewied and re-considered:  Just as good, maybe slightly better on second viewing.  The few minor changes from the original story weren't as jarring.  Highly recommended!

200 Perfectly Good Reasons Not to Go Down to the Basement

... in Paris, over at Messy Nessy.
Here, have some theme music.