Monday, June 29, 2015

Field Day 2015

Field Day, when ham radio operators worldwide take to remote locations to get a little outside their comfort zone and operate under slightly austere conditions, was last weekend.  Not exactly roughing it in the heat of the summer, we operated from a classroom on the MS Gulf Coast Community College's Jefferson Davis campus in eastern Gulfport.  Even though we had air conditioning, it was still a learning experience to haul radios, antennas, and solar gear to a remote location and get on the air.  I don't have final numbers for the entire club, but we managed several hundred contacts over the course of about 18 hours.  I bagged 20-ish using PSK31, a common digital mode, on 20, 40, and 80 meters.  20 was a zoo and it was hard to be heard amongst the din of digital whistles, 40 was too quiet – only made one contact there, but 80 was a lot of fun.  Ah hey, the whole thing was good.

I think the whole "field" part happening in late June works better in more northern climes. Considering that this largely originated in New England, it kind of makes sense.  However, we're making up for it with several fall-winter-early spring Club campouts.  It fits in better with the local climate, and is a lot more pleasant.

Field Day is OK, but to tell you the truth I think that cool weather camping is more my style.  Still, something different, something fun.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Hazard Fraught

In case you missed it nearly three years ago, here's a scan of the original Hazard Fraught Tools spoof coupon ads.  Originally in Mad Magazine, now preserved for posterity by Hooniverse.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Evil Dictator Worldwide Mind Control Console

What is this?  A prop from an early James Bond movie?  Sort of looks like one.

Actually it's a really cool late 40's ham radio.   Go read the full article at Gizmodo.  Hmmm, something here gives me ideas...  like world dominion?  Nah, this idea is cooler.  Maybe I'll have time to work up a prototype in the near future.

BTW, check out that brand name, Kluge.  (Pronounce "kloo-ghee" not "klooj.")  No, I don't think it's any relation to the press company B&K though.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Dead Space

A photo article about the final(?) resting place of the Soviet space shuttles over at Messy Nessy.

On one hand it is kind of depressing to see real live spaceplanes sitting around covered in pigeon crap.  On the other hand, these puppies aren't dropping off Soviet reconnaissance satellites in orbit to get a better view of how to blow the living shit out of the Free World.  So I guess that's a net win.  Too bad we didn't tow them away for display as war trophies on some courthouse lawns circa 1992 though.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

More Martian Maunderings

Andy Weir, author of The Martian, interviewed over at Bloomberg about Elon Musk's Mars aspirations.  More "sci," less "fi."

Bonus linkage: How Musk got started in the space business.  What a long, strange trip it's been.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A diverse list of good things coming up.

  • The New Horizons Pluto probe will be entering orbit in just under three weeks.  Video here, countdown site here, and NASA's site for the probe here.
  • Kacey Musgraves' new album Pageant Material is out as of today.  Reviews at Washington Post, Rolling Stone (if you can trust them anymore), Fox, and LA Times
  • Found and pulled onto my Kindle a new collection of hard sci-fi: Carbide Tipped Pens.  Looks like it's my kind of book.  Will get on reading – and reviewing – as soon as I have some other deadwood cleared out.
OK, that's the roundup of good things on my July horizon.  Expect news, commentary, and reviews as things roll along.

Monday, June 22, 2015

I thought it was hot yesterday.

No wonder.  It was the summer solstice – already?  Seems like it.  And I had been thinking it wasn't until next week.  From
June Solstice in Gulfport, Mississippi, U.S.A. was on
Sunday, June 21, 2015 at 11:39 AM CDT
I was in the garden picking tomatoes at 11:39 CDT, and thinking that the sun was beating down pretty hard.  As a matter of fact, the sun was beating down pretty hard!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Jurassic Margaritaville

Probably so, looks like Buffet snagged a cameo in Jurassic World as the tourist who grabs a couple of Margaritas as the pterodactyls attack.  Article pointing this out at some movie site.

Well I was intending to see the movie again anyway...

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Book Review: The Martian

This is not "some of the best" but The Best hard science fiction I have read in decades.  The technology and events are all just outside our current capabilities, but clearly within our reach.  As in "three year advanced development project away" within our reach.  There are no cute robots, rebellious computers, funky aliens, or space wizards to be found here.  Instead, this is a book populated by steely-eyed missile men – of both the X and Y chromosome persuasion – who deal with cascading failures and sleep depravation to get a stranded astronaut home from Mars.  Nobody quits, ever.  Nobody has plot-shaking emotional outbursts.  (A few heated discussions and a few moments of quiet private weeping, sure, but they're over soon and nobody dwells on them.)  Hard decisions are made, engineering is done, corners are cut, bad jokes are cracked.  A bunch of shit breaks.  Everything here could actually happen, to the best of our present knowledge.  And in the end, ... well I won't say.

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.

Finally, it would be a disservice to the author not to mention the outstanding technical detail he put into this novel.  A few experts in various fields have quietly typed emails to him clearing up some relatively minor loose ends, and this should be taken as testament to the level of writing here.  The entire book rings of truth from beginning to end, and at no time did any pseudo-scientific technobabble jar me – physicist, space enthusiast, digital comms geek – out of immersion in the story.  It is that good.

If you enjoyed the movie Apollo 13, or thought Gene Kranz's memoir Failure is Not an Option was a non-stop page-turner, this is the book for you.  This ranks up there with the tales of Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke.  Maybe that's the best part: it's good readable hard sci-fi, not a leftover tale from some golden age but written in the here and now.  It gives me hope for more and better tales of this order, and for the future as well.

Afternote: Relevant links can be found at last week's post about the movie's trailer.  Interview with the author, his website, etc.

Ten Years of Batman, and of Change

Op-ed on how Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy has re-shaped large segments of the movie industry.  It is interesting to think how much things have changed in the past ten years – and yet how much things have stayed the same.  In many ways, 2005's opening of Batman Begins feels closer to today than it does to 2004.  It is as if some invisible line was crossed that year, one that can only be seen in hindsight.

What was that line?  Katrina certainly, but more to the point the real estate bubble was beginning to pop in Florida, and that was the beginning of the cascade of economic problems that bottomed out in early 2009.  It is as if the summer of 2005 is the hinge on the door to our present world.  The summer of 2005 was the beginning of The Era of the Continuing Resolution.

Obviously, this post rates the "movie" tag, but there's something else in there.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Pony of a Different Color

Heavily modded '68 Mustang with a 0 – 60 time of 1.94 seconds and a quarter-mile time of 10.24 seconds:
800+ HP and 1800(!) ft-lbs of torque.  So far so good.  Now here's the weird part: it's electric.  Article over at Green Car Reports, and that is not a reference to the the color of this beast's invasion stripes.  Definitely a step up from some glorified golf cart.  BTW, you really want to look at that link because it has both an underhood picture and a track video, and both are pretty impressive.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Meanwhile, in the Piney Woods of NW Florida...

Gambler-Turned-Conservationist Devotes Fortune to Florida Nature Preserve, via NPR.

Interesting, slightly bittersweet article.  Thanks for pointing it out, John.

Not exactly in Apalachicola, but close by enough that the blog label will stretch to fit.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Thought for the Day

As seen on Slashdot today:
VMS is like a nightmare about RXS-11M.
A nightmare, yes, and in 32 bit living color at that.  But how else were you going to efficiently address a whole 8 MB of main memory in 1982?

Paranormal Trifecta

Good news everyone!  Art Bell returns to the air on July 20th with his new show Midnight in the Desert.  But wait, there's more:
  1. Not just any late night paranormal show, this is Art Freekin' Bell, the guy who started Coast to Coast AM.  That's sure to be a step up in quality(?).
  2. It's on 9pm-midnight Pacific time, i.e. starts at 11pm Central time, a whole hour earlier than C2C.
  3. Not just on AM, not just on local FM, but it's also going to be broadcast on three shortwave frequencies: 5085 (WTWW, Nashville), 7490, and 9330 kHz (both WBCQ, Maine).
That's a paranormal trifecta!  Look, I don't buy into a lot of this stuff, but everybody likes a good late-night ghost story to fall asleep by, right?  And ghost stories are always better when they're received via skywave bouncing off the ionosphere.  So there, something good to look forward to late next month.

BTW if you're looking for a shortwave receiver, it's hard to go wrong with either a Tecsun PL-660 for $120 or at the low end a Kaito 321 for $20.  Naturally the 660 at 6X the price is a much more capable receiver, but either will get the job done if the ionosphere is cooperating.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Book, Upcoming Movie: The Martian

Oh man, this looks great.  Saw the trailer last night while at Jurassic World.  OK, here are the relevant links.  I won't describe the story, you can get all that from the trailer.

I'm already a couple of chapters into the book.  It reads faster than drinking beer, and is at least as much fun – so far.  This looks like some of the hardest of hard science fiction to come along in years.  Expect a review fairly soon.
This isn't really my third post for the day, it's Monday's post a few hours ahead of time.  Going to be a hectic day tomorrow.

Movie Review: Jurassic World

Let's look at the checklist for a pure summer fun flick:
  • Builds on a well-known franchise.  Check.
  • Enough plot to string it all together.  Check.
  • But not so much plot as to weight things down.  Check.
  • Likable characters, who rise to the occasion when pressed.  Check.
  • The bad guys get devoured, while the good guys mostly make it home.  Check.
  • Comfortable as an old favorite pair of blue jeans.  Check.
  • While bringing new thrills to the show.  Double Check.
Well there you have it.  This movie was genetically engineered to be the ultimate summer popcorn monster-muncher, and its creators have succeeded.  Pop for the 3-D version, if it's available locally, it's that kind of movie.

Three out of Four Stars.

Philae Comet Lander Wakes Up

Well here's some good news, it seems that not all is over for the comet lander's mission.  Here's the full article at the BBC, but the short version is that as the comet nears the sun, there is now enough sunlight to reach into the dark canyon landing site and power the probe up.  Seems to be in good shape too.  All good news.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Movie Review: Fury Road. Are We There Yet?

The title sums up this review, but if you want more, I'm still typing.  First, let's start with the good parts.  That'll keep things short:
  • Acting was good.  Tom Hardy?  Charlize Thereon?  Both were their usual great selves.  They did what they could with this turkey.
  • Stunts were good.  Most were "for real" with old-school film effects and only minimal CGI touch-ups.
  • A few minor interesting touches here and there, like the flamethrower/guitar "piper" war-wagon.  That was cool and everybody's seen the trailers, so mentioning it isn't a spoiler.  There were a few other, similar but lesser bits sprinkled in.
Now for the bad:
  • Everybody's been waiting thirty years to see Max take to the road in The Last of the V8 Interceptors again.  Set in the time between the first and second movies (sort of), it should have been prime-time for road warfare with the Road Warrior.  We got maybe three minutes of what we all came to see.
  • Sans The Interceptor of course, the movie was  One.  Long.  Car.  Chase.  It got boring after a while.  I was checking my watch and wondering like a little kid in the back seat on family vacation: Are we there yet?
  • Back to the time and movie sequence this is set in, it didn't make any sense.  It's obviously between the first two movies, except that about 35 years seem to have gone by.  If Miller wanted to show how things would be decades later, why not just hire pushing-60 Mel Gibson again and give us the really mad Max?
  • There's been one hell of a ruckus about a "feminist" slant to this movie, but it was such a mess that any attempts at preaching thankfully got muddled under monster car wheels.
  • Not only is the chronology nonsensical, so is pretty much the rest of the move.  I'd elaborate further, but I've got more meaningful things to do today.
Can we just hand this mess off to J.J. Abrams and get a watchable reboot already?

Bottom line: 1.5 out of 4 stars.

Final note: What's up with all the critics' love of this turkey?  It's pulling 98% positive ratings over at Rotten Tomatoes.  Have these people lost their minds?  Legacy media echo chamber?  Dunno, don't wanna know.

ps: Review of the original Mad Max from three years ago.  Looking back, I always intended to do reviews of Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome too.  Looks like I have some blog topics for the next few weeks, so stay tuned.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

This is How These Things Start

Video: Kids tear up the bike park on Commencal Ramones

What is a Commencal Ramone?  It's a little push-bike for the preschoolers who aren't up to pedals yet.  Pedals or no, these two guys absolutely burn up that track!  Worth every bit of your couple minutes' time to watch.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

How that Pumpkin on Your Rear Axle Works

Once you get past the 1930's production style and the synchronized motorcycle driving parts, it's actually a pretty good video on the subject, here.  It starts with the very basics and works up through tinker-toy models then through to the real thing to give an intuitive view of these mechanical wonders.

I haven't set up (and don't intend to set up) a general "automobile" type tag, so just file this on under "Mustangs."

Monday, June 8, 2015

"Annihilation" Wins Nebula Award: Really?

Yeah, it seems so: official Nebula Award page here.

I mean, it was alright (here's my review from last month), but it wasn't that good.  On the other hand when you consider the competition in today's sci-fi market, maybe it was the best new novel at hand.  It's a common lament, as has been noted here in the recent past.

New Mountain Bike Glasses

Wanted to order amber lenses but they were out of stock, so I went with hi-viz oranges.  Using the tricksy hold-over-the-smartphone technique, you can see their effect in the two picture on the right:

They're pretty good for summer, but come fall and low-light conditions I may be switching back to amber.  At <$10 at Amazon, UVEX safety glasses are functional, priced right, available in many configurations to fit even the most Roman of noses, and considerably less dorky looking than many of the high-dollar options.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Hydrobike? Might be pretty good.

Here's the full article on these water beasts, but you can get what this is all about in one glance here:

Definitely goes on the Must-Try list.

Afterthought: Somebody's got to try crossing this with downhill mountain biking by riding rapids.  Film at 11.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Summer Reading: The Best of L. Sprague de Camp

A little over half-way through, and I have to say that The Best of L. Sprague de Camp is a thoroughly enjoyable collection of short stories.  Many years ago I'd read The Gnarly Man and not so long ago I'd found a radio play of A Gun for Dinosaur – first on WTIX-AM when it was in its final throes and then shortly after on the internet.  Here, you can dig the latter out of, just search down a little.  Give it a listen, it's just under 30 minutes long and it's a fair sample of this collection.

Most of these stories deal with fairly serious themes – a worldwide viral plague with a mostly harmless side-effect, an air-dispersed zombie drug, trade relations with other humanoids, a sort of proto-Jurassic Park story – but the author always keeps a light and amusing touch.  Sometimes the genie gets stuffed back in the bottle by the end, sometimes mankind just hitches its britches up and continues onward.  de Camp's handling of history  always rings of truth, in much the same way as Tolkien's writing, but with a definite 20th Century American twist.  It's fun reading that doesn't leave you feeling as if you'd eaten an entire bag of tortilla chips afterwards.

Here, have a couple of Wikipedia links, first to the collection's page, then to a short biography on de Camp.  If you want much more, you can find it starting there.  Also, a reminder that if you can't find a paperback copy nearby, these sorts of collections are tailor-made for downloading your e-reader for next to nothing.

Finally, I wish to point out that it doesn't take a time machine to go dinosaur hunting anymore these days.  What's more, they are pretty darned tasty, at least the right varieties if prepared properly.  Remember?  Yes, this is a good world.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

That's Putting It a Little Strongly, but...

I Went Paleo and Now I hate Everything

I can see where she's coming from.  Don't worry, it's a humor piece, the author's not really serious.  She does point out some interesting things though.

Mostly, I'll take the downsides without complaints.  Having my back pain and asthma ease up almost immediately, then dropping twenty pounds without even trying makes the hassles worthwhile.  (Even if I did forgetses the tastes of bread, the soundes of trees, the softnessesses of the wind, and even our own nameses in the process.)

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Had Enough Yet?

Tired of the TSA and their stunning success record?  Want to return to a more civilized age of air travel?  You might wan to give Southern Airways Express a call.  More on this little jewel of an airline at The Bitter Southerner.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Welcome Back to Hurricane Season

So far, so good:
Just don't count on it to stay this way.  You do have your hurricane supplies sorted out, right?  If not, then you'd better get on it, because a lack of storm preparation – on your or your neighbors' part – has been shown to actively draw hurricanes.  (This is simple enough to derive, starting from Bell's theorem and Murphy's law; left as an exercise for the student.)