Friday, July 31, 2015

Ending July on a Good Note

Effective Ebola vaccine developed: Full story at the BBC.

Now that is some good news, and a good way to end a month.

Next we get down to the mean season:

Cape Verde storms always give me pause.

Oh well.  Pack it up, see what tomorrow brings.

Did you hear the one about...

.... the hipster who wanted to become a ham radio operator?

Uh, yeah, he heard that hams can bounce signals off the ironosphere.

Here, press the button.

Content later this weekend.  I've got to get to work right now.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Now Coffee's Bad for You

First good.  Then bad.  Good again.  Now bad.  Guess what it'll be next week.

MDs are so cute when they're trying to do research.  It's like watching a bunch of puppies scrambling all over each other to get at a scooby snack.

Movie Review: What We Do in the Shadows

Awkward roommates, vast age differences, exes, unusual diets, topsy-turvy sleep habits, the new kid, the wanna-bees – it sounds a lot like grad school.  Except that this is a movie about vampires, not scientists.  Considerably safer however, there being neither high voltages nor radiation, and the hygiene standards are a notch or two better in these guys' apartment.

Look, this is a damn funny movie that you should go see.  There's not a lot of plot, it's just a mocumentary about some vampire roommates trying to get along in the 21st century.  As you might imagine, it's full of awkwardly funny situations and jokes based on well-known vampire tropes.  There is a lot of comic gore, so be warned.  Apart from that... all you need to know is that it works.   3.25 out of 4 stars.

ps: Trailer here.  What you see is what you get!  Just more of it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Electromagnetic Drive Results Confirmation Claimed

I occasionally get questions on this topic from friends and family, so it seems like a good time to mention this thing.  No, I really don't have a clue as to how this thing is supposed to work.  Here is a link to the most recent paper, and here is a link to the Wikipedia article, from which many links spring.  Having only glossed over the material, it seems as if someone added up a very long column of zeros and came up with a very small non-zero result.  I will get on reading through the published literature in the next week or two, and post back if there's any there there.  In the meantime, here's a popular press article on the latest results associated with this gizmo.
On one hand, of course I really want this to be true.  On the other hand, it seems unlikely in the extreme, and there is an awful lot of pseudo-theoretical tap-dancing going on in some quarters.  We shall see.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Sympathy for the Mustang II

Over at Hooniverse.  He does have a point, but I still can't bring myself to agree.
Bleh.  Reminds me too much of Ford, Carter, The Malaise, and disco.

BTW, net's still out and posting remains light.  Pack it up, see what tomorrow brings.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

It works that way. It doesn't work that way.

House net's still out, so here's a link to today's SMBC comic.  (go read it, otherwise the rest of this makes no sense)  Sometimes, seeing things in k-space simplifies things enough that you decide you don't even need the inverse transform on the back end.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Saturday Linkage re: Shortwave

Cable's out at the house, so I'm posting through my phone's hotspot capability and this'll be short.  There's a new blog in town with an interesting article, On the Importance of Shortwave Radio.  It's brief, go read the whole thing.

BTW, the overall blog is called
and it can be found here.  Only three posts so far, but there's lots of good links to informative from there.

OK, that's all I have patience to post via this bog-slow cell phone hotspot.  Think I'll go watch a movie now.  The old fashioned way, you know, from a spinning disc being scanned by a laser.

Friday, July 24, 2015

All You Really Need

In the world of HF antennas, for either send or receive: The $4 Special Antenna

I'm still having fun experimenting with verticals, NVIS cloud-burners, and various incarnations of the humble J-pole, but I have to say that some of the most fun I've had has been with a tuned random wire.  Yes, "It Really Works!"

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Snakes in the News

New research shows that constrictors kill their prey not by suffocation, but rather more quickly by shutting down blood flow.  Huh.

A candidate proto-snake that still had four small but functional legs has been discovered in an existing fossil collection.  Is it really a snake, or is it merely an offshoot lizard line that ultimately died out?  More research may tell.  ps: more detail at the BBC.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Sci-Fi Anthology Review: Carbide Tipped Pens

Bottom line: B+ and Highly Recommended.

Now that you know what I think, what's in the book?  It's a collection of hard science fiction, that is, science-based science fiction.  Here's the Wikipedia page if you want more on the topic.

The good parts?  Well, it's hard science fiction and it's new, and most of the stories were pretty creative.  That's enough for me right there.  Most of them were built around a limited set of "what if we developed _____ technology?" type questions.  Or at least close enough to that central premise, along with the logical ramifications and how they play out with people.  Here's a smattering of some of the stories:
  • How will we adapt to a time when body upgrades and rejuvenation have made it difficult to positively ID individuals?
  • An early Chinese mathematician devises a digital computer – based on soldiers moving in tight formations.  How do the politicians (well, warlords) react?
  • Is brain hacking to change your ingrained desires really that good of an idea?  (here, have some and see)
  • Romeo & Juliet, re-set on a rough-and-tumble Europa mining colony.  You know how this one ends, but it's still just as satisfying getting there.
  • A semi-autonomious robotic probe on Titan gets a little too close to human for its handlers.  Another tragedy.
  • What if we could cure Alzheimer's?  What would happen if we cured someone who's memories were already 95%+ gone?  How could we bring such a patient back from the brink of oblivion?
The bad parts?  Some of the tales were clunky.  I swear there's one that dusts off the bad 1950's movie line "It's a crazy plan, but it just might work," along with all the stilted dialogue that usually comes in that catbox.  Some of the "hard" parts were still a little too soft.  A few left the grit of inscrutable 80's cyberpunk in my eyeballs.  Finally, the very first story was kind of tough to take, and it put me off the collection for a bit.  It's a good story, but having sort of walked a similar mile in the guy's shoes a few years back, it cut a little close.

In the end it all comes together, and the good vastly outweighs the not-so-good.  As with The Martian, it is such a relief to see new and forward-thinking sci-fi coming along.  Like rye whiskey, the harder the better, and I thoroughly enjoyed this bottle of words.

Relevant Links:  (with video!)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Return of Art Bell

Sure, it was fun listening in to Art Bell's return to the airwaves last night.  [official site, and my earlier comments]  Too bad I couldn't stay up past the intro material!  Things started off slowly with a short conversation with Crystal Gayle.  She wrote the intro music some time ago, inspired by his earlier show.  Then he took a caller who at first didn't realize that she wasn't talking to a screener but to the actual host.  That was pretty funny.  After that... dunno, I woke up some time later listening to blank airspace after the show had gone off.

About receiving the show down here in the gulfcoastboonies, shortwave worked pretty well.  WTWW 5085 kHz from Tennessee was fairly clean, though WBCQ 7490 & 9330 kHz out of Maine were both useable signals.  I'll have to see how CFRX 6070 kHz reaches from Canada another night.  Those are all of the shortwaves, and here's a complete listing of stations, including the more common AM & FM.  But really, shortwave is the preferred medium for this sort of stuff.  "The bitter comes out better on a stolen guitar," and the weirdness comes out better when it's bounced off the ionosphere.

Well, I'll just have to try again some other night.  At least it's on at 11pm, which puts it solidly in my winding-down time.  Nothing like a good ghost story before bed.

PS: Thomas over at The SWLing Post recorded the show and put it up for download! <here>  That's a great site, give the guy some traffic.
PPS: Link's gone, in a puff of greasy copyright infringement smoke.  Like so many good things, if you blinked you missed it.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Today's Foxtrot Cartoon, Coastal Heat, etc.

Today's Foxtrot cartoon is unusually funny.  Link Here.

It's 101 outside in the shade here right now, and will probably reach a degree or two higher before long.  Time to stay inside and do inside projects.  Did put a new chain on the CX bike, maybe find time to ride it before dark.  Then there's the new 6-band vertical ham antenna, maybe get that put together and ready to deploy in the yard.  Got its mounting pipe driven into the yard, 7' down, after a late afternoon thunderstorm yesterday dropped temperatures by 20 degrees.  A rare respite, but even then high 70's and ultra-high humidity while doing hard work is not comfortable.  That's how it has to be for a while now: get things ready to do in the yard, then wait for a window to do them in.

People in Minnesota and other such places north of I-10 catch it in the winter.  We're well into the equivalent of being snowed in here now, and for the next month and a half.  This kind of heat can kill.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Blog worth mentioning: Hooniverse

Here's the link.  It's a blog about cars and driving for people who love cars and driving.  And they sometimes post pictures of crazy shit like this:
Because when it comes down to it, who doesn't like to ride a motorcycle underneath a log truck?

It's been getting kind of geeky around this blog lately, with all the talk of QRP PSK31 NVIS and the like.  Don't want to leave out any of the motorized fun parts.

Another outbreak of common sense seen.

Following up on last's week's decision by the Apalachicola city commission, this week the P&Z board denies OK to Denton Cove apartment development.

A development backed by $8 million in transferable Federal tax credits, as seen on page 2 of the linked article.  Now we see where the money is being made on the deal.  Not on real economic production, but on brokering a transfer of funds.  When will this flood of "free" Federal money end?  You do know that we're going to have to pay for it eventually, right?

At least we won't be paying twice-over for this train wreck of a developer's get rich quick scheme.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Goldilocks Band for Summer PSK31

40 meters doesn't cover much of the CONUS these July evenings:
It's kind of noisy too, mostly from lightning.  PSK31 can slice through the noise though, and 40m gives good Gulf, Florida, and Bahamas coverage.

Meanwhile, 20 meters is a badly fading long-range zoo:
Kind of exciting, but also kind of a crap shoot for where you reach.  LOTS of traffic on 20m, the antennas aren't too big, and it's probably the single most-used ham band.  West Africa is even a possibility – hey Cape Verde Islands, got any storms brewing up for us this week?  Maybe I'll start targeting calls there this weekend.

But 30 meters is juuuust right to cover the CONUS and mostly keep things there.
Had a solid contact out to Colorado this evening, but beyond that there was not a lot of traffic.  That's a shame, because 30m really is the Goldilocks band for CW and digital modes: it's both stable and gives good coverage of likely places.  If you don't have an antenna sized for it, a 40m antenna readily tunes to this band.  It is a pretty user-friendly band with good propagation properties, even if it's restricted to CW and digital modes only.

BTW, simulations courtesy of

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Got to call them something

Discussion about the naming of various newly discovered features on Pluto at io9, including obligatory link to today's xkcd installment.

I think that Sleepy, Dopey, Doc, Grumpy, etc. would be appropriate for a dwarf planet.  After those seven, we could move on to Balin, Gimli, Thorin, and company.

Cthulhu?  Sure, why not.

Return of the Sticky Foot

Except that the new owners sound determined to make it into a nice theater.  The old Choctaw Cinema is readying to re-open sometime around late August, according to this article in the Sea Coast Echo.  Sounds like nice place, maybe we'll have to come up with a better nickname than "The Sticky Foot" for this place.  Brother, did that name ever fit before.  I think the only time the floor in that place ever got washed was when it was flooded by Katrina.  But that's all in the past now, and the new owners seem committed to having a more upscale theater.

I wish them well, and they'll definitely be getting some of my movie ticket dollars.  Not having to drive to Gulfport to see a first-run movie will be a real treat, and doubly so on those rainy afternoons that seem to be made for moviegoing.  A nice theater less than a mile away, that is a real step up.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

New Horizons meets What If?

Sure, the success of the New Horizons spacecraft has been all over the news these last few days, but only one site has the guts and physics knowledge to ask – and answer – the burning question:

It's not pretty.

ps: Wrong url in the above link!  Fixed it on Saturday, it now correctly goes to the what-if? site.  So give it another try, it's much funnier this time around.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

It's a Great Picture...

The New Horizons launch in 2006 was pretty dramatic, especially from this camera view. But that's not nearly as great as the pictures we're about to get of Pluto from the New Horizons probe itself.  Early Tuesday morning (~7am CST) will be the closest approach on its flyby mission.  Exciting week coming up!

Movie Review: Terminator V, Lost in Time

It was... alright.  More of a reboot than a continuation of the last two movies, it pushed the plot debris aside by establishing a new time line where different stuff happens.  Happened.  Is going to happen.  Something.  For all that, it's getting into the time travel paradox cheat, where anything can happen because "oh, The Machines must've sent back another robot even before then."  And when will then be now?  Soon.

So the plot of the whole thing is a mess, and John Connor looks like the armored-up love-child of Robin Williams and Sean Penn.  Ugh, creepy.  So, what were the good parts?  Some of the re-creation of the 1984 original movie from the viewpoint of coming in from the future was pretty good.  The digital mapping of Young Ahnuld into the action along with subsequent fights with Old Ahnuld was interesting.  The fights, chase scenes, and special effects, even though we've seen these all before, were top-notch.  And the campy humor, the comfortable laughs at the T800's efforts to be more human, extending on the second movie's similar plays, those were a welcome relief.  Finally, the acting was uniformly up to par for this sort of action movie.

Again, it was.... alright.  The time travel paradoxes and how they were used in the plot were pretty amateurish in comparison to two recent efforts, Primer and Predestination.  Whoever wrote this thing really doesn't have a clue about plotting these things out in such a way that you get a coherent, interesting story.  If you're really desperate for a summertime robot rock'em-sock'em, it'll do, but.... well, it was alright.

Bottom line: 2 out of 4 stars.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

More Adventures in PSK31

Being stuck at home with a gently swelling left side of my face – it's supposed to do that after a trip to the oral surgeon; all is well – it was a good day to work PSK31 digital mode contacts on ham radio.  Snagged the Whiskey Rebellion Festival special event station.  I like history and I like whiskey, so that was a home run.  (By the way, "special event stations" are something ham clubs set up at festivals, on historic occasions, etc.  It's kind of like how running clubs will put on a 5K for nearly any excuse.)  Anyway, I also had a handful of other digital conversations in the US, but I got started a little late in the day for Europe.  Maybe get some of those this morning.

The real coup though getting on the air to a friend in Biloxi, all of 25 miles away.  Coordinating through the club's repeater, we managed to get his Windows magic elf box sorted out and able to do the encode/decode.  We were sending on 40 meters, bouncing NVIS signals off the ionosphere to beat the curvature of the Earth.  Worked like a charm.

NVIS conceptual drawing.  Some assembly required.  Mountains not included.

Then we started turning down the power, and still maintained effortless contact at 1 Watt.  That was the cool part.  Of course, it was the +26 dB advantage PSK31 brings to the table relative to voice communications that did the trick here.  Well, I've said it before but here it is again.  PSK31:
It's kind of like The Matrix, only much, much nerdier.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Marine VHF Radio Coverage

After some offshore fishing with family last week (thanks Bill!), I was idly wondering about the Coast Guard's monitoring of emergency radio calls.  As it turns out, they've got a great system of towers along all of the U.S. coastline called Rescue 21.  Overall it gives reliable coverage out to 20 – 40 miles from the coast.  It looks like they get these ranges, which are similar to broadcast band FM ranges, by sticking antennas on the same commercial towers.  Makes sense.

So, how does this impact offshore fishing in the Apalachicola area?  Here's the USCG-supplied Longley-Rice propagation model coverage prediction map, with a 40 mile reference bar extending southwest from the tip of Cape San Blas:
(click to embiggen)

Hmm.  We're most of the way there.  Now, those coverage calculations were based on a 1 watt transmitter 6' over the water, but the boat's radio belts out 25w with the antenna more like 12' over the water.  According to the Egli model, that factor of 25 in transmission power roughly doubles the coverage range, which is plenty for any sane offshore fishing possibilities.  However, this is more of a line-of-sight bounded problem.  Adjusting for the change in antenna height only adds a couple of miles to the total range in this case.  What's more in bad weather with rough seas, which is really when you'd want things to work, LoS propagation can be significantly reduced.

Is this extra kick in power and increase in height enough?  If I had to draw a red-yellow-green map (sort of what I do for a living), from what we have here the area of interest would solidly be in the yellow area.  This doesn't mean it won't reach – I'm expecting that it will – but it does mean it's worth a test.  It is a marginal case.

Thursday, July 9, 2015


In a stunning victory for common sense, Denton Cove development in Apalachicola is a no-go.  Read about it in The Times.

Dirt Rag Interviews Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead 1992.  Part of their Blast From The Past series.  <link>  OK, it's a tad back there in time, but still worth a read.

While we're on the subject of mountain bikes, the butcher's bill stacks up a few dollars more today with the ongoing dental repairs from a 2002 race at Chickasawbogue.  Oral surgery this time, to remove shards of a root canal gone bad.  Looks like I'm implant bound.  Hey, it's an excuse to buy some more titanium – except this time it bolts onto me, not the bike.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

J-Pole: The Magic Dimensions

Last winter we had a post rounding up a bunch of J-pole links.  Now Paul Thirst over at Engineering Radio has posted about emergency broadcast FM transmission antennas.  Most importantly, he has included a diagram marked out not in inches, cm, etc., but in wavelengths.  Even more importantly, the diagram has the elusive "how far from the bottom of the J to tap" dimension.

Do you know how many ham "how to's" do not list this dimension at all but leave finding the correct feed point as an exercise for the student?  "Adjust for minimum SWR."  GRRRRR.  (calm down, calm down, calm down)

Anyway, many thanks to PT and his blog for putting the info out there.  (SWR of 1.4 and he's not happy with that?  What a perfectionist!)  Even though he's more concerned with broadcast band FM frequencies (88-108 MHz), this design can easily be adapted for the 2m ham, marine VHF, MURS, etc. bands.  You just have to know the center frequency to plug in.  Oh, and the speed of light in a vacuum, but that doesn't seem to change very much these days.

Just in case his blog ever goes away, here's the critical figure:

Astronomy Picture of the Day, #150708

Looks almost CGI in its abstract perfection, doesn't it?  But no, it is as IRL as it gets.  Folks, I've said it several times already: if you're missing out on NASA's APOD site, you're really missing out.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

One for the Job Hunters

No, really, don't do it this way:
Unless you are totally, completely sure that the interviewer is a giant nerd.  Then go for it, it'll probably get you the job.  Even then, only if you can get all the quotes exactly right.

From xkcd.

Monday, July 6, 2015

iPhone Screenshot

I was needing to take a screenshot of something that showed up on my iPhone, so to youtube I went: here.

OK, that was easy enough if not completely obvious, but got what I needed.  Afterward, the inevitable "you also might be interested in these videos" showed up.  Think on it for a minute... yes, "iPhone" and "shot"....  OK, now go look at this video.