Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Dryer Repair Wednesday

Yesterday evening the belt broke on my 15 year old Maytag dryer.  At least, that's what it sounded like.  You never know, it could have been an idler pulley finally popping off its shaft or any number of inconvenient, expensive parts giving up the ghost.  Fifteen years of hard labor, that's long enough for one dryer to last.  A service call would probably run $100+ and a half-day of my vacation time.  Was this old dryer worth that kind of investment, or would I be throwing good money after bad?  So off I went web-surfing some of the local supplier's sites, found a "bargain" of $500, reduced to a sale price of $400, sale ending... fifteen minutes ago, when the store closed.

So I hung out my half-dried pants load, and slept on the problem.

As if on cue a likely solution occurred as I was waking up.  Youtube.  Now, the last time I'd had a belt break, when this dryer was a 5 year old pup, the answer was clear: replace the belt.  Co-workers had waved me off of it as a DIY project, assuring me that modern dryers are Lovecraftian nests of spring-loaded finger removers.  But now in our modern era of downloaded web mind-meld knowledge, things are different.  Turns out, it is a very simple job:
Now, your dryer, or Mi-Go finger puller, or whatever mechanical household horror you need to fix may be very different, so naturally you'll want to type the model name and problem into the youtube search bar.  But the principle is the same.   The Arcane Knowledge isn't quite so arcane these days.

BTW, the new belt cost a grand total of $8.54, tax included.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Ham Frequency Guide

Last week while trying out different modes on HF, I mentioned the ARRL's Considerate Operator's Frequency Guide to a friend.  It goes way beyond the FCC-allocated band plan, in that it suggests – merely suggests, not regulates – agreed-upon frequencies within the bands for calling frequencies, QRP operations, DX windows, slow-scan TV and the like.  It's brief, just over half a page.  For future reference, here is a link to the guide.  For the truly perplexed, here's the full band allocation plan in several formats, both in full color or in B&W photocopy-iable.

Restaurant Mention: Peche, New Orleans

Before seeing Saturday's movie, we went to Peche for lunch.  Had a vermillion snapper, grilled.  Prepared, it pretty much looked like this, except it was a snapper, not a grouper:
That may well have been the single best fish I've ever eaten.  Here is their web site, it has all the details, menus, and maps.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Tonight's Supermoon Eclipse Explained

By NASA in this short, amusing clip:
Nothing spooky, just straightforward orbital mechanics resulting in some nice sky-scenery tonight.  Unfortunately the local weather may not cooperate, but  I'm still going to go outside and take a look.

ps: Looked, saw nothing but clouds.
pps: You want a sure cosmic sign of approaching doom?  I bought a Windows laptop this morning.  OK, now you can go freak out.  Expect a report, including a part on "why?," on this upcoming fiasco in a couple of weeks.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Movie Review: Black Mass – One Brutal Movie

How many times can Jonny Depp blow somebody's brains out in one damn flick?  Based on the exploits of James "Whitey" Bulger in Boston from the mid-70's thru the mid-80's, we see him manipulate and brutalize his way to the top of the crime heap.  What makes this story stand out is how several FBI agents were being manipulated as well.  Who watches the watchmen?  In this case, the watchers were asleep at the switch.

So that's the story, how's the movie?  Very well done is how.  Depp is back in top form as Bulger, and the supporting cast is outstanding.  Plemons is particularly effective as young thug Weeks.  You can just believe that this guy spend a childhood trading punches with the neighborhood bullies, then naturally progressed into crime on reaching adulthood.  After that... there are no slouches in the casting.  The cinematography is good, as well as unobtrusive.  The ugliness of crime is portrayed unflinchingly.

Speaking of crime... there is remarkably little time spent on the Winter Hill Gang's money making ventures in this film.  Far more time is spent on the inter-gang warfare and machinations within the FBI.  So, if anything, that part doesn't feel fleshed out.  Oh well, it's probably just boring business details anyway.  Back to the on-screen murders...  

Bottom line: 3 stars out of 4.  If not a true documentary, if not a great crime film for the ages, it is at very least an engaging depiction of gang warfare and and several FBI agents who let an investigation get the better of their moral compasses.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Best Film Noir Short You'll See All Year

And the music's not bad either.  Bob Dylan staring in The Night We Called It a Day.  Just click through to youtube and embiggen to full screen.

Mini film?  Music video?  I guess it's technically the latter, but it's so good that I'll call it the former.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Before the Moon: Article about Armstrong at the BBC

Yes, another quick post today: The Early Exploits of Neil Armstrong at the BBC.

I promise, content in the near future.  Been listening to Morgan James and Public Service Broadcasting (the band, not the UK equivalent of PBS), will write up some comments on them in the next few days.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

BSL Marina Makes Top Ten

Article at The Sea Coast Echo.

Best quote from the linked article:
"I think it's great," Ward 5 Councilman Joey Boudin said. "I think it's the ambiance that's got a lot to do with it. A lot of marinas are facing four-lane highways. At ours, you can walk uphill and eat, drink and shop in Old Town.  “It's one of the things that separates us from the rest of the marinas."
And there we go: Build a place that's pleasant and livable, and people will flock to it.  Dump pedestrians out on a four-lane highway and they'll tend to go elsewhere.

Shortwave Receive Antenna Upgrade

I replaced the shortwave antenna in the yard yesterday.  The new one is an LNR Precision EF-SWL.  Here's a link to the manufacturer's web site, and here's a link to the online manual.  And here's a picture of what it looks like coiled up; I'd show it installed, but it's just a black wire up in the air.
This isn't exactly it, but take out the loading coil do-dad at the bottom and it's close enough for a blog post picture.

The antenna's strung as an inverted L between two trees, ground rod at the matchbox, 50' of 50 ohm coax back to the house, into a Tecsun 660, and usually into the stereo from there.

This replaces a very similar setup I've been using for years, except that the old antenna did not have a matchbox transformer, nor was it grounded out by the feed point.  With the matchbox (i.e., without that horrendous mismatch at the end of the longwire), signals are much stronger and more intelligible.  Using the 660's scan feature with either antenna gave about the same number of hits, but with the EF-SWL about 4x the number of signals are strong and clean enough to use.  So that was worthwhile.  Stations like the Dutch Mighty KBC (60's-70's pop/nostalgia) and Radio Romania International (classical) were perfectly listenable – a first in this household.

I monkeyed around a little with the grounding options, but in the end there were no discernible differences so posts #2 & #3 are tied to a ground rod at the feed point.  Other than some raspy bursts that a noise blanker would take out, the noise level and overall SW reception are nearly on par with my Yaesu 450D ham radio and its 40/80m dipole.  From that I'll conclude that the ground configuration is either right or so close that it doesn't matter.  Of course for a clean signal, the Tecsun piped through a decent stereo sounds much better than the ham rig piped through a voice comms-optimized (i.e., tinny sounding) speaker.

Twenty four hours in, I've gotten a fair sample of how this antenna performs, and I'm keeping it.  Sure, I'd be more of a "real radio guy" if I'd home-brewed the matchbox.  But right now I just can't find the time, the project kept sliding, and hey it got done and things are working, working better than ever.

ps: It's a pretty good performer on FM too.  I'm getting some of the fringe stations out of New Orleans a good bit better, at least well enough to make listening to their music tolerable.  Again, smoothing over that impedance mismatch between the longwire and the feed line fixed the problem.  It is good to hear WWOZ clearly again.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Late-Breaking News: It's Talk Like a Pirate Day

Once more this has slipped up on me.  Link here.  Someday, I swear, this event will coincide with a major conference.  Then there will be hilarity.

Special mention goes to Yarr, Pirate Maps.

A Sense of Perspective

Here's a recent video of several friends putting together a scale model of the Solar System out on the Black Rock playa.  With the Sun represented by a meter-and-a-half balloon and the Earth by a marble, the entire model's seven miles across the diameter of Neptune's orbit.  Had they included Pluto, it would have taken another four miles.

It is good to be reminded of these things occasionally.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Your Moment of Foolishness for Today

And a quick post it is, just a link: Serpessence, 100% genuine simulated snake oil.  You be the judge.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Adjust your seat. Then re-adjust it later.

Today out riding the trails I was thinking "this bike feels awfully tall, always has, just doesn't feel like a mountain bike, more like a road bike, my old Trek carved better," etc.  So I tested the leg extension while riding, and it seemed a tad high.  The next time I rolled through the trailhead, I paused for a moment to unpack a wrench and drop the seatpost a centimeter.  What a difference in handling!  Will do some more testing this week in the yard, and I'm thinking it needs at least another half centimeter.

I swear, it felt right when I set it up over two years ago.  Just goes to show, never stop leaving well enough alone.  I cannot help but wondering if last Fall's collarbone incident might have been avoided if I'd adjusted this sooner.  Only a centimeter – "Missed it by that much."

Note the helpful register marks.  All too easy.

Those big 29x2.2" wheels still seem almost clownishly oversized compared to the old 26x2.1" standard, but man do they ever roll over stuff.  Still learning how to handle this thing but two-plus years in, the old bike feels even more unnatural.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Big article on upcoming movie "The Martian"

Lots of angles discussed in this article, lots of food for thought.  Right Here, courtesy of

Not a hell of a lot else to say.  I'll be there on or about the opening.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Another mention of HD Radio

On the heels of last week's sale of iBiquity, over at The SWLing Post we find another IBOC-related article.

Hmmm.  Once is accident.  Twice is coincidence.  I am waiting for the third mention of HD Radio in quick succession before saying that IBOC may be rising from its technological grave.  What the significance of this might be, should it come to pass, I will not say.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

More on the Green Flash

A few weeks ago I was over in Florida walking on Blue Mountain Beach with some family right at sunset, and although we did not see one that evening, the subject of green flashes came up.  This picture from APOD reminded me to post something on the topic:
not Blue Mountain Beach, not by a long shot

I've previously discussed the topic here (and there's a link to many, many pictures from there), and here's the Wikipedia page on green flashes.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Blasts from the Past

ReelViews re-reviews Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace

Dirt Rag's review of the original Gen 1 Rock Shox, ca 1990

Woz discusses Apple's origins and Steve Jobs in a recent video interview.

Well that's an odd grab bag of stuff.  Hope you find it as interesting as I did.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Canada, 1 Watt via 20 Meters

Continuing our theme of "lazy, low-powered weekend," this evening I was chatting around via PSK31.  Ran into a regular on the 20 meter band, and it was once again as if we had a piece of coax cable running 1200 miles from north of the Canadian border to the Gulf.  We kept turning down the power until we got to 1 Watt and decided that was far enough – mainly because my output power meter wouldn't accurately measure any lower.

And it wasn't as if the ionosphere was even marginally cooperative this evening:

Sometimes fortune smiles.  You just have to be ready to smile right back.  PSK31's razor-sharp 37Hz bandwidth makes for a very bright smile.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

My Long Weekend Thus Far

Change Afoot for Terrestrial Radio

According to an article at Engineering Radio, DTS, the theater sound people, have bought up iBiquity for the grand sum of $172M*.  iBiquity is the holder of the rights to the U.S.'s hybrid digital radio broadcast standard format.  Expect things to start moving on this front in the near future.

*update: article originally said "$172" and omitted the "M" but this has been corrected.  Funny how a 10^6 increase makes things somewhat less dramatic.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Today's Term: Diffraction Spike

You've seen these spikes in pictures of bright stars:
Thursday's Astronomy Picture Of the Day: link
Once again, if you're not hitting NASA's APOD site every day, you're missing out.

From the Wikipedia article:
Diffraction spikes are lines radiating from bright light sources in reflecting telescope images.  They are artifacts caused by light diffracting around the support vanes of the secondary mirror.  Refracting telescopes and their photographic images do not have the same problem.
Lots more there, including a discussion of why the spikes appear at 90deg relative to the mirror supports.  Now you know.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A quick look at the 2016 Shelby 350R

And even as uncool as the dweeb over at Wired tends to make the whole article, his dork-factor is overcome by the amazing awesomeness of the 350R.  Story here.

No stereo?  That's a bonus.  Who'd want to listen to canned music when you've got that flat plane V8 to listen to?

Dick Dale Catch-Up

After Monday's triple shot of espresso, it seemed time to see what's up lately with Dick Dale.  No really new news, but there have been a couple of articles about him, his health problems, and his sheer damn determination to keep playing:
Pittsburgh City Paper
Billboard mag
An upbeat article from 2009

And of course, the man's web site, where we see that his 62' yacht is for sale.  Also see that I didn't make it to his April show at the Howlin' Wolf, and that I'd better pull out the stops to make it to see him the next time he's through the area.

Look on Dale's web site for tour dates.  Even if surf rock is not your cup of tea, you don't want to miss him if he's playing nearby.  He is the original, real deal.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

I've seen worse talks.

I've seen worse talks than this one over at SMBC.  May have even given a few, but I'm not saying.  Don't be afraid to click the link, it's only to a web comic, not to an actual science talk or anything.