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.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015


Last week over at xkcd, this showed up:
Bike rides do it for me.  I'll do a bunch of sprints on a hot day.  But I'm uncertain about what happens after that.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Link to a Certain Beach Cottage

And the view from up top is pretty good!  Here, take a look.

Not precisely Apalach, but that's the closest tag that applies.

Monday, October 5, 2015

WSM, Happy 90th Birthday!

It is amazing, but broadcast radio is rapidly sneaking up on its 100th year here in the U.S. Today is WSM's 90th, a milestone worth noting.
Here is a link to their main web site, here is a link to their 90th birthday page, and here is a link to their Wikipedia page.  WSM is not just another crusty old AM station limping toward obsolescence on a tired sports talk format.  They've stayed true to their music roots, and this station is the main reason "Nashville" and "Country Music" are so closely associated.  They also seem to be doing very well as a business by presenting well-curated music shows of widespread interest, making the most of their nighttime skywave AM clear-channel capabilities, and by moving onto the internet as well.  Here's to a smooth transition to digital broadcasting in the next decade.

Enough blogging for tonight.  I'm going back to the living room to listen.

Yeah, this is about right.

As seen over at Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal:
Certainly an observation that I've experimentally confirmed.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Into the Wood(s)

I paused on Couch Trail for a few minutes, at the location where the trail turns to follow Tuxachanie Creek, and looked up to see this Turn Left arrow.  It's been there a while.  Thinking for a moment, it occurred that so have I – it'll be 20 years this month that I've been biking those woods.  The trail system has expanded and contracted over the years, but it has been kept open, and that is the main thing.  I've ridden a lot of bikes out there in that 20 years, starting with a rigid steel Trek 820 and progressing into an increasingly bizarre series of suspension designs, each working slightly better than its predecessor.  Here's the latest, coming up on three years:
It was a good day to be in the woods, cool at 60F and overcast.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Movie Review: Everest, in 3D

Yes, if the trailer appeals to you at all, go see this move.  There are no great truths put forth here, but it is a gripping tale of adventure-turned-survival, as well as several cases of non-survival, on a killer mountain.  Go see it in a decent theater, see it in 3D, it is worth it for the sheer damn spectacle of it all.

About the story, the facts are well known.  Several guide companies had been building up to larger groups of less-experienced (but still at least somewhat experienced) climbers up Everest, and well, something was bound to go wrong sooner or later.  Here, you can read the details at Wikipedia if you wish, but this movie tells the story of when things finally, inevitably did go wrong.  Naturally, there are slightly conflicting stories among the survivors – and their subsequent memoirs – about some of the details of the disaster.  I have no real depth of knowledge here, and cannot judge the movie's accuracy to any one account, but it at least seemed to get the bones of the story right, which is enough for this sort of movie.  The characters at least behaved in a believable way, nobody is made to stand out as a particularly bad guy, and the story moves forward at a reasonable pace.

What is specifically not addressed is the entire topic of the ethics of guided expeditions to Everest.  But that is not the story here, nor is it a particularly filmable subject, and this movie's makers wisely chose to sidestep the question.  Move on, nobody's plumbing the depths of those questions here.  Put on your 3D glasses and enjoy the sheer damn spectacle.  And it is spectacular.

A couple of things worth noting are the cast and the special effects, especially the 3D effects.  All were competently done without any needless histrionics.  The actors were comfortable in their roles, and a big screen in 3D produced the "you are there on the mountain with them" feeling.  Honestly, that's almost certainly the closest I'll get to actually climbing Everest, and it was a good experience.  Also I didn't have to pay $100k plus take a double-digit chance of dying for this particular ride.  (Although going through the I-10/Hwy 49 interchange is always a little dicy that time of day.)

3.25 out of 4 stars.  Even if the deeper questions were barely touched upon, perhaps wisely, it is a compelling story and an unusually spectacular film.

Looks cold, like it's north of I-10 or something.