Sunday, January 31, 2016

In with the new, out with the old.

After nearly 15 years, it's time for a new pair of mountain bike shoes:
Those Sidis held up well, but it was time.  The soles were still holding up, but were badly gouged from years of use with Eggbeater pedals.  (Fortunately, a new stainless steel sole protector plate has been introduced by Crank Bros.  Won't have that problem again.)  The cleats were shot, with the soft rubber overlays recently departed.  The velcro tabs were de-laminating from their leather covers.  And finally, the leather uppers were getting some rot-tears near the nose.  It was time.  But for all that, they were still serviceable to the end.
Still not the end of the line for these though, not entirely.  One of the buckles on my road shoes has recently broken, so there's going to be an "organ donation" from these to the road shoes, with a spare buckle left over.
Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.
Not cheap, but for a decade and a half of solid service, Sidi shoes deliver value.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Confounding Product Recommendation Bots Since 1997

Following up on two earlier posts, I ordered a couple of CDs: James McMurtry and Dead Boys.  If your Amazon service seem a little delayed over the next week or so, it's probably because their AI systems are still in therapy.

ps Saturday: now Amazon won't stop sending recommendations for David Bowie and Hank Williams Jr.  Think I'll browse their store for Lydia Kavina theremin music next.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

CBGB Documentary from 1978

Features the Ramones, Blondie, and the Dead Boys.  The cheesy narrator adds to the overall effect.  His tone is deadpan but also shocked – shocked! – throughout.  Totals to 51 minutes, you'll want to watch it through if only to see the clueless music critics trying desperately to commentate on the whole glorious mess.  You might want to embiggen.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Meanwhile Way Up North...

Nephew and family build a snow fort... and then a ski slope in their driveway.  As seen on TV:
Leave it to those folks to make something fun out of a mess!

Monday, January 25, 2016

More Music, this time from the Sun

A recent post over at the SWLing Post goes into detail about a small station in the Austin TX area that is (a) 100% solar powered, and (b) actually plays music worth listening to.  So, here are the links:
Because solar powered radio, all the cool kids are doing it.

But then I was listening to SR and heard this gem of a song:
Well all right!  Guess I'm out the price of one of McMurtry's CDs.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Meanwhile, out along Tuxachanie Creek...

The main part of deer season is over and it's back to riding.
Still a few phases of deer season left – archery, primitive weapons, etc. – so wear bright colors for a few more weeks, just to be on the safe side.

Shortwave Music Listing

Here's a relatively complete listing of music currently available on the shortwave bands: LINK  Of course all this will change as the days begin to lengthen, but if you find something you like now, you can stay current with the show by checking the broadcaster's web site.

Yes, I am going mountain biking this morning.  Just waiting for the thermometer to cross the freezing line.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Now We're Getting Somewhere

You might want to click to embiggen.

Friday, January 22, 2016

iPhone Extras


Well, the redial one is pretty handy.  Will try several others soon.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Update Added to the FT-857D Review

I'd make a separate blog post here, but this really needs to be kept all together.  Just click through and scroll to the bottom for the additions.

... and the Sunspot Cycle Continues Downward

Here's the graphic that wraps up the latest data and near-term predictions with uncertainty bounds:

Here's the full update, courtesy of NASA.  No surprises, nothing unexpected.  Just a low-performing solar cycle that's well past its peak and sliding toward the next minimum circa 2020.

Light posting lately, but it was a good extended weekend.  Trying to round up some good pictures from the ham club campout.  Unfortunately I didn't take any, at least not any good ones.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Postmodern Jukebox covers The Cure

In this version of Just Like Heaven.  Good to see it sung by someone not wearing quite so much makeup.

That is all for today.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

"what if?" Returns

Here is the link you are looking for.  As usual, the topic revolves around violent destruction.  Here's this week's question:
What if all the sun's output of visible light were bundled up into a laser-like beam that had a diameter of 1m once it reaches Earth?
The results are predictably horrible, but go read it yourself anyway.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Time for a review of the FT-857D

Pre-post-after-note: here's a previous entry outlining the initial purchase and set-up.  Now, on to our regularly scheduled review.

It's been a month, so it's time of a brief review of the new ham radio.  First things first: yes, I am happy with it, very happy.  It checks all the boxes I needed to have checked, and it's a pretty fun radio to operate.  A little funky at times, but fun.  Let's look at the pros and cons of this thing.

Starting with the pros, it's small and light enough to be no bother at all for car camping, and maybe even to take backpacking.  With a battery it could get heavy, but in and of itself this radio's weight isn't a show-stopper.  After that, it's a full-featured rig, with all the  power and signal processing we've come to expect in this still-new century.  Similarly, it is a nominally 100 Watt radio.  This marks a big step up in brute usability from QRP 5 Watt go-rigs, like its little brother FT-817.  True, when sending PSK31 signals, the 857 has to be throttled back to 20 Watts, which puts it within spittin' distance of QRP.  But on sideband, oh man, the extra wattage is much appreciated.  Other pros... yes, it's got two sets of menus, accessed through either quick-pressing or long-pressing the same "Func" button.  What's more, the long-press set of menus has two levels, allowing some extraneous features to be sort of hidden out of the way.  It sounds confusing, but it is not that bad.  In fact, it's a good bit less horrible than some of the dire warnings I'd heard.  Furthermore, programming in VHF repeaters is pretty easy, even easier than on my FT-2900 2m rig, which is generally considered to have one of the better interfaces.  So... small, full-featured, fairly easy to work.  Those are all good.

Now let's look at the cons.  The biggest gripe here is that the receiver is not on par with newer radios.  It works well, but it noticeably a cut below similarly priced but more modern radios, such as the FT-450D.  But, as I said, it works and it does work well.  The noise blanker and DSP both help, but there are better ones out there.  Well, this is a 15 year old design after all.  Next, the internal speaker kind of stinks, but that's easily remedied via the speaker/headphone out port.  The power output isn't a full 100 PEP Watts according to my external meter.  It's more like about 65-70 Watts, no matter how high I crank the mic gain.  Meh, what's 2 dB between friends?  Not enough to worry about.  Next, I wish the power and SWR meter functions (only one at a time, this is a very crowded display) gave numerical readouts in addition to the bar graph.  Ah well, at least on receive the display shows both the bar graph and a numerical S-meter reading.  Finally, and there's no getting around it, the controls are cramped, with too damn much hidden down in the menus.  Wah, Wah!  If you want a small radio, and I do, that's just how it's got to be, so move on or haul your home-base station monster out into the woods and gripe about the weight!

About that manual, it's not a work of coherent thinking but more of a core dump.  Yaesu has never been so much for walking a user through procedures, as for telling a little bit here, taking a ten page digression on something unrelated, coming back, telling a tad more, etc.  The way through this morass is to (1) get a Nifty-brand manual (about $15), because those do show you complete procedures, and (2) download the radio's official manual from the Yaesu site in PDF form.  That way, you can use your reader's search function to find what you need and skip the ten page digressions.  And remember, in Yaesu manual-speak "convenient" and "easy" are warnings for "get out the dental pliers, we're going in."

Now, about those deep, dreaded menus... as I said they're not that bad.  Nowhere nearly as bad as I'd been lead to believe, and nothing at all compared to working through, say, programming a few repeaters by hand into a Baofeng.  What's more, here's the upside to the menu stew: a lot of people buy FT-857Ds, get frustrated, and flip them after about six months!  That's right, there's a seemingly never-ending trickle of these into hamfests, usually discounted by about $100-$200.  So show up early with cash and you might get a deal.  Worked for me, anyway.  Even though mine didn't come with a factory box, the thing's like new.

One more item worth mentioning is that this probably isn't the radio for a new ham.  It's a great second radio, a great camping radio, a great hurricane season radio, but the controls are a little too involved and funky for the newbie.  The exception to this is if you're just bent on having this wonderful little puzzlebox from the get-go, and you know a nearby experienced ham who has one.  (protip: offerings of beer may help)  Then you might swing it.

If you want more reviews, here's a bunch from over at eHam.  I'm trustworthy, but it's worth a few more opinions before you lay your money down.  My bottom line rating, using eHam's 5-star system, is 4 out of 5.  It's not a sterling performer but it gets B's all around, and for the price it is hard to imagine anything else coming close.
The Yaesu FT-857D in its natural element, namely hot-wired into a '97 F-150.  Watch for spiders.

ps: Follow-up thoughts after weekend of camping with the 857D.
(1) The DSP is good and worthwhile, but nowhere nearly as good as the IF DSP in my 450D.
(2) The lack of a roofing filter (or maybe it has one, but a pretty poor one if it does) effectively let the receiver blank out whenever somebody in the campsite was transmitting on the same band.  Not a big deal under normal circumstances, but it makes me re-think taking it to a large event like Field Day.
(3) Under field conditions, the menu system was perfectly useable.  At least, no worse than in the shack.
(4) It's a blast to operate!  Something about the light weight, "toss it in the truck, open the hood, operate off the top of the radiator" made it all the more fun.
(5) Just shut up and get the rails for yours already.  They make the thing all the more field-worthy.
(6) I'm building up an all-in-one go-bag for this and the antennas.  Will post as soon as it's slick enough for public consumption.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Bone Music

Here's a weird little story over at NPR about Soviet cultural goofiness.  It seems that there was a small underground industry there following WWII that centered around recycling X-ray film for record blanks, then recording forbidden music on them.  It shows the lengths oppressed people with go to for a little taste of freedom.
You can find the book on the topic here.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Low(er) Carb Coca-Cola

Stumbled across a new variety of Coke last week, a little green-labled bottle named "Coke Life."  I'm not much of a Coke drinker, but this intrigued me.  It's made with cane sugar, but about 2/3 as much as usual, with the 1/3 sweetness slack taken up by a dab of stevia.  Put it in an 8 ounce bottle and you end up with only 15 grams of total carbs per Coke.  As much as I've benefited from this low-carb diet, where less than 100 total grams per day is the target, I can afford 15 grams of carbs in a cold drink now and again.  Throw in that it's made with sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup, and now it's definitely worth having around the house.

Hm, I wonder if it'll sell in enough quantity to stay on the local grocery shelves?  Time will tell.  In the meantime, that green label reminds me of this old song.  You should probably go listen to it about now.

Little different kind of green label here, but it does mix pretty well to make a rum & coke.

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Big Short Follow-Up

And um, yes, this will be short.  The Atlantic has a brief follow-up interview with Michael Burry, the eccentric investment analyst played by Christian Bale in last month's movie.  The bottom line is that Burry sees stupidity, willful blindness, and grubbing for short-term paper profits happening all over again, but in the end he is optimistic:
Innovation, especially in America, is continuing at a breakneck pace, even in areas facing substantial political or regulatory headwinds.
Go read the whole thing, it's only about 1000 words. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Pirate Radio Follow-Up

On the heels of last month's review of 40 Watts from Nowhere, the following are submitted for your consideration:
  • a 2015 shortwave pirate activity summary
  • want to roll your own, legally?  The Prometheus Project's site is a good place to start.  Here's their article on our local LP station.
  • want to roll your own, small-time and sort of legally?  C.Crane makes a cute Part 15 compliant transmitter that might be worth having, if only to stream from your computer to your stereo in another part of the house.  
  • There are other, larger ones out there (try Amazon), but no guarantees as to their quality.
  • Either way, this guy will sell you a nice j-pole FM band transmit antenna.  Have your frequency and credit card ready.  I can vouch for the quality, been using one of his 2m antennas for nearly a couple of years now. 
  • What, you haven't picked a frequency?  Radio-Locator can help.  Type in your zip, then hit the "Find Unused Frequencies" link.  Man, Apalachicola has a lot of open space.
  • FCC commissioner Ajit Pai pretty much says that anti-piracy enforcement is now on the back burner, as reported at Radio World.  Probably not a green light, but at least a yellow one.
  • Me?  Oh hell no.  I worked to hard for my ham license, and furthermore I have no wish to inflict upon the neighborhood my mix of J.J. Cale, Joy Division, and Lydia Kavina's theremin yowling.
Yo-ho-ho, pirate radio.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Oh No You Don't.

Spectacular footage of out of control over at....

Link Here.  There's also has bonus footage of the same stretch of road being competently driven in a vintage Porsche 911, and that's much less cringe-worthy.

After you've watched the clip and read the commentary, here's some mood music.

So, yeah, Oh No You Don't.  Not in my Mustang, no way, no how.  Not really a Mustang topic, but that's closest so it gets the tag.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Even the Periodic Table Put On a Little Weight Over the Holidays

Four new superheavy elements were announced, but please don't ask me to spell their names.  Interesting from a nuclear physics point of view, but likely of no chemical consequence – their half-lives are far too short for most chemical interactions.  Here are the details, from the official announcement, a Q-and-A from Lawrence Livermore, and finally a j-school take on the matter in the Washington Post.

Yes, I know it's the 4th already, but it feels like the year really started today.  Monday, back to work, and all that stuff.