Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Decline of the House of Overholt

A brief history of Old Overholt over at, of all places, The Daily Beast:
What a long, strange trip it's been.

Good enough to sip, cheap enough to mix.  What's not to love here?

Eclipse Follow-Up

Great news everybody!  After solar eclipse, Americans' eyes seem mostly none the worse.

The next three big-deal eclipses over the CONUS.  Me, I'm going for Tallahassee in 2045.

Monday, August 21, 2017

I Saw, I Projected, I Snapped a Picture

From today's eclipse, here's my pinhole viewer:

High-precision astronomical instrumentation constructed in 0.8 seconds using a ballpoint pen.

I put three holes in it to try: a big 3/8" one inside the circle logo on the box, a little guy about 1/8" that you can see on the left, and a 1/4" hole that's cut off toward the top of the picture.  The largest hole worked OK but didn't give enough resolution, the smallest hole didn't project enough light to see, but the middle one gave just enough light which means that it also had the best practical resolution.   The "projection screen" on the ground is just a piece of 8-1/2x11 bond paper.  Here's one of the better pictures, after a little enlargement and contrast enhancement:
Yay, my eclipse picture!

OK, there are better pictures of the eclipse out there (here're NASA's best), but that's beside the point.  It's just fun to take a DIY break and do some extremely minor science.

By the way, xkcd has been doing an eclipse series over the past week.  In case you missed it:

Eclipse Searches
Eclipse Science
Earth Orbital Diagram
Eclipse Birds
ps Wednesday: Eclipse Review
Don't forget to hover your mouse over the cartoons to get the bonus rimshot lines.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Listen people, don't stare at the sun, not even tomorrow.

There are many ways to safely observe tomorrow's eclipse, but staring straight at it, even while wearing sunglasses, isn't one of them.  Here's an interview with a guy who looked at one in 1962, leaving him with scorched retinas for life: The Time Interview.

It's odd to have to say this, but just a couple of days ago I overhead a grown man saying "I don't think staring at the eclipse can burn your eyes because they're full of water."  No, really, I actually heard this.  So for the folks up in the cheap seats, let's spell this one out:
– UV radiation coming straight from the direction of the Sun is plentiful during a full eclipse, partial eclipse, or just an ordinary day.  Any of this can damage your eyes.
– The "burn" that can occur means "to sear a spot on your retinas so that they no longer work."  It doesn't mean "burst into flames" or anything else dramatic like that.
– It will "hurt your eyes" in the sense of "damage irreparably," not "hurt" in the sense of "you experience pain."  It's over quickly, and isn't all that painful at the time from what I've heard.  
– The effects are permanent.  Your doctor doesn't have any magic eyedrops to fix this one.
– Regular sunglasses are not sufficient protection.

OK, that's how not to do it.  Here are some links on the right way to observe this eclipse, from:
a pinhole projector (that's what I'll be doing)

Got that?  OK, enjoy the sight tomorrow.  And hopefully, enjoy your sight for the rest of your life.

ps and just for fun: Watching Animals Watch the Eclipse, over at Atlas Obscura.
pps: Time-lapse of a 2012 eclipse in Australia, over at APOD.  Yes, it's OK to stare at your computer screen while watching this.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Humidity Blues

Following last Saturday's post griping about all the rain we've had this summer, dehumidifiers have been popping up like mushrooms around this household.  First up, these quiet little guys:

They're nice enough.  Direct thermo-electric Peltier junction devices with a fan for the only moving part, they're simple and quiet.  But the problem is that they only remove about a pint each per day.  That's just not going to get it around here.  Still, good for a large closet or a small room.

Next up, Lowe's carries a line of mechanical refrigerator-type dehumidifiers, like this one:

At 70 pints per day, it's moving gallons of moisture out of the air and keeping the relative humidity down around late October levels.  I don't want to know what my electric bill will be for this month, but at least the active mold and mildew growth has been headed off and my lungs are feeling a bit better.

So... check your house's humidity.  50% is ideal, 60% is acceptable, 80% is the danger line where household dust forms up into shoggoths that will steal your spare change and make your lungs feel like an over-full laundry hamper.

First a post on the dangers of dehydration, and now a post on excess humidity, and neither of them particularly fun posts either.  I'll try to come up with something more enjoyable in the near future.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

A Tale of Woe (not mine for a change)

A tale of dehydration and bodily systems powering down while out on a weekend bike camping trip, over at Dirt Rag:

Go have a read, if for no other reason than to be able to recognize the symptoms when they occur in others.

Never gotten even close to this personally, never even seen it.  It's a funny thing though, since I've gone on a low-carb diet I just don't seem to get as thirsty.  I know however that this isn't a good reaction, and so I keep pushing a little extra water even when I don't particularly feel the need.  Compensating this way seems to help.  At least, nothing bad has happened – yet.  Will push a little harder now after reading that article.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Gearing Up for Hiking, Part 2

Massey's didn't have any wide shoes or boots, and I was going to Crossroads in Gulfport anyway, so what the hell, why not look in at Academy Sports?  And the choices at Academy were slim to... one wide mid-height boot, a Merrell Moab 2.  An extended try-on followed by a quick check of on-line reviews, and off we go:

They come in two varieties, "Vent" and "Waterproof," for which their respective hydrologic permeabilities seem straightforward to determine.  All Academy had were the mid-heights in waterproof, so I didn't have to worry about the options.  And that's fine, because mid-height waterproof is probably what I needed anyway.  Now about the width... it's EE/wide.  I'd have preferred EEEE/extra-wide, but with careful choice of thinner socks, some break-in period, and maybe some judicious insole trimming they'll work.

Overall, pretty nice.  As always reviews are somewhat mixed (here, here); regardless of any reviewers' opinions these boots are available in wide, so that puts them in the top 5% in my book.

Thursday PS:  After a couple of evenings of wearing around the house, it's become clear that 2E just isn't wide enough.  Returned to Academy, where money was cheerfully returned.  Ah well, everybody did their best here, but if they don't fit, then they don't fit.  It's a shame, because they really are nice boots.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Hey buddy, wanna win a bike light?

A Cateye Volt 800 to be precise:
To my jaded old eyes, it looks kind of way too minimalist.  BUT, the world has turned from the days of halogen bulbs and NiMH batteries.  LEDs and Li-ion batts are the way of the world today, and we're all much better for it.  Despite the "commuter safety" size and look, 800 lumens is plenty for serious recreational off-road use.  It's just a smaller, lighter package and that's what we all want on our bikes, right?

So to enter, go over to Dirt Rags's entry page.  Yeah, you'll have to give'em your email address, but they're pretty good about not abusing the privilege.

Of Cows and Flat Rocks

The skies have been intermittently raining here for Three Solid Months.  Sometimes pouring, sometimes merely raining, frequently threatening but not actually precipitating, and occasionally in apocalyptic man-the-lifeboats quantities.  Now I grew up in north Florida in a house without air-conditioning, so do I know a thing or two about humidity, but what we're getting here is a whole new level.  Sure, there's sometimes that steamy afternoon where it rains at noon and then the sun comes out blazing by noon-thirty.  That's miserable, but it's generally over by evening and then all is well.  This three month binge however...  October and its cold fronts can't get here soon enough.

We'll see how much good the new dehumidifiers can do tonight.  I suspect it'll be akin to trying to hold back the tide and the Second Law of Thermodynamics simultaneously.

Ah well, got a CX ride in on the seawall this morning before the regularly scheduled afternoon deluge began.  Guess that's something.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Gearing Up for Hiking, Part 1

Made a Tuesday trip to Massey's in N.O. and it was successful.  Following a half-hour-plus of measuring and trying on, I decided on an Osprey Atmos 50.  That's plenty for the Tuxachanie Trail, and enough to get started on more ambitious projects.  BTW, the people at Massey's were very good at fitting and sizing the pack.  What's more, even though I hadn't exhaustively researched the topic they had, and after reading some reviews (here, here), it looks like the right pack for this hot muggy climate.
Clocking in at 4 lbs, it's just over half the weight of my old medium ALICE frame pack, about 30% bigger in volume, and much more comfortable.  No exposed frame on which to mount the VHF antenna, but that's probably just as well.  Not every expedition needs the full-on ACME treatment.

About a month and a half until cooler weather genuinely arrives, and it can't come in too soon.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Godzilla is Dead!

More precisely, Haruo Nakajima who played Gojira in the original series of movies has died.  Story here at the BBC, and a 2014 picture retrospective at The Guardian.

Weirdly, this has turned into far more than a cheesy movie staring a guy in a rubber suit.  Starting with the original 1954 movie the entire kaiju film industry was born.  There was always more to Godzilla however than just a monster smash'em-up.  From the Wikipedia article:
In the film, Godzilla symbolizes nuclear holocaust and has since been culturally identified as a strong metaphor for nuclear weapons.[10] In the film, Godzilla's attack mirrors the same horrors the Japanese experienced near the end of World War II, with the Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka stated that, "The theme of the film, from the beginning, was the terror of the bomb. Mankind had created the bomb, and now nature was going to take revenge on mankind."[11] Director Ishirō Honda filmed Godzilla's rampage on Tokyo with the mentality that the monster's onslaught was a parallel to, and a physical manifestation of, an Atom bomb attack. He stated, "If Godzilla had been a dinosaur or some other animal, he would have been killed by just one cannonball. But if he were equal to an atomic bomb, we wouldn't know what to do. So, I took the characteristics of an atomic bomb and applied them to Godzilla."[11]
Funny how these effects linger seventy two years on.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Movie Review: Arrival (2016)

Pretty good!  Considering that it came out last December you've probably heard all about it, but on the off chance that you need a refresher trailer, here you go:

OK, got all that?  Moving along then, it's a greatly expanded adaptation of Ted Chiang's short story Story of Your Life from the collection Stories of Your Life and Others.  All too frequently "adaptations" of decent sci-fi tales lose the original's meaning and veer off into space-cruisers-and-pew-pew territory.  Somehow, they got this one right, fleshing out the original short to be even more poignant as well as feature-film length.  Overall a very good job.  If the trailer appeals to you at all, you'll probably like this one.  
Three and three quarters stars out of four.

BTW, from an interview with Chiang in this collection, he talks about how he writes:
Typically the first part of the story that I write is the very ending, either the last paragraph of the story or a paragraph near the end.  Once I have the destination in mind then I can build the rest of the story around that or build the rest of the story in such a way as to lead up to that.  Usually the second thing I write is the opening of the story and then I write the rest of the story in almost random order.  I just keep writing scenes until I've connected the beginning and the end.  I write the key scenes or what I think of as the landmark scenes first, and then I just fill in backwards and forwards.
Hmm.  After you watch the movie, re-read that paragraph and you'll say "hmm" too.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Probably No Biking Today


My Poor Sister

And what she had to put up with.  From Foxtrot, a couple of days ago.

Truth is, things haven't improved any with age.  I just get paid to do this stuff now.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Worth a Mention: SARNET-FL

"Statewide Amateur Radio NETwork in FLorida."  The "SAR" part doesn't have anything to do with search-and-rescue in this case.  Anyway, it's a stand-alone microwave-linked set of 70cm band ham repeaters scattered all over Florida, accessible with nothing more than an FCC Technician amateur radio license and a $13 Baofeng hand-held.  It sounds a little complicated, but having tried it out while barreling down I-10 through Crestview back at Christmas, I can attest that this thing is absolutely trivial to use.  You can get the rest of the details at their web site http://www.sarnetfl.com  Here's a map showing approximate repeater locations:

Hmm.  Combine with the Florida Trail, toss a programmed FT-60 or FT-817 into the pack, and I see a potential adventure appearing on the horizon.
Lots of overlap, but there are some coverage gaps too.  Better bring the FT-817 to bridge those UHF gaps with HF.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Ruminations on Hiking

Finished reading Backpacking 101 last night.  With the preliminary research done, it's time to get moving on this project in the next two months, to be ready when the weather cools but before deer season.  Found a local outfitter that comes with good recommendations, now I just need to get over there.  Having day hiked the Tuxachanie Trail piecemeal, it seems like a good place to start with overnighting.

Hm, you never know where this kind of thing could lead.  Or maybe not.  Just have to try it and see.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Linux, Chirp, Programming Radios, and All That

Just got chirp up and running on my Linux laptop, and it could not have been easier.  Here are a few notes to help you along – or perhaps more like to help me remember, sometime in the distant future:

  1. here's the how-to-download page: http://chirp.danplanet.com/projects/chirp/wiki/Download  Yeah, just follow the instructions there, it's all automagic.
  2. I didn't need the "sudo addgroup "$USERNAME" dialout" from the subsequent troubleshooting link, which is fortunate because my machine griped at me when I tried it anyway.
  3. The USB device chirp wants in the pop-up menu is /dev/ttyUSB0 which was the last one on the list, as it happens.
After all that, it was just the usual radio-specific Vulcan neck-pinchery, as spelled out in two posts last week, here for FT-60 instructions and here for everything else.  And remember kids, get the cable with the FTDI chip (costs more, but it's worth the hassle-free operation), and if when you get stuck, youtube is your friend.

Guess I'll have something to talk about at the next SMLUG meeting.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Sunday Biking: September in July

Everybody's heard of events called "Christmas in July."  Well yesterday we had something akin to "September in July."  An unusually early cool front shoved aside this summer's rains and humidity for a day, giving us a high around 90 and humidity around 45%.  This breath of cool, dry air was a welcome break and felt a lot like a hot day in mid-September.  It made for good biking, with one small problem: the bugs didn't get the memo, so they were still out in force.

Anyway, it was a delight, and a good opportunity to get back on the mountain bike after Two. Solid. Months. Of. Rain.  Didn't get in enough miles before the heat and dehydration set in, but I did get in enough that I can be happy.

Some Progress on The Shop

First of several upstairs windows installed last week:
It's getting there.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Programming a Yaesu FT-60 Radio using Chirp

Continuing Wednesday's radio programming theme, here's a video on how to program an FT-60 with chirp:
If you didn't take notes of all that, you're in luck because I did.  Here they are:
  1. Connect cable.  (Remember, you want the FTDI cable, not the one requiring the crazy drivers you'd have to download from hinkychinesewebsite.com)
  2. Power the radio on while holding the MONI button – it's the middle button on the LHS, the one with the dot on it.
  3. You will see a menu.  Scroll around with DIAL knob until you find CLONE. (I think it's item #8)
  4. Press the FW button (bottom RHS of keypad).  Screen will flash off, then come back on with the same CLONE display.
  5. Fire up chirp.
  6. Now for menus: radio > make&model; port > figure out the USB port; usually it'll have "usbserial" in the name.  It definitely won't be any of the "bluetooth" ports!
  7. Press PTT on the radio – hold the PTT button down a few seconds, then quickly hit OK on the pop-up panel in chirp.  TX and progress bar will appear as it downloads to computer.
  8. Save the blank file!!!
  9. Edit settings in chirp as you see fit.  Save to another file.
  10. Back to the radio, press MONI button; this will switch radio display to RX.
  11. Back to chirp, radio > upload to radio.  Now hit OK; should see progress bar as programming uploads.
  12. Turn radio off, unplug cable.
  13. Turn radio on, flip to memory mode (V/M, lower left corner) and test your handiwork.
Finally, your hearing is not going bad; the audio actually does fade at the end of the video.

Whew, glad to have this done.  Much thanks to Tony KD8RTT for the video.  I didn't have a lot of channels to add to my radio, having previously manually programmed many in, but I did add the recieve-only weather channels (wikipedia reference link).  It's a lot of steps to go through, but it is not bad and it all actually seems to work.  I'm sure this will come in handy when I want to really swap things up for some future adventure.

Tomorrow: less geekery, more mountain bike action.

Friday, July 28, 2017

First Breath of Fall?

Yes, it's kind of early, but it seems we have an actual cold – well, "less hot" front on the way tomorrow:

The forecast predicts a dip down to 70F near the Bethel Trails on Sunday morning, so you can guess where I'll be.

These early fronts do happen, but this is pushing it back by a couple of weeks from any other early front that I can remember.  It is odd though this year, we've gone straight from April showers into two hot July days and from there right into (maybe) early September.  If it cools the Gulf a little more, and the weather's just cool enough for mountain biking, I'll take it.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Dirt Rag Magazine Turns 200

200 issues, that is.  Here's a link the article at their web site.  Still waiting on my copy, but for the time being here's the cover:

If you're not a subscriber, it might be time to find a copy down at the newsstand.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Radio Programming Notes

Reference notes to self and anybody else who is befuddled about using chirp to program channels into various radios, from a Macintosh USB port.  (not a full chirp manual here!  just a few reference notes around some of the gotchas)

(For the non-hams out there: Why the heck do you have to program a radio?
In this case, it means pre-setting a bunch of frequencies and other items for handy use in the future.  Conceptually it's no different than "programming" the push-buttons on your car's AM/FM radio, but as you might imagine, there's a lot more going on in a multi-mode multi-band two-way radio.  Hence the convenience of using a spreadsheet-like program to download, edit, and upload the myriad settings.  Anyway, back to the main topic; if you needed this paragraph, you can probably safely skip the rest of this post.)

The cable you want for Baofengs:

Currently slightly north of $20, which is more than some of the radios it can program.  Still, for time saved, well worth the money.  Also, no dodgy drivers to download from Chinese web sites.  I mean, can you really trust that stuff?  I'll take the Apple pre-loaded ones, thankyouverymuch.

Next up, the cable you want for a Yaesu FT-817ND:

Similarly, it's plug-and-play, drivers pre-loaded by Apple.  About $25, and money damn well spent, because again, there's no downloading drivers from some who-knows-where web site.  There's still a little guessing about which USB port to point chirp towards, but here's a hint to narrow it down: it ain't either of the two with "bluetooth" in the character-salad name.

Finally, some guiding advice on getting programming images up from and back down to your FT-817ND, courtesy of VK3BQ:

Just in case the web site ever goes away, here's the key part:
A trap for young players with the 817 and chirp. You need to do two steps to get the radio to talk to the computer
Power on the radio while holding down both MODE < > buttons, The radio will beep three times and show “CLONE MODE” on the display.
Set CHIRP up to download the radio image form the menu, then on the radio, press button “A” and the radio will start TX’ing data, and you have a copy of the radio memories. Program up the radio in chirp with your repeaters and other parameter settings and save a copy. To load the new memories/file into the radio, power on the radio as per above and enter “CLONE MODE” again, Set CHIRP to upload to radio and then press the “C” button on the Radio, the device will change to RX mode and receive the new configuration. The instructions are on page 69 of the 817nd (2011) manual under Cloning.
Alright!  Made it easy, and it even worked the first time.  Got all of the customary PSK31 frequencies, the local repeaters, and the common 2 meter simplex frequencies programmed in right, and all without having to perform a selfie root canal as part of the process.  Tested out on the W5SGL repeater, and all is right with the world.

Next up ("next" as in somewhere between "this weekend" and "real soon now"): Do the same on the FT-857D.  The same cable allegedly works for that radio too, so I'd say there's a high chance of success.  Will update this post after the attempt is made.  (Edit: did so, worked fine; see postscript below.)

OK, that was a deep-dive into high geekery; mostly it's notes to myself.  Maybe have some mountain biking report after this weekend.  The weather's taking a slight turn for the better.

ps: It all works exactly the same on an FT-857D, except that to upload data from the radio to the computer, press "C".  On the other end of things, once you've gotten all the channels entered into chirp, to download to the radio press "A".  It's just like the 817, only opposite.  Why?  Because Yaesu, that's why.

Whatever the radio, remember to download an image from it and save that before starting editing.  One nice thing is that, even though it's bad form to swap images between an 857 and an 817, you can copy and paste rows or even blocks of rows from one image file to the other.  Handy.

pps: One more note-to-self: programming an FT-60 with chirp.  Haven't tried yet, will get to it eventually.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Listen in on the Tuesday Evening Net

At 7 pm CDT sharp on Tuesday evenings, you can listen in on the MCARA 2 meter club net.  If you're local, tune to your receiver to 146.73 MHz FM.  If you're not local, point your web browser to our Broadcastify page at http://www.broadcastify.com/listen/feed/25297

No guarantees of anything beyond the net being called, but generally we have a lively technical session following the check-ins.  Anything even vaguely radio related is fair game.  Sometimes it rolls for an hour, sometimes it's over in ten minutes.  You never can tell.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Movie Review: Baby Driver

It's an action flick.  It's a "gotta keep working to pay off The Man, but then I'm outa here" story.  It's part Reservoir Dogs.  It's part Romeo & Juliette.  There's a dual-weilding Laura Croft character.  It's part won't-that-villan-ever-die jump-scare horror flick.  It's got Blind Al from Deadpool, except here she's morphed into a deaf man.  It's got Jamie Fox playing The Joker, except here he's just called "Bats."  (Maybe that one was an unintentional sideways reference to another fictional story line.  Interesting neck tattoos though.)  And of course there's the criminal mastermind.  With all that going on, it's never boring, but it never exactly gels either.

Then there's the music, which is a whole story line and effectively a character unto itself.  Maybe the best part, even over the car chases.  It's more than the rhythm and beat here, it's the timing chain for the movie's engine.  If you know a song, it foreshadows that something's ahead – not that you'll have any idea of what it may be, because there are surprises around every corner.

For all that weird Bass-o-Matic blend of ingredients, the acting is uniformly top-notch and the car chase sequences make it worth the watch.  It pumps the excitement and pulls at the heartstrings all at once.  It does keep your attention, and was even kind of fun.  Two and a Half Stars.  Go see it on the big screen, enjoy, and then move on.

I won't buy the video when it comes out, but the soundtrack album... got to pick up a copy of that.

LawDog in Print

Long-time Texas blogger LawDog has finally put his domestic tales into one volume.  Released last Monday in Kindle and slated for print release in mid-August, it should be just the thing for the late-summer reading season.  And even though I'm sure I've read all of this over the years at his blog, I'll be downloading a copy of the e-book as soon as this is posted.

But what to do for a follow-up act?  Lawdog's African adventures, of course!  Can't wait to re-read the one about his mother ordering the python-skin purse.  Slated for e-book release on August 10th, and out in print a month later.

Speaking of late summer, is anyone else out there ready for early fall?  With the July 4th festivities fading in the rear-view mirror and two months of heat, humidity, and hurricanes ahead, it's a common sentiment.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Basics of the Standard Model

The current state of particle physics summarized in ten minutes, over at the BBC.  Yes, unfortunately you'll need flash to watch the video.

There.  If yesterday's post on paranormal radio was weird, this one's much more so – because it's real.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

About that Late-Night Paranormal Radio Stuff...

From Arthur C. Clarke's classic sci-fi novel Childhood's End, from a scene in which two alien visitors are discussing humans' spooky proclivities:
"I originally contacted him because he has one of the world's finest libraries of books on parapsychology and allied subjects.  [...]  I've now read half his library.  It has been a considerable ordeal."  "That I can well believe," said Karellen dryly.  "Have you discovered anything among all the rubbish?"
 And I have to say that, like the above-quoted character Rashaverak in Childhood's End, and despite enjoying a good ghost story at bedtime, I only occasionally hear something that is all that worthwhile on any of these shows.  Kind of fun on the weekends, but it leaves me a little short on sleep.  Still, just for the curious among you and because a regular reader asked, you might try:
  • Midnight in the Desert  Formerly available on shortwave, it's now mostly a web streaming show.  Probably my favorite, though I really couldn't tell you exactly why.  Occasionally, occasionally, they'll have on a serious scientist giving the latest on KIC 8462852 or such, makes the rest worth perusing.  The kick-off half-hour review of the day's news is usually interesting.
  • Coast to Coast AM  The original, the biggest, and now the one full of the most advertising and music filler.  And, ironically, only available locally via FM.  (Though it is kind of fun to DX it in from WOAI San Antonio TX 1200 AM when the ionosphere is right.  Then the Elder Things can pay a visit through your radio.)
  • Behind the Paranormal  A local show up in New England (H.P. Lovecraft country, so they've got their spooks down), available elsewhere as a podcast from their site.  These guys are dead serious about pandimensional visitors.
  • Beyond Reality Radio  This one's pretty bad, with a couple of dude-bros sitting around wisecracking like it's a drive-time comedy or sports talk show.  I only include it because it's on WWL New Orleans 870 AM, so at least it's easy to receive in the southeast and you can hear the weather and ionosphere crackle in the background.  Adds to the ambiance, and when it makes the signal unlistenable it appears to improve the content.
On the whole you're probably better off just picking up a copy of Childhood's End and reading that.  Also, the Netflix mini-series made of from that book last year is pretty good.  They got the aliens right, though they did flub the critical ouija board scene.  Still, if you're in the mood for a late night ghost story, now you've been pointed in the right(?) direction.

Obligatory Spooky Image

Think I'll go wash my mind out now with a dose of simple deterministic classical mechanics.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Winter Field Day Results Posted

Winter The Field-huh?  Winter Field Day!  It's a relatively new (decade-ish) event where ham radio operators take to the field in the last weekend of January and try to make a bunch of contacts, and maybe even rack up a few contest points.  For whatever points are worth; personally, I wish they could be cashed in for beer or an MTB pedal upgrade.  But I digress.  Three of us ventured forth into the arctic wilds:

Well it wasn't that arctic.  It was more like 50F, perfect for hiking the Tuxachanie Trail for a couple of miles before setting up.  But you'd definitely need a sweater and it was north of I-10, so that counts.  Anyway, we hiked a couple of miles east from the Hwy. 49 trailhead to get out of the swampy parts, set up with a Yaesu FT-857D and a W3EDP mini antenna, and operated our hearts out.  I made a grand total of seven contacts.  For you non-hams out there, this is technically non-zero, but it is a pitifully small count for a contest.  However, considering that these were scattered across two bands and two modes (voice and digital), and we were operating both in a remote location and off of non-grid power, the multipliers and bonuses totaled (ka-ching ka-ching) and I ended up tied for 51th place out of about 97 entries in my class.  But, as I already said, the points are only for bragging(?) rights and are not transferable for actual goods such as beer or mountain bike parts.  If you want to go look at the results listing or just peruse the WFD site, here's the link.

Lessons learned?  There are always things to learn from something like this.  Foremost, weight stacks up fast.  Take a 4 pound radio and an old ALICE pack, add a few more radio do-dads and a folding table, lunch, and some water, and suddenly it all tops 30 pounds.  Next up, make sure to bring a barrel connector for the VHF antenna.  Might've gotten a 2 meter contact if I had been able to hook that up.  A handful of QR zip-ties would have been nice.  The W3EDP antenna wouldn't tune 15 meters, will have to experiment with that before next year.  But the biggest question for next?  Maybe bring the FT-817ND radio instead.  Yes, operating on 5 Watts can be a bitch, but cutting the radio pack weight by 2/3rds may make it worthwhile.  Backyard experiments on this (once the weather cools down) will help make this call before WFD '18.  (And that reminds me, I need to make up a post on the new-used FT-817ND I picked up last month.  Maybe this weekend.)

Parting picture:
No snow, but I swear it was the tail-end of January.  And we were north of I-10.

And one closing thought.  When it comes to abusing those expensive high-energy density lithium batteries, don't.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

A film to watch for.

"Darkest Hour," about Churchill and the first phases of WWII:
Well, the trailer looks vey good, but then they are engineered to do that.  Time will tell; so far so good.

Hard to believe this is the same actor who played Sid Vicious a brief thirty years ago.

I don't trust it.

The weather today, I just don't trust it enough to get out on the beachfront on the CX bike:

In other news, Atlas Obscura has an article up on the real dragons of Medieval Europe, a moderate-sized CME is hitting Earth right now and messing up propagation on the HF bands, and I've got Fleetwood Mac's 1973 album Penguin playing.  Sounds like a good day to do some housecleaning.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Just Listen

Woke up late to this at NPR first thing this morning: http://www.npr.org/event/music/537067744/fragile-rock-tiny-desk-concert

Here I was expecting the usual litany of worldwide injustices, and instead stumbled upon a Mel Brooks-grade send-up of punk rock.  Huh.

Friday, July 14, 2017

More About Coffee

From over at today's SMBC:

Up early.  Off to work early to avoid the storms coming in from the Gulf.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Bicycle Times Magazine Quits Print

Sad news, but they announced it in March:
Bicycle Times Magazine on hiatus, will continue with website, social media, and events.
Fortunately, parent publication Dirt Rag continues.

Ah, it's not good news, but far from a catastrophe.  At least the overall organization and its online presence continue.  I was a subscriber from day one, and always enjoyed a magazine that was about just riding bikes.  There's something nice about a big, colorful magazine arriving every couple of months in the mail.  Main thing though is that the content's still largely coming via their web site.  So... go visit
already.  And buy stuff from their advertisers.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

100 Hand-Picked Graphic Novels

100 hand-picked graphic novels, all briefly described over at NPR.  Out of the whole bunch I haven't read more than a half-dozen.  Will have to work on that, starting with Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Coffee Wins Again

Coffee Drinking and Mortality in 10 European Countries: A Multinational Cohort Study (abstract)

The punch line: 
"Conclusion: Coffee drinking was associated with reduced risk for death from various causes.  This relationship did not vary with country."

Yay!  But before you celebrate with a quad espresso, be sure to read Publish and Perish.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Success on the BSL Downtown Beachfront

Some pictures from this morning's bike ride, at the new(ish) downtown harbor.  It's an un-stitched series of panorama shots, rotating to the right, so kind of let your eyes roll through things and let your mind stitch the overall scene back together.

The interesting part is that ten years ago this was a desolate patch of hurricane-demolished beach bluff.  The comeback is remarkable.  Some of the success is due to the city, state, and federal aid poured into restoring the bluff and the roads, but the real success story is that it's now a thriving commercial and entertainment district.  The secret is simple: for all of the easy car access, it's all walkable too.  Step off your boat and your bank, shopping, arts district, restaurant, bar, and live entertainment are all right there.  Amazing how well this works out.  If you want to understand the driving principles behind this, there's no better place than the book Suburban Nation.  (hint: that's the Big Idea hidden in this post)

Also, lest you think this is some boring post devoid of true outside activity, here's a shot from atop the Bay bridge shown in the second and third pictures above:

It's pretty good around here when it's not pounding down rain.

SSTV: It's there, still working out the fiddly parts.

Following up last month's discussion of slow-scan TV, the problem all along has been getting the Linux-based software to key the radio.  Or, more specifically, to trip the internal VOX on the SignaLink interface box.  Everything seemed to be functioning correctly, but no joy.  I could describe a month's worth of spare time menu-flipping, but it was both pointless and tedious.  (Side Hint: the Options>Configuration>CAT panel doesn't have anything to do with SignaLink VOX keying, so just leave it alone.  That was one very large dead end.)  Moving on to Yet Another Rainy Day in Coastal MS, after some more tedious and pointless menu flipping, I decided to consult the SignaLink web site to see if there were any internal adjustments on the interface for VOX level.  Nope.  But reading the troubleshooting guide Yet Again yielded a nugget: "If the PWR indicator still won't turn ON, then try changing the USB cables, USB ports, or using a different computer."  

Swapping two USB plugs was the easiest of the three options; tried, and it worked.  Now why would two adjacent built-in USB ports on a laptop be so different?  No idea.  But that, dear readers, is all that it took.  

Made one test transmission at 5 watts on 80 meters, the RF equivalent of whispering in a padded room while a thunderstorm rages outside.  (Which in fact was happening down the beach about five miles away.)  That seems to have gone well.  Still working out the awful image editor and file management in the SSTV software, but the main problem is solved.  Got to have the image editor to insert call signs, etc., and it has to be easy and convenient to use; still not quit there on that one.

Overall, it would've been better to just go with the iPhone, Black Cat's CQ SSTV software, and an Easy Digi interface – all of which I still may do, since with an iPhone the computer and camera are already nicely integrated, and it'd work better in the field while camping.  But it is good to have the SignaLink for digital text modes using FLDIGI, which worked well from the get-go.  For that reason alone, the SignaLink interface box was worth it.

Victory, but at a price.  And there're still some mop-up with the image editor.  I'm sure another rainy day will come around soon.  But for now, the sun is shining and the CX bike calls.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Wrap it up, I'll take it.

Two for the Road

Two travel-ish web sites I frequent are Atlas Obscura and Messy Nessy.  While there are plenty of non-travel articles at each, what attracts me is the content pertaining to offbeat travel to offbeat places.  In particular, MN has their Don't be a Tourist odd destinations section, while AO has Unusual Trips, which is exactly what it sounds like.  But like I said, there's plenty of other stuff there too.

Go have a look around.

Obligatory Cut-and-Paste Graphics

ps: Was going to go road biking along the seawall, but a quick check outside showed heavy lightning-bearing clouds with "DARWIN AWARD" inscribed upon them.  So much for that idea.  Think I'll do bills instead.

pps: A listing of the top ten most educated Darwin Award winners here.  Embarrassing, and I have no desire to make it eleven.  Especially not while wearing lycra with a block of styrofoam strapped to my head.