Tuesday, December 26, 2017

2017's Greatest Hits

Hmm, still a few days to go in 2017, but I don't think there's much else blog-worthy happening this year, so off we go with this year's Greatest Hits.  Of course the list is a little short this year, having resumed blogging in May.  So here's my pick for the best of each month, plus one special mention.
Heinlein Biography, Vol 2: The Man Who Learned Better, 1948-1988  You already know if you should read this book.
Florida Trail Article  It's not the AT.  For me, it looks even better.  It goes right through Area X, whatcanpossiblygowrong?
About that Late-Night Paranormal Radio Stuff  Cue the Theremin music.
SARNET-FL Talk all over the state with a $13 handheld?  You bet!  Just get licensed up first.
Strong Passwords  If you use a computer (i.e., you're reading this), you really should take a look.
Jurassic Duck Mk II 2m Antenna  Makes that handheld radio roar like a dinosaur. 
Artemis review  Andy "The Martian" Weir's second book.
Quick & Dirty Guide to getting that ham license, for people with technical backgrounds
and a Special Mention from August, Two Podcasts to Note, Philosophize This! (philosophy, duh) and The First 40 Miles (backpacking for beginners, or people who want to keep having fun like a beginner).

Well, there are still a few days left in 2017, and so you may see a few foggy pictures of seawall CX rides yet.  I still need to write up some impressions about that new-to-me FT-817nd radio, but that'll probably wait until January (sneak preview: it's a lot like the FT-857d, but with field gear it comes in at 1/3rd the weight).  Won't really get back into the woods, either on foot or bike, until after mid-January, so those sorts of adventures are on the back burner for the moment.  In the meantime, try to stay safe, and maybe use the winter weather as an excuse to catch up on reading, soldering, or changing out drivetrain components.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Christmas Comet Returns!

Merry Christmas all!


Somehow over coffee yesterday evening, the subject of Kyrgyzstan came up.  Here are some interesting links showing off the country:
Adding the description "unusual" is probably redundant on that last one.

Looks interesting, but on the whole I'd rather just visit Colorado again.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

That's nice. But what's it good for?

With the advent of inexpensive and convenient publishing there has been a small explosion of books titled something along the lines of "N Things to Try Now That You're In This Hobby."  And certainly ham radio has its share of these.  Just this week another one was published, 99 Things You Can Do with Amateur Radio. It's an easy read, and it's easy to skip over some of the chapters that don't quite connect, but it's good nonetheless to see a sweep-up of ideas like this.  A similarly themed book is 21 Things to do After You Get Your Amateur Radio License, by the author of the No-Nonsense Test Guide series (item #3 here).  By the way, you can see the books' respective lists by clicking through the links above and using the "Look Inside" feature to read the tables of contents.  They are interesting in and of themselves, and are sure to spur new ideas.  They're fairly comprehensive, and honestly I'm having trouble thinking of much to add beyond "combine with your other activities."

This naturally segues into "so what's your list?" or perhaps even a sort of New Year's Resolutions / Less-Grim Bucket List.  It is that time of the year after all.  I'm not patient enough this morning to itemize 99 or even 21 things, so here's my big list:
0: More outdoor, portable, light weight, practical radio use in combination with other things I'm doing anyway.
"Um, can you be more specific?"  Right now, no.  But stay tuned in 2018 as even more improbable, bone-crunching activities – now involving RF burns – are blogged.

So what's on your list for the coming year?  Whatever it may be, that's what it's good for.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Mentioning the Winter Solstice

Not a lot to say, but it was awfully dark driving home after work today.  Article and picture credit at APOD:
As usual, click to embiggen.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

An Interesting, Upcoming Phone

Behold the 2019(?) Librem 5:
From the developer's site:

  • Does not run Google Android
  • Does not run Apple iOS
  • Runs PureOS by default, can run most GNU+Linux distros
  • Security focused by design
  • Privacy protection by default
  • Works with 2G/3G/3G, GSM, UMTS, and LTE networks
  • CPU separate from Baseband
  • Hardware kill switches for camera, microphone, WiFI/Bluetooth, and Baseband
I think that I just decided to nurse along this aging iPhone for a year or so longer to see how the initial release of this phone works out.  The company seems to have blasted through their pre-orders to be funded at 150%, so it's looking like I'm not the only one interested.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Recommendation: Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge by Mike Resnick

It's just some first-rate science fiction that had escaped my notice until recently.  Here's the Wikipedia page link – go ahead, good description, no spoilers there either.  It's fairly short and very inexpensive, and over 20 years old.  How did I miss out on this until now?

Monday, December 18, 2017

Clara Rockmore Talks Theremin

So you'd better damn well listen!  5 Secrets for Mastering the Theremin, over at Atlas Obscura.

Will have more substantial content along in a day or two.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Movie Review: Star Wars VIII, The Last Jedi

Look, almost anything I can say here would be spoileriffic, so let me just say that this is too many cats in one bag, and most of the cats are kind of skinny.  It feels like a set of scenes were carefully constructed to look iconic, and then an overall plot was groupthunk together in order to string them into a single movie.  If The Force Awakens caught flack for being a re-casting of A New Hope, this movie toys with us and tries to be its own show by repeatedly setting up scenes echoing ones from The Empire Strikes Back and then reversing the outcome.  I guess that's what passes for originality these days in Hollywood.

For all that, there are some genuine moments of humor mixed in.  Luke Skywalker in particular has some segments where he's mis-directing, mocking the seriousness of the situation, and just generally showing a Yoda-esqe sense of humor.  You get the feeling that not only is Luke Skywalker tired of being the Big Damn Hero of the Galaxy, but Mark Hamill is tired of being Luke Skywalker and furthermore the scriptwriters are getting tired of him too.  But they all know there's another round or two left, so they might as well have some fun.  Surprisingly this works, and makes up some of the best parts of the movie.  Carrie Fisher as Prices Leia... what is there to say.  If you think they gave away what happens to her in the trailers, um, "This is not going to go the way you think."

Any middle story in a trilogy is going to suffer for being the transitional tale.  This one is no exception, so perhaps I shouldn't be so hard on the movie.  Most of the individual scenes are worth watching just for what they are, and the plot line does advance the story from Point A to Point B.  It's definitely better than any of the prequel trilogy.  Call it somewhere in the 2.5 to 3 stars out of 4 range, depending on your mood and expectations.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Battery Data: Eneloop vs. Eneloop Pro in an FT-817nd

BLUF: Running the Yaesu FT-817nd radio the way I run a radio,
8x AA Eneloop Pro batteries: 3 hours.
8x AA Eneloop batteries: 30 minutes.
Mind you, this is operating the way I operate: 2.5 watts on PSK-31 making call after call, and using 5 watts on FM to the local repeater.  It's pretty abusive of these little batteries, but it's how I operate and I wanted to see what they could do in the real world.

Conclusion: While the white "standard" Eneloops will work after a fashion, they're not worth the bother.  They were crumbling in less than 10 minutes, and barely made it to the half-hour mark.  The black Eneloop Pros are enough for an easy day hike, but really not much more.  As far as being a trail VHF radio the FT-60 is probably a better choice, just because it has a couple of really nice power saver features auto-enabled.

Still... making a contact to a guy out in Washington state with a handful of AA batteries is pretty damn cool.

Now on to our comic interlude:

No, no, Jason.  You want the black Eneloops for this job.  Of course, that's what the Sith use in their lightsabers, while the Jedi are stuck with the white "standard" Eneloops.  This goes a long way toward explaining Vader's remark "If you only knew the power of the Dark Side."

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

A Likely Solution to the Fermi Paradox

A plausible solution to the Fermi Paradox is presented today over at SMBC.  The actual probability of this being the solution?  As always with these sorts of things, that's still anybody's guess.

Remember to read the mouse-over text and hit the big red gag button at the end.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

How the IAEA Works

... and serves as the eyes and ears of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty enforcement.  Explained in cartoon graphic form over at PhD Comics.  Worth your ten minutes.

First the caves...

Remember this post from this past September?

Scientists are closing in on warm caves under Antartica which could support secret life
Now comes this:
Fossil hunters find man-sized penguin on New Zealand beach
That's a somewhat misleading headline.  Fossilized bones were found, not actual 6' tall living, breathing giant penguins.

What next, shoggoths?  Elder Things?  Or perhaps even worse?

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Learning by Doing, Pt. 2

Another camp-out with the ham club (see Part 1 here), and as before there were many lessons learned.  Learned from getting out there and setting up in the field, in not entirely friendly weather.

Success: The FT-817nd radio, LDG Z-817 autotuner, and LNR EFT-10/20/40 antenna all worked together perfectly.  Yes, I know that LNR says their antenna doesn't need a tuner, but I'm here to tell you that in the real world it does.  Anyway, with nothing more than 2.5 watts and PSK-31 digital mode (driven by a cheap Linux laptop), I was knocking out contacts from New York state to Venezuela.  And how about that antenna.  It took all of 5 minutes to put up, strung between two bushes and over a convenient tree branch.  Simple, fast, and (if this matters to you) just about invisible.

Fail: The new/used cheap, light, strong Therm-a-Rest sleeping pad I picked up was just too thin to use on recently snow-covered gravel.  Slept cold on my back all night.  Should've used a thicker pad, given the conditions.  But I just had to try out the new pad, and brother did I learn its limitations.

Success: Anticipating operating in cold and windy weather, I used the big Eureka 9x9 dome tent.  It was a sort of roughing-it plush, giving plenty of living and radio operating room that was sheltered from the wind. That made all the difference.

Fail: I'd been looking for the small tent's 7x4 footprint polyethylene ground cloth for some time now.  I found it alright, packed in with the big tent.  Ended up using it under the sleeping half of the tent, and minorly suffered with dampness seeping up through the floor elsewhere.  No biggie, but I've got to get a new properly-sized ground cloth for this tent ASAP.

Success: The little Anker USB charging stick did a great job of keeping the cell phone topped off.  Judging from the 4 led "fuel gauge," it holds about 4, maybe more full charges.  With light use this might keep a cell phone alive for as much as a week in the backcountry.  Or it could be a real butt-saver if the cell phone's mapping software is needed in a pinch.  That one app alone can burn through half a phone charge in the blink of an eye.  Including its charging cord and mesh keeper bag, it comes in at 5 oz., and is well worth the weight.

Miscellaneous furniture thoughts: A 18"x12"x3/4" foam pad made a dandy radio operating seat, while a really nice fold-up mini-chair I've had for years didn't work nearly as well.  Just a matter of being easier to lean in to the radio when sitting on the foam pad.  And once again, that little 18" square table proved just right for getting the radio & laptop up enough to conveniently operate.  OTOH, on a true backpacking trip even that would get left behind, in favor of woodland tables of opportunity (i.e., logs that don't seem to be harboring malevolent wildlife).

Probably won't bother with when hiking: Bringing the big 12 AH Bioenno battery for the FT-817nd when backpacking.  At a hair under 3 lbs, it's hard to justify hauling around all of that energy when 8x Eneloop Pros will give a day hike's worth of power for 1/5 the weight.  Of course, this only goes for a QRP radio; the FT-857D requires the the bigger battery, but that's more of a car camping proposition.

Maybe/Maybe Not for a hike: Laptop & SignaLink box vs. iPhone (which I'm carrying anyway) & bluetooth keyboard & external speaker.  There's a 3.9 lb difference here, but the operating speed the laptop gives over the iPhone (not to mention operator fatigue) makes it a wash, so it will come down to the particular trip.  Day hike where I'm not carrying a tent and stove and etc.?  Take the laptop.  Multi-day backpacking trip?  iPhone & kbd hands-down.

BTW, all of this weight-fiddling gets the base pack down to 28.1 lbs, including the associated (if minimal) radio gear.  Somewhat lighter if just going for a day hike.  If not exactly lightweight (let alone ultralight), this is entirely manageable.

Fail: Didn't take any pictures.  Too late now!

ps 12/12, two more successes worth mentioning:
- Even though it was too wet and cold to lighten up and hike in (not to mention that we'd rescheduled to another non-hiking campsite), I'd still packed in with the Osprey Atmos 50.  When one old Marine who'd spent time hauling an 85 lb ALICE around Vietnam a while ago tried it on, he took some convincing to hand it back!
- Made a contact with a friend co-piloting a 737 on 20m SSB.  That was unusual!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Yeah, it really is that bad.

Usually the web comic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal is funny and brainy.  Today it's just brainy, but this time brainy as in "massive screaming migraine headache" kind of brainy.  Health insurance costs have gone batshit in pockets all over this country.  Here, just go read and weep.  And don't forget to read the mouse-over text and to hit the big red gag button at the end.

Free markets work.  Politically connected corporatism doesn't work at all.  Centrally planned systems can seem to work for a while, until they run out of other peoples' money.  This has been experimentally confirmed time and again over the past hundred years.  What is so hard to understand here?

Friday, December 8, 2017

A Good Day to Hunker Down

Here, the weather map says it all:

So much for the backpacking trip I was going to start this morning!

ps: Here's a bit more, starting with big fluffy flakes piling in:

Thursday, December 7, 2017

New Buffett Album of Old Recordings: Buried Treasure

Dusty tapes lost for decades in a Mobile AL studio...  hard to resist.  If you like Buffett's early work, this is earlier still, when he was trying (as he discusses in the commentary) to emulate Gordon Lightfoot.  Well, things got better from there, much better, but even so it wasn't a bad start.  Most of the songs are simple studio recordings of Jimmy with his acoustic guitar doing his own compositions, but there are enough surprises to spike things up.  The live cover of California Dreaming with the Junior Miss contestants singing backup has to be heard to be believed.  The guy always could put on a good show and get people wrapped up in the music.  Maybe the best part is that you can hear echoes of work he would be cranking out in the next decade or so, hints of good things to come.

Also noteworthy, every other track is Buffett talking about his early career, what went into a particular song, etc.  He also mentions that there were about 120 songs unearthed, and this disk is labeled "Volume One."  Buffett's never been one to leave money on the table, so I'm guessing we'll see Vols. 2 thru N rolling out at some six-month-to-a-year intervals.  Something to look forward to.

So yeah, Buried Treasure is an apt name for this album.  It's not for everybody, but if you think you might like it, you probably will.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Recommended Podcast Episode: Backpacking & Ham Radio

Here's a worthwhile episode of The First 40 Miles podcast that discusses using ham radios in conjunction with backpacking.  The two hosts of the podcast spell out the "why" and give a detailed introduction into the "how" parts as well.  It's enough to get you started, and way more friendly than my post a couple of days ago about a quick-and-dirty licensing method for nerds.  No, the two hosts of The First 40 Miles are normal people, and pretty nice too!  They do a good job of explaining things, much better than my mug-of-black-coffee approach.

Anyway, go have a listen.  It's right at 40 minutes long and there's a big old "Play" button right up front, so even if you're not into the whole podcasting thing it's easy to hang around your computer to listen to the entire episode.

Backpacking, hiking, even biking, all go together really well with ham radio.  In fact, almost any backcountry recreation does.  Go listen and find out for yourself.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Batteries from Hell

The energy density of modern batteries is just off the charts.  Jumped my Mustang today with a lithium batt pack that couldn't have weighed more than a pound.  It's a 3 year old model and no longer made, but it's a lot like this one.  Except that 3 years ago, it cost $20 more and only had one USB port.

Then I spent some hours talking all over the eastern half of the U.S. on a ham radio running on eight high-zoot NiMH AA batteries.  They're back in the charging cradle now, kind of like how Darth Vader has to go back to his med-cradle after mowing down another batch of Rebel Scum.  For all that... talking all over things east of the Mississippi on a handful of AAs?  Incredible.

And this is all fairly old consumer-grade off-the-shelf stuff.  I can't even imagine what will come next.  But I'll bet it'll require neutron shielding.

BTW, the only indications that the FT-817nd gave that these AA batteries were getting low were (a) the battery icon went from "full two bars" to "one bar" – big clue there; and (b) the SWR read high when pumping 5 watts on VHF.  That was it.  Hey, that's pretty good battery level information by Yaesu standards.

Tired batteries, after a hard afternoon of astonishing output.

The Quick & Dirty Guide to Getting a Ham License for Tech People

This is one for people who've at least worked with simple circuits before and have a basic understanding of voltage, current, resistance, power, etc.  No deep knowledge of electronics required, but not starting from zero either.  In other words, pretty much anybody in engineering, tech, or the sciences, or who dabbles there.  It boils down to a very few simple steps:

(0) You don't have to learn Morse code anymore.  Full Stop.  If you want you can learn it later, but that's up to you.  When just getting into things though, don't let this side-project slow you down.

(1) Get and read Ham Radio for Dummies.  It won't directly help you to pass the test, but it will give you the broad background where the rest of the topic makes sense.  The current edition is from 2013, and I see there's about to be a 2018 edition released in late April next year.  Don't put this off however, because there's a bootleg pdf of the 2004 edition you can pull for free right now, and it'll be enough to help you get licensed.  Here's the link.  But be sure to go buy the new edition when it comes out.

(2) Get the Band Plan chart.  You'll be referring to it a lot while studying.  Free pdf at the ARRL site.  (Yes, the 2200 and 630 meter bands are new and won't be referred to in the current edition of Ham Radio for Dummies.  Don't worry about it, you won't be using these for a while anyway.)

(3) Get and study the No-Nonsense Study Guides for Technician and General level licenses, once you've got a basic idea of which end's up (see steps #1 & 2).  Don't bother with the Extra level until you have some operating experience.  The author even gives away the Technician Guide for free, and the e-book versions (kindle, nook, or pdf) are under $10.  Here's a link to the author's page.

(4) Practice using free online tests at qrz.com.  Link here.  Yes, you'll have to register and give them an email address, but they are not evil spammers.

(5) Find a testing site locally, and go get this thing done.  Take the Technician and General tests at the same session.  If you're a tech person, you've taken and passed far harder tests already.  This one'll be a cake walk.  They are administered by volunteers from clubs (no more driving 400 miles to an FCC office) and usually run about $15.  Here's the find-a-test-session link.  Not the most user-friendly site, just type in the zip code box and use the adjacent pull-down menu menu for how far you're willing to drive.

And that's it.  Whole thing, you're out less than twenty five bucks plus gas money.

Let me repeat, don't try for testing up through Extra in that first go-round.  The first two license levels, Technician and General, are plenty to get started with and are pretty easy to prepare for.  The Extra exam is much harder, and is packed with a lot of details that very likely will not stick with you until you have the full context a year or so of operating experience will give.  Also, Extra only opens up about 15% more of the HF bands.  From a raw payoff-for-effort standpoint, probably not worth it.

Another tip, when you're studying and taking the practice tests, you don't need 100% scores, you just need 72% to pass.  When you're consistently scoring above 85% on the practice exams, you're ready.  Don't over-study, don't burn yourself out before you get to have fun with this, and above all, don't make the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Now having said all of the above, different people respond better to different styles of instruction, and not everyone is a scientist or engineer.  If you want a little more detail, the good people over at the Ham Radio 360 podcast have put together a friendly getting started page.

Glad to get this post out.  I keep getting asked this same question from scientists and engineers who don't need the full let's-take-it-from-zero course.  It'll be nice to refer them to a written step-by-step.

ps: "tech" vs. "Technician": The first level of ham radio license in the U.S. is unfortunately called "Technician" while somebody who is in a technology field is frequently (including here) said to be "in tech" or "a tech person" or similar.  I've tried to keep the two distinct in this post, but if there's any lingering confusion hopefully this will clear it up.
pps: If this post in any way inspires you to actually go out and get your ham ticket, please post a comment back.  It'd be kind of... interesting.

Go Stare at the Moon

No, really, take a few minutes to go outside and look at the moon tonight.  It probably won't change your life, but it will be worth the time.

As if you need any more motivation to do this, watch this 3:45 film clip of a 2013 moonrise over New Zealand:

Setting the camera about 2km from the people in the foreground gives an interesting perspective to things.  The real surprise though is that it all unfolds in real time.  Beyond careful camera set-up there are no photo tricks; it's all raw footage.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Check your meter before measuring high voltage.

This public service reminder from KB6NU's blog:

Because if the meter's dead, it'll look like the circuit's off and safe and... well, you get the idea.

BTW, has anybody seen November?  I seem to have misplaced the time and here it is December already.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Hurricane Season 2017 Summary

Well *we* got off light here in coastal Mississippi, for once.  Outside of that though it was a pretty rough year: Harvey, Irma, and Maria were particularly bad.  Jeff Masters at the Weather Underground gives a detailed summary.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

18,000 miles

Rolled over 18k miles on the road bike today.  At almost exactly 9 years since purchase, that averages out to 2k miles a year.  That's better than I though I was doing, with all the pneumonia, broken bones, asthma, weather, etc. that have been dogging me these last few years.

When I was seriously racing, I was clocking 3k per year on the road and 1k per year on the mtb.  Off-road miles get a 2x factor, so call it all 5k road equivalent miles (REM).  These days my weekend off-roading and/or CX-on-the-seawall comes to about 1k REM.  For having dialed back, a total of 3k REM still isn't bad.  Anyway, I'm having fun.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Movie Reviews: It Might Get Loud and The Wrecking Crew

Two documentaries about musicians and their music.  It Might Get Loud focuses on three very different guitar masters, Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), The Edge (U2), and Jack White (The White Stripes).  They all have their focuses, they all have their strengths, and they all get together and learn some guitar slinger tricks off each other.  It's a remarkable in-depth look at their very different approaches.  Page can play anything technically very competently and then stirs in some soul to make it come out right, while The Edge strips down music to its fundamentals and builds it back up with technology.  White, on the other hand, attacks his instrument and we get to listen to it bite back.  (In many respects this reminds me of some of the ways in which different physicists approach their work.)  It's a fascinating blend of one-at-a-time interviews, retrospectives, and three-way jam sessions.  

On to The Wrecking Crew, it's a story of the music business in the 1960s and how it naturally just morphed into having a running set of studio musicians who bridged the gap between the faceless backup orchestra members in 1950s music and the DIY rock stars of the mid-1970s onward.  Also an interesting story, one that TWC's unofficial and semi-anonymous members deserve to finally have told.

I'll give The Wrecking Crew 3 out of four stars, while It Might Get Loud digs deeper and earns 3.5 stars.  Both are highly recommended and well worth your time.  You can read more about them respectively here and here over at Rotten Tomatoes.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Oh, I'm still around.

Just taking a breather around and after Thanksgiving.  Speaking of which, here are a couple of items that've popped up recently, sort of reminiscent of events this past Thursday.

Giant fruits and vegetables from Messy Nessy:
Looks like pumpkin pie time.

And whipped cream overload from Foxtrot:

Mmmm, more later.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Stopping the Cycle of Violence

SMBC shows us how it's done:

This bike needs some Velociraptors to complete the bloody image.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Hypersonic Flight is Harder Than We Initially Thought

But there's still good progress being made.  Here's a short article from the current issue of Physics Today.  Oh man, trim a control surface and suddenly you get air dissociating into a super-heated high-pressure layer of atomic oxygen.  Honestly, garden variety spaceflight is much easier.  But again, we're making good progress.  At least, we're no longer melting scramjets off of manned rocket planes.  Go read the article to see how things are developing.

This was 50 years ago.  50 years before that, WWI biplanes were state of the art.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Book Review: Andy Weir's Artemis

Short version: If you enjoyed The Martian, dive right in.  It reads like drinking cool water on a hot day.

Slightly longer version:  Take someone awfully like Heinlen's character Friday and plunk her into a similar setting to The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.  Have her run around and fix problems a la The Martian for 300+ pages.  Have an underlying economic story about a Lunar outpost city transitioning from running things as a company store into a more free market system, while fending off a mobster-rule threat.  Interesting problems crop up regarding breathing air – we take if for granted, but on the Moon, it's a – what? – public utility good?  Or a commodity to be traded?  Or...?  Then throw in some insider trading, a stagnating economy, sabotage, and a nascent economic boom and things start getting exciting.

And just to keep things moving along, this all happens at a frenetic Quentin Tarantino movie pace, with the accompanying snappy dialogue.  Realistic, perhaps not, but entertaining as all get out.  In fact, when this book gets picked up for a movie, Tarantino would be a good choice to direct.

Look, if you're looking for some mid-20th Century existentialist message novel, this isn't it.  If you're looking for deep insights into the human soul, go elsewhere.  If you want to see a few characters grow into some awfully big shoes while action swirls all around, there's a lot of it here.  Mostly though it's just a quick read in which Andy Weir successfully fends off the sophomore slump.  

Three out of four stars.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Shortwave Blues Update

Just a reminder, with the shortening days and the shift from daylight savings to standard time, WWCR's Friday evening blues show Last Radio Playing is now on 5935 kHz at 6pm CST, or 0000z.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Andy Weir's Book #2 is Out: Artemis

Haven't read it yet, but considering that this is from the guy who wrote The Martian, I'll have it on my kindle in a couple of minutes.  From the blurb:
Jazz Bashara is a criminal.  Well, sort of.  Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you're not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire.  So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right?  Not when you've got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers rent.  Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down.  But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she's stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself – and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.
Very different than The Martian, but of course it should be.   BTW, NPR's reviewer was not impressed.  Do you need more recommendation than that?

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

All the Hurricanes of 2017, in Two Minutes

Pretty impressive.  Click to embiggen.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Circular Development in Cycling

Remember the old SoftRide suspension bike stem?  Maybe?  Long gone, but now there's this:

Nothing wrong with the idea, and it seems to have pretty good bearings in this incarnation too.  Still... it's weird to see the idea being trotted out again.  It was never a bad idea to begin with, it just couldn't keep up with telescoping hydraulic forks on the trail.  But you know, on the whole they worked pretty well circa 1995.  Biggest difference this time around is that the new product is intended for rough but not off-road use.  Full details, a video, and an entry form to win one over at Bicycle Times.

BTW, what ever happened to SoftRide?  Looks like they're in the bike rack business now, having dropped all of their suspension products.  I guess "suspend the rider, not the bike" was a seeming good idea that's been surpassed in this age where 4" travel XC forks are the norm.  Here's a link to SoftRide's current site.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Movie Review: The Lost City of Z

After hearing that this movie is about Percy Fawcett, one of the real-life people who inspired the character Indiana Jones, of course I was going to see it.  As you can probably guess from the title, it's about a British explorer who goes looking for a fabled lost city in the Amazon jungle.  There are several expeditions that come tantalizingly close, but something always hold the expeditions back at the last reach.  And of course, the entire enterprise is interrupted by World War I.  Finally and inevitably, Fawcett doesn't return and that is that.

As for the movie, it's beautifully made and well acted.  Perhaps the worst that I can say about it is that the continuity of events gets a little choppy, and the wardrobes and costumes department perhaps had too good of a time dressing people up.  But the events span twenty years here, so of course to pack it all in the filmmakers had to jump quickly from WWI to 1924, and a little bit of over-plush wardrobe can be forgiven.  Finally, the ending is tastefully handled and followed up by a few small, respectful epilog title cards.  It's a good movie, call it 3 out of 4 stars.  Nothing really ever knocked my socks off at any point along the way, but the overall effect is of a good tale well told.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Tent Maintenance: Nicwax Solarproof-ing the Tents

As recommended on The First 40 Miles podcast, we bring you Nicwax Solarproof:

It's advertised as a water repellent and solar-proofing spray, and it gets good general recommendations from hikers and reviewers.  Interesting part is that the instructions say to wet the fabric before applying, and that really does seem to be key to getting this stuff to wick around and into the individual threads.

On the new backpacking tent the fly was still reasonably waterproof, so even dunking it into a bucket of water didn't do a lot.  However the old 2-man tent was a different story.  The fly must've soaked up a gallon of water, and it greedily soaked up the Nicwax too.  No wonder it wasn't doing such a great job in heavy rain anymore!  They're both out in the yard drying right now.  Just did the rain flys, no need to do any of the covered parts.

Protip: wear some kind of wet-proof gloves, rubber or nitryl or similar.  When you wipe off the excess (and use a cloth you'll throw away), you're going to get it all over your hands and by intention and chemical engineering this stuff doesn't want to wash off.  It's not horrible, but... I wish I'd though of this ahead of time.

Book Review x2: Authority & Acceptance

Having read, reviewed, and reconsidered and re-reviewed the first novel in Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy, and with the movie of Annihilation coming out in February, what the hell, I read the last two books.  And I have to say that while they had their highlights, they weren't worth the slog.  There are some interesting ideas brought up, and of course lots of wonderful weirdness, but it's all overpowered by the political maneuverings within the government organizations investigating the weirdness.  The two books just drag and drag, and the payoffs and reveals aren't enough to warrant a reader's time.

Ah well, there were a few moments of "hey, I know that place" recognition that were confirmed in the author's acknowledgments.  That was pretty cool.  And I'm still looking forward to the movie this coming February.  But as for the books... well, maybe if you're really into New Weird and a fast reader who doesn't mind plowing through hundreds of pages of bureaucratic maunderings, then give it a shot.  As for the rest of us, admire the inside-cover illustrations, see the movie, move on.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Mmmmm, a cup of CDM...

Sipping my after-supper cup of CDM coffee this evening, this 1958 picture popped up:

It's from an article over at Messy Nessy, They Just don't Make Vacations like they Used To, a random collection of Kodachrome depictions of the good life in times past.  Worth your ten minutes.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The First 40 Miles Podcast

I'd mentioned them before a little while back, but now that I've caught up on the back episodes it's time to mention them again: The First 40 Miles is a fine little podcast about backpacking, especially for beginners.  It comes in easily digestible 30 minute weekly episodes that, while they do have a main theme, also have enough other show segments going on to fill in the gaps if that theme isn't your thing.

Also worth mentioning is that it is very family friendly listening, so crank it up with the kids around without worries.  No politics, no objectionable material (but I repeat myself), just good info on backpacking and all things that come with the topic.


New shows are generally posted every Tuesday.

SARnet-FL's Apalachicola Repeater is Online

Which means that I was able to get into the Statewide Amateur Radio network (i.e. SARnet) over the weekend with nothing more than a hand-held radio with a decent aftermarket antenna.  Talked briefly to a guy over in Madison, just enough to confirm that things were all working together.  And of course, that I'd programmed my radio correctly.

The repeater's not really in Apalachicola, it seems to be located up near Sumatra about 20 miles north of there.  That does generally put it out of hand-held reach, especially on the 70cm band.  Being upstairs helped a lot in establishing an RF line of sight, made things just possible.  I'll bet that a small beam antenna on an outside mast would make this very reliable.  Something I'll have to try in the near future.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Coffeeneuring Stop #2: Cafe Con Leche

The madness continues.  Here are this week's particulars:
1. where: Cafe Con Leche, Apalachicola FL
2. date: 11/4/17
3. what: double macchiato
4 ride details: a nice October-ish day in early November; '89 GT Karakoram; more below
5. 2.2 miles round-trip

Hmph.  Between rainy weekends and mis-spending the remainder of the time hiking, I'm out of days to finish the 2017 Coffeeneuring challenge.  Ah well, it was still a good ride with my sister – you can see her styling Schwinn on the right – on the day before Seafood Festival.  IIRC, she had her usual latte.  We enjoyed our coffees out on the front porch overlooking the Wards' shrimp house and discussed the state of the world.

Still might make a few more turns at blog posts about official coffeeneuring this year, but with only two of seven stops done and four possible days remaining, I'm kind of off the back with this one.  Here's to next year!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

'67 GT500 (emulated)

Sure, it's new-built on a modern chassis, but wow...
Prices start at $219K.  Yeah, wow.   Full article over at Fox.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Lunch Ride

Article over at Dirt Rag: The Lunch Ride  Here's a relevant paragraph from it:
Bike rides have rid me of hangovers, have loosened sore muscles, have given me windows of new creative thoughts, have opened up air passages when fighting a head cold, have taken depressing days and made them into something much better and have caused me to become a more patient human being. Sure, a bike ride can’t fix all of you problems, but when a day is smoldering into complacency and you’re feeling the need to shake it out, a bike ride is not a bad place to start.
Pretty much sums up why a lunchtime ride doubles my afternoon productivity.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Tuxachanie Trail Notes

Day hiked the easternmost section of the Tuxachanie Trail yesterday, from the POW Camp to Duck Pond and back.  That's the trickiest section, both in terms of terrain and possibilities for getting sidetracked onto horse trails.  I think I've got it down now though.

Noteworthy items learned along the way:

- Heads Up! and look for the white diamond blaze marks more.  They really are there, but some are not all that obvious, or maybe even a little melted.
- The new pack is remarkably comfortable and sweat-free.  All that mesh, it's a lot like an Aeron chair.
- The pack-mounted VHF whip worked well, reaching the Biloxi W5SGL repeater virtually the entire time.  The exceptions of course are were when I'd step down into large dips like the creek bottom.  The whip did snag a lot on branches in the bushier parts of the trail.   When I get a spare minute I'll cut down the PVC length to the minimum needed to get the bottom of the j-pole clear of the pack and my head, and not an inch more.  Also, the sharp edge on the top end's pipe cap acted almost like a barb, snagging any small branches that presented themselves.  Will have to sand it down to a beveled edge and add a wrap with a piece of duck tape to smooth it over.  The results won't be perfect but should be much better when walking through brush.
-The bridge situation isn't perfect, but given that we've just had a hurricane blow through this month, things were in pretty good shape.
-Things were a little brushy, but of course they are this time of year. 
-Saw three other hikers and two parties of horse people out there, and everybody wanted to know what was up with the antenna.  It was a friendly bunch.

Not much else to say, so I'll get going to work now.

ps: Obligatory picture of Tuxachanie Creek:

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Who needs the spooky stuff?

Especially when reality so much better.  For example:

From today's NASA APOD.  Go over there and get the details of this otherworldly scene.

Off to the wood.  Perhaps more later.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Big Week for Pirate Shortwave Coming Up

With Halloween this Tuesday and the Global HF Pirate weekend on Nov. 3-5, it's going to be a banner week for ionospheric fun and games.  Remember, listening in is perfectly legal!

Here are some resources over at The SWLing Post: link  It has links to and discussions about the HF Underground's pirate board and to Andrew Yoder's HF pirate blog.  Also it helps to quickly review The SWLing Post's Pirate Radio Primer.

Shamelessly Pirated Graphic from The SWLing Post

Friday, October 27, 2017

How to be Scary

With Halloween coming up, the BBC published this simple how-to guide from an actor who specializes in these sorts of things.  Enjoy, but remember not to over-do it around the youngest ones.