Sunday, October 15, 2017

Hurricane Patterns

Here's a plot found over at Weather Underground's current discussion of Hurricane Ophelia (more on that in a minute):

If you have to squint, click to embiggen.  The original image is pretty large.

Ophelia is the one shown in red off the coast of Africa, but that's not what this post is about.  Look a the dark blue stripes that indicate repeatedly overlaid storm tracks, and where they tend to hit the U.S. mainland.  Mobile AL to Grand Isle LA are one of the major beam dumps here.  Apalachicola is on the eastern edge of this, but out of the main blast.  There's even a little clearing up around St. Marks.  (No, for you Southern Reach fans, it's not Area X.)  It's kind of nice to see this large-scale pattern plotted out with historical data.

Back to Hurricane Ophelia, it's going in on Ireland sometime in the next day or so.  That's pretty weird and I'm not sure what to say about it.  "Erin go board up."  ...?

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Coffeeneuring Stop #1: Mockingbird Cafe

This madness had to start with the Mockingbird.  Here are the particulars:
1. where: Mockingbird Cafe, Bay St. Louis MS
2. date: 10/14/17
3. what: triple macchiato (the real kind)
4. ride details:  a nice September-ish day in mid-October; CX bike; more below
5. 4.4 miles round-trip
 (if you're wondering what all this is about, here's the intro page)

It's still a warm, damp day sandwiched between the hopefully last hurricane of summer and the first real cold front of fall.  After a lunch of spring rolls, it seemed like time for a cup of coffee and a catch-up with the local paper.  A casual ride there through the 4th Ward neighborhoods, then stopped by a friend's house (not in), and took the railroad yard gravel shortcut back.

An Interesting Travel Program

I sometime catch this on a New Orleans public radio station, early on Saturday mornings:

He goes to interesting lands, meets interesting people, and has interesting conversations with them.  Because it's so all-over-the-place, it defies further description.  Just go to the link, it'll take you straight to the show's archive page, and scroll down the places and topics covered.  You can download and listen from there.


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Book Re-Review: Annihilation

Prior to seeing the upcoming movie in February, I had to re-read Annihilation.  If you'll recall from my first review, when I read it a couple of years ago I wasn't all that impressed.  On the second go-round however, it somehow worked better.  Maybe it was because I wasn't playing tourist in my old back yard, or maybe because I could get past the weirdness better to concentrate on the story.  Or maybe just diminished expectations, I dunno.  If all of that is too cryptic and you're still wondering what the book's about, just go read my original review.  Anyway, I'll probably go on and read at least the next book in the trilogy.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

What We Do on 2 Meters

Every Tuesday evening at 7 pm, the local ham club has a net on the W5SGL repeater.  Sometimes it goes for all of 15 minutes and we're done.  Other times it rolls for an hour and a half.  That's pretty much what happened last night.  For bonus points, the guy who was scheduled to call the net called me fifteen minutes ahead of time and asked if I could run things for the evening.  Sure.  But what would be the tech topic?  Well we just had Hurricane Nate, so I winged it with "What did you do for last weekend's hurricane, as it relates to ham radio?"

The net starts with a few general announcements (club meeting times, etc.), and then launches into a check-in portion.  We don't call a roll of members, we just call for check-ins in four blocks of letters, by the beginning letter of a ham's call sign suffix, i.e., A-G, H-M, N-T, and U-Z.  For example, my call is W4ZNG, so I'd answer in the last group called.  Similarly, W5ABC would answer in the first block.  Easy.  BTW, I just don't get the roll-call business some nets use.  Every time I've heard that method, only about one in five "callees" answers back to the net controller, and it turns into a slow-moving waste of time.  Back to the block-of-letters method, we usually have ten to twenty participants, so that's approximately five per block.  Doubles sometime happen, but they're only a minor inconvenience.  If they ever becomes a real problem we can subdivide further.  Like I said, easy.  Fast too.  We can knock out those fifteen check-ins in about a quarter the time of a similar net using a roll-call.  It keeps things upbeat and moving, leaving time for the fun parts.  Speaking of which...

Then on to the Tech Topic discussion.  Here, the net controller throws out a question or topic for discussion, maybe giving an opening pre-ramble on the matter.  Again, last night I used the recent Hurricane Nate as a springboard, asked "what did you do ham-wise relating to the storm?", briefly gave my story (took down antennas on Saturday, put up the hiking j-pole using zip-ties Sunday morning to quickly get on the air, then got the proper antennas back up by that afternoon), and turned it over to the crowd from there.  That's all it took, and we were off and running for the next hour-plus.  One guy who'd lost internet access during the storm asked about backup land-line connections or anything else that would work.  The consensus response after a 20 minute discussion was to use your smartphone's wifi hotspot, because the cell towers are now so up-armored and backup-powered in this post-Katrina era.  Then the same guy had an abraded coax cable that would be difficult to replace; how to test and weather seal it?  Antenna analyzer and goopy wire sealant of your choice.  Finally there was a question about how resistant to voltage dips the Yaesu FT-100 transceiver's microprocessor is.  It's an important question if you're going to be operating one off a car battery after a storm.  A reply came back from a guy who owns and operates five (five!) of them: FT-100's are pretty sensitive, but you can get a $30 power regulator off eBay that'll make all right with the world.

And with a brief sign-off, that was it for the night.  I'm not going to regularly blog about what happens on this net, but hopefully this'll give some idea for the non-hams about what goes on.  There are worse ways to spend a chunk of Tuesday evening.

Monday, October 9, 2017

A Brief History of New Orleans' Pump System

Over at Atlas Obscura 

It seems somehow more relevant than usual this week, indeed, this entire summer.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

It's like practical fusion reactors.

You know how practical commercial fusion reactors have been "only one to two decades away" for the last sixty or so years?  Yeah, that's like the fall cool-down this year: "only one to two weeks away" for the last month.
We could use a burst of cool fall weather about now.  If only to dry the window boards before putting them away.

After Nate Roundup

Really not a lot to tell here.  Exactly zero damage around the house, not even any yard debris to clean.  I do have a couple of hours' work taking down window boards and putting back antennas.  Here are two pictures from this mornings' bike ride / sightseeing tour.  The first is from Henderson Point, across the Bay Bridge in Pass Christian.  Notice the high water line on the concrete abutment.

East end of Hwy 90 Bay Bridge in Harrison County

I'm estimating that's about 6 feet over normal high tide.  Enough to get your attention, but that's about it.  Next up is the eastern beachfront in Bay St. Louis, taken from near the west end of the Bay Bridge:

BSL beachfront, from bridge

Again, nothing to get excited about.  The beach has a few new logs and a little more character, but I'm sure the Hancock County crews will be out to get rid if that ASAP.

The Sea Coast Echo has a page of pictures taken last night.  Go take a look.

Could've been a lot worse.

Goodbye Nate!

No obvious damage out in the yard and the storm's heading for parts northward.  It's been a day, and I am turning in.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

St. Vincent Radio Wrap-Up

Following up on the post at this blog of last Saturday's activation of St. Vincent Island by the Panama City Amateur Radio club, they have posted a nice wrap-up article at their blog here.  Good pics, and a short video documenting the overall operation.

Buttoned up in The Bay

It's going to be a bumpy night.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Grains are a Racket

Go on and read The Case Against Civilization over at The New Yorker.

If you can't be bothered to read the whole thing, at least search on "tax" and get down to why grains are always pushed on anybody doing agriculture, no matter which millennium the farmer happens to live in.

Like I said, grains are a racket.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Coffeeneuring: Maybe Even Better than Gravel Grinding

The idea is to combine randonneuring with coffee shop destinations in mind.  Sounds good to me!  Naturally there's a little more to it than that, so I'll refer you to the article at Bicycle Times and the official Coffeeneuring site and leave you to read while I get on with the day.

No additional event points for steel frame and barcons, but they do merit style points.

Already making a list (of coffee shops) and checking it twice.  There may be a backpacking wood stove and an old aluminum espresso pot shoved into the camelbak before this is all over.  Stay tuned.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Jurassic Duck Mk II 2 meter Antenna

Weekend-before-last's success with this antenna has invited a few questions about how to build one, so here we go.  Some time ago I built a couple of bike & hike antennas based on WX2NJ's Jurassic Duck design.  They were... OK.  They certainly worked, but for whatever reason the dimensions given there were about 8" too short.  Maybe it was variation in the CPVC pipe plastic from what he used to what I could get locally.  The results were blogged about here, but the bottom line is that it was a pain to make and too fragile for backcountry use.  Also, the 1/2" CPVC whipped all over the place, even though it was solidly mounted on my pack or bike rack.  And one just flat broke during a hike.  But the Mk I was a good start, and I'm grateful to WX2NJ for designing and writing it up, and to KK4SNA for pointing it out.

OK, let's ditch the scrawny 300 ohm twin-lead and upsize to relatively rugged 450 ohm window line.  Window line will slip-fit into 3/4" SDR21 PVC pipe – that's the thin walled stuff, not the thicker Schedule 40.  Take a little piece of window line with you to the hardware store, make sure it'll fit.  The heavier components are key.

By the way, if you're not familiar with j-pole antennas, that's what we're building here so go familiarize yourself over at Wikipedia.  The ladder line section forms the "j" matching stub.  The rest is just a length of wire.

Also, you'll need an antenna analyzer that works on the 2 meter band.  If you cut to exactly the described dimensions, it'll probably still work, but you'll be risking burning out a transceiver.  If you don't have one, get a friend with one to help tune it before you put any power through the antenna.

With the basic design down, here's the shopping list:
- 3/4" SDR21 PVC pipe.  It comes in 10' lengths.  The antenna part will take up about 4.5', but you'll want at least 3' for a mounting stub below that.  Cut it off to whatever you feel like, I chopped mine at 8.5'.  That's a good compromise between "too long" and "too short to mount on a pack."
- cap for top of pipe.
- 17-1/4" 450 ohm window line.  Wait!  Cut it an inch longer at the bottom so you can short out its two legs, and make the "hot" leg an inch long so you can fold it over to form an eye to attach the radiating wire.
- 37" of any wire you have handy, in the 12 to 20 gauge range.  Wait!  Cut it 6" too long, so that you'll have some to trim back when you tune it.
- about 10' of 50 ohm coax cable, with your favorite connector on one end, bare wires at the other.
- a couple of small zip-ties.
- about 10' of thin string of almost any sort.  Paracord is too thick, but one of the inner strands would be about right.  Light fishing line would be perfect.  Use whatever you have laying around.

If you've modeled this out with an online j-pole program, those dimensions will seem a little short.  That's because they're not accounting for the PVC enclosure.  Don't worry, I've done the cut-and try part, so you can just start building.  Here are the steps:

(1) Strip the bottom inch of the window line, short the ends together, solder them.

(2) Strip tap spots on the window line 2-1/4" from the bottom.

(3) Solder the loose ends of the coax onto the window line.  Be sure to have the "hot" center connector soldered to the side with the extra length where the radiator wire will be attached.

(4) Loop over the bare loose "hot" leg on the window line, and attach & solder the radiator wire as you see fit.  Maybe slip some shrink-wrap over the solder joint to give some strain relief, or wrap it with electrical tape.  This isn't critical, it's just some reinforcement to take the bend off the solder joint.

(5) Loop over the top inch or so of the radiator wire and loosely zip-tie it down.  Tie the string through this loop, and snake it up through the PVC pipe, gently pulling the whole thing up to the top. Slip the cap on to pinch the string and hold it all from falling back through.

(6) Hold it vertically somewhere clear outside and apply the analyzer.  It should resonate at a frequency a little too low.  Trim the radiator wire back a 1/2" at a time, repeating step #5, until it resonates in the middle of the band.  It should cover the entire 2 meter band.

(7) Clean it up.  The antenna part is only about 4.5'.  You may want to trim out some of the excess PVC on the bottom end.  I cut mine at 8.5', which leaves a 4' stub to zip-tie to a pack frame or a bike rack rack.  Remember, you don't want the bottom end of the antenna anywhere near, well, anything.  Especially not a metal frame or rack.  Zip-tie the coax coming out of the end of the pipe about 6" back up on the pipe, both to give strain relief for the soldered tap points inside and to make a drip loop.

Ta-da!  Done.  Spray paint it if you want.  I didn't, but may eventually.  Here's mine, zip-tied with unlockable ties, to my backpacking pack:

How's it work?  It easily reached the W5SGL repeater 20 miles away from the Big Biloxi campground, and 25 miles away from my back porch.  The old Mk I antenna barely reached W5SGL from 15 miles away, so this is way better all around: easier to build, more rugged, and better performance.  Call it a success, call it a day.

Sunday, October 1, 2017


Here it is October first, and all of us living near the water just got a little present:

Oh sure, anything can and will happen.  For one example, I've been clobbered by a hurricane a week before Thanksgiving.  But still, this is the first break we've had in a couple of months, and I am glad for it.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Radio Free St. Vincent

Well no, not exactly a major radio station, more of an event.  The folks at the Panama City Amateur Radio Club boated across Indian Pass this morning to set up and make contacts from the western tip of St. Vincent Island as part of the US Islands and the Parks on the Air programs.  And I would never have known, except that they were coordinating among themselves using the Port St. Joe 2 meter repeater, there happened to be a tropo-duct along the northern Gulf, and I happened to be scanning around from my shack here in MS.  That was all pure luck.

Anyway, within a couple of minutes of hearing about the event I'd bagged a good clear contact on 40 meters using my backyard NVIS antenna.  It was nice to finally talk to somebody in my neck of the woods on HF, and to do it so easily.  This stuff really works!

Funny thing, the picture on my QSL card was taken only about a mile from where they were operating.  Small world.

In the event you're reading this in the distant future, here's a permalink to the St. Vincent activation post.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Future to the Back

Why does "some indefinite time in the future":

Look awfully like 1993?

Shoulda been flying these things as a Shuttle replacement a decade ago.  Anyway, here's the article:

Lockheed Martin Unveils Sleek, Reusable  Lander for Crewed Mars Missions
Meh, better late than never I suppose.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Upcoming Movie: Annihilation

Read the book a couple of years ago, reviewed it here.  Anyway, it's going to be released in February and the teaser trailer it out.  Watch it here.

Frankly, it looks better than the book, but that's only a medium-high bar to begin with.  But we shall see.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

More Mustang Madness (not me this time)

A '65 Mustang, 1400 HP twin-turbo engine, Pike's Peak, and one smoking set of tires: video here.

Now There's a Ringing Endorsement

Bill Gates switches to Android phone  Story over at the BBC.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Learning By Doing

Went camping with the ham club at the Big Biloxi campground in the Desoto National Forest this weekend.  While fun and entertaining, it was also a learning experience:

Learning by Success
The Jurassic Duck Mk II VHF backpack whip antenna was a rousing success, reaching the W5SGL repeater 20 miles away in Biloxi with a useable signal.  With the Tuxachanie and Bethel Bicycle trails much closer to the repeater, this antenna should reliably give full coverage while hiking or camping at either.  Trail biking... probably not.
Other successes include the 21' mini W3EDP vertical antenna on 40m and up, and the linux laptop for PSK31.

Learning by Failure
We all know that no part of a tent's groundsheet should extend beyond the tent's actual footprint, right?  Of course, because if it does, water will run right off the tent, onto a plastic sheet, and then back up under the tent, soaking through the cloth floor.  But... how about extending the groundsheet into the vestibule?  Gives a little floor there, it's out of the weather, keeps dirt out of the main part of the tent, keeps gear off the damp ground, right?  Wrong.  A driving rain can get water onto the groundsheet, and from there you can surmise the rest.  Didn't have much water to mop up, but still, any water in the tent on a damp night is too much.
Another failure: why did my 42' W3EDP Jr. not tune up?  Could've been wet coax connectors, or bad coax, or who knows what.  Will have to experiment in the near future.  Damn, I was hoping to work some 60m & 80m last night too.

Learning by Close Call
The screen tent gives good protection from bugs, sunlight, and the occasional sprinkle of rain, but not much else.  To keep off dew or a real rain, I've been covering the gear on the table with a tarp.  And it works, but... it's only one layer of plastic between water and expensive radio gear.  That's just not good enough.  Before the next trip, I've got to pick up another small tarp to specifically double-protect the electronics.  What's more, I think I'll add a ziplock freezer bag to slip over each major item.  Belt, suspenders, and overalls.

Learning by Sweat
It's still a little early to go tent camping in coastal MS.  While the 68 degree night was perfectly fine, the 85 degree days were a little much with the shack tent catching the afternoon sun.  Maybe with better placement in the trees it'd be bearable, but that's about it.  Unfortunately all of the well-placed campsites were taken.

OK, I'll go back to shuffling around all of the drying nylon tent-like objects draped around my house now.  But first, a picture:

Friday, September 22, 2017

What's Mel Brooks been up to lately?

Mostly staying busy making live musicals of his earlier movies.  Article over a the BBC.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

They probably call it "R'lyeh" in their language.

Underwater 'city' built by octopuses discovered! (with exclamation point!)

*sigh* First they're stealing crabs out of restaurant tanks, and the next thing they're taking definite steps toward civilization.  What will 2018 bring?  Maybe lobster-drawn chariots.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Local Honey

Picked up a quart of local honey at the farmers' market today:

Straight out of the lower Pearl River swamps, it has a spicy, cranky, irascible tast, reminiscent of a full-throated rye whisky.  As you might imagine, it's the kind of thing I go for.  A tablespoon over a handful of almonds, oh man.

ps: As you might expect, Carey Hudson has a song by the same name.  But I think it's about something else.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Awkward, In-Between Season

It's warm enough that the bugs are having a field day, cool enough that it doesn't drive them underground, and wet... oh man, this has been a wet summer.  Bumper crop of flies.  It makes for unpleasant mountain biking at the Bethel Road trails.  So many crab spiders out that after a mile's ride I had accumulated enough webs to be mistaken for a Halloween decoration.  Packed it in only half-way through the usual ride.  When I'd left the trailhead at 9, there were about a half-dozen cars; by the time I packed at 10:30, mine was the only one left.  Seems I wasn't the only one who'd had enough of the fun.

Crab spider is disappointed the ride ended so soon.

Bleh.  October can't get here soon enough.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

'Tis the Season

... of hurricanes and hurricane lilies. 

I am so ready for October.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Irma's Negative Surge

From over at The Times, 'Weird' waters: Irma drains bays 

Looks about three feet below a normal low tide, but this was roughly at high tide!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

And now, a cave full of dangling snakes.

Continuing with our theme of animals in improbable places, here's this jewel from over at Atlas Obscura: Cave of the Hanging Snakes.  They're just harmless rat snakes, hanging out and snagging a bat-snack whenever one happens to pass by.  But still... it's like something out of one of those 80's ascii dungeon games.

That +2 +1 mace isn't going to do you much good now.  Better have a bag of +1 rocks.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Wasn't Me

Coyote travels 35km 'embedded' in car grill, over at the BBC.

Meanwhile, down at the ACME test track...

According to the story, the coyote was treated for minor injuries and released.  Roadrunner could not be reached for comment.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Gearing Up for Backpacking, Part 9: References

Here's a quick run-down of four books I've found useful.  Amazon links are provided, but if you have a friendly neighborhood bookstore, give them a shot at your business first.

Backpacking 101  This is a good, new (mid-2017!), and thorough introduction to the subject.  I can't say that the author's writing style exactly inspired me, but it's all there and not horribly out of date.

The Backpacker's Handbook, 4th Edition  A few years old (2011), and with way too much gear-specific advice.  A TON of detail in some places, and the author just glosses over some other important topics (like water treatment...).  It's a slog, but I did learn a lot about boot construction and some of the topic's mysterious terminology.  ("Shank"?  What the hell's a shank?  Only thing I knew the word to mean was a filed-down cafeteria spoon.  But I went to a rough college, lived in a rough dorm.)

Allen & Mike's Really Cool Backpackin' Book  Pretty much my favorite here, though having been published in 2001 it's now getting a little outdated on some of the gear.  Mike Clelland!'s (yes, he adds the "!" consistently) illustrations make it a lot of fun to read.

Ultralight Backpackin' Tips  Also by the same Mike Clelland!, it's an extended list of things you can do to shave weight.  You owe it to yourself to thumb through this one, if only to see what is possible.  Also, the author's illustrations are again a hoot.  I'm not going ultralight – got to have a full-wrap mosquito netting equipped tent and a filter around here.  What's more, some of the tips cross the line from "ultralight" more into something akin to "how to be mistaken for homeless."  Still, it helped me keep the gear weight in check and at least qualify as "lightweight."  All about just being aware of the possibilities, and imagining your way from there.

Bonus link: the post about water filtration with the CDC links from a couple of weeks ago.  Honestly, none of the above books had anything close to this amount of information.  You might take a chance on sipping from a mountain stream in the Rockies, but faced with a green pond in south Mississippi you don't cut corners.

OK, that's all about getting ready to go backpacking for a while now.  I've researched and over-thought this stuff into the ground, but then it's not like there's a backpacking club around here to show the ropes.  Just have to wait for a weekend with decent weather and hit it.  Give it a couple of weeks, October is right around the corner.  Yeah, I'm excited.

Gearing Up for Backpacking, Part 8: Lightweight Tent

Popped for a Eureka Spitfire 1 (manufacturer link; street price is about $20 lower), and it's pretty nice for a dinky little one man hiking tent.  The Apex 2XT I've had since 2001 is nice... but it weighs in at 6.44 pounds.  The Spitfire as it came weighed in at 3.30 pounds, but replacing the heavy stainless steel stakes with MSR Mini-Groundhog aluminum stakes dropped it down to an even 3.00 pounds.  That's a 3.44 pound net drop!

First a few pictures:
The inner tent, no fly.  Lotsa nice mesh.

With fly buttoned up, snug and weather-tight.

Side door, with fly door opened up.

Small vestibule, but it'll hold a pair of shoes or boots just fine.  Size 10 shown for reference.

And the vestibule on the non-door side will just hold a pack.  Might get a little damp from brushing the fly, so put a rain cover over it.  Still... pretty good!

The rain fly can easily be put on backward, so the nylon attachment straps are color-coded to help keep things straight – gold on one end, black on the other.  Nice touch!

On the whole this tent is a major win, but there are a couple of dings worth mentioning.  First off, the fly takes some adjusting to get it tight and smooth.  You can see in the third picture, the fly's kind of floppy over the flat ridge of the tent.  Will have to watch for pooling, dripping, etc. on that.  The other problem was the small zipper that allows the roof vent to be opened from inside, its teeth had jumped track when I first unboxed things.  A quick zip back and forth and it sealed back up fine, but I think I'll skip using it if I can.  Just open up the vent flap when setting up and leave it there.

The main thing to emphasize with this tent is how good it is for how little it costs.  While prices will vary, the bottom line is that it comes in between one half and one fifth(!) the cost of comparable backpacking tents.  I'm sure it's not the same quality as a Big Agnes... but if it holds up as well as my two other Eureka tents have, I can expect to get decades of good service out of it.

Back to last week's initial weigh-in that showed a 22.2 pound base weight, ditching the bear keg in favor of a hang bag and a length of 50 pound test spider wire, then swapping out the tent gets the base weight down to 16.4 pounds.  While not quite the "ultralight" ideal of sub-10 pounds, this is comfortably within the bounds of "lightweight."  Call it a success, and call it a day.

Still have to get a clear day to set up and apply seam sealer, and still have to cut out a polypro footprint.  Those can wait for a nice Saturday morning.

ps, Saturday 9/16: Set up tent to apply seam sealer and cut footprint.  The fly comes already nicely tape-sealed!  No further work needed on it, so that was easy.  I did seal the two pointy guy-out ends because they're not completely covered by the fly, but the rest was ready to go.  If I had it to do over, I wouldn't bother.  Trimmed out the "Do Not Use Fire In This Tent" warning tags and cut the polypro footprint to the exact shape needed.  Now just let it dry and it's ready.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Strong Passwords

This article over at Ladders popped up this morning: Scrap Everything You Know About Creating Strong Passwords and Do This Instead

Yep.  This occasion requires the obligatory xkcd comic, which was referenced in the article:

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Beneath the Mountains of Madness

What could possibly go wrong?  I mean, apart from the occasional shoggoth or giant penguin.

... and now, Jerry Pournelle, RIP

Another influential thinker checks out.  Article over at The Verge.  While primarily a science fiction writer, he was also known as an early blogger, the first person to write an entire novel on a computer, and a sharp commentator on social and economic trends (see: Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy).

Friday, September 8, 2017

Don Williams Checks Out

Even if you're scratching your head and asking "Don who?" right now, when you hear one of his songs you'll likely nod "oh yeah, he was good, gonna miss him."  Not much to add beyond the write-ups at Fox and the BBC.

He played in Biloxi about three years ago, and now I'm really regretting not making that show.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Ensemble Modeling Explained

We're seeing a lot of this sort of thing lately:

I'd explain, but Randall Munroe has already done the job graphically with style and a side-order of humor:

There.  All clear now?  OK then, I'll go back to staring at the various hurricane prediction sites and chewing my fingernails now.

Monday, September 4, 2017

How to Spot a Flood Salvage Car

Not that I'm in the market, but you never know:
Avoid a Harvey Hooptie over at Eric Peters Autos site.
The article give some quick checks anybody looking around on a used car lot can do on the spot, even before taking it to an independent mechanic for the obligatory pre-buy checkout.

Makes me sad.

Saturday, September 2, 2017


This picture and what it's about (explanation over at NASA's Astronomy Picture Of the Day site) ought to float your boat.  You can get a high-res pdf of it from there too.

Gearing Up for Backpacking, Part 7: Initial Weigh-In

Shoved it all together last night.  Initial base weight: 22.2 pounds.  Throw in the FT-817nd with its accouterments and this balloons to 29.3 pounds.  Remember, that's base weight, and it's unacceptably high.  Will have to mull this one over.  Applying Amdahl's Law to the problem, clearly the tent and the bear keg are the first two items to consider.

Hmm.  Something to ponder.
Shamelessly stol.. borrowed from

Friday, September 1, 2017

Extended Forecast

After a long, damp summer it looks like we might be about to turn the corner:

Lows in the mid-60's?  I'll take it!  Of course, a big "we shall see, we shall see" applies to all of this.

Thursday, August 31, 2017


Can you see that little blue dot in the picture below?  OK, it'll help to look at the expanded section in the lower right hand corner.  See it now?  That's how far humanity's earliest radio signals – right at a hundred years old now and moving at the speed of light – have spread out into our Milky Way galaxy.

Beyond hat-tipping to the original article at Popular Mechanics and to The SWLing Post blog for pointing this out, it's hard to find anything to add to this one.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Gearing Up for Backpacking, Part 6: Water Filter

Found a deal on a Kadadyn Hiker Pro.  Online reviews were good and the price was right, so it was an obvious choice.  With a filter pore size of 0.2 micron, that's 5x tighter than the minimum 1.0 micron the CDC recommends to remove cryptosporidium and giardia.  Sounds good to me.

But what about viruses?  A 0.2 micron filter won't even slow these down, but most hiking guides say not to worry about these in developed countries.  On the other hand, we're talking about the Tuxachanie trail which runs along the border of Stone and Harrison counties, so there's no telling what's in some of that water.  Taking the belt-and-suspenters approach, I'll be adding in some chlorine dioxide tabs.  These will eventually kill everything: viruses in 15 minutes, bacteria also in 15 minutes, giardia in 30 minutes, and finally crypto in 4 hours.  That last one would be a problem, but since the filter's already handled it and the bacteria, we're back down to a highly acceptable 15  minutes.  (but double that to be on the safe side)  Finally and as a nice bonus, if the filter goes out, the tabs can serve alone – just at the cost of a full 4 hour wait time.  Belt and suspenders, even more so when it comes to water.



This is a lot to deal with, but the surface water here in the southeast can get pretty nasty.  So nasty in fact that I've never done any outdoor activities without just hauling safe water along from home.  This is all new territory for me.  It's good to check the specs, consult the CDC web site, and think it through ahead of time.

ps: If you doubt that this level of, well, paranoia is warranted about water, then you've never seen Upstream Color.  Go watch that and you'll stick to distilled water for a while.

pps: Some more official word:
CDC's full statement on backcountry water treatment
CDC's one-pager PDF cheat sheet on the same
National Park Service's recommendations – and not surprisingly, much the same.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Two Podcasts to Note

Philosophize This!
It's a gentle introduction to philosophy in a historical context, presented by a really well-read guy who spikes things up with Woody Allen-esque humor when you least expect it.  And – more importantly – without overdoing it.  You may have better results just downloading straight from the archive page.
I'm not going to bother with a "philosophy" tag, so I'll file this one under "science."  I mean, it starts with Thales, and he was pretty much the first scientist ever.

Next up and on a completely different track, there's The First Forty Miles.  This podcast is an easy introduction to backpacking, presented by a wife-and-husband team who are so damned sweet together that you'll need to brush your teeth afterward.  My grouchiness aside, if you're interested in getting into or going even further in backpacking, this is an easy and informative listen.

Enjoy your listening.  Makes driving go a lot faster.

Monday, August 28, 2017

It's Getting Crazy Out There

An article sent by an adoring fan of the blog:

Well, I like the Heinlein references and the timing isn't more than a decade or so off, that part's pretty good.  However I fear that the problems may run even deeper.  Beyond this, I won't speculate further in public.  Anyway, this short article is definitely worth the read.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Gearing Up for Backpacking, Part 5: Bear Keg

Black bears are getting to be a problem in the Apalachicola area, and have recently been spotted in the Desoto National Forest near the Tuxachanie.  Sure, there's the hang method, but that won't help with the raccoon and squirrel problems, and if anything these are even bigger than the bear problem.  A keg though solves them all in one fell swoop.  The smallest one that I could find weights in at 2.4 lbs, bleh.  Luckily, this one's also the cheapest option too (amazon), so that's an easy decision.

2.4 lbs of back pain and raccoon frustration.

Its going to be time for an all-up base weight measurement soon.

Gearing Up for Backpacking, Part 4: Sleeping Bag

This one was kind of a flyer, but at $19 it might work: military surplus patrol bag.  Claimed to be good to 30-35 degrees, um, no.  Maybe 50.  Still, toss in a blanket and it's not a bad option.  Weights 2.3 lbs, kind of on the heavy side.  Blame the foolproof zippers.  Made of modern synthetics, it stuffs down like a backpacking bag should.  From the same source, a lightly used Therm-A-Rest 20x72 sleeping mat, $20.  Now there's a bargain!  Sure, I already have a couple of Therm-A-Rest's "base camp" w-i-d-e and t-h-i-c-k mats, which I love, but there is no way I'm hauling all that around on my back.  This thinner mat though is just the right balance of comfort and lightness.   At 1.8 lbs, it cuts the weight by half.
So there we are, 4.1 lbs heavier and $39 lighter.  A good starting place.