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.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Gearing Up for Backpacking, Part 3: Stove

OK, it's a damn yuppy titanium stove, got it?  Coulda made one out of two beer cans for just about free, plus a spare afternoon that I don't have and a few aluminum-cut fingers.  Or, in this case I found it on sale three years ago while gearing up for a bikekpacking trip that never materialized.  The outer windscreen is also titanium, and can double as a twig-burner should the Everclear bottle run low:

I have a soft spot for titanium, having made some of it years ago, and now being partially made of it.  Back to the stove.  How well does it work?  Well enough.  On a couple of ounces of alcohol it'll boil the pint cup in ten minutes, which will get the freeze-dried whatever and the after-dinner coffee ready in one shot.  I'm all for simplicity, and it doesn't get much simpler than this.  In today's dust-it-off and test, it worked fine for an afternoon cup of instant coffee.  Not exactly artisanal pour-over but entirely drinkable.  

Side note:  Only use these things outside.  Low-pressure jets burning ethanol is smelly,  leaves a fine black soot, and produces copious quantities of carbon monoxide.

ps: a third party weighs in on "backpacking" vs. "hiking"

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  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:  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.