Wednesday, December 31, 2014

One Last One for '14

The year-end wrap-up episode of Fo Time – the other ham radio podcast, here.  If you don't know what this is all about and don't want to spend much time finding out but are the least tad curious, this 45 minute wrap-up is the one to listen to.

I swear, it's like the guy's a normal, upbeat person or something.

I really did intend to knock out a couple more posts between the that last year-end post and the actual end of the year, but work and stuff got in the way.  Ah well, have a good evening.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Year-End Roundup

If the Sea Coast Echo and Messy Nessy do it, I guess I'll have to put together a year-end "best of" list now.  Going through each month's posts, here's the one I'd pick as "best."  Though I have to admit, several months weren't all that great while other months had several good ones.  In monthly order:
Battle of the Johnsons
Battle of the Four Ryes
I Want My Blues!
Opening of The Shop
Antique Shop Find
Father's Day
Best Theremin Video on the Net
Movie Review: Pickup on South Street
Don't Let This Happen to Your River
Wild Horses at the Trails Today
Return of the "Russian Woodpecker"?
A New Take on the Fermi Paradox

OK, that's the review for the year.  Will return with more creative stuff later.  Maybe tomorrow.

Top 10 stories from The Sea Coast Echo

Hmmm, it is getting down to the end of the year.  Here's the link.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Here, have a Christmas Comet:
NASA apod permalink  The natural green color is explained there.

Not a lot to say, we've got one clear day of blue-sky weather for Christmas so it's back to the festivities.  Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Sleep Monster

I don't know if it's the Depths of Winter, healing shoulder, or something else, but I've been sleeping eight plus hours a night.  That's unusual for me, a six-hour man if there ever was one.  Ah well, anyway, here's something better than decaf coffee for those late-night cups:
It doesn't have that weird decaf taste because it never was caffeinated to begin with.  It's more of an "herbal coffee" thing.  Mix in some warmed half-and-half, pretend it's a late evening down at Cafe du Monde, and it's goodnight sleep tight.  BTW, it it's not available locally, you can get it straight from the manufacturer here or from an online specialty grocer here.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Winter Solstice Already?

Yeah, I guess so.  No wonder I slept so late this morning.
photo credit: NASA APOD

Well Merry WhateverFloatsYourBoat!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

A new take on the Fermi Paradox

Simply stated: The universe is largely populated by super-intelligent AI robots, and we're too stupid and boring to to have a meaningful conversation.

Here's the popularized article.
Here's the original academic article.

To be fair about the content of these two articles, it doesn't directly tackle the Fermi Paradox but rather is a speculative try at describing what kind of alien beings we may encounter in the coming decades.  The answer to the Paradox just kind of falls out of it. 

I'm not sure I'm on board with this idea of a universe full of SAI, but it is intriguing.  More to the point though, here's my question: can AI observation cause a collapse of mixed quantum states into a single, sensible result?  That is, what happens if you make an AI, however advanced, the observer in a Schrodinger's Cat experiment?  I suspect that the answer is no, that it's just the old Chinese Room scenario, and that the observation stack is merely pushed up one level.

Maybe that's why these hypothetical SAI robots keep us around: we keep reality happening.  (Remember folks, you heard it here first!)

This post wouldn't be complete without a link to the Wikipedia article on Fermi's Paradox, so there it is.  Also, it seems like a good time point to the now classic sci-fi story They're Made Out of Meat.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Deserves Another Round of Eyeball Time

Sure, it's a year or so old, but it still kicks over the smirkbox:

From xkcd.  permalink

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Slate: Don't Count AM/FM Out Yet

Link to article.

Haven't even finished reading it yet, but (a) I've got to get to work, and (b) everyone else interested in radio is linking to it, so I might as well too.  Will comment on its contents later.

Later comment:  Here's the key quote from the article:
"... we still made more money before lunch today than Pandora has made in its entire history.”
Yes, that does sum things up nicely.  Now if the terrestrial radio industry will start working on improving content, they'll do fine.  It does kind of whiff of the U.S. auto industry circa 1971 though.  Things are still profitable, and there's time and capital to turn this ship around, but they'd better get their butts to work.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Weekend in the Woods

... camping with the ham club.  Didn't bring a bike, had lots of help setting things up.  You ever go camping one-handed?  Everything has an extra little chore component to it, but it's still fun.  Managed not to impede further healing of the collarbone and the fresh air did me a lot of good.

More later.  Soon.

Friday, December 12, 2014

(Sorta) New Buffett Album

"Songs from St. Somewhere" – meandering songs about surfing physicists, a rock-out duet with Toby Keith about being too drunk to karaoke, another tune about Katrina insurance money....  If it's not precisely my life, it does at least scoop up some friends and acquaintances along the way.

Good stuff, recommended.

But it's been out for a year and a half.  How did I miss this?  Just been too busy breaking things, I guess.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Two New Books

The cover pages show their obvious appeal:

The plonking sound you hear is these two firmly landing in my Amazon cart.  Expect more commentary on them here next month, however in the meantime you can read an interview with the author over at Bicycle Times.

As for the bacon diet, while I'm not exactly sure of what's in the book, I suspect that it's similar to what I've been doing since late August, which has me down by 16 lbs to date and has pretty well cured my asthma.  Still, I'm going to get and read it.  If for no better reason, it just looks like a fun read.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Finding Good, Cheap Food in The Atlantic

The magazine, not the ocean.  This isn't an article on seafood.  Anyway, here's the article, written by an economist, on how to maximize your return on restaurant-spent dollars.  Interesting bag of tricks.

BTW, hat tip to the Darling Daughter for sending this and the article blogged on Saturday about the benefits of coffee.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Digital Broadcast Radio Sample

Here's the sample page, from Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM).  Most of the stations on the displayed map have two buttons, one for ordinary AM and one for DRM.  Of particular interest is the pair in the lower right hand corner, showing what is possible at a very low bit rate over a very noisy propagation path.  Go over there and click around for a few minutes.

Some comments...

(1) When are we in the U.S. going to push this non-functional withering-on-the-vine IBOC hybrid standard overboard and get serious about digital signals on the current AM broadcast band?

(2) We're so far off the back on in this field that even Pakistan is years ahead of us.

(3) Back to the DRM demo page, in particular that lower-right sample, it's pretty remarkable what can be done with such a low data rate.  That sample was transmitted at 16 kbits/s, and punched through a noisy path that would make ordinary AM nearly unlistenable for spoken voice, let alone enjoyable for music.  (More details about the relationship between bit rate and noise can be found at the article on the Shannon-Hartley theorem at Wikipedia.)

(4) Digital Radio Mondiale  Digital Rights Management.  Calling this open digital radio standard "DRM"  in the U.S. is a sure kiss of death with anybody under 35, or for that matter anybody else who's been paying attention.  Say "DRM" in front of most tech-savvy folks and the next thing you'll hear is "Oh great.  How much will we have to pay Microsoft this time?"  When in fact, Digital Radio Mondial is an open standard that has nothing to do with fees and software lock-in.  But remember: If you have to explain don't bother.  Call it "DRW" or something else in the U.S., or it's DOA.

OK, thus ends the rant, now begins the wait.  Waiting for what, you ask?  Waiting for the AM broadcast band to completely crash in this country, clearing the business space for a full-on digital rebirth.  Waiting to pick up spectrum allocation and possibly hardware at fire sale prices.  Waiting for this investment opportunity.  I predict five to ten years.

ps:  One more item for the list:
(5) Content, Content, Content.  If there's nothing worth listening to, it doesn't matter how clear the signal comes in.

Several Hobbies in One

Here's several hobbies rolled into one.  This guy in Colorado enjoys hiking.  And ham radio.  And goats.  So, he pushes all three together, using his goats as pack animals to haul his gear up various peaks and get on the air at high altitudes.
Here's his ham biography page at QRZ.
Here's his youtube channel.  It's pretty funny.
Here's a recent interview at a ham-focused podcast.

Not completely my cup of coffee, but I can think of worse ways to spend the days.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Yes, More Coffee Please

From over at The Atlantic we have The Case for Drinking as Much Coffee as You Like.  In Yet Another study, the only downside was a slight tendency toward higher glaucoma rates.  Apart from that, cancer suppression, increased lifespan,  the well-known fatigue fighting properties, pain relief, antidepressant properties, the list of plusses goes on.

Nothing like a little bit of good news to go with a fresh cup of coffee.

Pretty Good.

From over at NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day site:

Very nice.  You can read more on Orion, Delta IV Heavy, the Common Booster Core (not to be confused with a Common Core booster), and yesterday's successful test flight over at Wikipedia.  Go, edjumacate yourselves.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

December 4th Ward Cleaver's Up

And you can read it here.

Hmmm, it is starting to look all Christmasy, now that you mention it.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Malcolm Gladwell Interviewed over at Slashdot

As usual, insightful and slightly off-kilter views of the world.  Link here.
I'm not entirely sure that this quite warrants the "big ideas" tag, but I'm feeling generous.

15,000 Bottles of Jameson Irish Whiskey Stolen

Be on the look out.  Let me know if you find any.  Details over at Fox.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Best Science Fiction Movie You'll See All Year

Here it is, the entire thing, in under 4 minutes: Wanderers.  Zoom it out to full screen, turn up the sound.

Go, watch, then dig around the site and watch a few more times.  There are lots of stills from the film, all kinds of background information sprinkled around.

Hat tip to The Unwanted Blog, both for pointing to this movie and for the discussion of Interstellar.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Boring Person Week

Getting lots of little jobs done, and I CAN TYPE WITH TWO HANDS NOW.  But... it's not my usual active existence.  Wish there was more to say at the moment, but there it is.

Hey, I'm getting lots of little chores knocked out.  And I'm not tempted to put on an orange jersey and go MTBing during deer season anyway and risk getting shot.  Back to the little chores...

Friday, November 28, 2014

Black Friday Special: Eulogy for RadioShack

Here's an inside view of RadioShack and its misdeeds, from a former employee.  Main quote from the article:
This is a consumer technology business that is built to work perfectly in the year 1975.   ....   This company needed to become something radically different a decade ago. I just don't think it knows how to be anything else.
Wow, what a monumental multi-decade screw-up.  Here's a brief history of the corporation and its attempts at restructuring into profitability over at Wikipedia.  Talk about mis-management and buzzword bingo, it's as if they did every business school dance while carefully avoiding the main issue of selling profitable items that customers want.  And while they've often skirted with financial problems, this really is looking like TheEnd for RadioShack.

RadioShack has always had a slightly greezy feel to it, but on the whole it has always been there when I needed a roll of solder or some cable connector. Granted, these days there's a better selection of better quality parts on the internet, but that implies a shipping delay.  When I'm in mid-project, it's been nice to know that the RadioShack around the corner likely would have that one little part I needed to wrap the job up the same day.  I'm going to miss them.

Look on the bright side: maybe a company that knows decent management can pick up the bones of RadioShack for little to nothing, then re-build the company into something useful and profitable again.  The current crop of management sure hasn't done the job.  In the meantime, I'll be watching to scoop up some gear for cheap at the Terminal Sale.  (cue the circling vultures)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Not that I'm tired of Christmas already or any such, but I kind of like this cartoon:

For today, Happy Thanksgiving.  December starts Monday, so start thinking about the rest Come Monday.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A new blog of interest.

Last week I posted a link to a story about a bailed-out bomber pilot potting the Zero that got his plane with a .45.  The blog from whence that story hails, Alert5, is pretty damned impressive!  Addictive too.  The current top post is all about the Genie air-to-air missile, which was an impressive weapons system in its own right.  Recommended!
Bright exhaust plume, but nowhere nearly as bright as the warhead's flash.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Collarbone Update

Two weeks down, four plus to go.  Had a check-up and X-ray on it today, and so far so good, it seems to be healing as expected.  Still have to wear a damned clavicle brace (this one) so that the ends won't overlap too much while it heals, but apart from that minor inconvenience things aren't bad at all.

This'll keep me out of the woods and off that damned bike until the end of deer season.  Probably for the best.  Enough on this topic, back to our regular subjects.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

"Live Fearless"?

In yesterday's mail there was an advertising postcard urging me to stay with my current health insurance company.  That's fine, I'm happy with them, little chance of me changing coverage.  But the theme / title / buzzphrase emblazoned all over it urging me to "Live Fearless" made me realize that (a) they don't know me very well, and (b) if they did, their lawyers would be desperately searching for a way to shove me off on another insurance company.

BTW, the collarbone is doing well and I intend to resume damaging my body in new and imaginative ways early in the new year.  Think I may try RF burns next.

Movie Review: The Signal

This is one of those frustrating movies that starts with a pretty good idea, does a passable job of developing it, has gorgeous special effects and competent acting, but... something's lost in the storytelling.  In a spoiler-free nutshell here's the story: three MIT students are driving cross-country and end up abducted by aliens.  (space, not the other kind)  Then weird stuff happens (leaving out the spoilers), there are several discoveries along the way, there's a struggle and a chase scene, and there's a Big Reveal at the end.

OK, so far so good.  The problems come in when these alleged hot-shots don't act like the science/engineering students they're supposed to be.  Apart from one sub-plot dealing with an intricate plan to get out of this mess, these characters don't exhibit the ingrained curiosity and compulsive problem-solving that they would in real life.  Instead, we are handed a few isolated instances of reasonably bright behavior mired in a sea of generic 20-something activity.  When they finally get a glimpse of alien technology, they're not particularly interested in it, they treat it more with indifferent disgust.  These aren't early-20's tech students, they're dumbed-down late-20's cubical workers.  Who gives a hoot about watching that?

The bright spots in this movie were the special effects and Laurence Fishburne's maddeningly deadpan Dr. Damon.  The Blair Witch Project vibe of the first third helped too, though it may have borrowed too heavily there.  Apart from that, there's a kind of aching curiosity this movie forces on you, but by they last third it had turned from "what's next?" to "when will this turkey end?"

Bottom line: A fine idea wrecked by poor storytelling.  2 stars out of 4.  One star for taking big chances with a cool idea, another star for decent acting and film work.  If you want more, here's the link to Rotten Tomatoes.

Stop.  Turn around.  Come back when you have developed storytelling skills.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Effective Defiance Demonstrated

Here's a wild, true story: a shot down B-24 bomber pilot parachuting to safety shoots down attacking Japanese fighter with his .45.  Holy great act of defiance, Batman!
Sometimes the mouse wins.  Especially if he packs a .45 and uses it.

This story, along with many other inspiring military aviation tales, can be found over at Alert 5.  Seems to be updated every week or so.  Worth a stop-by now and again.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Return of the "Russian Woodpecker"?

The Duga-3 was a Soviet-era long-range over-the-horizon anti-ballistic missile early warning radar.  With a roughly 10 Hz. knocking tone (when AM demodulated), it was nicknamed the "Russian Woodpecker."  The spectrum of its signal looked something like these three samples:

From left to right, the two pronounced peaks are (probably) ham SSB signals.  The flat-topped broadband signal near the middle (green bar in the waterfall plots) is the one of interest.  Finally, the strong peak on the right is (probably) a shortwave broadcast station.

Now, the odd thing is that these were all recorded in the last week.  Hrm.

For what it's worth, the Fourier transform of this boxcar frequency spectrum is a nice sharp pulse:
Nice, easy to handle.  Gives good localization.

Wonder who's feeling the need to switch on this sort of early warning radar.  We shall see.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Collarbone: Day Five

So far so good.  The crunchy noises have ceased.  The worst pain so far has been lower back pain from sleeping in one position too long.  Managed a shower this morning, a neighbor helped with re-installing the brace, and I got a grocery store trip in.  Work on tap for tomorrow.

December 22 will be the six weeks mark, so I ought to have a functional collarbone for Christmas.  Can't wait!

Friday, November 14, 2014

210% of Your Daily Recommended Dose of Awesome

Over at youtube, about 6 minutes.  I'd seen the diagrams before too, good to have its actual workings spelled out.  Gonna stop typing now.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

More Collarbone Adventures

Got to the ortho-doc this morning, and it went about like I expected: "Yeah, it's broken."  "Great, what can I expect over the next few weeks?"  "Yeah, it'll get better."  Then he wanted to talk about Big Bang Theory.  Nice enough MD, but there wasn't a whole lot of discussion of reassuring milestones along the path to recovery.  (No, really, I'm not complaining here, these guys see so many of these it'd be like explaining a car's shifter pattern.  But it's all new stuff for me!)  So... youTube to the rescue:  

Also, the doc though it would be useful for me to be in a figure-eight brace to keep my shoulders straight while this thing heals.  Naturally his office referred me to:
I have never seen such an astounding (appalling?) array of braces, splints, wheelchairs, walkers, and traction devices.  Take it from me: The Pros Trust ACME.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

First Fruit

Or perhaps more aptly, first buds that may eventually lead to fruit.  Three years ago Neil Stephenson published a short essay on Innovation Starvation, pointing out how the vast majority of new science fiction stories published today is dystopian, which is leading to a lack of vision amongst our scientists and engineers, as well as those who fund them.  Hmm, well, given that the last Space Shuttle mission had landed just a few months earlier and with the only U.S. manned space capability still in the early stages of development hell (now in the throws of a full-blown case of it), I believe he has a point.

So without typing too much longer (kind of hard on the right shoulder), there's a new science fiction collection edited by Stephenson that seems to be a good first step on the road back to hard sci-fi optimism: Hieroglyph: Stories & Visions for a Better Future.  That *plonk* noise you just heard was the sound of a hardback copy going into my shopping cart.  BTW, here's the Hieroglyph project's site, and a BBC article on the entire endeavor where you can read more.  I really can't type much more right now.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Movie Review: Argo

A highly fictionalized account of the Canadian Caper, pulled off to get six diplomats out of Tehran in early 1980, is a hoot to watch.  While deadly serious, there's ample subtle humor to keep things from getting leaden.  OK, they did play up the '70s greasy polyester look a bit, but past that... pretty damn good.  It's a nearly flawless script that puts out the emotional impact, the tension, the goofiness of the film industry, all without ever letting any of these topics take over.  

This movie really has no flaws.  While it never inspires or anything, it was throughly entertaining to watch and did (sort of) present a little slice of history.  I'll give it 3.5 stars.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Broken Right Clavicle: MTB Implicated

... and I was just thinking this morning "wow, in just a couple of weeks, it'll be 20 years since I bought my first mountain bike."  Guess it was only a matter of time.  At least I was flying fast when it happened.

Meh, it'll heal, and I've got a big stack of books in from Amazon.  Washed & waxed the car yesterday.  Could be a lot worse.  Did discover the downside of a stick shift on the way to the ER though.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Twenty Five Years Ago Today

The Berlin wall was opened up 25 years ago today.  Here, take a couple of minutes and read up on that concrete affront to humanity over at Wikipedia.  Pretty bad.  Then take a minute to read about the East German border guard, Harald J├Ąger, who in effect said "the Party's over" and opened the gates.  Pretty good!
Sure, the pic's from 1961, but it's still apt today.

What were you doing on this day in 1989?  I was busy winding down from a three-month experiment, and winding up for six months of data analysis.  What will you do with your freedom today?  What will you do today to preserve freedom's future?

Friday, November 7, 2014

Movie Review: Interstellar

This is a very good movie, and I have to give it to Christopher Nolan for thinking big.  I liked many of the underlying themes that added depth and dimension (heh) to this world approximately fifty years in the future.  Having said all of that, I prefer my sci-fi a bit harder, though in all fairness this was probably about as hard as a movie could be while retaining commercial viability.  (If you're not familiar with the terms "hard" and "soft" science fiction, here's a Wikipedia thumbnail description.)

It's hard to write much more about this movie without re-hashing what other reviewers have said, or inadvertently letting a spoiler fly.  Let me just give my rating: 3.25 out of 4 stars, and refer you to reviews by James Berardinelli and Flickfilospher.

Overall, this was not what I was expecting, but that's good when a story has some additional twists.  Not really a question of "exceeded" or "did not meet" expectation, more of it took some batshit turns that I just didn't see coming.  I'll have to see it again at least once.  Definitely a spectacle not to be missed.

ps: Here's a spoiler-riffic wade through this movie's missteps over at Up Ship.  Again, that review is all about the spoilers, and the technical problems therein.  Yep, too much 2001 and not enough reality.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

I don't usually use Fandango...

...but when I do, it's for a chance to win a trip into space.
Details at

It's a movie I'm definitely going to see anyway, so why not get a ticket – and a chance at a capital-T Ticket – through these guys?  Expect a review over the weekend.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Joe Strummer's London Calling Redux

Here's a follow-up to the original post on Joe Strummer's BBC World Service shortwave show.

Er, that was the original, here's a link to an interesting article on Joe's old show including links to much higher-quality sound files, now including all episodes!  Enjoy!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Return of the Fourth Ward Cleaver

Right here!

Welcome back, Ellis and crew.  We've missed you, glad you could make it back onto the web.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Nerd Sniping

The term popped up on xkcd:
The answer btw is 4/pi - 1/2.  You can get it either analytically or numerically.

Then this popped up on SMBC today:
Sometimes work feels like this.

Next question: replace each of the resistors in the xkcd problem with a 1pF capacitor and a 1uH inductor, wired in series.  What will be the resulting impedance, as a function of input frequency?

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Friday, October 24, 2014



Tomorrow's payday, and I've already ripped through the two week's check paying bills this evening.  Meh, it's good to have the fiscal underbrush cleared out.

Then tomorrow I've got to find the local DMV to renew my driver's license.  Look online?  Hah, three different commercial sites point toward three different locations, one of which I know is closed.  Official state site information?  Double Hah: 404 Page Not Found.

I'll just start at the County tax office building (one of the on-line purported sites) and work it from there.


postscript: After a mis-step of trying the County tax office I was re-directed to The Kiln, where... the whole thing took maybe 15 minutes, even counting sorting out a decades-old snag in record keeping.  The genuinely friendly and efficient clerk worked through the problem, kept a smile on her face, and even wished me a happy birthday when all was done.  Wow, are those "worse than the DMV" jokes out of date.  Plus, I'm good to go for the next eight years on this DL.  It was a small thing, but it was a good way to start the day.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Shortwave News Broadcaster for the US

Goes on the air at 00:00 UTC 1 November – that's 7pm Halloween evening for us in the CDT zone.  Looks interesting!  Here's their web site, here's The SWLing Post's write-up about them.

I'm excited that there may soon be some content on the SW bands beyond good blues music, religious screamers, Cuban propaganda, and the like.  On the other hand... I hope it's not some thinly-veiled version of the just-mentioned fare.  The overall track record for commercial SW has been pretty dismal to date.  Let's see if somebody can make it work this time.

In the meantime, I'll say that this looks to be a serious effort, and will definitely be listening in on their inaugural broadcast.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Movie Review: Fury

Short form: War is hell.  This point is repeatedly shown not told.

A bit longer: This film is every bit as brutal and intense as Black Hawk Down, but because it centers on a single tank crew, it is far more personal.  WWII is drawing to a close – it's April already, meaning that there's less than a month to go – and in the words of the tank commander "It will end.  Soon.  But before it does, a lot more people gotta die."  There are no great philosophical points made by this movie.  It simply shows that war is hard, gut-wrenching, dirty work.  It shows things as they're finally coming to a head at the very end of the European war, when it's down to battle-scarred American veterans grinding through fanatical German SS who are hell-bent on a suicidal last stand.  There're also a fair number of views of civilians, some innocent, some not so much, caught in the cross-fire.  The total effect is one of fatalism, weariness, cold competence, and determination to finish the job.  There's no thought of victory parades for these men, no waving flags, no dreams of a post-war good life, no grateful nation.  The war is still on, nothing else matters, and there are no thoughts past surviving the current day.

There are two film-related notes that stand out here.  First, the acting is all top-knotch.  Even crazy little Shia LaBeof pulls off his character as a Bible-thumping gunner with aplomb.  If you want more casting details, go look them up over at Rotten Tomatoes.  Secondly, war movies always seem to have a guy thrown into the middle of things who doesn't belong there.  For examples, recall the reporter character in Das Boot, or the translator in Saving Private Ryan.  They come off as wimpy and in the way, but I think that film-school types put them in as someone they believe that the audience can relate to.  Mostly though, they just come off as Hollywood idiots plonked into situations that, in real life, would devour them within hours.  In this movie though, the fish-out-of-water learns to swim, and damn fast and well.  That was a welcome relief from the usual potboiler war movie character.

Hmm, let's add one more film-related note: the technical aspects and the special effects in this film are stunning.  The care that went into them is a clear cut above most war movies.  I won't belabor this last point, but the painstaking work put into the details is a powerful part of the movie, and has to be seen to be appreciated.  If you go, pay attention to these details, it will pay dividends.

Bottom line number review: 3.5 out of 4 stars.  This is a thoroughly riveting movie that drives home a simple message: War is hell.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

New (Old) Music Find

Look, I'm not pitching punk rock and hellbilly music to go over to the big band sound, but I know a good thing when I hear it.  There's a recently re-formatted radio station down in Sarasota that's pretty much all big band and swing all the time, and it's pretty good.  Introducing:
Here, listen to their liner song while you read on.
It's easy to receive this station up in Apalachicola, and eastward to Panacea, but it starts getting a little dicey by the time you get over to Gulf County.  Well hell, they've only got 300 Watts output.  I can just about transmit that much from my own back yard.  Still, thanks to the miracle of over-salt-water groundwave propagation, that tiny signal reaches Franklin and Wakulla Counties just fine:
Sarasota Calling!  In a tiny, tiny, 300 Watt voice.

If you're outside their walkie-talkie range, you can always stream them live through their basic but functional web site: 

I know, I know, AM radio sounds like crap.  But as with WSM's proto- and classic country music, big band sounds best on its original medium.  It's reminiscent of the Academy of Ancient Music's quest to play baroque and classical on period-correct instruments.  It comes out better, somehow, despite the limitations.

Anyway, when you get over to the eastern Panhandle, give WTMY 1280 AM a try.  It is a treat, and a welcome occasional break from this.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Want a cookie?

From over at last Sunday's Foxtrot.  Click to embiggen so that you can read some of the code snippets.  "The wise coder uses comments."  Or was that "commons"?  True either way.

I for one am glad that "foxtrot" appears twice in my ham call sign.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Just off the Road

...and I've got very little to show but a dirty castnet and a half-drained bottle of rye.  Here, have some Dropkick Murphies: Cadence to Arms while you read the rest of the post.

Did beat the bad weather home though, that is definitely a good thing.

About the trip to Apalach... Blues in the Lot went off well.  The Shop, The Apalach Sponge Company, Reel Memories, and Downtown Books were all there and holding forth.  Still unpacking, more later.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

So you missed yesterday's eclipse?

Yeah, me too.  Rough week, I wasn't about to drag ass out of bed early for a fairly common astronomical event.  Fortunately, the folks at NASA maintain a web site full of cool daily pictures:
You can get the captions from the original post here, and here's the general site link to get you daily fix of astro-awesomeness.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Wild Horses at the Trails Today

Engines not shown.

On a side note, this low-carb stuff is working.  Four hours and 32 miles on the trail today – the equivalent of a metric century road ride – on nothing more than water and stored body fat.  Plenty of energy, no fatigue, and most definitely no bonk.  It's like magic.  A month ago I never would have believed it to be possible.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Don't Be So Anti-

"What If?" fields the question

The answer, as you might guess, is pretty brutal.
No, don't wait.  Scamper your hyperlinked self over to "What If?" and find the answers.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tuesday Random Pictures

Ready for the grill:

That sheen on the vegetables is from olive oil.  Holds the salt on, makes 'em taste good.

September's over, and so far so good on hurricane season.  Here, have a hurricane lilly:

"Thirty days hath September / In the jailhouse I remember."  Meh, I'm ready for October.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Upcoming Movie: Predestination

It's an adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein's "–All You Zombies–"  Being as it's got nothing whatsoever to do with zombies except for one metaphorical comment at the very end, and given the current zombie movie craze, it had to be named something else lest some viewers come away peeved.  "Predestination" is a pretty good pick, all considered.

Here's the trailer.  U.S. release date is 9 Jan 15.

Seems to have been released internationally first, judging by the reviews at Rotten Tomatoes (running at 85% positive at present, BTW).

Also, here's the Wikipedia Page.  No wait!  Caution!!! Spoilers!!!  Do not go there if you haven't read the story.  Here's the original online for free!  It's only about ten pages.  Go.  Read.  Enlighten yourselves.

OK, you're back.  Looking at the trailer, it looks pretty good.  Of course, that's a trailer's job.  If they stuck to the story it ought to be a classic.  With the original so short, there's plenty of room for fleshing things out without wrecking the story line.  We shall see.

I used to think that this short story wrapped up all of the time travel paradoxes into one neat ball, then along came Primer.  At least we've got that to watch while we wait.

Wish though I had a time machine to jump forward to 9 January.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Perspectives on Being Struck by Lightning

No, I haven't been hit.  Just some Sunday linkage.

> 500 sky-to-human strikes a year; ~90% survival rates, but it going to leave a mark.  Article on the long-term effects over at Outside Mag's site.

Pointed there by slashdot today.  From some of the comments:
A local doctor [] was struck by lighting and became a concert pianist as a result. You never know what might change your life forever.
All of them become conductors.
It's because they couldn't resist.
They should have stayed ohm that day. 
Would have been a chance to catch up with current events.
Some mood music, courtesy of MoAM?

Bottom line: don't be a dumbass around lightning storms.  The long-term effects of being struck are similar to those from a stroke.  You may be taunted by keyboard-weilding monkeys at slashdot.  And finally, you may have a decades-old surf rock tune stuck in your head.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Double Vision

Nothing to write home about, just a parking lot coincidence.  Still kind of funny, made a nice blog pic.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Horst Link, now out of patent!

As seen over at Dirt Rag: Ghost Bikes coming to the US.
But that's not the real news.  Here's the interesting part:
Ghost’s full-suspension line uses a four-bar Horst Link design, which until recently was under patent by Specialized in the US.
Huh!  After Horst Leitner got tired of a DYI defense of his patent and sold it to Specialized in the late 90's and they got their legal team cracking on things, a lot of good bike designs went by the wayside.  Remember the GT LTS for example?  Several mom-and-pop bike works also got crushed in the scramble.

Well now it's game back on for suspension design.  Don't expect the equivalent of the Cambrian explosion for suspension we saw in the mid-90's, but look for some innovative designs to start popping up.  Like, say, this one, from that Dirt Rag article:

But enough of technology and suspension linkages for the moment.  Fine as that bike looks, the brand name kind of creeps me out.  A ghost bike is a memorial, not something you ride!
It's kind of like naming an airplane "Auger" or a sports car "James Dean Tragic Crash Special."  Does not bode well, do not want.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Looks Like Fall

A train of three cold fronts lining up across the nation:
Feels good!

Monday, September 22, 2014

2014 Ig Nobel Prizes Awarded

List of laureates here.
World press reaction here.
Please stop.  I'm bored.  (the academic world needs more of this)

What it's really all about.  Seriously.  (and mercifully short)

Sunday Nite Comics: TX Chainsaw Massacre

...staring The Ramones!
[click here, blogger's still screwing up youtube links]

Several other amusing shorts by the same guy, click here.

Friday, September 19, 2014

My Research Field Comes Full Circle

Too bad I'm not on this project, because it looks very relevant and interesting:
Coffee Roasting Acoustics, in the June issue of JASA.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Movie Review: American Hustle

It was an amusing, con action-packed way to spend two hours.  The directing and acting did a fine job of saving this thing's scrambled-eggs plot.  All four leads went way outside their usual roles and evidently had a merry old time doing this weird-o flick.  The frantic pace kept things amusing.

The main thing that seemed out of place was the treatment of The 70's.  The events here were set in '78-'81, but much of it felt like 1971.  It was all about "Hey, let's set a movie in the 70's!"  "Yeah and we can feature disco styles alongside toupees and whale-sized personal luxury cars!  More polyester!"  With nary a Pinto or a Vega anywhere to be seen.  It sort of did to the 70's what Lord of the Rings did to the Middle Ages.  Look back at the treatment of the 70's in X-Men: Days of Future Past to see the 70's done right.  The 70's were a time, not some weird greasy dress-up cult.

But that's a minor quibble.  This movie is all about the con, the scam, the frantic pace, and never quite trusting those closest to you.  It was a fun ride for a couple of hours.  But when it was over, I needed a shower to get the oily coating of smarm and synthetic fibers off my body.  2.5 out of 4 stars.

Despite the relatively low rating, I really did enjoy the movie.  Once.

Movie Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America once more swings into action from the very first minutes!  Evil has penetrated into the heart of America!  And through it all, the Captain kicks butt, takes names, and never, never lets his true friends down.  Acting, directing, writing, and effects were all top-notch.  The action sequences were thrilling.  It even had a recognizable plot.  Loose ends from the last movie were tied up, and a new set were unraveled for the next in the series, but ultimately Good and America prevailed.

Is there anything more to wish for in this sort of movie?  3.4 out of 4 stars.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Return of The Cleaver?

Maybe.  Hopefully.  In November.  Allegedly.  We'll see!
Sure hope so, I've missed them.  They've got a placeholder site up at  If you miss them enough too, they have a sponsorship page with individual and commercial levels.  (hint-hint)