Monday, July 31, 2017

Sunday Biking: September in July

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

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

Some Progress on The Shop

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

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Programming a Yaesu FT-60 Radio using Chirp

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

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

Tomorrow: less geekery, more mountain bike action.

ps 2/22/20: If you need to program by hand, there's a great one-pager instruction sheet here:  It's really easy, but it is time consuming if you have more than a few channels to program.  Definitely worth it to buy a good cable and use chirp.

Friday, July 28, 2017

First Breath of Fall?

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

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

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

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Dirt Rag Magazine Turns 200

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

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

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Radio Programming Notes

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

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

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

Next up, the cable you want for a Yaesu FT-817ND:
Similarly, it's plug-and-play, drivers pre-loaded by Apple.  About $25, and money damn well spent, because again, there's no downloading drivers from some who-knows-where web site.  There's still a little guessing about which USB port to point chirp towards, but here's a hint to narrow it down: it ain't either of the two with "bluetooth" in the character-salad name.

Finally, some guiding advice on getting programming images up from and back down to your FT-817ND, courtesy of VK3BQ:
Just in case the web site ever goes away, here's the key part:
A trap for young players with the 817 and chirp. You need to do two steps to get the radio to talk to the computer
Power on the radio while holding down both MODE < > buttons, The radio will beep three times and show “CLONE MODE” on the display.
Set CHIRP up to download the radio image form the menu, then on the radio, press button “A” and the radio will start TX’ing data, and you have a copy of the radio memories. Program up the radio in chirp with your repeaters and other parameter settings and save a copy. To load the new memories/file into the radio, power on the radio as per above and enter “CLONE MODE” again, Set CHIRP to upload to radio and then press the “C” button on the Radio, the device will change to RX mode and receive the new configuration. The instructions are on page 69 of the 817nd (2011) manual under Cloning.
Alright!  Made it easy, and it even worked the first time.  Got all of the customary PSK31 frequencies, the local repeaters, and the common 2 meter simplex frequencies programmed in right, and all without having to perform a selfie root canal as part of the process.  Tested out on the W5SGL repeater, and all is right with the world.

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Listen in on the Tuesday Evening Net

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

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

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Movie Review: Baby Driver

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

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

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

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

LawDog in Print

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

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

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

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Basics of the Standard Model

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

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

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

About that Late-Night Paranormal Radio Stuff...

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

Obligatory Spooky Image

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

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Winter Field Day Results Posted

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 16, 2017

A film to watch for.

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

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

I don't trust it.

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

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

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Just Listen

Woke up late to this at NPR first thing this morning:

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

Friday, July 14, 2017

More About Coffee

From over at today's SMBC:

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

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Bicycle Times Magazine Quits Print

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

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

100 Hand-Picked Graphic Novels

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

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Coffee Wins Again

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

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

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

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Success on the BSL Downtown Beachfront

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Wrap it up, I'll take it.

Two for the Road

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

Go have a look around.

Obligatory Cut-and-Paste Graphics

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

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

Saturday, July 1, 2017


Placeholder of a day.  Mowed grass, did laundry, picked up a few electrical bits from the auto parts store.  Tried to find a particularly weird special event ham station, but the 20m band was deader'n a duck.  Generally recovered from the week.  Read The Week.  Drank coffee.

Not every day can be slam-bang action.  More to come soon.