Saturday, April 28, 2018

What if They Held a War...

... and never wrapped it up with a peace treaty?  This business about the two Koreas being 65 years into a cease fire but still technically at war has some people thinking about other odd cases.  Article over at the BBC.

I for one am relieved that Rome and Carthage finally settled their differences in 1985.

Friday, April 27, 2018

QRP on the Trail

The weather forecast for the next few days is so insanely great that I took today off to go mountain biking.  Started the day with the usual 25 miles like a normal biker, then had lunch and pressed the nerd button.  Swapped camelbaks for the one pre-loaded with the Yaesu FT-817nd and its accouterments, jumped back on the bike for a couple more miles' ride up South Bethal Trail, set up the antenna, and... made next to no contacts.  Did catch the tail-end of a 40 meter net that's run out of Texas, so I wasn't completely skunked.  Then I almost got through to an elementary school's ham station – but only 5 watts wasn't able to break through suburban Atlanta background noise, so that didn't go.  Mulled over pulling out the iPhone interface, but even the digital sub-bands were all but dead so I didn't bother.  Just one of those afternoons.

For all the lack of contacts, it was a successful trip nonetheless.  The basic scheme of pedaling out with complete HF radio gear worked well.  Set-up and tear-down each took only about 15 minutes.  Pack weigh-in with 1.5 liters of water came to 12.3 pounds.  That's trivial on foot, and even manageable on a bike.  And while the ionosphere was uncooperative, I got enough signal through to prove to myself that the concept as a whole works.  It was a nice spring day well spent.

Lessons for next time?  I probably ought to invest in a good day pack.  A ten year old camelbak MULE, even augmented with an extra MOLLE pouch, just doesn't cut it if I want to bring lunch or a poncho.  It'd also be nice to bring a foam backpacker's seat.  I already have one and that bare dirt gets hard after an hour.  But those are small quibbles, and the rest came off without a hitch.

The Batman Paradox Resolved

Over at SMBC.  As it turns out, Batman doesn't have to win every time.  By the way, the mouse-over text is simultaneously horrifying and probably true.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Science Podcast: All About Going Back to the Moon

Over at Big Picture Science, this week's episode is High Moon, and the topic is going back to said Moon.  

Bonus: The first interviewee is Andy Weir, author of The Martian.  He sort of spills the beans on what his next book or three may be about.  Worth a listen for that much alone.

Backpacking Podcast: What Have I Gotten Myself Into?

No, I'm not having second thoughts.  Rather, it's the topic of this week's backpacking podcast episode, over at The First 40 Miles: Do You Know What You Signed Up For?

It helps to know these things before you venture into the woods.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

New Term: Flash War

Here's a recent article over at NPR about autonomous weapons, in which we are introduced to the term "flash war."  It's a sort of mash-up of flash crash and (perhaps) blitzkrieg, the idea being that in a world filled with autonomous weapons, the decisions building into a major war could could happen faster than humans could react to shut it down, much in the same way as poorly designed high-frequency trading algorithms can drive a stock market crash through their inadvertent interactions.

In a very direct sense, the algorithms embodied in pre-WWI treaties had precisely this effect.  I suppose, from this point of view, a flash war has already happened, albeit at the speed of telegraph communications.

Anyway, it's something to watch out for, and an interesting article.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

28 Years of the Hubble Space Telescope

Noted at This Day in Aviation.

As well as being the main part of completely freekin' revolutionizing our view of the whole damn universe, this is one of the finest examples of our tax money being well-spent.

Also noted: the Hubble has been in space almost exactly half of my lifetime.  That likely doesn't affect your world, I know, but it does put things into a slightly different perspective for me.

Next up: Webb Space Telescope.  Exciting times!

ps: a nice article on the Hubble from UPI.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Last Week's TESS Launch

... aboard a Falcon 9.  Just a nice picture here, but you can read the whole thing over at NASA's APOD.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Tall Ships in New Orleans

Met up with the Darling Daughter and toured through the visiting tall ships on the French Quarter riverfront today.  The weather threatened, but in the end we put threw caution to the wind and ditched the rain gear to the car's trunk, and everything turned to blue skies by 1:30.  Here, you can read up on the ships.  I can't add much beyond a couple of pictures.

Followed up with a brunch (is it still brunch at 1 pm? well the menu said so) at Eat NOLA and a tour of Congo Square.  It was a good day.


From xkcd:
mouse-over text from the cartoon's page:
I found a copy of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but the idea of reading it didn't spark joy, so I gave it away.

I can relate.  My copy of TLCMoTU is somewhere in that pile of books, over there next to the bed.  Covered in dust.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Fortune Cookie Advice

From Friday night's with-the-check fortune cookie:
"As long as you don't sign up for anything new, you'll do fine."

Hm, I really ought to heed this random slip of paper.

An Indispensable Source of Bile

Kunstler's blog is a twice-weekly must-read for me, and you probably ought to give it a try too.  IF and only if profanity doesn't particularly bother you; even the name of the blog contains one from George Carlin's list of items you can't say on the air.  Topics range across rumor of impending war, suburban sprawl vs. New Urbanism, a general pox upon all things both Republican and Democratic, to – Kunstler's favorite axe to grind – peak oil.  To paraphrase Bilbo Baggins, I agree with less than half of this half as much as I should like, and I like less than half of it half as well as it deserves.  But it is a good read, and it gives some indications of where the submerged rocks and shoals may lie.

Oh yeah, the link: here.  You Have Been Warned.

That will take you directly to his blog, though there's a lot of other worthwhile content at Kunstler's web site, so look around: a sporadic podcast, an architectural critique department ("Eyesore of the Month"), and of course some low-key hawking of his books; those sorts of things.  Have a drink at hand.  I suggest a soothing cup of ilex vomitoria.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Two New Videos from PMJ

The Cranberries' Zombie, heavy soul style

Fleetwood Mac's Don't Stop, New Orleans style

Just couldn't wait to post these.  See?  Tomorrow's post – today!  And less nerdy by the moment.  Enjoy.

Catching Up on Ham Radio News

How to set your mic gain and speech compression.  Sure, the guy takes his time getting to the point, but it's still a good explanation.  He discusses specifics of setting this on a couple of popular models, so skip around a bit after the intro to the parts that pertain to you and yours.

W6OBB SK.  He will be missed, but perhaps he's now getting some of the answers he has so long sought.  Scroll down for an old interview with Larry King.

A brief article on effectively communicating over radio, courtesy of Wonder Seven Dead Buzzard Odor. Read it and avoid a case of Whacky Tapioca Flatulence.  (ok, those last two were annoying, but it's to prove a point)

That's all for the moment.  Perhaps something less nerd-riffic tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Weekend Approaches

You can always tell by all the rain in the forecast:

What are the odds of this happening randomly so many weekends in a row?  Vanishingly small.  I tell you, this weather is controlled by cats.  Cats!  *grumble*

Not a Lot Lately

But there'll be more and soon.  Just been on the road to FL.  Did paperwork catch-up today, waxed the car, but didn't manage to sleep late when I could've.  Darnit.

In the meantime until I come up with something truly interesting, here have a look at the 2018 Cobra Jet Mustang.  That's interesting.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Movies and Science

Huh, here's an interesting mash-up: Science vs Cinema at youtube (take The Martian first).  Just go watch.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

In Praise of the 30 Meter Band

A few years ago when the solar cycle was just off its peak, 30 meters was mighty good.  But now as we head into the bottom of the cycle, it's becoming damned near essential.  Take for example today's late afternoon band conditions:

Need more convincing?  Here, have some VOACAP coverage maps:
This 40m band is too local...

This 20m band is too full of holes!

Aaaah.  This 30m band is juust right.

Thirty meters gets the job done in the current crummy band conditions.  No voice allocation there, but if you're a data mode junky it looks like the place to be for the next few years.  Now if we could just get some more traffic on 30. (hint, hint)  It's not exactly clogged up with contesters trying to shout over each other.

ps: It occurs to me that about 47 feet of wire would let my little LNR EFT-10-20-40 trail antenna work 30 as well.  This will happen very soon.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Gearing Up for Backpacking, Part 10 (and last): Base Weight-In

Final Base Weight: 16.08 lbs

That's with the lighter-weight options (55 degree bag, not the 25er, etc.), but without any radio gear, food, water, or fuel.  Load in the those last three for an overnighter plus reading material, and we're still in the neighborhood of 23 lbs.  Not bad!  While I will admit to some titanium here and there and having spent a little bit of money, it was still much less than a bike.  No buckyball insulation, no Puppeteer hull material fiber (well, isn't that essentially what Dyneema is?), no smoking credit cards anywhere in sight.

And this pretty well ends the "gearing up" series.  Gear has been gotten, tested, weighed, replaced, and tested again.  It's been a quick and ruthless process this past camping season, but the results are good and ready to roll when the weather allows.  Don't expect a detailed gear list or weigh-out here.  That's too much work and it's going to change anyway.  Go look at youtube videos from the experts if you need more, don't look to a newbie like me.

So, that's all for backpacking until the fall rolls around.  Maybe some gear fiddling toward the end of summer, or a quick dash into the woods in August if there happens to be an early cold front.  (Hey, it happens.)  Maybe... even a brief trip up north?  But for now, I'll leave the south Mississippi foot trails to the reptiles and bugs.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Ham Radio: a Blog Returns and Some Goals

Sort of a blah weekend of mowing grass and doing chores.  Did get in one bike ride, but it was only CX'ing the seawall.  Didn't really participate in the Mississippi QSO party, it was just too contest-a-riffic for me at the moment.  Did get myself caught up and recharged for this week however, and that was worthwhile.

On to the main points of this post.  M0JCQ's Ham Blog has a new post up, the first one in some months.  The guy's been off Doing Adventure and brought back pictures.  From Everest for example, that's pretty cool.  Then he doubles down and gives a list of ham radio goals for 2018.  (just go hit the link if you want to see)  Naturally this comes around to "What the hell am I doing on the radio in 2018?"  So... here we go.
  • Lighten up the QRP rig a shade more.  Perhaps a smaller LiFePO4 battery.
  • Get back out on the trail and do some more overnight/multi-day camping & radio trips.  That will have to wait for cooler, reptile-free weather next fall.
  • Get one daytime QRP/mountain bike portable trip in before the real heat starts.  It'll have to be within the next month.  This almost happened yesterday, but the trails were just too wet to justify the drive.
  • Get back on 100 watt/QRO day hiking.  I mean, I've already got the radio for it.  Will probably just use the Osprey 50 to haul all 15+ pounds around, though I could use a new day pack for this and a variety of other reasons.
  • Get around to having the blown finals in the FT-450D fixed – or maybe relegate it to SWLing.
  • Build up a 440 Moxon antenna and see if I can get into the SARNET-FL Apalachicola repeater more reliably.  Will start out with the HT initially, but it may take more watts from the 857 before this is all up and truly working reliably.  It's one step at a time.
  • Build up that BitX 40 that's been staring me in the face for a year.
  • Finally, there's the eternal goal of practical SSTV from home.  I did get quite a ways with it last year (evidence, and more evidence) but finally ran out of gas about time hurricane season ramped up.  Mostly it's going to come down to sorting out a marginally documented piece of freeware.
Well that's a rag-bag of small projects that could all happen in a one week staycation, should I ever get around to it.  Most likely though, I'll wander into next fall with perhaps half them accomplished.  Getting that Easy Digi interface up and functioning was a huge step forward and a great start for 2018.  Throw in two successful overnighters, and it's looking pretty good.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Yaupon Tea, the Verdict

Following up on last week's post about yaupon tea, I can say that it's pretty good!  It doesn't have all the floral notes of most conventional teas, it has more of a southern backwoodsy smell and flavor.  If you think of it as "regular tea is to BBC as yaupon tea is to WSM" you'll have a fair idea of how this goes.  Beyond those descriptions, you'll just have to try it.

About the source of this and which roast to try, Lost Pines showed up in searches first.  It's also available on Amazon, if that's easier for you.  Perhaps some of the descriptions at those sites will further fill you in.  Lost Pines' lighter roast is probably the one to try if you must pick one, but the dark roast is interesting as well.  The light roast has more woodsy flavor, while the dark is closer to a conventional tea.

Now, will I buy more of it?  Probably not.  I'll just step out my backdoor to pick my own to roast.  More to the point, will I be drinking more of it?  Definitely.

Further reading: yaupon holly, black drink at Wikipedia 

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Goodness, What a Week

Nothing particularly awful, but it was busy around here and there wasn't a lot particularly noteworthy in the news nor in real life.  Oh here are a few things that caught my eye:

Why the SpaceX video feed was chopped on this week's launch.  TLDR version: Obsolete bureaucracy.

A new X-plane to test out quiet supersonic transport technologies.  Cool!

Ready Player One is playing at the neighborhood cinema.  It's a rainy day, the book won the Prometheus Award, and the movie is making all the right heads explode.  That might get me out the door to see it, if no other adventures intervene.

SMBC ruins all science jokes, forever.  No really, it does.  If you're not up on science jokes don't click through.

Ilex vomitoria – yum!  Yaupon holly tea (discussed earlier) arrived in yesterday's mail, and it's pretty good.  Of the two prepared versions I'd ordered, the lighter green variety has more nose and flavor.  It's the same leaves, just roasted a little less than the "dark roast" variety.  Considering that I've got a backyard full of the stuff, it's something I'm going to have to learn to prepare.  Good to know the endpoint I'm aiming for first though.

To Be Continued

Monday, April 2, 2018

The Real Jeep Returns?

Sort of.  A while back I lamented about the $80,000 jeep and how at that price you wouldn't want to do jeep-stuff with it.  Well how does $15,000 sound? 

Starting at $15,000.  Paperwork not included.

There's just one catch: it's not street legal.  There's a lot to unpack on this one, but don't even get me started.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Lightweight Interface for Digital Comms

In the ongoing struggle to get this backpacking load under control, enter the Easy Digi interface box. The plans for this have been circulating for years, and there are even kits out there, but given current time constraints pre-built was the way to go.  In fact, it was plug-and-play... almost.  The One Grand Trick was that the sound input on the iPhone is easily overloaded, so it was necessary to crank down the FT-817nd radio's volume nearly all the way.  That step had me stumped for a couple of hours, thinking that something was failing along the way from the radio's output to the phone's input.  But no, it was just an overload problem – the same one I've been running into when audio-linking for years now.  Should've realized it sooner.

Weight... 0.20 pounds.  Throw in the bluetooth kbd and that's another 0.8 lbs (it's a plastic clone of the aluminum Apple kbd made by Anker, about $25).  I'm carrying the phone backpacking anyway, that's "free weight" toward the digital radio endeavor, so the whole thing comes to 1.00 pound even.  Now any extra pounds (even 1.00) are unwanted, but this is 3 pounds less than the 4 pounds for the laptop, SignaLink, and cables to get the same job done.  Anytime you can carve 3/4 off the weight of something going into a backpack, that's a raging success.

Here's the obligatory picture:

It works well, even though PSKer isn't as full-featured and convenient software as say FLdigi.  Got on the air with it by about 11 last night and quickly bagged a contact with a ham out in Utah.  Turns out the guy's a hiker, that was a real bonus!

Now for a few technical notes in case I ever lose the notebook (feel free to skip):

  • PSKer: Setup > Allow Speaker: off
  • iPhone: 
    • Settings > PSKer > mic: on
    • phone output volume: 4-5 bars (adjust with ALC & power meter)
  • Radio Settings:
    • sp/ph switch -> ph
    • vol: all the way down, then ease back up a little – don't overload!
    • VOX (f-menu #10A): on
    • VOX Delay (menu #50): 100ms
    • VOX Gain (Menu #51): 25 35 seems to work better
    • SSB mic gain (Menu #46) to 45-50 range to get ALC right
OK, that's enough nerdy talk for now.  Household/pre-Monday chores call.

Also: re-set these radio settings before packing it way, or you'll never make another voice contact.  Write all the above on a 3x5 card and pack it in the ziplock with your interface box & cables.

ps Monday: So.. how's it working so far you may ask.  Contacts to Utah, MN, NJ, and Canada(!!) so far, all on 2.5 Watts.  Call it a trail-ready success.