Sunday, December 30, 2018

2018's Greatest Hits

As in the past, here are the best from each month along with some cross-eyed commentary.

Time for a Review of the FT-817nd   Backpacking will never be the same.
Backpacking the Tuxachanie Trail -- Finally!   Going back too, just as soon as deer season abates.
Backpacking & Playing Radio   A repeat of January's trip with a little more success.
Tall Ships in New Orleans   Part of their tricentennial celebration.
Jazz Fest on Locals Day   OCMS headlined and interesting food was eaten.
Small Errands & an Impromptu New Orleans Trip   New day pack, good coffee, and a new album.
Two Physics Articles   Safe nuclear power (if anyone wants it) and some interesting math.
Quick Book Review: Lost in Math   Been lost more than once, personally.
Coffeeneuring Challenge 2018   A series of posts about biking to coffee shops, centered on October.
Film Review: Prospect   Space western at its finest.
Movie Review: They Shall Not Grow Old   You should see this movie.

What happened to August?  Yeah, August, uh, yeah (shakes head).  On the whole, 2018 was a damn weird year in which I kept my head down working and having fun as the opportunities presented themselves.  Hurricane Michael also punched a big hole into things.  Other than a couple of bike-related items, I barely mentioned that whole mess here on the blog.  It's not that kind of a place.  Before moving on to 2019, here are two final entries.

(1) Dave Barry's Year in Review.  Everybody needs a laugh – and a wince.

(2) This pic from last January:

The plan is to keep focusing on days like that one.

Friday, December 28, 2018

New Horizons to Zoom Past Ultima Thule on New Year's

TLDR version: The New Horizons probe that got the first close look at Pluto in summer 2015 is slated to zip past an even more distant Kupier Belt object in the early hours of New Year's Day.  The flyby will occur at 12:33 am EST, but being just over 6 light-hours away we won't know how things went until almost 7 EST on New Year's morning.  We know next to nothing about this or for that matter any other KBO, so the flyby is sure to turn up something cool and unexpected.

You can find more details at:
Ars Technica
NASA's JPL site

An artist's illustration of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft as it flies by Ultima Thule (2014 MU69) in the Kuiper Belt beyond Pluto on Jan. 1, 2019.
Artist's concept of the flyby.  In reality, we have very little idea what this thing looks like, beyond (possibly) having two main masses.  Connected?  Orbiting each other?  No idea, the Hubble couldn't resolve much more than a slightly bi-blobular blur.  Exciting times!

Bicycle Times Hangs It Up

Just in today, Bicycle Times, the general cycling spin-off of the mountain bike magazine Dirt Rag, is completely calling it a day.  A year and a half ago they ceased print but kept on with the web site.  It seems that even that wasn't economically feasible.  Here's the letter from the publisher.

It's too damn bad about BT.  It was refreshing to have a bike magazine that wasn't all about racing and gram-shaving and the newest shiniest gear on the TdF course, but was truly about (as their tagline went) your everyday cycling adventure.

Onward to better things: It seems likely that this will allow Dirt Rag to beef up its its operation, and bring in more semi-mountain bike stuff like gravel rides into its fold.  That's a little bit of sunshine.  As for the rest, we shall see in 2019.  In the meantime, go over to the Dirt Rag site and consider subscribing.


Wednesday, December 26, 2018

In the "More Good News" Basket

New study finds that moderate coffee and alcohol consumption and packing a few extra pounds is correlated with longevity past age 90.  link

Can't argue with that.

Yaesu is Dutch?

Huh?  Seems that the Yaesu radio brand name is an evolution of a Dutch trader/explorer's name.  Here are the links:
Yaesu the radio
Yaesu the district
Joosten the man

Huh.  The random stuff you find on Wikipedia.  Well, now we know.  I always thought the name sounded a little strange.

Monday, December 24, 2018

The Christmas Comet Returns!

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, will be back in a couple of days with the year-end wrap-up post.

Movie Review: The Expendables 3

Don't set your hopes too high for this one, just sit back with a glass of whisky and enjoy the explosions.  Of course there are some odd plot twists, and of course Mel Gibson is the hiss-at-him evil mastermind here.  As for the rest of the cast, it's just too much to list here.  It has enough of a plot  to hang the action on, all that can be expected.

I'm not sure why this movie got such low ratings from the critics.  It's not like any of these movies stood out, or tried to be anything more than they appear to be.  Maybe casting Gibson offended some sensibilities, or maybe it's just because a third helping was one too many for some.  Anyway, it was released in 2014, and almost five years on it seems unlikely any more will be made.  Wrapping it up with a third flick and going out with a bang feels about right.

Ridiculous?  Of course!  Big dumb fun?  You bet.  3 out of 4 stars.

ps: Expendables 4?  Sure why not.  Looks like it's in pre-production.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Some Encouragement on this Winter Solstice

If you've been looking a the news at all this week, you've probably seen something about this former NASA engineer's glitter-slinging, GPS tracking, video recording cure for porch piracy.  It is entertaining, and what's more, a little harmless comeuppance for these holiday-spoiling creeps feels about right.

But don't stop there.  The same guy has a whole upbeat youtube channel where he statistically tests peoples' honest with 200 "lost" wallets, talks with a physicist/biologist/inventor about a third world ready malaria test kit that costs $0.68, shows what a great investment NASA is, and a bunch of other things.

I started this day reading a really downbeat solstice blog post (no, no link; not spreading that misery around).  You, dear reader, deserve better.  Go watch some of those videos and get some joy there and at the prospect of more daylight tomorrow.

In the meantime, Merry Solstice!

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Day the 60's Ended

December 19th 1972, when the Apollo 17 CM successfully returned to Earth.  Details at This Day in Aviation.

The very next day, they wheeled out the polyester suits, disco music, mopeds, pet rocks, and gas lines.  The 70's were on.  At least, that's how my then 10 year old self remembers it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Movie Review: They Shall Not Grow Old

Short and sweet: it's a 99 minute WWI documentary, made up of meticulously restored film clips, still photographs, and 60 year old recorded reminisces by veterans.  It respectfully shows the British soldiers' side of the war, from joining up, through training, deployment, hazards of the trenches, hazards of R&R, going 'over the top,' dealing with German P.O.W.s, the end of the war, and re-entry into post-war everyday society.

Comments and clips prior to the initial UK rerelease were blogged here back in October.  Go see for yourself, especially to click through to the film trailer and to hear an interview with Peter Jackson.

So, the two questions I had going in were: How well does it all work together?  And how does the restoration look on the big screen?  To answer the first, it's very good but not outstanding.  Anyone familiar with WWI has read about and seen photos of the hell of trench warfare, and this doesn't really present any truly new material.  However, where this movie shines is how the restoration brings the war into a much more relatable visual focus for modern audiences.  It sweeps away the noise and debris of time and archaic film technology, allowing us to see the soldiers as humans, not merely as the almost comic herky-jerky shadow figures that the cameras of the time turned them into.  That is the value Jackson and his team bring, and this is what makes this whole project worthwhile.

A small warning though, one that probably isn't needed but I feel compelled to say it anyway: There's a lot of restored battlefield gore here.  It's unavoidable and is not overwhelming for adults, but don't take the pre-teen set to this one.

One more thing to note, the full color restoration is only given to the segments filmed in France, with the portions shot in England largely left in their original form.  It's sort of a Wizard of Oz cinematography twist on things, where the war zone is the real world in living color, but back home things are still black-and-white.  It's an understandable choice, if only to allow resources to be concentrated on the war footage.

Back to the second question, about how it looks on the big screen.  It's good, but it's not super high definition viewing.  Overall, the main images of men and objects such as artillery are stable and devoid of image artifacts and noise, at least in the large scale.  However some of the texturing of uniformly colored objects, especially helmets, has a slightly disconcerting tendency to "swim," probably as a side-effect of the frame interpolation software used.  This doesn't show up in the small youtube clips, but on a big screen it's very noticeable.  But it's not bad, and in a lot of cases the original film was in pretty rough shape to begin with.   Retouching these images any more aggressively would probably breach the bounds of "restoration" and plunge into "CGI re-creation."  Jackson and company made the right calls on holding that line here, and I think it'll look just about right on a normal-sized home screen.

Which brings me to the two real questions: how many stars, and will I buy the disk version?  4 of 5 Stars and Yes.

Final Note: The next and only remaining U.S. viewing is upcoming on Dec. 27.  Check your local times, or resign yourself to waiting on the disk release.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Not Looking Real Promising...

Solar flux predictions for the next few years, and hence prospects for HF propagation, are looking poor:

Here, go read all about it at KB6NU's blog.

Ah well, there's always digital modes when the bands aren't good enough for voice.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Last 40 Miles

This past year and a half, I've been tuning in to a weekly podcast, The First 40 Miles.  This coming Tuesday, they're wrapping it up after 4 years.  It's been a good trip, but you can tell that the hosts are straining under the load of restoring an old house, herding teenagers, maintaining gainful employment, and oh yes, finding time to go backpacking.  I wish them well and many more miles on the trails in 2019 and beyond.

If you missed this podcast and it sounds interesting to you, here is their archive page.  Good information in every episode.  As always, no guarantees how long these episodes will be around once they wrap things up, so get hopping if you want to download.

Deer season will be ending in a month here in Coastal MS, and with that begins the real backpacking season.  Can't wait to get going with that again.  I want to, one more time, thank Heather and Josh at The First 40 Miles for all the good advice, gear recommendations, and reports from their adventures.  Happy Trails!

This looks so much nicer than a pic of the view from the Tuxachanie Trail.  No such sweeping vistas in south MS, but the "vegetation tunnels" we have here have a charm of their own.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

A brief and breezy history of the Theremin

Over at Messy Nessy.

That band in the last video really ought to do the soundtrack for the next Tim Burton movie.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Trust and More Trust

In a hurry this morning, I'm just here to re-direct you to an interesting short essay and its follow-up: Trust and About Trust.

That is all.  Back to your Monday morning activities.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

20 Years of the ISS

The first U.S. module was launched to click together with the first Russian module, which had already been in orbit for about two weeks.  Article over at This Day in Aviation.