Thursday, January 31, 2019

They'll Both Probably Stink on Ice

But in the meantime, I'm going to hope against all realistic expectations that these two unusual upcoming movies turn out to be good:

  • Velvet Buzzsaw (NPR review): a horror/dark comedy send-up of the art world.
  • The Vast of Night (Rotten Tomatoes page): late-night spooky retro-tech hijinks in a small NM town in the '50s, as sort of extended episode of The Outer Limit
Both of these look intriguing, but both of them stand a very high chance of not-quite-doing-the-job.  Still, we can all hope.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Winter Field Day 2019 Wrap-Up

Dragging in early on Sunday, weak with a stomach bug, then feeling much better after a nap, I'd posted the one pic Sunday evening.  Here's a more complete summary.

Packed in with a friend on the Tuxachanie Trail from the Hwy 49 trailhead near Saucier.  Just a few miles in, turned north onto a jeep road, then a little deeper in on another less-used jeep road.  The underbrush was too dense to camp in, but after deer season these little roads are the next best things to clearings.

Got on the air by 2pm CST, and hour after things had started, but no matter.  As shown in the one pic, I ran with a dinky 5-watt QRP rig.  For antennas, I used a 1/4-sized W3EDP "mini" hung vertically and a full-sized version strung horizontally.  The mini could work all bands from 6 to 40 meters, with some horizontal reach during the daytime, while the full-size would handle 40 meters and down after dark.  Well, at least that was the idea going in.

As expected, 20m was hopping and 40m was about the same.  I even snagged a contact out in western Washington state on 15m, voice no less – and remember, all on 5 watts.  In general though the bands above 14 MHz (i.e., 20m) were dead, and that one 15m contact was a lucky fluke.  Grabbed a few PSK-31 digital contacts on 40 and 20, then broke for supper.  After dark, the 40 and 80m bands came to life on the full-sized horizontal antenna.  I picked up a couple of digital contacts on 80, but couldn't quite punch through with voice.  The one disappointment is that somehow the antenna wouldn't tune on 160 meters.  I suspect that the 16' counterpoise wire was a little short.  Will have to hang the antenna an the side yard and try out some things with an SWR analyzer before next time.

So in the end it came to 7 voice and 8 digital contacts, QRP power, with bonus points each for remote, off-grid, and outdoors operation.  Not too bad for just messing around.  I'll tot it all up and get the log to the WFD folks later this week.

So... what about lessons learned?  There's always lessons.
  • Once again, packed waaaay too much, totaling out this time at – I am embarrassed to say – 49 pounds.  Now, it was a dry campsite so we packed in all the water we anticipated needing, and that was 25% of that horrendous total weight.  Next time, carry 2 1L unbottles and camp reasonably near water.  Then there was the radio gear...
  • The basic FT-817nd plus accouterments is only 5 pounds.  But then I packed a laptop and SignaLink, and 4 (!) antennas (full-sized & 1/4 sized W3EDP, plus LNR EFT-40-20-10,  roll-up 2m slim jim), plus 25' of LMR-240 coax, and oh yeah that little 15' scrap of RG-174 for the LNR antenna...  While I would've had to forego 80 meters, just the LNR antenna and feed line would've been about 4 or 5 pounds lighter.  Never hauling all that crap again.  Didn't even break out the 2m or LNR antennas.
  • But even if I wanted to work 80m or even 2m, that RG-174 coax would've been adequate.  Leave that big-ass roll of LMR-240 at home next time!
  • Hauling a laptop and SignaLink was overall a mistake.  Could've bagged PSK-31 contacts using my phone and EasyDigi link instead and saved the 4 pounds.  True, the iPhone+EasyDigi combo is nowhere as convenient as the laptop+SignaLink, but four pounds.
  • Push come to shove, 8xAA Eneloop Pro batteries would give 2 hours' operation.  Or go for 4 hours with the Bioenno 4.5 AH batt pack.  Why bring both?  Not like I operated for 6 hours.  Bring one or the other, not both.  That's either 0.72 or 1.26 pounds saved, depending.  Decide, dammit.
  • The rest of the camping gear was pretty reasonable and performed much as expected.  No real changes to make there.  On a mid-30's night, the Marmot 25 degree bag was toasty.  The Z-fold Thermarest pad was a little skimpy, but just enough.
  • I need to do a longer "no radios, just hike" trip before this winter's out, just to see what it's like to hike with only 20 pounds on my back for a change.  Bet it's a whole lot more fun.
And finally... don't get puking sick for no good reason.  It really brings an otherwise enjoyable trip to a premature and somewhat dazed end.  But if you do happen to wake and roll out the tent just in time to  befoul the forest floor, it's probably better to get while the gettin's good.  Which we did, and even the hike out was still pretty nice.  Can't wait for next year's Winter Field Day!

ps: Bonus video, not of me but of one of the stations I'd worked, N5OAK on 40 meters.
pps: "2019" not "2018"!

Monday, January 28, 2019

Rockets & Coffee

Seems like they'd go together, right?  But no, trying to use a Rube Goldberg rig to roast coffee beans with re-entry heat in an effort to make $200-a-cup coffee is just stupid.  Article at Ars Technica.

The Truth About Antenna Tuners, SWR, and Non-Resonant Antennas

Article at hamuniverse discussing the theory.

More, including lab-bench data backing up the previous link.  Data!  Real Data!  Can't argue with it.  Great graphic at the top of the article too.

And to wrap it all up, a how-to-use guide at the ARRL's site, so you know that's definitive.

TLDR version: Antenna tuners work well and are reasonably efficient.  Reflected power is not wasted, but turned right back around to go out through the antenna, no matter how non-resonant it may be.  The only significant losses are in the goings back-and-forth along the feed coax.  The rest of the RF power is radiated.  Contrary to somewhat popular belief, the returned power is not shunted to ground by the tuner.  Data to back this up is presented  in the second paper.

So go enjoy that random wire, that Zepp, that G5RV, and above all, enjoy that W3EDP, secure in the knowledge that you're not warming the worms in the ground, but getting useful signal out of an antenna that didn't cost you a mortgage payment.

In Praise of Parmesan Cheese

Italy's Practically Perfect Food, over at the BBC site.

The interesting thing is that for the past ten years or so, a chunk of Parmesan has been a favorite snack food.  With a beer or a glass of whisky, mmmm-mmmm good.  Probably even better with red wine, but I don't drink much of that.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

WFD '19 in the Bag

And so is my stomach – woke up with a minor bug this morning, packed out early.  Still, it was a successful backpacking and radio trip on the Tuxachanie Trail.  Here's the one pic; details later in the week.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Random Space Pictures

The latest from Ultima Thule, now in higher resolution.  Whew, breathtaking!  Low bandwidth, these things take a while.  Worth the wait.

Two of the Full Turbo Wolf Howl Techno Moon Bloody Eclipse, all over at APOD:
Orion, seen from the Austrian Alps.  Chilly but beautiful.

OK, tabs cleared, we can move on now.

More on the New St. Joe Peninsula Pass

Following up on the report two weeks ago, the hearing on what to do with the new pass Hurricane Michael punched through the St. Joe Peninsula was held last week.  The overwhelming consensus was to leave things alone, let nature take its course.  Sounds good to me.  Here's a link to the article at the St. Joe Star.

Yes, it does look good to me.  Very good.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The Right Way to Wire a Battery Bank

I mentioned this on last night's ham club net tech session, and it is something worth knowing:

The first eight minutes are about how to jumper between batteries in a bank properly, and the last fifteen or so are about cheap batteries vs. good deep-cycle batts.  It's the first part that is most enlightening.

Data point: I've run the last two weeks' nets at 75 watts FM, powered by the same two deep-cycle batteries, starting from the same fully charged state.  Last week, the system voltage from a fully charged battery bank would dip as low as 12.2 volts.  Re-wired this week, all else the same, the voltage only dipped to 12.6 volts when transmitting.  Much better!

Also, wiring things this way opens up the possibility of thinner gauge jumper wires with more reasonably-sized fuses.  I'd been working under the impression that heavy jumper wires were needed to properly balance a bank, but with this connection method they are not.  If 12 gauge wires will carry the maximum load from the bank, then only 12 gauge wires are needed within the bank.  That alone is quite a cost saving.

Hm, interesting and useful facts abound on the internet, if you look in the right places.

Water Filter Recommendations

Yesterday's post at Section Hiker listed the Top Ten results of their "what water filter do you use" survey.  No real surprises, and a lot of experience talking there.

The Katadyn Hiker I use made the list, down at #6.  What I didn't mention about it in my initial buying impressions post last year is that the filter element can be taken out and the entire thing cleaned and dried between uses.  That's the killer feature that'll keep me using this type of filter.  I do sporadic weekend trips, so drying for storage is a big deal.  Were I doing a through-hike where things would just stay wet, it wouldn't matter so much.  Something to consider.

FWIW, when going solo I carry a Sawyer Mini (#2 on the list, $20) as a backup, and chlorine dioxide tabs as well.  I tend to err on the safe side when it comes to water.  Comes from listening to my Father's tales of his backpacking trip across North Africa in 1942.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

A Little Closer to Home

From a quick search over at Atlas Obscura.  It starts with an interesting location three blocks from my place.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Worth the Hype: Last Night's Lunar Eclipse

Despite the breathless reports of an upcoming "super blood wolf moon" and some gentle mockery of the hype, the sky show last night proved to be 100% worth staying up for.  Once the total portion of the eclipse began, the moon seemed to take on an almost 3-D appearance, like a ripe satsuma suspended ten feet beyond my eyes.  Yes, it was an optical illusion, but it still looked cool as all get out.

If you missed it, or just want a pretty fair replay, the BBC has a page full of pics.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Drink of the Day: Espresso con Panna

Picked up a new espresso pot this week, and on a hunch added a dollop of whipped cream to the top of a double shot.  Thinking "there's got to be a name for this combo," yes of course there is, it's espresso con panna; see article at wikipedia.

Espresso drinks, they're like string theory: 10^500 variations, but only a few actually work.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

A Bigger Collider...?

The initial proposal was floated by CERN yesterday.  100 TeV, up from the current LHC's 14 TeV.

The problem is that the LHC was specifically designed to pin down the existence and properties of the Higgs boson, which it did, and which had been predicted decades before, and on which the entire Standard Model hinges.  What's more, there was a faint glimmer of its existence from the previous-generation 1 TeV Fermilab accelerator.   They had a pretty firm idea that they'd find the Higgs with the LHC, and there was some hope they'd see something new and interesting out at 14 TeV.  That last part didn't work out however, and there are currently no solid predictions as to what will show up in this next energy regime.

Building this proposed collider is therefore a largely speculative step.  In the worst case, it could certainly rule out a number of theories, or at least bound them in some way that they seem less reasonable.  And of course in the best case something completely new and unknown might show up.

It's a lot of money for a slim chance at a real payoff.  Without some solid theoretical predictions that something interesting will be found, funding currently seems unlikely.  Time will tell.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Mystery of Easter Island Solved – ?

Over at artnet:

Archeologists Discover that Easter Island's... oh hell, just go over there and read it.  This new theory says that they were carved to mark fresh water sources.  I will say, it's the first idea for what those big heads are about that even begins to make sense.

Hat tip to The Darling Daughter for sending this story in.

An Interesting Music Site

It's waaay better than anything out there with a URL should be.  Go have a look.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Yes: Vincent's in New Orleans

Yes, if given the opportunity, try Vincent's on St. Charles.  Link:

That is all for the moment, but it it is enough of a post for one evening.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Two Easy Extras for the Yaesu FT-817etc

Here are some pics of a cardboard front cover and tiny heat sink for the FT-817.  The subsequent 817nd and 818nd have the same dimensions and this'll work fine for them too.

The cardboard cover is good for keeping the knobs and screen protected when the radio is stuffed into a pack.  The rest of the radio is relatively tough-skinned, but a sheared-off knob or a busted screen could easily happen.  The cover relies for structure on some aftermarket Portable Zero rails (link; $72) that everyone working in the field with an 817 should have already.  The cover fits over the rails and the radio's face, like a cap, and is held fast with painter's tape.  You can make one in five minutes out of scrap cardboard and duct tape.  Be sure to make the top part long enough to cover the A-B-C buttons on the top of the faceplate.  Cost: free.  Weight: nil.

With that done, slip the whole thing into a gallon zip-lock bag for some scratch and water resistance.  Cost: $0.05.  Weight: nil.  Not counting the rails, this is probably the lightest and cheapest go-bag for these radios possible.  Ideas like this come from watching too many hiker youtube videos, where cheap and light are at a premium over durability and brand name.

This last pic shows the back end of the radio with a little stick-on heat sink.  It's blue, and tucked in on that frame extension next to the power port.  This corner of the radio occasionally gets warm when operating digital modes.  Be sure to clean where you're putting it before sticking it down; windex on a paper towel works.  A friend in the local ham club had to order a mega-pack of these to get the couple he needed and was giving them away at a club meeting last fall.  Cost: free (to me anyway; you can find'em on eBay and Amazon for cheap).  Weight: nil.  

Yes, these mods are small things that really are almost trivial.  However, they do add to the radio's packability, cost very little (even counting the rails), and weigh almost nothing.

To wrap up, a friend and I tried to set up in a park over on Henderson Point this morning, but we got rained out.  It was a good chance to scout out likely trees for antenna support the next trip, however.  There's always a next trip.

Friday, January 11, 2019

I'm Down With This One

Article over at the WSJ.  TLDR version: If you start your day with a time hassle, you'll feel frazzled and be unproductive all day.  Practical stuff, makes a lot of sense.  I do it every chance I get, and now feel even less guilty about the whole deal.

Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

What's up on St. Joe Peninsula?

Public hearing next Tuesday about what is to be done with Eagle Harbor Pass.  Details at this article in the Port St. Joe Star.  It looks like public commentary is running largely in favor of leaving nature to take its course, but that's all online and extremely non-binding.  Unfortunately it's a six hour drive for me to make the meeting, but I'm sure full details will be in next week's Star.  Anyway, here's a somewhat recent picture of the new pass in question:

Interesting times we live in.

Super Deluxe Total Blood Full Turbo Wolf Moon Eclipse, in Technicolor

The show starts around 8:30 PM CST, really get going around 10:40,  and peaks at approximately 11:12 on the night of Saturday (whups) Sunday, January 20th.  Details at The Sun.  (nb: all times given there are EST) I'm going to actually try and stay up for this one, clouds permitting.

Not responsible for sporadic outbreaks of lycanthropy.  Garlic and silver ammunition sold separately. Profanity strictly prohibited: "We're werewolves, not swear-wolves."

Monday, January 7, 2019

New Year's Resolve

Among many other "going to do better this year" resolutions, I'm going to put in three:

(1) The electrical noise around my house just plain ruins everything radio related.  When the weather is nice there is some awful arcing RFI noise blasting everything from the boldest broadcast AM signal to the weakest HF ham signals into the dirt.  Even worse, it's intermittent and random, so it's impossible to tune a noise canceler phase box.  I've hunted for the source for four years now, to no avail.  On the up side, rain somehow makes this problem go away.  So, flip this one around: Why would I want to be inside playing radio when the weather is good?  And when the weather's too nasty to go out and play, I've got something to do indoors.  Problem solved.

(2) Reading this article over at KB6NU's web site, Make ham radio a habit, there is a list of hints on how to make time for hobbies and side activities.  One of them is "make it easy to practice the habit of ham radio."  Well, if I'm going out into the great outdoors to say go camping or mountain biking, it'd be really great to have a grab-and-go kit for radio.  Turns out, a regular .50 cal ammo can perfectly holds a Yaesu FT-817nd and all accouterments (LiFePO4 battery, tuner, wire antenna, etc.), and a fat .50 plus a tote bag does the same for an FT-857d.  There's a bit more for the 857, with the coax and beefier antennas, hence the tote bag, but that's easy to grab too.  Again, problem solved.

Heat-reflective white paint with obnoxiously large call sign stenciled on.  Ready for grab-and-go adventure.

(3) Just apply #2 to everything practical – bikes, camping gear, etc.  Get it ready again after coming home from the latest use.  Oh, sure, it doesn't have to be done immediately, but say before the next weekend.  Keep it packed and ready to go, insofar as possible.  Sometimes bike tires need to be aired just before a weekend, but the rest of the gear can be made ready and sit in that state for months.  Camping gear?  Same deal.  It makes getting out the door that much easier, puts excuses to rest.

I already knew all this.  Why haven't I been practicing it lately?  Time to move on into a new year.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

A Nice Ride ...

... over the Bay bridge to Pass Christian.  Not a lot to say about it beyond these two pics.


Both pics are from the top of the Bay bridge; left is toward Henderson Point, right is back toward BSL downtown.  Insert one more pic in the middle and it would be panoramic.  The clear weather and mild temperature (~60F) were perfect for an easy ride on the CX bike.

Idle thought: Maybe one of these rides I'll take some pics from Henderson Point looking back at BSL and towards the bridge.  How many of these beautiful top-of-the-bridge pics have I posted here over the years?  Time to mix it up.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Challenge Declined

10 Hidden Destinations That Just Aren't Worth Finding, over at Listverse.

Some of my relatives may see this as a to-do list, while others don't want to go past Bristol (FL).  Personally, if it's north of I-10 a location's charm seems to declines linearly in distance.  However, there is one oddball place that might interest me, Ascension Island.  Bizarre ecology, extreme isolation, interesting history, and British outpost status all give it a unique attraction.  We'll see in a few years.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Coming Events

Sooooo much to do in the coming months.  Already things are stacking up:
  • The Camp Shelby Gravel Grinder is back!  Even better, the 50 miler option starts at 9am.  Last year's 7am start knocked it out of consideration altogether.  The date this year is January 25th, more details at this link.
  • Starting the same day and stretching into the next is Winter Field Day, the cool weather outdoor ham operating event.  This is a slight conflict, but I'm sure something can be resolved.
  • Deer season ends in two weeks (Jan 16), and the following weekend is the MLK 3-day'er (Jan. 19-21).  The trails are waiting, calling to me.  Probably opt for the ride first weekend out, plan on hiking after that.  Biking has priority.
  • Carnival season starts... day after tomorrow?  Yeah, looks like.  Then Mardi Gras itself isn't until March 5th, so we have a decently long season this year.  No firm plans yet, but something is bound to happen.
  • In related news, here's the latest in king cakes this year, sent in by a devoted reader.
Yeah, that's a full plate for me, and that's just the local stuff.  In the downtime there are trips to FL planned and at least one hike over in AL that may be happening.  Stay tuned for pictures – and maybe breaking news from medical professionals.

ps: The Darling Daughter couldn't stand the though of me slumming it any longer with the default blogspot-B favicon, so she cobbled up something more suitable.  Dresses up the place a little.  She shall be rewarded with coffee.
Mark of Champions

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Live, from The Far Side of the Moon

China's having successes too this week, with their Chang'e 4 lunar probe and Yutu 2 rover.  Story at and science objectives list at Wikipedia.

It'll be interesting to see what new geology turns up in a radically different set of impact craters, and perhaps even better to see if the far side of the Moon is as good as we all hope for radio astronomy.  It's a good year for space science so far.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

A Good Start

New Year's New Horizon Ultima Thule fly-by went well.  Details at the BBC.

But first, a preliminary pic:

Brightness variations

Is it weird that I find this is even more exciting than 2015's Pluto fly-by?  I mean, we already knew a few things about Pluto, but Ultima Thule is truly unknown, primordial.  It'll be interesting to see what the rest of the data stream turns up over the next 20 months.