Monday, April 29, 2019

A Lost Vault in New Orleans is Found

Scroll down to the third item at this link, labeled "Sealed away in an attic, a New Orleans safety deposit vault from the 1880s is being emptied."

It'll be interesting to see what turns up in all this.  Will keep an eye out for updates.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Ham Camp #N > 10

The MCARA held yet another ham camp this weekend (I forget the count now, it's something around 15 since the first one in 2014), and a good time was had by all.  Learned a lot about operating a new-ish small solar power system and managing its trickle of power to keep a 100 watt radio on the air.  Here are some pics, I'll interleave a few nerd notes to self along the way.
The new-ish 27 watt panel, along with connectors to get things conducted back to where I want to be, 50' away under a shady tree.  Solar panels don't get berated by the dermatologist the way I do.  Of its nominal 27 watts, in the real world it delivers just under 21 watts – slightly above par.

The business end of things.  That wiring setup is akin to a science fair project, and will receive considerable re-engineering between now an the resumption of camping season next fall.  It did all work though, so as a thrown-together prototype that allowed the rest of the system to be stress-tested, it was a complete success.

Of course, this solar power system can run a coffee grinder.  We may have been roughing it, sleeping on the ground and using non-resonant antennas, but we are not savages.  Standards must be maintained.  Pre-ground coffee will not do.

And finally, speaking of standards, this morning's breakfast featured the traditional fare of the MCARA ham campouts:

Back to the small solar power system, the bottom line on the weekend's power budget is: went to the woods with 12 AH in the battery, the panel supplied another 15 AH, and the radio, computer, and (of course) coffee grinder used 23.4 AH.  This left about 3.6 AH brought home in the LiFePO battery – ample margin.  Remember, the objective is to go operate on minimal gear and have just enough power to do so, not to return home with a topped-off battery.  This system is enough for a fun weekend of casual operating on full-house 100 watts.  It'll also keep a QRP radio in business indefinitely.  At less than 10 pounds, it's a joy to load up for car camping.

As far as contacts went, there were a handful to the Florida QSO party, a short one to Costa Rica on 17m (the band opened just before dark on Saturday), fooled with a bunch of digital modes with a friend 20 miles away in Diamondhead on 80m (I suspect that was via groundwave propagation), and had a nice chat on PSK-31 with a guy out in Texas.  Not many in total, but the ionosphere isn't in the best shape lately either.  It was all fun.

One more gear note worth mentioning, the 1/4-size W3EDP antenna tuned just fine down to 80m.  It probably wasn't very efficient there, but like the dog that mows the lawn it doesn't have to do it well, it's amazing that it does it at all.  This may have had something to do with the antenna extending all the way to the ground, rather than being suspended well above, as I usually hang this thing.  Will have to experiment with this in the backyard in the near future.

Back to unpacking and cleaning gear.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Zoom Lens Down a Well

An infinitely deep well, in fact.  The increasing levels of magnification give some perspective on what the EHT group has achieved.  Remember, the first two levels of zoom required a space telescope.  Improving upon that is astounding.

Pic from NASA's APOD page.  link

Friday, April 26, 2019

Armed Forces Day Cross-Band Test on Saturday May 11

Blurb here, list of frequencies & times here.

What this is and how it works:  On Saturday May 11th, a number of DoD stations transmit to hams (and anyone else who cares to listen) on military frequencies just outside of ham bands, calling for check-ins.  The DoD stations give some minor information and a call-back frequency on the adjacent ham bands.  (This is generically called "working split," where stations transmit on one frequency and listen on another.)  Finally, there'll be a web form to fill out (link not yet up) to document your contact, and then a few weeks later a "thank you" QSL postcard shows up in your mail.

Side note: There doesn't seem to be a "listen-only and reply via web form" option, but perhaps when the web form is up that may be there.  But from the wording in the announcement, it seems they're looking for a radio reply.

It's an interesting event.  I haven't participated in a couple of years due to high local noise levels but now that that problem seems to have resolved itself, barring life getting in the way, I'll be in this year. It'll be a good opportunity to really learn how to work split on the FTdx-1200.  Two weeks to dig into that manual ought to be enough.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Another Contact with Content

Last Sunday while idly dialing around on the 40m PSK sub-band, I had a brief contact with a guy up in north Alabama.  Band conditions were lousy, so we traded signal reports and went our separate ways.  When I looked up the guy's call sign to fill out a QSL card, holy smoke, he's the author of fldigi (among other programs), the very digital mode program I was using to talk with him.  Here's his web site, and a page all about identifying which digital mode you're seeing on a waterfall display. Particularly noteworthy though is how that page gives a brief description of the properties of each mode, and what the mode's good for.  It's an interesting read, because while the "hows" for each mode is easy to find, descriptions of the "whys" for various digital modes are rare.

Anyway, you never know who you're going to run into when you step into the HF bands: backpackers, bluegrass enthusiasts, program developers, all kinds of creative people.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Minor Moves – not really progress yet – on Digital AM Radio

Digital-Only AM Proposal Gets a Closer Look by the FCC: article at Inside Radio, link and commentary at The SWLing Post.

Hm, this could either be the first pebble in an avalanche, or just a random pebble rolling a couple of feet down a hillside then stopping.  Time will tell, but the time is about right for this to begin.

Sidenote: Does it bother anyone else that knowledgeable people are in effect using the phrase "digital modulation amplitude modulation radio"?  Yes, we all know what is meant here, i.e., "digital modulation on the medium wave broadcast spectrum."  I promise not to go around correcting people about this at cocktail parties.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The IBM 360 and Greater Lesson Learned

In almost a tab-clearing exercise, here's a brief history of the IBM 360's development.  In an industrial way, the project was too big to fail, and so it succeeded largely due to a massive infusion of corporate resources, far beyond what was originally thought needed.

From that developmental blast furnace however came something of more lasting importance, an overall framework for efficiently managing medium-sized software development teams.  Fred Brooks laid down the foundations of software engineering and for the successes of the 1980's in his 1975 book, The Mythical Man-Month.  While there is a revised and expanded edition still in print, the original can be found here.  These are lessons that keep getting forgotten and re-discovered, much to the pain of programmers and investors alike.  If you ever find yourself involved with a software development effort, even as support staff or on the financial end, and the mention of Brook's book doesn't ring at least a few bells within the team, it is time to move on.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Off to Ride.

I'll be on the trails.
In the meantime, here's today's APOD.  Expect more later.

Later: And it was a good day at the Bethel trails.  The Northshore Running Club was – somewhat unexpectedly – hosting a 50mi/50km event there, but everybody got along fine and the trails were shared without incident.  Beautiful day with perfect weather.

Friday, April 19, 2019

I Know Some People Like This!

When Doctors Thought "Wanderlust" Was a Psychological Condition, over at Atlas Obscura.

Hm, I'd post a picture from an exotic land right now, but I don't have any because I don't get away much.  Anyway, it's an interesting article about a fairly spooky confluence of circumstances that got innocent sightseeing branded as a mental problem.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Maybe it is Time for a New Helmet

I saw this helmet with an odd-looking liner in a bike shop a couple of weeks ago, and snap-judged it as yet another marketing driven design change.  After seeing this though, it seems that there is a lot more to this helmet design than that.  Anyway, here's the very short video and here's the associated journal paper presenting the head impact simulation data.  The small image you see here is a key figure from that paper; click to embiggen.  It's pretty convincing.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Your Daily Antenna Update

.... can be found at The Daily Antenna.

Not just about antennas though, the tagline is "Bringing you the best on amateur radio antennas, accessories and related topics.  One post per day."

It's an interesting blog started back in February by Peter "not Spider-Man" Parker.  He's also the author of a series of books on lightweight, practical, DIY ham radio; here's his Amazon page.  The guy's really into it, and I've learned a lot from his writings over the past couple of years.  Anyway, be sure and look up The Daily Antenna is you're into this stuff too.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Bicycle Times Minimally Returns

"Minimally" as in BT's parent publication Dirt Rag is carrying a select few of its on-line articles on a side page aptly named

The articles span from 2011 – 2018, and while there aren't many of them, it's a lot better than the clean wipe that came around last winter.  Glad to have them back.

Camp Coffee Will Never Be the Same

Had to test this idea out, a moka pot plus the camping alcohol stove.  Beyond "yeah, it works great" there's not a lot else to say.  Camping, backpacking, backcountry coffeeneuring, the possibilities are endless.

BTW, the pot is sitting on the burner's upper legs.  The twig stove is just unfolded and wrapped around the whole thing to serve as a windbreak.

It is a strange twist though, to turn alcohol into espresso.  It just seems so... wrong.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Best Spring Day Ever

No foolin', in a quarter-centrury of crawling the woods of the Desoto National Forest, yesterday was the best.  Dry conditions combined with a downpour the night before left all the small creeks roaring on their way down to the Tuxachanie.  The effect was more like rushing mountain streams, rather than their usual sleepy meanders.  All the noise actually surprised me a couple of times.  No pics of all this goings-on though, my phone camera couldn't do it justice.  Here's one of the bike:

Friday, April 12, 2019

What Yaesu's Next QRP Radio Needs

The whole world of backcountry amateur radio seems ticked off at Yaesu for bumping up the model number on their flagship QRP radio to 818 instead of naming it say, "FT-817XL".  And they we have a legit point.  We all thought it was going to be a major upgrade rather than a mere component refresh.

Still, they can pull this one off in the next iteration.  Integrate the new WolfWave audio processor on the receive side and the SOTAbeams speech compressor on the transmit, and all will be forgiven and I will gladly fork over the retail price, selling my 817nd online at a deep discount.  Ditch the heavy steel covers for aluminum, do a weight audit on the rest, then add some rails and it could be a classic for the next decade.

Anyway, that new WolfWave unit looks mighty cool, but I'm not sure it it's worth the $258 price even without the UK VAT.  Hm, will have to think about this one.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Yes, but what does a picture of a black hole even mean?

Jana Levin gives a wonderfully clear explanation over at Quanta magazine.  Well worth your 15 minutes.

The Ancient Horror is Found

Luckily it died 430 million years ago and was only about 1" across.  Meet Sollasinacthulhu:

Yes, named after that Cthulhu.  I wonder if it could slip through space-time when the stars are right?  Nah, probably had trouble enough slipping between mud flats when the tide was wrong.  Anyway, article at CNET.

Ain't life grand?  No, not always.  In fact, sometimes it's fairly horrifying.  Maybe could be improved with a dab of wasabi though.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Movie Review: First Man

Sorry to say it but don't bother.  How could a biopic about Neil Armstrong culminating in the Apollo 11 landing go so wrong?  I think the root cause of the numerous problems here is that the people making this movie don't understand the difference between a supremely competent engineer/pilot with a quiet streak from someone who is suffering with severe depression.  The result is that Armstrong is portrayed as an emotionally damaged robot, numbly going through the motions, and finally just standing and literally staring off into space when he finally gets to the surface of the Moon.  Watching Gosling skulk through this movie, face downcast and looking vaguely guilty of something (what? insanely great achievement?), is enough to put any normal person off this movie.

Of course the Apollo program wasn't all wine and roses.  Take the Apollo 1 fire for example.  It has to be shown, and it was shown here in a respectful manner.  But these tragedies were balanced out and ultimately overshadowed by by the triumphs that actually occurred.  This movie pushes those triumphs aside to concentrate on the bad times.  Additionally, the musical score is best described as funeral music.

So what was good?  The acting (apart from Gosling hang-dogging it), set design, all the usual competent film stuff.  At least they pulled that much off, and the result is a professional product.  The tension during the actual moon landing was pretty good.  OTOH, they had the transcript, not a lot of writing to mess up there.

Finally, I'd heard some rumors of these script problems at sites like Vintage Space, but they all followed up with praise for the re-created space hardware.  I was looking forward to at least enjoying that aspect, but there was so much shakey-cam work that they could have been using cardboard props for all I could see.  In particular, the opening X-15 sequence was a disappointment.  So no joy there either.  Some of the CGI exterior shots were OK, maybe slightly better than those in the film Apollo 13.  OTOH, that was made 24 years ago, of course the CGI should be better.

So, the bottom line is don't bother.  1 out of 4 stars.

Go watch Apollo 13, go watch The Right Stuff.  Plenty of good human interaction including, yes, funerals and family tensions there, but these concerns don't take over the stories.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Blah Weekend

Fog and threat of rain.  It's bad enough that biking isn't exactly ruled out, it's just a mostly bad idea.  Same goes for about any other outdoor activity.  It's a good weekend to get a few things sorted out around the house, which I'm procrastinating on doing right now.

The weather forecast is for the rain to end sometime Monday, then resume next Saturday.  Typical.

ps: Sometimes you've just got to say screw the fog, I'm putting on an orange jersey and riding.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Slightly Below Average

The early forecast is that hurricane season is going to be on the ever-so-slightly mild side.  You can read the entire report here – it's only a paragraph, but here are the two punchlines:
"We anticipate a slightly below-average probability for major hurricanes making landfall ..."
"... coastal residents are reminded that it takes only one hurricane making landfall to make it an active season for them."

Brother, that's the truth.  But overall, a below-average forecast comes as welcome news.
With taxes 100% finished, it's time to double-check that windstorm and flood insurances are paid up.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Microsoft Claws Back eBooks

Microsoft's eBook store: When this closes, your books disappear too    Article at the BBC.

After MS's abysmal performance with a series of launch-and-flop music "services" which left people with unplayable music libraries, why would anyone expect anything different of that company when it comes to books?  At least they're buying the titles back from customers this time.

Now having said that, I am fond of my Kindle but I only treat it as a convenience.  In principle, this same clawback could happen with Amazon too, and probably without the buy-back simply because of the vast number of titles they've sold.  This is why anything important should be bought IRL, and preferably at a small bookstore sporting a few cats.

But overall I don't get it.  Why disable books on e-readers?  Why not just leave them as useable orphan devices?  More to the point, why would anyone trust Microsoft with their book library?

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Radio Roundhouse

It's a quiet week in Coastal MS, but here are a few things that have surfaced in the amateur radio world:
  • The Mississippi QSO Party this Saturday from 9am – 9pm local.  announcement  
  • DoD to Transmit Interoperability Exercise Info via WWV.  These are always interesting.
  • Kevlar-reinforced antenna wire.  Incredibly simple, insanely great, and yet blindingly obvious now that someone has invented it.  Why did it take so long?  I don't really need any right now, but I have the feeling I'll be getting some soon anyway.  No wait, just thought of something I need it for.
  • And finally, see figure below explaining why AC current can pass through a capacitor, but DC current is blocked.  Found at KB6NU's site.
This is even worse than the worst bad pun.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Here, have a moon pic.

From APOD, something to move on from yesterday's April Fool's post.  Catching the ISS backlit like this was a nice timing trick.  Will have actual content later.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Today in History

A bumper crop in 1957!