Friday, May 31, 2019

Thirty Years after Tiananmen Square

Never forget what happened there.

Photo essay and personal recollections over at NPR.

Learning by Reading About Others' Doings

Here's a good article over at Section Hiker, giving a run-down on gear that did and didn't work on a recent trip in Scotland.  In May, Scotland's weather is a reasonable stand-in for winter weather around here: wet, near-freezing at night, then up into maybe the 60's, wet, etc.

Note to self:  Don't even consider spending big bucks on a single-wall tent, no matter how light it may be.  Those things only work in deserts.  Around here you'd need a snorkel to sleep in one, and that would double the weight of the whole thing, so what would be the point?

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Apollo 11, the movie

After one of those frustrating extremely limited screenings, which I missed, Apollo 11 is out on disc, and brother is it worth it.

The movie consists of seldom-seen archive footage covering the flight, which has been beautifully restored.  Narration is loosely strung together, with newscasters of the time (frequently here Walter Cronkite, but there are a number of others) commenting on the then-live broadcasts, with some very minimal stick-figure computer animation of the spacecraft illustrating what is happening as the announcer explains.  There is a touch of synthesizer music added here and there over what would have otherwise been awkward silences, and generally it is unobtrusive.

There's no dramatization here.  A few speeches are read, a few canned statements are issued, all typical press-release stuff of the day.  The movie never digs into the private lives of the astronauts, for which I am grateful.  Better yet, it doesn't dip to just making crap up the way the writers on First Man did last year.  That is a relief.  No, it's about the flight, the overall mission, the hardware, and what we all saw in 1969.  Listening to the astronauts and mission control wrestle the LM to a safe landing, all while the fuel dwindles and the main computer sounds overload alarms (link), that is drama enough.  And honestly, drama doesn't get any better than that.

Dings... not many.  Some dubbed-in jet noise over a turboprop plane maneuvering was a little off-putting, that's one blooper.  In one key part, the synth soundtrack obscures some voices, briefly.  I'm having to dig around for more, but nothing else is coming to mind.  It's that good.

This is a limited movie, in that it aims to document the first moon landing and let the voices of the time tell us about it.  In many ways, it is a time capsule that allows us to go back to that sweaty summer and watch the action unfold.  It certainly conveys the feelings I remember of the time: excitement, a few minutes of bated breath here and there, the beauty of the hardware as well as the views from space, the relief of the astronauts' safe return, and the warm glow of national accomplishment.  While there is considerable 21st Century clean-up of the images, the sensibilities shown were pure best-of-the-late-1960s.  This movie sets out to simply show what happened and to let the people of the time speak for themselves, and it achieves these goals in all ways.

Four out of Four Stars.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Probable Morganza Spillway Opening

Article at Weather Underground.  What a mess.  Unavoidable, in fact it's the lesser of two evils, but still, what a mess.  Looks like it'll happen this weekend or early next week.

Last time this happened, it was in 2011.  Blog notes about that here.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Spotlighting for Spiders

Strangest thing...  Last fall, acting on a recommendation from The First 40 Miles Podcast (unfortunately now defunct, but fortunately archived here), I picked up a Fenix HL10 LED headlamp/flashlight.  It is surprisingly handy, and for a lot of household tasks as well as for backpacking.  Chores like putting away the grill after dark, digging around in the dark back of a closet, or even reading when it's house lights out due to swarming termites – they're all a lot easier with this little light.  Lots to love about it.

But the one thing that I didn't expect was to see many, many gleaming pinpoints of light in my lawn at night.  Upon closer inspection, they're spider eyes!  They seem have a really tight-beam retro-reflection that doesn't show up with a handheld flashlight, but mount a light next to your eyes, and man do these eye-shines stand out.  Unexpected, but reassuring.  I mean, they don't bother me, but they certainly put the hurt on unwanted lawn bugs and especially termites.  Good for them!  And while I wouldn't call my lawn beautiful by any stretch, it certainly is in many ways a healthy ecosystem.

Anyway, mighty handy light.  The backpacking podcast linked above can give you more details.  Available in all the usual places.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Memorial Day 2019

Hm, between Saturday's visit to the Chalmette Battlefield and a musical interlude over at the SWLing Post (scroll down to the mp3 part and give it a listen), got this one covered for this year.  Don't neglect to take a moment today to remember those who have died in defending our country.

Back to your regularly scheduled summertime activities.

Sunday, May 26, 2019


... and the riding is brutal.  The last traces of spring are gone.  The bugs are out in force out at the trails, and the heat is on.  Now, yes, it can and will get worse in late summer, but summer is definitely here.  Can't slow down now!

Expect some notes on the new hydration pack a little later this week.  In the meantime... shower and a nap.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

A Visit to the Chalmette Battlefield

For a while now I've been saying "Barring family and business travel, I'm not going anywhere else until I get to the Chalmette Battlefield."  It's the site of the Battle of New Orleans, and it's the most historically important site within easy driving distance, and for all these years I've been in the area, somehow I'd never quite made it there.  That was remedied today.  The Battlefield is a fairly simple place: a small museum, a 19th Century stone monument, a rebuilt plantation house, a medium-large field across which the British marched to their slaughter, and, most significantly, the remnants and reconstructed American fortifications along the trace of Rodriguez Canal.

Despite the relatively modest size of both the site and the battle, it's the single biggest event that solidified the United States' place on the world stage.  If you find yourself in the area, you owe it to yourself stop in and look.  It only takes an hour or so to completely tour the site, and it is very easy to get there from I-10.

On to a few pics, but first, one more link to the New Orleans page on the site.  They have better pics than I took today.

The American line, seen from the Mississippi Rive levee.  The shaggy, swampy strip of grass is the remnant of the Rodriguez Canal.  American forces were to the left of the canal, behind a (now nonexistent) mud embankment dug from the canal.

The start line for the British.  It's about 500 yards across the open field to reach the American fortifications.  The monument in the center is 100' high.

A tour riverboat arriving from the French Quarter.  The River's pretty been high lately.

Anyway, it's good to get this visit in.  Been meaning to get over there for a while.

Close Call, Non-Event, Cool Gif

Asteroid with its Own Moon Zips Past Earth Tonight: article at Space dot com

Perhaps the most unexpected thing we're finding about asteroids, KBOs, and pretty much anything smaller than a minor planet is that weird equatorial bulge.  They seem to be not so much the rocks we'd guessed, as gravel piles shaped by the conflict of gravity and centrifugal force.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Yaesu FTM-7250D Quick Start Programming

ps 6/27/20: There's now a similar quick start page for the FT-70DR here.

ps 4/5/20: Because this page is getting some attention lately with the covid-19 lock-downs, you may also be interested in this earlier post: The Quick & Dirty Guide to Getting a Ham License for Tech People  Also, there's a bunch more goodies on using chirp, programming FT-60s, etc at this more recent post.  And now, back to the original blog post on programming your FTM-7250D.

Taking a page (yes, literally, one page) from K9LCS's excellent one-pager on how to hand program a Yaesu FT-60 HT, it seems like a good time to document how to program Yaesu's somewhat larger FTM-7250D.  Here are the steps.  Remember "press" just means "press momentarily" while "press and hold" means hold for about a second.  OK, here we go:

For FM Repeater Operations
1. Turn radio ON.
2. Press [V/M] key to go to VFO mode.
3. Use mic numeric keypad to enter desired frequency.
4. Press [Mode] key several times, to cycle around to FM.
5. Press and hold [MHz/Setup] to get into menus.
6. Dial to menu 44, SQL TYPE.
7. Press [MHz/Setup] to get to SQL TYPE sub-menu.
8. Use Dial Knob to pick the right squelch type.  OFF / TONE / TSQL are all useful possibilities on standard repeaters.
9. Press [MHz/Setup] to get up out of sub-menu and back to menus.
10. Dial to menu 47, TONE FREQ (if you're using CTCSS tones; if not skip to step 14).
11. Press [MHz/Setup] to get to TONE FREQ sub-menu.
12. Dial to the repeater's tone frequency.
13. Press [MHz/Setup] to get up out of sub-menu and back to menus.
14. Press and hold [MHz/Setup] to exit menus.
15. Press and hold [V/M] to initiate saving all the above into a memory slot. 
16. Dial to a memory slot you want to write this information into.  If the memory slot number is flashing, it's empty; if it's not flashing, it's in use, but it can be over-written.
17. Press [V/M] to save to that memory slot, and alphanumeric tag entry is automatically started (confirm with another press if over-writing; the radio display will ask).
18. Use Dial to scroll to letters; press [V/M] to save each letter and move to the next letter slot.  When you're done entering the alphanumeric tag...
19. Press and hold [V/M] to save the info and alphanumerics into that memory slot.  You'll be returned to VFO mode.
20. Press [V/M] to get to memory mode.  You should see the new alphanumeric tag and be all set.

Painless... especially when you have Auto Repeater Shift set.  (it's the as-shipped default)

Simplex channel programming is even easier.  With no CTCSS tones to bother with, it's a snap.  In fact, before programming simplex channels it's best to turn tones off.  See steps 5 thru 9 above.  But if you don't, or forget, or...  it really won't matter.

For FM Simplex Channel Operations
1. Turn radio ON.
2. Press [V/M] key to go to VFO mode.
3. Use mic numeric keypad to enter desired frequency.
4. Press [Mode] key several times, to cycle around to FM.
5. Press and hold [V/M] to initiate saving all the above into a memory slot.
6. Dial to a memory slot you want to write this information into.  If the memory slot number is flashing, it's empty; if it's not flashing, it's in use, but it can be over-written.
7. Press [V/M] to save to that memory slot, and alphanumeric tag entry is automatically started (confirm with another press if over-writing; the radio display will ask).  If you just want the frequency to show, skip to step 9.
8. Use Dial to scroll to letters; press [V/M] to save each letter and move to the next letter slot.  When you're done entering the alphanumeric tag...
9. Press and hold [V/M] to save the info and alphanumerics into that memory slot.  You'll be returned to VFO mode.
10. Press [V/M] to get to memory mode.  You should see the new alphanumeric tag and be all set.

Whew.  That sounds like a lot (and I hope I didn't miss anything), but really it's more that these instructions are being step-by-step explicit.  Once you get rolling on dialing in the local repeaters and standard simplex frequencies, it's not so bad.  Many of the settings will just repeat, and you can skip over some of the menu option changes when that happens.

Also worth mentioning is that chirp (CHInese Radio Program, yes, really) doesn't support this radio.  If it did, damn right I'd've popped for the programming cable and gone the easy way!  But that's not an option (yet? ever?).  RT Systems does sell a cable & software bundle for about $50; I just RTFM'd and dove in manually.  If you want to read up on chirp for some other radios and some of the gotchas there, here's the link.  

Finally, there's a lot I've left out.  For a start, Fusion digital mode.  Not much used around here, but if that ever gets rolling I'll be set.  But in the meantime, this radio makes a dandy analog FM unit at a price that can't be beat.

And yes, as a matter of fact, I did pick up an FTM-7250R this week, and I like it very much so far.  With the new Diamondhead repeater as well as SARNET-FL, I needed to step up to a dual-bander.  Still working through a few options and getting used to the different/sameness from my old 2m-only FT-2900R.  But the fan is quiet, 50 watts is plenty to get to Biloxi, the front-firing speaker is nice, it wasn't too onerous to program (see above), and... it just works.  That's all I need it to do right now, and there's plenty of capability I haven't even begun to explore.

If you want more details or maybe get to one for yourself, here's a link.  Too bad the sale's over!  As with many good things in life, if you blinked, you missed it.

ps: If you've been watching this page, I've been lightly editing out a few glitches in the instructions as the errors sift their way to the surface with repeated re-readings.  If anybody finds any problem I've missed, let me know in the comments.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

A Promo Spot for Apalachicola

New, from Apalachicola Main Street:

Lots of familiar places in that short clip.  Might have even recognized a face or two.  Anyway, it's a good promo, and the "forgotten" part is looking a little dated now.  If tourism is to come (and it is), this is the way to do it.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The 2019 "A" Storm is in the books, already.

BTW, it was "Andrea" and if you blinked you missed it.  Thankfully.  Link to Weather Underground's tropical/Andrea page.

It's going to be a long, hot summer.

Weird Art on QSL Cards

Just received this week:

Look familiar?  Don't think too hard, but give it a try.  If it doesn't come to you momentarily, here's the source material.  Also, if you need "uff da" translated, here's that.  Oh brother.

Look, I think it's pretty cool, but what the hell do I know?  My QSL card is an old picture of me throwing a castnet, and fairly soon I'm going to re-work that into a take-off of The Clash's London Calling album cover.  Stay tuned.

When it comes to stuff like this, the weirder and more obscure, the better.  Don't ask why.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

a small weekend of small concerns

Oh, I'm still here, there just hasn't been much blogable activity these last few days.  Well, Grumpy Cat died, but you probably knew about that already.   As for the rest: 

Fast trip into New Orleans after work to fetch the mountain bike back from Bayou Bicycles – right into the teeth of rush hour traffic plus the Bayou Boogaloo festival going on all around the bike shop.  Both are on (or at least very near) Bayou St. John, which has a rich and interesting history.

But I did get to go mountain biking on Saturday, and that was good to get out there ahead of the rain.  Not a long ride, but still a good ride.  Sorry, no pics.  New water pack was tried out too (an Osprey Syncro 5 in bright red).  Expect a full review after I get in at least one more ride with it.  

Trimmed the new UHF antenna – literally, trimmed it down 0.8 cm on each element to bring its resonant frequency into the center of the band.  It's working much better now, with vanishingly small SWR across the 70 cm band.  (There's something cool about knocking together a home-brew antenna from junk that's laying around the house.  Like with fishing, it's free if you have the expertise and tools.)  Then I trimmed the grass, or at least got a good start on it.

Today was, as expected, rainy, so laundry was done, naps were taken, bills were done, radios were twiddled, magazines were read, all that rainy day stuff.  Then the rain stopped and the Formosan termites swarmed, so now the lights are out.  Time to read – by the light of a very small reading lamp, so as not to attract termites.

Sometimes it's good to take it easy on a weekend.  Just don't make a habit of it.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Every May is "Dark Sky Month" Around Here

UNESCO has designated today the "International Day of Light" to demonstrate the value of dark skies to astronomers and to regular folks who just want to look at the sky and see the Universe.  APOD has a piece on it today, with a cool mouse-over picture to demonstrate the effect.

Here though, we have an even stronger motive.  Fortunately the termite swarms seem to be abating.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

NOMA Expands the Sculpture Garden

Article and interview at WGNO's site.  Hat tip to The Darling Daughter for pointing this out.  Will have to make the pilgrimage soon.

Bonus: another article at WGNO featuring eight photos from the new expansion.  OK, it sort of reminds me of some scenes from Annihilation.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Tour of Homes Follow-Up

Article in the Apalachicola Times: Fewer homes, leisurely views

They've really dialed this thing in.  Read the whole article.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

It Gets Even Uglier

Following up on last week's antenna construction post It's Not Pretty, here's the finished product silhouetted against a cloudy sky.  Not exactly up to HOA standards, but then I don't live under an HOA.

Construction notes: 11' section of chainlink fence toprail fitted to a 4' section of PVC.  The top of the PVC pipe is "castled" out for the ground plane legs, and the antenna simply rests in the end of the pipe.  The coax cable runs through the PVC and through a cut-out on its side, above the joint with the steel pipe.  It's tied with bank line to where the edge purlin is nailed to a roof rafter, just outside of the ham shack, so only a 25' length of coax is needed.  I would have preferred to have it around back off the porch, but that would have meant a 50 or perhaps even 75 foot length of coax, and you just don't want to use something that long at 440 MHz.  As it is with LMR-240 coax (pretty good stuff) over a 25' run, it's losing 26% of power in the coax.  (coax loss calculator)

It's a good between-the-rain-showers project.  Initial pinging of the Diamondhead repeater gets a response back that's about 6 dB better than in the back porch tests.  That jibes with the Egli equation, which has gain going as antenna height squared.  More later, as soon as one of the other area hams happens to be on the repeater to answer.

New Book: The British Are Coming

Rick Atkinson, author of the WWII Liberation Trilogy, now turns his attention to the American Revolution in his new book The British Are Coming.  Here's an interview with the author over at NPR.  I've read the first two in the Liberation Trilogy (the third is on my short to-do list), and there is every reason to believe that this new book will measure up to the same high standard.

You should get this book from a local store with too damn many cats and read it.  Publication date is May 14th, so you have a couple of days left to pre-order it.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Blue Origin & Bezos' Plans, TLDW Version

A short summary of Bezos' hour-long talk from this week, courtesy of Gizomodo:

He does think big, I'll give him that much.  Lots to consider there, I'll have to re-read and perhaps even watch his talk.  Anyway, it's a nice summary even if the writer didn't catch all of the subtleties.

Back to your regularly scheduled weekend.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Yesterday an Antenna

Today an alligator.  No particular reason, just a pic The Big Sis sent last week.

Nicely framed, especially for snap shooting with a cell phone camera.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

It's Not Pretty

... but this little 70 cm band ground plane antenna works beautifully.

As always, click to embiggen.

SWR is 1.2 to 1.15 across the band.  The dimensions are 17.0 cm for the vertical whip (including the mounting sleeve on the coax connector) and 19.0 cm for the radials.  Those should be the measurements for the bottom of the band according to MOUKD's online ground plane calculator, but the lowest SWR is at the top of the band.  Go figure.  In any case, with SWR < 1.2 across the band, it doesn't seem to be all that critical.

Construction notes: Keep It Stupid Simple.  The elements are 12 ga solid copper house wire left over from another project, stripped of insulation.  Had to whittle down one end of the vertical to get it to seat in the coax sleeve; a pocket knife worked OK on the soft copper.  For the radials, the inner ends were bent into crooks that slipped through the coax panel mount's bolt holes.  Used a solder stand with two adjustable clip arms to pre-position and hold parts for each solder joint.  Nothing special, in fact it's a really cheap solder stand, but it more than payed for itself with this one project.  Cut the elements about 1 cm long, and trimmed to length after soldering.  Finished it off with a gob of bathroom silicon caulk to cover the center insulator and keep water out, but that's not shown.

The cost was nil.  I see that these connectors go for $1.80 each over at Amazon if you're willing to buy a 5-pack.  I had one laying around, so call it free.  Scrap wire.... maybe $1?  Again, it was laying around.  So... somewhere between $3 and free for the whole thing.

Yes, the elements are a little wavey.  They are scrap copper wire after all, and a 70 cm wavelength will barely notice.  Taped to a yardstick and lofted to about 10 feet while standing on the porch, it reached the new repeater in Diamondhead very easily.  Atop a 20' pole it should do even better, but that will have to wait for the weekend.

It's good to have access to a 70 cm repeater over here in the western wilds of Hancock County, especially one that is practical to use with an HT.  Thanks to the folks who put this repeater up.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

The Fog Returns

No, not the glowing fog from the John Carpenter film.  The real life scary fog, of swarming Formosan termites.  Not full-on thick tonight, but enough to have the household lights off and computer monitors dimmed.  

The little bastards.

Apalach Tour of Homes Weekend

Just back off the road.  It was a good weekend.  Here, have some ToH links:
Interesting stuff, including my Great-Grandfather's place, which I'd been past about a million times but never had been inside.  I'm sure there'll be a follow up article in The Times later this week.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

The $500 Beginner Backpacking Gear List

Tim Watson has put together a video on this over at his youtube channel.  There are links to the various components below the video.

Like he says near the start, $500 is the "pfft, I'll try it" point for a lot of people.  Before jumping in on that, look at this post from last year and the links to Section Hiker therein.  The low end there is $125 – i.e., 25% – more, but some of the items are much better and lighter.  Remember, nothing says you can't mix and match from the two lists.

Anyway, interesting stuff.  Gives us all something to mull over during the heat, bugs, and muggyness of the coming summer.  Mmmm.... October....