Tuesday, March 31, 2020

PSK-31 on 17m Again

For a year or so now, the PSK-31 "watering hole" on the 17m band has been full of FT8.  Not that I mind FT8, but come on.  Anyway, it seems that sometime last fall the 17m PSK-31 sub-band moved over to 18.097 MHz – details at the Wikipedia article.

PSK on 17m is a great little combo for hikers and the like.  When the band's open (admittedly not a lot lately, given the current phase of the 11-year solar cycle) low power is plenty for solid long-distance contacts.  The lack of contesters and the relatively modest antenna sizes are both big plusses too.  I recall one conversation with a guy holed up on the lee side of a rock formation in a blizzard out in Colorado a couple of years ago.  He was just out for a stroll with his radio and dog, nothing unusual.  It's good to have this capability back.

Anyway, PSK-31: It's like The Matrix, but even nerdier.  And besides, is there anything else going on these days anyway?

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Radio Programming Round-Up

With the current world situation going on, I'm seeing an uptick in traffic to the various "how to program x radio" posts here at the blog.  For convenience, here are the major posts on the topic.
ps: Don't have your ham license?  Odds are good that you have spare time on your hands at the moment.  Here, read through this:
All resources listed there are available online, so there's no need to go out for any of this.

OK, having said all that, here's one more public service meme from KB6NU's blog (and supposedly from elsewhere, but that link is down):

If 2m is good, I suppose that 30m is even better.  Will be off calling CQ on the 30m PSK-31 sub-band for a good chunk of this afternoon.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Meanwhile, in the World of Ham Radio...

The following is a news & loose items round-up while I try to think of something of more import to post.

(1) Over the years I've observed various hams carefully cutting radial wires to resonant lengths and then burying them in their yards, curling them into shapes better described as "axials" than radials.  I've held my tongue, shaken my head, and moved on because, really, it's hard to make an antenna not work.  And they're happy with their results.  Still, it's interesting to see that this topic has been addressed at least as far back as 1937, as shown in this article at eham.  All I can add is that (a) the resonant length of any wire will change when you bury it, or even lay it on top of dirt; (b) that 234/f free-space length sure isn't it; (c) the resonant length will change again next time it rains; and (d) just cut as many radials as you have patience and wire for, run them radially as far as is practical in your yard, and you'll do fine.  Because Method of Images.  That's what makes an on-ground plane work, all the rest is voudou & gris-gris.  (Idle though for a rainy weekend: Is there a uniqueness proof for the RF analogue of Poisson's Equation?  Bet there is, bet it's not too hard to show.)

(2) In another article at eham, Fishing Where the Fish Are, presents a refreshing approach to recruiting new hams.  TLDR: Empty-nesters have the time, money, and increasing lack of fitness to pursue the hobby.  What's more, there's an endless supply of older people, Father Time is making fresh batches every day.  It may make more sense to recruit there, rather than trying to complete with the distractions that the pre-empty-nesters face.

(3) In spare minutes these last two weeks, several friends and I have been fooling with Yaesu's Fusion digital voice mode.  It's impressive, giving good clear VHF performance over 20+ miles without needing repeaters or extraordinary towers.  It doesn't give magic over-the-horizon performance on VHF, nothing can do that, but it is way better than FM.  In communities without repeaters it seems likely to give similar useable coverage, at least for most users.  Will have to experiment more on this in the coming years.  Why hasn't Fusion caught on faster?  Mostly due to Yaesu's bucket-of-everything marketing (example) and incoherent manuals.  But overall, yeah, Fusion station-to-station ("simplex") digital voice mode couldn't be easier, and it's damn near magic.

The crazy thing is that I've had a Fusion-capable radio for nearly a year, and lots of friends have them too, but the manuals are such crap that we've all just been using them for FM!  In the end though, Fusion digital voice simplex is very easy to use and a phenomenal performer.

(4) Over at his blog (currently off-line due to who-knows-what, but here's the link) Bob K0NR ponders the question: Why the fuse on the negative power lead on most (but not all) ham radios?  His conclusion is that it's generally a bad idea in car installations, because if the ground fuse blows there's always an extra path to ground through the coax shield.  Yikes.  He also adds that it's probably not that big a deal, but he won't be installing things this way in the future.  There is always, always a failure mode you haven't thought of, that some other smart dude can point out.  Still mulling over the consequences for stand-alone solar powered radios.

There, that should get your weekend off in good nerd-tastic fashion.  Catch you on the air.

Friday, March 27, 2020

In a hole there lived a hobbit...

Article on the Holy Austin Rock Houses at Atlas Obscura.  Speculation on their influence on Tolkien is included.  Well yeah, seems plausible.  Looks like a good place to visit, glad to see that they're kept up and even being restored as a museum.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Looking at The Bay with Fresh Eyes

Sure, I take a lot of snapshots, many of them along the beachfront, many from the top of the Bay bridge.  But they're nothing compared to what a real pro can reveal with a good camera.  Here, have a look at this photoessay at the Shoofly:

No, really, go take five minutes and scroll through the article.  I've lived here almost thirty years and have only had rare glimpses IRL of what he shows here.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Human Magnetoreception

Seem it might be a thing.  Article at Pop Mech.

Lots of room for DIY experimentation here.  There will be bruises.

Would be mighty handy when out in the woods though.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Daytime & Nighttime AM Radio Well Explained in 5 Minutes

Useful, basic info.  Give it a watch.

Potentially listenable big-watt nighttime stations around the southeast are WWL 870 New Orleans, WSB 750 Atlanta, WHAS 840 Louisville, and WSM 650 Nashville.  There are others out there, but those are the main ones that come in easily on the northern Gulf Coast.  If you're looking for something closer to your place, say within 600 miles or so, Wikipedia has a list of stations around North America.  It's useful to be able to set your radio on a frequency and then turn the whole thing around to perhaps sweep its antenna in the station's general direction.

Dial around for yourself one night and see what's available in your region.  What, don't have an AM radio?  Got a car?  Radios in those usually have surprisingly good reception.

Anyway, it's a neat little video.  It's funny that this was considered general knowledge for people just a few years older than I am, but is almost completely unknown to those of us who grew up in the late 70's and onward.

Friday, March 20, 2020

A Good Way to Beat the Isolation Blues

Watch The PhD Movies 1 and 2 over at PhD Comics.

There, something to cheer you all up this weekend.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Is Backpacking During the Pandemic a Good Idea?

See article over at Section Hiker on this.  Or I dunno, just apply Betteridge's Law and move on with a minimum of effort.

I ran into a similar conundrum last Sunday, and decided not to go mountain biking.  It's not that I'm concerned about picking up anything while on the trail, far from it.  It's just that I am concerned about landing in the ER, adding any tiny amount of strain to the local hospital's load, and having to gimp through the coming weeks when we all need to be at 100%.  So I just rode the seawall, as shown in Tuesday's post.  Looks like what I'll be doing for the foreseeable future.

But yeah, heading out on an extended backcountry hike, wondering about future supplies and transportation that may be needed?  Probably a really bad idea right now.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Pics from Sunday's Ride

So many pics from the top of the Bay Bridge, but nothing ever like these of a low fog on the water.


Anyway, it was a nice ride on a nice early spring day.

Monday, March 16, 2020

The Colour Out of Mississippi

Following up on yesterday's post, here's one of the wisteria growing in the front yard.

I love it when those things bloom.  Fortunately they don't try to take over the homestead.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Movie Review: Color Out of Space

First off for the H.P. Lovecraft fans: It's OK, even if it is a heavy adaptation of the original story.  Back to the review.  You know the basic plot, ripped off by everyone from the makers of The Blob to King & Romero: meteor falls to Earth near a remote farmhouse and there's something inscrutable and evil inside that takes over the farm, and maybe keeps growing.  And then there's something that takes up residence at the bottom of the nearby well...

The main story within the original Lovecraft short story unfolded over nearly two years in the 1880s, as uncovered by a hydrologist in the 1920s.  Here, all the action has been moved up into the present day and compressed into a few weeks.  Lots of major characters remain, in a mutated form (how appropriate), and do approximately the same things here.  It's all close enough to the base storyline to be a recognizable, credible adaptation.  The major difference is that where The Colour in the original drained nearby living things of their life force leaving behind ashen grey disintegrating husks, here The Color changes and merges nearby living things into monstrous forms.  It fits better with 21st century horror movie expectations, I suppose, but it seems to be a mutation of the story line too far.

Another problem is that we see Nicolas Cage and family going all crazy, and we know it's somehow The Color behind the change, and well water is implicated, but it's never explicitly linked the way it is in the short story.  At one point in the original, the father relates to a concerned friend checking on the family how "...can't git away...draws ye...ye know summ'at's comin', but 'tain't no use..." for about half a page.  It's a drained rant from a drained character that seems custom made for Cage to deliver.  Instead, here we get a similar explanatory rant from a squatter played by Tommy Chong, but it more sounds like a stoner's ramblings than the exposition the viewers deserve.  That, plus we get Crazy Cage, bellowing about alpacas and blowing up monsters with a double-barreled shotgun.  Is it The Color's direct effect, or is he just acting out over the stress?  Not clear at all in the movie version.  Maybe this is the director's intent?  If so, it's a fumble.

But that's all the bad parts.  The rest is faithful in spirit to the original, albeit dragged kicking and screaming a century into the future.  Parts are almost charming, especially some of the teenage hijinks and slightly out-of-control parenting.  So... yeah, if you're a fan of the original, give it a watch.  Even if it is a heavy adaptation, the eldritch bones of the original story remain intact.

Three out of Four Stars

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Revisiting Audiophiledom

Spanning across high school, college, grad school, and finally into professional life, I always subscribed to one or two audiophile magazines.  Finally, sometime around 1993, Julian Hirsch at Stereo Review said something to the effect that all decent CD players and audio amplifiers are now effectively perfect, and while there is substantial variation between speakers it comes down to personal taste.  (Strictly speaking of good components here, bubble-pack gear and boom cars and the like are another story.)  At which point life was taking a particularly sudden turn and I just dropped the whole matter and was happy with the gear I had.

And that's mostly where things sit today.  Oh, I've side-graded with newer components as things aged.  Gave away the belt-drive-and-moving-coil turntable.  In one mildly humorous episode, I thought my ears were going when in fact it was only some speaker cones beginning to crack with age.  That was a welcome upgrade!  But on the whole, my approach to audio is best summed up by the phrase "close enough."

Then this morning while reading through The SWLing Post blog, I stumbled onto Part-Time Audiophile.  There's always been a fair amount of woo-woo surrounding the turntables-and-tubes crowd, but I have to say that I've missed at least some of it, and especially the music reviews.  Take a moment from your busy day and go peruse the site.  Particularly noteworthy is their 2019 buyer's guide.  Will I dive back into this hobby and wallow to the degree I used to?  Probably not.  But it will be good to dip a toe in the pool from time to time.

Hm, not convinced, not a fan.

Ford releases Mustang Mach-E winter testing footage

An all-electric crossover SUV?  It may be alright, but whatever it is it's not a Mustang.  These sorts of branding missteps muddy a product name, piss off the long-time fan base, and consequently spook potential buyers.  I predict that for these reasons alone, this thing'll be gone within a couple of years.  Which is a shame, because it may well be a perfectly good vehicle that buyers want.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Waveland St. Patrick's Day Parade Canned

Oh sure, they're saying "postponed," but well, OK, maybe – say until next year.  Article at the Seacoast Echo

Saturday, March 7, 2020

The (possible) End of Moore's Law

Article over at MIT Tech Review.  It's a short read, so set aside five or ten minutes.

Looking on the bright side, rolling to the end of Moore's Law implies the end of bloatware.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Ham Camp #21

Nothing remarkable, just another weekend camping up in Desoto National Forest.  This time out we went for the horse trailhead just south of Airey Lake.  It's a nice campsite, complete with convenient antenna-hanging trees, many campsites with tables and benches, and a vault toilet.  Strictly bring-your-own water and power, but that's par for the course and even a little bit of a bonus in my book.  However... some of the BYOP took the form of ear-splitting generators.  That's the one down side to this place.

Here, have some pictures first, then we'll come back and discuss some more.



TL: Inside the shack.  TR: Yet another steaming pot of brew.
BL: A curious crow examines the W3EDP-mini antenna.  BR: Curious Crow watches over the campsite in his tuxedo.

Hm, lessons learned... 
  • When packing the truck, give the loading area one more walk-through before heading out.  Left the main 40 AH battery at the house!
  • Bring backup gear.  In this case, I had the complete pre-packed low-power radio and accoutrements, including the 4.5 AH battery.  This allowed me to operate despite mistake #1, albeit at reduced power.
  • But had push come to shove, I did have battery clamps and could've operated off the truck's power.  Again, more backups on top of backups.  In the end, I did a quick drive-home for the big battery.
  • Operator comfort = operator efficiency.  With a 9'x9' tent, a 6' table, director's chair w/ insulating pad, it was nice to get in out of the frigid north wind and sit up in a somewhat normal work position.  Full-on sleeping gear made the frosty nights a pleasure.  Don't discount comfort.
  • Before packing out on Sunday, we tried a mid-day 80m ground wave propagation experiment, aka "GWEN Junior."  Bottom line: worked at 15 miles' range, but not so well at 40 miles.  Good to know.  Also, note that was SSB voice.  Any one of the digital modes could significantly increase this range.
  • All of the horse-noise around had several of us blurting out "Frau Blucher" at random intervals.
  • ps: adding a tiger tail to the FT-60 HT really helped getting into the repeater 20 miles away.  20" of #20 wire, crimped to a split lug that just fits around the SMA antenna connector; took all of 5 minutes to make.  Here's the video that got me out of the chair and onto this.
Beyond all that, it went pretty smoothly.  On one hand, I really didn't need to spend a weekend goofing off in the woods – way too much other stuff to do.  On the other, my brain really appreciated the time around the greenery.  And oooh, the weather was nice.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Tiny Desk Concert: Bob Weir & Wolf Bros

Over at NPR: https://www.npr.org/2020/03/02/809860805/bob-weir-and-wolf-bros-tiny-desk-concert
26 minutes of Dead-infused jam.

Weir sounds old and knowledgeable, and still strong.  Time-span wise, he's been singing since the 60's.  Shifted back a century, and this would be akin listening to a Civil War veteran playing on an early radio station.  Don't break your time perspective brain center mulling that one too long.

More blogging on the way.  Been incredibly busy.  But in the meantime, there's some good music.