Friday, October 25, 2019

Shortwave Listening With No Sound

I'm an eavesdropper. I was the little turd on the party line who listened to his teen-aged neighbor and her boyfriend breathing at each other after they ran out of things to say. I modded my Bakelite phone so they couldn't hear it go off-hook.

So it's only natural that shortwave listening has been a hobby of mine since the days of crystal radio, or darned near. I like to listen. And I like to decode the HF digital modes where 'listening' is defined loosely. Lately a new HF digital mode called FT8 is all the rage. It's a 'weak-signal radio communication' mode. The exchanges are along the lines of call sign, location, transmitting power followed by the receiver's call sign, location and strength of the caller's signal. They don't 'say' much but the signals travel long distances.

I'm in a basement apartment with a magnetic loop antenna near a window with an SDR on the other end. Far from an ideal setup, but get a load of this:

I've been able to receive signals from all 50 US states and 80 countries. On the down side, I've never heard a human voice nor have I read anything like a conversation. Now I leave it running more to watch how propagation conditions change over the course of a day and night.

Maybe it's a good thing I have other hobbies.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Sacred Heart Science

Every time I read about the Sacred Heart of Jesus I inwardly roll my eyes and sigh. Jesus is God incarnate. Of course His heart is sacred. My mind always wanders to the thought of someone promulgating a cult of the Sacred Kidney of Jesus or the Sacred Pancreas of Jesus. 

The belief that the heart is the center of human emotions is an old and apparently long-lived one. Today we scoff at the ancients in the firm knowledge that the heart is simply a muscle designed to pump blood.  Emotions take place in the brain, we all know that.

The science, as we are so often reminded, is in.
The other day I heard parts of a news story explaining that  researchers are exploring the possibility that there actually is a mind-heart connection. Were the ancients on to

Every generation convinces itself that they have reached the pinnacle of human knowledge, that they are the smartest people ever. Imagine the farmer of the 1830's guiding his new-fangled steel plow behind an oxen. He must have thought that plow was the absolute bomb, the 'cutting edge' of technology. (Apologies for the unintended pun.)

We don't know everything. We get it wrong, a lot. Asian cultures look at medicine completely differently than us sophisticated people in the West. Maybe they know something we don't. Have we been misled all this time by the 'Men of Science'? Is the heart more than just a blood pump?

Is there a sound, 'scientific' and logical reason besides simple tradition that the heart symbol is still used to represent romantic love? Can a broken heart literally break our hearts?

I don't know but I'm sure not rolling my eyes so much any more.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

No Sh!t

English idioms are strange beasts but among the strangest are the 'sh!t'-based sayings. 'Sh!t faced', 'sh!thead' (one word, thank you), 'sh!tty attitude', 'dumb sh!t', 'sh!t storm', 'bull sh!t', 'bat-sh!t crazy', 'ape-sh!t' and one of my personal faves, 'sh!t fit'. 

'He had a real sh!t fit.' Really? Is that what you get when you combine an epileptic seizure with sudden unexpected explosive diarrhea? Yikes.

But we have gathered here today to ponder a classic sh!t-based idiom, 'sh!t-eating grin'. In your imagination, go back into the mists of ancient history and put yourself in a conversation where the phrase 'sh!t-eating grin' was appropriate. Are you inside or outside? If inside, what room are you in? Who's grinning? And why, exactly, are they wearing that 'sh!t-eating grin'? 

On a more practical level, imagine the immigrant to the US who's grasp of English is limited. They're sitting in a job interview and feeling happy that the interview seems to be going so well. They've got this one all sewn up! (So to speak). Then the interviewer, being friendly and knowing what the applicant is thinking, smiles and says 'That's a real sh!t-eating grin you got there!' 

If the applicant knows what each word means...'Hey! What's this guy saying?!'

Sometimes it's amazing to me that we're able to communicate at all.

BTW, credit for putting this sh!t into my mind goes to George Carlin. AM/FM, Class Clown, Toledo Window of those. Good sh!t.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Juul - A Real Gem

I've smoked since I was a teenager. Started smoking my mother's Kools. About 20 years ago I quit for a year before getting a job as a phone fundraiser. Within about 2 weeks I was back to 2 packs a day. Every day, all day. I'd get up in the middle of the night and light a smoke on the way to the toilet. Took more smoke breaks at work than I'd care to admit. Before dinner, while making dinner, after dinner. Sometimes I'd get wrapped up in something and get two smokes going at once. 

My budget always included cigarette money. A lot of cigarette money. Running out of cigarettes was out of the question. 

Not only did I taste like an ashtray according to various taste-testers, but my clothes reeked. My coats still do. I couldn't tell. Der Bunker smelled like there was a recent fire. That I noticed whenever I left and came back later in the day.

I'm nearly 60 and haven't been exactly rigourous in my self care. I have heart problems, among other things. 

And still, after a stint in the hospital, there I am, huddled off in a corner trying not to be noticed by the Smoking Nazis, looking like some stray refugee lighting his first cigarette on free land.

Granted, I'm not as smart as I pretend to be but how smart do you have to be? 

Then I got 2 cats. We've grown pretty close. It didn't take long before I started feeling guilty about making them smoke, too. Guilty enough to spend ridiculous sums on air cleaners of questionable effectiveness and leaving windows cracked open to let some fresh air in. Even it was 10 below zero.

I've tried the nicotine gum, patches and Chantix (yikes!). None of those things helped me get over the hand-to-mouth habit.

During a smoke break I noticed some buddies hitting an e-cig. I had tried vaping and failed, a story for another day. But my friends were pretty enthusiastic about the device they were using, a little rectangular tube that you actually 'hit' like a cigarette called Juul.

A few days later I ordered a Juul along with some 'pods', small, snap-in modules containing nicotine salts suspended in a liquid that can be vaporized.

I'll make one point that's only important to cigarette smokers. You don't hit this thing like a vaping device or a joint. You hit it like a cigarette. No billowing clouds. 

Also, no removable batteries, no coils, no elaborate steampunk devices... it's not like joining a fraternity or starting a new hobby. 

The Juul device is rechargeable. The batteries are not replaceable. The pods are sealed but are 'hackable'. I haven't messed with one yet, I'm happy enough with them as is.

The pods come in various flavors but I've stayed with the Virginia Tobacco pods. I can't taste it. Best of all, no one else can smell it. I was in a car with a friend and asked if I could hit my Juul and he said sure. I asked if he could smell it and he said he couldn't. I've tried with a few other non-smoker friends and they all said they couldn't smell a thing.

I haven't smoked a cigarette in 5 months. I've had one or two smoking dreams and from time to time miss that horribly beautiful taste of burning paper, tobacco and chemical refuse and the sensation it causes in my poor, old, tar-soaked lungs. 

I don't really feel much better. I've been depressed but I think that has more to do with other 'issues'. My blood pressure has gone down but I think that's more to do with cutting back on caffeine.

And I have gained some serious weight. 

No taste-tester but the stink is mostly gone. And no more huddling like a refugee. No more scheming and planning my day around cigarette breaks. No more sneaking away. No more hiding from Smoking Nazis.

I am absolutely thrilled with these things. They have 2 different levels of nicotine, 5% and 3% so I can 'step down', taper off and work on the hand/mouth habit. Right now I'm happy enough with no smoke. YAY! 

You can search for Juul to get one online or get one at a gas station. 

I haven't been compensated for this but if you're from Juul (or anywhere else, for that matter) and want to compensate me, feel free. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Persian/Farsi Translation Needed

Can you tell me what this says in English? I think it's in Persian. It can be seen on Google Maps here.

I'm pretty sure it doesn't say 'Hollywood'.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Killing Turtles and News Words

From a Greepeace ad.
Today I drank a carbonated beverage through a plastic straw, the whole time nagged by the guilt of knowing that in some distant acid-laden ocean in the not-so-distant future a cute little sea turtle will die a slow, horrible death by being impaled on that very plastic straw. 

So I wrote my name on the straw before tossing it in the trash. I left a note for the cleaning people to dump my trash in the nearest ocean, the Atlantic. I hope they get mileage. Long after I've become one with our dying planet a picture of the turtle skeleton with my straw in its nostril will be posted on the interwebs and I'll gain international fame as 'Turnauckas, Slayer of Turtles'.


A pet peeve of mine is 'news words', words or phrases that get picked up by the press and used to death. It started with the BBC's Brexit coverage but now I hear uncertainty' everywhereMakes me wonder if there's someone giving instructions. 'Make sure you stress the word 'uncertainty'. News alert: Nothing in life is certain. Except, perhaps, the dire need of a thesaurus.

And it's 'unclear' why. A house burns down and the press says the cause of the fire is 'unclear'. What they really mean is that the ruins are still smoldering and nobody has a clue what started the fire. Why not just say the cause is unknown, or under investigation or so strange we can't tell you until you buy a subscription to our news service? 

'Uncertainty' and 'unclear' are perfectly good words but if I was grading essays I'd have to wonder how so many students thought they could get away with such blatant plagiarism.  

I'm certain if you listen you'll catch a lot of these 'news words' but I'm unclear why.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Build Yourself a Pi-Hole

Web ads irritate me. What can I say, I'm easily distracted. A text ad in a side bar is one thing, but when I browse to a page and an animated woman steps forward and starts talking I lose it. The advertisers and trackers have gone way to far and I install ad and script blockers on my browsers by default.

What would be really cool would be to block the requests for ads and trackers at the router level, protecting everything connected to my network regardless of O/S or browser. Even my phone (while it's on Wi-Fi) would be protected.

Turns out there is such a beast, the Pi-Hole, a DIY DNS server built on a Raspberry Pi. I won't get into the installation, the instructions are dead simple (interesting expression). I went from bare RPi to 100% operational in about an hour. And if things go haywire, rolling back your network configuration is very easy to do.

I've had mine up and running for a few weeks now and I don't pay attention to it any more but watching the stats for a few days was a real eye-opener. You think you own your smartphone or tablet? Ha! These devices phone home more than...I don't don't what but they sure do a lot of chatting with people who want to know all about them, and by extension, me. 

I know having a smartphone is kind of like using a customer loyalty card at a grocery store. I get fabulous discounts in return for letting marketers virtually follow me around the store watching what I buy. But holy Toledo...well, see for yourself.

If you already have a Raspberry Pi laying around the investment is zero +time. I'm using an RPi 3B+ but the CPU load is very low and a lower powered Raspberry Pi should work fine. YMMV, of course. 

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Llama Llyrics

I've been mostly away from social media for a year or more and forget how all this stuff works. I'm only back because I'm an insecure attention whore who needs the praise of others for self-affirmation or something. Gotta work on my psychobabble.

I started writing a poem. Don't know if I'll finish it. But it starts like this:

Tinkle tinkle, little bells
Why does llama have two 'l's?
Does a llama have 4 knees?
Does a llama ever sneeze?

Tinkle tinkle little bells
A quiet llama never yells.

A masterpiece. Now I need to add meaningful tags so when people search for 'llama poetry' they find this post. I need to setup Blogger so Helvetica is my default font instead of Velveeta or whatever it is. 

I also need to find a way of unifying my social media site postings, which is kinda why I'm writing this otherwise pointless post.  I post on 2 photography sites. Of course there's Facebag. And Twitter. Instagram is mostly phone-only. My work is meant for the big screen so I don't care so much about Instagram. 

I need a way to post once and have that post re-posted to other social media sites. It's getting to the point where taking and editing a photo is easier than uploading it then posting links everywhere else.

I think the term of art is workflow. Yeah, I need to develop my workflow. I also need to clean the cats' litterbox. Maybe I'll think about my workflow while cleaning the litterbox. How's that for multi-tasking, huh?

I just did an image search for llama bell and discovered it has something to do with Fortnite. Swell.

In case you're wondering, I'm mostly ok. Dora and Alfred are thriving. And it's snowing. I'm seriously considering baseball cleats so I have a better chance of walking on snow and ice without falling. I'll have to check with HR to see if that violates the dress code. I may need a letter from my doctor.

But first, the litterbox.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Speaking of Home

The English language is an odd beast, seemingly with more exceptions than rules. Whenever I hear a non-native speaker stumble or just completely crash I remind myself that they speak English a whole lot better than I'll ever speak Mandarin or Urdu.

It's especially hard to get American English idioms. We seem to love using them even when their use obscures rather than clarifies. When stocks go 'through the roof', what does that mean? Why not just say stock prices went up a lot? What's more than 'through the roof? Through the clouds? Through the ionosphere? Through the Van Allen Radiation belt? 

When writing news stories a little color goes a long way. Tell me what, when, why, where, who. Season to taste. Lightly, please.

The subject of idioms got me thinking and I decided to commemorate the event by jotting down a few house and home related examples. Enjoy, share your own favorites and remember to give ESL speakers a break. It's always hard to get used to a second home.

This Old Idiom House

I was floored,
My blood pressure was through the ceiling
Right through the roof.
I was up against the wall.
My plan went out the window.
Even if it did blow the doors off the competition.
It crossed the threshold.
My team was in the cellar.
They were in the toilet.
Down the drain.
Took a bath.
But they're in a hot stove league.
So I back-burnered it.
The window of opportunity closed.
I kicked it upstairs.
Then I was called on the carpet.
So I cut a rug.
With my kitchen cabinet.
Toys in my attic bought in the bargain basement.
Played with my garage band named House Brand.
Great foundation.
House rules.
Home rule.
Packed to the rafters.
I'll couch it in these terms: I chaired the meeting after getting up on the wrong side of the bed so we tabled the proposition.