Thursday, July 31, 2008

Addictions and Other Ways to Spend Money

Yes folks, I have an addiction. Over time it changes - in that the addictive things changes. When I was a young man I was addicted to guns and knives. I acquired them and wanted more. Money, being always scarce, was a limiting factor that kept me from being institutionalised. Then I discovered motorcycles. I had several of them over the years. Rode all over the country. Fell down many times and have numerous scars to prove it. Old biker saying: "Only two kinds of bikers; those who have fallen, and those who will fall." That addiction came to an end when the wife could no longer sit in the saddle long enough to enjoy a nice ride. Next addiction was four-wheeling. Got a Jeep. Started "fixing" it up for better trail performance. When I switched addictions from four-wheeling, I'd put almost as much into "fixing" as I had paid for the Jeep to start with. I bought the Jeep new in '91. Switch was because wife had two back operations and the shape jolts and bounces were more than her back would tolerate. My next and continuing addiction was/is a Mazda Miata. Bought a used one and started "fixing" it too. Well, it drove ok, but with better suspension and body stiffing it would handle so much better. If I'm gonna drive it to a higher level of performance I needed a roll-bar and better brakes. Got 'em and it helps. Now, the problem is not enough power out of the engine. It's gonna take more of that scarce money.

Now, I've jumped into Amateur Radio and started building my radio station. I've already got about a thousand $$ in the set up. Money has slowed me down, but I've gotta have more radio.

See where this always leads. I'm like a lot of guys (it's not exclusively a guy thing) in that I want more, more, more. Over the years of my addiction there is no accounting of the total monies that have gone to supporting this most vile affliction. Vile or not, I love it. See, I still have guns and knives. I don't have motorcycles, but I do access to one. I still have the Jeep. I'm currently driving the Miata as both daily transportation and fun (addictive need) car.

Over the years my wife, AKA, finance officer, has helped me deal with the addiction. She has limited the money so I never fell to the addiction to utter ruin. Now, we are in our retied years and bills have been paid off - except for the house and her new car - so there is "disposable cash" available to me. So far she has let me use those monies for my addiction. Funny thing though... I'm so well trained to limit spending on these addictions, that I find it hard to spend in wild abandon. Still, now that I'm setting up my radio station, there are many thingies, devices, dealies, doo-dads that will be needed to improve and make the radio more powerful. I don't want to just talk to the world, I want to yell, I want to bounce it off the Moon, I want to equal the output of HAARP in Alaska. In time my friends, in time.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Science vs. Creationism

The arguments rage on over at Dr. Phils' blog - http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/ - on scientific evidence and Creationism's supposed evidence of the origins of "Earth and Everything Therein." Dr. Phil is near-rabid about this topic. He presents many good points and sometimes seems to denigrate religion generally. I don't think this is his intent as so many of his loyal readers have religious beliefs varying from seeing no conflict between religion and science to the sharp divide between Creationists and their explanations of the origins of earth and the disparity of explanations presented by current scientific thinking and proof. These arguments take place a couple of times a week over at Dr. Phil's blog and it sometimes seems that he takes up the stick of science and stirs the mud of Creationism just to see what bubbles to the top. Most of the repliers, myself included, try for a reasoned reply supporting science, but allowing those with religious beliefs to write their piece without harassment. But some of the repliers (Creationists) resort to name calling and quoting other Creationists who quoted still other Creationists. Sort of like looking into two mirrors set facing each other where we see the same thing over and over with diminishing clarity and focus.

Dr. Phil, AKA, Bad Astronomer, AKA, the BA, is on the move today and will have a lot of reading to do when he settles in for the day. I hope he can find the time to stick his finger in the eye of some other fringe pseudo-science as well. We shouldn't spend all our thoughts on just those loony Creationists.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Dolly came, Dolly went

In my last blog I wrote of being ready to do community service as a Ham. I was all prepared and waiting. Then... Well, while it did damage a lot of property and drive some folks from their homes. It was not the storm of the century, and the local Hams were not called to duty.

My brother lives in the Rio Grande Valley and had to endure many hours of storm wall. His location was just on the edge of the eye and it never came across his place. He was just inside all the top winds and rain. Even so, he suffered only a few lost shingles and water up into his yard. The power went off and he and his family had no power for 30 hours. Others in the area are still without power or ice. Ice has become the prime commodity, more valuable than money itself. He has suffered through several hurricanes and was not too concerned with this one, but at the last moment decided to get some supplies (food, batteries, etc). Now, its a little know fact, but when stocking up on food, some items are an absolute must. He got several cans of Spam/Treat, potted meat, and jerky. These are all survival foods for these instances. You make up a bunch of sandwiches with the potted meat, wrap them and place them in the back of the fridge. There, they will keep very well even if the power goes off. In fact, they'll keep so well that if you forget a few remaining sandwiches, they will be edible at least six months after.

My sister-in-law and father-in-law are there in the Valley also. He lost his wife a week before the hurricane to cancer and sister-in-law was down from "The Metroplex" to stay with him for a couple of days. She was supposed to fly home the day the hurricane hit. She checked today with the airline, but no flights yet. The local runways there have standing water and planes can't come or go. Maybe by Monday she'll get out. She has missed a couple of days work already and really can't go too long. Father-in-law lives out in the country so his getting power back may be way down on the list for the power company. They were out trying to find ice today with no luck. He takes insulin and needs to keep the med cool. He's in the same boat as many others in the Valley. Diabetes is high in the population down there. But, things will get better with time. The Valley can go another five or six years without a hurricane, or forever as far as the folks down there are concerned. It did bring us (folks in the San Antonio area) beneficial rains. We're still down about 6 inches for the year. Came close to breaking the drought, but not quite.

I seem to be rambling on about all this, so maybe now is a good time to stop. C U later.

._._.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Community Service

With hurricane Dolly churning along the coast and just now going ashore (07-23-08, 17:01UTC), I'm monitoring the local Emergency Coordinator radio frequency. The local EOC has a complete Amateur Radio station and it's being manned by volunteer Hams. The Hams activated the station early this morning and asked for other Hams to "sign in." At this time we are all on stand-by waiting word of how much involvement the San Antonio/Bexar Co. area will have. It depends on how much damage and recovery is needed as the hurricane goes further in land and spends it's self over the semi-desert of West Texas and Mexico. Since the hurricane never got to a Cat-3, our services may not be needed.

The services Hams provide in these situations is having Hams located at evacuation centers and hospitals to help pass information in and out of the EOC, the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and other groups supporting evacuees. Hams also stand-by at other key facilities like police and sheriffs' departments to assist if those departments' communications fail. That doesn't happen often, but Katrina showed everyone just how fragile emergency responders systems can be.

I've been monitoring all morning - from about 11:30UTC - and will continue until bed time this evening. Tomorrow may bring rain and thunder storms and maybe some evacuees from the Rio Grande Valley. Many folks down there live in sub-standard housing and it doesn't take much to put them on the street. If there is a lot of damage to the Valley, the local agencies there may have folks transported to us. So, I'll be listening closely for the next couple of day. If the call up comes, I'll go and do whatever is needed in the Ham-ish way.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Study pays off

I found a place to take the Amateur Radio upgrade test before this coming Saturday. One of the Hams gives tests almost every Thursday at his home. This was one of the Thursdays testing took place. I had been studying and taking practice tests all of last week and all of this week up until about 15:00 CDT today. Many of the practice tests I passed with only a few (2-3) missed questions. I must have over studied because I missed 6 questions. I know if I had a chance to go over the test I would see how I was confused on the answers and chose the wrong answer. I feel certain that I knew all the right answers, but read too fast, or put the X on the wrong multi-choice answer by mistake.

But, I did pass and now I'm able to use a much broader section of the radio spectrum set aside for Amateur Radio Hams. I'll hold this level for a few months and start study on the next level. Maybe by the first of the new year, I'll be upgraded again.

One of the problems with upgrading is the requisite expense of getting the proper radio equipment and antennas to use the broader spectrum. It's sort of like when I was 4XWheeling. No mater what you have in the way of equipment, there's always something else one could use, or even need to better one's abilities and do a little more. Well, as time and money allow, I'll get more and do more. For now it's getting the station up and running. That will take several days at the rate I work. It should time out just about to the time my new license arrives in the mail.

Keep listening, or rather reading at this spot on your dial, er, web site on your computer for more information. C U later. ._._.

Time Travel

I was directed to another blog today about how to deal with meeting your future self when he/she comes back from the future. This is based on the idea that we will discover how to travel back in time and have enough desire to visit ourselves. Why we would want to visit ourselves is not clear to me. There were times that I might have benefited from a word to the wise from my future self, but would I have listened?

Now, there are a lot of SciFi stories about time travel going to the future, and backward to the past. It makes for interesting reading and sometimes mind stimulating thought. You know, "what if..." Well, I may be wrong, but my thought is if time travel is developed in the future we would already know. Do we have any indication of future visitors? Not so anyone could tell. You might argue that there are singular instances in history that might be as a result of time travel. What about some of our early discoverers of things scientific? Some discoverers seem to have been, "out of their time." Not necessarily. The mistake people make from today's view is that our ancestors were borderline stupid. How could some of the things we invented long ago have just been discovered. We must have had help from some more advanced society. That's egocentric thinking at its grate-est (spelling intentional). We know more about the world and things generally now, but our brain power is the same now as it was several hundreds years ago. Indeed our brains have had the ability to think in critical ways and have unexpected moments of putting ideas together to come up with new ways of seeing things for a very long time. We weren't any more stupid then than we are now, just unlearned.

So, the argument that looking to our past to see the future influence of time travel won't hold. The greatest obstacle to figuring out time travel is being able to define and put quantifiable, real definitions on what time is. We don't know where time started, if indeed it did start. And, we don't know where time is going. Oh, we can see a direction it seems to be going, but there are questions of how fast time is moving and why only in one direction. There are questions like, does time progress at the same rate everywhere. Do humans perceive time the same as other living things? Does time speed up or slow down base on event or circumstance, or location? We don't know, and what's more, we don't know how to test any of these questions to find answers.

No, time travel as we have come to know it through SciFi stories will not happen, because it hasn't already happened in the future. So, don't worry about meeting your future self and getting the low-down on future events to make yourself rich. But, if I could just go into the future a couple of days, or have myself come back from a week in the future. I'd have a couple of winning Lotto numbers and walk into the future a rich individual. Too bad it ain't real.

Reading

During the summer, Grandma and I are child sitting for our two younger grand daughters. The other day it was just the older of the two and I. So, what does an old guy and a girl 9 years old do? She likes to play on-line games - some are violent and I don't think she should be playing, but it's her parents' decision. In order to try to get her away from the games, I offered to buy her a late breakfast and then go to a book store for some looking around. I've had some success in getting the other oldest grand daughter(14 yoa) to read, so I saw this as an opportunity to get this one into reading. It's not that she doesn't read. Most if her reading is connected with school and homework. No reading for pleasure. So, after a large breakfast (the grand daughters know how to get the most outta Grandpa), we went to Barnes and Noble. I directed her to the kids section and helped her look around. Initially, she wanted books with toys attached. I discouraged that and we continued to look. She finally settled on a book and a magazine. The mag was a "fan-zine" covering most of the teen stars on TV. It included pull-out posters. We got home and she started reading the magazine and looked into the book. So far, so good. I hope over the next several days she'll read the book instead of going on-line.

So, now we come to yesterday. Yesterday it was just me and the youngest (7 yoa). I thought I'd try the same thing with her. In fact, she insisted because her sister went with me the day before and, well, you know fair is fair. So, off we went to breakfast. She wanted Micky-D's and chose chicken nuggets for her breakfast. Then it was off to the book store. First thing she spotted was a toy, a bright, pink toy camera, attached to a book better suited to 3-4 year old kids. I tried to direct her away from it. We toured the entire kids' section and while she looked at many books, she went back to that one with the toy. I know there can be great differences in maturity and interests between kids just two years age different, so I didn't fight it. We got her the book and departed.

Today when I got here (we do the sitting at the kids' home), the youngest started "taking pictures" of me with her bright, pink toy camera. So, I guess I'll try another day.

I've encouraged all three grand daughters to read explaining that reading is so much better than watching TV or playing on-line games. With reading, I explain, the reader can make pictures in their head from their imagination. That's better than looking at a picture made from someone else's imagination. It's a hard sell, but I stay with it. Over time it may sink in. It seems to be working for the oldest grand daughter. Just a matter of maturity I guess. But, that's what grand parents are supposed to do. I'm in for grand parent teaching.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Study, study, study...

I've spent the last several days studying for an upgrade test of my Amateur Radio license. I have a book with additional information for the next level of license and a couple of sources on the Internet to practice the test after reading the material.

There's a lot to understand in the art and skill of being a radio operator. One has to know about rules and regulations of proper and legal operation. There is information on the electronics of radios. Knowing about computers and how they work - beyond turning them on and using installed programs. There's knowledge to be obtained on how radio energy propagates across the "ethers." One must know how radio energy can effect he human body and how much exposure is allowable. There's a lot of mathematics involved too. That's a weak point for me. Math, beyond basic life-skills, is a little more than I normally handle. It's good there are formulas and hand-held calculators. A lot of knowledge, but like most things in life, you don't need to know all of it all the time. A problem comes up, you go refresh yourself on that bit of knowledge and figure it out. Or, get help from a more knowledgeable Ham.

One of the neat things about Hams; most will help a fellow Ham in understanding and learning. Another neat thing about Hams is their willingness to help out their community in times of needs. I've written about this in an earlier blog, and even today with the fires consuming great gobs of California, Hams are helping pass vital and needed information from Emergency Control Centers to evacuation shelters. Hams have even provided complete communications for communities where EMS and police communications have failed. These instances of assistance are not meant to be anywhere close to permanent. They do fill in until regular services can be repaired and put back on line.

But, back to my studies. I've studied and practiced the test. I've been able to pass the practice test several times. So, on the 19th of the month, I'll go test and hopefully upgrade. Getting the higher certification will allow me to communicate across a broader range of frequencies. With the additional frequencies, I can communicate farther across the world and if called on to help in the community I'll have better skills.

So, I'll keep reading and practicing until the 19th. C U later. ._._.

Monday, July 7, 2008

News = Noise

When I was a kid I liked to watch the evening news. John Cameron Swazye was the top newscaster of the time and the Korean war was the leading news story. Over the years (many, many years) I've had a thing about watching the news. I'll watch one network for the evening news and another for the night news. And then there are all the 24/7s on satellite. How can a guy not get his fill? Still...

There is a problem though. When I was a young father with kids old enough to run, play, scream, wrestle and put themselves in front of the TV, it seemed always to happen at news time. My kids would be playing outside with the neighborhood kids, running and hollering and having good clean, and healthy fun. But, as the news came on they all had to run inside and continue their mayhem in front of me and my TV. Always frustrating, sometimes to the point of tearing my hair and gnashing my teeth in futile effort to clear the room of kids.

Today, Grandma and I were child-setting for our two younger grand daughters. They played all day QUIETLY around the house, or watched TV in the back of the house and were almost invisible. At 5:00 pm the local news came on and the girls came in from somewhere in the back to play horsey and piggy-back and squeal, and giggle and scream and thump around. I tried to shush them; to get them to leave the front and go to the back; to sit and read; to do anything quietly. I might as well have been trying to balance the National Budget. I could do neither. So, I sat watching bits and pieces of news stories and heard about every fifth word or so. The commercial breaks however, were both hear-able and watchable. Strange, that.

I've given this some critical thought. I conclude that there must be some as yet undiscovered mental ability of kids to subconsciously tell when the news is coming on and be drawn to it like a moth to a light. I may draw a lot of flak from other critical thinkers about this, but if any of them have kids they'll know I'm right. This may be another example of Murphy's Law, or at least a subsection and paragraph of Murphy.

On this occasion Grandma and I got away when their parents came home from work. I forgot to indicate we do the sitting at the parents house, not grandma's and mine. So, I got to see the 10 pm news without interruption or distraction. Doesn't fill the void, but better than nothing.

C U later. ._._.

Friday, July 4, 2008

July 4th Hoorah!


Gonna have some much needed showers this afternoon. Going out to daughter and son-in-law to hang out. Gonna burn some meat on the BBQ. May go on a Miata run with the Bluebonnet Miata Club later today. Not much else going on. C U later. ._._.
BTW, hope I don't end up like the cartton next to the picture.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Solar Power

Our sun provides light and heat, and energy in other forms not immediately recognized. For instance, winds: winds are a result of uneven heating of the surface of the earth which causes them. Another instance: oil and coal are produced by plant material growing, falling over and decaying in deep deposits that over long time periods turn into oil and coal. Where does the sun come in? Without the sun, plants would not grow. Rain is produced by water evaporating, condensing in the air and falling out of the sky. Rain water collects in rivers and lakes and oceans. Power is taken from falling or flowing water in the form of electricity or mechanical power. Sun light can be converted into electricity by photovoltaic panels. In fact, all power we use comes from the sun.

The sun does other things besides provide power. One of those things is it's effect on the upper atmosphere where various radio (that includes TV which is actually a form of radio) signals pass through. The photons from the sun strip electrons from gases, mostly oxygen causing ionization. Depending on where the ionized layer is, radio signals will either be bent back toward the earth or pass thought to outer space or be almost completely absorbed. There are several layers of ionization in the upper atmosphere, each with it's own effect on radio signals.

Over long periods of scientific study, it has been learned that sun spots seem to be responsible for some of the effects. The sun spots come and go in an eleven year cycle. Well, about eleven years, but not always. It can vary by a couple of years either side of eleven. Right now we are at the minimum or bottom of the cycle. That means that radio signals on some frequencies don't bend back to the earth very well and communication on those frequencies are scarce. When sunspots are active, with lots of daily numbers, those frequencies come alive with long range communication. In fact, on occasion a radio signal will bend back to the earth and reflect back to the ionized layer several times allowing the signal to go completely around the earth.

Amateur radio operators, "Hams," look forward to lots of sun spots. It allows them to talk all over the world to like minded hams. The predictions for the start of the new cycle, #24, keep getting adjusted a little. It was supposed to start about the start of this year, or maybe sometime in March, or maybe sometime in the middle of summer, or maybe even as late as next year. No one knows for sure. The sun does what the sun does and we can only forecast based on past experience. I occasionally look at the video from SOHO satellites positioned out at the L1 points. They keep an eye on the doings of the sun so we can see whats coming at us. Check'em out at: http://sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov/data/realtime/mpeg/
video

The video shows the sun from 06-07-08 to 07-01-08 as it rotates. About 1/2 way through you can see a little, tiny sun spot creep across the face of the sun, but it fades out before it get all the way across. Video courtesy of SOHO (EAS/NASA).

As I indicated, we are at the minimum. It is so minimum that we go several days with NO sun spots, then we'll see a miserly little sun spot that "evaporates" and we go several more days with out another sunspot. Hams are anxious for the cycle to pick up and get going. Come on sun!

C U later ._._.