Monday, December 29, 2008

Sliding into home

We're back in Austin. Woo-hoo! Visits with kids and friends, missing those who are similarly on vacation, missing those who won't see another year.

No matter how short or long a time we're away, the return is always worth it. Driving into town from just about any direction always starts that resonating feeling that we're HOME.

The year is just about as short as one can get. We'll be finalizing the moments left until it winks out of human cognizance in any way but a memory with friends who live out in the hills.

All I can say to you who read this is:
Have a good today and a great tomorrow.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The ups and downs of elevators

Our 3-stop elevator at the church broke last Sunday night. As the resident electrical engineer, everyone came to me to solve the problem. We had a fellow in a 370-pound electrical wheelchair on the third space, who was trying to get back to the ground level to go home after the choir cantata. Ours is roughly equivalent to the model 300 here. Ours is an "Elevette" made by that same company and installed in 1983.

An hour or so later, I'd tried everything I could think of, checking limit switches, breakers, door closings, etc. We finally loaned the fellow a regular chair and helped him down the two flights of steps to exit the church.

We found out lots of things that aren't "up to snuff" about the elevator instructions, location of key, phone number for the repairman. It was definitely a learning experience. Standing out there Monday with the repairman in upper-30's temperatures was also a learning experience! He did find out that it was a special part that won't be able to be shipped to our location until after Christmas, so no joy for those who would attend the Christmas Eve service with definite needs to get up into our multi-story building with this device's assistance. Of all things that could delay the return to operation, it was a burned out coil on the main power contactor that directs the lift motor to send the car UP or DOWN. You just don't find those under the nearest rock.

Stuck pixel? Dead pixel? What's a pixel?

No, they aren't cute little blinking lights from Peter Pan.

This article describes how you might be able to fix one in a display on your computer. The final fix might (just might) work on a display on some other kind of device that is exhibiting this maddening form of visual torture.

Good luck, and comment if you get success or want to vent at failure.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"Open the door...Robot"

To oh-pun on an old song title ("Open the Door, Richard"), I offer this short tale to give you smiles on a cold almost-winter day. It might make your foam mustache quiver from your melted marshmallow in your cuppa hot chocolate!

Ref: music here and lyrics here.

Winter's Roads

I followed my head and heart today down the poetry trail. It lead me to
Winter's Roads
by Ron Carnell
About the Poem
The Winter of 1998 was the first time in over two decades that I found myself immobilized by heavy snow of Michigan. For three very long days. One result of that enforced isolation was a poem called Winter's Threads.

Not being one to repeat past mistakes (I much prefer the excitement of making new ones), I packed my motor home the day after Christmas, 1999, with the intention of spending winter in California. I made it only as far as Louisiana, where I stopped to visit family (and instead became involved with family). Nonetheless, I stayed warm, renewed some familial bonds, and learned I'm really not very well suited to the travelling life.

Eight weeks later, with warm weather breaking in Michigan, I again headed North. While on the road, with little else to occupy my mind, I penned this sequel to Winter's Threads. And like its precursor, the poem is less about Winter and more about the choices we make in life.
Having read this introduction, if you want to read his poem, it is here.

Hot knives!

The mind boggles! The imagination soars. Pulses race. Then the truth is known about this subject.

A MAKE blog post shows how to convert an old soldering iron to cut plastic with X-ACTO blades.

Be calm, my beating heart! Oh. Well, then, that settles something I've needed for some time for projects out in the workshop.

106 Years of Popular Mechanics

Popular Mechanics and Google have teamed together to bring the entire history of this magazine to viewers on the Web. You can read about that here. I spent many hours when visiting relatives in west Texas, poring through the pages of old and new copies of magazines of one sort or another. But, suffice it to say, there were few that evinced my interest and attention like PM. I loved the science articles. The level of the science in the magazine matched my own and I thought I was in heaven. Strange that as an adult I never subscribed to this one. I have read many different magazines. I still will gravitate toward this one in a library filled with periodicals in a shelving system.


Friday, December 12, 2008

The Anti-Ky-WHAT?

For those who've been keeping up with all the controversy and discussion of what the 2,000+ year old Greek device (Antikythera) found, crusty, rusty, and decrepit in the body of a sunken ship must have been originally used for, here is a video of a model a museum curator (Michael Wright) has constructed that includes all the known functions that have been identified for this old device. It is thought in some circles to be the first analog computer, though it is unlikely that this device was not based on earlier devices that used some of its principles. He constructed it in his workshop, which MUST be rather better filled with construction devices than mine is. You can see more about it here.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Mirror, mirror, on

We're only about 5 years away from launch, so work is in full swing on creation of NASA's next "big eye" in the sky, the James Webb Space Telescope, set to gather infrared light from oh, so far away, keeping it all straight and pure until it is digitized and stored away for scientists to talk about for years to come. Each image will be carefully examined and compared to existing knowledge.

Meanwhile, the mirror will travel hither, thither and yon about the country, getting each of its segments made, polished, checked, and finally plated with gold and checked again. The story of all this preparation is worth a read. The final device will be precious beyond compare.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Texas outlawed the Erlenmeyer flask! #2

This is a follow-up to my previous post on shorting our kids by taking any chance for real experimentation away from them by removing all chemistry sets worth the name from sales counters, etc.

A reader sent this, which I thought worthy of a follow-up post here:
I just read the Wired article you
linked from your blog entry about chemistry sets. I
had no idea (but I shoulda guessed) that hands-on
science has practically been removed from education.
That is discouraging to hear. When I
went to school we did some sort of hands-on labs in
science classes from 5th grade onward. We used real
(gasp) glassware, from about 9th grade on each pair
of students used their own (shudder) Bunsen burner,
we learned how to do things like (oh how subversive!)
fractional distillation, and even worked with (OMG!
OMG!) some radioactive materials.

To protect the guilty, I'll not comment about the
chemistry and electronics that went on at my house
outside of school hours. The cops never did figure
out who caused the BOOM that upset so many concerned
citizens and did substantial damage to the concrete
down in the flood control channel.
This fellow is now a full-fledged technology person, earning his money by real hands-on electronics design, prototyping, and programming. He credits his arrival at the shores of the more-than-burger-flipper at least in part due to his exposure to science, scientific thinking, and experimentation. Nuff said.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Pages of radio history

An Austin ham/electrical engineer friend sent along this link tonight for the 1939 Radio Shack catalog. At first thought, it might seem that it would be boring. But, as you turn the pages, you get to see what was new and exciting back then in a way that a single photograph of a workbench or and ham operator's equipment would not show you.

The catalog lists ham radio equipment, as well as laboratory test equipment. The components and how they are named and specified in the text tells much about that era's equipment. You learn the popular component voltage ratings, resistor wattages, radio chassis sizes, and the tools it took to work with the components and build your own equipment.

Viewing this catalog is more than just turning pages without the dust and musty smell: these are the pages of radio history.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Shortwave link to G_d?

My wife is a United Methodist pastor. Today we went out in the country to have lunch with some folks who have visited our church many times (and who speak fluent Spanish). In the midst of our lunch, I happened to see an old, console radio of the type that was in many living rooms in the 1930's. I asked if it worked and the lady of the house said it did and we could try it out after lunch.

Being an engineer, I had a short mental lapse from the after-lunch conversation about what this and that in the Bible REALLY means. I thought of the radio. I got up and the lady of the house turned it on by plugging it in. After some warm-up time for the tubes, I tuned around and found a couple of AM radio stations. There were only 4 control knobs, so the band switch was easy to locate. I switched to shortwave. No joy, even after tuning all across the band (3-18 MHz, as most of that era radio sets did). I asked her for an extension cord. She found one of about 12 feet length. I hooked it onto the wire I found dangling in the back of the set. The first shortwave station I tuned to was about 15 MHz and was in fluent Spanish. It was a religious broadcast. The folks we were visiting were amazed, since with the 3-foot antenna inside the case, they had not received anything. They may now have another source for receiving broadcasts that had been sitting inside their home for years.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Kosmophone Project

Every once in a while, you hear of a project that seems to be a use of technology that is, well, appropriate. In my opinion, music is sublime, as is poetry, photography, and some social interaction. What could be better than hooking really exceptional technology up to produce music? Well, there could be some things, but this is the subject of this post.

A ham buddy in Austin sent me links to the Kosmophone Project and some of the music produced from that effort. The images and text concerning the effort are really a nice preface to listening to the music itself.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Texas outlawed the Erlenmeyer flask!

I was reading a blog today, when I got a serious shock to the system. I read:

Kits Today: Wimpified

Compared to their robust ancestors, chemistry sets today are wimpy. They revolve around low-energy reactions and the quiet creation of crystals and polymers. The average set from the mall has no burner to provide a flame, no chemicals that go bang. It’ll let you prepare solutions that change colors or glow like a light stick, but that’s about it for excitement.

Why? It’s common sense to delete highly toxic compounds, and we’re certainly more focused these days on insulating kids from risk.

But mostly it’s fear: of liability, of terrorists, of the neighbors. Overreacting to methamphetamine trafficking, Texas has outlawed the Ehrlenmeyer flask. In August, panicky Massachusetts police ransacked the basement lab of retired chemist Victor Deeb, who was simply fiddling with experiments in his home.

(emphasis is mine)

The post concerned making your own chemistry set in this modern age, where the chemistry sets of yore do not appear in stores before Christmas like they did back in the 50's. I got my large, Gilbert set for my November birthday in 1958, just in time for a parental divorce and in time to become familiar with it before entering the halls of high school chemistry lab. After a sulfur smell came from it, my mother banned me to a tiny outbuilding reminiscent of an outhouse in shape, but a trifle larger. I built in a shelf for a lab table, put a lock on it to protect my set, and poured a bag of ready-mix concrete in front of the door to solidify to keep it from getting mired in mud. It was all the way on the back of the property, so it was far away from danger to the house. Since there was no electricity, all the experiments had to be done during light hours. That was probably a good thing.

I replicated almost all the high school lab experiments at home, where I had more time to appreciate them and think about how they worked. But I did not have access to sodium, nor did I want that. I was in rapture over the "spinthariscope" that showed me some evidence of "atomic energy". Woo-hoo! What adventure.

Well, back to the shock of Texas law and the (almost) death of the chemistry set. The Texas Department of Public Safety (state troopers/state police) entered into a memorandum of understanding with higher education folks in the state to prevent glassware of chemistry nature from coming into the hands of the public, some of whom might use it for nefarious and illegal purposes.

Who knew that we would come to the situation of failing our kids by incapacity to provide them with chemistry sets to stimulate their science leanings because of laws to "prevent" folks from creating illegal drugs. Whew. I'll have to think about that for a while.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

WiFi heaven

People are always asking me if they can get amplifiers or some way to extend their WiFi connection or make it reach another building. There are many paths to nirvana in this dimension.

Here is a solution for needing to reach a little farther inside your house or to your patio.

Here is one solution for intermediate distance with a path to either locations in a line or one distant location.

Here is another solution, using the can antenna from the above solution as the launching pad to reach up to 10 miles if one of these antennas is used on each end.

Another, commercial solution is any of these antennas from a commercial company MFJ Enterprises, Inc. They also sell the connection cables to your WiFi box.

I hope this helps your efforts. You must have an external antenna with an antenna connection jack for the last three and the first one requires just an external antenna upon which to hang the directional reflector.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Zero-G coffee cup!

Miles Abernathy, N5KOB, sends this news along:
This is remarkable! Watch the 2-minute video of the zero-G coffee cup for astronauts, invented by an astronaut.

More explanation is here.
All this brings to mind the interesting sociological aspects of how folks will live their lives away from the heavy dose of planetary gravity grip in the International Space Station and future orbital environments. Will they overwhelmingly adapt their environments to mirror the life below or will they choose the opportunity to come up with new ones, changing social situations along the way?


Monday, November 24, 2008

!!! Google, gurgle, blub!!!

I just finished reading an interesting but worried note on the NYTimes Media & Advertising segment on-line, titled "Google Seduces With Utility". In the guise of seeming to worry about the ubiquity of Google tentacles into his life, the author manages to expose all the new and exciting products and tools the company has available for one low price: free. If you worry about such things, this is a good read. If you revel in such things, this is a good read. If you just want to find out what is going on and hear the buzz, this is a good read.

Or tell me why you don't want to.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Cold War...cold shoulder

I was catching up this afternoon with the news on the ARRL (American Radio Relay League) site, when I found an article that floored my sensibilities. This article dealt with a young man who listened to other countries' shortwave broadcasts back in the period of time we call the "Cold War" era. A large percentage of shortwave listeners collected verification cards to show their friends which of the stations they had actually snagged on the receivers they so dearly loved. To get one of these cards required (in the era before email and the Internet) the listener to send a letter to the station, requesting the card and giving details of the signal strength of the station received, their receiver and antenna setup, and details of the program(s) listened to, along with the date and time the station was received.

The teen received a card from (among others) "Radio Habana" in Cuba. As the article explains, his "mom -- who was the local draft board lady -- got a call from the FBI and Greg had to explain why he was 'in contact' with Radio Habana. When he explained that he was just a shortwave listener, the FBI told Greg that if he never contacted Radio Habana again, his mother could keep her job!"

That threat to the livelihood of the mother of a teen radio listener and hobbyist...a hobbyist who was doing nothing wrong, and who was pursuing an innocent hobby, seems to me very shocking. But, at the same time, my own veneer of hardness continues toward my government's frequently misplaced and probably illegal actions towards its own citizens through the decades of my life.

How else can you view something reported like this?

Interviews without words: Perspectives

There's a video project that I read about tonight over the Internet. It is called "Perspectives".

The makers of the video series came up with a really different take on interviewing: the interviewees don’t actually say anything. The series leaves only body language, pauses for thought, and interjections to do the communicating, while removing all the actual words the interviewees use to answer the question put to them by the interviewer.

The description on the site says, "Each episode is a selfcontained expression—mysterious, bite-sized, entertaining. But it isn’t until you watch several in a row that you begin to see the beauty of it, and it starts to work on a different level."

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Almost-lost Video: Dave Brubeck in Australia

An almost lost April, 1962, Australian performance of Dave Brubeck Quartet hosted by Digby Wolfe. The film was saved from destruction in 1984 and now is with the Australian National Film and Sound Archive. A 1" PAL telecine transfer of the film was sent to Dave Brubeck's management in the mid 90s.

This version of the quartet was:
Dave Brubeck, piano
Paul Desmond, sax
Eugene Wright, bass
Joe Morello, percussion

Craven Filter Cigarettes sponsor, #1, "I'm In a Dancing Mood"

#2, "It's a Raggy Waltz"

#3 "Unsquare Dance" with dancers! dancers Carlu Carter and Bill McGrath

#4, "Rule Brittania"

#5, "When You're Smiling"/"Don't Worry 'Bout Me" (Laurie Loman, singer)

#6, "Blue Rondo a la Turk"

#7, closing credit (I don't recognize the piece)

If you have problems watching this resolution, delete the "&fmt=22" off the end of each URL when you watch it. Comments welcome.

How to watch many YouTube videos in higher quality

On many YouTube videos (IF you have good bandwidth), you can get 720p digital format with less pixelation if you add the characters
on the end of the URL for the video and click Enter again to see it in much better quality. Comment whether this works for you or not. It worked well for me tonight.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Animals and such...on hand

Here's a link for a collection of 22 images concerning painted animals and such on hands (and feet). This one is a commercial site for "fine art bodypainting". I'm sure there must be some odd level of satisfaction in doing so, but I cannot for the life of me understand why someone would pay lots of money to paint their cat. Perhaps they are starved for conversation topics or have some fetish. I just don't think I want to go there in any case.

This fellow seems obsessed, since he spent about 30 hours with the various levels of paint on the front of his body during this video of the seemingly frantic period of painting those who have influenced his life on that canvas. He says it represents:
30 different people that influenced my life were painted one on top of another on my torso. I either painted a picture of the person or an object that represents the person.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Laurie Anderson's "Difficult Listening Hour"/"O Superman"

My heart skips a beat when someone says we're going to hear or see Laurie Anderson perform. I can't help it. Her off-the-scale mind trips take me places that nobody else seems able to effect in me. Listening to performances is something that you have to invent images for. But WATCHING Laurie Anderson perform and hearing a piece for the first time that she's prepared is so jarring to the imagination that you are instantly SUCKED INTO IT. The willing suspension of disbelief happens when you realize it is her, when the lights go down and come back up to find that you've been somewhere else for a while.

The performance linked above was "Difficult Listening Hour" from "The Kitchen Presents Two Moon July" television show and was from the UbuWeb Film and Video page. The page states:
UbuWeb is pleased to present dozens of avant-garde films & videos for your viewing pleasure. However, it is important to us that you realize that what you will see is in no way comparable to the experience of seeing these gems as they were intended to be seen: in a dark room, on a large screen, with a good sound system and, most importantly, with a roomful of warm, like-minded bodies.

However, we realize that the real thing isn't very easy to get to. Most of us don't live anywhere near theatres that show this kind of fare and very few of us can afford the hefty rental fees, not to mention the cumbersome equipment, to show these films. Thankfully, there is the internet which allows you to get a whiff of these films regardless of your geographical location.

We realize that the films we are presenting are of poor quality. It's not a bad thing; in fact, the best thing that can happen is that seeing a crummy shockwave file will make you want to make a trip to New York to the Anthology Film Archives or the Lux Cinema in London (or other places around the world showing similar fare). Next best case scenario will be that you will be enticed to purchase a high quality DVD from the noble folks trying to get these works out into the world. Believe me, they're not doing it for the money.
And then they suggest that you buy the films and videos of the artists represented, as well as that you go to see the performances in venues near you. I live in a small farming community in the middle of nowhere in south Texas. This is as good as it gets for a while for me. But you...? That's another story, isn't it? Do what you can.

This plant will not shock you

Let's see now...hmmm. Coulda been (original to this application):
Power to the people

Keep on pluggin'

Socket to me

I'm very cableble, oshifer
Cut the CORD! Cut the CORD!
In an octopus's garden (sic)

The Wisdom project

A good friend sent a link to the movie segment of this project today. I watched the movie, I looked at the rest of the site, and now I'm writing this introduction to it all. There is not a lot for me to add, other than my profound appreciation for the effort that went into the whole task, the foresight of the founders of the project, the acuity of the book and movie authors/producers in selecting these segments or photos to have available as the final mark of the effort expended and the wisdom to be passed along.

The concept:
Inspired by the idea that one of the greatest gifts one generation can pass to another is the wisdom it has gained from experience, the Wisdom project, produced with cooperation from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, seeks to create a record of a multicultural group of people who have all made their mark on the world. Presented against the same white space, all of the subjects are removed from their context, which not only democratizes them, but also allows for a clear dialogue to exist between them. In an attempt to create a more profound, honest, and truly revealing portrait of these luminaries, the project encompasses their voices, their physical presence, and the written word. This comprehensive portrayal of such a profound and global group is an index of extraordinary perspectives.
Please follow the link above.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

For the Nation, one man under God...

This is for a buddy, who posts as Joe Nation:


It is just so very good to see that you're back. Back in the saddle; back from overseas; back from the land of dreams that you stayed in too long that day; back from the nadir of nada. Back from the clouds that darken, drain and deceive. Back from desolate days with dry rain of loss of hope and dust storms of gain of fear; running from the sun and baying at the moon as it bounces off the mirrored skins of nearby buildings in your town.

There's a bounce in your keyboard that didn't come from JAVA...or FORTRAN...or FLASH in the pants. It didn't even come from BASIC. Or a little doggie pill. Or even a blue human one. Your words wash and twist and turn like Ali getting ready for a fight, training with arms held tight and body loose, sweat dripping off and steady with the knowledge of what's to come.

I can tell that sometimes (not always) smiles wreathe your face like the imaginary smoke from your jostled subway commuter neighbor. Brightening those in the store, in your vicinity and even strangers who glimpse you from afar.

You don't need a chip or a tee (no matter the size, don't bother to look) to win the race that used to be outside your range of triumph or defeat. It's in your grasp now. Suck in some wind and blink away the sunshine and grip the grimy street surface with your shoes and SPRINT! There's no water or juice or carbs or hydrates needed for this race.

The finish line isn't in sight, but you're almost there. Your heart won't burst, but you run as if there's no tomorrow, legs pumping, heart pumping, a rictus of a smile pasted on your puss.

You forget gravity and the last couple of years and time flies by and conversations happen and music is heard, dances danced, people clapped on their backs...

and then you blink and look in the BIG MIRROR and gasp as you realize that...

You're happy again.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Flash! goes the light in my shop!

The deed is done on the 12'x12' workshop electrification project. 18 yards of 10-12" deep trench, finished by a tin can to dump all the dirt out. An electrician friend did the electrical parts. We have lunch once or twice weekly and he rides to ham club with me every month. WHAT A PAL!

Everything that can hurt does hurt...a lot. As I told one correspondent: these hands are used to throw Frisbees and type on keyboards...not smash shovels into hard, dry dirt, swing grubbing hoe/picks for hours on end (with rests about every ten minutes...I am getting on in years) and using leather-palm gloves to use tin cans to scrape and toss all the dirt in the trench. Two Aleve tabs and prolly an early-to-bed for me. The hands will get over the cramping, trembling and bruising in a few days. All is well.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Field scope use for iPhone

Well, this isn't great, but it reminds me of using a cell phone camera in a pinch out in the field, when the proper tool isn't available. It seems that this version is very limited in that it can only analyze the sounds that come into the microphone hole in the phone. Therefore, in many circumstances, you would have to put yourself into odd positions to aim the microphone at the source you are trying to analyze, while simultaneously trying to hold the phone where you could view the results. That seems not only a challenge to do, it was quite a challenge to adequately describe in a meaningful way.

If any readers actually try this, I would surely like to read the results.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tributes: A Cappella <==> Amore

From friends Judy and Steve, we see (stick with us here, it builds):

Watch a tribute to composer John Williams and "Star Wars".

Once you've regained your composure from that and you're ready,
then move along to a funky breakdown to "Waste Time".

If that seemed good to you and you're still okay, then this more expansive
tribute to the spiritual piece, "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho"
might impress you.

Are you ready to be amazed? Here's a tribute to Michael Jackson's "Thriller" in 64 parts! done by François Macré.

That concludes our tributes for this post. I hope you are now in the mood to hang around and SING! a cappella.

You're welcome...No, thank YOU!

Veteran's Day

There is that time each year when Veteran's Day rolls around. Just about to a person, each person I know who IS a veteran of military service during a foreign war think that they really don't deserve the high praise that abounds on this holiday celebration. "We were just doing our job," is the statement heard most often. As a matter of fact, the speaker probably WAS just doing their job. There is little room for showboating or trying to stand out in the rigid confines of the military world. One does their work and follows orders to the best of whatever level of ability they possess.

People come up after church when the veterans are recognized and say, "Thank you." What else can one reply except "You're welcome" to that statement? Well, I've always wanted to speak out when we are recognized in church.

I've wanted to say to the assembled, thankful people, "No, thank YOU. Thank you for the money to pay our salary that sustained us during our national service. Thank you for taking care of our loved ones while we were away on active duty. Thank you for not caring that we came into the work force late or finished our education a few years later than we 'should have' by normal standards. Thank you for holding up that standard of societal rule of law that we could look back to returning to in civilian life after living in the midst of war and turmoil, strife and danger. Thank YOU!"

Monday, November 10, 2008

Walk of faith: no matter the length of stride

A friend sent this video under the subject of "Cure for self pity". After watching it and having damp eyes during the inspirational speech concerning the ministry of Nick Vujicic that is telling folks about faith in the future as seen by someone without arms or legs in this modern world, I have decided that I'd more like to characterize it as "Walk of faith: no matter the length of stride" and let the viewer approach it from another direction.

Here, check it out!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Flanging a rock

There are things that happen in the analog world that encourage innovation in the electronic world. One such occurrence is the invention of the "flanging" effect in producing music recordings for sale. It was first accomplished by synchronizing the playback of two recordings, then varying the speed of one of the two slightly to produce an eerie effect in the music output. The phase difference in the one that was not the same as the base recording is very hard to describe. But once you've heard it, it definitely will stick in your memory. The history of such recordings is here. One of the first if not the first very popular recordings can be heard here: "The Big Hurt" from 1959 by Miss Toni Fisher. Another popular version of the same piece can be heard here: this one is by singer/guitarist Del Shannon and also includes the flanging effect. Credit for the invention of this effect goes to the guitar and multi-track recording wizard, Les Paul. He did his recording direct to disks with no tape involved.

A more technical discussion of the effect with graphics is here.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Salute the grand old..."Robin Williams"?

Some people get to have lots of fun on stage. This video is one of those times. I think it is obvious that Robin Williams as the American Flag is something worth watching. Let me know if you agree.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A story may be your

A friend told me about this storytelling set. He sent a recording along for me to listen to from a recorder he'd set in front of a radio's speaker. As soon as I finished listening to the story (which was simply a great story!), I searched for the name given at the end of the broadcast. Wow. I wasn't expecting to find such a mother lode of stories to listen to whilst on the road. Texas highways being what they always are: very, very, very long and black with little stripes running lengthwise. They need something to keep the mind from going into a trance. Bad things happen to he who trances out on a driving trip. Here's the solution. Hear the story.

What is The Moth?

The Moth, a not-for-profit storytelling organization, was founded in New York in 1997 by poet and novelist George Dawes Green, who wanted to recreate in New York the feeling of sultry summer evenings on his native St. Simon's Island, Georgia, where he and a small circle of friends would gather to spin spellbinding tales on his friend Wanda's porch. After moving to New York, George missed the sense of connection he had felt sharing stories with his friends back home, and he decided to invite a few friends over to his New York apartment to tell and hear stories. Thus the first "Moth" evening took place in his living room. Word of these captivating story nights quickly spread, and The Moth moved to bigger venues in New York. Today, The Moth conducts six ongoing programs and has brought more than 3,000 live stories to over 100,000 audience members.

Why "The Moth"?

The screen around Wanda's porch had a hole where moths would flutter in and get trapped in the light. Similarly, George and his friends found that the characters in their best stories would often find themselves drawn to some bright light—of adventure, ambition, knowledge—but then find themselves burned or trapped, leaving them with some essential conflict to face before the story could reach its conclusion. So George and his original group of storytellers called themselves "The Moths". George took the name with him to New York, where he hoped that New Yorkers, too, would find themselves drawn to storytelling as moths to a flame. They did. With no advertising, through sheer word of mouth, every show to date has sold out in 48 hours or less.

Their home page is here. They do accept monetary support, but that is not what I'm telling you about. Their podcasts are found here. Grab a bag o' podcasts & your MP3 player, warm up the car engine, and HIT THE ROAD. All of Texas awaits your mindful travel. [Heck, gas prices are getting more reasonable all the time...if you have a Prius.]

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Jumping, leaping, galumphing Jehoshaphat!

Tonight on the Make blog, I saw a fellow's work that definitely bears further viewing. I suspect there will be novelty views that incorporate this technique through the next few years. The link above takes you to the actual YouTube video of the work. The blog link is here.

As the Make text mentions, this brings to mind the images almost all of us have seen of the now antiquated zoetrope loops that were popular in arcades at the turn of the previous century. But the synchronizing aspect that causes the images to seem to move is the camera shutter speed itself. Jim LeFevre calls this the Phonographantasmascope.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Too much effort to create more than music

I just read a post on the Make Magazine blog. The post describes how current musical groups are going beyond just providing their listeners with music for their ears: They are providing (what seems to me to be) crude images in the musical files folks listen to that are only visible when you use particular programs to make them visible.

C'mon now...why should listeners go beyond listening to a group or watching them if they either provide a window of opportunity for live viewing or a music video on broadcast/cable/satellite/YouTube?

This seems to me to be a launch into esoterica that is not needed to enjoy the group's sound output, has very little to do with lyrics composed for production of the numbers, and has small reward for the effort required to view the images.

Solar magnetic headlights shine on Earth

When you think you have everything in some arena thought out and there isn't much to discover, something else is discovered or uncovered to turn your head straight around.

Just in from a correspondent...
Magnetic Portals Connect Sun And Earth (November 2, 2008) -- During the time it takes you to read this article, something will happen high overhead that until recently many scientists didn't believe in. A magnetic portal will open, linking Earth to the sun 93 million miles away. Tons of high-energy particles may flow through the opening before it closes again, around the time you reach the end of the page. ...
The full article is here.

Picturing the orbits and paths of all the vehicles and sensors that it took to solidify that background for that news release is fairly boggling. The foresight of folks who created the vehicles, convinced governments to pay for the launch vehicles, provided test budgets to make sure they would work for lengthy periods in the wild and wooly reaches of interplanetary space, provided the design expertise for the communications that gets the information gathered back safely to earthbound scientists is well deserving of praise and positive thoughts. It also deserves our continued support through conversations with elected officials who may be wondering if spending money in space is something our country needs to be doing.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

In-Seuss-iance and In-verse logic

I've just been passed a note (like in grade school class) that contains such a delightful and droll poem that I must pass it on. Whatever can we read but poetry that brings such a spreading of delight? It settles like sugar on warm cookies as the reading continues through the verses. Here is today's sweet delight!

A sample few lines from the beginning of it:
The queens and grand poo-bahs
In their postmodern palaces
Had time on their hands
But no grist or analysis!
and the title of it:
Deconstructing Dr. Seuss - An "Owed"
Now, if that doesn't tickle your mind's ear and cause prickling in your punny, funny bones, then this poem might not be for you. So sad if it isn't. So glad if it is.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Nestlé Signatures Treasures "Limited Edition" Hazelnut!

Every once in a while, there comes on the world scene something that causes earthquakes in the midst of large continents. This time, I discovered it in a grocery store. The Nestlé Signatures Treasures "Limited Edition" Hazelnut candies were what happened to me on the way to grandma's house. When I discovered them, I purchased almost every bag I could find...certainly all I could afford. I've kept them frozen for several years, hoping that Nestlé would bring them back. Alas. Today I searched the Web for them, only to be disappointed. I called Nestlé with the same result.

To unwrap one of the little chocolate treasure chests and munch away at it is to be transported to some pirate treasure lagoon, waves lapping in the background and large parrots screeching in far-off trees. Warm breezes rustle through your hair as sand cradles you on the beach.

I'm sorry if you missed out on them. The last bag is rapidly disappearing from our freezer. more.

Friday, October 24, 2008

British speed to change: rocket car

Today I read a blog entry about a new Brit effort to capture the imagination of school children in order to convince them that they should pour their future educational efforts into science and engineering directions. A 1,000+ mph ground vehicle and huge engineering feats are planned.

The effort involves years of effort. Many people are involved in this endeavor (some of whom might lose their lives in the process...or gain fame; some may lose their fortunes...or gain more). The designers even think the possible future of their nation is at stake in some sense. They posit that if something like this isn't done, the country will sink into a morass of little expansion of ideas and become technologically moribund.

All this effort is based on adults' views of what the children of today are going to do with the world presented to them as they come into adulthood. It is a view that is slanted by the kids they see spending all their time with video games, growing less interested in the world around them (as represented by science) than the world of fantasy and play.

However, the world has always seen children play and use fantasies to either escape or deal with the harsh realities they see around them on their way to adulthood. I suppose these fellows see today's children as never giving up their play and fantasies in order to deal with the real world they will find as adults.

Is all this placing too much into these fellows' read of the path of growth of today's children? Will lives be sacrificed in vain? Fortunes squandered for nothing? Your comments are welcomed.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Agglomeration of blogs & podcasts of interest

I have a good deal for you. Go and bookmark in your browser
and log in with your Google or Gmail ID and password. With that, you can agglomerate all your blog reading, including your own for quick reference in one place. I use it EVERY DAY. I recommend it to you.

Kept up with in Google Reader:


as well as these blogs

Music blogs:
Keep the Coffee Coming
Lonesome Music

PRI:Selected Shorts
60-Second Science

Writing blogs:
Keyhole Full of Lollipops
I Was the State
Irreverent Reverend
News of the Weird Daily
Strange Horizons Reviews

Art blogs:
Thick Air Gallery

Tech blogs:
MAKE Magazine
NYT > Personal Tech

The podcasts I follow via iTunes podcast agglomerator are:
APM: A Prairie Home Companion's News from Lake Wobegon
APM: American RadioWorks
CBC Radio: Words at Large
for other means
Smithsonian Folkways -- The Folkways Collection
[I can no longer find a way to the treasure trove of wonderful podcasts.]
WGLT-FM Public Radio -- GLT Jazz Next <= download latest manually
NPR: Fresh Air Podcast
NPR: Talk of the Nation Podcast
BBC Radio Scotland -- Scotland Introducing
Chicago Public Radio -- This American Life
The Woodsongs Old Time Radio Hour Podcast

And here's how to pick your favorite NPR program podcast

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Putting the "union" in "reunion"

My 45th high school reunion was held last weekend out in west Texas. We went out there to see what we could see of old friends and for the fun of revisiting relationships and images of the home town. Walking into a big room with a crowd of folks you've known 48-53 years and their spouses is just about indescribable to those who've never ventured to partake. For those who have, the first few seconds to a quarter hour (depending on the size of the group) are full of nostalgia and handshaking. Depending on your eyesight and the number of years that have passed, there's maybe a few backward tilts of the head to see name tags as you simultaneously smile and engage the person in conversation. It seems ALWAYS that there should be a bigger difference between the spouse name tag and the classmate tag, so you don't spin your head and cause giggles by confusing a spouse for a classmate you don't recall.

The home town has taken a few hits on downtown business continuing to flee to the west mall and beyond. That's just life in the not-so-big city. But, telling the (patient, but never-resident) wife about what used to be and where it was WHEN it was there provided some sort of closure and happiness to my elder heart.

A two gigabyte micro-SD card provided far too much freedom to snap and snap and snap digital photos. At the size I have the camera set, I was warned at one glance that I (only) had 3,000 photos left to shoot before I would run out of room! Everybody had their chance in front of the lens, though there were a few reluctant ones that only got captured in the effort to wander about during our final evening meal together and snap whole table sides of folks during their nurture. Back at home, I'm faced with manipulating all those images and storing them until I decide where and how to display them for the friends and classmates who actually care about them. I, of course, can for the nonce just dip back into my memories of the night and feast on what I saw as I snapped the camera.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Kitty on the counter: Blending the solution

Thank goodness we don't have this problem with our 13-year-old cat, Rowena. She does not seem interested in climbing up on the kitchen cabinet. If we did have the problem, this article from the Make Magazine blog certainly seems to be a solution, though it does not seem to be teaching the cat anything.
Brian writes in about the Blender Defender. He writes -
Hi MAKE! I just finished the web page for my latest project: the Blender Defender. I have a problem with my cat jumping up on the counter and eating my plant up there, so I pointed a network camera at it and ran some motion detection software. As soon as my computer detects motion on the counter, it sends a signal to turn on an extremely loud blender and a strobe light, scaring the cat off the counter. sure and click on the link to his Web page above in the quote and watch the three soundless video loops! Hint: it uses X-10 technology, but does not blend up the cat. I personally think it is a very high-tech, but hilarious solution to the problem. Since the video loops cover the time from July to October of 2008, it is apparent that the cat hasn't been taught much...yet.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Does anyone really know what time it is?

An email correspondent said today
Here in the library were I work we have a large grandfather style
clock (with modern, not Roman, numbers on the face) right near the
entrance. When asked what time it was, I used to point to the clock.
But I found that a huge number of library visitors, including many
I'd have thought were too old to have missed out on analog clock
faces, give me a blank look and say "I can't tell from that." They
only know how to read a digital clock, but they still use expressions
like "Half past two" or "quarter to five."

In this day and age when everyone with a cell phone has connection to almost exactly the correct time, that is mind boggling. As an engineer, I seldom think about the technology (or lack of it) that is displayed, moving from one form of display to another.

As a writer and sometimes editor and proofreader, I used to give this test to folks who said that fonts REALLY matter to the comprehension of the material. I'd say (and to you who are reading this, don't peek, just give the real answer with your eyes closed after you read the question):
Did the last item you read have the lower-case "G" with an open or closed tail below the line?

Comments and discussion welcomed.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Greg Brown: the man, the music, the performance

This came to my attention today:

Keep that image in mind while you listen. The recording of his performance is after about 1hr22m into this concert.

And if you resist this whispery-voiced intrusion into your status quo, there's probably a truth in the matter of you just didn't hear it all or listen closely enough. He's aged well.

His home page. He's married to Iris Dement, lives in either Iowa or Kansas City, and can play and sing well. I recommend him to you.

The show that is represented by the above link is Mountain Stage, which has persisted for about 25 years on the radio. The longevity indicates there is something good about it. It is billed as "live performance radio from the mountain state of West Virginia". Believe it. It may be too country for you, but there is bluegrass, rock, punk and just about every other genre of music peeking out between the slats.

He first came to my attention on the Prairie Home Companion show.


Tuesday, September 30, 2008

G-g-g-Google Phone? Going App and other news

Since we re-upped our 2-year sentence, er term of service with Verizon in December of 2007, we're out of this fray for a few more months. But, I've been following with some interest all the dust flying and dirt flung in the redesign and technology laid bare in the mobile phone industry doings of late. This new upstart (and I use the term rightly) sounds like it might have a leg up on competitors.

I know everyone isn't at all interested in using their phones for more than phone calls to family and friends (of course the old saw of "well, I only have it for emergency use on the road" has been laid to waste for all those having seen less than about 70-80 summers on this planet), so I offer this link and chance to comment open only for those who DO use their phones for more than the wire-line equivalent.

What really brought this to my attention was an off-the-cuff comment by a person that the killer app for this phone might be to use the camera to read bar codes put in front of the lens, then process the bar code, then look on-line for other local (or remote) retailers' prices to allow comparison shopping wherever bar codes are in the clear.

What say? The comment line is open.


This started out when I was wandering around in the middle of YouTube, sampling things that came to mind. I was looking to compare a modern, ukelele version of "As My Guitar Gently Weeps" against both the 1980's Concert for Bangladesh recording and the 1992 recording, both having the principal players of George Harrison (who sang them both) and Eric Clapton.

As I told the friend who'd suggested the uke version was better, I said it was more complex, but the fellow who wrote it sang the other two versions AND the title suggested it was the guitar, not the uke, that was weeping.

Then I was reading last Sunday's post on "Keep the Coffee Coming" blog by Kat that mentioned "Blue Shadows on the Trail" with a mystery singer. I couldn't identify the singer, so I ignored her requests not to wander over to YouTube to figure out who it was. I couldn't identify it, but came up with more fun there. One of the first singers I sampled was Roy Rogers, who had a hit with it in 1948.

My mind and hands continued wandering and one thing led to another. I wound up listening to The Sons of the Pioneers sing "Cool Water". Then I listened to Eddy Arnold do it justice. Just as I thought I'd exhausted the versions YouTube had to offer, up popped this one with, of all strange duets you could imagine, Joni Mitchell and Austin's own Willie Nelson! Worth a listen, all of them.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Throw I Frisbees whilst I can

I still can't find any locals in Mathis, TX to throw Frisbee with. //double sigh// This is the 50th year of my doing that pastime, and I hate to have it pass with no major or even much minor activity in that dimension. One day I will be unable to throw them, so I'll adapt the "gather ye rosebuds while ye may"* by saying "throw I Frisbees whilst I can."

My first Frisbee was termed a "Pluto Platter". The inventor is shown above and an article about him and his invention is here.

* Quoted from: Robert Herrick, b. London 1591, buried Devon 1674

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying,
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

"Until the rights to you are sold"

Civil disobedience
I just finished reading a riveting story of how a California man is doing something that is making many governmental entities upset. He is purchasing and putting out governmental codes for all to read on the Web. Those codes are being sold to the very people who need to know them for quite a bit of money. I wish someone would do this for Texas!

As Frank Zappa said in his song, "I'm the Slime":
You will obey me while I lead you
And eat the garbage that I feed you
Until the day that we don't need you
Don't go for one will heed you
Your mind is totally controlled
It has been stuffed into my mold
And you will do as you are told
Until the rights to you are sold

View from afar: When is a poem not a poem?

A journey across the US in song

A good friend sent this link tonight. In it, the BBC correspondent, filling a position as a stranger in a strange land, details how far one can be in knowing the meaning of the words in a song lyric from knowing the meaning of the song itself, as expressed by that lyric. Although he removes himself from the poetry he finds, the words he uses to tell his short post is itself a kind of poetry. The imagery of the song lyrics he discusses is mixed with images of how they are misunderstood by someone young or old AND if that same person is from another English-speaking country.

Worth a read, I believe.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Tom Paxton: Standing astride the decades

There isn't much to be said about folk music that hasn't already been said. I like it. Maybe you do and maybe you don't. But Tom Paxton was in there with the Folk Revival of the 1960 era and remains an active part of the genre. Heck, he has a Web site, is touring and is still actively writing and selling his music. And if you want to hear what he's got available, you know what to do.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Happy trails to you

Today is the beginning of the fall season, with the equinox happening during this day. A time-honored tradition of fall is getting out to see the changes in familiar views on the world. In that regard, I offer this information. While you are out on the major roads in Texas, check out both the rest areas in Texas at
and some suggested road tours of Texas, along with weather for major cities and other details at

Happy motoring!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

FALLin' in on me

I can't tell ya how nice it has been to have the last couple of days seem like fall. The blistering heat and blast-furnace air when I walk outside the house in the morning was replaced by a hint of chill. Couple of nights ago, we went to a house in the country for a "cottage meeting" of folks from our church. It was 'way out there in the hills (I'll bet you didn't know there WERE small rolling hills on the Gulf coast.) with the moon shining brightly on the way back in. When we left town, the dust was boiling up from the cars in front of us, who were going to the same destination, so we ate their dust all the way out.

But, once we got to the destination, we were all wowed by getting to sit on chairs on a LARGE porch in the style of the early 20th century for ranch houses. It went all the way along the front of the house and part way down the northeast side. We sat in rockers and chaise lounges and comfy chairs, having conversations and enjoying the cool breeze passing over us. We discussed the HUGE palm tree in the front yard of the home, planted many years ago by the current owner's mother, to the upset of the owner's father. Now it sits, recommended to be cut down by many, full of woodpecker holes, home to birds and roaches. Who knows when it will fall on the ranch house? But it certainly IS a conversation piece.

After pie and coffee, we settled down to discussing the future of our church with the folks who direct that future as parishioners. Although I didn't think I'd like it when these meetings began, this is truly my favorite part of the get-togethers, surpassing even the tasty morsels of food. Finding out about folks' origins, abilities, wants and needs. What shapes their ideas, as well as how well they can discuss them, along with the terms they use, all are part of the conversation that I don't miss out on at all.

When we got home and got out of the car for the short trip into the house from the driveway, I thought again of the delicious nature of fall and cooler weather. And I waved at the moon as I went inside; a perfect end to a perfect day.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

iPhone too far

There are just some things that shouldn't be done IMHO. The idea of avoiding the learning of a few color-number ties by using your iPhone to call them up may be a step over the edge. Carrying a resistor color code card around with you or learning some mnemonic sentence that will recall the relationship to you is a time-honored tradition. They are both just steps until you quickly learn the values you need to proceed on your building or repairing of electronic devices or projects.

Tilting at windmills

Living in a small town on the coastal plains of Texas in a rural county, there are more things here than meet the eyes and happenstance of the average city dweller. One of my ham buddies here, Fred, has a small spread out in the country. He recently told me about his almost finished plans to erect the aged windmill tower he'd purchased. At first I thought the plans were for the tower to hold antennas for his ham activities. But, Fred said he had also purchased a similarly aged mill to go on top of the tower and was in the middle of refurbishing the gears inside the mill and cleaning up the housing. He used his machining tools to remake pieces needed to get the blades back in shape to spin again.

Fred disappeared from the ham scene for a while in late summer, working on this and many other parallel projects. So, I was surprised when I received a call yesterday, telling me I only had twenty minutes to get over there to his house (about ten minutes away from mine) in order to take photos of the final rigging and raising of the windmill.

I grabbed my camera and an extra set of recharged batteries to dash out the door. The job turned out to be much longer than either of us had anticipated, but that is the way of all projects, I fear. I got there while he was still getting the several gallons of diesel fuel needed to power the combination front-end loader/backhoe that would be one of the mainstays of the project.

I had asked if I could photograph the project as a means of documenting it. I'd always been curious about windmills and had never been present at taking one down, putting it up, or even been close to the mechanisms that surmount the towers that, well, tower over Texas ranches and farms, doing their work in a way that never failed to lull me to sleep as a kid. That sound of creaking pumping of water, the taste of water out of a tin cup usually placed on a wire hook at the bottom with a faucet ready to supply water fresh from the well...those memories came flooding back.

Almost three hours later and over 150 photos later, he put the finishing touches on parking all the vehicles and closing down the project as I wended my way home. What an afternoon! I surely will never forget that event. And I got to play Sancho Panza, besides!