Saturday, May 27, 2017

Slept Today

     Slept most of the day.  Tam bought food and I grilled some absolutely decadent steaks with roasted corn-on-the-cob and baked potatoes.  And now?  Back to sleep.

     I messed up my sleep budget pretty badly last week.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Nose To The Grindstone, Shoulder To The Wheel

     ...Now try to get anything done in that position!  And so it is for me at work.  I arrive every morning with a mental list and by the end of the day, one or two items have been accomplished and all of the rest have been rewritten.  Completely.  Today bids to be more of the same, only more so.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Garden Omelette

     We had the vegetables, and it's difficult for two people to get through the usual family-sized portions sold in grocery stores before they start to turn.

     So this morning, a nice Poblano pepper, radish, cherry tomato, green onion, black olive, celery, carrot, bacon and Manchego cheese omelette is (rapidly becoming "was") on my plate.  Pretty tasty,  especially with a little Peri-Peri sauce and some raw radish on top.

     Meanwhile in the outside world, politics veers between "risible" and "tragic."  Got no fix for you there; chowderheads of every stripe will always be with us.  They win elections right next to the clueful (and in slightly greater numbers); they blow stuff up and shoot when they shouldn't and drive like fools and in a world in which many people can pass an idle afternoon using up more horsepower than was readily available to Julius Caesar at the height of his power, ill-intentioned (or simply incautious) witlings are more dangerous than ever.  The ideology (or lack thereof) that motivates 'em doesn't matter; take away whatever one they're using instead of decency and good sense and they will simply find another.  Just keep your eyes open and do what you can to stop them or at least slow them down.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Return Of The Leopard Slug

     They are to regular slugs as a dreadnought is to a destroyer -- the Great Gray or Leopard Slug.  And several of them live in my back yard.  Presumably several generations of them, though I haven't kept track.

     This year's crop may be pretty good; being relatively bite-sized (several bites when fully-grown; they get to be much bigger than you'd expect, as large as a small snake and fatter) and relatively slow* they spend most of their time out of sight, but I have already had three encounters.

     Several days ago, I turned over a fallen branch and found not only a camo-pattern slug as big as my thumb, but a whole clutch of wasabi-green slug eggs she† had just laid.  I turned it back over and moded it to a safer spot.

     Last night, I was dumping water from the big blue tarp and moving it away from the wild parsnip‡ that has taken up residence in a corner of the fence and which will meet my enforcer, Mr. Weedkiller, I found two more and larger examples, which were hanging on (they produce strong, sticky slime and even a large one can climb vertical surfaces) in various damp and shady folds.  I made sure they were still in the shade and above the waterline as I moved the tarp; what I will do when the time comes to fold the thing up, I don't know.  It's overdue for disposal but I don't want to reduce the population of slugs that hunt garden-eating slugs when I get rid of it.
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* Unless you're a smaller vegetarian garden slug.

† It's complicated.  Let us not delve into the private life and courtship of Great Gray slugs, which involves climbing to high places, hanging from a rope of slime and having terrifying knife fights.

‡ The wild parsnip is to the common carrot what a one-percenter biker is to a kid on a moped.  Annoy a lively one on a sunny day and you're likely to end up with nasty chemical burns.  While this gets somewhat panicky coverage by local TV and on social media, good-quality garden gloves, long sleeves and common sense go a long way towards avoiding the problem.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Project Drift

     This was at work -- I expect any project at home to create three or four more.  Work, that's not supposed to happen--

     It seemed simple enough: deliver audio and video signals from a specific source to a nice computer-based recorder, which holds thousands of hours in the space occupied by a large desktop PC.  High-definition video and, as it turns out, stereo sound.

     The video is simple enough: find the multi-output distribution amplifier (DA) on the one-line diagram -- aha! -- and then go find it in the real world.  H'mm, more outputs are hooked up than the drawing shows, but one of them feeds another DA and...yes!  There is exactly one output left!

     Now the audio.  Easy, right?  No.  It's only available in 5.1 channel surround, your choice of discrete digital (three coaxial cables) or encoded (one cable but it takes dedicated hardware or software to decode).  Email the department that needs this, which would they like?  More back and forth to define terms.  (You can't just grab the Left Front and Right Front channels: true 5.1 has most of the dialog in the center channel.)  Nope.  How about summed mono?  We've got that!  After multiple e-mails, that gets the big nope.  Surely there's a digital stereo version around?  (One coax, easy as pi!)  Ummm...no.  But there's analog, and here's an analog-to-digital converter with available channels.  ...I/O not on the cross-connect one-line?  ...Kind of not.  Fine, now where are the audio DA outputs?  Dig to find the three different names three different techs have given it, then find it is not on the one-line diagram under any name but there is a Road Map To The Punchblocks and there, after looking and looking, right there is the name.

     "Punchblocks" are an old form of telephone interconnect, and what we use are "66M" blocks, with fifty pairs of odd little forked terminals in two columns of 25; you use a special tool to force a wire down into them (and trim it short in one step -- or cut it clean off, if you turned the tool the wrong way, darn it) and it makes a good connection.  Later versions -- Krone and 110 blocks, ADC "split-cylinder" terminals and suchlike -- don't much care what size or kind of wire they eat, but 66 blocks came first and they like small solid wire, 24 to 26 gauge.  Our spool of the right stuff is, of course, missing.  It took 45 minutes to locate.  

     Punched down analog audio wiring.  Went to find the audio A-to-D/D-to-A testbox (very nifty, has indicator lights and a little speaker).  Not in its spot on the shelf.  Kept looking for digital audio testbox, found it on the bench after looking, fixing something unrelated, and looking more. Fished through a rat's nest of rack wiring to plug it into the digital output of the A-to-D, and...nothing.  Not a sound.  No little light to tell me the data rate, either, and that's funny, because if the A-to-D is even working, it would be on...  Went around to front of racks.  One A-to-D is all lit up, bargraph level meters fluttering, state indicators indicating data rate and meter mode and all of that good stuff.  The other one, the one on which I have been working?  No lights.  Not happy.  Back to the other side, grope to power input on back of device, moving fat bundle of audio wiring to get to it--  IEC plug falls out of connector: some clever neatnik has tie-wrapped the power cord to the audio wiring, with less-than-sufficient cable to keep the power cord connected!  Cut tie wrap, plug back in, and, hey la, the audio testbox begins shouting in my ear!

     I wired up digital audio to its own distribution amplifier (because I'm not going to get caught like this again), and prepared to run cables over to the recorder-thing itself, about twenty feet down the row of racks and on the far side of a control console.  ...There's no small coax in the usual spot.  Hunter around and found orange (digital audio) coax and grabbed a spool of violet (digital video) as well, plus the portable rack the holds them for easy unspooling.  Opened up the computer floor and went to get the nice, screw-together glow-in-the-dark fiberglass wire-pulling sticks...which were missing.  Found them (after half an hour searching), opened floor, poked the sticks through until I hit a Known Obstacle, opened the floor at the square AC-wiring duct and helped the stick over, went back to snaking the fish-stick along, added sections and....clunk.  Clunk?  But....there's nothing else in the way.  But there must be, so I got the electric screwdriver, opened the floor at a new and odd place, and found electricians had visited, leaving a big knot of flexible conduit the stick needs help over.  Got it past that and on to the destination, taped on the two coaxes, pulled them through, disassembled and put away sticks, and went to cut the cables at the start end.

     Glanced at my watch, realized it's a half-hour past quitting time and I still had to put my toys away before I could go home.  Which took another half-hour.

     You know the first or second question I'll be asked at work today?  "So...you get that recorder connected?"

     No.  No, I didn't.  Hand me that box of BNC connectors for 1855A, and I'll finish up that little job -- oh, and I'll need a 75-to-110 Ohm AES/EBU audio balun, and a short XLR to 1/4" TRS 110-Ohm cable, too.  What, we don't have any?

     This may take a little longer.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Hamvention Aftermath

     Except for cooking and a few trips to the market, I have slept or rested for most of the last two days.  That long drive really takes it out of me! 

     Walking through the flea market right before leaving, I passed by a young couple who had just packed up their space.  The man got behind the wheel of his big pickup truck, laughing and joking, started it up -- and hit the air horns as several of us walked past.  Loudest thing I have heard in years!  I covered my ears but it was on my right side and the hearing in my right ear has been wonky ever since.  Thanks, idiot.  Hoping it will wear off.

     Still not sorry I went.   Maybe next year I'll be able to leave earlier.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Picadillo Omelette

     Last night, I made Beef Picadillo for dinner.  It's a tasty Cuban dish, or anyway, it arrived in the U.S. via Cuban immigrants.  Seems to be fairly widespread in the Spanish-speaking parts of South and Central America.  Somewhere in the delicious region between a thick stew and hash depending on the receipe, it's got ground beef, tomatoes, olives and -- surprise! -- raisins, usually enhanced with hot and/or sweet peppers, spicy sausage, onion, garlic, allspice, cloves, cumin, chili powder, black pepper and so on, creating a very complex and wonderful flavor.

     It is usually eaten over rice or used as a filling for tacos or empanadas.  I was out of cloves, so I used a little touch of cinnamon to hint in that direction,* and the only raisins ready to hand were the nice golden ones from white grapes.  Chorizo started off the wok, with red and cubanelle peppers and an onion following before the beef went in; once it was browned, I added tomatoes, olives -- and plenty of them! -- and a generous handful of raisins, to simmer while I pondered the ingredient list.  I mean -- allspice?  Cloves?  Raisins? Really?  But it simmered on, sending up the most fragrant puffs of steam.

     With some trepidation, I tried a sample.  So good!  Once it was cooked, I zapped a little rice and had a bowl of picadillo.  And a half a bowl more, too. 

     Tam was out of town (and having the kind of frustrating, low-key "adventure" nobody should have, I found out) and there was plenty left over; I set up a couple of small containers for freezing and put a third in the fridge.  By the time she got home, she was frazzled and in no state for food, so there it sat.

     Looking over breakfast options this morning, I had lots of eggs and not much else.  But there was that little glass container of picadillo, and it needed eaten.  So I whipped up a basic three-egg omelette, shaved a nice layer of Manchego cheese on it once it started to set and heated the picadillo in the microwave.  Once it and the omelette were ready, I spooned in a goodly amount, folded the omelette and left it to finish.

     Oh, boy!  The picadillo was good last night, but as an omelette filling, it's close to ambrosial!

     If it sounds interesting, give it a try.  The leftovers are versatile.
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* Not ideal but it works if you don't use too much.  The real thing would have been better.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Dayton Hamvention 2017

     Of course, it's in Xenia now, at a lovely county fairground that is a long way down two-lane roads. 

     The venue is at least as large as Hara Arena was, with the flea market occupying the infield of a dirt racetrack and a grassy field outside it.  I managed to walk most of it Friday in a few hours.  Walking on grass is a lot kinder to my feet than walking on the Hara parking lot.

     Flea-market pickings were wildly assorted; I just missed a Globe King 400* transmitter (less cabinet), saw a twin to the audio-frequency voltmeter I bought at Peru, lots of modern and recent electronics, looked at a Collins 32V transmitter (heavy!), saw a rare National NSA speech amplifier in nice condition, and plenty more.

     I didn't take any photos -- I brought my smartphone, but not the charger, and after the long, winding drive to the fairgrounds, I knew I would need it to get back to the highway.

     Didn't buy much; a Nye "Master Key," some 4-pin breadboard sockets, a few crystals, and didn't see several vendors I had bought from in the past.  Didn't cross paths with QRP guru Ade Weiss or telegraph key/Enigma expert Tom Perera.  I did wander past the Vibroplex booth.  Never found Heil microphones, G-QRP, Fists or Begali, but there were many buildings I never got into.

     I left as rain began to fall.  Traffic was heavy, with local law enforcement at the intersections to keep the hams moving; Google decided I needed a brief tour of the region, on back roads past the Kil-Kare Speedway to U. S. 35 to and though downtown Dayton, where I saw the Gerstner Tool Chest factory (or possibly just office) along the river and passed by the local "transmitter row" on the way to Ohio 49 -- which had been my route out of Dayton to I-70 from the old Hamvention location at Hara Arena.  So the roads eventually became familiar and I stopped being quite as irked at Google: there was no good path and it had picked the least bad.  Rain was pretty heavy at times but speeds were relatively low, 60 and down; most of 35 was limited-access, multilane, and 49, while stoplighted, is never less than two lanes in each direction.

     I-70 was brisk; I'm still not used to 75+ running speeds and unless I am in a group, prefer to stay at or below the 70 mph speed limit.  Not to incriminate myself, but there was nearly-solid traffic for much of the way home.  After the long and winding road though Greater Dayton, it was almost refreshing, despite light rain and lots of tire spray.  By the time I reached the Indiana border, skied had largely cleared -- but there were dark clouds and obvious rain, away to the southwest.  It zigged, the road zagged, and the other side of Richmond, we met the rain.

     Traffic slowed a bit but I wasn't happy with the visibility and moved into the right-hand lane, where tractor-trailer rigs were even slower.  The rain kept getting harder, and I could barely see the lights and hazard flashers of a semi several carlengths ahead.  He slowed and slowed, the left lane slowed, and at the worst, both lanes were crawling along at 30 mph.  Even that felt a bit too fast for me and I resolved to take the next exit, a mile ahead.  By the time we got there, the rain had only slacked off a little; I followed several cars up the ramp and right out of the rain!  By the time we'd reached the cross street, the cloud had passed and there were no more than sprinkles.  I went across to the on-ramp and got right back onto I-70.  The remainder of my trip was uneventful except for a fifteen-minute wait at a hamburger drivethough a mile from home: I had skipped breakfast and had vanilla ice cream and water for lunch, so food was mandatory; after hours on the road, not having to cook from myself was even more so. 

     So there's my Dayton 2017.  I think the new location is going to work out, though it's likely to be muddy today and tomorrow.
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* For the geekily-inclined: The RF PA and modulator of this transmitter use oddball tubes -- V-70-D and 5514, respectively -- that are difficult to obtain.  With some component changes, the more common (still in production, last I heard, though you may need to know Mandarin to read the data sheet) 812 and 811 triodes can replace them.  Designed in the heyday of the vacuum tube, the manufacturer was able to chose exactly what they wanted, and so what if the tubes weren't RCA or Eimac "classics?"  We know the answer to that question now, but who thought the transmitters would still be popular fifty years later?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Up Early

     It's a real treat for the cats: they got their breakfast a half-hour sooner!  I've got a doctor's appointment early today, which is not so much of a treat, especially since we're going to have to have a conversation about my having discontinued one of the two blood pressure medications she has prescribed.

     Why would I do a fool thing like that?  Because it was zombiefying me.  Sluggish, mentally dull, depressed and steadily worse.  I could barely focus on the simplest of tasks.  Was it helping with blood pressure?  You couldn't tell from my notes: the first medication knocked it down to normal range (with, it is true, occasional excursions: I have a touch of White Coat Syndrome) and the one I dropped may have knocked it down another one or two percent.  That's a very high price for a tiny change and there's no point making the machine run within spec if it screws up the software.  Maybe I'd live decades longer -- in a depressed muddle.  Yeah, no thanks.

     Doctors don't like it when the animals talk back, even more so when we second-guess 'em.  I'm not very good at tactfulness or confrontation; dealing with authority figures, I tend to not say much and try to give answers that will get me back out the door with minimal interpersonal conflict.  But I've got to tell her I won't take that stuff again.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Hey, Look, It Worked!

     You kids and your new-fangled steam-driven contraptions!  When I was young, wind and water power was plenty....

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

A Sunset Over The Stutz Buildings

     Just happened to be in the right parking lot at the right time:

     ....Annnnd now Blogger won't let me post pictures.  Okay, then.  Sorry, folks.