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Thursday, August 29, 2019

Pluto's a planet to me, dammit!

Ever since Pluto was demoted to a "dwarf planet" in 2006, I've been disgruntled about it. Back in my day, there were NINE planets, and to me, it will always be a planet.

New Horizons' flyby of the PLANET PLUTO supports a lot of astronomers' feelings about its status. And now, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine agrees that it should be re-promoted to planet status.

"Just so you know, in my view, Pluto is a planet. You can write that the NASA Administrator declared Pluto a planet once again. I'm sticking by that, it's the way I learnt it, and I'm committed to it."
And there you have it! 

Of course the IAU has to get on board with it as well. However, after the controversial way that Pluto was demoted, it's still a long shot. On the last day of the IAU's conference in Prague in 2006, a vote was cast with approximately 10% of the 2700 attendees present regarding the criteria for how a planet is defined:
  1. is in orbit around the Sun,
  2. has sufficient mass to assume hydrostatic equilibrium (a nearly round shape), and
  3. has "cleared the neighborhood" around its orbit.
#3 has been the sticking point, and some claim that planets such as Earth and even Jupiter are not planets by definition as they regularly encounter asteroids that are orbits near theirs.

Some scientists are championing the cause to keep Pluto relegated to "dwarf planet" while others are in the opposite side. It's a battle debate that's bound to last for many years to come.

Whichever side you're on, you still have to admit, Pluto is a fascinating body in our Solar System.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Happy 24th Anniversary to Windows 95!

On August 24, 1995, the computing world took a major step in the computing world in the infancy of the internet and the World Wide Web when Windows 95 was made available for retail sale:


Crowds of computer geeks lined up for hours and many electronics retailers were open at midnight in order to handle the demand for the new Operating System.

Microsoft spent over $300 million marketing Windows 95, including a catchy jingle from some rock band called the Rolling Stones or something like that, and a cringe-worthy video by some cast members of the popular sitcom "Friends".

Windows 95 succeeded the popular Windows 3.1 / 3.11 For Workgroups, The Graphic User Interface (GUI) was revolutionary, what with the "start" button and the capability for long file names.

It wasn't all wine and roses. For some, upgrading from Windows 3.1(1) to 95 was a strain on their "state-of-the-art" computers, and some (like myself) had to wipe the hard drive and start fresh because the upgrade didn't work as planned.

The internet was still in the early stages of its infancy. in fact, the now infamous Internet Explorer wasn't even installed with 95. It came few months later. Once the internet began to take its hold on society, however, the need for a computer made 95 the industry standard.

Of course, looking back, it seems so amazing at how far we've come since those days of yesteryear. I can remember Windows 95 on 13 floppies. It's successor, Windows 98, was on 38! not only are floppies obsolete, but Windows 95 is now all but a memory. It may exist on nostalgic machines or in a virtual machine environment, or as an emulated ROM, but it was a cornerstone in the computing world that made modern-day computing what it is and will be regarded as one of the most iconic OS's to have come along.

Friday, August 16, 2019

NASA Image of the Day: Hubble’s Portrait of Star’s Gaseous Glow


August 16, 2019 - Although it looks more like an entity seen through a microscope than a telescope, this rounded object, named NGC 2022, is certainly not algae or tiny, blobby jellyfish. Instead, it is a vast orb of gas in space, cast off by an aging star. via NASA https://ift.tt/33DMs3i

Thursday, August 15, 2019

NASA Image of the Day: NASA and SpaceX: Dragon Crew Extraction Rehearsal


August 15, 2019 - On August 13, 2019, NASA astronauts Doug Hurley, left, and Bob Behnken continue to work with teams from NASA and SpaceX to rehearse crew extraction from SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. via NASA https://ift.tt/2z2gPSN

Monday, August 12, 2019

HDTV Antenna Project - Finished!

My bow tie HDTV Antenna!

A few days ago I posted about working on an HDTV antenna project I'd seen on the internet and wanted to try it. Finally, I decided to get going with it after scrounging for the parts needed. 

I found some parts around the house and picked up an item or two from local stores. Some of the parts are not as easy to come by these days.

Here's the parts I used:
  • 1 2x4 Piece of wood
  • 4 wire coat hangers 
  • 8 #10 x 1" screws 
  • 8 washers
  • #10 gauge wire (Purchased from Rural King)
  • 1 matching transformer/coax connection (Purchased from Radio Shack)
  • 6" of cable TV coax 
Most of this stuff is lying around the house, but the transformer (also known as a "balun" is by far the hardest part to locate these days. I found some on Amazon that are en route, but yesterday I went to nearby West Town Mall and there is a hole-in-the-wall Radio Shack that surprisingly had it available. It was the most expensive piece to purchase. While the part from Amazon was $3, Radio Shack had it for $11! I didn't want to pay that much but after checking Hoem Depot and Walmart and turning up empty, I wanted to finish this project by the end of the weekend and needed it, so I went ahead and paid for it. I asked for 3' of TV cable coax and they were going to sell it to me for $16! I politely declined and found some after a brief search in my broom closet.

I used the instructions found here for a reference guide. 

Re-positioned to pick up
even more channels
I found a leftover 2 X 4 in my backyard and cleaned it up. After measuring and drilling the holes that would hold the coat hanger wires, I then measured and cut one side of a wire coat hanger to the required 14" length. I marked the necessary length using the curve of the lower part of the hanger to become the base of the "V" shape so very little bending would be needed to get the hangar in the necessary form. I then used the piece that was cut from the first hangar as a "template" for the remaining hangars.

While cutting one of the hangars, it was extremely brittle and when I attempted to bend the base of the "V" it snapped. The other side of the hanger behaved the same way. It was the same type of hangar as the others but for some reason was way more brittle. Fortunately another hanger was available. All of the hangers were coated in plastic, so I took a lighter and used it to burn through the center, exposing the metal to make the necessary contact. 

The exposed metal of the hangar was connected to the screw once it was set, and the #10 wire was cut through with wire strippers in order to expose the wire and make contact with the screws as well. I tried to solder the balun but the prongs were not making a good connection, so I clipped them off and stripped the wire 1/4" and was able to easily solder to the middle of the wire. The washers were used to help keep all of the parts together where they were connected at the base of the "V"s.

It took about an hour to piece all of the parts together and align. I stapled the prongs of the matching transformer to reduce stress on the soldered connection.

The Old Rabbit Ears
I opted to not use a metal backing for the reflector as I felt that it wasn't needed at this time. I may test it out later but don't think it will improve the performance.  

The End Result

After plugging the 6' coax in to the antenna I then took it upstairs to the living room TV. Prior to this antenna, I had a set of good ole' fashioned rabbit ears for the antenna. While it worked for what I needed, I would have to occasionally need to re-position the antenna and use the tuners on the rabbit ears in order to get better reception. I had about 25 channels the rabbit ears received with adjustments needed if I changed channels on several stations. I even used a "signal booster" to try and get additional channels to no avail.

Full Disclosure: I live about 5 miles from Sharp's Ridge, where most of the transmitters for the local channels reside, so tuning in to the "big three" are not difficult, even on rabbit ear antennas. However, two stations in particular (The Fox and CW affiliates) are located elsewhere and are often harder to tune in. The Fox station could be picked up by the rabbit ears after some fine tuning, however the CW affiliate was not received no matter what I attempted.

Rabbit Ears reception
As soon as I plugged in the new antenna, all of the channels were crystal clear (no pixelation or dithering that can occur on a DTV signal) and no fine tuning was needed.

I performed a re-scan of all the channels I could pick up and was amazed that I had 6 new stations on the list. The CW affiliate (4 stations) and a low-power religious channel with 2 stations (HD/SD) were now on the list.

HDTV Project reception
The best thing was I didn't have to get up and retune any of the channels! The reception was perfect. I moved around the living room and no change was noticeable on the TV.

After I scanned for new channels, I decided to check a couple of things out on the old rabbit ears. I had a "signal booster" that was plugged in to the AC and was supposedly designed to boost the reception of any antenna, SD or HD. I didn't really notice a difference in reception but kept them plugged in. After plugging the rabbit ears back in I went back to 29 stations received. When I removed the "signal booster", it actually increased to 31 stations! When I plugged my HD antenna through the "booster" It reduced the number of stations scanned to 33. The damned thing was an attenuator in disguise!!! I will probably throw that in the garbage. I doubt it's good enough for Goodwill at this point...

Signal booster, residing
on a throne of lies!
While Knoxville is not a "major" television market, it does offer many stations over-the-air for those wishing to "cut the cord" and reduce their cable costs. I cut the cord over 4 years ago and have not missed it. Many of the channels I can get through over-the-air TV or online via streaming. I do have services like Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime as well as Sling TV, but I'm still paying less than half what I was paying with cable TV, and that was without the "Premium Channels" like HBO/Showtime. An antenna such as this helps with television selection.

Overall, not bad for less than $20 of parts purchased, parts lying around, and an hour's worth of time to piece it all together. Even if you had to purchase all of the equipment, you're looking at $25 at the most. Compared to the price of many commercial antennas, this has impressed me the most. I will recommend going to a hamfest or other electronics parts store for the coax connector to the antenna. That will cut the cost even further.

When I get the $3 coax connector I purchased from Amazon (due to arrive next month, presumably from China) I will construct another one of these and use it for my mother's TV so that she can enjoy more over-the-air channels as well.


Wednesday, August 7, 2019

He's turned to the Dark Side!!!

In nearby Carter County, a warrant has been issued for Luke Sky Walker.

Reports are he was last seen with a cargo smuggler and Bigfoot, both famous for making the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs...

He's been in trouble with the law before, and got the attention of the REAL Luke Skywalker himself:

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

DIY HDTV antenna

I have begun a project to build an HDTV antenna using a 2x4, wire coat hangers, and nuts and bolts from wherever I can find in the house.

I'm scrounging around for copper wire (buying from the store is EXPENSIVE!) and hoping to have all the necessary parts later this week. 

Part of the project requires a BALUN for antenna impedance matching. 20 years ago they were a dime a dozen and everywhere. Now, not so much.

While the project calls for a metal screen on the back to act as a reflector, I'm not going to add one at this time. I want to see how this performs before tweaking it further.


Stay tuned! Get it???

Monday, July 29, 2019

Not one but TWO Meteor Showers tonight!

I went up to the Foothills Parkway last night and saw over 50 meteors in about a 4-hour span. And it wasn't the peak!
Two meteor showers—the Delta Aquarids and the Alpha Capricornids—are both reaching their peak tonight and into Tuesday morning. And with a moon that will be just 6% full, the dark skies could be the perfect stage for quite a meteor show.
Neither of these showers alone is especially strong; Delta Aquarids is more visible in the Southern Hemisphere and Alpha Capricornids only produces up to five meteors per hour. But two showers peaking on the same night together, in combination with a dark sky, bodes well for good views. Together, the showers could produce 20-25 meteors per hour.
Read more here - http://bit.ly/2MqBacq

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Ham Radio 2-Meter Band Threats Popping Up

A recent proposal at a recent CEPT conference may pose a threat to the popular 2-meter band in Amateur Radio.

In June, France presented a proposal to make part of the band (144-146 MHz) part of the Aeronautical Mobile Service with Primary allocation. French defense contractor Thales is requesting that they have primary use of the bands, with amateur radio having secondary use.

Even though the proposal will not appear until the World Radiocommunications Conference in 2023, already Amateur Radio organizations in neighboring places like the UK and Portugal are voicing strong objections with it. While it's going to be an uphill battle for any entity to try and overtake the allocation of the amateur radio bands in any country, the fact that it is being proposed and considered is a sobering reminder that hobbyists' contributions to the world of communications are still secondary to everything else occupying the spectrum. No matter how useful ham radio is in regards to community service, weather spotting, experimentation, scientific studies, etc., we are given the access to the ham bands at the mercy of governing bodies such as the the ITU, and if an agency with a need, and money, wants to come in and try to overtake the bands, they will certainly try.

While I'm not screaming that the sky is falling, I am saying that we need to continue to show that we need our amateur radio bands around the world. 2 meters is arguably the most popular band in VHF, if not the most popular overall, offering new hams a chance to break in and get their feet wet with ham radio. Amateur radio repeaters are all across the band, so that you can talk on an HT from your car, or on a hiking trail, or on the side of the road, and reach somebody in another city or county whether it be for emergencies or just to pass the time talking with a friend or a complete stranger.

I've touted the benefits of SKYWARN and emergency services such as ARES, but other services benefit from 2 meters. Clubs will coordinate with community organizations to provide communications for events like triathlons, road cycling tours, and other public events. Nets are held on many 2 meter repeaters (and simplex) for a variety of clubs and topics. There's also other modes of communication used as well, such as APRS. 2m is a good place to test out new modes of communication and on occasion talk to the International Space Station!

In short, 2 meters is not something I see being given away anytime soon, but as long as businesses and governments are thinking that ham radio is "old tech" and "ancient" the best way to show them that it is far from the case will be to use these bands and use them constantly, consistently, and with the best intentions that ham radio has to offer.

Ahhh, Nature!


Another hobby I have picked up is photography.  While I'm not going to be making a career of it anytime soon, I do like to take pictures worth a damn!


Below are some from a recent trip to the Smoky Mountains:

Small rainbow to right of a rain cell moving through Wears Valley

Rain cell in Wears Valley

Rain cell over Cove Mountain (from Foothills Parkway "missing link")

The Sinks

Rain cell south and west of Foothills Parkway (near Look Rock)
 
Sunset from overlook
 
Sunset from overlook

Sunset from overlook
   
Sunset from overlook
 
Sunset from overlook

Sunset from overlook

An end to a beautiful day in East Tennessee!

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Drones and Storms

I've been struggling to find places to fly my drone, so sometimes I just take it to my cul-de-sac and just throw it up and let it hover while things occur, such as 4th of July Fireworks, a recent Recycling plant fire, and this one of storms that were in the area. 

During a break in the rain I sent it up about 150'-200' and let it take some shots of lightning at night, and I got a few cool shots.



Last 4th of July, I took it up for some fireworks shots. It's amazing how many people were shooting off fireworks. Those aren't fireflies!




On May 1st there was a fire at Ft. Loudon Recycling facility in Knoxville. I sent up the drone to get some shots and captured a thunderstorm as it approached the fire.



I'm hoping to be able to fly in other areas but it may be easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission. Can't fly in State or National Parks, so that rules that idea out as well...