Saturday, May 31, 2008

The convergence of Ham Radio with the Internet

While researching information about Radios and Radio communications in a previous post (Radio Communications in a Changing World), I found out some interesting things about Amateur (HAM) Radio in particular. It seems the Japanese have found a way to send digital data via HAM Radio like you would over the internet.

D-STAR technology explained by Wikipedia
D-STAR (Digital Smart Technologies for Amateur Radio) is a digital voice and data protocol specification developed as the result of research by the Japan Amateur Radio League to investigate digital technologies for amateur radio. While there are other digital on-air technologies being used by amateurs that have come from other services, D-Star is one of the first on-air standards to be widely deployed and sold by a major radio manufacturer that is designed specifically for amateur service use.

D-Star compatible radios are available on VHF and UHF and microwave amateur radio bands. In addition to the over-the-air protocol, D-Star also provides specifications for network connectivity, enabling D-Star radios to be connected to the Internet or other networks and provisions for routing data streams of voice or packet data via amateur radio callsigns.

The first manufacturer to offer D-Star compatible radios is Icom, and no other amateur radio equipment manufacturer has chosen to include D-Star technology in their radios, yet. Kenwood re-brands an Icom radio and distributes it in Japan only. [...]

You can read the whole thing for more information about the history and technical details. For a glimpse of it's more practical applications, have a look at Icom's website, which gives a description of the practical uses of the technology:

With Digital Voice & High Speed Data
What is D-STAR?

D-STAR is a new ham radio system which offers digital voice and data communication. It connects repeater sites over microwave links and the Internet and forms a wide area ham radio network. The DSTAR system provides a new capability and functionality to the ham radio world and increases the efficiency of emergency communications.

What can the D-STAR system do?

128kbps digital data and 4.8kbps digital voice communication
The D-STAR system provides not only digital voice (DV mode) communication but also digital data transmission (DD mode). It can exchange various data files such as graphics, images, etc, at 128kbps.

Your voice and data can reach further than ever
Multiple repeater links by radio and the Internet provide long distance communication to virtually anywhere.

Internet application available
The D-STAR system uses the TCP/IP protocol, so when connected with a PC, web, e-mail and other Internet applications are available.

Wireless Internet Access
No matter where you travel within the DSTAR network, you can access the web, e-mail, text messages and multimedia messages.

Independent network
In DD mode, ID-1 can transfer data directly with another ID-1 without the use of a repeater. This is useful for establishing a simple network where a D-STAR repeater does not exist or D-STAR services are not required.

Increase efficiency of emergency communications
Out in the field, fast emergency information is the key. Send pictures and weather charts to or from a remote location with the ID-1. “A picture is worth a thousand words”, and efficient send/receive opens up your repeater for other emergency communications. [...]

There's more about the features -LOTS more- but the more I read about it, the more I see that the technical aspects go over my head. I'm a total newbie to HAM radio, and I think before I can learn much more about D-Star, I'll have to learn more about HAM radio first. Here is a video on Youtube, that is a basic introduction to D-Star and some of the things it can do:

For anyone with more questions about D-Star, there is a D-Star forum where you can ask your questions. I think it's a fascinating convergence of two technologies, and I will be watching it's progress with great interest.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Space Shuttle Discovery to Launch Saturday

On the agenda for this trip will be high tech toilet repairs, and the addition of the main component of the Japanese built Kibo space lab:

Image above: A technician loads replacement parts onto space shuttle Discovery for the International Space Station's toilet. The crews of Discovery and the station will install the new components during STS-124. Photo credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis

Space Shuttle Discovery Mission STS-124
[...] May 29
New parts to fix an intermittent problem with the Russian toilet on the International Space Station arrived in the United States last night and were packed inside space shuttle Discovery well before dawn at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The crew of Discovery and the residents of the International Space Station will install the new parts, including a pump, during the STS-124 mission that is scheduled to launch Saturday at 5:02 p.m. EDT. The three station residents already in orbit currently are using alternatives to the toilet.

The main toilet on the station works for solid waste disposal but requires additional steps for liquid waste. It also takes two crew members and 10 minutes of maintenance after three flushes, said Kirk Shireman, deputy International Space Station program manager.

"It is very inconvenient at this time because it requires a lot of manual intervention," Shireman said.

The good news for the station is that there are no trouble signs for Discovery as it nears launch day.


Discovery's 14-day flight will carry the largest payload so far to the station and includes three spacewalks. It is the second of three missions that will launch components to complete the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Kibo laboratory. The crew will install Kibo's large Japanese Pressurized Module and Kibo's robotic arm system. Discovery also will deliver new station crew member Greg Chamitoff and bring back Flight Engineer Garrett Reisman, who will end a three-month stay aboard the outpost.

You can follow the link for updates. Here is a photo of the Discovery Crew:

You can read more about the Astronauts here. The page includes links to individual biographies and interviews for each astronaut.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

European Union: becoming openly totalitarian?

Fjordman at the Brussels Journal makes the case that the European Union is swifty moving in that direction, as they attempt to form a "Mediteranian Union" that would consist of all the member states of the EU, and countries in North Africa and the Middle East. They would be united with the EU by shared laws, that could be used to silence and oppress millions:

European Parliament Bans Opposition
[...] What's worse is that the same EU leaders, including the British Foreign Minister, the French President and the German Chancellor, have officially announced the enlargement of the EU to include Muslim North Africa and the Middle East. A proposed European Arrest Warrant lists a number of crimes, including terrorism, armed robbery, rape, and racism and xenophobia, which are punishable throughout the EU. The European Arrest Warrant requires that anyone who is charged by a member state under the listed group of offenses (which could cover just about anything) may be arrested by the authorities of the issuing state within any other member state. The accused must then be transited for trial to the issuing state within ten days, without any interference, judicial or otherwise, by the executing state.

Racism includes "Islamophobia," according to numerous EU documents. Which means that "Islamophobia" will soon be treated as a crime as serious as rape and armed robbery across most of the European continent. At the same time, European leaders are busy enlarging the EU to include North Africa and the Middle East, thus flooding Europe with tens of millions of additional Muslims. Not far into the future, EU authorities can arrest a person in, say, Denmark or Italy, who has published a cartoon that could be considered offensive to Islam. He or she will then be quietly handed over to the authorities in Algeria, Egypt or Jordan. Remember that blasphemy against Islam potentially carries the death penalty according to sharia. Multiculturalism in Europe is thus reaching its openly totalitarian phase. Those who think this is a joke can look at the Dutch cartoonist who was arrested recently. Several documents that are publicly available (but little known by the general public because they are never referred to by the mainstream media) state that the EU should "harmonize" the education and legal systems with the Mediterranean "partner countries" within the coming decade. This is being negotiated as we speak, behind our backs. [...]

(bold emphasis mine) Is this alarmist? I'm sure the Dutch cartoonist who's been arrested doesn't think so. If events continue to converge in the direction they are heading, I don't see how the above scenario would be avoidable. Rather, it would seem inevitable.

Some people think the Irish, who have an opportunity to vote against the Lisbon Treaty (because their constitution requires it), can save Europe from a takeover by the EU, but another article at the Brussels Journal says don't count on that:

Eurosceptics Are Wrong: Don’t Count on Ireland to Save Us from Brussels

There are indications that some Europeans are finding their backbone and using their local governments to speak up and react against this totalitarian threat. But will they do enough in time to make a difference?

McClellan: Pop goes the Weasel

Is anyone surprised that McClellan has turned out to be a weasel? I'm not. He was an incompetent, who often seemed more like a deer caught in the headlights than a Press Secratary, when he dealing with the Press. I was amazed he held the job as long as he did. Pat has already posted much of what I would have said about him:

First, only and last post on Scott McClellan

I can't believe we are still hearing claims about the fictional "outing" of Valerie Plame like it was a fact. How do you "out" somebody who was never "in" in the first place? She was never under cover, it was a public fact she worked as an employee for the CIA. Anyone who still beats this dead horse is a liar or worse. How about a creepy opportunist who's trying to sell a book?

McClellan was appointed by Karen Hughes, herself an incompetent opportunist in so many ways, IMO. I wonder when she's going to come out with her book?

UPDATE 05-30-08:

Stealth Publisher of McClellan's Book--George Soros

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Farm Report: two chicks in a screen test

Here is my first video for the Farm Report. It's the two chicks I photographed in earlier reports. They're juveniles now, not as cute as little baby chicks.

This video is just a test really, to try out my new Canon ZR800 camcorder, and to see what was involved with uploading it on-line, and how it could be done. It was not as easy as I had imagined; there are various decisions to be made in the process.

For instance, this video I've uploaded. It's in the format of a .wmv file, and the size is 22.3 MB. It plays for about 1 and 1/2 minutes. It took 2o minutes to upload it to my blog.

The best copy of the video is in digital format. But this same video as a Digital Video file is 373 MB. That would take over 5 hours to upload, even with my broadband connection! The image quality is much better as a DV file, but 5 hours is a lot of time for such a short video. A longer DV video could take days at that rate.

There is also the question of widescreen vs standard square screen. My new camera does widescreen, and it's beautiful. However, my video editing software (ArcSoft's ShowBiz DVD 2) will only save my widescreen footage in widescreen format as a DV file. If I save it in another format, it gets scrunched up in a square screen, making everything look tall and thin.

This video clip I've published was the highest resolution I could get in the .wmv format. I could have made the file smaller in terms of megabytes, but the quality would suffer. Yet I don't want to spend DAYS uploading video files either.

I said I have broadband at home, but it's via satellite dish, and I think uploads are only done at 128 kbps. I may have better luck uploading it at work in town, where we have DSL.

And I have yet to try uploading videos to video hosting sites like and There is still lots to learn. It's not hard to learn, it's just new. And like all new things, it just gets easier as you know more. I'm looking forward to doing some fun things with video and the internet.

Monday, May 26, 2008

What has happened to the Democrat Party?

In this opinion piece for the WSJ, Joe Lieberman talks about how the Democrats have gone from being a Party that loved and believed in a strong America that they were proud of, to the exact opposite today:

Democrats and Our Enemies

Joe begins the article talking about the Democrat party he grew up in, and gives a moving description of a party that was proud to be American and believed in a strong military and foreign policy. He explains how this began to unravel in the 1960's over the Vietnam war, and continued through the 70's.

He maintains that the party made a partial recovery beginning in the 1980's, as some in the Democrat party began to reclaim their party's lost tradition of principle and strength in the world. But when the Sept. 11th attacks happened, at the time when the country most needed to unite, the partisan politics of the leftists in the Democrat party tragically came forward to dominate once more:

[...] The attack on America by Islamist terrorists shook President Bush from the foreign policy course he was on. He saw September 11 for what it was: a direct ideological and military attack on us and our way of life. If the Democratic Party had stayed where it was in 2000, America could have confronted the terrorists with unity and strength in the years after 9/11.

Instead a debate soon began within the Democratic Party about how to respond to Mr. Bush. I felt strongly that Democrats should embrace the basic framework the president had advanced for the war on terror as our own, because it was our own. But that was not the choice most Democratic leaders made. When total victory did not come quickly in Iraq, the old voices of partisanship and peace at any price saw an opportunity to reassert themselves. By considering centrism to be collaboration with the enemy – not bin Laden, but Mr. Bush – activists have successfully pulled the Democratic Party further to the left than it has been at any point in the last 20 years.

Far too many Democratic leaders have kowtowed to these opinions rather than challenging them. That unfortunately includes Barack Obama, who, contrary to his rhetorical invocations of bipartisan change, has not been willing to stand up to his party's left wing on a single significant national security or international economic issue in this campaign.

In this, Sen. Obama stands in stark contrast to John McCain, who has shown the political courage throughout his career to do what he thinks is right – regardless of its popularity in his party or outside it.

John also understands something else that too many Democrats seem to have become confused about lately – the difference between America's friends and America's enemies. [...]

(bold emphasis mine) He goes onto to explain why Obama's foreign policy ideas are extremely dangerous and ill considered.

He also makes it clear that while the Democrat party is presently dominated by the far left, there are still many Democrats who love the Democrat party the way it used to be, and who are fighting to bring that party back. I think these are the Democrats who will vote for the most conservative Democrat available to them this fall: Republican John McCain!

Read the whole article. I believe it is in step with the times we live in.

Memorial Day Tribute

I'd like to thank all those who serve and have served in the Armed Forces to preserve our nation and insure our freedom. Whether living, deceased or missing, Thank You All.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Sunday is a Mars landing for Phoenix spacecraft

A new Mars lander, checking for water and signs of life, past or present:

NASA preps for '7 minutes of terror' on Mars
(CNN) -- In the wake of the wildly successful Spirit and Opportunity rover missions, you would think NASA would approach the landing of the next Martian probe with high confidence.

But the truth is sometimes not what you would think.

"I do not feel confident. But in my heart I'm an optimist, and I think this is going to be a very successful mission," said principal investigator Peter Smith, an optical scientist with the University of Arizona. "The thrill of victory is so much more exciting than the agony of defeat."

Indeed, the truth is that the planetary scientists and engineers who make up the Mars Phoenix Lander team will be biting their nails Sunday evening as they cluster around computer monitors in mission control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

That's when their spacecraft, which launched to Mars in August, will finally arrive on the Red Planet.

Everyone on the team is primed and ready to get down to business, putting the suite of scientific instruments aboard Phoenix to work analyzing the soils and permafrost of Mars' arctic tundra for signatures of life, either past or present.

But first, they have to get the lander on the ground, and that's where the worry comes in. In fact, they have a name for it in the Mars exploration community: "seven minutes of terror."

Seven minutes is all it takes for a spacecraft travelling neary 13,000 miles per hour to hit the Martian atmosphere, slam on the brakes and reach the ground.

During that time, onboard computers will be working at a manic pace as the spacecraft deploys its parachute, jettisons its heat shield, extends its three legs, releases the parachute and finally fires its thrusters to bring it down for a soft landing. Hopefully.

"Everything has to go right," NASA Associate Administrator Ed Weiler said. "You can't afford any failures."

It's risky business. Historically, 55 percent of Mars missions have ended in failure. And tensions will be particularly high with the Phoenix spacecraft. [...]

See the rest of the article for details of the risks. I saw a video simulation of the landing on Fox News. It involves thrusters and landing on legs. If even one sequence proceeds incorrectly, the whole mission could be ruined. But if they succeed, it will be marvelous. Lets hope for the latter!

There are more details about the mission at NASA's Website. Check out the videos on the right side bar.

UPDATE 05-25-08: Success!

NASA Spacecraft Makes Historic Landing on Mars

Thursday, May 22, 2008

John McCain is guest on Ellen DeGeneres Show

John McCain lauds Barack Obama's strategy on 'The Ellen DeGeneres Show'

He praises Obama's strategy of trying to link him with Bush, but also rebuffs it. Of course Ellen, a Democrat and a lesbian, does ask the tough question:
[...] DeGeneres, who is planning her own gay wedding this summer, also asks McCain about the recent ruling by the California Supreme Court affirming gay marriage -- a flash point for religious conservatives (the video excerpt is here). DeGeneres lumps laws banning gay marriage with those that denied blacks and women the right to vote, and "Jim Crow" policies. McCain says "people should be able to enter into legal agreements, and I think that that is something that we should encourage, particularly in the case of insurance and other areas." But: "I just believe in the unique status of marriage between man and woman."

DeGeneres has none of that. "It just feels like there is this old way of thinking that we are not all the same," DeGeneres says. "When someone says, 'You can have a contract, and you'll still have insurance, and you'll get all that,' it sounds to me like saying, 'Well, you can sit there; you just can't sit there.'"

How does a politician respond to that? With a compliment preceding a "fuhgeddaboutit." Says McCain: "You articulate that position in a very eloquent fashion. We just have a disagreement. And I, along with many, many others, wish you every happiness." DeGeneres: "Thank you. So you'll walk me down the aisle? Is that what you're saying?" McCain: "Touché."

Obama and Clinton, it should be noted, hold similar views to McCain's on gay marriage. [...]

The politicians answer, pretty much what they all say. Most don't want to touch the issue, with good reason. John McCain is a centrist on many issues, and on this I wouldn't expect anything different. And in a tough election like this one, I think John McCain is the only Republican who would stand a chance to win.

You can see a video clip here of the "tough question" part of the show.

Related Link:

Is John McCain the ultimate centrist?

Hamas: projecting their own bloodlust?

From MEMRI TV: Hamas Minister of Culture Atallah Abu Al-Subh:

"Bush Is a Dracula-Style Vampire. The Blood of Afghan Children Drips from His Fangs onto His Lips and Chest."

Click here to view the clip on MEMRI TV

Well, there's a grown-up way to talk about politics. But such bloody references are all too common. I think it's a classic case of projection, where people project their own desire for bloodshed onto others. And it's actively taught and propagated. Here is a photo of a Palestinian girl at a kindergarten graduation ceremony:

She is holding hands with red paint on them. The red paint is meant to represent the blood of lynched Jews. In Western culture, the term "blood on your hands" is generally considered to have a negative, shameful connotation. Among the Palestinian extremists, it's something to be proud of. It's teaching the children to emulate what the adults do with real blood when they kill Jews:

The above photo is from the Lynching of two Israeli reservists in Ramallah. For many this is the reality of Islam, "The Religion of Peace".

I previously posted some video of Dr. Wafa Sultan in a debate on Al Jazzera TV. Several topics, including the Danish cartoons and the Palestinian situation, were discussed. During that debate, she said:
[...] “If you want to change the course of events, you must reexamine your terrorist teachings, you must recognize and respect the right of the other to live, you must teach your children love, peace, coexistence, and productive work. When you do that, the world will respect you, will consider you in a better light, and will draw you in a better light.” [...]
When asked if she condemned Jewish violence against Palestinians, she replied that she condemned the violence on both sides, but added that the difference is, the Jews genuinely WANT peace, while the Palestinians are being taught by their Imams to actively fight it.

This created a fury in the studio, and even the moderator sided against her. In following week, the show featured an Imam who insisted a Fatwa must be issued to condemn Dr. Sultan to death for what she said.

There are Palestinians who want peace with Israel. But having to live amongst crazies like these, it's not hard to understand why they don't step forward publicly and say so.

The Islamo-fascists like to tell stories about how Jews drink the blood of Palestinian children, and even make Matzah balls with it! Isn't it about time we stopped encouraging and financially supporting the crazies? Can there ever be peace while you encourage and reward such insanity?

If you think this photo is cute, you should see the video, where children in Gaza perform a monstrous “play,” dressed as suicide bombers and terrorists, waving knives and guns, in front of a crowd of doting parents. The new baby boomers... literally. And financially supported with Western tax dollars.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Alpha 400: the most inexpensive laptop ever?

World's cheapest Linux-based laptop?
A Hong Kong-based manufacturer is shipping a Linux-based ultra-mini PC (UMPC) laptop for only $250 ($180 in volume), which appears to give it the lowest price yet for a Linux laptop. Bestlink's Alpha 400 offers a 400MHz CPU and a 7-inch, truecolor display.

The Alpha 400 is based on a 32-bit XBurst CPU from Ingenic Semiconductors clocked to 400MHz. Based on an "industry standard" RISC-based architecture (possibly MIPS?) the chip reportedly runs Windows CE as well as Linux. It also uses SIMD (single instruction, multiple data) instructions to accelerate media performance, and uses an "xburst" pipeline. Fabbed on 0.18-micron technology, it boasts low power requirements and a small footprint, Ingenic claims.

The Bestlink Alpha comes with 128MB RAM and 1-2GB of internal flash. Storage options including 32GB of memory via the provided SD card slot, as well as a USB-attached hard drive with up to 160GB. The 7-inch TFT "truecolor" (typically 24-bit) screen offers 800 x 480 resolution, says Bestlink.

Broadband Internet access is available via an Ethernet port or an optional WiFi dongle for one of the two external USB ports. Other USB-based options include GPRS, CDMA, and ADSL, and there are also earphone and mic jacks and a mouse port. The 8.3 x 5.6 x 1.3 inch laptop weighs only 1.5 pounds and is available in six colors. [...]

You can follow the link for more info. It's amazingly inexpensive, I wouldn't rush to buy one, I'd like to hear more about the quality first. If there are any reviews forthcoming I'll post them.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

"Sagebrush Rebellion" in Oregon

The voters in eastern Oregon's Grant county (7,800 residents in a county the size of Connecticut) passed a measure restricting U.N. intervention in their affairs:

Welcome to Grant County, Oregon: A ‘U.N.-free Zone’

It's not as kooky as it might sound, they have actual reasons for fearing direct interference by the U.N. in their county:

[...] The measure was sparked by residents who worry that the U.N. might designate land in Grant County as a "United Nations World Heritage" site or a Biosphere Reserve, which would provide the U.N. a foothold into the county and lead towards greater regulation of remaining private land.

While that might sound crazy to some in the county, who believe the new law will make them a laughingstock, voters passed the measure 1,326 in favor to 959 against. Herb Brusman, who drafted the measure, told the East Oregonian, "It basically was a statement to be made. . .The less we have contact with (the United Nations) the better."

Fear of U.N. control is not uncommon for many Westerners who are quick to resist any perceived government intrusion — foreign or domestic — into their independent way of life, which they feel is in danger of extinction.

Farmers, ranchers and loggers are constantly faced with increased land and water restrictions on behalf of the snail darter, spotted owl or whatever’s next on the Endangered Species list. Westerners are skeptical of government scientists whose findings are later disproved -- with alarming regularity — or shown to have been manipulated.

Last summer, irrigation water was cut off to 1,400 farmers during a severe drought in the Klamath River Basin near the California-Oregon border to protect endangered salmon and sucker fish. This bankrupted many valley farms, cost the regional economy more than $130 million, and almost led to an armed insurrection; Federal agents had to be called in to stop farmers from forcing open the head gates to the river. In the end, a report from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) found "no sound scientific basis" for the government's decision to cut off the water. In fact, the report suggests that high river flows in the Klamath Basin might actually be lethal to the salmon.[...]

(bold emphasis mine) As if that's not bad enough, there's more, an investigation conducted by the Department of the Interior proved that federal and state wildlife workers submitted false evidence of endangered lynx habitat in order to enforce restrictions on land use. Read the whole thing. It made me angry, because I see similar BS happening around here too. We live in Sagebrush territory, it's the only "culturally sagebrush" part of the US West coast. I support the "Sagebrush Rebellion", count me in.

Pat told me at breakfast this morning that he also posted about this, his link is here:

Oregon county declares itself a ‘U.N.-free Zone’

UPDATE 05-21-08: It's been pointed out to me that this article was originally posted in 2002. Well I never claimed it was breaking news ;-)

It's still relevant today, as the issues it brings up continue to be of concern to many rural Oregonians. The "sagebrush" culture is still alive and kicking... and unfortunately, so are the attempts by government to smother it.

Attracting a crowd means what exactly?

The media has made a big deal over the crowd that Obama attracted in Portland OR this past weekend:

Record Obama Crowd, the Size of a City
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Sen. Barack Obama has seen his share of large crowds over the last 15 months, but his campaign said they have not approached the numbers gathered along the waterfront here right now.

The campaign, citing figures from Duane Bray, battalion chief of Portland Fire & Rescue, estimated that 75,000 people are watching him speak. [...]

I'm not surprised, nor do I find it especially remarkable. Oregon is a blue state. 2/3rds of the state's population live around the Portland Area. Portland is also on the border of Washington State, which is also a blue state.

The area from Portland to Seattle is heavily populated, and very left wing. Obama is often treated like a rock-star by his supporters, so why should it be surprising that he attracts rock-star crowds? That may have some value as a PR tool, but by itself doesn't mean much. I don't particularly want a rock-star president.

Heck, even Hitler could attract big crowds, but it didn't make him a good leader. No I'm not saying Obama is Hitler, I'm saying that a future president should have something more going for him than a personality cult following. Is it too much to ask for evidence of more substance, especially in one so inexperienced?

Related Link:

Why are American messiahs always Democrats?

UPDATE 05-21-08: The rock star comparison was much more apt than I realized. It seems that most of the media who reported on the event, failed to note that a very popular Portland Rock band performed for free prior to Obama's appearance:

Obamaniacs = sex, drugs and rock 'n roll

Monday, May 19, 2008

John McCain on SNL

Very dry.

Water Beds for Cows? Yes, and TV too...

This isn't a joke:

There's reason coddled cows get water beds, flat-screen TVs
[...] Industry experts say water beds are increasingly being used in dairy farms across the country, as well as in Canada and Europe, where the idea originated more than a decade ago.

The idea is to boost milk production by making the cows more comfortable. Leo Timms, a dairy scientist at Iowa State University, estimates cows with comfortable bedding produce 6 percent more milk daily.

"There's no question, probably one of the most important things is the comfort of the surface they lay on," said Timms, who conducts research at a university dairy facility. "The overwhelming majority [of dairy farmers] understand that."

Christie estimates his cows' milk production has increased 10 percent since he installed the water beds. He figured a flat-screen TV couldn't hurt, either, so the cows are spending the spring snoozing in their beds and enjoying "The Oprah Winfrey Show," "Dr. Phil" and other shows. [...]

Who knew? The cows spend as much as 18 hours a day on the beds. Read the whole thing for more details, the reasoning seems sound, and the results practical.

Immigration Riots... in South Africa

The backlash is occurring against both legal and illegal immigrants:

Anti-Immigrant Violence Continues in South Africa
JOHANNESBURG — Violence against immigrants, like some windswept fire, spread across one neighborhood after another here in one of South Africa’s main cities at the weekend, and the police said the mayhem left at least 12 people dead — beaten by mobs, shot, stabbed or burned alive.

The violence continued to rage on Monday, as police fired rubber bullets and made arrests to try to quell the violence in and around Johannesburg, and said the death toll had reached 22, The Associated Press reported.

Thousands of panicked foreigners — many of them Zimbabweans who have fled their own country’s economic collapse — have now deserted their ramshackle dwellings and tin-walled squatter hovels to take refuge in churches and police stations.

On Monday, men wielding clubs and sticks patrolled along the road near one camp — apparently South Africans trying to prevent foreigners from returning, The A.P. said.

This latest outbreak of xenophobia began a week ago in the historic township of Alexandra and has since spread to other areas in and around Johannesburg, including Cleveland, Diepsloot, Hilbrow, Tembisa, Primrose, Ivory Park and Thokoza.

Amid so much violence, the police were spread thin, sending in squads of officers in armored vehicles. “We are using all available resources and will call in reinforcements if the need arises,” a police spokesman, Govindswamy Mariemuthoo, told reporters. [...]

The NY Times article goes on to blame rising food prices as one of the contributing factors. I don't doubt it. South Africa and Zimbabwe both used to export food to the rest of Africa. But then Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe forcibly took the farms away from white Zimbabwean farmers, and turned that country into a starving basket case, with 1000 percent inflation.

Since coming under majority rule, many in South Africa also want farms taken away from whites. Years ago I read that a white farmer is murdered every 3 days in South Africa. As a result many have immigrated out of the country. South Africa now has to import food just to feed itself. It's real cause for concern. A country that loses the ability to feed itself is in trouble.

The anti-immigration riots aren't new, but they have been increasing. When the majority government took over, they opened the borders to neighboring countries. Many MILLIONS of illegals poured into South Africa, straining an economy that already had high unemployment. As the situation in neighboring Zimbabwe worsened, many more people from there fled to South Africa.

The sooner Mugabe is removed from power in Zimbabwe, the better. Then Zimbabweans can return to their country and hopefully make it livable again, and take pressure off an already over-burdened South Africa.

Update 05-22-08:
Hostels raided in South Africa clampdown
'Necklace' lynching returns to South Africa

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Radio Communications in a Changing World

In the late 1970's, for my 18th Birthday, my parents really surprised me with a unique gift: a Transistorized Multiband Portable Radio. It was similar to the photo below, but the photo is of an older model:

The one my parents bought for me was I think the 1977 or 78 version of the Realistic Model# 12-750, or DX-60 or Patrolman series. The radio that looks the most like it is this vintage Patrolman CB-6 on Youtube.

Mine had little icons next to the bands, an airplane for Aviation, a boat for Marine... if I remember correctly it could receive broadcasts in AM, FM, Shortwave, Mediumwave, Longwave, Weather band, Marine band, Aviation band. I had endless hours of fun with it. I discovered the Atomic Clock in Fort Collins, Co. and it's sister station in Hawaii. Morse code transmissions. Satellite/Aviation beacons, a wide assortment of foreign stations overseas, many broadcasting in languages I didn't know, but many in English too. A whole new big wide world was literally opened up to me.

I took that radio to college with me. When I dropped out and eventually moved to California, it went with me. For a time in San Francisco, I lived in some cockroach infested places. When I was eventually able to move out, the roaches were in my belongings, and I had to spray everything. Unfortunately in the process, some got in the radio, and ruined it.

A few years later, a made an impulse buy at radio shack and got another shortwave radio, a Realistic DX-100:

But I was too impulsive; it wasn't as comprehensive has my old radio, it only did 4 major shortwave bands and AM. It also required a long copper wire outdoor antennae to work well, and that was not easy or convenient to do living in the city. So the radio stayed boxed up for years, all but forgotten.

Almost 30 years later, I find myself living in the Oregon countryside. I realize I still have the SW radio sitting in the bottom of my closet. I unpack it and set it up, and ... nothing. I can't pull in anything, not even the Atomic Time Clock. Very disappointing.

But I had not set up an external antenna. I had a kit to do it, that I had never used. But now I had plenty of space for it, so I set up the long copper wire outside, running from the window to a tree.

This time, the results were much better. I was able to find both Atomic clocks. Several Asian stations, in Chinese and Japanese. Australia and New Zealand Broadcasts. Radio Havana, with their horrible commie news in English. Numerous Spanish speaking stations, and Radio Netherlands, in Dutch and in English. And of course, a bunch of religious broadcasts.

It's been great fun rediscovering some of these things. But something is different. There just seems to be a lot LESS out there on the airwaves. Less morse code. Less shortwave programs. Just... less.

Now it's true, this shortwave radio I have now doesn't have all the bands that my first radio had. So I'm not getting the Marine, Aviation and Weather bands, and not as many shortwave one's either. I'm sure that explains some of it. I've also read that shortwave reception on the West coast isn't as good as elsewhere in the USA.

But what about the BBC? That used to be the easiest to get. Maybe I just haven't tuned in at the right time yet. But now you can get BBC re-broadcasts on regular radio, so do they still do SW for the US?

I've recently been looking at the new radios for sale on and Radio Shack. I've been looking for a multiband radio like the one my parents had bought for me so many years ago. I can't find one like it. But while reading the comments posted by people about the various new radios, I have learned a few things about radio communications in our changing world.

It seems that many countries who used to direct their SW broadcasts to America simply don't bother to do it anymore. The purpose of SW broadcasts, was to get news and information about your country to other countries. But in America, so many people are on the internet, they can get that information without even turning on a radio. In fact, nowadays most Americans are more likely to turn on a computer than a SW radio, so why bother?

Even on the SW stations I have gotten, they often broadcast their website address when they do their station identification. The Web has changed things considerably, making the NEED for shortwave redundant.

HAM radio (Amateur radio) has also been affected by the internet. HAM radio operators used to pass along personal messages and information to members of the armed forces, who were often otherwise inaccessible. Yet in todays world, soldiers often have access to email and telephones for keeping in touch with their families. Ham radio is used less for that purpose than it used to be.

In my search for a multiband radio, I have found that the CB, weather, Marine and Aviation bands are nowadays most often put on devices called Scanners. A scanner can cost as much as a shortwave radio. But if you want all the bands, it seems you have to buy more than one device. I think there may simply be MORE bands now too.

What I've read about CBs (Citizens' band radio) is interesting. In the 70's and 80's Citizen Band radios were all the rage. Available CB bands in the US were expanded from 27 to 40. Yet nowadays, there is much less traffic on the CB bands. That's great for the people who still use them, but why? There are several reasons.

FRS (Family Radio Service) and GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) frequencies have become very popular along with the new walkie-talkie type devices that use them. They are inexpensive, easy to use and widely available. They also don't have some of the interference problems that CB's can have.

The other thing that has cut into the CB market is cell phones. They are so prevalent today, that they make CB's redundant in many cases. Some CB enthusiasts argue that CB is cheaper because there are no subscription fees involved. But CB broadcasts are not private, and the equipment is bulkier and thus less convenient. And you can't call someone on their phone with your CB. Thus many people consider the CB to be "outdated technology", though it's still useful for situations where a cellphone isn't viable. It's still widely used by truckers in the US, and people who travel the roads a lot say it's a great way to monitor traffic conditions ahead.

While reading about all this, I came across this interesting and detailed site by amateur radio enthusiast Max Summerville. He has noted many of the changes in the world of radio over the years:


[...] I occasionally turn on a Panasonic RF-2200 to listen to shortwave, and sometimes the Sony ICF-2010, but what with the veritable plethora of propagandists, preachers and conspiracy theorists, I can't find much that interests me. I just wish all the old signals were still there.

I am now almost 50 and still an avid enthusiast of the "unusual" on the radio. I am saddened by each disappearance from the radio bands of faithful, comforting sounds never to be heard again. LORAN, marine band ship to shore, the voice-format utility stations, CW pileups, full-quieting AM reception, the woodpecker (don't really miss that one), the BBC, Happy Station, HCJB, and in general... english language SW broadcasts of any entertainment value. I have not heard Radio Tirana, Radio Moscow, Radio South Africa or Deutsche Welle for years, now that I think of it. The internet has killed a lot of the magic of radio. Thank goodness for AM on 75. [...]

So it's not just me, things really have changed, a lot of things aren't on the airwaves anymore. I enjoyed Max's site, he's done a lot of things with radio that I would have liked to have done, but never got around to. I never got past just passive listening.

There is an active Amateur Radio Club in a town near where I live. I thought about joining, but I'm not sure I'd have the time to get into it, not to mention the cost of the equipment. I find the idea appealing, but I'm just not sure what amateur radio is for anymore.

All things considered, it's a different world. Even if I somehow still had my wonderful gift radio of yester-year, I would be tunning in a different world with different needs because of newer technologies. There is that old saying, "You can't go back". I guess this is one of those instances.

But if you can't go back you can still go forward, so maybe I need a radio upgrade! What does newer technology offer for shortwave receivers? I recently got a sample.

I've wanted to buy an emergency hand-crank radio, that didn't rely completely on batteries. So I bought one for under $50.00, that had limited shortwave capabilities My choice was the Kaito KA009R that I posted about recently.

Imagine my surprise when I found out that my new cheap little KA009R was able to receive shortwave stations better than my old Realistic DX-100... even without the benefit of the long copper wire antenna! The emergency radio lacks fine-tuning controls, but it still gets less squelching and interference than the DX-100. It makes me wonder what a newer, more expensive shortwave radio would be like.

This one looks like one I would like to have:

Eton S350DL AM/FM Shortwave Deluxe Radio Receiver (Black)

The S350DL has external antenna jacks, fine tuning knobs, etc. These are all the things I think a good SW radio would need. But then, look at this radio, and the many good reviews it's gotten:

Sony ICF-SW7600GR AM/FM Shortwave World Band Receiver with Single Side Band Reception

It doesn't have all the tuning knobs, but buttons... I don't yet understand all the technology and terminology. All these high tech toys, and too many decisions. So much to learn, so little time. Aren't hobbies fun?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Card and Tile Games: Pysol Fan Club Edition

I've long been a fan of Pysol (Python Solitaire) games. The originator of the project stopped development, but let the program's fans take over. This has resulted in the PysolFC (Fan Club edition).

Free to download and use, it has 1048 games, card games and Mahjongg and various other Asian games. It has an easy to install Windows version (download the setup.exe file). It was originally developed for Linux. The Linux version can be more problematic to install, but I expect we will start seeing more easy to install versions in many Linux repositories soon.

PySolFC: a Python solitaire game collection
[...] PySolFC is a collection of more than 1000 solitaire card games. It is a fork of PySol Solitaire.

There are games that use the 52 card International Pattern deck, games for the 78 card Tarock deck, eight and ten suit Ganjifa games, Hanafuda games, Matrix games, Mahjongg games, and games for an original hexadecimal-based deck.

Its features include modern look and feel (uses Tile widget set), multiple cardsets and tableau backgrounds, sound, unlimited undo, player statistics, a hint system, demo games, a solitaire wizard, support for user written plug-ins, an integrated HTML help browser, and lots of documentation.

PySolFC is distributed under the terms of the GNU General Public License. [...]

This is my favorite card game/Mahjongg program, it's only a 6.90 MB download (for windows), it has a variety of options in the pull down menus, for sound effects, unlimited redeals, auto complete, auto drop, hints, score keeping, assorted animation controls, mouse controls etc, and a music soundtrack too. If you like these kinds of games, this is a program for you.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Gasoline prices and "emotional satisfaction"

The Emotional Obfuscation of Gas Prices. That was going to be my title for this post, because the truth of the situation is actually very simple. However, the truth isn't always "emotionally satisfying", which is why it's not being addressed honestly. Economist Thomas Sowell explains:

Too "Complex"?
[...] Is there anything complex about the fact that with two countries-- India and China-- having rapid economic growth, and with combined populations 8 times that of the United States, they are creating an increased demand for the world's oil supply?

The problem is not that supply and demand is such a complex explanation. The problem is that supply and demand is not an emotionally satisfying explanation. For that, you need melodrama, heroes and villains.


If corporate "greed" is the explanation for high gasoline prices, why are the government's taxes not an even bigger sign of "greed" on the part of politicians-- since taxes add more to the price of gasoline than oil company profits do?

Whatever the merits or demerits of Senator John McCain's proposal to temporarily suspend the federal taxes on gasoline, it would certainly lower the price more than confiscating all the oil companies' profits.

But it would not be as emotionally satisfying.

Senator Barack Obama clearly understands people's emotional needs and how to meet them. He wants to raise taxes on oil companies.

How that will get us more oil or lower the price of gasoline is a problem that can be left for economists to puzzle over. A politician's problem is how to get more votes-- and one of the most effective ways of doing that is to be a hero who will save us from the villains. [...]

(bold emphasis mine) I'm not against emotions, but they need to be held in check with reasoning and facts. We have both a reasoning nature and an emotional nature for a reason. Balance. Politicians who rely on emotion as their primary appeal would sabotage debate in favor of feelings.

Feelings that are not based on facts can lead to highly destructive consequences. In addressing our energy needs realistically, we need more than emotional manipulation. We need to open our eyes and have a reality check. It would benefit us to do so not just regarding gas prices, but for the whole of the presidential debate. Less emotions, more facts. Reality, please. Too much is at stake.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Obama: A Change Hamas can believe in

Why is the terrorist group Hamas so enthusiastic about supporting Obama? From Nealz Nuze:


I touched on this briefly on the program yesterday. Barack Obama says that he understands why top Hamas advisers support him for president. Isn't that sweet? He says, "It's conceivable that there are those in the Arab world who say to themselves, 'This is a guy who spent some time in the Muslim world, has a middle name of Hussein and appears more worldly and has called for talks with people, and so he's not going to be engaging in the same sort of cowboy diplomacy as George Bush."

My translation? Horsesqueeze.

Are we really to believe that Hamas would endorse a candidate for the US presidency based on the fact that he has spent some time in the Muslim world? Not exactly. Muslim terrorists and radicals will endorse and support Barack Obama because they know he will not be a bother to them. He will not stand up to Islamic extremism. This is a guy who wants talk, not action. They absolutely love talk, Muslims have managed to become about 25% of the population of Europe while all this talking is going on. When people are just sitting around talking it leaves radical Muslims free to act. You talk. We'll act.

There's more Obamanation news out there. Now we read that Obama referred to Israel as a "constant sore" that infects all of our foreign policy. Well, that certainly ought to really bring on the support from Jewish voters.


Al-Jazeera has produced a report showing Palestinians in Gaza campaigning for Barack Obama. In fact, not only are they campaigning but they are working at a phone bank, calling people in America to ask them to vote for Obama. One of the pro-Obama Palestinian organizers says that he is voting for Barack Obama because he studied his campaign manifesto and thought that he was a man capable of change.

Change? Well, if we stopped fighting Islamic radicalism ... that would be a change, wouldn't it? That would be change that Muslims can believe in.

(bold emphasis mine) I'm sure Hamas agrees with Obama's "constant sore" remark about Israel. And an aggressor always finds an appeaser more appealing. Hamas favors not only Obama, but the Democrats generally. It's a fact.

Now Obama is making a fuss about a speech President Bush made to the Israeli Knesset. Obama was not singled out in the speech, but he apparently sees himself in the remarks. Obama has said that we should be talking to Iran, just as many other Democrats have too. Obama's remarks are a matter of public record. He did say it. Yet he wasn't singled out in the speech. So what's the fuss about? Is no one allowed to disagree with Obama? Is it too distracting from his efforts to get himself elected?

When you can't debate, restrict your opponent

This is what the left does all the time. They can't advance their ideas through debate because they won't hold up to scrutiny. So they try to control the terms of the debate, to prevent their opponent from actually debating. Rich Lowry at gives us a perfect example of this, with Obama's campaign:

The Obama Rules
[...] After his blowout win in North Carolina last week, Obama turned to framing the rules of the general election ahead, warning in his victory speech of "efforts to distract us." The chief distracter happens to be the man standing between Obama and the White House, John McCain, who will "use the very same playbook that his side has used time after time in election after election."


Forget "bitter"; Obama must believe that most Americans suffer from an attention-deficit disorder so crippling that they can't concentrate on their own interests or values.

Obama has an acute self-interest in so diagnosing the American electorate. His campaign knows he's vulnerable to the charge of being an elitist liberal. Unable to argue the facts, it wants to argue the law -- defining his weaknesses as off-limits.

The campaign can succeed in imposing these rules on the race only if the news media cooperate.


Here are the Obama rules in detail: He can't be called a "liberal" ("the same names and labels they pin on everyone," as Obama puts it); his toughness on the war on terror can't be questioned ("attempts to play on our fears"); his extreme positions on social issues can't be exposed ("the same efforts to distract us from the issues that affect our lives" and "turn us against each other"); and his Chicago background too is off-limits ("pouncing on every gaffe and association and fake controversy"). Besides that, it should be a freewheeling and spirited campaign.

Democrats always want cultural issues not to matter because they are on the least-popular side of many of them, and want patriotic symbols like the Pledge of Allegiance and flag pins to be irrelevant when they can't manage to nominate presidential candidates who wholeheartedly embrace them (which shouldn't be that difficult). As for "fear" and "division," they are vaporous pejoratives that can be applied to any warning of negative consequences of a given policy or any political position that doesn't command 100 percent assent. In his North Carolina speech, Obama said the Iraq War "has not made us safer," and that McCain's ideas are "out of touch" with "American values." How fearfully divisive. [...]

Lowry goes on to say that we could take these rules by Obama in good faith, if Obama also applied them to the way the talks about John McCain. But does Obama follow his own rules? Or do they only apply to John McCain and Republicans? Read the whole thing and find out.

A death toll greater than 9-11...

The plot was foiled. But if it hadn't been, it could have been worse than 9-11. See the details as to how and why:

Liquid terror plot jury shown controlled explosion of Oasis bottle bomb destined for Transatlantic airliners
Footage of the devastating impact of home-made liquid bombs eight British Muslims allegedly plotted to set off on transatlantic airliners was shown at their trial today.

Protective 12mm thick laminated glass shattered and polyethylene panels surrounding the test were left strewn on the floor following the filmed controlled explosion.

Explosives expert Keith Ritchie told Woolwich Crown Court a series of explosives tests were carried out in January this year at the Ministry of Defence's Kent base Fort Halstead.

The replica bombs were made using the same materials as those found dumped in woodland and at the flat in Forest Road, Walthamstow, east London used by the alleged terrorist cell.

The prosecution claims the gang planned to disguise their deadly devices in soft drinks bottles such as Oasis before smuggling them on board passenger jets in August 2006. [...]

Read the whole thing for more details about the probable consequences of the plot had succeeded. And for photos of the Islamic goons who were going to carry out the attack. May they rot.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Tax on Cow Farts to fight Global Warming

Just when you think you've seen it all. From Nealz Nuze:

When you want to save the planet from a non-existent crisis ... taxes and wealth redistribution seems like the way to go. In Estonia, farmers will now be taxed for the methane emissions produced by their cattle. Cattle produce the largest amounts of methane gas through belching and flatulence ... this accounts for 15-25% of overall gas emissions. One cow has the ability to produce an average of about 350 liters of methane and 1,500 liters of carbon dioxide each and every single day.

Apparently this isn't the first country to propose taxes along these lines. New Zealand also proposed a flatulence tax because New Zealand cattle are responsible for 90% of the country's methane emissions.

This "flatulence tax" is yet another way to creatively drive up food prices. Instead of taxing cow farts, which is methane, why not instead extract the methane from the manure of all farm animals and turn it into fuel, instead of using corn? Feed the corn to the animals to make manure, and turn the manure into fuel. The technologies involved in converting methane from manure into fuel have greatly improved since the idea was first explored in the 1970's. Recycling a waste product into something useful makes more sense than inefficiently wasting a food product that's needed elsewhere.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Fifty Seven States of America?

Anyone can make a slip up in a speech. But you have to wonder where he got 57 from. He claims he was tired; he's used that excuse before. But he's a lot younger than John McCain, who doesn't use the "tired" excuse all the time. Maybe Obama isn't up to the job?

From Tammy Bruce: These 57 United States of America

Eh, whatever.

That's the state count according to Barry Obama. And liberals say McCain is the 3rd Bush! Hahahaha! And hey, it's turning into a Barrypalooza day, and we're still 27 weeks away from the general election.

We all know he doesn't really give a damn about the United States but is it too much to ask him to pretend a little better that he might have a clue about the country? He doesn't mind causing damage by raising taxes. He likes having associations with racist bigots and unrepentant terrorists, and now it's revealed he has no clue how many states are in the union itself. Yeah, that's a man who deserves to sleep where John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, FDR, JFK, and Reagan slept. [...]

Read the rest for the context and details, including his "numeracy" excuse... before his aids cut him off.

He's made numerous mistakes with numbers before. I can sympathize, because I don't always remember numbers well either, but then I'm not running for president. Speaking in a campaign, you can't afford to be that sloppy, that often, unless you don't mind people thinking you're sloppy. Or flakey. And I think I could remember 50 states even if I was tired.

Obama may be a nice guy on a personal level. He has great public speaking skills when he sticks to the script. But at best, he's a junior senator with limited experience. He's too new to the political arena, too much of a light-weight. I really doubt that he's up to the job he is applying for.

Related Link:

Oh boy! Obama!

The Truth isn't always nice to hear

I really hated the title of the following article, yet I find it hard to argue too much with the contents. Is it a case of "Sad, but true?" You decide:

Glenn Beck: U.S. is a suicidal superpower
[...] Food and gas prices have been all over the news lately, and even a big dumb rodeo clown like me can see that it's all connected. Our policies, which try to cater to everyone from oil company executives to environmentalists, end up benefiting no one -- and now we're all paying the price.

I know that real economists probably will say that the causes of these skyrocketing prices are extremely complicated to understand, but the truth is that it's actually pretty simple: We've done this to ourselves.

I don't know if it's because of our arrogance, our stupidity or maybe both, but I believe that history may one day judge America as the most suicidal superpower of all time. After all, what country that cares about its future would do what America has done to its supply of food and fuel, two of the most critical things that any civilization needs to survive?

For example, look at the way we treat our food supply. We've spent decades giving billions of dollars in government subsidies with incentives for the wrong things, we've mandated that huge areas of farmland stay open for "conservation" and we're using grains that could feed tens of millions of people to make a crappy biofuel that you can't even buy anywhere. [...]

(bold emphasis mine) Beck's got plenty more to say about it too. I don't like reading it, because it's harsh, yet it reminds me of the adage "the truth hurts".
We naturally hate pain, but the pain of hurt is always a warning, and one that you are meant to heed. Will we?

I've just found it incredible that our nation would be so careless with things as basic as Food and Fuel. Yet it's not as if nobody has tried to foresee and deal with some of this. If we had begun environmentally-conscious safe drilling in ANWAR 10 years ago, we would have more fuel now. It would not have solved all our fuel problems, but it would have helped considerably. If we had built more gas refineries it would have helped lower gas prices now. Nuclear power is more viable than ever, with 80% of nuclear waste being recyclable, and the potential to recycle or render safe the remaining 20% with future technology.

President Bush has pushed for these and other solutions, but has been blocked at every turn by radical environmentalists, who instead have pushed for inefficient disasters like turning our food into fuel. The Republicans will take a beating for going along with this Al-Gore Democrat lunacy, and so they should. Yet the blame should be spread around; there are representatives on both sides of the aisle that have gotten too far out of touch with reality, that they could participate in helping this to happen. They all need a wake up call.

Not all of Beck's article is doom and gloom, there are some bright spots:

[...] Fortunately, there is some good news in all of this: Oil prices this high mean that a lot of formerly dismissed alternatives will finally make good economic sense.

For example, back in 1980, Congress passed the Energy Security Act, which led to the creation of something called the Synthetic Fuels Corp. (SFC). Lawmakers provided SFC with up to $88 billion in loans and incentives to get started (the equivalent of about $230 billion in today's dollars) with the goal of creating two million barrels a day of synthetic oil within seven years.

So why aren't you putting SFC oil into your SUV right now? Well, it turns out that members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries didn't appreciate the competition so they started bringing down the price of oil. From 1980, when SFC launched, to 1986, when it was shut down, oil went from more than $39 a barrel to less than $8 a barrel. Suddenly, synthetic oil didn't seem so important anymore.

In announcing the SFC's closure, then-Energy Secretary John Herrington said that oil prices had simply dropped too low to make it a viable business.

But the good news is that those economics don't work anymore. The state of Montana, which is leading the synthetic fuel charge, says we can now make it for somewhere around $55 a barrel. That's more than a 50 percent discount from what it costs to buy the real stuff.

It's the opportunity of a lifetime, a chance to use OPEC's price gouging and monopoly against it. [...]

It's time to abandon the policies of political correctness and emotional hysteria. We need to start actually supporting policies that are going to work, and insisting that our politicians support an implement them, and stop playing politically-correct games with the basics of our survival.

Massive Earthquake in China

Huge Earthquake Hits Central China

China: Quake death toll jumps past 7,600

This looks to be a really bad quake, I won't be surprised if the death toll goes much higher. One student who was interviewed said the quake went on "for a long time". I've yet to read how long it actually was.

I remember in the San Francisco Quake of '89, it seemed like the longest 15 seconds of my life. I think our house would have collapsed if it had gone on much longer. As it was, it showed signs of breaking apart.

I'm sure San Francisco is buzzing with this news, as so many people there have family back in China. They have my sympathy and prayers.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Sunday Chick Pic of the Week

I was going to do a short video, but I unpacked the new video camera, charged the battery etc, only to discover I don't have the video tapes that (I thought) I had ordered along with some of the other accessories. Darn.

So hopefully, there will be video next week.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Hand Crank Radio: the Kaito KA009R

For some time I've wanted to get one of those emergency radios that have a hand crank to charge an internal battery, in case we ever have an extended power outage, or just to use in the yard. But which one to buy?

I had seen a selection at Radio Shack, but none of their crank radios offered shortwave. I wanted one that offered AM/FM, shortwave and NOAA (weather) channels, so I looked on-line at There, I found this:

Kaito KA009R 4-Way Powered Emergency Crank Radio
Product Description
Stay prepared and informed with the KA009R from KAITO. If the power goes out and batteries aren't available, the KA009 can function for up to an hour with only two minutes of hand cranking or an hour's exposure under direct sunlight Its built-in generator means that even in the most desperate situations, you'll still have access to local news and information--as well as to news from around the world.

This radio is a newly released and improved version of Kaito's widely acclaimed emergency radio KA009, it has all the nice features that a KA009 can offer, plus it comes with six different adapters for charging cell phones, so you can use the radio to power up your cell phone to make important phone calls when the battery is out.

The unit's 10-band tuning receives AM, FM, SW 1-4, TV 1/2, weather and aviation stations. AM:525 ------1700KHz; FM:88 ------108 MHz; WEATHER Band: 162.40 - 162.55 MHz; TV1:Channel 2 - 6; TV2:Channel 7- 13; Air Band (Aviation): 118 - 137 MHz; 4 Continuous short wave 4.00 to 26MHz (Covers most of the world stations). Accessories include AC/DC adapter, cell l phone charging adapters, Earphones, Soft Antenna included and User manual.

It's the latest model in the KAxxx series, which have generally gotten pretty good reviews on And not only does it get the channels I wanted, it also offers a solar panel on the back:

So even if the crank breaks or the internal rechargeable battery dies, I can still run the radio in bright sunlight. It can also take regular batteries and comes with an AC power cord too, so there are plenty of options to use. The AC cord recharges the internal battery, so you only need the hand crank for power outages. It also comes with a selection of cell-phone adapters, so you can use the crank to recharge your self phone.

The tuning is pretty good, the small speaker is remarkably good for it's size. I would have preferred more fine tuning controls for the shortwave bands, but even so, it pulls in shortwave stations better than my old dedicated shortwave radio that has fancier tuning controls. I'm impressed.

The price is also a bit cheaper than most of the others in it's class, yet it has more options. In my opinion, this one's a keeper.

No crank radio is going to sound as good as a more expensive portable stereo boom box. I think this radio is good, for what it is. If it's high fidelity you want, then you probably want something other than an emergency crank radio. I chose this one after reading many reviews of many different crank radios. Your experience may vary, depending on what radio reception is like in your area, and what your expectations are. Amazon has lots of buyer reviews to guide you. If you don't like this one, check out the others.

UPDATE, 02-02-09: I've been using the Kaito for a while now, as a portable to listen to when I'm doing work in the yard. I've noticed that the AM stations often bleed into each other, and can drift out of tune. FM fairs a bit better. The TV bands are about to become obsolete on the 17th, but that isn't the radio's fault.

One thing I don't like about this radio, is that there is no fine tuning knob. The battery and solar panel work fine. SW is always kind of scratchy, but it seems that every emergency crank radio I've read about says the same thing about the SW frequencies.

I've recently ordered another radio, the Eton FR250 Emergency Crank Radio. It has no solar panel, but it does have a fine tuning control. I will post a comparison of the two radios after I have used them both for a while.

Reviews from
Kaito KA009R 4-Way Powered Emergency Crank Radio

Reviews from, for the older but similar model:
Kaito KA009 4-Way Powered Emergency Radio, Color Black

Browse an assortment of Emergency crank radios: search: "Emergency crank radio"

Conservatism and France: What's next?

Not a new political party, but a new political "movement". Tiberge at the Brussels Journal gives us the details:

France: A New Movement Forms
After conservative victories in Italy and England, are the French finally finding their way to a new and healthy alternative to both Jean-Marie Le Pen and Nicolas Sarkozy?

The websites are talking about a new movement that has been formed the Nouvelle Droite Populaire (NDP), composed of defectors from Le Pen's Front National, members of Bruno Mégret's MNR (National Republican Movement), and other nationalist, sovereignist and regionalist groups, parties and individuals. This is not a political party but an assembly of like-minded individuals who espouse a policy of both decentralization, i.e., regionalism, and nationalism. After an initial meeting on March 29 to lay the groundwork, a second meeting on April 27 adopted the official name which translates as New Popular Right. Their website outlines the group's goals: [...]

Read the whole thing. There does indeed seem to be a backlash of sorts brewing in Europe, as some of the Europeans find their backbone. Good!