Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

Gonna have a quiet one this year. My YF's brother and his YF are coming over here tonight for a while. They've got a new 'interactive' version of "Pictionary" that runs on the Wii, and my YF bribed her son and his girlfriend so that we could have a whole bunch of us play this (stooopid) game.
Oh, well, at least the pizza will be good!
Have a safe, happy and hopefully prosperous New year everybody!
See you all on the flip side....

Update: "Pictionary" on the Wii is way better than the non-electronic version!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Rise of the Muffler Men

While browsing around on Wikipedia for something totally unrelated, I found a picture of the "Gemini Giant" fiberglass statue that stands in front of "The Launching Pad" in Wilmington, IL, one of my hot-rod haunts from days gone by. We always just called him "The Spaceman", but it turns out he's a member of the tribe referred to as "Muffler Men".
The first of the Muffler Men was a giant Paul Bunyan figure made for the PB Cafe in Flagstaff, AZ in about 1962, by Bob Prewitt of Prewitt Fiberglass. Most of the figures produced later by International Fiberglass came from that one mold, often modified to suit what the customer wanted.
The whole story is here on the Roadside America website, and is an interesting look into the people behind these giant glass figures.
For more info on the guys, just Google "Muffler Men", and you'll find more than I thought was possible!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry (and I'm NOT sorry!) Christmas!

After reading about the moon-bat lefty who apologized for attending a Christmas party, I modified my title.
Here's wishing all my friends who do, and don't, visit my little blog a very Merry CHRISTmas, and a prosperous New Year.
I'm not sure about the last part, given the nature of the economy!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"Best of the Best" Shuttle Launches 1983~2010

Some pretty impressive film in super slow motion of the engines firing, and liftoff.
When I worked for Boeing on the Sea Launch program in the Range Operations Group, one of our responsibilities was to maintain the cameras that took footage like this. They were 16MM, 400 frames-per-second, and were housed in 3/8" thick steel plate housings. The windows the cameras were pointed out of were about 5" in diameter, and made of two layers of borosilicate glass. Depending on the launch profile, the outer window would usually get trashed, but sometimes came through the launch without a scratch.
The housings, on the other hand, got pretty beat up every launch. After each launch we'd open up the enclosures (about 60 1/2" bolts), pull the cameras out, put the tops back on the enclosures, and do a minor sealing up with silicone caulk for the trip home. The cameras and enclosures got a full check-out, cleaning, and complete sealing once we got down to the launch site for the next launch. Every two years or so we had to scrape off the ablative coating and reapply it, and it was nasty stuff to work with!
Anyway....knowing the work that goes in to just getting these films makes me appreciate their beauty all the more.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Vintage Computing, Part Deux

Well, I finally got enough stuff dragged out of the garage to get a decent PC put together to run "Grim Fandango". My first attempt with the old HP Vectra VE didn't work very well. I had trouble getting the game to install, and it wouldn't play. Then the audio quit working, and I couldn't get it to come back, so rather than spend more time troubleshooting it, I went deep into the bowels of the garage this morning, and dug out what I thought was enough stuff to get something decent running. It took a while, but my trusty FIC VA-503+ motherboard was located, and I spent some time brushing the dust off of it, cleaning the connectors on it, and making sure the fan on the heatsink was good to go. Then I located an AT-style power supply, a 40 GB IDE hard-disk, an IDE CD/DVD drive, a floppy and cables for all the drives, an AT-to-PS/2 keyboard adapter, a 3Com PCI Ethernet card, my Aureal Vortex PCI soundcard, and got my BIG box of memory modules out. I loaded the board with two 64 meg sticks of PC-100 SDRAM (PLENTY for Win98!), checked all the jumper settings, plugged in an ancient NVidia AGP graphics card, crossed my fingers, and powered it up. It powered up OK, but the BIOS settings were all out-of-whack, so I shut it down, and put a new CMOS battery in after cleaning the coin-cell holder contacts. I booted it back up, set the clock, and checked some other settings, as replacing the CMOS battery usually restores it to the OEM default settings for things like type of drives installed, which video slot gets initialized first, and a host of other things. The Windows98 install went OK, but I couldn't get the NVidia drivers to work right with the card, so back out to the garage. I found an ATI "Rage 128 Pro" still in the box, so I brought that back in. As a rule, I prefer NVidia cards over ATI (now AMD) for gaming, but the only other NVidia cards I have for an AGP slot are newer GeForce cards, and the Grim Fandango forums indicate they don't work as well as an older card. I loded all the correct drivers, did the "Windows Update" routine (download, reboot, repeat), and made sure the basic PC was running OK. The heatsink on the video card runs cool-to-the-touch, as does the heatsink on the AMD K6-III/450 MHz processor. Got the game loaded, and it runs smooth as silk! This PC would have been pretty "Hot Stuff" back when the game was released, and even though it runs smooth, the graphics aren't up to the standards of today. "Grim Fandango" was unique in that it used very high quality static backgrounds that the characters moved in relation to, so it has a unique look to it.
I'll post another picture later in the week after I get everything mounted into the new case I have coming. And I still have to find the drivers for the motherboard so I can get things like the drive controllers and AGP slot running at maximum performance. There aren't any "Yellow Ball Exclamation Points" in the Windows Device Manager, but I distinctly remember from using this board years ago that having the correct drivers makes a noticeable difference in performance.
Time to hit the hay here, and listen to the rain. We've had 1.9" since midnight, and more is on the way.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ahhhh....The Joys Of "Vintage Computers"

I ws cleaning out some stuff in the garage the other day (actually just separating piles of stuff), and I found a box that had my favorite computer games in it. Now I'm not much of a gamer, so the fact that I even saved these particular games kinda surprised me. The two that I played the most were "Grim Fandango", and the "Descent" series of games. I've also got "Half-Life", but never really got into it much. So, deciding that I'd like to play Grim Fandango again, I started looking at the requirements. The last time I played it, Windows 2000 had just started to become big, and I remember ripping out some hair trying to get the game to play on that platform. Since my garage resembles "Jim's Vintage Radio and Computer Emporium", and one section of my radio room is "Jim's Vintage Software Archive", I figured I had enough stuff (the YF calls it "Junque", notice her spelling of my treasures!)) to build a rig that would run Windows98 at a reasonable rate to play the game. I already had an older HP Vectra VL that I had been using as my hardware-based firewall from when I ran my "Community Wireless Network", and it had an original Pentium 233MHz processor with 128megs of RAM and a 6 gig hard-disk. I dug out an old 3dfx "VooDoo 3 2000" PCI video card, and an Aureal Vortex sound card, my Windows98 discs, and proceeded to get this ancient beast running again. Not being a big fan of Internet Explorer, I looked for a version of Firefox for Win98, but no joy, so I grabbed Netscape 9.0 from the AOL/Netscape archives. Then I had to grab some USB Mass-Storage drivers so Win98 could read my external drive.
My first thoughts are it's not fast enough, so back out to the garage to dig out some more stuff. Well, let's see....I've got an Epox MVP3G-M motherboard (one of the best "Super 7" motherboards ever made!), an AMD K6-III+ good for 500 MHz, and enough memory to stuff the board full. The sound card will fit, and since the "Super 7" motherboards also have an AGP slot for the video card, I can put one of my newer NVidia GeForce cards in for plenty of video processing power. case for it! All the computer cases and power supplies I have "In Stock" are for later ATX motherboards, and aren't compatible with an AT style motherboard. Off to eBay, where I found a brand-new TechMedia case that includes the power supply, a floppy, and has built-in speakers. What's really "Deja Vu" about this is that this exact case was what I built several PC's in many (well...10 or more) years ago, and I was stunned to see several vendors still have them new-in-box!
The case should be here sometime next week, and it'll take me a day to build it up, load Windoze on it, and get things running smooth.
More to come..........

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My Son, the EMT!

YOW! Just got news from my son that he finished his EMT training with an overall grade of "A"!
We had quite a talk about his training on the way up to Angeles Shooting Ranges the day we went, and he was quite pleased with how things were going. Now he just has to to take (and pass) the NREMT test. He was telling me that the ambulance company he did his ride-alongs with was hiring, so he might leave his current job at a large grocery store chain, and go work for them. After some "time-in-grade", he'll be eligible to go to Paramedic school, which he's really looking forward to. Once he gets certified as a Paramedic, he's thinking about applying to one of the local Fire Departments, or maybe the LAFD Academy.
Yep, his Mom, Step-Dad, and my YF are *very* proud of him.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Obama Busted By Jamie and Adam

Hmmmm....the other night when I was flipping through channels, I thought I saw our famed "Mythbusters" team with Teh One. I'm not sure if Obummer will be making a guest appearance or not (haven't had my coffee yet this morning), but I did find this little clip floating around in cyberspace.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Not In Log

For those of us who "Chase DX", and collect the QSL cards, the words "Not In Log" are devastating. You KNOW you worked the DX station. You KNOW you had the band, frequency, date and time correct. You KNOW you heard the DX station reply to you. What could have happened? It's anybody's guess, but getting your card returned with "Not In Log" stamped on it is a real letdown.
Anyway....we've all seen this clip many times, and in many variations, but I found a new spin on it called "Not In Log". The technical references are spot-on, but the "Pin in the coax" line had me rolling on the floor!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Hand Dancers....or something.....

I'm not sure what to make of this. One of my friends sent it to me as a spoof of "River Dancing", but I think it goes a bit beyond that.....

PC Repair Adventures

Haven't posted much because I've been busy fixing/repairing/upgrading/building a bunch of PC's lately. Seems like when it rains, it pours!
My best buddy from college sent me his to completely rebuild for his recording studio. I completely rebuilt it with an Intel i7 quad-core, Gigabyte motherboard, 8 gig of memory and a Windows 7 install, along with getting Windows 7 versions of all his recording/editing software, and getting everything working correctly. Took all his "old" parts and put them in a cheep case so he'd have another PC to use for email and stuff while his main PC is dedicated to the studio. Then I went through the 'little' PC I'd been using to run my FlexRadio Systems 5000A. Clean installation of Windows XP Professional, along with updating the BIOS and all the drivers. That little guy will be for sale in my radio club newsletter. Then had to fix a couple of PC's for the church the YF and I were married in, and upgraded the hard-drives in them. Then my step-son's girlfriend had problems with her laptop, so spent a day getting that one squared away. Then the video card in the new PC I built for my wife to use went POOF!, so I had to get a new one from Newegg and get that one going. In between all this I was building the new PC I'm using for my Software Defined Radio experiments. Needed a Keyboard/Video/Mouse ("KVM") switch so I can switch between this PC and the radio PC. Got one from Newegg, but I chinced on it, and didn't get a very good one. Blew the DVI outputs on TWO video cards before I got smart and RMA'ed the thing back to Newegg. Got a really sweet one from Monoprice, and now I have the radio room PC's up and running like they should be.
And I still have to finish the landscaping project along the side of the driveway, trim the big tree in the back yard, and finish cleaning up the radio room so it's back in good order. Too many cables just hanging everywhere, and stuff that belongs back on the shelves that I had to move to get at the cable runs for the Flex 5000A.
Oh....and the YF just called saying the heater in her car is on the fritz. I noticed it the other night when I used her car to run out to the store for some soda. The hot air stops coming out when you come to a stop sign or red light, so I think it's probably low on coolant, has an air bubble trapped in the system, or both.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Back From The Range

And man, am I beat!
I fired SIXTY ROUNDS of 30-30 out of my Marlin 336, and my shoulder is gonna be sore tomorrow! Took about 30 rounds for a rookie like me to (in no particular order):
a) Figure out how to _use_ the scope (I forgot it was 3x to 9x!)
b) Figure out how to use the _spotting_ scope
c) Get smart enough to move the target back in from 100 yards so I could actually get hits _on_ the target
d) Get used to shooting the rifle!
After the first five or six rounds, my son loaned me one of those little plastic clamp-on bipods, and I started shooting my Marlin 1894 in 357 to see if I could even hit the paper at 100 yards. I did better with that little guy and its iron sights than with the 30-30 and the scope as it came out-of-the-box. After a few 357 rounds, and adjusting the rear sight, I was getting _all_ the rounds "In The Black", and a good portion into the middle circle, with my 1894!
I was stunned that I could shoot my sweet little 1894 that well at 100 yards.
But back to the 30-30.
During the 5-minute "cease fire" when we could change targets, I pulled the target in to 50 yards. With the 30-30 now more solidly supported by the bipod, and the target in closer, I was finally able to start hitting the paper consistently, and slowly, one-click-at-a-time, I worked the scope adjustments to where what I was aiming at, was close to where the hole in the target was after I fired. Not a good way to explain it, but it was a long drive home in L.A. traffic, and I'm kinda beat.
My son had his Savage .17HMR with him, and he was tack-driving all day long! At 100 yards, he can shoot the center out of the target. Must be nice to have 24 year old eyes! I was suitably impressed, and even some of the guys at the range told him he was doing extremely well. He let me fire his rifle a few times, and it was a joy to shoot. Very low recoil and practically no muzzle blast, kinda like a 22LR on steroids, and I could hit about anyplace on the target I wanted to, which means it hit whatever point the scope had wandered to when I squeezed the trigger!
After several hours of rifle shooting we decided to move down to the pistol range for some practice. He had his step-dad's S&W 9MM, and I had my wife's 357 S&W revolver, and we had great fun blasting away the rest of the afternoon.
Final tally, 60 rounds of 30-30, 200 rounds of 357 (rifle and pistol use), 200 rounds of 17HMR, and 100 rounds of 9MM.
It was our first time at the Angeles Shooting Ranges, and we're definitely going back again. The place is first-class all the way, the staff is excellent, and even the rest rooms are clean! I highly recommend it if you live in the area.
The only nit I have to pick would be to make sure you take an old mouse pad, or other piece of soft, thick "stuff" to rest your elbow on. The surfaces of the shooting benches on the side we used are covered with some kind of indoor/outdoor carpeting that does a real good impersonation of 60-grit sandpaper! My right elbow is raw from rubbing on it, and the other shooters I talked to there said the concrete ( ! ) benches on the other side are just as rough on your elbow..
Sorry we didn't have time to take any 'good' pictures, but my son is supposed to send me the few he took with his iPhone camera, and I'll post those when I get them.
I'm off to the shower, and tomorrow will be Gun Cleaning Day!
Oh, and we had a ball doing it.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Range Time!

My son and I are headed out to the Angeles Shooting Ranges today. He wants to try his 17HMR, and I want to try my year-old "new" Marlin 336 in 30-30.
Were also bringing a couple of pistols just in case we get bored with rifle shooting.
He's bringing the spotting scope, and I'm bringing my camera, so we should have some pix to post later.
Gee....I wonder of 200 rounds per gun is enough.......

Supras and Stereos.....

 The repairs on the Fisher RS-2010 are proceeding, but a bit slower than I expected. The failed transistor is an obsolete part number, so I ...