A Good Political Sanity Test

Can you see the many parallels between Donald Trump and the regime (first Chávez, now Maduro) that rules Venezuela?

It’s not biased to either the left or the right. The politically deluded on the right will find it difficult or impossible to acknowledge Trump’s misdeeds. The politically deluded on the left will find it difficult or impossible to acknowledge Chávez’s or Maduro’s. It’s an equal-opportunity screen.

If you are not for liberty and against authoritarianism, then you and I really don’t share that much in common, sorry.

If So, I Move to Linux on a Commodity Machine

If Apple is really going to dump real keyboards, I will stop using their products.

Per the article, yes, Apple’s current keyboards have very little travel. As such, they have very poor tactile feedback and I find them unpleasant to use. I haven’t bought an Apple keyboard for a desktop machine in years, and if I’m using my laptop on a desk, I will plug it into a real (classic IBM Model M) keyboard using an adaptor.

If I’m traveling, I put up with the suckiness, because basically all laptop keyboards suck. The laptop form factor dictates the small travel that makes them suck.

But if Apple makes its laptops emulate the awfulness of a stupidphone, game over. The lack of real keys is one of the big reasons why I refuse to get a stupidphone.

And yes, “stupidphone” is a much more accurate term for the things, considering:

  • Non-existent tactile feedback, as already mentioned,
  • Very limited battery lifetime,
  • Bulky, awkward size,
  • Poorly-coded, software-based user interface that makes use as a phone more awkward than a traditional cell phone.

Building an HF Portable Station

I’ve spent much of the summer building an HF portable ham radio station. I chose the µBITX kit from India, with a case from Amateur Radio Kits (also based in India). This was mainly done on the basis of:

  1. Low current draw (particularly on receive), and
  2. Low cost, because money is scarce right now.

The µBITX seemed to satisfy both requirements and still had fairly good reviews. Its biggest annoyance is that the receiver doesn’t have an AGC (so volume varies greatly depending on signal strength) or an AM mode (which limits its usefulness for shortwave listening). All in all, though, it was still a good deal and I am not disappointed with it. For under $200 and some assembly work, I got a decent HF portable rig.

That leaves the antenna. I’ve fought the portable antenna struggle a bit before. My first such purchase, several years ago, was the Buddistick. I was not impressed, mainly because the loading coils are extremely awkward and fiddly to adjust. You must hook one of these special banana sockets onto the coil at exactly the right point, and the tiny hooks that engage with the coil are a pain to both engage and disengage. Worse, you virtually never get the right spot to tap on first try, so you have to fiddle with the darned things multiple times to get the antenna tuned up. So scratch that idea.

I came up with the idea of using a doublet fed by window line and tuned with a balanced-line tuner (the latter item purchased used for about $30 at a hamfest). That idea ended up being dumped (after building and using the antenna a couple times) for a variety of reasons:

  1. Window line is a pain to deal with. It’s stiff, plus its conductors are brittle and fracture easily, plus there’s no good ready-made connectors for them that screw together and resist spontaneous disconnection (a must if the height and distance of the antenna varies due to portable use).
  2. Putting an antenna into a tree is a pain. Antenna launchers are prone to tangle line and get stuck in the tree. Do this twice, and odds are you’ll have at least one headache. Spending hours putting a doublet or a dipole into the trees is a justifiable time expense if the antenna is permanent and going to be used for years. Not so for a portable one that will be used for days or hours.
  3. A doublet cut for the 60 meter band is just under 100 feet (30 meters) long. That’s more demanding of real estate than your typical campsite can offer. And you still can’t use it on the 75 meter band, which is a big minus during a sunspot minimum (and if you’re interested in regional communications).

So enter the random wire. I did end up with an MFJ-971 tuner as a result of my doublet fiasco. Turns out it does an excellent job of matching most random wires as well. And I had the wire from the doublet I could salvage and use for the random wire.

But “random wire” is a misnomer: you won’t always get acceptable results from tuning up any old random length of wire. If your tuner is at the feed point, and your random wire is not even ¼ wavelength long, you will get no current peaks on the wire. This will seriously compromise its ability to radiate. If the random wire ends up being ½ wavelength or a multiple thereof, you will have a voltage peak at the feed point, which will frustrate your ability to feed energy into the antenna, which in turn compromise your ability to make the antenna radiate. One must choose a length which avoids these pitfalls at any frequency of interest. If one also wants to maximize portability, that means you must choose the shortest such length. The exact answer varies, but comes out to somewhere in the neighborhood of 72 feet, depending on who does the calculating, if you want to use all the ham HF bands from 80 to 10 meters.

That leaves the issue of feeding the antenna. The simplest thing is to just use a single lead-in wire. No coax (and no associated losses due to a very poor match between coax and random wire), no awkward, stiff, breakage-prone ladder line, just a nice, simple, inexpensive, easy-to-use wire. But “lead-in” and “antenna” are big misnomers. There is no difference between the two in this case; the “lead-in” will radiate just like the “antenna” does! Connect a lead-in wire to an antenna at a carefully-chosen length, and the length is no longer carefully chosen, and you might be at a multiple of ½ wavelength again.

There’s a simple, elegant solution to that problem: cut a piece of 72′ wire, design an insulator that can hold the near end of it using friction alone, use that for the near-side anchor, and connect the tuner directly to the single piece of 72′ wire. Place the near-end insulator wherever is needed to get the required bit of slack wire to serve as a lead-in. But that begs the issue of designing such an insulator.

This is what I came up with:

I used shock cord because I hadn’t brought enough rope to the test site.

It’s a 1/2″ PVC tee connector. One of the straight ends has been drilled with a 5/16″ hole for passing an anchoring rope through. The wire passes in through the 90° end and out the end opposite the drilled one. Where it enters, it is secured by a No. 4 rubber stopper; as the tension of the wire pulls on the stopper, it will merely tend to pull the stopper in tighter, thus the stopper holds the wire securely.

A random wire requires a counterpoise, of course: there is in reality no such thing as a “monopole” antenna; all antennas are two-terminal devices. What I am doing is trailing a 60-foot wire along the ground, plus using an alligator-clip lead to ground the tuner to my truck chassis.

How does it work? Quite well, based on my initial results. It seems to get out much better on 75 meters than my previous random wire (which was too short to have a current peak). It’s twice as easy to set up as the doublet (only one end must be launched into a tree, not two). It’s shorter than than the doublet, and installs at an angle, further reducing its real-estate demands. It can fit in a standard campsite. Yet despite the smaller size, unlike the doublet it allows me to operate on 75 meters. I noticed no slippage at the near-end insulator, which behaved exactly as intended.

There is a drawback to this design, and it is RF exposure. Because it doesn’t use transmission line to feed the antenna, this design will radiate in the immediate vicinity of the operator and radio equipment. That’s not so big a deal at QRP power levels, but I wouldn’t want to use this design at higher power. Overall, I consider the freedom to use a simpler antenna design to be yet another advantage of QRP for portable use.

Patriot Prayer Has Much to Do with Fascism

It claims to be nothing but a garden variety Christian conservative group, yet continually sponsors rallies in which fascists show up.

To top that off, today Tiny Toese, one of its leading members, wore a T-shirt with an openly fascist (pro-Pinochet) message. Here’s the front of that same shirt. And here’s another less-prominent member sporting fascist insignia today.

Game’s up, goose-steppers. If you waddle like a fascist and swim like a fascist and quack like a fascist, chances are very good that you are indeed a fascist.

Most Everyone Should STFU about Printable Guns

Printed plastic “guns” are a fucking joke. That’s because any plastic that a 3D printer can print with is way way way too weak to contain the energy produced by the burning powder sufficiently to impart significant force onto a projectile.

In order to make a firearm, you want metal. Some pieces of steel plumbing pipe from the hardware store will work far better than printed plastic. It’s been possible to make firearms from that ever since hardware stores have been selling steel pipe. The result is called a zip gun.

Read what I posted back in 2013 first (including the linked article) before you run off the rails about either a new level of threat due to unregulated gun ownership or a new level of liberty due to the newfound impossibility of regulating guns.

And I’m Back

Since the main focus of the trip was for volunteer work, which is actually work (just because work is unpaid does not mean it is not work), there is paperwork to fill out.

Encouraged by others, I decided to give the electronic versions of the paperwork a try. They’re all Microsoft Word documents, of course. Despite Word being a mediocre typesetting program, and being properiety, and being expensive, it is what virtually everyone uses. And may I add much to my annoyance due to the previously mentioned factors.

“Just use Open Office” they said when I mentioned not having (nor wanting to squander money on) Microsoft Word. I should have realized what the outcome of that exercise would be, but me being generous to a fault, I gave it a try.

Naturally it was an exercise in revealing just how low most people’s standards are when it comes to document layout. Neither Word, nor Preview, nor Open Office rendered the forms properly. All made messes of the layout which rendered any attempts at filling them out ambiguous. That may not matter to most, but it does matter to me: I don’t want my submitted forms to simply result in back-and-forths with multiple clarifying questions (or, worse yet, incorrect data being entered).

Three strikes and electronic document submission is out. I ended up printing the form out and filling it in by hand, as usual.

Another Road Trip

Also to eastern Washington, also partially for botanical survey reasons, also because since I’m going on the long drive for the botanical survey, I might as well see and do other stuff on the way.

This includes revisiting a favorite campsite of mine, and hopefully checking out other campsites that might be of use for seeing upcoming the Perseid meteor shower. That favorite campsite of mine is on a very rough road; for the meteor shower I want to be on a road that any old passenger car can safely traverse, because it is going to be a group event.

Why Are So Many Libertarians So Fucking Useless?

Exhibit A: Rand Paul (R-KY) recently asked the Trump regime to engage in politically-motivated retaliation against critics with security clearances:

Sanders made the announcement shortly after Trump met with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who said earlier Monday that he planned to ask the president to revoke Brennan’s clearance [emphasis added]. The former CIA director under Obama last week described Trump’s performance at his summit with Putin in Helsinki as “treasonous” and said Trump showed he was “wholly in the pocket of Putin.”

And I’m erring on the side of being kind by calling Paul “useless;” “enemy” might be a more accurate description here, given that just sitting silent and doing nothing while someone else advocated the retaliations would be a more accurate use for “useless.” Paul isn’t just sitting silent; he’s taking an active and leading role in the whole ugly matter.

My theory relates to capitalism: when push comes to shove, it’s an anti-liberty system, because capitalist firms are almost always authoritarian. Once you start preaching that it’s OK for bosses to boss people, and the rich to control and manipulate the non-rich, you’re no longer advocating for liberty. It’s a relatively small step to go from there to advocating for other forms of oppressive behavior.