Saturday, July 29, 2006

Has Orwell's '1984' Come 22 Years Later?

Has Orwell's '1984' Come 22 Years Later?

"This weekend my mother bought a grille lighter, something like this butane lighter. The self-scanner at Kroger's locked itself up and paged a clerk, who had to enter our drivers license numbers into her kiosk before we could continue. Last week my girlfriend bought four peaches. An alert came up stating that peaches were a restricted item and she had to identify herself before being able to purchase such a decidedly high quantity of the dangerous fruit. My video games spy on me, reporting the applications I run, the websites I visit, the accounts of the people I IM. My ISP is being strong-armed into a two-year archive of each action I take online under the guise of catching pedophiles, the companies I trust to free information are my enemies, the people looking out for me are being watched. As if that weren't enough, my own computer spies on me daily, my bank has been compromised, my phone is tapped--has been for years--and my phone company is A-OK with it. What's a guy that doesn't even consider himself paranoid to think of the current state of affairs?"

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

n-body orbits

Sean Carroll at Cosmic Variance points out some bizarro but valid orbits of multi-body gravitational systems mentioned at "This Week's Finds in Mathematical Physics". Any system of more than two bodies is very difficult (or impossible?) to reduce to simple mathematical statements, although you can find occasional stable orbits of n-body systems. Cris Moore found some and Michael Nauenberg animated them.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Adventures in Shortwave: Swahili on the radio

Last week, I had a rare night of exquisitely clear shortwave radio reception. I recorded a number of stations--either strong, non-American broadcasters, or rare catches (for myself). This was with a Hallicrafters S-40A shortwave receiver and a simple random wire antenna on the roof of a six story building. I'm awaiting a new digital receiver to finally be able to actually know what frequency I'm listening too--on the old tube it's always a guessing game.

I recorded a scan through the 31-meter international broadcast band, which is filled with stations on many nights. To me, this band is from 10MHz down to 9, but I think officially it's just 9500-9900kHz, although the frequencies around it have some broadcasters. I cut some short segments out of the big recording.

Deutsche Welle, broadcasting in Swahili (6:06, 3MB mp3). This recording is 6:25 in length, recorded on 7/11/2006, at 3:54UT, until end of transmission. Station ID is at 6:06.
The Program Schedule indicates I was listening to Jukwaa. The recording is a little shaky at the beginning, fighting with an adjacent American religious broadcaster playing music.

Everybody's favorite, the BBC World Service (4:32, 2.1MB mp3). I am guessing that this is a relay broadcast from Guyana, pointed towards the Caribbean. EDIT: In discussing this in the comments, I've found that it was broadcast from the UK towards South America.

Radio Habana Cuba, in French (1:19, 621kB mp3). As I wrote in the previous post, we receive Radio Havana Cuba pretty well here in Chicago. Station ID at 0:21.

The Voice of Russia (0:31, 251kB mp3).

Radio Netherlands 9845kHz (5:43, 2,680kB mp3). A story about new boat technologies. Radio Netherlands is a continued supporter of shortwave broadcasts to North America in the time of shrinking audiences.

Radio Croatia (I think), (1:03, 271kB mp3). This was recorded near WWV at 10MHz during a scan from WWV to 9MHz, so the frequency was near 9990kHz.

Kol Israel (1:41, 693kB mp3). To be honest, I have trouble distinguishing Hebrew and Arabic, but this definitely is Hebrew. I assume it's Kol Israel, but I know Family Radio out of Oakland California occasionally broadcasts in what sounds like Hebrew or Arabic.

Finally, a tougher recording. This is WWVH at 15MHz. (0:27, 427kB mp3). From 0:05-0:10 you can hear the female voice of WWV-Hawaii saying "At the tone, the time will be two hours, thirty-six minutes, Coordinated Universal Time". Normally we don't hear the Hawaiian time broadcast in Chicago; whereas I hear it all the time on the west side of the Rocky Mountains.

See the first post in this series:
Adventures in Shortwave: last night's Radio Habana Cuba

Friday, July 14, 2006

Adventures in shortwave: last night's Radio Habana Cuba

The Professor, a DJ at New York City's independent radio station WFMU, has a fantastic series in his regular blog about listening to old-time radio: that of long-distance AM radio and shortwave. He ends up posting audio clips of various shortwave stations you can hear. While it sounds boring, it's actually quite interesting. I offer up a 5-minute clip of Radio Havana Cuba from last night, with their regular news report. Cuba's propaganda station always highlights how the US is "actively conspiring" against Cuba or some random nation. Volume is a little low on the clip, so you might need to turn it up.

This clip was recorded from an ancient vacuum tube radio, a 1940's era Hallicrafters S-40A, in the Ryerson Astronomical Society's office. The signal-to-noise ratio wasn't anywhere near what is was a week ago, but it's ok. (I have a lot of recordings from that night to process).

P.S. Looking for the manuals to the S-40A? has 'em.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Planet orbiting Pollux

Systemic, everyone's favorite extrasolar planet blog, talks about the detection of a 2 or 3 Jovian-mass planet orbiting Pollux, aka Beta Geminorum. Preprints here and here

P.S. The graph above shows Pollux's velocity towards and away from Earth. You can see how it varies back and forth in a regular period, especially with the newer higher-quality data. Given the period and amount of wobbling, you can discover planets and their minimum masses.

Particulates in Chicago: source

The Terra satellite people released a gallery image of fires in Saskatchewan and Manitoba on June 26th that probably are the source of the Chicago particulates mentioned here.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Mayflies on Mississippi River show up on radar

Mayflies flying along the Mississippi River in Wisconsin were numerous enough to show up on NEXRAD radar.

NEXRAD radar is usually cleaned up a huge amount before it's released--things like ground clutter and bird returns are removed.

I grabbed a processed return from the archive at UCAR here.

It's not as dramatic as the processed return shown in the news story. I wonder where they got that particular image.

Massive insect swarms are nothing new for residents of the Midwest near lakes and rivers. On occasion, I've seen swarms of gnats take up residence in the lees of buildings along the lakefront in Chicago thick enough to resemble smoke.

Another common anomaly on NEXRAD radar is the Sun rising or setting--since it's a source of radio waves--strong enough to be detectable.

Via Boing-boing

Thursday, July 06, 2006


There is a plume of something in the air above Chicago today. I noticed it on the way in, as a whiteish (or less blue) western sky. I thought it might be the lake breeze, but reasoned it would have been to the east towards the lake. Checking the satellite shows a plume moving to the southeast. It's probably smoke particulates from a wildfire somewhere, but the only recent one I've heard about is a set of fires not far from the parents' place in the Desert National Wildlife Refuge. From the direction of the plume I am guessing it must be a summertime fire from Northern Canada or Alaska, although the Alaska Fire report is only reporting 12 fires, one only 140 acres in extent. I see the Las Vegas Review-Journal is reporting a fire on the Nevada Test Site today.

UPDATE: Probably this fire.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy Fourth of July!

Happy 4th of July! I cooked hot dogs and melted aluminum, and watched continuous displays of clearly "illegal" fireworks across the city of Chicago. Huzzah to the fellow at about 3000ft southeast of Ryerson, at what I was guessing the east end of the Midway, who had a long and impressive display. Peggy called out a satellite above that was in fact the most impressive orbiter of them all, the Space Shuttle passing overhead. And visible, people watching the displays from Rockefeller.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

NSA and domestic phone spying before 9/11

Why is it that I heard a report about the NSA's supposed domestic phone spying before 9/11 not from any American news bureau, but from Radio Habana Cuba via static-y shortwave first? I am still waiting for this tidbit to arrive on the front pages of CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post, etc. All of them are talking about USA Today removing the proof that BellSouth and Verizon had given access, but no one is talking about the NSA's prior relationship with AT&T. Slashdot also posted the story today.

Bloomberg has the story, and I'm guessing Radio Havana picked it up from there.

That said, I wouldn't trust Radio Havana Propaganda for ANY news, which is why I went looking for proof of the existence of the story as soon as it crossed the airwaves.