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JoSH Lehan

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It's our 1 year anniversary today [Oct. 11th, 2009|04:00 pm]
JoSH Lehan
[music |I'm so 2008. You're so 2000-and-late.]

It's our 1 year anniversary today! I got married to my partner Eric teloric during the window of opportunity in 2008. It's been a good year.
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Improved DSL line by adding chokes [Sep. 30th, 2009|01:39 pm]
JoSH Lehan
My DSL line had started to drop out recently. So, I did the best possible thing for resolving DSL trouble: posted in DSL Reports forums.

There's a tool there that lets me plot a spectrum analysis of my DSL line's reception, using data from the modem's webpage. Upload the saved webpage, and it parses the data and draws the graph for you. Very cool. I have a SpeedStream 4100 modem, not the greatest, but it gets the job done. Even after trying a few other modems, I haven't yet found a better modem on the market.

Anyway, something interesting on the graph. I saw dropouts at certain frequencies, and they just happened to correspond with major AM radio stations in this area.

After getting advice in a fairly lengthy forum thread, I was able to slightly resolve the problem, by adding RF chokes to my wiring, near the modem.

I tried both kinds of chokes: the U-shaped metal ring that you thread your wire through (in a figure-8 pattern), and the more familiar clamp-on metal cylinder that surrounds the wire and makes it thicker. Many high-end VGA cables, for computer monitors, already have the cylinder style of choke built into them (they are the thick cylindrical bulge in the wire, near each end of the cable).

Surprisingly, most of the improvement came from adding these chokes to the power wire, not the DSL telephone wire. I tried adding chokes to the DSL and it made the problem worse! I think it's because the chokes were cutting off frequencies that I needed, as part of the signal. Part of the problem is that the lower AM radio frequencies are the same frequencies that are used for DSL data, and so anything that cuts them off, also cuts off my data.

It's weird to think that these goofy little things that just slip over the wire, and that don't actually touch the wire or enter the circuit in any way, can make a difference. They do, though, but only slightly. It's just enough to lift my signal quality over the minimum acceptable threshold, and so now it appears more stable now.

I still haven't written that program I want to write, that would show you a continuously updating graph of your DSL modem's line conditions! I still need to learn Python, as this project seems like a good use of that language.
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TV antenna success [Jul. 22nd, 2009|01:06 am]
JoSH Lehan
[music |Sirius "First Wave" 22]

Good news, thanks to a very kind and friendly neighbor, I now have my TV antenna up on the rooftop, where it belongs. I'm not good with heights and have unsure footing, so couldn't get up there and install it myself, but the neighbor happily bounded up there and took care of it for me. Much thanks!

It's aimed at Sutro from here. There's still a mountain range in the way, and some distant trees, but the rooftop clears the nearby buildings and close trees that were the main obstructions. I've reached a compromise with everyone else who lives here, and am allowed to keep this one antenna on the roof, since it's mounted fairly low and in a location where it's not really visible from the street. Unfortunately I'm the only one in the household who likes antennas. So, my budding interest in ham radio will have to be put on hold. However, now my TV has an antenna, which is something I've always wanted. Even though we still have cable, for the Internet, and don't plan to cancel it, it still feels good to have the ability to thumb my nose at Comcast.

I used a diagonal chimney mount to attach the antenna to the chimney. Not a perfect mount, but with a slight modification I read about online (adding lockwashers), it's serviceable. It's surprising how little the hardware has changed, over the years. When installing the antenna, the neighbor noticed some old brackets that were left in the chimney from long ago! So, the house historically had a rooftop antenna at one point in the past, and it felt good to be able to restore it, as well as reuse those old brackets (which were still securely attached).

Here's the list of channels that I was able to get, from my location in Castro Valley:

2 (KTVU, Fox)
4 (KRON, MyNetwork TV)
7 (KGO, ABC)
11 (KNTV, NBC)
14 (KDTV, Univision, Spanish)
20 (KOFY, independent)
25 (KQET, translator, mostly duplicates KQED)
26 (KTSF, many Asian languages, mostly Chinese, they have 4 subchannels)
28 (KFTL, home shopping and a televangelist)
32 (KMTP, many Asian languages, mostly Korean, they have 4 subchannels, one of which is occasionally NASA TV in English, this is rather cool to see)
35 (KCBA, Fox)
36 (KICU, independent)
38 (KCNS, Chinese)
42 (KTNC, Estrella TV, Spanish)
44 (KBCW, The CW)
48 (KSTS, Telemundo, Spanish)
54 (KTEH, PBS, they have 5 rather cool subchannels, one of the best reasons for having an antenna)
60 (KCSM, PBS)
65 (KKPX, Ion, they have 4 subchannels)
66 (KFSF, Telefutura, Spanish)
67 (KSMS, translator, mostly duplicates several other Spanish channels)

Total of 23 channels, and 56 subchannels. Impressive. I thought that I had lost Channel 7, an essential channel, but it came back just recently. Evidently, antenna work was being done on Sutro, and Channel 7 was broadcasting at much reduced power. Now, it's back, and comparable to the other major networks.

I was surprised to be able to get "Fox 35" from Salinas, as that's out of the area. The only channels I'm missing are 8 (NBC, from Salinas, not necessary since 11 is already a stronger NBC), 68 (a televangelist, not interested), 50 (independent, from Santa Rosa), and 22 (PBS, from Santa Rosa). Channel 22 is the "Holy Grail" of antenna reception from the Bay Area, as there's some good programs there that aren't on Comcast, and they're a weak station all the way north in Santa Rosa, so it is very technically challenging to receive. On my converter boxes, I see faint whispers of 8, 68, and 50, on the signal meter, but not a strong enough signal to resolve the signal and get a picture. Adding a rotator might bring these in. Sadly, I don't even see a whisper for 22, so even with a rotator, I most likely wouldn't be able to get 22 from this location. So it goes.

Compared with the list of all available channels in the area, I'm still doing quite well. Castro Valley is geographically in the middle of the Bay Area, although as the name implies, it's a valley surrounded by hills, so it's somewhat of a dead spot for reception. I have a Channel Master 4228HD, one of the best UHF antennas you can buy, that is of the new style (a vertical rectangular surface). It's good enough for high VHF, and there's no more low VHF channels in the area so I don't care about that. There would be no way I could sneak a traditional "spiky triangle" antenna past the roommates, so this will have to do.

Now, if only the stations would broadcast something in English that's other than televangelists and informercials....
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Television migration [Jun. 15th, 2009|12:45 am]
JoSH Lehan
After the big digital television conversion that happened Friday night, I played with the TV antenna I have. Eventually, I was able to get all the stations I could before. The biggest change was KGO (7), who went back to their original VHF frequency, leaving their perfectly good UHF frequency they had been temporarily using during the transition. I don't know why they would want to do this. In the new world of digital, UHF is far better than VHF, as it is much easier to receive. Entirely the opposite of what it was decades ago, when VHF dominated. Now, only KGO and KNTV (channel 11, frequency 12) remain on VHF.

For most of Saturday, though, I thought the situation was worse. Many of the channels I had, disappeared. Evidently, on Saturday they were doing conversion work up on Sutro Tower, so the signals from Sutro were at lower power for that day. I did full rescans on my converter boxes, and was able to eventually get them all again, later Saturday night.

The digital signals are beautiful, but in the end, it's still TV. I don't watch a lot of TV, preferring to use the computer instead.

The TV transition went smoothly. I'm glad they postponed the date to now, because it's summer, and much easier for people to get outside and do antenna work. The extra months gave many people, including me, time to go through the government program and get converter boxes. Most people have cable or satellite, and so don't care about the broadcast TV transition. Of the people that do care, plenty of converter boxes were made available.

Anyone want a useless analog-only pocket TV?

We all know the higher frequencies (channels 52 and above) were sold to the cellphone companies, but what about the lower frequencies? I'm looking forward to channels 5 and 6 being repurposed for extending FM radio. FM radio, unlike UHF, is currently maxed out, and some more room would be a good thing. Analog FM is obviously still popular, and radios are everywhere. The lower frequencies are difficult to use for digital, so the cellphone companies aren't as interested in them. The advantage of channels 5 and 6 is that they are right next door to the existing FM band, so extending the band becomes trivially easy (just change a few cheap components in an analog radio and you've done it). I hope the FCC authorizes this, once the migration is fully complete and things settle down.
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We lose [May. 26th, 2009|10:42 am]
JoSH Lehan
[mood |morosemorose]

We lose.

What now?

* Work to put a ballot initiative to repeal Prop 8 on the ballot for 2010. As the Court has ruled it to be a mere amendment and not a revision, it shouldn't need anything more than a majority vote to counter it with another amendment. This must be in November 2010. The problem with 2012 is that Obama will be up for re-election, thus the Obama demographic will slaughter us again. November 2010 is the closest non-Obama major election. A minor election won't do, for similar reasons, as turnout will be so small that the bad guys will be able to dominate the numbers.

* Work to defeat the re-election campaigns of the Supreme Court justices who voted against us. In California, they are not appointed for life, but rather, elected to 12-year terms. Some come up for re-election as early as 2010. There is an opportunity for success here as the "non-candidate issue" funding loophole will not apply. Organized religion will not be able to overtly fund these campaigns.

* Work with the Legislature to get the ball rolling on civil unions for all. The Supreme Court justices applied a narrow interpretation to Prop 8, and renaming marriage to something other than the word "marriage" should work around the text of Prop 8 nicely.

* Work to lock down the proposition system against future "Prop 8" measures. With the Supreme Court's ruling as precedent, the law now is that anybody can now strike down anybody else's civil rights at any time, all they need to do is gather a simple majority vote. Who's next? Will the Yes On 8 campaign work to press their advantage and get domestic partners repealed as well?

* Do NOT attempt to appeal to federal court. If Bush did one effective thing during his terms as President, it was to stack the US Supreme Court heavily against us. To appeal to the federal system guarantees certain defeat. It would jeopardize the progress made in the Eastern states as well. The bad guys know this. I would not be surprised at all if the Yes On 8 campaign had a federal appeal already prepared and ready to go as a contingency.
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Getting the state out of the marriage business entirely [Mar. 15th, 2009|08:10 pm]
JoSH Lehan
[mood |calmcalm]
[music |DNA Lounge mixtapes]

I attended the rallies outside the California Supreme Court, at Civic Center in San Francisco, on March 5, and watched the Proposition 8 hearings on a big screen TV they had set up outside.

Unfortunately, it was a disaster. Our arguments, which looked so good on paper, pretty much crumbled before the row of unsympathetic justices. Our lawyers stammered and stuttered, looking very unprofessional, whereas Ken Starr, the opponent's lawyer, was slick, polished, and smooth.

Justice Kennard made all the difference. Her opinion has obviously flipped. Throughout the hearing, in her creepy accent, she kept asking about what would happen to existing marriages if Prop 8 was upheld, a question that would be a moot point if we were going to get a winning vote. Near the end of the hearing, she outright shouted out her opinion, as if it wasn't obvious already. She was one of the 4 justices who voted pro-marriage last year, and with her flipped vote, we're guaranteed a 3-4 loss, at a minimum. Justice George, the chief justice, might also have flipped, according to some, although I couldn't detect this during the hearing.

Justices Moreno and Werdegar were the only ones sympathetic to our case. Both of them voted pro-marriage earlier, and they seem to be keeping their opinion. Unfortunately, I predict a 2-5 loss for our side. To me, it's unbelievable how the justices couldn't see the slippery slope that these kind of propositions will lead to, not to mention the anti-marriage side's lack of any good non-religious argument other than "the people have spoken". Evidently, "the people have spoken" was a very persuasive argument. That, and the fact that 6 out of the 7 justices (all except Moreno) were Republican. I guess Republicans are still infatuated by Ken Starr.

However, Justice Chin, one of the anti-marriage votes earlier, had something that completely changed my perception of him. He has an idea I agree with! Get the state out of the marriage business entirely. Leave marriage as strictly a religious ceremony, like communion or bar mitzvah. In other words, the state should have no business regulating who can and who can not get married, and shouldn't intrude on the religious freedom of being able to have marriage ceremonies according to the rules of one's religion. I support this idea entirely. The state should grant civil unions, or something like that, which grants all the legal privileges currently obtained only from marriage. The state would no longer grant marriages, so in order to get a marriage, you would have to arrange this through your religion. Makes sense to me. With thinking like this, if the situation ever arised, I'd be happy to nominate Chin as the new chief justice!

I'm not the only one who likes this idea a lot. It would be a decent compromise between gay people and the anti-marriage religious forces. Here is a recent opinion in the New York Times suggesting this. Here's another writeup, suggesting that the justices might be interested in a compromise as well. And finally, here's a proposed model law, that could be enacted to put in place such a compromise.

I wonder how the religious forces would feel about such a compromise? I know there's Mormons lurking on this blog :) so let's hear what you think.
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Another stray cat sighting [Mar. 6th, 2009|10:41 pm]
JoSH Lehan
[mood |sadsad]

Tonight I heard a lonely, scared meow coming from the backyard.

I quickly took inventory and counted that all 3 of my cats were safe and inside the house.

Turned on the light, and saw a beautiful black cat. It had clearly wandered into our backyard, from the neighborhood park that is directly behind our house.

The cat came up to the window, and was obviously tame. It's yet another abandoned cat, heartlessly dumped at the park by its former owners. I hear the problem of abandoned pets is growing, as many people get foreclosed on and evicted from their houses, and forced to suddenly move into smaller apartments that don't often allow pets.

This is a real problem here. Oftentimes, abandoned cats aren't fixed. So, they have kittens. One time, one of the stray cats had a litter of kittens underneath some nearby debris. There isn't enough food to go around, and there's many wild critters (opossums, etc.) competing for it at the park, so after a few weeks the kittens are never seen again. It is sad.

I don't know what I can do, though. If I showed the black cat any sign of affection, it would become attached to me. I have plenty of cats already.
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Feeling the need for mead [Mar. 4th, 2009|03:53 am]
JoSH Lehan
[mood |contentcontent]
[music |mostly silence]

In our house, there was a disused shower in the downstairs bathroom (somewhat useless since it's far away from any bedrooms). Now, it has a much better purpose. It's now a brewery!

For the past few weeks, lwood, dpaxson, teloric, and I have been brewing mead. We started with a beer, as practice. The beer turned out just fantastic. I wish I had more of it! Now we are brewing another beer, and most importantly, mead. We currently have three carboys full of mead, all sitting contentedly in the shower stall, occasionally burping.

lwood has created a very good Wiki website that documents our brewing, the Brewiki [link redacted].

Our second beer should be ready soon. I look forward to it. I look even more forward, to the mead!
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Throwing away the past [Jan. 18th, 2009|05:02 pm]
JoSH Lehan
[mood |awake]
[music |Energy 92.7]

I need to clean up the back room in the house. Its messiness has gone on for far too long.

I'm throwing away two things that meant a lot to me in the past.

The first is the Apple ][ computer, and all of its accompanying materials (disk drives, disks, manuals, original boxes). I've thought about transferring the disks to modern media for years now, and just have never gotten around to it. It has been such a low priority that I have came to realize that it would just never get done, and honestly, the memories of what was done feel better to me than having the actual data. They are just taking up space. I'm still proud of the Tetris game I wrote in BASIC, with lo-res graphics, almost exactly 20 years ago.

There's another Apple computer that I've had my eye on recently, though....

The second thing I'm throwing away is an old hard disk that once held my entire music collection. It was in an external enclosure, upstairs, where it gets really hot during the summer, and the heat did it in. It started making a high-pitched whining noise. I foolishly turned it off one night, and when turning it back on, got nothing but a faint hum. The bearings had gone, and the drive could no longer physically spin. I'm hesitant to do the freezer trick, but might just try it. I still have the drive in the freezer! If anybody has experience with this, let me know. How would you avoid shorting it all out due to condensation, when removing the drive from the freezer and powering it up?

As for the music that was on the drive, most of it I still have originals on CD, stashed away in DJ binders. I will restore songs if they come to mind, "on demand", from these binders. That's a reason I still like buying music on CD instead of online: you get a physical artifact to stash away, in case of data loss. I'm kind of looking forward to re-ripping the music: I had done most of the ripping in the mid-1990's, and the MP3 encoding wasn't up to modern standards: the filenames and titles were a mess, the quality was low, and ReplayGain was merely a figment of someone's imagination at the time.

My music collection weighed in at 150GB or so. I loaded it all into iTunes and it was something like 30,000 songs, 60 solid days of music! With today's larger hard drives, I can rip it all at 320 kbps (maximum MP3 quality) and still have room to spare. I know there are much better encoding formats than MP3 these days, such as the outstanding AAC format (also known as MP4), but as somebody famous once said to me, "its ubiquitousness outweighs its disadvantages".

So, I'll start rebuilding my music collection onto a new drive. It will still be an external drive, as that's very convenient, but will have to watch the temperature this time....
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Free HDTV with an antenna [Jan. 8th, 2009|01:55 pm]
JoSH Lehan
[mood |calmcalm]
[music |DI.fm Future Synthpop]

One of the things that has fascinated me for a while, is the possibility of getting free over-the-air HDTV with a television antenna. If I owned my own house, that would be one of the things I would want to do. I am a big fan of spending a little more money up front, to make things become free (or substantially reduced in price) over time. For the same reason, I would love to get solar panels, and a charger hookup in the garage for a hybrid car, eventually.

In addition to being free, there's unique things you can get on TV with an antenna. There's a number of small obscure TV stations that aren't carried by the cable or satellite companies. There's also the concept of subchannels: just like HD Radio, each HDTV channel is made up of multiple subchannels that can all have different programming. In my experience, cable companies only carry a few of the more popular subchannels (PBS television stations are especially good), while satellite companies don't carry any of them at all.

I live in Castro Valley, and I'm literally in a valley as well. So, this location isn't a good choice for an antenna. A good clear line-of-sight, preferably to the horizon, is needed in order to pick up a good signal. I'm blocked in all around. Even KCBS radio, a local station that's so strong that I once picked them up in Phoenix, drops out nearby here. However, if I lived on a hill, like some beautiful houses I've had the privilege of visiting recently, an antenna would work great.

What direction to point the antenna? There's a well-known website that will tell you: antennaweb.org. In the Bay Area, the decision is easy: a substantial number of stations broadcast from a single location, Sutro Tower in San Francisco. Point the antenna at Sutro and you're good to go.

Another, more obscure, website is TV Fool. This website has a wonderful feature, in that it will plot your elevation and show you the terrain between you and the TV transmitter. You can see visually how clear your line-of-sight would be, and predict your signal quality. You can put in an address and get a list of channels in your area. It's fascinating to put in different addresses and see how things are different in various neighborhoods.

There's a lot of good advice about TV antenna installation online. A lot of it seems anachronistic to read, as the last time people seriously thought about TV antennas was in the 1970's, before cable and satellite became popular. However, with the additional choices offered by HDTV, and the general desire to save money these days, I predict TV antennas will make a slight comeback. It's important to point out that you don't need a new antenna to receive HDTV, if you already have a working analog TV antenna. The physics of the radio frequencies haven't changed, so existing antenna hookups should continue to work just fine.

With HDTV, as with all digital transmissions, the signal level is hit-or-miss: it doesn't fade out like an analog signal does. It's a wall. You either have a perfect signal, or you have a black screen. This makes it easier to get a watchable HDTV picture, than with analog. The only difference is the number of channels that you are able to receive. The RabbitEars website has a listing of the most prominent channels in each geographic area, to use as a goal when trying to see how many channels you can get, and one of the more interesting things is that you can click through to see a listing of all the subchannels that are available on each channel.

HDTV is also more efficient, at fitting into its assigned channel, than analog TV. With just a few exceptions, each analog TV station have at least one unused channel of "dead air" between it and another station. So, they must be at least 2 numbers apart (the exceptions are 4/5, 6/7, 13/14). HDTV stations don't have this restriction, and can be packed in right next to each other. This is the real reason the government wants HDTV: so that it can pack stations in more efficiently, thus freeing up many higher UHF frequencies to be sold off to raise money. It makes sense for the government to sell off the upper part of the UHF band, as public interest has shifted: people aren't as interested in UHF stations these days, instead, people want more bandwidth for all the cool new features on digital cellphones, and more wireless Internet access.

UHF has been nibbled away at for decades: in the 1960's, the government hugely overestimated the public's demand for UHF stations, and created channels 14-83. The higher channels have always remained somewhat empty, I recall. When analog cellphones were created in the 1980's, channels 70-83 were carved off to make room for analog cellphones (I remember being able to eavesdrop on analog conversations in the 1990's by using an old black-and-white TV that could still go up to channel 83). These days, channels 52-69 are being similarly carved off, to create a new generation of useful services.

I'm also hoping that some lower channels will be carved off, channels 5-6 to be exact, as these channels have the unique property of being right next to the existing FM radio band! Imagine being able to turn your radio down to 76.1, not just 87.9, and all the new FM channels that would create in between. Unlike UHF television, the FM band is currently completely packed now, and has been for decades. There's a great demand for new FM stations for people to listen to, especially with all the great new Internet radio stations looking to expand to an offline audience. The good news is that the FCC is starting to pay attention to this idea. These "new" radio frequencies are already used in Japan, home of many companies that make radios, and in fact many good portable radios already have the capability to receive these frequencies (look for an "international" setting, on a very small switch somewhere). This would nearly double the size of the existing FM band, and if strict ownership limits are enforced once again (as they were before the 1990's corporate consolidations), many more different voices will be on the air and radio will once again be interesting to listen to.

There's a darker side to these HDTV plans, though. Making room for HDTV, and reorganizing the frequencies in this way, will require the shutdown of analog TV broadcasting. Right now, most of the HDTV stations coexist nicely with their corresponding analog stations. Unfortunately, this won't be the case for long. On February 17, the government will shut down all analog TV stations! Hard to believe, but it's true. I've predicted for months that this will turn into a public relations disaster. I would guess that one of the easiest ways to lose political power in the USA would be to take Joe Sixpack's TV away! Especially now, with so many people out of work, having trouble affording cable or satellite, and being stuck at home watching TV.

I've predicted for months now that the analog shutoff would get pushed back, or canceled altogether. I'm standing by my prediction of a public relations disaster come February 17, if this date isn't changed. Just today, I saw a news article that confirmed a guess that I had made: that Obama would ask for this date to be postponed.

I predict an executive order, if Congress fails to act, to defer this day of reckoning for analog TV. While HDTV is definitely the correct long-term solution, it should take place gradually. If it were up to me, it would happen over the course of at least 10 years, as existing analog TV sets wear out and are replaced over time. As HDTV promises a compelling reason for people to upgrade (the improved picture and additional choice of subchannels), people will naturally migrate to HDTV over time, as their economic situations allow. I believe that the government should not force people to go to HDTV against their will, by cutting off the analog stations cold turkey.

The government is trying a program to help people buy converter boxes for analog TV sets, but the government coupons don't fully cover the cost of buying the boxes, and they have ran out of coupons! It's also difficult to find converter boxes in stores, as they are somewhat of an obscure item.

And, with the subdued economy these days, there isn't quite the rush to build out the new cellphone and Internet services that would replace the old UHF channels, so I predict the corporations that bought those old UHF frequencies will be amenable to the idea of not being able to make use of their frequencies for several years to come... especially if there's also a corresponding delay in the payment deadlines to the government for their purchase of those frequencies!

So, regarding HDTV, the next few months will literally be interesting to watch.
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