30 Apr

Comets!

This has been a beautiful spring for stargazing in Seattle. The planets have been putting on an amazing show nightly (did you see the Moon and Jupiter right next to each other in last night’s sky? Wow.), and the skies have been relatively clear. Next month, it’s possible we’ll be able to see two naked-eye comets at once! Another comet, Comet Bradfield, has been visible for the last week or so, but I can’t see it from my house; trees and streetlights are in the way, and even if they weren’t I suspect the light pollution would make it impossible.

I was just outside, watching the International Space Station fly overhead, and it is amazingly warm for late April in Seattle. It feels like Summer.

19 Apr

Air America comes to Seattle — well, Beacon Hill, anyway

The first micro-powered “affiliate” in the informal network I proposed on Friday is up and running on Beacon Hill in Southeast Seattle. From 3am to 8pm daily you can hear Air America on 87.9 FM, if you are in the vicinity of Stevens Place Park at Beacon Avenue South and South Stevens Street. This is very near the new Beacon Hill Library—in fact, when the new branch opens soon, I think you may be able to hear the signal there, too. Anyway, Stevens Place Park is a nice little park with a bench under a big maple tree, where you can sit on sunny days and listen to the radio.

Anyone else setting up a station? Remember, it costs less than $50 and it’s legal. This is not pirate broadcasting. Anyone can do this. Set one up, play whatever you like. The airwaves are yours.

(Oh, by the way, you can get those AM or FM transmitter kits right off the shelf at Fry’s. So what’s stopping you?)

16 Apr

Air America Micro Radio

I’ve been mulling over an idea, lately. You’ve heard of Air America Radio, the new liberal talk radio network, right? The network that doesn’t have a Seattle station (or stations in many other cities, at this point)? I’ve heard lots of people complaining they can’t listen to it in their city.

Well, why sit around and wait for some local station to start broadcasting? We have the Internet. Sure, you say, but what good does that do if we want to get away from our desktop computer?

Here’s what good it does. It makes it possible for us to broadcast Air America content ourselves if we want to. Over the public airwaves. Just like the network affiliates. We, as in, “any random schmuck with an Internet connection and $35-45 to spend.” And it’s legal, too.

Here’s what I mean. Sure, none of us own radio stations. None of us have FCC licenses (well, I did once, but the FCC eliminated my license class so it’s worthless now). None of us have the big bucks required to be broadcasters — but wait, that’s not true. The FCC allows certain low-power transmitters to broadcast without a license. These are the kinds of transmitters that drive-in theaters or real estate agents use: transmitters that broadcast a signal a very short distance.

Now, they say you are limited to a range of 200 feet. True enough. But… in dense neighborhoods like Capitol Hill, Lower Queen Anne, First Hill, the University District, etc., don’t you think it would be possible to get a transmitter every 175 feet or so? Perhaps all broadcasting on the same frequency or something, so it has the effect of a larger station?

Maybe this could actually be organized somehow. A co-op network to broadcast Air America on low-powered Part 15-compatible transmitters, until such time as they get a station here.

Those who live near a park or other public plaza could point their transmitters at the public places so people could hang out and listen if they wanted to. (Heck, do that even if you don’t broadcast Air America. Broadcast anything! Take back the airwaves!)

All you need is one of these transmitter kits:
A small AM transmitter

An FM transmitter — we have this one now and have been using it to broadcast a BBC station throughout our house. Before that it played random MP3s.

Don’t want a kit? Well, you can shell out the big bucks to get a ready-made high-falutin’ transmitter like this.

Once you’ve got your transmitter, start playing the feed of Air America or your chosen source on your computer. Using a simple patch cord, plug one end into the computer and the other into the transmitter. You’re now a “network affiliate.” Let your neighbors know they can listen. (If you’re a true geek like Jason you can write scripts to keep the station on the air even after network interruptions and such, but such geekitude isn’t required.)

Seriously. Pass this idea on. Let a thousand transmitters bloom.

(If you do try this, please post here or trackback, or something.)

Edited to add: Oh yeah, the copyright issue. Well, technically you’re only broadcasting a low powered signal to cover your own property, right? 😉 You’re just amplifying the computer signal so you can hear it while out working in the yard or something. Right?

…And besides, it’s for a good cause.

15 Apr

Disturbing religious mail

He's looking at you! Last week we got an envelope in the mail from some church we had never heard of. Inside the envelope was the “prayer rug” (actually, just a folded piece of paper) pictured here, with some creepy text at the bottom. I mean, come on. He opens his eyes and looks at you? This could give someone nightmares. Look at that picture — the eyes do look open. And they probably follow you around the room, too.

Enclosed with the “prayer rug” was a letter on which we are supposed to put a checkmark next to our prayer needs. And contribute a healthy chunk of money to this “church,” of course.

Honestly, this makes me angry, the way this preys on people’s desperation.

09 Apr

The music industry continues to lack a clue

Just as pay-to-download services are starting to take off, the major music companies are looking for ways to increase the prices we pay for music online. They are being incredibly stupid about this:

“The industry is also mulling other ways to charge more for online singles. One option under consideration is bundling hit songs with less-desirable tracks. … Some executives, for example, believe they should be charging a premium for the online versions of older tracks because consumers may be willing to pay more for harder-to-find material.

They will kill online music sales, given half the chance. Are they insane?

07 Apr

Dear Apple:

I had about 4 different tabs open in Safari with pages I was going to link to in this weblog. Then, while closing one of the other tabs open in the window, I accidentally hit command-q instead of command-w. So all the tabs went away.

Would it be so difficult to act like Mozilla in this situation and require confirmation to close any window that has multiple tabs open?

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