What The Heck!! Winter Storm Uri is what.

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This was the view on Monday February 15th at about 9:30 AM from near the front of our property by my mother-in-laws house. The antenna you see is on top of Polly’s Peak near Bandera, Texas. The tower and the guy wires were coated in ice. The top of the tower is about 2300′ MSL (above Mean Sea Level). How pretty but also how bad. We were without electricity and without water because we are on a well with an electric pump. I am just getting my blog back up this Thursday evening because the cold caused something in the power supply for the computer I host this on to not start up. I have finally rejoined the Blog-O-Sphere after 4 days down.

Picture of snowfall at about 09:30 PM near Bandera,  Texas on February 14th.
Saturday night snowfall

This was the view the about 12 hours earlier on the night of St. Valentine’s Day from our front porch. As forecast (hey the got it right for once), the snow started about 09:00 PM. It had already been a cold and icy day from low temperatures and freezing mist so I knew the snow would stick.

I had awakened a couple of times through the night because I was worried about the power but it was still on. When I woke up and noticed the power off it was about 06:00 AM. Because of where we live here in the Texas Hill Country the cell service is poor so I went to the south facing windows in our breakfast room to call Bandera Electric Co-op (BEC) to report the outage. It must have been wide spread as I had to try a number of times on hold for about 10 minutes a time to eventually get bumped off. My wife was finally able to get to the automated message as her phone number is associated with our account. Initial bad news was that electricity would not be on till about 12:00 PM.

While I was waiting on the second try to get BEC, I had the most interesting experience. Traveling across the near dawn sky from northwest to southeast was a stream of lights. Based on other things I have seen in the past and some photos, this traveling string of lights must have been the February 4th launch of SpaceX Starlink satellites. Mrs. BillB can confirm this is real and not a figment of my imagination as she saw it too.

Snow in front yard on morning of February 15th.
The front yard from about where the previous night’s photo was taken.
Snow on the table on our back deck.

The two pictures above are what we saw shortly after sunrise on the 15th. There was about 5 inches of snow based on what was on the table top. Our almost two year old Catahoula mix dog was let out on the the back porch which exit to the deck above and started barking at the snow as she had never before seen such a sight. She has in the following days developed a liking of snow while she chases the tree-rats (squirrels) from our back yard.

Amazingly the power came on for about 15 minutes shortly after 09:00 AM. But then dropped off. My wife called and we found out that now power would not be restored until 05:30 PM. I was out checking on my mother-in-law (MiL) who lives about 100 yards from us when I took the picture at the top of this post.

Finally I got our new 8 Kilowatt generator hooked up and powering part of our electrics so that we could use our well and have heat from our propane backup/2nd stage heat portion of our heat pump. But we still didn’t have water in most of our house. I first assumed that our well house froze up because the electricity was out but found out that my MiL had water. The builders here in South Central Texas run the PEX piping for water supply through the attic; and even though it is close to the ceiling, the pipes had frozen. We did have a couple of our reverse osmosis system taps available but the rest were all frozen. Yep, no toilets would flush more than once. From my understanding PEX is very resilient when frozen and does not tend to break/split.

The MiL did come down and spend Monday night with us. We were able to cook a little dinner as we have a propane cooktop and had a warm evening. Power was back about 05:00 PM and I disconnected the generator. However there were the rolling outages/blackouts dictated by Energy Reliability Counsel of Texas (ERCOT). Power would be on about an hour and off about 30 minutes. But when power was on the heat ran and we were able to stay warm.

On Tuesday the rolling blackouts continued until right around Noon. The power came back on continuous for us about that time but there seems to be the rolling blackouts elsewhere. I suspect this is because the County ambulance service is in the same district we are in. By nightfall we got back most of the water in our house. The last few things defrosted on Wednesday when temperatures went above 400 F. The freezing pipes are a design issues and I am going to contact the builder as our house is only about 2 1/2 years old.

The politics going on about the issues caused by this rare deep freeze in Texas and other places are at the least aggravating me. The Leftist yahoos in Washington D.C. are blaming it on Texas not having enough “green”, “renewable” energy sources since we didn’t vote for them and to be truthful don believe in a lot of their rubish. The massive wind turbine farms in Texas were at a near standstill in this mess because of the cold. The solar farms were at low or no output due to cloud cover and snow covering them. And neither have reserve storage capability, i.e. battery storage. And the jerks in Washington D.C. with their EPA did not allow during the Obama mis-administration and will not allow with the current illegitimate administration clean coal and natural gas back-up capacity to be added. And the Greenies who seem to drive the Democrat Party are so against any form of Nuclear Energy that those sources will never be available. Nuclear Fusion should be in the forefront of the clean energy drive; if it can be brought to practicality, it will solve the imagined CO2 issue with very little radioactive waste and no chance of a nuclear explosion or melt down . The one thing I am glad of is that the Texas power grid is generally independent from the rest of the Nation and we don’t have to generate power for states like California and New York with their overall poor power management.

Enough for now. I did make some progress on my satellite antenna situation which I will post later.

BillB

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Buildin’ Antennas – Antennas for Amateur Satellites PART 1

Last year (2020) in June, I purchased an ICOM IC-9700 VHF\UHF radio after working at a big box home improvement store for a few months. Initially it wasn’t supposed to arrive until mid July but then I got notice that it would arrive before ARRL Field Day

I hurriedly tried to build a 2 meter and 70 cm antenna system for satellite communications to make contacts during the ARRL Field Day event. I choose to build a pair of crossed Moxon antennas as described by L. B. Cebik, W4RNL(SK), in the article A Simple Fixed Antenna for VHF/UHF Satellite Work in the August 2001 QST. There is a follow up article Regarding “A Simple Fixed Antenna for VHF/UHF Satellite Work” (Technical Correspondence) in the October 2001 QST. Note that the links are to the ARRL QST Archives and you must be an ARRL member to access them; however, I have found the articles elsewhere on the Internet. I had already chosen to build these antennas before I got my new radio as the antenna system offered approximately the same performance as turnstile antennas but without the large ground planes involved. I also believe that they offer the same performance as “Eggbeater” antennas.

My 2 meter antenna was made from 1/4 inch aluminum rod from the hardware store. I thread the connection ends of the driven elements with 1/4-20 threads and used 1/4-20 hardware to install them. The 70 cm antenna was made from 12 gauge solid copper wire. I tried to use 3/32 aluminum welding rod but to my dismay and misunderstanding, you cannot thread the welding rod with 2-56 threads; you need 3-56 threads on the aluminum rod. I have to give a hat-tip to The Silicon Graybeard for pointing this out and informing me that the 12 gauge wire would work with a 2-56 thread. Threading the copper wire is a departure from the design in the article but with work hardening of the copper, it works.

In my hurry to build them, I first misinterpreted the impedance transformer section. A single Moxon antenna presents a 50 ohm impedance . When crossed per the article with a 1/4 wave phasing line, the feed point impedance of the array is 25 ohms (two antennas in parallel). You need to transform this up to 50 ohms for the normally used types of coax. Not carefully reading the article, I first thought that you used a single 1/4 wave section of 75 ohm coax to effect this transformation based on the following diagram:

Boy was I wrong! I had built both the 2 meter and 70 cm antennas with phasing sections and impedance transformers, the connecting coaxes, and gotten them up on a PVC pipe mount. When I applied power the SWRs were UGLY to say the least.

So I went back and reread the article to find out that I should have built the impedance transformers out of parallel sections of 75 ohm cable to create a 37.5 ohm transmission line transformer. So I went back and rebuilt the impedance transformers and installed them. I also got smart and pulled out my nanoVNA (Vector Network Analyzer) to check the fitness of the antennas with the new impedance transformers. Woops! The SWR was still UGLY but not quite as bad. However, there were weird things going on. I posted about this in this thread in the Technical Forums on QRZ.com, Cebik’s crossed Moxon antennas for satellite . That thread has more detail about what I was going through and did in that time period plus some pictures of my antennas. But to sum it all up, I still was not where I wanted to be or needed to be.

I did contact a fellow amateur operator who is truly an antenna expert. He worked for a nationally known development facility doing amongst other things antenna design and currently teaches some folks in the military about antennas. He suggested a different approach to the coax harnesses which I am going to employ on the 2 meter antenna.

For the 70 cm antenna, I am going to use a slightly different design by L. B. Cebik.

I will be back with further adventures in this current antenna project in another installment as I think I have rambled enough here.

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SpaceX Starship SN9 May Launch Today! (It did but ….)

UPDATE: SN9 did launch today. It made it all the way to the landing flip where one engine did not ignite properly. The rocket over rotated as it appears that the single engine could not correct the rotation. It crashed almost on its side. When SpaceX or someone puts up video of the flight I will add it to this post.

I have a couple of live stream websites up on my computer and am watching for the launch. It seems that SpaceX has overcome the hurdles that the FAA put in front of them. It is a beautiful day in the farthest of South Texas and great for a test flight. I am hoping that it all goes well and they stick the landing today. SpaceX will live stream the launch once again and it will probably be the best view in the “house”.

Here is a screen capture from LabPadre. SN9 is on the right with its fins extended. Go to LabPadre’s YouTube channel and select the Nerdle Cam to watch the preliminaries.

SpaceX Starship SN9 in preparation for launch with its fins extended.  Also picture are Starship SN10, Test Article SN7.2, and Starship Hopper.
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I wish all a Happy and Prosperous New Year

The title pretty much sums it up. No pictures. No lengthy ramble. Pray for a good Year of Our Lord 2021!

BillB

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It’s a happy New Year’s Eve

The fireplace at the Last Frontier

The only thing that makes this a happy New Year’s Eve is that here in the Bandera area of Texas we have been getting rain all day long. It started late last night with a light show and some claps of thunder. I really enjoyed just sitting here in the house, watching and listening to that show. We got some rain in the last few days. Looking at the precipitation map at the National Weather Service Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service Precipitation Analysis, we have received between 0.5 and 1 inch of rain in the last seven days.

This rain has been a blessing and relief as we have been in Extreme Drought for a while. Here is the Texas drought map from the National Integrated Drought Information System (if you want to see your state select Regions => States):

Texas Drought Map 29 Dec 2020 from www.drought.gov/drought/

I outlined Bandera County in black. It is just northwest of San Antonio. Looking at some of the other maps for states, it appears that LL over at Virtual Mirage is in Exceptional Drought (Arizona, so what — I lived there a year for pilot training and know), drjim and WSF are in Severe Drought there near Boulder, Colorado, the OldNFO is fortunate to be in Abnormally Dry to Moderate Drought as I know he lives in North Central Texas and CW of Daily Time Waster is in Extreme Drought along with me. The following chart shows the drought levels along with drought information current as of December 29th, 2020 for Texas. Each state has a comparable chart along with the map.

Drought Chart for 29 Dec 2020 from www.drought.gov/drought/

While I was preparing the above images and getting some of that other good information around 16:40 local, lo and behold, there was snow falling. It wasn’t heavy, but hey, that is an abnormal occurrence down in these parts. It won’t be a white New Year’s Day. The lead photograph is our fireplace burning on this cold day.

Speaking of New Year’s Day and the new year, I am not much up for wishing “Happy New Year” this year. As I posted over at OldNFO’s blog, I am not very optimistic about the coming year. I think in hindsight (yeah, 2020 – snicker), that this past year will just be prelude to 2021. I fear that no matter what, there will be bad times ahead. We have become multiple, extremely divergent factions living within the same borders with divisions so deep that we cannot live together. Even the political Left has some factions that are so extreme that they may fight among each other. For instance in Colorado, people claiming to be Earth First terrorists, sabotaged the natural gas lines around Aspen. I don’t consider that to be a bastion of Conservatism though I may be wrong. Up in Washington state, trains have been derailed by an unknown group. Then we have Portland, Seattle and some other areas with Democrat Governments suffering from continued rioting by BLM/Antifa.

I, as a Christian, view the current events as a major outbreak of Evil in the greater Cosmological War between Good and Evil. Pray that this great Evil will be taken away.

BillB

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The Ghost of Turkey Past

I had a hiatus in posting for nearly a month. The first writer’s block was I was so angry with the turn of politics in our Nation that I couldn’t cogently write anything about what was going on because that turn was what was laying heaviest on my mind. Some of the other folks that I read have got the subject pretty well in hand. Somehow they have a mental wall that I just can’t build right now.

The second writer’s block was that I didn’t want this just to be a blog about cooking. I got away from that but am bringing back what I was going to post just after the American Holiday of Thanksgiving. That is why this is titled “The Ghost of Turkey Past”. The title too reflects on the fact that we had turkey for Christmas. This latter one though was just roasted in the oven.

We elected to have Texas Pit BBQ smoked turkey for Thanksgiving. My Christmas present for last year (2019) was an Old Country Pecos model offset horizontal smoker from Academy Sports and Outdoors. Apparently this model is exclusive to Academy as it is not listed on the Old Country BBQ Pit website but information with it indicates that is who makes them. It is better than an Oklahoma Joe’s but certainly not one of those $1,000+ units. I did do some modifications to it such as sealing the cooking chamber lid with red silicon, putting a spring tensioner on the firebox air inlet, and sealing the firebox lid.

My Pecos BBQ Pit

There the smoker is loaded with some of the pecan wood my son-in-law gave me for this particular cook. I laid a fire in the firebox and then used my “Lighter” to get it started. I was a Boy Scout however I was not about to try to light this with one paper match with is a feat that I have accomplished in the field.

The fire is laid and waiting to be lit.
The Lighter.
Lighting the fire.

Lighting the fire is sort of fun. That “Lighter” sounds like a jet engine running. And actually it is rather like a little ram jet engine. After getting the fire lit I filled the water pan and closed the doors on this machine to let it get up to temperature. The target temperature for this effort was 250 to 275 F. Once I got there I needed to let the cooking chamber soak at temperature to stabilize. After about 30 minutes with “Blue Smoke” coming from the chimney I put the prepared bird in the cooking chamber. This is what I believe “Blue Smoke” looks like:

“Blue Smoke”

I had prepared the turkey earlier with a simple rub of salt, restaurant grind black pepper and garlic powder after washing and drying it. The goal is to give the meat you are smoking some basic seasoning from the pantry but the real seasoning is the smoke. Because Mrs. BillB does not like heavily smoked meats, the smoke time for the turkey was to be limited to about 2 to 2 1/2 hours to get the smoke flavor but not too strong of a flavor. An hour or so into cooking I took a peek to check on the turkey; it was looking good. From that peek, I determined that I would have to go the full 2 1/2 hours before “pulling” the bird and putting it in the kitchen oven to finish cooking. Here it was at “pull” time:

The Smoked Turkey in the smoker

I put the bird into a 275 F oven on convection for about another 2 hours. I had a thermometer in the breast and was looking for 165 F internal temperature. When it got there, the bird was removed from the oven and this is what we had:

We accompanied it with cornbread dressing, mashed potatoes, roasted brussel sprouts, cranberry jelly, cranberry salsa and some nice wine. The smoke flavor was just right and we had a great Thanksgiving Dinner.

Bon Appetit

BillB

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MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

Merry Christmas to any who stop by. For me this is the first day of the Season of Christmas, so I will also wish to any and all 11 more days of Merry Christmas till we reach the day of Epiphany when we celebrate the recognition by the Three Wise Men from the East of the Messiah. For some in the Anglican way that I was raised in the figures of the Three Wise Men move gradually to the the Creche over these 11 days. I think it is a wonderful way to extend the Joy of the Season beyond just the 25th of December by having the Christian Season of Christmas.

BillB

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The Real Date of The Christ’s Birth

A blog that I enjoy reading is the “Anglican Curmudgeon”. Allan S. Haley is a lawyer from California who practices both secular and canon law. He has published a number of articles on the connection of science and the Bible. One series he published in December 2009 and then followed up on in December 2010 puts together many puzzle pieces which try to resolve the real date of The Christ’s Birth. As Christians we celebrate it on December 25th. There are many reasons that this date was chosen in the early Church but not as a counter to the pagan winter solstice celebrations as some assert. Mr. Haley places the actual date in May-June 2 B.C. which he says from his research is when the very early Church placed it. The determination of B.C. and A.D. was done a few hundred years later and missed the mark by a couple of years. Here are the posts he did on this particular subject.

The Nativity and the Star of Bethlehem

When Herod Ruled – Resolving the Dates

Other Evidence of the Date of the Nativity

The Star of Bethlehem and the Nativity

Dating the Nativity: New Considerations

Using the Bible to Date the Nativity

Again a Merry Christmas to all.

BillB

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The coming Nativity of Our Lord

Great Conjunction of 2020 taken in Virginia, USA

The celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord is almost upon us. Last night was the Great Conjunction of 2020. A friend’s niece who lives in Virginia took the picture above. I don’t know if she added the lens flair or it just came out that way. It does make a statement for this time of year.

I have seen on some of the other folks I read, links to Advent and Christmas music. I thought that I would add to this. First is my favorite Advent hymn:

The next I heard over at Chant du Départ. It was the version by Sting. Having a bent more towards the “classical” sounds, I give you this rendering of the Basque carol:

But if you want a more authentic version here it is in Basque:

And finally for your joy and appreciation, the Irish Wexford Carol. The first is by Alison Kruass. When she sings some things, I think she has the voice of the Angels; this is one:

Here is a more traditional rendition by The Palestrina Choir of St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland.

Even in such dark times as we may be entering, this music brings joy to me and maybe also to anyone who stops by and listens.

A very Merry and Blessed Christmas to all. The Light came into this world to push back the Darkness.

BillB

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SpaceX is moving on again

Starlink-15 Launch arching into the night sky.  Photo by Richard Angle via Teslarati.

As I said on Monday, I was awaiting SpaceX’s Starlink-15 mission launch before posting about SpaceX. Well it happened last night, Tuesday 24 November. Another 66 Starlink satellites were placed into their initial orbit (the satellites start at about 225 Km (~140 miles)). They will move up to a final 550 Km (~340 miles) orbit for operation. The Falcon 9 booster, B1049, used for this flight had flow 6 times before. They stuck the landing of the first stage on the recovery drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY)”. They now have a 7 times used booster setting a new record that only SpaceX owns. For me this kind of reuse was Science Fiction for most of my life.

The above follows SpaceX’s successful launch of the Sentinel-6A this past Saturday, 21 November from the West Coast Launch Facilities at Vandenburg AFB. That launch used Falcon 9 booster B1063, which I believe was a first use. I was late to the computer that day but did re-watch the live stream. The booster was successfully recovered on a Return to Launch Site landing right next to the actual launch pad.

The other SpaceX milestone this week was the successful static fire of the repaired Starship SN8 test article on this past Tuesday. I am adding the test article classification from what we used in aerospace that I worked in as these vehicles are still highly experimental. The repairs resulted from shards of Martyte blown up from the area underneath the test/launch stand that SN8 sits on. Those shards damaged equipment and wiring in the engine area causing damage to one of the 3 Raptor engines that was installed. Per Elon Musk, they are expecting to do the first 15 Km (49,213 ft) flight sometime from next Monday, 30 November, through next Wednesday, 2 December.

Elon still has some doubts about the success of the flight. Hopefully he is proven wrong. He was wrong with the first launch of the Falcon Heavy which he only gave a 50% chance of success to. That launch was mostly successful with just the core booster missing the drone ship.

This stuff is exciting! As I said above this reality used to be the stuff of Science Fiction. There really is the potential for private industry to take the lead in space flight and planetary exploration. Though there are some issues on the horizon. They rotate around the “wokeness” if Senator Biden becomes President. If the NASA Office of Planetary Protection and or the NASA Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Working Group (EDIWG)can get their nose into SpaceX’s business because of a big-government, socialist leaning government all of this could be for naught. The Silicon Graybeard has an article “NASA Has an Anti-Exploration Group Fighting to Keep the US Earthbound” on the EDIWG.

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