Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Van Hoy, who writes:
I just happened to stop by the ISS live stream and catch a very substantial aurora. Not what we want for good shortwave radio conditions, but a wonderful sight nevertheless. Astute observers will note the location of the ISS and the fact that it’s not likely an aurora would extend to that area. It appears this moment was pre recorded to fill in some dead air (LOS). Still a thrill to see. Nice, peaceful music on the Youtube stream too!
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dave (N9EWO), who writes:
A current YouTube Video I accidentally came across. Ever wonder about those digital displays used in the Apollo space missions ? What were they ? Actually it’s quite a story how these Raytheon displays were developed. One has to remember we are talking about the mid 1960’s here and before the days of LED’s. Reminds me of the electro luminance nightlights still sold today.
I remember back in 2007 when Amazon announced their first Kindle E-Ink portable reader, I honestly couldn’t imagine how it could be useful. Why in the world would I abandon print books and stare at yet another screen?
A couple years later, I sat next to a (rather talkative) passenger on a trip to Seattle. She had an Amazon Kindle–it was the first time I’d seen one in person. While I knew all about the device’s functionality, I couldn’t get over how appealing the E-Ink display appeared.
The image was greyscale, there was no backlighting and the print was incredibly crisp. It looked like great paper copy. She handed me her Kindle and I read a couple pages and was hooked.
In November, 2011, I purchased my first Kindle E-Ink reader: the Kindle III keyboard. That particular model sported Wifi and free international 3G connectivity. It also had a cool experimental page with a functional, basic web browser that could actually cruise the internet–albeit with an interface that was never designed to do so. For a while there, I had free 3G service through that browser which came in very handy when I was off-grid two months the following summer on Prince Edward Island, Canada.
While I didn’t use the Kindle every day (I do still love paper books) it became an amazing and useful travel companion. It was great hopping on a flight with a whole library of books in tow.
Fast-forward a decade…
These days, I’m not sure if the 3G functionality still works, but my Kindle still does. Indeed, it works as well as the day I purchased it, save the battery life.
I used to charge the Kindle and it would operate for weeks on one charge. Lately, it needed charging almost daily. Not a surprise as this device celebrates it’s 10th birthday this year.
Even though consumer electronics manufacturers these days don’t want you to know, you can almost always replace batteries in devices as long as you’re willing to crack open the case and even solder battery tabs on occasion. I’ve replaced batteries in iPhones, Android phones, tablets, and numerous rechargeable devices.
I ordered a $15 replacement battery for my Kindle and installed it last week; it was a very simple, solder-free installation.
It was a brilliant concept, but sadly failed. I believe the guys behind the crowdfunding campaign were sincere in their desire to create the product, but they lacked the experience to bring it to fruition, were poor communicators with their backers, and many lost their crowdfund contributions when the Earl project simply disappeared. A very, very sad ending to what could have been a revolutionary product.
In 2018, I presented at Hackers On Planet Earth (HOPE). My buddy, Dave Cripe (NM0S), and I split the cost of a room at the Hotel Pennsylvania where HOPE was held that year. One evening we started talking about the Earl tablet (I believe Dave was also a backer) then he showed me his uber-cool, do-it-yourself E-Ink tablet: a Hacked Nook Simple Touch.
He showed me how, through a fairly simple process, you could root the Nook and replace its operating system with a basic Android OS. This opened the Nook up to more uses like web browsing and even adding some apps from the Android market.
After returning home from HOPE 2018, I hopped on ShopGoodwill.com and purchased two Nook Simple Touch readers for a whopping $15 US.
I knew it was risky purchasing from ShopGoodwill.com because these devices had not been tested and I had no idea how old they were. Still, the bet (or winning $15 bid) paid off: both Nooks worked perfectly.
I rooted both units.
Funny thing is, I gave one of the units to my wife and it has become her favorite digital device. Once she discovered Project Gutenberg–a massive searchable repository of public domain books–and the fact that one of her favorite authors (P.G. Wodehouse) had numerous books in the archive, she was hooked. I loaded her Nook device with over 100 books she hand-picked from the archive.
My rooted Nook is loaded with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novels and loads of other classics. I also have a PDF of my car’s owner’s manual, a copy of “Where There Is No Doctor,” and a number of other useful reference books (like issues of The Spectrum Monitor magazine!).
It must be the best $15 I’ve ever spent.
I also love the fact we gave these two discarded Nooks a second (upgraded!) life.
E-Ink devices have improved over the years and backlighting options now are most impressive.
I’ve come so close to purchasing the Mobiscribe Origin, even though it lacks a GPS and other functionality I’d like.
Ideally, I’d still love to have an E-Ink tablet that’s somewhat weatherproof, sports a large rechargeable battery, allows for on-screen writing with a stylus, connectivity for a Bluetooth keyboard, features a GPS with topo maps, and supports full pinch-to-zoom functionality.
Please, if a device like this ever surfaces, let me know.
Any other fans of E-Ink devices in the SWLing Post community? Please comment!
My wife has an amazing ability: when she’s deep into research, writing, editing, or creating something, she has a laser-focus like none other: she can tune out the world around her to the point that it’s honestly hard to get her attention. She can work in almost any environment, and tune out (nearly!) all distractions. It’s quite impressive. She credits this ability to focus in distracting surroundings to our children, who at a young age developed the less-rare ability to generate noise, both wide in variety and sometimes quite intense in volume.
Me?Completely the opposite.
When I’m writing or working on a project––indeed, whenever I need to concentrate––I either have to work in a controlled environment where I have few interruptions, or I have to artificially create that controlled environment. I usually do this through the use of an ambient noise or instrumental (non-vocal) music. It’s rare that I’m working in an environment with no interruptions, so being able to manufacture my own audio space is important for my productivity.
When I’m here at SWLing Post HQ, I’ll often tune to an HF frequency that has no signal occupying the space. In other words, I’ll listen to shortwave radio static that might include the odd ionosonde sweep and occasional static crash….it creates a white noise that, in essence, nulls out everything else around me. Plus, as a radio geek, I confess to feeling quite at home in that static.
To help me catch some zzzs when I travel, I’ll often do the same: simply tuning to an unoccupied HF frequency and letting it play through the night. I find that it nulls out hotel hallway traffic, like doors banging and loud talking, allowing me to get some needed rest.
Photo by Jp Valery
I also turn to noise generators and numerous YouTube channels that specialize in long ambient field recordings, because finding a reliable (unoccupied) radio frequency doesn’t always work due to garrulous local radio interference or simply a lack of free space on the FM band.
This year at the Winter SWL Fest my friend, David Goren, recommended a website––and accompanying application––called MyNoise.net. As an audio engineer and radio producer, David has a finely-tuned ear and can notice looped sounds, audio irregularities, and poorly-made recordings. So I knew if David Goren was impressed with this collection of ambient noises, they would be first-class.
MyNoise.net is the product of Dr. Stephane Pigeon, a man with an impressive CV that includes consultant work for Roland Corporation and numerous audio websites and applications.
What makes his site so unique is: 1) the sheer number and variety of ambient soundscapes, and 2) the ability to finely-tune and customize each sound in a remarkable number of ways.
Want to travel to a pebble beach, a primeval forest, a Japanese garden, or fall asleep on the bridge of a starship? Yeah, you’re covered––really. And not with, as is typical, short hiccuping loops with background muck imbedded: the MyNoise collection (at time of this post) contains over 200 customizable sound generators, with lengthy live field recordings, and they’re clean. The real deal…high fidelity at its best.
If you like ambient audio, his site provides an incredibly rich deep-dive…
But don’t take my word for it. Listen for yourself!
myNoise slider controls allow you to change the level of audio tracks and loops.
When David first introduced me to myNoise, he pointed out two soundscapes in particular: one was called “Shortwaves,” the other, “Numbers Stations.” (Now that’s what I’m talking about!) Every night of the SWL Fest, I listened to these two noise machines as I slept. It was wonderful.
With permission, I have made a couple one-minute audio recordings of the two radio-specific soundscapes from myNoise.net. Keep in mind that these recordings were set at a preset level and left alone; in other words, I did not move the control sliders during the recording. In reality, the sounds can be tailored to your listening pleasure via the sliders and generous array of controls. By the way, I suggest wearing headphones.
Sample of “Shortwaves”
Sample of “Numbers Stations”
While I love these two radio sound generators, I have to say, I’ve truly enjoyed exploring the more than 200 sound generators also available on myNoise.
How to listen
MyNoise.net is a free website supported by user donations. (Donations, by the way, can unlock an array of extra features and sounds.) Even though I have the app (see below), I still sent a bit of extra support though their website; after all, this is just the sort of project I love supporting.
MyNoise is also available as an iOS or Android app. If you have a mobile device or tablet, I highly recommend downloading the app and purchasing the full set of recordings for a mere $10.
A screenshot of the myNoise app running on my iPad
If you’ve been reading the SWLing Post for long, you no doubt know that not only am I radio geek, but a pack geek as well.
In a typical year––although, admittedly, this is not one––I do quite a bit of regional travel. I’m an minimalist traveler when I’m on the road, eschewing lots of unnecessary stuff, but I do still carry quite a bit of kit that’s important to me…in the form of radio gear.
Several years ago, I discovered Washington state pack designer and builder, Tom Bihn. Like Red Oxx (another favorite), Tom Bihn manufactures everything in their US factory, treats their employees like gold, and guarantees their gear for life. Breath of fresh air.
Yes, since it’s made on US soil, Tom Bihn gear can be pricey. But, hey, since it’s with you for life, I feel it’s worth the splurge.
I now own numerous Tom Bihn packs, bags, and accessories. But they make one product I use more than any other: the Travel Tray.
The Travel Tray (and don’t be fooled by the name; it’s definitely not for serving tea on a train) is an ingenious travel accessory––more of a pouch, really––that comes in two sizes: small ($22) and large ($25). I find the large size to be ideal.
So, what is it used for––? Let’s start with TB’s description:
Pop the Travel Tray out of your luggage when you arrive at your destination and drop in your keys, coins, wallet, cell phone — all that small stuff you don’t want to have wander off while you sleep.
Think of it as a babysitter for the miscellanea that ends up in your pockets: our Travel Tray keeps an eye on all that until you’re ready to face the world again. Unlike other travel trays, ours pulls shut with a drawstring so it can be used for more than just organizing the top of your bureau.
Need to depart with some degree of alacrity? Simply leave some or all of those little things in the tray, pull the drawstring, and hit the road.
The Travel Tray packs flat–in my GoRuck GR1 backpack, I store it in the inside front panel mesh pocket.
When I arrive at a hotel, B&B, AirBnB, or at a home I’m visiting, the first thing I do is pull the flattened travel tray out of my pack, pop it up (yep, it’s conveniently self-supporting), and throw in my keys, wallet, phone, earphones, passport, and everything else in my pockets. All kinds of little things land in there. If I pull something small from my pack, when not in use, it goes in the travel tray. This way, I’m way less likely to leave a small item in the hotel when I leave.
If you’ve ever been to one of my presentations, you might have even see me use a Travel Tray at the podium to keep track of any items I’ve brought to show. I’ve always carried a Travel Tray in both my EDC pack and my travel backpack.
And you know what? Since I’ve been using Travel Trays, I haven’t left even one small item in a hotel room.
Great! But what does this Travel Tray have to do with radio––???
Not only can it hold a small radio or two…The large TB Travel Tray is ideal for something else: antenna cables, power cables, and connectors!
The Youloop rolls up for storage, and it just so happens the diameter of the Travel Tray is nearly identical to that of the poly bag in which the Youloop was shipped.
That little organizer pouch in the middle of the bag? It contains the Youloop cross-over box and tee, along with some small patch cables. Tom Bihn actually sent the small pouch free with my recent order of yet another Travel Tray––they’re currently including one with every order (details here). Sweet!
I could easily fit an SDR and all associated cables in this pack, too. In fact, as you can see, the antenna only takes up a small fraction of the tray’s capacity when it’s popped up.
With the Youloop and all accessories inside, the Travel Tray packs flat
When I’m ready to travel, I just pull the drawstring, and squash the Tray flat! Then I have only to toss it in my pack…couldn’t be easier.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, I’m doing what I can to support small businesses that are important to me, such as this small American company. I purchased the blue travel tray above because…well, you can never have too many, right?
Again, I prefer the large Travel Tray, but they also make a handy small Travel Tray. These come in a number of other colors, but I go for the bright colors because they stand out, meaning a quick scan of that hotel room or wooded campsite will always reveal just where I left my gear. You can even choose your preferred fabric weight––”halcyon” fabric or a 210 ballistic. I prefer halcyon because it’s lighter weight, yet still incredibly durable (both trays seen above are made with halcyon).
Got this Tom Bihn pouch? What do you use yours for? Feel free to comment below!
I conducted a survey asking this very question. As of this morning, 158 readers responded to the survey, 81.4% replied (rather, shouted) “Keep it!”:
And so I shall.
It’s not just the survey that swayed me. Many of you pointed to the active community of CoCo 2 enthusiasts on the web that keep these simple machines alive and well and even continue innovating with add-on boards/features. I know now that when the time is right, I should fire the old girl up and run a few simple programs–perhaps even code one of those Family Computing programs. (Incidentally, if anyone has a suggestion of how to connect the CoCo2 to a modern TV with HDMI or composite/component inputs, please comment!)
Many of you also told me that I would likely have regrets in the future if I sold the CoCo 2.
I suspect you’re all right about that.
And then Robert Gulley commented:
“As someone who is downsizing radios myself, I still have my limits. Keep the computer, mainly because it is a connection, no, a very important connection, to your past. As I have grown older I have come to realize the significance of being connected to the things which touch your soul, and therefore I keep watch over those things.”
Robert knows me pretty well, so I took these words to heart.
I only have wonderful memories with the CoCo 2 and hanging with my best friend, Junior, as we tried to hack and tinker with programs.
I’ve decided that I’m going to hang the CoCo 2 on the wall in my shack and, eventually, turn it into some sort of functional art. I want to be able to pluck it from the wall and connect it to a monitor from time to time. I might even take some of your suggestions and employ it in a simple ham radio application…just because.
We radio enthusiasts are a nostalgic bunch. Let’s just admit that and get it out of the way.
I’ve always found it difficult to let go of vintage radios, but over the past three years I have. I used to have well over a dozen boat anchors (heavy metal tube/valve radios) here at SWLing Post HQ. Today, I have three: my Scott Marine Model SLR-M, Signal Corps BC-348Q and Minerva Tropic Master (the Minerva being the lightweight of the bunch).
I found solace in donating some of my radios to museums and selling or giving them to friends who appreciate and will maintain them.
This radio played no small part in my life.
Outside of vintage radios, I have much less trouble selling or giving away my stuff; especially consumer electronics. I have very little attachment to those. I’ve never fallen in love with a phone, laptop, desktop or desktop PC.
Save my first personal computer, the TRS-80Tandy Color Computer 2 (a.k.a. Coco 2).
I always tell people the two things from my childhood that had the most impact on my life were my Zenith Transoceanic shortwave radio and my Tandy Color Computer 2.
The shortwave radio kindled my interest in world news, languages, culture, music and traveling. And…well, it eventually lead to a lifelong passion in radio and, consequently, the SWLing Post.
Incidentally, The CoCo 2 taught me a skill that would also change my life.
Without knowing it at the time, the CoCo 2 taught me programming.
I couldn’t afford game cartridges as a kid, so I programmed my own simple CoCo 2 games with Family Computing magazine (remember them–?).
Each month, Family Computing featured a number of programs and games you could input yourself. It was brilliant! My best friend, Junior, had a subscription to the magazine and would bring each issue over to the house and we’d type in lines and lines of code with the ultimate goal of playing a game or making our computers do something new.
Of course, 11 year old kids aren’t the best typists, so we’d always had to debug the code, following the error trail before the program would work. We’d also modify the code afterwards to see how it would change the program–it was amazing fun!
Keep in mind my CoCo 2 only had a whopping 16K of memory and all of it was volatile. Each time I’d turn the unit off, I’d lose everything I’d typed in. That is, until I could afford a tape recorder to save and load my programs (I still have it around here somewhere…).
Fast forward a dozen or so years…
In my first “real” job out of college, my manager noticed quickly that I could program and modify local copies of company databases so that my applications were more efficient and tailored to my job. The database system used a formula language that followed the same logic as the CoCo2’s Basic, so was pretty simple to pick up once I sorted out the commands and syntax. To be clear, I wasn’t hired for programming or IT skills, in fact it never came up in the interview as I was being hired for my French language skills.
Other than the Coco 2, I had no IT or computer studies in any formal setting–not in high school and not in college. Within three years at the company, I was promoted and sent to Europe to tie together and develop a number of database systems for the company’s various international sites. It was an dynamic, fun and rewarding career.
None of that would have ever happened had it not been for the CoCo 2.
So why am I considering selling the Coco 2?
Frankly, I never use it and don’t even have the adapter to plug it into any of my modern monitors. I’ve only been keeping it for sentimental reasons. I’ve been trying to let go of things I don’t use and this would certainly fall into this category. I doubt it’s worth a lot…perhaps $20-$40? I’m not really sure.
Then again, I almost gave my Zenith Transoceanic away once and am very thankful now that I didn’t.
As I was about to put the CoCo 2 on eBay, I pressed pause and wrote this post instead.
What do you think? Should I sell it or keep it? What would you do?
Also, are there any other early PC enthusiasts out there? Please share your thoughts! While this isn’t a PC blog, I image this might be a common thread among us radio enthusiasts. Please comment!