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Testing odd looking antennas in the Victoria area · Tuesday October 9, 2012 by colin newell

What has 50 surplus Russian made ferrite rods (ferrite rods are crushed iron and resin – and little more? They look like licorice cigars and are used in AM radios… no really!)

Sections of PVC pipe?
A dozen turns of exotic insulated wire? (known in geek world as “Litz” wire…)
and a variable capacitor? (Not a flux capacitor by any stretch of the imagination.)

If you have ever taken apart a transistor radio you have likely seen some of these innards — on a much smaller scale.

But what does it do?

Surplus Russian Ferrite Rod Antenna - made in America!Well. Most of you folks know that long distance radio reception is possible on your little AM radio at night? You did not know that? Well it is.
For instance, a station in San Francisco on 810khz on the radio dial is audible from Mexico to Alaska. It is called “KGO” and it is part of the ABC radio network. You can hear it on your car radio or anything that tunes AM – no, really you can.

And unless you do not already have an AM-FM battery powered radio in your emergency kit, you should have one handy. Oh yea, internet radio is all sexy and everything but after an earthquake, the only thing you will be hearing (apart from the screams for help) is going to be low power AM and FM stations locally – running on back-up power. Forget your cell phones, cable TV and internet. None of that stuff is going to work. Be prepared.

I digress.

Surplus Russian Ferrite Rod Antenna - made in America!I am testing this gizmo (seen in the photo) It is one of about 10 ever made – and there are 9 other ones in use in North America.
What does it do? It pulls weak radio signals out of the air and boosts them for virtually any AM radio.

Believe it or not, when you are driving to work in the morning (on or about sunrise) in Victoria (or anywhere on Vancouver Island or on the West Coast) you are picking up signals that have traveled the entire distance across the Pacific ocean… from Japan, China, Korea, Australia, Hawaii, etc. Yup, they are there – but they are pretty weak most of the time. Sometimes (right around sunrise) they will be enhanced and you may hear Japanese or Korean… it happens. No cause for alarm.

The gizmo above gives them a huge boost so they become readily audible on virtually any small radio. I will produce a you-tube video in the next few days (conditions permitting) to better demonstrate what this thing can do.
But why build one? Well, it takes basic antenna principles to a bit of an extreme – for the purpose of receiving radio signals over vast distances, but also enhancing signals within a 100 mile circle… so when you absolutely positively must be able to receive a radio signal under stressful conditions. Yup, that is pretty much it.

I will be testing this gadget around the Victoria area for the next while. You may see it on top of my blue 2012 import along Dallas Rd. or in the Gonzales – King George Terrace look-out. Do not be alarmed. It is a passive receiving antenna. I am not transmitting any signals. And yes, the device looks odd and potentially scary. But not to worry. Stop. Come by. Ask for a demo.

It is all about making radio and retro electronics fun and staying safe during an Earthquake or civil defense emergency!


The August Report Chapter Two - Whistler and beyond - food · Friday August 10, 2012 by colin newell

In previous trips to Whistler, British Columbia, I distinctly remember there being a surfeit of places to get pints or jugs of beer, burgers and fries, deep fried fatty foods, pizza and stuff that would appeal to folks who have spent the previous 7 hours of their day skiing or plummeting downhill on a back breaking mountain bike trail.

And nary a decent cup of good strong coffee to be found.

And a giant gap between salt laden junk food fry ups and the super fancy gourmet stuff you find at some of the high end hotels… and places like Araxia
(which by the way gets some pretty mixed reviews…)

Some exceptions include La Bocca which we did breakfast at one morning – and it was wonderful. The La Bocca patio was always hopping into the evening on their spacious patio area.

And 21-Steps which was very family friendly, upscale, affordable and tasty. And (please note) if you are not child friendly, come by 21 steps after 8 PM or so – because it can get loud- it becomes more of an adult date place later in the evening. Nice to have both options.

Whistler 2012 - the visit, food and drink

Our group had a wonderful meal for 270 at the Whistler Roundhouse Great food, really, really good coffee (!) and desserts – super professional and well presented staff and at 6000+ feet above sea level and 3500+ feet above Whistler village… very dramatic!

Pubs: Honestly, if it can be deep fried in Whistler, it is being done – I was surprised they did not figure out a way to deep dry coffee and serve it on a stick. There was a place that was better than expected: Blacks Pub in the Sundial Boutique Hotel had better than expected pizzas and great staff and service. In a past visit we went to the Dubh Linn Gate (at the Pan Pacific) and that was a hoot – no surprise there.

Back in the village of Whistler there is one thing that has not changed much – the coffee. “The Lift” coffee shop across the entrance to our hotel served tasty and competent JJ Bean drip and espresso based beverages and really, really good baked goodies. I think if someone could find a decent space that was affordable (that is the thing – the rents in Whistler must be unreal) there could be an incredible cafe. Truth be told, such an entity would not likely survive just selling coffee.

There are several Starbucks in Whistler and all of them had regular long line-ups.

Truth be told, my coffee experience was improved by bringing my own Aeropress and a Hario manual burr grinder and a supply of Drumroaster Coffee from Vancouver Island’s best coffee roasting joint.

Overall, Whistler has a lot on the ball – and a little tip here: If you are staying at one of many “affordable” hotels or lodges – prepare to be nickel and dimed. Our room rate for a suite was around $170/night but the parking was almost $40/day – which is absurd. We had a loyalty card which eliminated the $15/day charge for the most basic WiFi connectivity. The secret is: There is lots and lots of free 72 hour parking in Whistler – in the “big lots” – just ask anyone – they are easy to find. And over the course of your stay, you can save hundreds of dollars on parking.

So. Summary: Whistler is definitely not a winter only destination – if you love the outdoors during nice warm weather, then this could be your place.


Growing it for Men's Health - Movember · Sunday November 20, 2011 by colin newell

Colin Newell - senior writer and editor/creator coffeecrew.comHey! If you enjoy this blog, are male or have a male in your life – please consider supporting Men’s health in November!

It is Movember and I have tossed my razor for the month of November 2011.

Please consider a small donation to my Movember team at the University of Victoria.

If you are a dude or there is a dude in your life, please remind him to take care of himself and get “checked” at least once a year.

Prostate cancer is a battle that you can win – if you stay on top of it. So say “I love you” to the ones you love by looking after yourself.

Feel free to click here for a small donation to my Movember team.

Thanks everyone!


Leaving your heart in San Francisco - part 1 - 2011 · Tuesday August 30, 2011 by colin newell

F Line Street Cars

San Francisco, California – established as a Spanish fort in 1776, experienced a gold rush in 1849, a devastating earthquake in 1906 – has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in North America and, arguably, the world.

Picture at left – Street Cars – they are historic and you should learn the basics of the San Francisco transit system if you are going to maximize your experience – click on photo for bigger view.

We had the great pleasure of visiting San Francisco for 7 days in August 2011. And as it turns out, many people that we know are either heading to San Francisco or planning on going there in the near future. Fact is, it is a readily accessible city – and it’s close… a mere 740 miles or 1200km – we flew via West Jet but there are other options like United and Air Canada.

Ferry Building - great food - on the F Line and near Street cars!

What was important, leading up to the trip, was a bit of planning – based on our personal preferences.

Whether you are going for 1 day, 3 days, a week or a month… it is very important to get some books in your pocket, some online resources bookmarked and a few key things purchased (apart from air fare of course!)

The Ferry Building (photo left) – great food, water access, farmers market and Blue Bottle Coffee!

Here is the thing: Unless someone is driving you and yours around in a limo all day long you might want to get acquainted with the transportation infrastructure – and it’s a great and efficient one.

Visit SF - cross the bridge!

As cities go, San Francisco is eminently walkable – but mind bogglingly hilly. Nob Hill, where we stayed, is 402 feet above sea level – and only 1.3 km away from the water! If that sounds like “straight up”, it seems like it. Thank heavens for cable cars! More on those later.

Photo left – The Golden Gate. If you are going to San Francisco, get over it or go under it. Andrea and I did both! All photos on my Panasonic Lumix.

Hot Tip! Before we went we bought a couple of things online. And I will classify these as very important – must have items if you are staying more than 3 days.

Number 1 item! San Francisco City Pass – Do not leave home without it!

Ritual Coffee - one of many great cafes!

For starters, you are going to want to ride the cable cars. And you are going to want to ride the historic electric street cars along the “F” line that start at Fisherman’s Wharf and zip through the Embarcadero to the Ferry Building and onto the terminus in the Castro district.

Photo left – Ritual Coffee! We went to this place, Sight Glass, Blue Bottle, 4-Barrel and the Tartine Bakery… All amazing!

And if, like us, you are staying at any hotel on Nob or Russian Hill, you are going to need a cable car pass – because individual rides are $5 (according to the website – I think they may be $6 a ride now – which is amazing even to the cable-car grips.) With the city pass, you have “all access” – so you do not need to carry change or dollar bills. You can buy the MUNI-Cable Car pass separately, but this represents great value (more on that subject later too!)

Blue Bottle coffee - by itself makes the trip worthwhile

The City Pass, in addition to giving you hop on / hop off access to the cable cars, and the MUNI and the classic electric rail in the city, you get a 1 hour water tour into San Francisco Bay (under the Bay bridge and around Alcatraz Island) – called the Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise It is a fun filled and informative guided tour of some of San Francisco’s colorful history. The boats are big, safe, fast and equipped with a bar and food items… Yes, a booze cruise. It’s San Francisco after all!

With the City Pass, we also took in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) – yea, not everyone is an art fan – but while we were there, there was a comprehensive Picasso exhibit and some great photo galleries + plus a lot of contemporary American art. Check the gallery schedule of course.

Consider the city pass – for $69 for adults and $39 for children (San Francisco is a very child friendly and pet friendly place)

Farmers - Bakers market - Ferry Building

Hot Tip #2 – Buy a couple of travel books on this city a minimum of 30 days in advance to absorb some of the things you might want to do.

Farmers Bakers Market at the Ferry Building three days a week!

We got Frommers San Francisco A very good read with good sections and apparently some fairly honest and bias free reporting. The Frommers San Francisco Day by day was also a very useful resource – especially for carrying around.

Jump to chapter two – The planning phase!


Victoria Spring 2011 - Good bye to the Salmon Kings · Wednesday April 6, 2011 by colin newell

Good bye Salmon Kings - thanks for the memoriesHere is how my post read six months ago…

But through a strange twist of hockey club management, my favorite Captain… Wes Goldie, has been replaced with, by the looks of it, a guy who spends more time in the penalty box – than on the ice or on the bench…

Say hello to the new captain of the Victoria Salmon Kings – Pete Vandermeer – third on the all-time American Hockey League penalty minutes list.

“Our barn, Save-on-Foods Memorial will not be a place other teams will want to return to,” threatened Vandermeer…

“Even if the other guys leave with a win, it’s important they leave missing some blood and teeth when limping out of here.”

OK. The Salmon Kings management started to screw up at the beginning of the 2010-2011 Season with the hire of this Vandermeer thug – who only lasted about a half season before he vanished. We gave up Wes Goldie who turned out to be the high scorer for the entire season… for the Alaska Aces.

And now the Kings may leave Victoria – or be dissolved.., and their place taken by a Junior team – of teenagers… the former Chilliwack Bruins… to become the Victoria Bruins… how imaginative.

So get this. People are unhappy in Chilliwack, B.C. and we are unhappy in Victoria B.C. – The owners of the Kings have totally misread their audience and are marching blithely into yet another screw up with these changes.

Yes, it is a business.

But I am a customer. And I am not buying it.


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