Solar cycle 24 began on January 4, 2008 and so far has been the smallest sunspot cycle since 1904. Solar cycle 24 “is on track to be the Solar Cycle with the lowest recorded sunspot activity since accurate records began in 1750.”

Solar cycles supposedly have a duration of about 11 years.

“In radio communication, skywave or skip refers to the propagation of radio waves reflected or refracted back toward Earth from the ionosphere, an electrically charged layer of the upper atmosphere. Since it is not limited by the curvature of the Earth, skywave propagation can be used to communicate beyond the horizon, at intercontinental distances. It is mostly used in the shortwave frequency bands.”

Most long-distance HF radio communication—between 3 and 30 MHz—is a result of skywave propagation.

“Since the early 1920s amateur radio operators (or “hams”), limited to lower transmitter power than broadcast stations, have taken advantage of skywave for long distance (or “DX”) communication.”

If you’re a mild audiophile like me, then you’re looking for nirvana with some affordable speakers that fill the room up. I wanted a decent sound system to quench my audiophile thirst, and I wanted to afford to eat my lunch at the same time. I accomplished this goal when I purchased the Logitech Z313 Speaker System. For around $40 nirvana was found.

It was plug and play right out of the box. I think I had to plug the two satellite speakers into the outlet in the back of the subwoofer, which also plugs into the electrical outlet. Turn on some FM music and nirvana was there. Like magic the 25 watts of sound filled the room and I was overjoyed.

Without shelling out some $200 for the big shelf speakers, I don’t think it gets any better than the Logitech Z313 Speaker System. The speakers sound good and the subwoofer adds some big bass to the song. The bass is not overwhelming and it sure beats what you get out of those cheap little computer speakers, the ones that can’t handle any bass.

I am channeling my speakers through a small mixer board, the Behringer 802 to be specific. This allows me to add or subtract some lows and highs. It has knobs that help to control the volume and provide opportunity for some modest mixing. This little mixer makes it fun for graphic equalization. I plan to upgrade to a bigger mixer soon.

In conclusion, I am happy with this system. Anything less and I would’ve been very disappointed. These speakers sound very nice and I am picky about my audio.

One feature that I like is the volume switch that includes a headphone hookup. It makes life easier having this switch for armchair availability, even though I have volume control on my mixer. And the headphone hookup within reach is an added bonus.

I hope to enjoy these speakers for years to come and I would highly recommend them to anyone. I feel like I got my money’s worth this time.

Relax. You can run Windows XP forever, even if you have upgraded your OS software, and that includes the Linux crowd. Believe it or not, some programs still run on Windows XP. No problem. You can run Windows XP applications on Windows 7 or Windows 8 PCs or even Linux machines. Is there software that allows you to use XP on a newer operating system?

Yes. Here it is! It’s called VMWareplayer and it does what it claims to do.

From the site:

Run Windows XP applications on Windows 7 or Windows 8 PCs or even Linux machines. With Unity mode, copy-and-paste, drag-and-drop, and networking and printing that require no additional setup, Windows XP and applications developed to run on Windows XP will run seamlessly on modern hardware.

Make a note that you will need a copy of Windows XP if you happen to find one, and the product key is necessary to process it.

If you download this software and follow procedure, you will be able to feel the nostalgic touch of yesterday. Actually, many users prefer Windows XP and are adamant about using it.

It’s surprising that some software will function more properly with XP. Old habits are hard to break. We live in a virtual world now so no problem. See you in the matrix.

You Can Chat With No Internet

Is it possible to text or chat off-the-grid? The short answer is yes. Open Garden has launched FireChat for iOS. The FireChat app will work with Apple products and you do not need an internet connection in order for it to work. Using the Apple framework, the app utilizes Bluetooth or WiFi.

You don’t even need a password. It’s good news mostly but caution is recommended. Here’s the kicker. Say you’re at an event or on location somewhere, and you woul dlike to chat with friends. No problem.

The downside is that everybody that has the app can see what you’re texting. If you are in a remote location then it’s no problem. The TUAW site says that the range is 30 feet.

But you can chat or send photos anonymously. So it’s not a problem really.

Open Garden supposedly has an Android app also.

Features

• Instantly message anyone around you on iPhone, iPad or iPod touch,

• Chat and share photos with one person or with a group,

• See what people are talking about everywhere, or create conversations that only people near you can join,

• Works even without any 3G, 4G or Wi-Fi connection,

* The Nearby mode works best within 30 feet of your location,

• Easy: no Facebook or email login, no password to remember,

• Use it at home or when travelling anywhere in the world,

• No significant impact on battery consumption,

• FireChat is designed for iOS 7.

Electricity Baths In Japan

In the United States, there are two things that do not go together; water and electricity. Well, water is heated through an electric water heater, but this is not quite the same as an electric bath. In Japan, electric baths (denkiburo) are available for the taking. Bathe at your own risk.

I’m not knocking it, just saying that it seems a bit dangerous. The Japanese are some wonderful people. Whatever works for them, I’m all for it.

Stay away if you have a pacemaker inside of you. Stay clear if you have a heart condition.

Who could imagine soaking in the tub with electric current sending tingling sensations up the back. Nup, I don’t think so. I just can’t see it happening. With the accident rates, bad luck, and rivals wishing to up the voltage, this would not fit into mainstream American culture. Maybe the psycho slash movies. That’s a thought.

And next, it’s the public bath (Sentō). Yes, we’re talking nudity in public bath houses and we’re talking skinship. It’s certainly not for everybody. The Romans would have felt at home.

If you live in the United States or plan to visit, you might take a look at Bathhouse Row, located in the city of Hot Springs, Arkansas. Good luck!

If the poorly designed lamp goes bad, all it not lost my friend. Unplug the lamp first. The lampshade has plastic material that will easily peel off if you try. Try using a pair of hand pruners and maybe a pair of needle-nosed pliars. You’ll find some wire in there. Believe it or not, you have a police scanner antenna in your hands! The lampshade will serve as an antenna.

Some lampshades have an almost perfect discone shape, while others have a loop shape. Either will work fine. So you lost a cheap lamp because of a cheap switch, but now you have a scanner antenna that works fabulous. Discone or loop, we’ll take it as we get it.

This isn’t all of the good news though. The lamp that went bad will have a cord that plugged into the electric socket. Again, make sure the cord is unplugged from the socket. Then, cut that cord from the the lamp.

You now have another police scanner antenna. All you need is an adapter; more precisely the RCA Matching Transformer. Another option: 75 to 300 Ohm UHF/VHF Matching Transformer.

So there you have it. One bad lamp makes two scanner antennas.

I now need a new lamp. Oh well.

Setting up Chromecast is a simple process for the most part, and the reward is worth it. Just follow along with my guide and you’ll get your Chromecast going. If you have trouble with setup you can leave a comment and I will do what I can to help.

Note: Google will only let you use Chromecast with its Chrome browser, so make sure that you have it installed on your computer before you begin. If not, you can download it from google.com/chrome.

It’s also necessary that your computer has a wireless card or that it is connected to a wireless router interface. If not you can purchase the Edimax EW-7811Un 150 Mbps Wireless 11n Nano Size USB Adapter to make your computer wireless.


Plug It In and Play

To begin, get your Chromecast and plug it into your TV’s HDMI port. If your TV’s HDMI ports are cramped together, then try using the HDMI extension cable provided with the box.

The Chromecast will then need to be powered. Plug in either the AC adapter or the USB cable to the dongle. The USB cable is the easiest route, providing that you have a USB port on your TV.

After you have it all powered up, get your remote and switch the input to the corresponding HDMI port.

If everything goes well, you will see the Chromecast startup screen.


Launch the Setup App

Go to google.com/chromecast/setup to download the setup app for your Mac or PC. Alternatively, you can install the app on your iOS or Android device. Once you have downloaded the app, launch it.

There will be a code and you will need to check to see if it matches with the one on the TV. If so, press on the button that reads “That’s my code”.

You will be prompted to choose a Wi-Fi network and enter the password. Change the name of the Chromecast to whatever you like and continue.

Note: Some users have experienced trouble with getting their Chromecast to connect to the Wi-Fi network successfully. You can see a list of Chromecast supported routers here. If you are still having trouble connecting, visit Google’s troubleshooter.

If all goes well you will see “Ready to cast” on your TV. This is your cue.


Get the Google Cast extension for Chrome

You will need to install the Google Cast extension from the Chrome Web Store.

After it installs you will notice a button for Google Cast in the upper-right corner of your browser.


Casting to Your TV

Now for the moment you’ve been waiting for.

Click on the Google Cast extension that you just installed and cast the tab to your Chromecast. Chrome will cast itself to the big screen.

Some services, like YouTube and Netflix, will have a seperate button on the video you will click to cast to Chromecast. After the video is casted you can still operate in the browser as usual without it effecting the video playback on your TV.

On mobile devices you will find a Chromecast button in supported apps such as YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, Crackle, and Google Play.

The Chromecast-supported apps are always growing. For a full updated list go here.

And with that, your dumbfounded TV suddenly became smart.


Image Credit: Flickr

Should I add Google Chromecast to my entertainment center? Well, that depends on what your aim is and what your primary source of entertainment is. Are you a Netflix fan? Do you enjoy watching YouTube videos? Do want want to broadcast videos to your television?

I did buy the Google Chromecast and here’s my experience with it.

Since I am always a sucker for new technologies, I was quick to jump aboard and try this new toy. I have been dreaming for years about broadcasting internet media to my personal television. Google has made that easy for me and it has been a pleasure to watch videos that I treasure. It’s been an experience to watch what I really want to watch.

To the technical points. Chromecast wasn’t difficult to install, but I confess that I had a little technical help to set this thing up. I do not think that it would be a problem for anyone.

There are plenty of mixed reviews with Chromecast. There have been a few glitches with this product, especially in the earlier stages of its development. I think most of the problems have been solved. In fact, I think Google has open sourced and this encourages broader uses of technology. They’re adding new apps all of the time.

I must admit that I too had my doubts at first. It was only a week or so after purchasing Chromecast and it stopped working. I was not a happy camper. However, I remained patient and just shelved the project for a couple of weeks. After that period of time, I decided to give Chromecast another try. Bingo! I downloaded the software and it has worked flawlessly ever since!

I encourage those that buy the dongle to be patient, be openminded, and just take it easy.

I leave my Chromecast dongle plugged in the television set and it does stay rather warm. I have not had any problems with the dongle overheating so far, but others may have a different view. The instructions warn that the HDMI dongle can get hot.

I would like to mention that the dongle seems a bit awkward at first and it taxes the computer. It just takes some getting used to.

Would I recommend the Chromecast to others? Yes, I would but patience is a must on this one. It is plug and play but some have had issues. The reviews on Amazon are about 14,500 at this writing and they are mixed.

Google did set the price right. I have enjoyed mine and will continue to use it.

Have you tried Chromecast yet?

The Little Receiver That Could

I’ll take one! The little receiver that could.

Description: Sony STRDH130

* 2 Channel Stereo Receiver(135W/ch @8ohm, 1kHz, THD 0.05%, 100W+100W @8ohm, 1kHz, THD 1%)
* 5 Analog Audio Inputs
* AM/FM Tuner

Nothing like flowers to brighten and accent any corner in the garden. Think accent and not a hodgepodge of oblivion. The new craze that’s bound to jazz up the garden is solar path lights. These lights provide a night accent which welcomes any visitor that strolls in the dusk hours.

The smaller solar lights that sell for only a dollar are not that good. It may seem to be a good deal but it’s not.

Solar lights that sell for around $2.50 apiece are better and make for a good starting point in the garden. These are reasonably priced and make for an attractive set of five. Probably best suited for the a path or a walkway. These do the job.

As electric prices are destined to soar and pinch any budget, lighting will grow in importance, no doubt. Before rushing into the usual impulse buying mode, it is always wise to investigate the better choices available to the consumer.

Today our mission is solar. Think solar. Well, battery is not bad if the price is right.

Garden Path Solar Lighting For Accent

1. Garden Creations JB5629 Solar-Powered LED Accent Light, Set of 8 — [#1 Best Seller] This rates at the top of the list. Nothing fancy here; just a set of 8 priced around $20. Again, these are cheap, so do not expect miracles.

2. Moonrays 91381 Payton Solar-Powered Plastic LED Path Light, 8-Pack, Black — This 8 pack is an excellent choice for viewing the moon rays. Battery type is NiCd, but can be replaced with 2,000 MAH for longer life. Remember, the MAH is better than NiCd. Again, all batteries can be replaced.

3. Frostfire 16 Bright LED Wireless Solar Powered Motion Sensor Light (Weatherproof, no batteries required) — The Frostfire solar led outdoor light is a high quality light suitable as a security light or shed/garage light.

4. Sunforce 82156 60 LED Solar Motion Light — Provide lighting and security to your garage, pathway, shed or remote cottage anywhere, anytime. Use the power of the sun to light dark areas and add extra security with the Sunforce 60 LED Solar Motion Security Light.

5. White Sun Power Smart LED Solar Gutter Night Utility Security Light for indoor outdoor permanent or portable for any house, fence, garden, garage, shed, walkways, stairs – anywhere safety lite. — The White Gutter LightTM is a revolutionary multi-use solar product with a Patent Pending attachment system that attaches to Gutters, Signs, Fences, and to any flat surface.

6. Solar Wholesale SGCL1LA103S Solar Decorative Lights with Crackle Glass Globe, 30-Inch — 3-inch diameter glass balls are finished with spectacular crackle texture and supplied with color change LEDs.

7. Mr Beams MB360 Wireless LED Spotlight with Motion Sensor and Photocell – Weatherproof – Battery Operated – 140 Lumens — Mr. Beams is a very popular choice with 140 Lumens of light. This one is battery operated. Attach a spotlight anywhere: to your house, shed, garage, or even a tree. Mr. Beams offers simple installation with no wiring and no electrician needed. Tight seals and weather-resistant materials allow a Mr. Beams spotlight to work in all weather conditions.

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