Category Archives: pabulum

Pabulum– Stuff to Think About!

Cormorants at Hoover Dam

While looking down the 700 foot face drop of the Hoover dam from the top and squinting at the swirly water coming out of the turbines far below,  just where it continues down stream, I noticed some rather inconspicuous black birds with narrow wings.

They were swirling around In the updrafts and air eddys from the strong wind rushing upstream over the river in the gorge  and lifting up the concrete face of that there dam.

They do not seem to be very good flyers and flapped like crazy but the updraft of air took care of everything and their tatty looking bodies, Feathers all ruffled, were whisked in ever rising circles dramatically ever higher towards me at the top

The movements were too erratic and they were too tiny to Capture on film so I just enjoyed  trying to figure out what they were as the each of about four whirled into view…

About the point where they zoomed over the crest of the dam & over my head, I marveled  to see that they were actually cormorants,

Normally deep diving and fishing skinny black waterbirds, weak flyers not known to make good use of the their air mode of transport, and definitely not soaring birds such as condors gulls And Eagles.

Several of them then shot behind the dam then downward into the calm waters Of Lake Mead below where they continued peacefully fishing and diving there.

Ironically they don’t have oil in their feathers so they don’t even float very well as ducks might

This is what makes them great divers.

I thought “Jonathan Livingston cormorant” for a moment

And then rephrased that in my head :“against all odds “

How these birds learn to do this is anybody’s guess but my feeling is that flying anywhere over that water they inevitably get blown up the dam face by the powerful up currents ..

Yet I saw no other birds doing this.

So they might as well enjoy and the outcome is not bad.

I guess they fly out away from the dam face to get down again, but I didn’t see this.

I doubt theirs is a one-way journey.

The dam itself being artificial is very smooth and there’s very little turbulence, unlike there would be on a rugged natural cliff face where they would be spun to death by the air rotors..

Natural selection at work?

Be interesting to stick around to see!

They have had since the 1930s to Get selected 🙂

[April 2019]

Las Vegas Confusions

Las Vegas confusion

I parked my RV in the circus circus RV lot for $20 a night and set out on foot at dusk to go look at the Strip,

aiming for the Luxor, That giant pyramidal  black building about 4 miles up north Las Vegas strip, Which has a powerful beam shooting into the night sky above. It’s visible from everywhere – a good landmark.

Or so I thought.

I believe it used to be a green krypton laser but perhaps it accidentally shot some planes down so now it’s just a powerful Arc-light of some sort

I took in & easily entered  the Bellagio, the Venetian and all usual spots and was gradually unnerved & immediately disoriented to the extent that I could Neither picture which direction I was walking nor how to get out, even by backtracking.

I have a very good sense of direction so I felt quite thrown

Google maps was thrown too because it is not good in large pedestrian areas

I asked various staff for the exit and they seemed a bit confused too.

Knowing what fire marshals would have to say about this even in the state of Nevada, I followed green EXIT signs but the only effect of this was to take me into some other concrete skyway or laboratory  of human confusion.

Sometimes I looking down on the street below that I was trying hard to reach again.

I suppose the idea was that if a fire broke out you didn’t have to continue gambling in that particular building but could continue throwing the money away elsewhere,

MGM Appears to own everything so perhaps it just doesn’t matter anyway

More or less at random at some point I found  myself back on the street again, Totally turned around and the Alien beacon of the Luxor was in completely the wrong part of the sky. It was an unaccustomed act of faith to assume that that remained the correct direction to walk..

Yet the fun was not over.

Being on foot I had to cross a number of intersections that were railed off against foot traffic.

Very reasonably an overhead pedestrian bridge was provided in several places, Easy to locate and use. However, once exiting the skyway on the far side back we were inside among the slot machines..

(– no,  that’s incorrect none of them take coins anymore – They are now all video poker and fruit machines…)

And a further disorienting experience.

How does one get back  down to the street having crossed it?

I want to be outside!

The answer appears to be, “at random” Because following exit signs does not have the desired effect at all.

I was never so preoccupied that I did not have plenty of time to observe my fellow wanderers And environment..

It’s an enormously  eclectic blend of humanity who also seemed happily disoriented, nobody going in any particular direction as you might expect ants to do,

but rather randomly jiggling around to and fro back-and-forth and intersecting each other, Seemingly purposeless, but with an over arching urge to be fleeced and entertained.

Here I am thinking and writing about it when the words of Hunter Thompson came to mind where he described “gonzo journalism”

as being the observer and the observed one & the same rather than an objective judgment.

I was not about to be fleeced, except mentally, and I was definitely in the belly of the the exact same beast As my fellow jitterbuggers.

I would not say there is fear and loathing here now because the Las Vegas I visited 40 years before, hitchhiking on my second trip to the United States, Was the one that Hunter Thompson knew- a scruffy dry dump prominently operated by the mafia for the sole purpose of shady gambling and indulging the prostitution unavailable elsewhere

Now it has a Disneyesque  feel Where all neon has been replaced with stunningly impressive giant LED displays , Over-the-top stage shows, Solid national conferences all the time for everything you could imagine And the ever present brassy  posters for prostitution where, however, no naughty bits may ever even be hinted at visually Let alone be shown uncovered.

(Later on, off the strip somewhat I found pole dancing supply merchants, lap dancing trainers and my favorite- A Taoist  restaurant)

Las Vegas is plagued with innuendo about winning, sexuality, self assurance and celebrity.

A loudspeaker outside a casino proudly announces over & over  that they would give you $20 back of the first $100 you lost there. This simple mind bending illogicality Is still ringing in my head.
Good old fashioned Carny hawking and shystering in doorways– now gone.

A discrete law-enforcement shoos away the homeless & the bankrupt, And city fathers utterly gentrify–Yet somehow never lose-the remaining tasteless job of separating anybody from his, her or its money.

Alcohol used to be the drug of choice here; now there are cannabis ads everywhere.

14 miles walk later I return exhausted to my RV and a shower while marveling how many extra miles were added by the circumambulations My fitness watch shows.

I lie thinking how I love loathing Las Vegas
I loathe that I love it, I fear-

I fondle it. For it express is my very own confusion and disorientation, What I could not reveal to myself.

This place is my nemesis, my brain hacking tool.

My brain track wrecker and habit smasher. Nothing here is as it seems.

It worked, and I thank it. And will stay away for another few years, digesting. my temple visit of being turned upside down over,

Next day I return to starry eyed wanderings in the remote desert just a few dozen  miles away,

Going north again

With my now less challenged so called self,

whatever that self now is become,

Where I don’t have to think

quite so much any more.

April 2019

Refurbish Reel to reel Tape Recorder

Under Construction! Blog!

The Project: I have about 20 reel to reel tapes from the late 50’s and then the 60’s s that belonged to my Dad who died in 1994, and about 10 of my own from the 1970s and 80s, but nothing to play them back on.
Enter the local Hospice Thrift and Gift shop and a slightly battered 1964 reel to reel tape recorder for $15.00 .
Though I used to service tube powered stuff years ago, any spares would have been a big deal as would the voltages involved.
(90+ DC!) But This was all transistors (“Solid State”!) Yea!
I located at least three separate sets of voltages used by the deck:
~22v V DC for the transistor record & playback amplifier,
~155 V DC to trip a large solenoid used to reverse tape direction
6V AC to power pilot lamps.

two large old capacitors for 2 power supply lines

This 1964 Panasonic  reel to reel tape recorder has several separate power supplies for its amplifier, relay electronics and more. I wanted to be sure its ancient transistor amplifier got a decent smooth DC voltage.  I measured and monitored   all voltages,  including what was coming out of the AC transformer

Lower right is the removed  inch square selenium bridge rectifier to convert 16V AC to 22 v DC for the amplifier;,
It had been screwed to the chassis to dissipate potentially (lethal!) Heat and discourage thermal runaway   (the peak of the AC is 1.414.times higher than the RMS “Average” value the meter reports as it sees ‘power’ not ‘peaks’)
these have questionable leakage characteristics and the pre

Old versus New: Rectifiers. (AKA:Diodes)

sent danger that if they overheat, noxious reeking selenium fumes would result.
No Thanks!
Upper right are four 1N4004 modern silicon rectifiers (1c/piece!) I am arranging in a square ‘bridge’ which is a full wave rectifier to replace the large selenium one. They can take an amp of current and withstand up to 400v reverse current. They drop 0.6v each so dissipate little power unlike selenium’s 1-3v.
Should do nicely as a current check showed circuit barely used 250mA- a quarter the rating

Home Brew Bridge Rectifier
Home Brew Bridge Rectifier

Lets solder those four together. AC leads from transformer are to the left- Heat shrink tubing keeps it all isolated. Silicon rectifiers seem pretty heat resistant yet I used retractors (lower right) to sink the soldering heat away from hurting the plastic / ceramic packaging.

Same Rating, 50+ years apart
Joining rectifiers to capacitor


Old versus New- about 1/20th the size! I had used retractors to sink the heat on the leads during soldering, Capacitors have liquid juice in them that  can get damaged by excess heat.

Post Mortem- the old capacitor. Signs of corrosion on its electrodes and Not Much Electrolyte Juice left in it. It still worked but had obviously lost a lot of its ‘capacity’ which does not bode well for stopping Hum in audio circuits! Newer capacitors can  have different issues where they can even burst long before their 50 years is up!


12 pieces of selenium rectifier
Corroded & dryish old capacitor




A similar process was repeated for a much higher voltage circuit: This one is used to actuate a solenoid which flips the tape direction mechanism.

This time, 110v AC line current is rectified and smoothed to deliver 155v DC. This time, an 8 Ohm power resistor was present before the solenoid  to mitigate the sudden current and back EMF from the solenoid that could damage the capacitor that powered it through a relay .
It had blown and was also replaced.
THIS IS LINE VOLTAGE, No Isolating Transformer!
and I maintained and replaced the shielding and insulation for this section better than the original. this tape unit, interestingly, had no Ground lead of its own, Grounding sockets only started becoming common after 1967 in the USA.That’s It. I reworked the original metal bracket with pliers and insulating tape to ensure nothing would be exposed or short out.

Early tests showed the amplifier was much quieter than before.
I used its line output to my Linux PC and kept the volume down to minimize distortion, relying on far more modern post amplification by the PC- Yet the machine’s own speakers and amp actually worked fine. I could see little or no 60Hz. noise with halted tape and at full volume using a Spectrograph App.!
Excellent. Don’t ask me about dB’s here-
Basically, I hear no Hum,.
I demagetised all the tape heads and swabbed ’em with Q tips and alcohol. No obvious signs of wear and they seem well aligned.
But that’s Another Blog.
Ah, the Nostalgia!

== Paule