Broadcast Memories: Das Eurosignal

My first radio in the late around 1980 was a Palladium Mono Tape recorder with 4 band radio. It had a big dial on the right, a display with a moving stick, and four buttons to select FM, AM, Shortwave and Longwave bands. Even with its many limitations I loved this thing!

The FM band was always the strongest. We used to call it UKW in Germany, as in Ultra Kurzwelle (very short wave), a much more accurate description of this band. FM sounds much cooler and more “American”, but it really means Frequency Modulation which is mainly what this band is used for today, rather than describing the band itself. Anyway…

As I explored the FM band I inevitably came across two things that are difficult to forget for a young child: East German Number Stations, the monotonous voice of a woman reading strings of numbers, and something rather undecipherable like polyphonic tones (see video above).

The latter was on 24/7 at the upper end of the spectrum, at around 87 MHz. Mysterious, yet everpresent. Creepy. Much like Eastern Germany.

I never found out what this thing was – until today while browsing through a German Wikipedia article about the UKW Rundfunk (or FM Broadcasting in English). The article mentions something called the Eurosignal, and it turns out that this polyphonic shite in the eighties was indeed that very signal. Totally legit after all – who would have known! I always assumed it was in some way connected with the number stations or the Stasi!

 

So what’s the Eurosignal?

First of all it’s a thing of the past. It was switched off in 1998 and only ever existed in Germany, France and Switzerland. Other countries were thinking of using it, but it took them several decades to decide – by which time there were better technologies out there.

The idea was this: you paid a monthly fee for the precursor of “beeper”, and if someone wanted to reach you, you could leave your number with the Eurosignal service. But because it used the FM band, it needed a rather long antenna to receive things – so it wasn’t something you’d clip onto your belt.

Your device would constantly listen to a given frequency, and if it finds a message for you, it would display it. When I say message I mean a 10-digit string of numbers, nothing fancy or descriptive. Those could be either phone numbers that you would call back, or pre-defined codes between two parties (for example, 23 could mean”put dinner on”, or 37 could mean “assassinate El Presidente at 23:00″, that sort of thing).

According to the radio broadcast below, in its heyday the device itself was DM 1000 (about £300), and the monthly fee to use the service was DM 25 (about £7.50).

This Eurosignal was used way before other beeper systems and mobile phones as we know them today. Germany were the first to introduce it in 1975, France came in a year later, and Switzerland sometime in the eighties. Even by the mid nineties the German company EuFuRD who operated it had 90.000 subscribers.

Many other beeper services were introduced in the early nineties in Germany (Scall, TeLMI, Quix), all of which seized operations when mobile phones took over  less than 10 years later. By 2002 those were all gone.

 

I personally skipped the hole beeper thing and went straight to a Nokia 2110 sometime in 1996/1997. In fact, I probably abandoned personal one-way radio communications a few years earlier when I realized that listening to adverts and commercial ntss-ntss wasn’t really a pastime I could enjoy without brain pain.

Not until today, in December 2014 I’m beginning to develop a healthy interest in the radio spectrum again (read: obsession). I’m fascinated by being able to receive something without the internet being involved, like back in the good old days. My latest gadget, the Tecsun PL-880 has arrived – a world band radio. It’s wonderful! I had no idea shortwave and AM broadcasts could sound THAT good! The PL-660 is on its way already, bringing the total radio count in our household up to 4.

Too many radios you say? Well I see it this way: shortwave transmissions are getting fewer and fewer. Numbers stations used to be so common, but they’re being phased out. Technology is moving forward, and some may argue that analogue is so retro it no longer has a place in our high-tech world. There were talks to switch off all analogue radio services on the FM band in Germany since 2000 and replace it with DAB – unsuccessfully mind you, but sooner rather than later we won’t be able to listen to analogue stuff on the airwaves anymore. It’s already happened to television, and undoubtedly radio will be next.

And until then, I’d like to play with it for as long as I can.

Discovering the NOAA Weather Radio Service

304px-Noaa_all_hazards.svgWe have something here in the US that most Europeans don’t know about: a nationwide weather radio service called NOAA Weather Radio. The service is broadcasting 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and it has been around since 1953.

Transmitting from over 1000 towers across the US, they have 7 frequencies just above the FM band. Those can only be received with special radios. I was very excited to find out about it!

We recently bought such a radio because we live in a hurricane prone area – and because I’ve always liked broadcast technology.

Canada have a similar system called Weatheradio Canada which uses the same frequencies to broadcast and the same devices work with both services.

 

NOAA’s National Weather Service

The NOAA Weather Radio sounds a bit like a numbers station, probably because it uses computer generated voices instead of “real people” – which I understand was the case many years ago. By using computer speech the service can be highly targeted to very small areas.

Here in Miami Beach I can hear three towers, and even a fourth one at night:

  • KHB43 on 162.550 MHz (for Miami and Fort Lauderdale)
  • WNG663 on 162.425 MHz (for South Florida and the Upper Keys)
  • WZ2531 on 162.500 MHZ (Hialieah, in Spanish)
  • WWG60 on 162.425 MHz (for the Florida Keys, I can only hear it at night)

The service gives detailed weather forecasts and descriptions, including tide times and what the waters around us are like (such as “bay water is a moderate chop”). It’s all quite pleasing to listen to, and very educative.

We have three voices here: Tom reads the main bulk, and he sounds a bit like the “classic British Siri” voice, or the voice from the Kindle Keyboard. Then there’s Donna, his female equivalent, who reads sunrise and sunset information as well as tides and maritime things.

Before these two were introduced, the first electronic voice was called Tom – but most audiences didn’t like him from what I understand. Rather than ditch him completely, he’s used to read the Station ID every 10 minutes (like “This is the voice of the NOAA Weather Radio, station XXYZZ, broadcasting on a frequency of xyz”).

Showbiz is tough! I personally enjoy all three voices they have, but from what I read other counties have different voices (mainly pitch variations of the existing ones), or hold votes as to which voice the audience prefers – which then gets to read them.

 

Emergency Broadcasts

Weather and maritime news aside, the service may also broadcast other warnings from time to time, such as national security emergencies, natural, environmental and public safety announcements.

NOAA Weather Radios have an option that leaves the device in standby mode, and if something drastic happens a special 1050 Hz tone is broadcast for 10 seconds, at which point such devices kick in and switch themselves on. Allegedly there are tests once a week but sadly I’ve not managed to get one of those transmissions yet.

Some devices can even tune into a subset of the area served by a frequency so that a very narrow part of the country can be alerted. This is done using something called SAME Technology (stands for Specific Area Message Encoding). Fascinating stuff!

 

So which radio did you get?

You can’t pick up the weather band with standard radios, so we needed a special one. This seemed a great idea anyway because we neither read the papers or watch TV – so if anything drastic is happening in the world we’re probably the very last people on earth to find out (we sleep extremely well at night by the way).

Julia did some research and decided to buy the excellent Ambient Weather WR-335 with Solar Bag, also known as the Adventurer 2. It’s exactly what I would have picked too. Not only does it get the weather band, it also has an FM, AM and Shortwave Tuner and so many charging options that even in the biggest time of crisis this thing isn’t going to run out of juice:

  • rechargeable Li-ion battery, replaceable
  • charges via micro USB from anywhere
  • comes with a standard mains charger
  • built-in mini solar panel for self-charging in sunlight
  • larger solar panel bag for full charging
  • also takes optional AAA batterie
  • a then there’s a hand crank if everything else fails

IMG_2568

The device can even charge other devices like mobiles and tablets. It’s very rugged and comes in a rubber casing – it even has a flashlight and a siren to attract attention. In a nutshell: your best friend if the rest of your neighbourhood lies in ruins and batteries count as currency – which could happen at any moment.

Check out Julia’s very detailed review of the Adventurer 2 here – it’s on a temporary URL (I’m testing a new server on that domain).

I can’t get enough of the soothing voices from the NOAA Weather Radio. I also enjoy discovering what’s happening on the local FM and AM bands, as well as the mysteries of the Shortwave Band.

In fact it’s so addictive that I’ve ordered two other radios specifically for Shortwave Adventures – but I’ll tell you more about those another time.

 

But I haven’t got a weather radio…

There are several online streams of many stations available here. These are not provided by NOAA and instead rely on some dude plugging his radio into a computer. I hear that some local broadcasters carry local NOAA audio when they’re not on air.

Someone even made an iPhone App that allows you to listen on the go (it wasn’t me).

Navigating 3D Space in DAZ Studio

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 18.23.42

Nothing is more frustrating that not knowing how to accomplish basic tasks. Navigating 3D space in different apps using different devices in the same day is one such thing.

Before I forget, here’s how to navigate your scene in DAZ Studio 4.7.

Dolly

You can dolly the camera in several ways:

  • by dragging the cube icon in the top right corner
  • by dragging the “around around a spot” icon, also in the top left corner
  • hold down ALT+CMD (Mac) or xxxx (Windows) while dragging anywhere in the scene

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 12.28.58

You will automatically dolly the camera around the object that was framed last, using the little “plus inside a square” icon on the right. Even if you select a different object, DAZ Studio will still dolly around your previously framed selection.

It takes a bit of getting used to, but half the battle is knowing what the programme does when you use it. Other apps usually dolly around what’s currently selected. DAZ Studio does not.

Zoom

You can zoom in and out by using your mouse wheel or track pad. By default it’s inverted to the motion you’re performing: scrolling towards you will zoom out, scrolling towards the monitor will zoom in.

If this drives you insane, head over to Window – Workspace – Customize and take a look at the View Control section. Select Orbit and tick the box “Invert Mouse Wheel”.

You can also hold down the little loupe icon in the top right while dragging forward and back for the same effect.

Pan

You can pan left/right/top/bottom perpendicular to what the camera sees by holding down ALT+CMD (Mac) while left-click-dragging.

Alternatively you can click the “arrow in four directions” icon and drag.

 

Frame Selected Object

Like in other apps, the little “plus icon in a square” frames the selected object. Left-click to frame. Right-click to look at the selected object from the current camera position.

Don’t use the icon underneath it though, the little “pointing up arrow”: this will “reset the view”, though I’m not sure to what. Usually it zooms in extremely close on something you’ve not exactly asked for. In Carrara the same symbol changes the display settings of your scene. In DAZ Studio the icon means something completely different. To be avoided.

 

Keyboard Navigation

New in DAZ Studio 4.7 is keyboard navigation:

  • A / D keys: move left/right
  • W / S keys: move closer/further away
  • E / Q keys: move up/down

The above move your camera position. You can also “look around”, which leaves the camera in its current position:

  • I / K keys: look up / down
  • J / L keys: look left/right
  • U / O keys: bank left/right
  • P key: slowly reset to original position (I think – it’s undocumented, like so many features in DAZ Studio)

How to group objects in DAZ Studio

Groups are helpful to keep the many items in your scene organised and grouped together. They’re like a “folder”, even though you’re not really moving items to another place. They just appear together with a heading and a disclosure triangle.

For example, rather than having a character and five independent clothing items, it’ll be much easier to move all this if it’s part of a group. Or the 37 lights in your scene – perhaps they’re better off in their own group, labelled “lights”.

Here’s how to create Groups in DAZ Studio.

Select the items you’d like to add to a group from the Scene Tab.

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 13.16.00

Now head over to Create – New Group. This will open a dialogue so you can name your group sensibly.

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 13.18.21

 

 

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 13.21.05

All items you had previously selected will be added to the group. You can drag other items into the group. or drag items from the group back into the main tree (it’s called the root node), or drag items from one group into another.

You can also drag items on top of each other, creating other group hierarchies. Groups help keep your Scene Tab more manageable.

Select the group and move the entire contents with one handy manipulator, without having to select multiple items.

To duplicate a group (and its contents), head over to Edit – Duplicate – Duplicate Node Hierarchies. The other option, Duplicate Node(s) will only duplicate the group but not its contents.

How to edit 3rd Party Vertex Objects in Carrara

You want to make a quick change to a 3rd party vertex object in Carrara, head over to the Modelling Room, but all your favourite tools are greyed out. What’s going on?

Carrara has a feature called Protect Topology, and there’s a good chance it’s switched on for items you bought from a marketplace. It’s there so that you can’t accidentally deform a sleeve of a t-shirt or worse. Here’s how to switch it off so you can edit 3rd party vertex objects as if they were your own.

First, make sure that you select the correct item in the Properties Panel. In this example I’m using the Brodie 6 Casual T-Shirt.

Screenshot (79)

Once loaded into the scene you’ll find a hierarchy of items. The first two aren’t going to open in the Modelling Room at all (Tshirt_BC and Tshirt_Brodie in my example). This is where Carrara is different from other apps. The third item (Actor) is the one you want to select. Sometimes it’ll be called Model. It’s the “real” object, just before the first bone item starts.

When in doubt, keep an eye on the little wrench icon in the top left corner: when it turns white you can edit this object. If not, keep looking.

Enter the Modelling Room by clicking either one of the wrench icons: the left one lets you edit your object inside the Assemble Room, and the right one switches to the Modelling Room and shows you the item on its own.

Screenshot (80) You may receive the above message, telling you that the object is protected. You can switch it off in which case it will never come back, and therein lies the problem – because in a couple of months you’ll have forgotten all about the Protect Geometry feature. Click OK and notice that none of your editing tools are active:

Screenshot (81)

To unprotect the geometry and make our object editable, head over to View and untick Protect Geometry. Now all your tools are back and you can go to work on this object.

Screenshot (82)

Some objects may not be Vertex Objects and open with more or less a blank screen in the Modelling Room, the only option being Convert to Other Modeler. This is also available from the edit menu in case you’d like to use vertex tools with a primitive or a spline model.

Screenshot (84)

Converting – when available – will turn your object into a Vertex Object, no matter what it was before. Doing so will change your geometry though.

Creating a waving flag in Carrara using Soft Body Modifiers

Waving-Flag

Carrara lets you turn any object in your scene into a Soft Body object with the help of a Soft Body Modifier. To create a waking flag we need to use a combination of two modifiers: one that makes the object a “soft body”, and one that attaches it to something else, such as a flag pole.

Here’s how to do it in Carrara 8.5.

The objects in my scene are:

  • a thin cylinder for the flag pole
  • a grid (or squished up cube) as the flag
  • optional: to create some wind I’m also using a Directional Force, but that’s more of a fine-tune

All our work is happening in the Assemble Room.

Select the flag, head over to Modifiers and add a Soft Body modifier. This is where you can setup the physical properties of your object, such as stiffness, how it reacts to air flow, how much internal surface pressure it has, and if you would like it to collide with itself in case it folds.

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 13.10.43

The values here are largely self-explanatory and require a bit of experimentation. Notice that nothing appears to happen if you change any of these. To see your object take on the new properties of this modifier, click on the Simulate Physics icon at the top left (the “bone in a dotted circle with an arrow” button).

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 13.14.46

As soon as you click it Carrara will go to work with all physics calculations in your scene. It will render an animation which is governed by the duration you’ve set with the little yellow arrow icon in the timeline (not the actual animation duration). By default this is set to 4 seconds. If you want to see what happens beyond this, simply move that little yellow triangle in your timeline, then hit Simulate Physics again.

The flag is not attached to anything yet, so it will either stay in place, drop to the floor, or if you’ve already added a directional force it may drift away outside your scene. To attach it to the flag pole we need to add another modifier, this time it’s a Soft Body Attach Modifier.

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 13.21.15

With it we’ll tell Carrara which other object our flag is attached to. In the first box, select your Flag Pole Cylinder. In the second box (edit) you’ll open a kind of paint mode. This will let you select which vertices you’d like to attach. In our case, we only want the points closest to the pole to be attached to the pole. Red points are selected, white points are unselected.

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 13.22.57

Selection can be a bit tricky: I’ve not managed to find a way to change the size of the paint selection brush – I’m sure there is one, but I find it easier to select too many at first, and then choose the little minus icon and unselect what I don’t need.

Notice the three new icons in the top left corner: those are “select points” (plus), “deselect points” (minus), and “we’re done here” (tick icon). When you’re done, select Simulate Physics again to see your result.

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 13.23.12

To render one particular image, simply drag the animation playhead to a desired position and select render. You can also render the entire animation of course.

The quality of physics relies on the amount of points your object has: the more points, the more accurate the waving will be, but at the same time the longer it will take Carrara to calculate the effect. Especially with cloth type objects, increase the tessellation for better results.

 

 

How to render DAZ Studio scenes without DAZ Studio

DAZ Studio has one drastic drawback: while you’re rendering a scene you can’t use the app until it’s finished rendering. In fact, DAZ Studio makes use of every available CPU cycle, turning even the fastest computer into something you can’t even check your emails with while you wait for that render to finish.

That’s great for efficiency – but it also sucks because you need a second computer to keep working with, or alternatively use a second computer for rendering while you work with your main machine. Wouldn’t it be great if you could do something akin to Poser’s background rendering, something that lets you setup the next scene in DAZ Studio while it’s rendering at the same time?

I have good news: you can – thanks to something called RIB files. I didn’t know this until recently, and it works a treat. Let me explain how to use this feature.

Continue reading How to render DAZ Studio scenes without DAZ Studio

How to add effects to a single layer in Photoshop

Photoshop has a feature called Clipping Layers. It’s extremely useful, but doesn’t quite describe what it does. Besides it’s extremely unintuitive if you’ve never used it before.

Among other things it can be used to add an effect to a single layer rather than the entire image, as you would if an adjustment layer is used without the Clipping Layers feature. In a nutshell, here’s what you do:

  • add an adjustment layer above the layer you’d like to affect (for example, Brightness and Contrast)
  • hover over the tiny black line in between the adjustment layer and your regular layer
  • you’ll see an angled black arrow pointing down, with a white square next to it
  • ALT-CLICK and that little arrow is now next to your adjustment layer

Clipping-Layers

Now you can apply the adjustments to the layer directly below the adjustment layer, while layers above it remain unaffected.

To make sure the adjustment layer appears above the layer you’d like to correct, select your layer first, then create an adjustment layer (because moving it afterwards isn’t so good for your blood pressure).

The old Empty Smart Content Tab ploy – and how to fix it

One morning I woke up and my entire Smart Content tab in DAZ Studio was empty. Nothing had happened since the day before when it was working perfectly fine. It just stopped working overnight.

What I had done shortly before going to bed was to install the latest service release of Poser Game Dev (SR5). If this was the cause of the problem or not will forever remain a mystery. In this article I’ll explain how I fixed this issue on my Mac.

Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 15.06.54 Continue reading The old Empty Smart Content Tab ploy – and how to fix it

Directory Structure of a Poser Runtime

Poser is a tad – shall we say – pernickety about where it allows you to save files if you’d like them to appear in the Library. You can save files anywhere on your system of course, using the options in the File Menu, but Poser can also save files into the Library with the little plus icon. This requires a Runtime folder structure.

By default Poser sets up two for us: Poser Content and Downloads. To create others, specifically empty ones for our own content, we need to create a specific folder hierarchy so that Poser recognises this as a Runtime. Here’s how to do it:

  • create a folder with the name you’d like it to be displayed as (say Your Scenes)
  • in this folder, create a new folder called runtime
  • inside the runtime folder, create the following three folders:
  • Geometries
  • libraries
  • textures

 

And that’s your Runtime Structure. Capitalisation is (or once was) important here. Poser will create other folders in this structure when necessary, as does content from 3D marketplaces.

To add your new Runtime to Poser, click that little “plus icon with a running man in a folder” type button in your Library palette. Now you can select it, just like the Poser Content and Downloads runtimes.

To remove it, select your runtime (make sure the drop down does not read <All>), then click the “minus icon with a running man in a folder” icon. Your actual folder will remain in place, but it no longer shows up in Poser.