Author Archives: john

Ace is the place with the spam-your-email folks!

Like everyone, I get a lot of junk email and have been added to various mailing lists I never signed up for or asked to be on.

I’ve been curious to see if there were specific companies that were worse than others when it comes to selling email addresses. As it turns out, of course there are.

I’ve gotten in the habit of setting up separate email addresses when creating online accounts, which both lets me see which companies are selling my email address, and allows me to delete the addresses receiving a bunch of junk mail.

I signed up for an Ace Rewards account back in March — with the COVID lockdown in place at the time, it seemed like a good way to shop local without having to go into the store. I could order online from my favorite local hardware store, pull up in the parking lot, and a helpful associate would bring out my purchase. Easy peasy!

Shortly after opening my Ace Rewards account, however, the emails from the Democratic Party of Wisconsin started to arrive, addressed to the email alias I had set up for Ace Rewards. One week, DPW emailed eight times. Then there were emails from “Red Rock Secured” trying to entice me into buying gold.

When I looked at the Ace Hardware site to see what their privacy policy is, it turns out that their privacy policy is that you should expect none.

They will sell almost any data they collect about you to virtually anyone.

I’d expect this kind of shady behavior from a multinational like AT&T, but my friendly neighborhood hardware store? This was unexpected. But there it is in black and white:

Source: — click “Privacy Policy”

So, lesson learned — if you want to shop local and not have your data sold to any Tom, Dick or Harry who happens to have a few dollars to throw Ace’s way, try True Value instead.

I set up a separate email address when I signed up for True Value’s website, too, and guess what: no spam! Plus, their privacy policy doesn’t include selling your data to third party companies — and I can actually link to it, unlike Ace’s, whose privacy policy is so awful they apparently don’t want anyone to see it.

Bye for now, HD radio

xdrf1hdMy friends laugh at me a bit for being the only person they know who thinks FM radio is a killer smartphone feature. The number of radios in my house is solidly in double digits. You could say I’m a bit of a radio geek (I could even point you to a list of some of my favorite stations).

So, when the tuner on my surround sound receiver died a few years ago, I naturally thought “cool, I get to buy a new radio!” and snapped up one of the last Sony HD Radio receivers I could find. At the time, Sony had just discontinued most of their HD Radio receivers.

In hindsight, it’s not exactly an encouraging sign you’re at the cutting edge of technology when Sony — who still sells boomboxes with cassette decks  — decides to drop a technology. (And that was four years ago!) Continue reading

October 23rd partial solar eclipse

Oct. 23, 2014 partial solar eclipse at maximum eclipse, as seen from Madison, Wisconsin. Illustration courtesty of

We lucked out with clear skies in Madison for the total lunar eclipse last week. Hopefully our luck will hold for the partial solar eclipse next week.

Shortly before sunset next Thursday, viewers in western and northern North America will see nearly half of the sun eclipsed by the moon at maximum eclipse. Here in Madison, we’ll see less than half the sun eclipsed, but the eclipse will be greater in the Northwest United States and British Columbia.

In Madison, the timing looks like this:

  • 4:33 p.m. – partial solar eclipse begins
  • 5:41 – maximum eclipse (nearly half the sun eclipsed by the moon)
  • 6:01 – sunset

For eclipse times in other locations, visit and enter your city.

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Oct. 8, 2014 Lunar Eclipse

April 15, 2014 lunar eclipse over Madison, seen from Maple Bluff.

April 15, 2014 lunar eclipse over Madison, seen from Maple Bluff. More photos.

Update (Oct. 8): I snapped some pictures of this morning’s lunar eclipse. You can see them in my Flickr gallery.

Original post: I’m looking forward to our second total lunar eclipse of the year tomorrow morning (Oct. 8). Fortunately, the forecast for Madison calls for clear skies, so we’ll hopefully have a great view of the eclipse.

Here in Madison, timing for the eclipse looks like this:

  • 4:14 a.m. – Lunar eclipse begins (partial eclipse)
  • 5:24 – Total lunar eclipse begins
  • 5:54 – Maximum lunar eclipse
  • 6:24 – Total lunar eclipse ends (partial eclipse)
  • 6:33 – Dawn (civil twilight)
  • 7:03 – Sunrise
  • 7:08 – Moonset

In Madison, the moon will sink lower and lower in the western sky during the eclipse, so you’ll want to find a spot with a good view of the western horizon for the best view of the eclipse.

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The sky’s awake, so I’m awake!

October 2, 2013 aurora, seen from Dodgeville, Wisconsin.

October 2, 2013 aurora, seen from Dodgeville, Wisconsin.

Since moving to Wisconsin several years ago, I’ve been on a mission to try to see the Northern Lights. I’ve had some success — last fall, I finally saw it and snapped some pictures — but more often than not, either clouds obscure the view, the show doesn’t make it this far south, or I’m too early/late getting out to see it. Space weather seems even more fickle than the clouds and rain we usually think of as ‘weather.’

Along the way on my quest to see the Northern Lights, I’ve found some great online resources:

  • NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center
    • SWPC’s front page provides a good quick look at current conditions, including the current storm level. During the geomagnetic storms that give  us the Northern Lights, SWPC staff often post updates at the top of the page.
    • An example of SWPC's Ovation Auroral Forecast

      An example of SWPC’s Ovation Auroral Forecast

      OVATION Auroral Forecast – SWPC’s OVATION forecast is more of a ‘nowcast’ — the map shows you where the aurora is now. The map’s ‘view line’ shows where the aurora may be visible, but can be a little conservative. There have been times where the ‘view line’ is in southern Ontario, but pictures pour in from the midwest. So, even if you are south of the line, the aurora may still be visible — go take a look!

    • NOAA Space Weather scales — So, NOAA says there’s currently a G3 level geomagnetic storm in progress, with the possibility of a G3 level storm tonight. But what’s a G2 or G3 level storm mean? NOAA’s Space Weather Scales lay it out, with examples of how far south the aurora may be visible. For example, in a G2 level storm, aurora may be visible as far south as New York & Idaho (and Wisconsin!). With a G3 storm, it’s visible even further south.
    • SWPC Product Subscription Service — You can sign up to receive email alerts of geomagnetic storms from SWPC. There are many different alert types that you can ‘subscribe’ to, but some particularly useful ones are the WATCH and WARNING alerts for G2 or greater geomagnetic storms. The SWPC email alerts have given me a heads-up of geomagnetic storming and allowed me to see (and photograph) the northern lights.
  • — This is a great place to go for space weather news. The site also features a photo gallery full of the latest beautiful aurora pictures from users around the world. also offers an alert service that you can subscribe to (for a fee) to receive aurora alerts.
  • Twitter is another great resource for aurora news. Some of my favorite Twitter feeds for Aurora news:

Good luck on your own aurora quest!

My first field experiment


The SSEC Portable Atmospheric Research Center (SPARC) at the Boulder Atmospheric Observatory, in support of the Front Range Air Pollution Experiment (FRAPPE).

The SSEC High Spectral Resolution Lidar (HSRL) operating at the Boulder Atmospheric Observatory (BAO) in support of the Front Range Air Pollution and Photochemistry Experiment (FRAPPE), with a cameo by the big dipper

The SSEC High Spectral Resolution Lidar (HSRL) operating at the Boulder Atmospheric Observatory (BAO) in support of the Front Range Air Pollution and Photochemistry Experiment (FRAPPE), with a cameo by the big dipper

I work at the University of Wisconsin Space Science & Engineering Center (SSEC), where we participate in field campaigns & experiments each year. A cool field experiment that we’ve participated in the past few summers has an instrument designed at SSEC hitching a ride on a Global Hawk drone that flies above hurricanes.

Other SSEC field experiments may rely on our mobile lab. Last year, SSEC’s mobile lab — a converted Winnebago RV — finally reached the end of the road after more than 20 years of service. It was replaced this year by a large custom trailer towed by a pickup truck.

The new mobile lab was dubbed the SSEC Portable Atmospheric Research Center, or SPARC, and made its debut this summer at the Front Range Air Pollution Experiment (FRAPPE) in Colorado.

For field experiments, our role in the Technical Computing group (SSEC’s IT team) is to stay at SSEC and provide researchers in the field with remote assistance, when needed. This time, however, SSEC decided to send some IT support into the field to make sure the first SPARC deployment went smoothly. And that’s how I got to go on my first field experiment.

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Weather Radio recommendations & June 17-18 severe weather

The tornadoes that struck Verona and southwest Madison earlier this week were a good reminder: if you don’t already have a weather radio, get one.

DSC_0726I am admittedly a bit of a weather nerd, but I think everyone should have a weather radio alarm. Come for the bone-jarringly loud alarm that will launch you out of your bed in a tornado warning! Stay for the weather nerd joy of seeing the first Winter Storm Warning of the season light up the weather warning light. Right?

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