Geeky Adventure in Colorado: Denver Bookstores, NIST time station WWV, and food poisoning at the Embassy Suites.

This is sort of a "What Geeky things I did in Colorado" story, but It's not too boring (unless you're not a geek), so read on if you like..

Denver Airport and Climate
N39^50'59.8" W104^40'24.4" about 18 miles from Denver 'as the crow flies'

I have to say that the weather in Colorado is much like that in Texas, but cooler. If you don't like it, just wait.. Upon arrival, it was cool and comfortable, about 56 degrees. It stayed that way for a couple days, then turned cold and snowy, shutting down schools, freways, and the Denver airport for one day only, then went back to the pleasant climate of April in Denver.

But enough about the weather, who cares anyway? I went to Denver to attend DSLCON Denver 2001, which (if you haven't already guessed) is a large conference and symposium which revolves around DSL technology. After the CON, I had two days to wait, because of the 'saturday night stay' cheap airfare rate.

Do The Ptomaine Tango at the Embassy Suites!
N39^44'59.1" W104^59'28.9" Downtown Denver

I stayed at the Embassy Suites at 1881 Curtis Street, downtown Denver.

That is where I got the food poisoning. I ate the 'salmon and steak duet' in the hotel restaurant.

Now, you may say, "Getting Food poisoning isn't geeky!". Note: Describing it *is* geeky, so here goes. It was pretty awful, the food poisoning, and I had to GOTO the hospital for injections of drugs and a liter of liquid from a plastic bag.

I'm not sure which was worse, getting to the trade show and realizing I was going to puke and running to the restroom (thankfully a stall was free) and puking so hard it came out both ends (more detail than you needed I am sure), -or- the huge horse-needle they used at the hospital to administer the I.V. and drugs. Man, that needle was at least 2 inches long, and I bet a millimeter in diameter (not including the catheter installed on it). And they stuck it right into a vein on the back of my hand. Let me just say it was an uncomfortable procedure. When I saw the needle, I asked the other nurse for something to squeze on with my free hand, so as to lessen my attention to the discomfort (you know, bite the bullet? -the hand they were sticking the needle into had to remain pliable and free for the first nurse to manipulate as the needle was forced in). She said to squeeze her hand, but I said no, I was afraid I would break it, so she gave me a wadded up towel, which worked perfectly and seemed much smaller afterwards. Three hours later I felt well enough to leave, and The doctor said it was "gastroenteritis" (a fancy name for food poisoning I guess), gave me a prescription, and told me to eat only a liquid diet for two days.

Several days later, I got a call back from the state health inspector, who said it was the potato salad, and that the organism was something called "staphalococcus", a common germ, which is apparently on peoples' bodies, but which likes to get onto food that is left out too long, and multiply, and, once ingested, incubates inside the host causing pain, vomiting, diarhea, and other uncomfortable symptoms.

By the way, Embassy Suites is owned by Marriott, and a friend of mine got poisoned at the St. Louis one a while back, and several people at the 2000 Encompass event got sick at the same hotel in L.A..

But back to the Embassy Suites in Denver, the place was dirty dishes and crusty silverware all week, so I guess it was inevitable. Although the Embassy Suites manangement was polite and and very comforting, they had no interest whatsoever in my out-of-pocket for medical bills (you know- the customary deductibles).

Learn How To Set Your Watch
N 40^40'23.8" W105^02'23.6" about 64 miles from Denver 'as the crow flies'

Two days later, I was pretty much over the food poisoning, and went out to get some air.. Well, what is there to do in Colorado? Hmm.. I decided to visit Radio Station WWV in Fort Collins.

I'm a radio geek. Most people don't care to visit the transmitter, and instead they visit the Boulder, Colorado facility, to see the perhaps more exciting atomic clock (I will have to do this some day as well, but I know what will happen. I will end up wanting one, and searching eBay for it for the rest of my days.).

I got the map, and drove north on I-25 from Denver, about 67 miles by road. I asked 411 information for the number, dialed it up, and was greeted by a really nice *human* voice, "Radio station WWV, can I help you?".

I explained that I had always enjoyed listening to the station, and asked if a tour was possible. I was told that they don't do tours at the transmitter facility, but they do give them at the Boulder, CO facility, where the atomic clock is. I explained that I was not likely to be able to go there due to time constraints, and asked if they had maybe a QSL card or other momento I could pick up at the front desk.

The answer was that I was welcome to drive to the station and look at it, as long as I stayed on the paved road, I could drive around and look at the antennas. There would also be a copy of "NIST Special Publication 432" waiting for me on a bench outside the front door. (no one is allowed in the building - it is very secure).

With this great news (I was, after all, to be admitted to the grounds, and yea, to the outer vestibule itself!), I took the Wellington exit (exit 278), went west about 5 miles, and turned in at the large green sign that says "2000" (the font is curiously similar to the "2600" on the front page of the magazine by the same name.). Driving down the road, past a couple of farmhouses, you get to a large gate.

It was open at the time, I am not sure if they opened it for me or if it is generally open during the day for mail and deliveries, but I drove on in, and took some really cool pictures of the antennas and stuff, and picked up my publication 432.

The Publication 432 is an aesthetically pleasing grey 30-page (including unnumbered pages) 8.5x11 softcover staple-bound document, its glossy pages packed with extremely valuable information, from the history of WWV and its related stations, sattelites, and services, to the protocols for reading the data provided, so that you can set your computer time by the signals if you're geeky enough.

I had my Alinco DJ-X2E receiver with me, and with the antenna removed (I was in the presence of a 10KW RF field ya know..), the 's' meter bar graph display showed the following levels (counting the bars 1-20):
02.50 MHz - 03
05.00 MHz - 17
10.00 MHz - 19
15.00 MHz - pegged (full quieting)
20.00 MHz - 19
I regret I did not try 60 KHz.

I am very grateful to the professional and kind staff of WWV for their hospitality and friendliness in allowing me to see at least the outside of the normally forbidden facility, and for providing publication 432 as a momento of my visit. It was all any good American could ask for, in these times of heightened security and increased vigilance.

By the way, there is plenty of video surveillance, so if you decide you want to visit, and the person invites you in, please have the courtesy to stay on the paved road or whatever is asked, and observe all signs, so that you don't wanker it up for others in the future, or they might just find that gate closed and the phone number unlisted...

WWV Pictures

This said, if you have no idea what I have been talking about, then you are not very geeky at all - but I will help you, because it's the right thing to do:

Go out and get a decent shortwave radio set. A receiver is fine, and it should be of the "general coverage" type, meaning that it can be set to any frequency from, say, the bottom of the AM radio band to the top of the 10 meter HAM band, or roughly 0.5 to 30 MHz. This said, WWV broadcasts voice time announcements on 2.5, 5, 10, 15, and 20 MHz.

(A great hint is that of your radio has this wide coverage, the relative strength of the WWV broadcasts will give you an idea of what sections of the shortwave bands are best at the time for listening to all kinds of other intriguing signals and foreign music. Plan on spending at least $200 on an inexpensive new receiver, or maybe $50 on an old used one. Older tube-type radios are great, and usually a better value (features/$) for casual listening)

Even a $2 watch will stay within a few seconds all month. A real watch of course does much better.. Not even your boss can tell ya you're late, when you reply, "Sir, my watch is set to WWV which is operated by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and provides the official timekeeping for the United States government, and the correct time is 8:29:37 A.M., not 8:31, and.. how many seconds did you say, .. sir?".

Rocky Mountain High? about 67 miles from Denver and a mile higher. 'as the crow flies'
N39^32'24.0" W106^12'59.5"

If you have cardio-pulmonary issues, maybe don't do this one. If you don't know what that is, ask your doctor. If you're on oxygen, just forget it..

Take highway 70 west from Denver, you'll head up into the mountains. The climb is a bit steep at first, rising to about 7200 feet, then more gradual until, after about 2 hours of winding mountain roads, you get to Vail Pass at about 10680 feet (more or less). The views are breathtaking so don't forget your camera. By the way, your car will run like an old dog up there, as there ain't much in the way of air. The scenery is fine, and there are various small towns along the route which have museums, real antique trains, and lots of historical-type items of interest.

One particular, Georgetown, at about 7500 feet, has several anitque, art, and 'curio' shops and (old)bookstores which will keep you amused for hours. I reccommend the "powder cache" which is on 6th street, for a look at tons of old mining implements and a wide selection of ancient texts on subjects from geology to mining, assaying, and construction, as well as quite a few old electrical books. They also have small samples of ores with real gold and silver, for a couple bucks (great souvenirs), carbide lamps, and a free museum of mining implements and curiosities including mine telephones by Stromberg-Carlson and Western Electric.

Along I-70, try the small towns for 'home-style' (non-chain) eateries. They're all different and generally the food is good and the service friendly. Watch for the police, although they are not looking for you, they take a dim view of those caught speeding up or down the mountain roads. When descending, use your brakes sparingly or you can cook them. Shift down a gear, and this will help keep you from unwanted acceleration.

In Denver itself? Can't leave?

Denver has a good selection of book stores, as well as an outdoor-air pedestrian mall. So you can shop for whatever, or find a bar or restarant (please not the embassy suites!!) pretty easily.

The mall, which I wasn't too excited about because I prefer rummaging in used book stores for the works of Terman, Orr, Moyer, and Coyne and the like, has lots of stuff to buy, look at, and eat/drink. Evening time brings out some rather strange-attired people, but none of them bothered me, I think they were just being themselves in their own individual way. It was very colorful anyway. It's like Deep Ellum in Dallas if you have ever been there. Anyway, this mall area occupies most of 16th street. Dedicated free busses run up and down the street all day and I was told it is alot of fun. I did find a Radio shack amongst the much more esoteric establishments. I bought a 9V AC adapter there.

The book stores are of two kinds: one sells surplus 'new' books and the other kind sells old used books. I'm only going to describe the selection of science and electronics books, since that's all I looked at.

There is a store called "The Tattered Cover" with two locations, one at the north end of 16th street across from Union Station, and a much larger one near Speer where it hits First street at 2955 E. First. These sell surplus 'new' books. There was not too much in the way of cool old electronics books, mostly the ho-hum recent computer titles, but the prices are good on a wide variety of materials, and the big store occupies 4 floors.

There are several used book stores along Broadway, south of First st., on the east side of the street. They're all worthy of a good look, but I did not personally prefer to enter a certain one of them.

One, "Ichabod's", has about 200 science and electronics books, priced at about half the cover price. The mix was old and recent. Lots of astronomy, and they have a place to sit, and coffe, and burn insence.

The second I visited was the "Book Mall". It claims no tech books, but I did find a 1950's marine radar text in the bargain basket for $1.00 .

The Third I visited was "Abracadabra" which is an 'antiquarian' book store, which means that although they do carry a huge and excellent selection of nice old volumes, the price is 2-3 times what a book is worth. If you are a retail collector, it might be ok for you. Me, I work for a living. Stop in there by all means, as they just might have the rare volume you have been looking for. There were about 400 ancient volumes on science and electricity/electronics. Just be prepared to pay top mark for it.

The fourth book store I saw, but did not visit, was called "The Sixth ???" (sorry, I don't remember, mainly because I didn't go in). You can find it easily enough because of the rainbow-colored sign above the door, and if you like all-gay books, then it's for you. I think they have new books. Enough said.

The fifth was the "Denver Book Fair". They specialize in nostalgic magazines and old books. This was the best bookstore in my opinion. Terman's "Radio Engineering" for $2.75. 'nuff said.. The values there were incredible. I bought 12 books there.

I might have missed some other stores, but I think I've pretty much spilled it as to where to go hunting for old books in Denver. You can ask the shopkeepers, they'll gladly tell you where to find more. All I can say is that I have shipped about 80 lbs. of books home.. BTW- Mailboxes, etc. is further south on Broadway, just south of the post office. If you can handle the high price of the service, it's a great way to avoid trying to get several boxes of books onto your flight!

Gateway Electronics
(303)458-5444 2525 North Federal Blvd.

I didn't have time to investigate this one, but they are on the WWW, so check it out. Reccommendations from local peoples indicated a decent supply of surplus new electronics items. Estimated to be several levels above Radio Shack with regards to variety for the hardware hacker.