Welcome to Mike's World.
Hi, I'm Mike Davis. I like to build things and travel. Here you will find links to, and in-depth
explanations of, all my interesting (I think) projects, hobbies, how-to's and pastimes and travel destinations.

Click on a photo to go to that section, or read blog entries below.

内射美女
Gold Prospecting and Gold Panning
Gold Prospecting
Me and my 17.5 inch Dobsonian telescope
Astronomy and Telescope Building

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Miscellaneous Projects
Miscellaneous Projects
Gold from e-waste
Gold from e-waste

A home-built jet engine made from junkyard parts
Homebuilt Jet Engine
Travel and vacation photos
Travel & Vacations
Home-built electricity generating wind turbine
Wind Power
My house maintenance and renovation blogs
My House Blogs
My home-built solar panels
My home-built solar panels
More: Home-Made Biomass Gasifier,   Home-Made Vacuum Former,  Home-Made Swamp  Cooler,   Home-Built Ballmill,  Home-Built Kiln Controller,   Cooking,  Rental House Blog,   New house Blog,  Treasure Hunting,   Soap Making,  My Improvised Generator,   Improved Solar/Wind Charge Controller,  DIY Blast Cabinet,  Urban Gold Mining,  My Youtube Channel,  My Wife's Youtube Channel,  My Wife's Blog,  Ancient Artworks (my stepson's business),  Corona Virus Quarantine Diary
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Our new Wyoming ranch.06/18/20 Today we closed on our new property in Wyoming.
Today was a great day. We finally closed on our new property in Wyoming. We own it outright. No mortgage! It's a fantastic property. It's 40 acres with a nice house and five outbuildings,including an observatory! It's in a beautiful area of very rural Wyoming near the tiny town of Pavilion. It's between The Owl Creek Mountains and The Wind River Range, with views of bothranges and of nearby Ocean Lake.

It's going to be our retirement home eventually. Until then, we are renting it out. It's already up for rent. Leslie keeps complaining that she's tired of being a landlord, but here we are withyet another rental property. At least the place will pay for itself (taxes, insurance, etc.), plus bring in some extra income, until we can move out there. Plus the property manager will keep the place upfor us until we can be there fulltime. We plan on living out there after full retirement in a few years. At least we're planning on living there during the Summer. We may not stay during the brutal Wyoming winters. We may eithercome back to Florida or spend the Winter in Arizona.

The view from our new Wyoming ranch.Check out our view of the mountains from the back yard. That is gorgeous! Leslie is headed out there in a couple of days to tend to some things and organize some repairs. I need to stay here in Floridato take care of my mother. Once the ALFs are open again for respite care, I plan on going out for a while to work on it too. I also need to get to Arizona and check on my place there and get my Tacomatruck out of storage. I'll probably find it with a dead battery and soft tires after being in storage for so long. This pandemic has really screwed up our travel plans so far this year. It wasn't meantto be this long between trips out west for us. I can't wait to get out there.

 

The finished power supply project.06/08/20 A 12 Volt Power Supply Using A Ryobi Hand Tool battery.
I was tired of lugging around a heavy, deep-cycle, lead-acid battery to power my telescopes in the field. Then I saw how a friend of mine repurposed a 12 Volt Lithium-ion hand tool battery to power his telescope.I wanted to do the same thing. I own a bunch of Ryobi hand tools, and so have a ton of batteries for them. Problem: My batteries are all 18 Volts. Well, I wasn't about to let that stand in the way. I builtthis nice little 12 Volt power supply, and it works great. It was easy. Click here or on the photo to see how I did it.

UPDATE: This project was recently featured on the HACKADAY tech blog.

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A simple trellis for cucumber vines to climb.05/30/20 Raised Bed Garden Update.
The raised bed garden has really taken off now that the weather is warmer and the days are longer. The cucumbers in particular have just exploded. They have sprawled out in all directions, shading each other andsome of the other plants. I decided they needed to go vertical to keep them from taking over the entire garden. So I built this simple trellis out of some scrap wood and some fencing. I weaved some of the plantsthrough it, and they immediately began climbing it. You can see how many cucumbers we are getting down on the ground. We've picked and used some already. Most are pretty small, but I'm hoping that with the plantsno longer shading each other, they'll have the energy to grow bigger ones.

Besides the cucumbers, several other things are doing very well in the garden. The tree collards have just exploded upwards and leafed out amazingly. Leslie planted two varieties. The purple variety is growing sofast you can practically watch it happening. The green variety isn't doing as well because some kind of little bugs have found it and are busily munching on the leaves. Leslie is using a soap and water solutionto keep them at bay. The sweet basil is also practically exploding. We are going to have a big crop of it. The broccoli, which kind of did nothing for a while, and then looked like it was ready to die out, hassuddenly taken off. we'll see what develops from it.

Some things aren't doing so well. The zucchini that took off so promisingly in the beginning hasn't yet produced any fruit, in spite of much flowering. Some of the plants are starting to die. Others are lookingsickly. Maybe we just don't have the correct pollinators for zucchini. I may try some hand pollination. The cilantro only just got going good, and then went to seed. I think we may have planted it too late.The kale is kind of in a holding pattern. It was looking good for a while, but then just stalled out. Maybe it's too hot for it?

My home-made Seed Logs.05/18/20 How I make home-made seed cylinders or cakes for feeding birds.
Pre-made seed cylinders are very expensive, but bird seed is dirt cheap. So I figured out how to make my own home-made seed cylinders using bird seed and inexpensive materials and ingredients. It's so easy.Once you know the secret you'll never pay for seed cylinders or cakes again. Click here to see the project.

05/13/20 Corona Virus Quarantine Diary: Day 55
Today was almost like a normal day. So normal that nothing was photo-worthy. At least as close to normal as things get with everyone wearing masks and queuing six feet apart. Leslie went in towork as usual today. I spent part of the morningworking on paperwork. Then I went to the hardware store, Lowes and the Post Office. I wore my PPE in all those places, but that doesn't even seem strange anymore. It's just the new normal. In theafternoon I worked on some projects in my workshop. Later I had to deal with a bunch of emails and more paperwork. Then I cooked us all dinner. In the evening I was on a long conference call. Lifeis kind of falling back into it's more or less normal rhythms.

We accepted the seller's counter-offer on the Wyoming place after discussing it with our agent. The big issue is that they will be able to get out of the contract with only 72 hrs notice ifthey get a better offer than ours. Once it looks like the sale of Leslie's place is for sure going through, we can remove our contingency condition and it will nullify their 72 hourclause. So for a while there is a window where someone who likes the place more than us could submit a better offer and we'd be out in the cold. Hopefully the fact that the place is now undercontract will scare away any other potential buyers. We'll see.

Anyway, now that we are under contract, the paper chase begins. I expect to spend the next few days lining up inspections, an appraisal and a hundred other details. Hopefully it won't all be for nothing.

Since the world (or at least Florida and Wyoming) seems to be getting back to something resembling normal, and I am getting busier, these quarantine diary entries may become less frequent.Posts may only happen if there is some major new development.

All older Corona Virus Quarantine Diary entries are now on their own page. This is to keep this top level page of my blog from getting too long and unwieldy. Only thelatest daily entry will be here at the top of this page. Click here to read all the previous Corona Virus Quarantine Diary entries.

03/02/2020 My new CNC router project has been completed!
I decided I needed a better and more accurate CNC router than my old "Woodpile CNC" machine. I planned on making it (almost) entirely from metal, and mostly using 80/20 components.80/20 is billed as the industrial "Erector Set", because you can build almost anything from the standardized parts just by bolting them together. It made the build a lot easier.

This video shows most of the steps in the construction of the machine. It is about 47 minutes long. I have a companion web page for this project that goes into more detailabout the construction that didn't make it into the video. It also clarifies things that may not have obvious or easily understandable in the video.

Click here to see more of this project.

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The raised bed garden boxes under construction.02/11/20 Building some raised bed garden boxes
My wife has been wanting to get into gardening for years. The problem is that we live in the middle of a tree farm. There are very few places where there is adequate sunshine reaching the groundto actually plant a garden. Another problem is that we live in a very swampy area. She'd need raised bed garden boxes to get anything to grow when the weather is wet. After talking about doing it for a long time,I decided to just go ahead and build her a couple of raised garden boxes in the sunniest area of the property as a Valentine's Day present to her.

My carpenter hat and tools were still within easy reach after finishing the below display panels project. So I set to work. I planned on building two 4 by 8 foot garden boxes next to an existingwooden walkway. So we will be able to stay out of the mud when the weather turns wet. Here the boxes are partly built.

The completed raised bed garden boxes.Here are the completed raised bed garden boxes. They are each 4 feet by 8 feet by about 18 inches tall. They were basically made from two stacked untreated 2x10s with 2x4 corner braces,and all held together with lots of 3 inch deck screws. I also lined the bottomsof the boxes with root-stop fabric. Now all we need to do is fill them up with about four cubic yards of nice topsoil and start planting. Happy Vanentine's day, Sweetie!

Visit my New house Blog for more information and updates on this project.

The completed display panels.02/09/20 Building some DIY display panels
My stepson Joe digs, prepares and sells fossils. He goes to a lot of fossil shows. He wanted some display panels to set up in his booth at the shows. He'll hang some of his fossils on them todisplay to the passers by. We looked into the cost of buying "professionally made" display panels, and about gagged. So we decided to build our own DIY panels. It was fairly easy.and a whole lot cheaper.We made three 4 by 6.5 foot thin plywood panels. We edged them with 2 by 2 boards all the way around on the back for rigidity. Then we drilled and bolted through the 2 by 2 edging so the panelscould bolt together in an "L" shape. Then we made some legs for support to keep the panels from tipping over backwards. The final step was to run a steel rod across the top to addstrength and rigidity, and act as a light bar.

Here Joe is putting the final touches on the light bar. All that is left to be done is to paint the front of the panels and add some cleats for hanging his fossils.

The completed display panels from behind.Here is a view of the completed panels from the back. The whole thing disassembles and reassembles with no tools required. Wing nuts and bolts are used to hold it all together. The panels will disassembleinto pieces light enough for Joe to carry, and small enough to fit in the back of his truck, or in our utility trailer. I hope he sells a lot of fossils at future shows.

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The completed air abrasive blast cabinet.01/06/20 Building a DIY "Blast Cabinet" for my stepson
My stepson Joe needed an air abrasive blast cabinet. He preps fossils, mainly fossil fish from the Green River Formation of Wyoming. He uses fine air abrasive tools to remove the matrix andexpose the fossils. It's kind of like sand-blasting, but not as aggressive. However, it is every bit as messy as sand-blasting, and as rough on the lungs. Joe was tired of having to do itoutside while wearing a respirator. He wanted a proper blast cabinet that he could work in inside his workshop. It's a project we have been talking about for a while. We finally all had thetime to come together and build it. It was a quick and fun family project. Check it out.

Four beads of pure gold I extracted from e-waste.12/19/19 My Urban Gold Mining Exploits have their own section now
I just finished a whole new section of my web site dedicated to my Urban Gold Mining exploits. I've been extracting gold from e-wastefor quite a while now, and shooting a lot of video along the way. The new page has a lot of my Urban Gold Mining videos on it. I tryto use simple equipment and inexpensive chemicals wherever possible to keep it cheap to increase the profit margin. You could be getting gold out of electronic scrap too.Check out how I do it.

A photo of my brother in a hospital ICU bed.12/07/19 My brother is dying!
I am sad to report that my younger brother Steve is dying. His liver is failing due to reasons his doctors can't fully explain. Unfortunately he is not a candidate for a transplantbecause of other medical issues he has, including a previous traumatic brain injury, and lung cancer. His cancer can't be treated because he is currently so frail that surgery orchemotherapy would likely kill him. He has been told he has less than six months to live.

A Go Fund Me site has been established for his wife Derinda. She is disabled herself. She is losing not only the love of her life, but also hercaregiver and breadwinner. They have huge medical bills they need help with, as you would imagine. As a result of the medical bills, they fell behind on their Mortgage andhave to move out of their house and into an apartment. So they have moving expenses to deal with as well. Please consider making a small donation tohelp them out. Thank you.

A photo of the moon.12/02/19 A wintery trip to Arizona to do astrophotography and other stuff
I just got back from a 10 day visit to my remote Arizona property just in time for Thanksgiving with the family. The main reason for this trip was to relocate my trusty old Toyota Tacoma pickup truckfrom a storage lot in Albuquerque, NM to a lot in Show Low, AZ. But of course the real purpose of the trip was to indulge in my addiction to astrophotography under the amazingly dark skies in my littlecorner of Arizona. I did a lot of other tings to while I was there too. Check out my vacation and travel photos page to see lots of pictures and a write up of whatall I did. Check it out.

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Climbing is our new hobby.11/12/19 A new hobby!
Leslie's son is into climbing walls. He'd been telling Leslie that she needed to try it. She decided to do it in hopes of becoming a better and more confident climber when we are out in thebadlands fossil hunting. There is a lot of climbing involved in fossil hunting. So we went and took an introductory class. Soon Leslie was hooked. After a few sessionsshe now scales the walls like a monkey. She's even taken an advanced class on climbing theory to make her a better climber. I'd like to join her in the climbing. It looks like tons of fun.Unfortunately I tore a meniscus in my knee recently, so I'm stuck on the ground, at least for now. So I am her belay person, handling the ropes on the ground and keeping her from fallingon the rare occasions she slips.

The big problem is finding the time to go climbing. Neither of us really needed another hobby.

A new house renovation blog.11/05/19 A new house renovation blog
Now that we are married (see below) and I have moved into my wife's house, there are going to be lots of home improvement projects going on in the house we share. I have rented out my oldhouse to some friends of mine. I will still be maintaining and improving it too. So I have decided to create two separate home improvement blogs for the two properties. Click here or on the photo at left of our new house to go to the home improvement blog landing page. From there you can goto either blog to read what has been going on with the two properties.

Wedding photo.10/19/19 We Did It!
We got married. We are just back from our honeymoon. We had a lovely ceremony on the back deck of The Salt Rock Grill at Indian Shores Beach. Then we had the reception inside in the fireplace room.Afterwords we went across the street to the beach for somephotos and some frolicking in the sand. The weather was perfect. The whole thing went off without a hitch. Everyone (we had a lot of guests) had a great time. There was much good food and drink, and of course weddingcake, for all.

Our wedding day was one year to the day since we got engaged in Dubai on the way home from our Africa trip. After the wedding we flew off to a fantastic honeymoonin New Mexico. We flew into Albuquerque and got my Tacoma truck out of storage, then started driving north. We stayed in a quaint B&B in Taos for a couple of nights. Then we went on to the Ojo Caliente MineralSprings resort where we splurged on one of their Cliffside Suites with it's own privatesoaking pool. We had a great time there. While in NM we did a lot of hiking and exploring. We took the roads less traveled at every opportunity. We saw some fantastic sights and had a lot of fun.

I've posted lots more photos from our wedding and the places we went on our honeymoon in the Travel and Vacation section of the web site.Check it out.

I'm looking forward to all the great adventures we are going to have as we spend the rest of our lives together.

10/05/19 We made the move!
So much has happened in a short time. It's been a little crazy.I have moved in with my fiancee and the wedding is only a few days away. I moved out and fixed up my old house so it can be rented out. Tons of work was done on the old house. I think it looksreally good now. Check out my House Blog page to see what all was done. The tenants are moving in today. I'm officially a landlord now. Wow, it's been a real whirlwind.It's not over yet. Next comes the marriage and the honeymoon. Then we have new projects lined up for when we get back.

Just a little update on the house we put in an offer for in Wyoming. The inspection report showed a lot of serious problems with the house. The seller wasn't willing to either lower his askingprice, or fix the problems himself before the closing date. So we had no choice but to rescind our offer and walk away. We'll keep an eye on the place and see what transpires in the future. I can'tsee the owner ever selling it for what he is asking, considering the area and the problems with the property. Sooner or later something will have to give.

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09/07/19 - It's been a real whilrwind lately.
I haven't posted any updates in a while. there's been no time! I've been running around here, there and everywhere like a madman. There's been so much to do. Getting ready for the wedding(which is coming soon!), fixing up my house so I can rent it out, downsizing my stuff so I can move in with Leslie and of course traveling. We spent a nice long weekend on Captiva Island in earlyAugust. Then, before we were hardly unpacked from that, we were off to Wyoming to spend some time at Leslie's place and take a nearly week-long camping trip in Yellowstone National Park.After that, Leslie had to fly back home to attendto family issues. I stayed out west for another two weeks to tend to some needed issues myself, and spend time at my Arizona property. After getting back from there I got a surprise. The teeth andbones I had dug up on our epic May fossil hunting trip to the White River badlands of Nebraska were back from being expertly pieced back together andrestored by Leslie's son Joe. Then wedecided to put a bid in on a house that came up for sale next door to Leslie's place in Wyoming (we looked it over while we were out there). So then there was paperwork to do.I can't remember the last time I was so busy. I may have to give up this semi-retirement thing and go back to work to get some rest.

So much has happened since my last update. Where to begin? It's an embarrassment of riches for a blogger. It's also near impossible to keep up, and some stuff will probably get left out.Ok, so I decided to post this compilation video of thermal features from Yellowstone first. Yellowstone was a blast. We had a great time. I had never been there before. Leslie hadn't beenthere since she was young, and only saw a small part of the park on that trip. We camped there for five days and tried to see as much as we could. It was amazing. We saw all the big thermalfeatures. We saw lots of animals. We saw lots of waterfalls. And I'm sure we only saw a fraction of it all, especially since we threw a trip down to the Grand Tetons into the mix. The parkswere terribly crowded, but that was really to only downside to the trip. Otherwise it was great. We are already planing return trips.

I have lots more photos and video from this trip up on the travel and vacations section of the web site.

Restored titanothere teeth.I'm so excited about how well the titanothere teeth and ribs I dug up in the Nebraska Badlands turned out. I'll bet my teeth won't look so good when they are 30 million years old.I found the bone bed on the afternoon of the last field day of our expedition to the badlands. I dug out the teeth and bonefragments in great haste, and without as much care as I should have used due to time constraints. I brought back quite a jumble of bone and tooth pieces. From that incomplete mess of a jigsawpuzzle, Joe was able to reconstruct three teeth and the ends of two ribs.


Restored titanothere Ribs.Here are the two reconstructed ribs. I have a lot more bone and tooth fragments, but Joe couldn't make much of them. Maybe on our next trip I'll be able to dig up more pieces that will allow forfilling in the gaps and putting together more of the skeleton. I can't wait to get back to the badlands.


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07/19/19 - Making my own Nitric Acid.
My latest hobby of extracting and refining gold from electronic waste would be a lot easier to pursue if I had a good supply of nitric acid. It just comes in so handy for so many aspects of gold recovery and refining.However, nitric acid is horribly expensive. Plus there are added charges tacked onto shipping it since it is such a hazardous substance. I have refused to buy nitric acid til now because the high cost would obliterate anypotential profit I could make in this hobby and put me deep into the red. It would be less expensive to just go buy gold bullion. So I came up with a solution in keeping with my kind of extreme DIY lifestyle. I'mmaking my own nitric acid.

For about what a single one liter bottle of concentrated nitric acid plus shipping would cost, I bought everything I need to make my own nitric acid. This video shows the initial setup of the apparatus and my first nitric acidproduction run. It worked like a dream with no serious issues and a good yield of concentrated, red fuming nitric acid. I then diluted the concentrated acid down to the 68% azeotrope. I have since done several otherproduction runs. I learn a little more each time and get more proficient at it. This home-made nitric acid works like a dream for making aqua regia and dissolving gold. The straight nitric acid also easily dissolvesmetals like silver and copper. I should have done this a long time ago. I think home-made nitric acid may be a viable solution for many home refiners. You can see more about how I make nitric acid and gold recovery inmy urban gold mining series of videos on Youtube.

 

07/07/19 - A Mirror Lab Field Trip.
The core members of The SPAC Mirror Lab went on a field trip to the wilds of Wesley Chapel, FL to look at a portable observatory building that is for sale.We got more than we bargained for.We found ourselves in an astronomy wonderland full of amazing equipment. There was the portable observatory of course, but also a huge, 30 foot diameter, radio telescope right next to it.There was also a plethora of other interesting astronomy instruments and equipment, plus lens and mirror making equipment. The St. Petersburg Astronomy Club(SPAC) is considering buying the portable observatory and moving it to our dark sky observing site. The Mirror Lab Crew will advise the board of directors on the condition of the observatory andwhat will likely be needed to move it and get it up and running. Check out the video.

 

06/24/19 - Panning gold from incinerated and crushed RAM chips.
Here is the latest entry in my urban gold mining series of videos. A couple of months agoI incinerated and crushed up some RAM chips that were the byproduct of recovering gold from the fingersof computer memory SIMMs. I intended to process the material and recover any gold bond wires present in the chips. But then I went away on my epic, month-long, vacation (see below) and completelyforgot about the project. So yesterday I was cleaning out my storage shed and found the bag of crushed and sieved chip remains. I decided to pan it out in my favorite gold pan and see what I'dget. The results were surprising. There was more gold in those RAM chips than I expected. I'll be doing more of this in the future. Check out the video.

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The Gateway Arch in St Louis Missouri.05/29/19 - Back from a month long vacation.
Click here to go to a page of photos and videos from this trip.
This was the longest vacation I have ever taken in my life. It was great to get away for so long. It was an epic, cross-country adventure. I drove across 14 different states, visiting some several times.Here I am at the base of the Gateway Arch in St Louis Missouri. I've always wanted to see it. Finally had the chance. Driving across the midwest in spring time was beautiful. Everything was so greenand vibrant. Wildflowers were blooming. It was a fantastic trip. Traffic was also surprisingly good most places, considering how much driving I did. There were only a few bad spots, like Nashville,where things got all snarled up. For the most part it was smooth sailing almost the whole way.

States I drove across or visited on this trip were:

Florida
Georgia
Tennessee
Kentucky
Illinois
Missouri
Kansas
Colorado
Wyoming
Nebraska
South Dakota
Utah
Arizona
New Mexico

A few states like Wyoming, Nebraska and Colorado got driven across multiple times due to our itinerary.

My Toyota Tacoma at the Colorado border.Click here to go to a page of photos and videos from this trip.
As I said above. I drove across the country this time. I usually fly for my vacations. This time was different because I wanted to relocate my old, reliable Toyota Tacoma out west so I would have itavailable for future vacation trips. No more having to rent a 4X4 truck every time I go out west. Now I have one in storage in Albuquerque, just a short Uber ride from the airport. This is going tosave me a ton of money in the long run. The storage fees are nothing compared to the cost of renting a 4X4 pickup for a few weeks multiple times a year.

Here my Tacoma is posing at the Colorado border on the way to Denver to pick up Leslie who was flying out. I took off a few days earlier so I could pick her up at the Denver airport. Then we headedup to Wyoming to visit relatives of hers, then spend some time at her property. Next it was off to Nebraska for a couple weeks of fossil hunting in the White River Badlands, with detours into South Dakota(I hope I someday get to see South Dakota when it isn't raining, sleeting or snowing). Then it was back to Leslie's place in Wyoming for a while. Then we drove down to Arizona to spend time at myplace. Then finally we drove to Albuquerque, put the truck in storage, and flew home.

Whew! What a whirlwind adventure. Hard to believe we were gone for a whole month. So much was packed into this trip that the time seemed to fly by quickly. I was joking with Leslie that we need toget back to work to get some rest.

The primary purpose of this trip as to go fossil hunting in the White River Badlands of Nebraska. We were going to be out there for almost two weeks of this month long vacation. The first few dayswe were in Nebraska it was raining too hard to go fossil hunting. So we did the tourist thing and went to a lot of museums and monuments, including Mt. Rushmore. We went to Mt. Rushmore last yeartoo on a rainy day. We really weren't expecting a return trip this year, but one member of our party had never been there, so we went again even though the weather looked bad and none of us were reallyexpecting to be able to see much. Once in the Black Hills of South Dakota, the persistent rain turned into snow. The visibility at Mt. Rushmore was surprisingly good, and the snow added a new anddelightful dimension to the place. Plus it gave a bunch of crazy Floridians and excuse to act like kids and play in the snow. We made snowmen, had snowball fights, and a few other snow-relatedshenanigans. It was a lot of fun.

This is only the first of several videos and tons of photos that will eventually be posted in the travel and fossil hunting sections of the web site. It's going to take me a while to get it alltogether. This month-long trip was almost as epic as the Africa and Middle East trip we took last year. There is just so much stuff we saw and did. It's going totake a while to get it all together. Stay tuned.

 

04/28/19 - Lovebug Apocalypse In Florida.
Every spring in Florida the lovebugs come out. This spring it's just crazy. I've never seen them so thick. We went to the Peace River Adventure fossil hunt this weekend and got absolutely plasteredwith them. It was like driving through a heavy rainstorm in parts of Hardee County. Every stall in the gas station we pulled into was full with people cleaning them off their windshields.That was the reason we stopped too. All the cars arriving at the park for the fossil hunt were just covered with them. Check out the video. It's insane how bad the bugs were.

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04/22/19 - Recovering Gold From E-Waste.
Check out this video I shot of one of my latest projects. I have accumulated a large amount of electronic scrap over the years. I have been careful to save the stuff with any gold on it. FinallyI decided to try recovering some of that gold. I've processed several batches now. It's been a bit of a learning experience. The first run went ok, but was a bit of a mess. I mixed too manydifferent types of e-waste. You can click here to see that video. I learned a lot the first time, and did even better the second time. This video is of the second run whereI had learned a few things and did a much better job of collecting clean gold. A few more runs and I'll have enough gold to try purifying it to 24K and melting it into a button. Eventually I planto have a web page all about how I do it.

Essentially free gold! Gotta love it. Stay tuned for more adventures in gold recovery.

UPDATE - My first gold drop.
Check out this video. I decided I had enough gold recovered from electronic scrap to try dissolving and purifying it. I dissolved the gold in hydrochloric acid and bleach. I did not film that part because I was notsure it would work. It worked like a charm though and the gold obediently went into solution creating beautiful orange chloroauric acid. I filtered the liquid to remove impurities. Then I usedSodium Metabisulfite to precipitate the gold and drop it from solution. The resulting fine powder of pure 24K gold weighed in at 0.4 grams, which was more than I was expecting. This is fun.

UPDATE 2 - My first gold drop - Part 2.
Check out this video. I concentrated the leftover solution from the first gold precipitation and added more Sodium Metabisulfite to precipitate more gold and drop it from solution. I got a little bit more gold. Not reallyenough to measure on my cheap scale, but some more. The remaining liquid still tests positive for dissolved precious metals. At this point I am pretty sure just platinum group metals remain in thesolution. I have started a "stock pot" to store my waste gold recovery solutions in. There is a strip of copper metal in it. The dissolved precious metals in the solutions are "cementing" out onto thecopper and dropping to the bottom of the pot as a fine black powder. If I eventually accumulate enough I may try refining platinum and palladium from the sludge in the bottom of the stock pot.

 

My new astrograph setup on the pool deck.03/27/19 - First Light for my 12.5in diameter astrograph.
Just had first light for an astrograph project I have been working on for quite some time. It is a 12.5 inch diameter, f/4.4, pure astrographic telescope.There is no eyepiece. It is purely aphotographic instrument. It's a monster made entirely of aluminum, a lot of aluminum. In fact I affectionately cal it Al in honor of its all aluminum construction. I fabricated every bit ofthis instrument myself, including the honeycomb-back primary mirror and a large, lost foam aluminum casting in the mirror cell. Here in this photo you can see the not quite completed instrument mountedon my Losmandy G-11 mount. Though not completed, it was done enough to start some testing. Nothing was yet painted black and there is no light shielding installed yet. So I had considerable troublewith stray light issues. The remote focus wasn't yet working properly either, but I couldn't wait any longer to see what this baby could do. First I needed to balance it on the mount. Then aconsiderable length of time was spent finding focus. Once all that was done I could try imaging.

First Light image for my new astrograph.I was just blown away by how much light this instrument gathers and sends to the focal plane. My first few images were nearly totally saturated. At first I assumed it was due to stray light.Eventually I figured out that AL was just gathering so much light that the images were horribly over-exposed. So I kept shortening the exposures and reducing the ISO setting on the camerauntil I started getting shots that weren't totally over-exposed. This shot is a stack of five 15 second exposures shot at ISO 100! Amazing!

The stars are quite elongated, but that is due to a tracking problem with the mount, not a problem with the astrograph. My poor old Losmandy mount is in need of some TLC. That is comingin the form of a total drive and electronics upgrade that will be done soon. Still, this is an amazing first light image. I couldn't be happier with it. Things are only going to get better.The astrograph is going to have all parts in the light path painted ultra-flat black. A light shield shroud is going to be installed. The remote focus parts and Losmandy upgrade parts havejust arrived. A reflex sight and guidescope still need to be installed. This instrument is going to be a work in progress for quite a while until I get it tweaked to my satisfaction. EventuallyI will be taking it to the SPAC dark sky observing site to give it a real workout. Eventually though, to get the most out of this amazing instrument, it is going to need to be permanentlymounted and housed in an observatory. Building one is on my to-do list for my remote Arizona property.

How long have I been working on this project? I guess you could say at least 10 years. Ever since I first decided to try making light-weight, honeycomb mirrors. Building a large astrograph with onewas always in the back of my mind. It took me a long time to perfect the mirror design. Then I had to grind and polish this particular mirror. Then I had to design a mirror cell. Then Icould start on the overall design of the astrograph and begin construction. The actual construction of the astrograph once I had a mirror and cell in hand only took a few months. I willeventually have a complete description of the Construction process in the Scopeworks section of my web site.

This astrograph turned out so well that I am already working on another one using a very fast 10in, f/3.2 mirror blank I slumped to shape myself in a kiln. It will bemore easily portable than Al is. Watch for that one to make its debut here sometime in the future. There's still a lot of work to be done on it.

 

The view from where we will be married.03/25/19 - Checking out the venue where we are going to get married.
A while back Leslie and I went to have a look at the venue where we are planning on getting married and finalize the details. This is a view from their back deck out over the water. Notbad. We are planning an outdoor wedding on the deck with this lovely view out over the water and boats. It's going to be a lovely wedding. We can't wait.

 

Me at the 2019 Orange Blossom Special Star Party.02/12/19 - Attended the 2019 Orange Blossom Special Star Party.
The 2019 Orange Blossom Special Star Party was a little over a week ago. As usual I was there with my big scope. The weather wasn't so good this year, but most of us still managed to havea good time. Click here or on the photo to go tomy Travel and Vacation Photos Section for lots of photos and a write-up of this year's star party.

 

01/14/19 - Successful slump of a 16 inch mirror.
I have successfully slumped a 16 inch mirror blank to f/3.75. This video shows a lot of the steps in the process. It compresses weeks of effort into less than 15 minutes of video.This is by far the best looking mirror blank I have ever slumped. Using a smoother mold and a lower processing temperature resulted in a near perfect slump. I will eventually puttogether a web page on mirror slumping with more information and sharing more details, including the firing schedule, in the Scopeworks section of my web site. This blank is going to make a great telescope mirror. I can't wait to start working on it.

 

The new topper for my F-150 truck.01/11/19 - A topper for my F-150
The topper I ordered for my new F-150 truck finally arrived. It really looks great. I'm going to go back and get a roof rack installed too so I can haul our kayaks on top. That'llprobably happen next week. I also got rubber floor mats for it to keep our wet and sandy feet off the carpet when we go to the beach or fossil hunting. Plus I installed a trailer hitch.The truck is just about ready for some serious adventuring.

Update: The Thule roof rack has been installed. Now I can carry our kayaks up on top, or bring home a big load of lumber for various projects. Love it.

I also had the truck inspected and certified at the local Ford dealership and since it is in such good condition I was able to purchase three more years of bumper to bumper factory warranty for it. Now it really is just like a brand new truck in spite of being used.

 

Fossils collected at Venice Beach.12/27/18 - A Christmas Day Fossil Hunt
Our families had our Christmas get-together, dinner and gift exchange on Christmas Eve. That left my fiancee and myself free to spend Christmas day together doing whatever we liked. Wedecided to head down to Venice Beach to hunt fossils and shark teeth. The wind and water were cold, but the beach was absolutely jam-packed with people. Looks like everyone in west Floridadecided to hit the beach on Christmas day. We weren't expecting such a crowd. It was hard to find a parking place, and we had to walk a long way north along the beach to find places not socrowded where we could do our shoveling, scooping, sifting and sorting. Like I said above, the water was cold, so we were only out there a couple of hours before we were both chilled enoughto call it quits. Still we found some good stuff. We got a lot of shark teeth, including one mini meg tooth of respectable size. We got lots of stingray mouth plate parts. We also foundlots of bits of wave tumbled bone that is not really identifiable, but likely from dugong ribs. We also found a sea urchin spine, some fossilized sea shells, bits of turtle shell and whatlooks to me like a piece of tusk ivory. The best find of all though was a huge dermal scute my fiance found sitting on the dry sand above the water line. We aren't sure what it is from. Wealso collected a few of the pretty modern shells we scooped up. Most of this stuff is destined for the kid's mine at Fossil Fest where a big sandbox is salted with fossils and kids are taughthow to sift through it to find and identify fossils. Click the image for a larger view.

 

A close-up of an African Elephant.12/23/18 - Major update to the Africa and Dubai page
I've just completed a major update of my Africa and Dubai trip page. The third member of our party, Mary in Ohio, just sent us a thumb drive with all her photosfrom the trip. I have added some of her photos and expanded the write-ups. Mary got some really great photos, and different angles on things, that neither Leslie nor I got.Check it out

 

Galaxy M33 shot from my remote Arizona property.12/14/18 - Just back from an extended vacation in Arizona
I just got back from an extended stay at my remote property in Arizona. It was great, but really cold. I'd never been out there in December Before. It may be a while before I go back inDecember, or any other winter month. I did have a good time in spite of the cold. I got a lot done, including doing a lot of astrophotography. Here is a photo of galaxy M33 taken onthis trip. Check out lots more photos and the full write-up on the trip on my vacation and travel photos page.

 

My new Ford F-150 Truck.11/15/18 - I bought a new truck!
Well, new to me. It's a used F-150, but in like new condition. I got it at an amazing price, (I practically stole it), so I couldn't resist. I think it has almost every option knownto man on it too. I had been toying with the idea of buying a full-size pickup. I've been renting them on vacation trips to essentially test drive them. I'd shopped around a little lately too.I didn't see anything like this truck at any less than several thousand more. When this listing showed up at a nearby Ford dealership I knew had to go take a look. I checked it out frontto back, crawled underneath it, and into the engine compartment, I took it on a vigorous test drive meant to expose any rattles, squeaks, engine, transmission or brake issues. The poor salesman ridingalong managed to not loose his lunch. I bought it on the spot after the test drive. It's fantastic. I love it. The only modification I am going to make is to add a topper to it tokeep my stuff dry.

As you can just see from the photo in the background, my Toyota Tacoma is still here. I didn't trade it in. My plan is to drive it out to Arizona in the Spring and it can live the rest of its life outthere. I'll put it in storage near the airport. Then when I fly out to my place in Arizona I just need to take an Uber from the airport to the storage facility and presto, I have avehicle. No more rental cars. I've found several possibilities for cheap storage that make this plan more cost effective than continuing to rent vehicles on my trips. Especially sinceI am planning more and longer trips in the future.

 

A pair of giraffes.11/03/18 - Africa and Dubai trip page online!
It took a while, but I finally have the web page with lots of photos and videos from our Africa and Dubai trip online. This page will likely be a work inprogress for a while. There's lots more stuff I want to add to it. As it is now though, it's a good start. There's already over a hundred photos and videos on it. It'll give you a goodidea of a lot of the places we went and the stuff we saw and did on our amazing 15 day trip.

Check it out.

 

A leopard resting in the shade in Serengeti National Park.10/25/18 - A couple more Photos from our Africa Trip.
Still working on getting the dedicated Africa page put together,Here's a really great photo of a leopard my fiancee took. Our guide knew the leopard was hiding in the rocks somewhere.We drove around looking for him for an hour before finally spotting him. He was well hidden. He was only visible from one place through a gap in the rocks.

A pair of black-backed jackals in Serengeti National Park.And here is a photo of a couple of black-backed jackals. I think they were some of the cutest animals we saw in Africa.


 

A group of three lionesses and a kitten in Serengeti National Park.10/22/18 - More Photos from our Africa Trip.
While I slowly get the dedicated Africa page put together, I'll preview some of the highlights here. It's going to be a while. Leslie and I exchanged photos yesterday.Now I have hundreds more photos to sort through. Eventually I'll get Mary's photos too. Who knew three people could take so many photos in two weeks?It's just anincredible mountain of material, and there is only so much time in the day to deal with it. Once online, the page will likely be a work in progress for quite a while.

Anyway, here's a photo of three lionesses and a kitten. I have video of this family group too. It will get uploaded to Youtube eventually. Also, I'm trying out a newand slightly larger photo size for my blog to see if I like it. As always, click on the photos for a larger view.

A lone zebra in Serengeti National Park.And here is a photo of a lone zebra. We saw thousands of zebras, singularly, in small groups and in huge herds. Something about this photo of a lone zebra in front of a loneacacia tree just grabs me. I really like it.

Hard to believe I could come to love a place so much after such a brief exposure to it, but I really miss Africa. Every day there was magical.

 

A cheetah sitting on a termite mound in Serengeti National Park.10/18/18 - Working on getting the African Vacation Photos Online.
I'm working on getting a lot of the photos and video from our recent vacation to Africa and Dubai online. It's going to take a while. The number of photos and videos I shot was massive.Plus I was traveling with two other people who shot a lot of great photos too. There is too much stuff for my usual travel and vacation photos site. I'm going to build a dedicated sectionjust for this vacation and all the media that came from it. It's just going to take a while.

In the meantime, here is a photo of a cheetah sitting on a termite mound in Serengeti National Park surveying the countryside for something to hunt.

And here is a video of the Dubai Fountain Show. The Dubai Fountain is the world's largest choreographed fountain system. It sits at the base of the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building,and right next to the Dubai Mall, the world's largest mall. That's how they are in Dubai. Everything has to be the world's biggest, world's tallest, world's most spectacular, whatever it is.Second best isn't good enough for them over there.

I have to admit, it is a spectacular show, especially after dark. The shows draw huge crowds.

 

10/16/18 - Back from the hurricane zone.
We went up to the Florida Panhandle yesterday to check on my fiancee's weekend place and deliver relief supplies to some of her relatives who were right in the path when hurricane Michaelcame ashore. We loaded the truck down with lots of bottled water, food, diapers, gas cans, propane, a generator, chainsaws, tarps and roof repair supplies. We left Sunday night and stopped inChiefland, which was as close as we could get where there were still motel vacancies. Further north everything was full of refugees. We didn't want to arrive after dark since we knew therewould be no power, water or services. We got an early start the next morning and drove the rest of the way to Chattahoochee.

We started seeing trees down just west of Tallahassee. The further west we went the worse it got. We saw amazing destruction. Much of the worst of it was not captured in this video. Powerlines were down for miles at a stretch due to fallen trees. We saw a stretch of forest where almost every tree was snapped off like so many matchsticks. Every street light in Chattahoocheeis twisted or broken off. We saw sturdy concrete power poles snapped like twigs and their high tension power lines dropped into the road. We saw a church with nearly every shingle, and theunderlying tar paper, blown away. We saw awnings and metal carports twisted and blown away. We saw trees dropped on houses and cars. Terrible destruction, and we didn't even get near thecoast where things are so much worse.

My fiancee's place had a dozen trees down, with three of them having fallen on the roof. Fortunately the damage was very minor. We attacked the downed trees with our chainsaws and clearedeverything off the roof in about two hours of really sweaty hot work. Just as we finished clearing the roof and ensuring there was no serious damage, a professional landscaping crew pulledup and gave her an estimate on cleaning up the rest of the downed trees and debris. Since we were pretty much spent by then, she jumped on the offer. In only a few more hours they had theentire property cleaned up and back to normal. We were amazingly lucky. Not only was there no serious damage, but we got the whole place cleaned up before we had to start the long driveback home.

While we were working, a stream of her relatives who live in the area stopped by to receive the supplies we had brought with us. They were incredibly thankful and grateful for the supplies.Things are going to be a mess up there for a while. I have to say though, I was amazed at how great the response from FEMA was. We passed multiple distribution points where bottled water,MREs, tarps and other supplies were being handed out free of charge to the locals. We saw several staging areas where massive piles of bottled water and other supplies were being stockpiled.we saw helicopters bringing in lots of supplies in big cargo nets slung below them. Nothing like that response happened around here when Irma came through last year. FEMA seems to actuallyhave it's act together this time.

 

10/14/18 - I'm Engaged!
Just got back from an amazing two week vacation to Tanzania Africa and Dubai in the UAE. WOW! words fail me to describe just how awesome it was. The highlight was my girlfriend and Igetting engaged in Dubai. We went ring shopping in the famous Gold Souk gold market in Dubai. That was undoubtedly the highlight of the trip, but every day was just amazing. Eight dayson safari in the Serengeti was the trip of a lifetime. We saw truly amazing things. Back in Dubai we went dune bashing out in the Arabian Desert in modified land cruisers, and then gotto fly falcons and eagles at a day long falconry class. I have hours of video and about a thousand photos. Going to take me forever to get it all sorted out and on my blog.

Here is the first of many, many videos from the trip to be uploaded to Youtube. Migrating wildebeest crossing the Mara River in Tanzania. Watch to the end for a big surprise.

Dubai from the top of the Burj Khalifa.Here is a photo of Dubai from the top of the tallest building in the world, The Burj Khalifa. We went to the top to watch the sunset and see the lights of the city come on below. Absolutelyamazing. Click the photo for a larger view.

Much more to come about this trip. First though we need to head up to the panhandle to help with the hurricane relief efforts. My fiancee (never get tired of using that word) has a weekend place thereand lots of relatives there who were right at ground zero for the landfall. We are taking food, water, gas, a generator, chainsaws, tarps ladders and lots of other stuff up to help out. We'llprobably have lots of photos and video of the area when we return.

 

Galaxy M101.09/11/18 - Just got back from vacation.
I just got back from a much needed and really great nine day vacation to my remote Arizona property. It was a really restful and relaxing visit. I got a lot accomplished while I was there,but still found time to just goof off and have fun too. I got to do some astronomy, even though the weather was pretty cloudy most of the time. Here is a 50 minute exposure of M101. It turned outpretty good. Click the photo to more photos and read about all my adventures from this vacation on my Travel and Vacation Photos page.

 

08/19/18 - Beach Re-Nourishment at Indian Rocks Beach, Florida.
My girlfriend and I like to take long walks on the beach in the evenings after dinner. We try to get out there at least a couple of times a week, and we walk at least four miles each time.A four mile walk in the sand is quite a workout. Plus the beach at night is cooler, less crowded, and more romantic;-) Anyway, we could see the beach renourishment happening off in the distanceat the far northern end of our walks. Last night we decided to get a closer look. We parked two miles further north than usual and started our walk from there. It was still 1.3 miles beforewe reached the area where they are currently working.

There is some sort of large barge about a mile offshore pumping sand slurry through a pipe about four feet in diameter onto the beach. A big machine separates out any debris, and just let'sclean sand and water flow onto the beach. Two huge bulldozers were spreading the sand around. They were about doubling the width of the beach to provide for protection from storms. We continuedwalking for another 0.7 miles beyond the work zone before turning around and heading back to the truck. The new wider beach on the far side was really nice. Since we are both into paleontology,we wished we could have got a look into the dumpster all the debris separated from the sand was being dumped into. We could hear stuff banging its way down the length of the pipe. There wereprobably a lot of nice shells and maybe some big shark teeth and fossils in there. No dice though. A guy was patrolling the parameter of the work zone and shooing everyone away. Gotta find outwhere they dump that stuff.

 

08/14/18 - Facing off a plaster mold and lost foam casting in Aluminum.
Last weekend used my Woodpile CNC mill to face off the top of a refractory plaster mold I had cast earlier using the foam mold in the below video from 7/14/18. It was my first experimentwith milling plaster. I dished out the top surface to f/4 so the resulting cast glass telescope mirror blank would have a constant glass thickness. It went well, but I am concernedabout tool life. The tool seems to have been dulled a lot by the cut. The refractory plaster I use for molding glass is filled with silica and alumina to make it more heat resistant.That also tends to make it dull cutting tools quickly. I'll keep experimenting though. Maybe cutting the molds out of disks of plaster will be a better method than cutting a pattern in foamand then casting the plaster in it. Time will tell.

A rough cast aluminum disk.I also did a little lost foam casting last weekend. I needed an aluminum disk 1/2 inch thick for another project. I didn't have any flat stock on hand that I could cut it out of, so naturallyI thought of firing up the foundry and casting one. It went surprisingly well, or at least seemed to at first. It always surprises me how easy lost foam casting in ordinary sand is. On the leftis the kind of pattern I was using. On the right is the result. I don't know if the three soda straw vents were really needed, but they take no time to add, and they are easy to cut off thefinished castings.

A rough cast aluminum disk and cast rod stock.Here I have cut off the vents from the disk casting. I also sawed off the riser in the middle later. I then center drilled the disk and screwed it onto an arbor so I could mount it in a lathe.My plan was to take the disk in to work early on Monday and clean it up on the toolroom lathe we have there. I had also cast a large round rod of Aluminum using a bean can as a mold. I can turn itdown to make any large parts I would need large diameter round stock for.

Things didn't go quite as planned. I knew the disk was a little warped (kind of like a potato chip) but didn't think it was toobad. Once it was turning in the lathe though, I could see just how bad it really was. There was no salvaging it. I tried casting another disk the next day, with even worse results. I think theproblem is that the foam I am using has essentially no rigidity. As I ram the sand in the molds around the foam, the sand flows and warps the foam. I may try again with a more rigid foam and lighterramming. Either that or bite the bullet and get some 1/2 inch flat plate to cut the disk from. I may also experiment with coating the forms with a ceramic shell and burying them in loose dry sandfor support during casting. Anyway, it was an interesting learning experience. Plus it's always fun to play with molten metal.

The bean can casting all cleaned up on the lathe.UPDATE: This is the above bean can aluminum casting after cleaning it up on the lathe. Wow! That really turned out nice. I cleaned up the ripples left on the surface by the ribs in thecan. I also squared up the ends. Both ends had been dished in from shrinkage and the top was really rough and irregular. That all cleaned up and squared off nicely. The final diameter after cleanup isjust a few thousandths under 3 1/8 inches. I see no gas bubbles or voids. It machines nicely and leaves a nice looking surface. This is totally going to be a great piece of stock for future machining projects.

On another note, I am starting to experiment with ceramic shell molds for my lost foam casting. Not only do my lost foam castings sometimes warp when packed in sand (see above), but they also tend to have alot of tiny gas bubbles in them. I kind of doubt the bubbles are a big issue for most things I do. They are really tiny, but there are a lot of them. I guess as the foam vaporizes some gas gets incorporatedin the molten metal. So I'm thinking that the ceramic shell method could eliminate two problems at once. I'll burn out or dissolve out the foam from the shell prior to casting. I'll post results as soon asI have some to share.

 

07/14/18 - Birthday CNC Milling Mirror Molds.
My birthday was a few days ago. I've successfully completed another orbit around the Sun! My girlfriend and I had a great celebration of my birthday last weekend and there was a little partyMonday night because that's when everyone could get together. That left me free to do my own thing on my actual birthday. So I naturally took off early from work, went into my workshop, andspent the evening working on my own beloved projects. That included CNC milling this 14 inch honeycomb-back mold for a light-weight telescope mirror. I finally got the program to run all the waythrough the 2 1/2 hour cut without screwing up. It looks great. Can't wait to fill it with plaster and make a negative to use to cast glass. I had better buy more refractory plaster first. Iwant to make sure I have enough on hand for the project. I also cut a 10 inch f/3 slumping mold on my home-built CNC router and used it to cast a couple of plaster molds. Mirror slumping issomething I have been wanting to get into big time. So I decided it was high time to get going on it. I love nothing better than building stuff, so it was a great birthday. Even if I did haveto take some time out to fix a sudden bad leak under the bathroom sink. Oh the joys of home ownership. But at least I did manage to fix it myself without calling in a plumber. That gave a greatsense of accomplishment, almost as good as building something.

In this video I show the milling of the honeycomb mirror mold, show and talk about some mirror slumping molds I also made, and talk about issues with and future upgrades to my home-made"Woodpile" CNC router. Check it out.

 

Titanothere ribs found in the white River Badlands of Nebraska.05/17/18 - Nebraska Badlands Fossil Adventure
I hardly had a chance to catch my breath after the Peace River Adventure before we were off to the White River Badlands of Nebraska for a fossil hunting adventure. This was an absolutely amazing trip to oneof the few parts of the country I hadn't been to yet. It was also a much more serious and organized fossil hunt than any I had been on before, with people who take their fossil hunting very seriously and go for thebig game. This photo is of some Titanothere ribs that were found on this trip. I absolutely loved it, and I learned a lot too. I hope to go back again. Check out my fossilhunting web page for more info and photos.

Click the photo to see more.

 

Our best finds from fossil hunting the Peace River.05/01/18 - More Fossil Hunting Adventures!
Last weekend my girlfriend and I participated in the Tampa Bay Fossil Club's annual Peace River Adventure. We camped out for several days with a huge group of people and kayaked up the peace river to hunt fossils. We found some reallygood stuff this time, and had a really great time too. Check out my fossil hunting web page for more info and photos.

Click the photo to see more.

 

My wide-field astrophotography rig.05/01/18 - My Wide-Field Astrophotography Rig.
This is an autoguiding rig I built to allow me to take long-exposure photos using regular camera lenses. I wanted to to do some wide-field astrophotographybut had problems with guiding errors showing up in long exposures of more than a minute or two. So I figured out a way to mount both my camera and my guide scope and autoguideron top of my telescope mount so I could get auto guided exposures. It was super simple to build and it works great. I used it to take some of the fantastic astrophotos I goton my last vacation out to my remote Arizona property. Check it out.

Click the photo to see more.

 

The Flame and Horsehead nebulas.04/20/18 - Just back from vacation.
I just got back from another epically great vacation out to my remote Arizona property. I spent a little over a week living in my little cabin in the woods. It was just the kind of break I needed from the stress of work. Naturally while I was out there I engaged in lots of astrophotography, and lots of other fun things too. You can see more photos and a full write-up of the trip on the Vacations and Travel Photos section of my web site or click the photo.

Click the photo to see more.

 

The sunshine Skyway Bridge on Tampa Bay.04/03/18 - A nice Easter.
My girlfriend has a huge family. She has lots of cousins and second cousins. Her favorite saying is "I have a cousin for that," whenever any kind of issue arises. We went to EasterSunday luncheon at one of her cousin's houses. It was a really great time. There were lots of people. We played lawn games, croquet and lawn darts. We ate way too much really good food.Then we sat around like lizards in the sun all full and torpid enjoying the pleasant sea breeze blowing in off the water and talking for hours about everything under the sun. Theweather was absolutely perfect. It was a really nice Easter.

Later in the evening we explored an Indian mound and went for a walk in a waterfront park to try to work off some of the food. Here is a photo of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge on Tampa Baytaken from the park. It was a nice break from spending all weekend painting like I have been the last few weekends. What a nice day it was.

Click the photo to see a larger image.

 

Painting my house.03/26/18 - House Painting!
Lots of house painting has been going on the last few weeks. I want to get the whole job done while the weather is cool and dry. As of now the exterior of the house is about 3/4 painted.It's been going really well, and it looks fantastic. The story and photos can be found on my House Blog.

Click the photo to see the whole story.

 

Cutting the top off of large glass jug.03/10/18 - Slicing a glass jug.
I've been playing with my big wet diamond saw. I used it to cut the top off of a big, 5-gallon, glass jug. I had to build a jig that allowed me to rotate the jug against the blade. It worked pretty well.At least I didn't break the jug. My idea here is to make a big bell jar for doing some vacuum experiments. I got the jug for free and had no real use for it. So I decided to try making a big bell jarout of it. I need to flatten, smooth and polish the rim. I'm pretty sure I can do that. One possible fly in the ointment is that after cutting the top off I could see that the wall thickness variespretty dramatically from one side of the jug to the other. The thin side is a little worrying. It makes me wonder if it will withstand atmospheric pressure when a vacuum is pulled inside it. I maybuild an explosion cage to go over it and stand well back the first few times I pump it down.

A decent size vacuum chamber would allow me to do all kinds of neat experiments. Everything from aluminizing telescope mirrors to growing my own CVD diamonds, and much more. This project is in its infancy.It may be a while before there are any results.

UPDATE: Even after smoothing out the rim, I don't think the thin glass on one side will withstand atmospheric pressure when if pull a vacuum inside it. Basically it would just be a big shrapnel bomb. Not goingto risk it. I'll buy a nice, thick glass bell jar meant for use with vacuum. Maybe I'll turn this jug into a big round fish tank or something. Either that or melt it down and make a telescope mirror blank outof it.

Click the photo for a larger view.

 

Three big shark teeth.02/24/18 - A President's Day Fossil Hunt
This last Monday both my girlfriend and I were off. It is rare that we both have the same day off. So we decided to go kayaking and fossil hunting.We loaded up our kayaks and headed to the peace river for a day of paddling and fossil hunting. We had a good time, and found some good stuff too. This is a photo oftwo partial Megalodon teeth and a whole Mako shark tooth we found. We found a lot of other stuff too.

Click the photo to see more photos and read more.

Photos from the 2018 Orange Blossom Special Star Party.02/21/18 - The 2018 Orange Blossom Special Star Party
I have posted a few photos from this year's Orange Blossom Special Star Party on my Travel and Vacation Photos Page. The weather was pretty bad this year,but we all had a good time anyway. the star party turned into a just plain party. It takes more than a few clouds to dampen our spirits. Click the photo or the link to see more.

Turning a core sample into stone coasters.02/03/18 - Making coasters at the Mirror Lab.
We lab rats who like to hang out at The SPAC Mirror Lab are first and foremost astronomy and optics geeks, but all sciences are welcomed, studied and enjoyed by our members.Geology is a side interest many of us share. So when Ralph Craig showedup with a four inch diameter core sample from a deep injection well being drilled in Manatee County, we were naturally fascinated by it. Ralph asked if I could use my new diamond wet saw to cut some disks offof it to see the internal banding of the different minerals. I said sure, and proceeded to turn about a foot and a half of it into 1/2 inch thick stone coasters. It was a lot of fun, and I snagged a few of the disks formyself to use as coasters. The way the different minerals intertwine with each other is amazing. No two disks are the same, and they are all fascinating. This photo doesn't do them justice. I plan on coating my diskswith polyurethane to bring the detail in them that is only visible otherwise when they are wet. It was a fun and educational day at the lab.

Click the photo for a larger view.

My orthopedic boot.01/30/18 - Goodbye boot.
I've been suffering from a serious high ankle sprain since last September. I've been wearing an orthopedic boot for a few months now to get it to heal. It hasn't been much fun, but the boothas been a big help. Hobbling around in it has been awkward, but it helped a lot with reducing the pain and promoting the healing. It took a while between my age and the fact that I have tobe on my feet most of each day, the healing has taken a long time. This last week is the first whole week I've gone without the boot. And today is the first day I've had in a long time whereI was almost completely pain free. It feels so good to have two good working feet again. It's not quite 100% yet. I have to be careful how I move and which shoes I wear. I don't want to re-injureit and go back to the boot. It's great to be able to work around the house again and work on some of my projects and pastimes that got sidelined while I was recovering.

My home-built foundry.12/17/17 - My Home-made Foundry.
I've added a new section to the web site covering the construction of my home-built foundry for melting aluminum, brass, bronze and copper. The constructionis super easy. The new section also covers my first few lost foam metal casting projects. Almost anyone ought to be able to build a foundry like this and melt down some metal for use in lostfoam or lost wax casting. Check it out.

The north America Nebula.11/22/17 - I'm home from a great vacation.
I just got back from a really great vacation to my remote Arizona property where I relaxed, decompressed and did some astrophotography. This is a photo of the North America Nebula I tookwhile I was out there. Lots more photos and descriptions can be seen on the travel and vacation section of the web site, or you can click the photo at the left to see more.

My new kayak.10/22/17 - I bought a kayak!
I decided a while ago that I needed to buy my own kayak. So I don't have to keep borrowing my girlfriend's son's kayak when the two of us want to go up the river. I looked at new ones, and I'd been watchingCraig's List for used ones. An outdoor outfitter store near me had a sale on used kayaks this weekend. I went and checked it out. I found this blue beauty there. It was the best used kayak I'dseen and at a reasonable price. I was there at the end of the day. They were just closing up. I went back the next day and bought it right after they opened. I'm glad I did because another customertried to buy it while the salesman was writing up my sale. Whew! Got it just in the nick of time.

My new kayak in my truck.The kayak is in great condition. It looks like it was hardly used. The seat is very comfortable and all kinds of adjustable. It also has nice adjustable foot pegs. It is a little wider than the kayakI had been borrowing, but that's ok because I am a little wider than the owner of that kayak. I had to buy a paddle too since the boat didn't come with one. But the whole thing only cost me about $500.Not too bad at all for a nearly new kayak. I can't wait for the rivers to go down during the dry season so my girlfriend and I can go out fossil hunting again.

 

The Trifid Nebula.08/28/17 - I just got back from a fantastic and much needed two week vacation to Arizona and Wyoming. I spent the first week at my remote Arizona property engaged in home improvementprojects and astrophotography. Then I spent the second week with my girlfriend in Wyoming where we witnessed the eclipse, went fossil hunting, explored the back roads, soaked in the hot springs, and engaged inhome improvement projects at her place. It was an amazingly great vacation. I took a literal ton of photos. A select group have been put on the vacation and travel sectionof the web site, along with a writeup about all the stuff we did.

By the way, here is a shot of the Trifid Nebula I took while at my remote Arizona property. Click the photo for more.

 

My 4th Generation Honeycomb Telescope Mirror.07/15/17 - I just finished my 4th generation honeycomb mirror.
I just finished the figuring on the first of my 4th Geration design Honeycomb Telescope mirrors. This mirror is 12.5 inches in diameter, f/4.5, and only weighs 7 lbs. Here I am in this photo showing off thecompleted mirror. All it needs is a coating of aluminum to make it reflective. I'll be sending it off for coating soon.

My 4th generation honeycomb design incorporates sockets and weight-bearing pads molded into the glass webbing on the back of the mirror to better facilitate mounting the mirror. My earlier honeycombdesigns lacked such helpful niceties.

Light-weight mirrors seem to be all the rage at the SPAC mirror lab these days. In the background Ralph Craig can be seen testing his own light-weight 11.5 inchmirror on the Robo-Foco tester. He and several other of the usual lab rats are making light-weight mirrors using very thin blanks.

The surface error report on the 4th gen mirror.Here is the Surface Error Analysis for the completed mirror. It is better than 1/6 of a wave in green light. Not too shabby at all. I could possibly knock some of those peaks down and get it even better,but it is also possible I could screw it up. So I decided to stop here.

This mirror was done quite quickly. After the initial polishing with a full size pitch lap, all figuring was done with a series of different size sub-diameter laps. Figuring went surprisingly quicklyand easily. It only took about six months of Saturdays working on this mirror from starting initial rough grinding to final figuring. It would have been even quicker without a month and a half break to recoverfrom some major surgery.

A Focogram of the finished mirror.Here is a Focogram of the finished mirror. Pretty smooth. Good edge. No astigmatism to speak of. The dark area near the top center is a camera artefact.

Next up is building the mirror cell. I have a mock-up made from wood. I want to make the real thing out of aluminum. I may try casting some of it now that I have my own foundry and a little bitof metal casting experience.

 

07/09/17 - My First Attempts at Lost Foam Casting.
This video shows my first attempts at lost foam casting. Surprisingly it went very well. Usually I screw it up a few times before getting the hang of something new. Not this time. Myvery first attempt turned out amazingly well. The second time worked just as well, so I wasn't just beginner's luck. This is actually quite easy. The results aren't perfect. The castingsare rough, but salvageable. I am already working on ways to make future castings even better. But these first results are so good that I will definitely be doing a lot more castingin the future.

 

06/16/17 - Kayaking and Fossil Hunting on the Peace River
A couple of weekends ago my girlfriend and I went kayaking up the peace river to hunt for fossils. We had a great time. We paddled quite a way up the river, stopping and samplingthe gravels in several places. After not having much luck for most of the day, we hit on a several spots that were pretty rich in fossils. We dug and screened the gravel and picked outthe fossils. In the end we found quite a bit. This photo shows our sorted finds.

Click the photo for the whole story and more pictures..

 

A view of Pikes Peak covered in snow.05/12/17 - Just got back from a vacation in Colorado
I just got back from a week in Colorado. I really needed a vacation. Work has been nuts since I went back after my time off to recover from my surgery. That recovery time was no vacation,let me tell you. I was getting pretty frazzled. So I just had to get away to the mountains for a while. I did some hiking, exploring, treasure hunting, visited friends, and just plain relaxed.It was great. This photo is a view of Pikes Peak from on top of Bald Mountain in the Rampart Range. The mountains were awesome. They still had snow on them above about 10,000 feet. The temperaturewas just right for hiking. I acclimated to the altitude quickly and hit the trails. I went on a couple of really awesome hikes.

I feel like I have fully recovered from my major abdominal surgery earlier this year based on how well I did in the mountains on this vacation. I had tons of stamina, and no pain at all. I havemy full range of motion back too. It's great to be myself again.

Click the photo for a larger view.

A view of Manitou Lake and a goose.Here is a photo I took at Manitou Lake in Colorado. It is a lovely spot. I caught a goose gliding across the glassy lake surface which was reflecting hills in the background and clouds in the sky.There is lots to see at Manitou Lake. There are strange rock formations. There is a boardwalk through the wetlands upstream from the lake where lots of wildlife can be seen. There is anepic beaver dam and lodge on Trout Creek which feeds the lake. Plus there are great views of Pikes Peak off in the distance. I took tons of photos of the area. Eventually they will getposted in the vacation section of my web site.

Click the photo for a larger view.

 

My first successful slumped mirror blank.04/28/17 - My first successful slumping of a thin mirror blank.
Here is a photo of my first successful slumping of a thin telescope mirror blank. It has almost 3mm depth of curve slumped into it. The blank is a little over 10 inches in diameterand at the moment has an f-ratio of about 5.7. That would have taken several days of rough grinding, and a lot of sweat, to achieve thisthe usual way, and would have thinned the already thin blank further in the center. This method just took a couple of days time cooking in the kiln, and the blank is still fullthickness in the center.

The blank isn't perfect. The glass was basically a piece of scrap glass I experimented on. It has ragged edges and isn't quite perfectly round. I could put it on my edge grinding machineand grind it down to a perfectly round 10 inches in diameter, and I may do that. The blank also has a lot of astigmatism. That can be fixed too by doing just a bit of rough grinding,followed by fine grinding and polishing. The curve could be deepened slightly too in order to shorten the f-ratio, if desired. Basically the hardest part is already done.

UPDATE: My first attempt at slumping was done over a concave mold. This produced a really smooth surface on the concave side of the glass, but it had a lot of really obviousastigmatism. I re-slumped this same piece of glass over a convex mold. The difference was quite pronounced. The concave side of the glass now has a much more uniform shape,but at the cost of a rougher surface since it was in contact with the mold. I am not really too concerned about the surface roughness since the blank will need some grinding toget it to the final shape anyway. Lesson learned: Use convex molds for mirror slumping.

I'll be doing further experiments like this one. Once this process is perfected, it should take a lot of the time and hard effort out of grinding telescope mirrors in the future.

Click the photo for a larger view.

 

04/17/17 - First Melt With My DIY Foundry Version 2.0.
My foundry version 2.0 is finally completed and it works great. This video shows the foundry in operation for its first ever run. It successfully melted a crucible full of scrap aluminumvery quickly. I am really happy with this new foundry design. It uses ceramic fiber insulation instead of my own home-made refractory mixes which I tried with the first iteration of thefoundry. This insulation works so much better. I also rigidized it with sodium silicate solution to make it more rugged and resistant to abrasion as I use the tongs to get the crucible in andout of the foundry. That ceramic fiber insulation is amazing. The inside of the foundry got up to bright orange heat, but the outside didn't even get hot enough to burn the paper labelson the can. Check out the video to see the foundry in operation.

My second foundry is completed.The new foundry started out similar to the first one with a 5 gallon steel can. I used two layers of 1 in. thick ceramic fiber insulation inside the can, and on the underside of the lid.The insulation is held on the lid with some long screws and washers. The edges of the lid fiber, and the entire inside of the foundry were rigidized with sodium silicate solution.I did not rigidize the underside of the lid. The natural fluffiness of the fiber helps make a seal between the lid and the foundry. A couple of horseshoe clamps (not shown in this photo)make great handles for the lid. Three inches of sand mixed with enough sodium silicate to make it pack in firmly lines the bottom of the foundry. A couple of minutes of running the burnerover it set the sand up like concrete. I drilled a hole in the side for the burner at an angle to get a nice swirl inside the foundry. I then added a plinth made from a piece of brokenkiln brick, and the foundry was complete and ready for its first test run. It was a quick and easy build. The only thing I had to buy was the ceramic fiber. Everything else I already had.

My ultimate plan is to rebuild the first foundry the same way as this second one. I'll remove the frayed ceramic fiber and beat out my home-made refractory insulation. Once re-lined withrigidized ceramic fiber I'll have two excellent foundries. Why two? I can use one as a burnout furnace for molds used in lost wax and lost foam casting. I'll have hot molds from onefurnace to pour the hot metal into from the other.

Click the photo for a larger view.

 

The Orion Nebula as imaged from my backyard in Clearwater, FL.03/22/17 - Astrophotography From My Backyard.
Here is a photo of the Orion Nebula I took from my pool deck in the middle of town two nights ago. This is an amazing photo considering it was taken from a seriouslylight-polluted area. This photo is a stack of 10 30 second exposures and 21 5 second exposures. That is a kind of odd mix of exposures, but it is hard to argue with theresult. Mixing long and short exposures may be a technique I try again on other objects, especially when light pollution interferes.

My 5 inch Explore Scientific refractor set up on my pool deck.This is what I took the above photo with. It was a christmas present to myself that I haven't had much of a chance to use until now. It is my Explore Scientific 127mm (5 inch) diametertriplet ed apo refractor with a carbon fiber tube. It is sitting on an iOptron EQ30 Pro German equatorial mounting. It is a great combination that works well. I also mounted my Nikon D5100camera, a guide scope, an auto-guider and a red dot finder on the scope. All together it is an awesome astrophotography rig. It performs well in the city, but I can't wait to get it out under areally dark sky and see what it can do.

 

03/21/17 - Melting Brass At Night With My DIY Foundry.
Last weekend I finally got around to running my home-made metal foundry at night. I figured it would be an impressive light show in the dark. It did not disappoint. It was quite impressive.It also turned out some really nice ingots of brass. I filmed pretty much the whole process and it all turned out wonderfully.

Speaking of nice ingots, I have started using Morton Light Salt as a flux for melting aluminum. The ingots turn out smoother and shinier and just generally better. The dross is also a loteasier to clean out of the crucible with the salt flux. Sometime I need to put all this foundry info in its own section on the web site. I'm also getting close to my first casting of realobjects, and not just ingots. I'm working on making molds. Stay tuned.

 

Four newly cast ingots of aluminum.03/07/17 - Cutting circles with my DIY CNC Router
So I needed some 12 inch diameter circles cut out of 1/4 inch plywood for a project I am working on. How to go about it? Set up the circle cutting jig on the band saw? No, too much trouble.Cut them out by hand with my jigsaw? No, I want them more accurate than I can probably do by hand. Oh wait, I have a CNC router! Problem solved. Just program up the circle code, put the sheetof plywood in the machine, hit the button, and walk away. Easy peasy. Now some may think this is a trivial use of such a machine, but I built it to make my life easier. I was able to work onother things while the machine cut perfect circles for me. I call that making things easier.

 

Four newly cast ingots of aluminum.02/28/17 - Melting Aluminum in the Foundry
I built my little foundry (see below) to be able to melt brass and maybe bronze too eventually. So naturally melting aluminum in it should be a snap since it has a much lower melting point.Up til now I have concentrated on making sure the foundry will actually melt brass without issues. That has been accomplished. So this morning, while it was still cool, I tried the firstmelt of scrap aluminum. I had a bunch of scrap aluminum castings and rod stock (not cans). The aluminum melted down quickly and easily, and I poured four nice ingots. I don't know that itwas necessary, but I used a different crucible for melting the aluminum than I have been using for the brass. I had the second crucible on hand already, so I decided to use it rather thantry to clean all the brass residue out of the other one. Everything worked perfectly. I'm a happy camper right now.

 

02/27/17 - Melting Brass in the New and Improved Foundry
I finally found the perfect refractory lining for my foundry. I had totally forgotten that I had some ceramic fiber insulation. When I finally remembered, I used it to line theinside of the foundry. What a difference it made. The foundry heats up much quicker, the metal melts quicker, less propane is needed to melt the metal, and the foundry doesn'tsuffer any damage. It's an amazing transformation. This video follows all the steps in a typical session of melting down scrap brass (bullet casings) and pouring ingots, includingdiscussion of safety equipment and precautions, and flux usage. I'm stillfairly new at this, so there are a few awkward moments, but on the whole, it worked pretty well. I'm really happy with the way the foundry is working now. Anyone else interestedin melting aluminum or brass could build a foundry like this quickly and easily.

 

02/21/17 - First Brass Melt With My DIY Foundry.
The day before I went into the hospital for my surgery (see next entry) I managed to get in the first brass melt with my home-made foundry. I have finally managed to edit together and postthe video. I did manage to melt down a bunch of brass shell casings and pour some nice brass ingots. But things didn't go without some problems. The big issue was that my home-made refractorycan't stand up to brass melting temperatures for any length of time. The refractory lining of the foundry and the lid both began melting and sagging by the time the brass was ready to pour.The plinth in the bottom of the foundry, made from the same refractory, completely melted. I replaced it part-way through the melt with a piece of broken kiln brick that withstood the heatwith no problem.

In the end I did manage to make 2 1/2 nice muffin sized ingots of brass, but at the cost of serious damage to the foundry. Belatedly I researched the melting point of perlite and found thatit softens at brass melting temps. Oops. That was a major engineering failure. I have a cunning plan to hopefully make the foundry usable for melting more brass without having to totallyrebuild it. I plan on chipping out part of the perlite refractory, and adding a lining an inch or so thick of a vermiculite based refractory mix that should stand up to brass meltingtemps. Hopefully the vermiculite lining will protect the perlite behind it. If it doesn't work, I can chip out all the perlite and replace all the refractory with the vermiculite mix.Time will tell how well it works. I am waiting until I heal up some more after my surgery before giving it another try. I am restricted under doctor's orders to lifting less than 15 lbsfor the time being. So no moving the foundry or propane tanks around for a while.

Three newly cast ingots of brass.As I said above, I did manage to cast 2 1/2 good looking ingots of brass in my steel muffin tin mold. As you can see they add up to not quite 2 lbs 15 oz. It took a lot of shell casingsto make those ingots. Since shell casings are mostly empty space, I guess that shouldn't be surprising. Fortunately shell casings are free on the floor of the rangeevery time I go shooting. So I should have an unlimited supply to melt down and cast into ingots. Eventually I will have enough ingots of good, cleanbrass to start casting useful items like gears and telescope parts. That is if my modifications to the foundry work out. Time will tell. Watch for more updates on my metal melting andcasting adventures.

 

The view from my hospital room.02/08/17 - Just got out of the hospital after major surgery.
I found out just after Christmas that I was going to have to have major abdominal surgery. A routine colonoscopy found a large mass growing in and partly blocking my sigmoid colon. It was going to have to besurgically removed via bowel resection. Fortunately it was a non emergency situation and I was able to schedule the surgery a month later so I could get some things sorted out before hand.I went into the hospital for the surgery on Feb 2nd. I was discharged yesterday Feb 7th. Suffice it to say it has not been a pleasant experience. I will spare you any of the gruesome detailsand there will be no photos of my newest epic abdominal scar that starts about 2 inches above my navel and curves around it down and to the right to my belt line. Probably a little over6 inches long in total. Plus there are two large punctures from the laparoscopic assisted surgery. The scar will make a nice accompanimentto my gallbladder removal scar from a few yearsago. Though the surgeon says this new scar should be less prominent once fully healed because he used surgical glue to close me back up, rather than staples like last time. We'll see. Onebig piece of good news is that the pathology report showed the growth to be totally benign. So no further treatment is necessary once I heal up.

This was the view from my hospital room. At least I had that while I was there. There was a recliner in my room in front of the big picture window. When I couldn't take being in the bed any more,I'd sit in the recliner and look at the view. It's the only thing I miss about the hospital.

I'm doing OK. I can get around and take care of myself. The pain level is remarkably low, mainly just when I bend or sneeze. I stopped all narcotic pain medication 2 days before leaving the hospital becausethe pain was so minimal and I wanted to get my newly re-plumbed bowels to wake up and start working. I'm certainly in less pain and more mobile than I was after the gall bladder surgery. But Ido tire very quickly. I have very little stamina. I am restricted to not lifting more than 15 lbs. I will probably be out of work for at least a month while I recover. I stocked up onbooks and other reading material to make the enforced down-time less boring. I also staged some low-impact projects to work on once I begin getting some energy back. I also have video of myfirst foundry melt taken before the surgery that I can edit and put on my Youtube channel. I'll get that done soon.

I wanted to say thanks to all my family and many friends who have helped me through this, and still are helping. Thanks for visiting me in the hospital and keeping me company. Thanks for allthe gifts and offers of assistance. I'd also like to say to everyone reading this - Go get that colonoscopy your doctor has been telling you to get! Don't keep putting it off.It could save your life. It could also find and fix problems before they become bad enough to need surgery. And really, a colonoscopy isn't difficult at all. There is no pain, just a littleunpleasant prep, but that is nothing compared to how unpleasant skipping them can be.

 

Three big DOBs at the 2017 Orange Blossom Special Star Party.02/08/17 - The 2017 OBS Star Party.
Here is a photo taken at the 2017 Orange Blossom Star Party late last month. I am on the left with my 17.5 inch telescope. My buddy Ralph is in the middle with his 16 inch telescope, andmy buddy Allen is on the right with his 18 inch telescope. Every year we set up together and create our own little DOB Valley in the middle of the star party. We had a near recordattendance for the star party this year. Lots of activities were on the schedule. A good time was had by all, in spite of less than ideal weather.

This year was pretty much a bust as far as observing went, at least for the days and nights I could attend. It was cloudy and even rainy much of the time. I only got in a few decent hoursof observing Friday night into Saturday morning. The rest of the time it was hopeless. The OBS basically turned into a big communal camping trip, with a little bit of astronomy on the side.We all packed up Saturday in anticipation of a storm front that was supposed to come throughSaturday night into Sunday morning. Nobody likes packing up wet equipment, or doing it in the rain. The field emptied out by Saturday night, though some of us stuck it out untilSunday before leaving.

I'm getting soft in my old age. I rented a camper again this year. It is the one behind Allen in this photo. No more sleeping on the cold, hard ground in a tent for me. The camper alsomade riding out the bad weather a lot easier. All in all, it was a good time for me. I got to relax and unwind a bit from the stresses of work and my upcoming surgery, and just hang withmy friends for four days.

 

A little CNC router / engraver bought at auction.01/26/17 - A little CNC router/engraver.
Check out my new toy. It is a small CNC router/engraver I picked up dirt cheap at a machine shop bankruptcy auction. Isn't that the way it always goes? I spend over a year building myown CNC router (scroll down the page for info on it), then find one for sale cheap. Still, the two machines will serve different purposes for me. My big home-made unit will carve largefoam molds for rough casting glass and metal. This little unit will be used to do precise detailed work in metal and wood, and maybe glass too.

The amazing thing is that everything works! The computer for controlling it is a huge dinosaur, the control box is old and labeled in Chinese, and the XYZ platform has no maker's markthat I can find. The wiring is a bit iffy, and no documentation was included with the unit. Plus of course I couldn't test it before bidding on it. I was worried that it was going to takea lot of work to get it running. So I set my bidding limit pretty low for it at the auction. I figured the computer and control box would need to be replaced and lots of experimentingand reverse engineering would need to be done to get the platform moving. The unit was also absolutely filthy. It was caked with layers of grime that I was worried might be hiding otherissues. But no. I hooked all the cables up, plugged it in, booted up the computer (no password required thankfully), and it all worked. There is a fully licensed installation of Mach 3on the computer. All three axes move smoothly and easily. The router motor runs. It all just works. No muss, no fuss. Cool! About 30 minutes of applied elbow grease got the machineall cleaned up and shiny again, and ready for duty. Sweet!

That being said, I will certainly replace the computer with a newer, more compact and capable unit and get rid of the old dinosaur. I'll port the Mach 3 configuration over to the new computerand be up and running my own projects on it in no time. I absolutely love auctions. I get the best stuff dirt cheap at auctions.

 

01/23/17 - My DIY Metal Melting Foundry is Done!
Here is a project I have been dropping hints about for a while. I have been building a foundry for melting and casting aluminum and brass. It may also get used for melting and casting glass projects.It was a really simple and inexpensive build. The foundry is built in a heavy-duty, 5 gallon, steel, ash can I picked up at an estate sale really cheap. This project also didn't take too long. Thehardest part was getting the home-made refractory mix recipe right. I tried several different mixes recommended online, but none reallyworked for me, especially the ones that used plaster. Eventually I came up with my own simple recipe that seems to work really well. The recipe is in the video.

This was the first firing for the foundry. I wanted to get it good and dry and burn out any organics in it. I also wanted to see how well the refractory would hold up to the extreme heat. No cracking!It all worked great. I'll be melting and casting metal soon. I plan on creating a page devoted to the foundry build with a write-up and lots of photos and video of the build and eventual operation.Stay tuned for updates. In the mean time, check out this video.

 

Polishing my 4th gen mirror blank.01/02/17 - A busy long New Year's weekend at the ranch
I had some time off between Christmas and New Years. So I spent the time working on a variety of projects. Some of them will eventually become entire new sections on my web site. I spent a lot of timeworking on a foundry I am building to melt and cast aluminum and brass. Lots of info on that project will eventually get posted here. I also spent some time playing around with my new CNC mill (seevideo below). I also of course spent some time at the SPAC Mirror Lab working on my latest 4th gen honeycomb telescope mirror. I have completed fine grinding andmoved on to polishing. This photo shows the mirror after only a couple of hours of polishing with the pitch lap on the left. The mirror is sure looking nice and shiny already, but there is a lot ofpolishing left to go before figuring can begin. This is the fastest I have ever gone from starting rough grinding to starting polishing. Hopefully polishing and figuring will go quickly too.

A thick stack of glass that will become telescope mirror blanks.While I was at the SPAC Mirror Lab working on my latest mirror, we had yet another new student join up to learn how to make his own telescope mirror. He boughtone of my 10 inch solid glass blanks that I had made for the lab. It was the next to last of the last group of 10 inch blanks I had made for the lab. So it was time to make some new blanks. I have alarge stock of 1/2 inch glass on hand. So I cut up some of it into 12 X 12 pieces to fuse into thick slabs I can cut 10 inch mirror blanks from. This photo shows a 3 inch thick stack of glass. It'samazing how deep green the glass gets in such a thickness.

Cutting octagons out of thick glass.The next step in making mirror blanks is to tape together a stack of three 1/2 inch pieces of glass and cut the corners off using my wet tile saw to make octagons. These1 1/2 inch thick octagonal stacks of glass will now bethoroughly cleaned, and then fused in my kilns into single, solid slabs of glass 1 1/2 inches thick. From each slab I will cut a round 10 inch diameter mirror blank.

It was a good, productive start to the new year. I have a tone of projects planned for 2017. It is going to be a fun year. Check back in from time to time to see what I am doing.

 

12/26/16 - My DIY CNC Mill is finally complete!
Well, is anything ever really complete? I have other modifications and additions I want to make to it in the future, and experiments totry out. Maybe a laser cutter head attachment. Or possibly a 3D print head attachment. The possibilities are endless. So it will probablynever be truly complete, but it is complete enough to start making stuff with it. This video shows the last few stages in the construction of the machine, and the first simple project to bemade with it.

Someday I will need to pull together all the photos and videos I took during the build and put it together on one page to document the build. As busy as I am with work these days, documentationhas been a little scarce, sorry. But this build is a good example of what can be done with inexpensive and readily available materials and a few surplus stepper motors. It is going to begreat to have my own CNC machine in my garage, only steps away, whenever inspiration to make something strikes. It is a nice Christmas present to myself.

 

21 rounds through the target from my 9mm Springfield XDS.12/13/16 - A new blog about recreational shooting.
I have created a new section on my web site. It is a blog documenting my experiences as a recreational target shooter. Here I will talk about different guns, ammunition,shooting ranges, review products, share how-tos, etc.I have gotten back into target shooting after a long hiatus. My grandfather used to take me shooting with him when I was a young child. I handled guns from a very early age. I have always enjoyed shooting.I kind of drifted away from it for a while in my 20s and 30s. After going to the range with friends and co-workers several times lately, I have rediscovered how much fun it is, and dived back into itbig time. Check it out.

The SV Seeker being built by amateurs in Oklahoma.11/30/16 - This is amazing.
I found something amazing on Youtube. I thought I had a pretty good little DIY site going here, full of interesting projects. Well the SV Seekerchannel on Youtube puts me, and just about everyone else,to shame. These guys (mainly Doug Jackson and an ever rotating crew of volunteers) are building a 72 foot, steel hull, ocean-going, ship in their backyard, in the middle of Oklahoma, with all volunteerlabor, and they are doing it completely from scratch. And byfrom scratch I mean they started with a stack of ?inch steel plates and fabricated everything themselves. They even cast the bronze propeller blades themselves. And best of all, they have documentedevery step of the way (even their mistakes) on video and posted it to Youtube. They've been at it for more than five years now, and there must be hundreds of hours of video. I am totally addicted to it.It's the most amazing thing I have ever watched.

These guys are utterly fearless. Nothing scares them, and no job, no matter how massive, intimidates them. They are absolute masters of improvisation on an epic scale. They have to be among the greatestDIYers on Earth. Watching their videos I have learned a ton about steel fabrication, bronze and aluminum casting, rigging, just general can-do improvisational techniques, and some new curse words too.I've also been massively inspired by their videos to get off my ass and tackle some of my own projects. Watching these guys do a dozen seemingly impossible things a day leaves me with damn few validexcuses for not finishing my orders of magnitude less difficult projects. So I have been inspired tear myself away from watching their Youtube videos and get out in my workshop and finish wiring my CNCmill project, and completing the rebuild of my 17.5 inch Dobsonian telescope. I also learned some better video documentation techniques from them. So watch for some new build videos onmy own Youtube channel soon.

The next time I am in Oklahoma, I am going to arrange to visit them, and volunteer to work on the project, for a few hours, or a few days, whatever I can spare. Working with them in person would likelybe an amazing learning experience, and I'd love to contribute to the project any way I can.

 

Snowy landscape in Denver Colorado.11/23/16 - A winter trip to Colorado.
I just got back from a great trip out to Colorado. The primary reason for this trip was to search for Fenn's treasure and meetup with good friends for a long weekend. I used some of my massive accumulationof airline points to fly for free. I also got a great deal on a hotel room, and the rental car was inexpensive as well. So the whole trip cost me very little. It was a lot of value in fun for the money.A good time was had by all. Fenn's treasure wasn't found, at least not this time, but maybe we found other treasure along the way. You can read more about this trip on myTreasure Hunting Page.

Rough grinding my 4th generation hex back telescope mirror blank with barbell weights.11/07/16 - I've started grinding one of my new 12.5 inch diameter, 4th generation, honeycomb mirror blanks. My 4th generation design is almost the same as the earlier 3rd generation design, but the methodfor making the plaster mold for casting the glass is different. This mirror blank was made using a replica silicone rubber positive mold to cast a plaster negative mold. I used adimensionally perfect, but cosmetically ugly 3rd gen blank to make a negative silicone rubber mold. Then I cast a positive silicone rubber mold off of the negative. Now I can make a new plasternegative mold in almost no time using the positive silicone rubber mold, and each mold is exactly the same. No more having to CNC mill a foam mold for each new blank. No more having toburn out the foam. It's just so quick and easy. I also figured out a new method for perfectly centering the rough castings on my edge grinding machine. So this blankis the best looking and most dimensionally perfect one yet.

I tried out a new method of roughing out this blank too. In this photo I am using a couple of stacked barbell weights as the roughing tool. I watched a friend at theSPAC Mirror Lab using the barbell method on his mirror, and decided to try it myself. It works great. In only a few short sessions of grinding, I got more than halfthe final depth of the curve into the glass. I couldn't believe how quick and easy it was versus starting with a tile tool.

Rough grinding my 4th generation hex back telescope mirror blank with a tile tool.In this photo I have moved on to a tile tool. I found a used tile tool at The Mirror Lab. Since it was used, it already had a convex shape to the top surface. I rough ground the blank withthe barbell weights until the mirror matched the curve of the tile tool. Then I switched to using the tile tool to complete rough grinding. Only one afternoon with the tile toolgot me to within 11/1000 of my final depth of 0.157 in or 4 mm. I'm targeting f/5 with this blank. This is the quickest and easiest I have ever rough ground a mirror blank. The barbell methodreally speeds things up. I will probably switch from 60 to 120 grit for the next grinding session to take the blank to final depth and begin cleaning up the surface.

This blank is blissfully bubble free, so there was no need to fuse a sheet of glass onto the top surface for grinding. The blank weighed only 7 lbs 7.6 oz before grinding began. I'll let youknow what the final weight is when I am done removing glass. This should be a very light finished mirror.

Click the photos for a larger view.

Early morning in Colorado.10/16/16 - I just recently got back from a fantastic two week long vacation to Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. It was fantastic! I flew into Denver and spent a week in Colorado.I visited with friends out there, and hit the absolute peak of the aspens changing. It was beautiful. Then after about a week, and a lot of great adventures in Colorado, I drove down intoNew Mexico, and on to my property in Arizona. I had a lot of fun, and got some much needed relaxation. I also got some really great photos, like this one. It was taken just aftersunrise in central Colorado. When I get some time I will post more photos and a writeup of the trip to my Travel and Vacation Photos Page.

Click the photo for a larger view.

The new fence around the backyard.10/16/16 - I Finally got a new fence installed around the house and yard. It took a long time, but it is finally done. The nasty old wooden fence is finally gone, and the newPVC fence is up. It really looks great.

Click the photo to go to my house blog to read more.

08/22/16 - Behold my latest creation: The Walking Desk. It is my one up on the concept of the standing desk. If standing is good, walking must be better, right? I spend a lotof time on the computer. So this should help get me off my butt and hopefully even help me lose some more weight. I have a more extensive write-up on my Misc.Projects Page. Check it out, and watch the video.

08/11/16 - A very sad video of a house down my street burning early Sunday morning in the pouring rain. The Fire Department arrived very quickly and in massive force, but the housewas already fully involved by the time they got there. They had the fire out quickly, but the place is pretty much gutted. As far as I know, there were no injuries.

150,000 miles on my 2006 Toyota Tacoma pickup truck.07/02/16
Just turned over 150,000 miles on my 2006 4X4 Toyota Tacoma today. Would have happened a while ago, but a couple of years ago I started flying out to my Arizona property insteadof driving out twice a year. That's over 10,000 less miles each year not going on the truck now.

The truck still runs and drives like new. The body has a few dings in the paint, and there are a few chips in the windshield. The driver's seat is getting a little worn.Otherwise it is in great condition. No rust, and it still looks almost brand new under the hood. Not bad for a 10 year old truck. Gotta love the indestructibility of Toyotas.Especially considering all the crazy off-road places I've taken it, and all the towing I've done with it. It's never let me down. Best vehicle I have ever owned, hands down.Next stop the quarter million mile club.

Click the photo to see a larger view.

Aspen trees in the White Mountains of Arizona.06/27/16
I have posted a bunch of photos and a write-up about my recent vacation to New Mexico and Arizona on my Travel and Vacation Photos page.It was a great trip. There are lots of nature photos and astrophotography. Check it out.

Click the photo to see more.

The Sombrero Galaxy.06/17/16
Just got back from a wonderful, and much needed, vacation out west to Arizona and New Mexico. Had a great time. The weather was fantastic. I got to spend a week in my cabin on my remote Arizonaproperty, and spend some time at my favorite spa in New Mexico. There was also the usual exploration of the mountains. And of course much astrophotography was also done. This is a photo of theSombrero Galaxy. Many more photos will be posted when I get the time.

Click the photo for a larger view.

Me and my 17.5 inch Dobsonian Telescope.06/16/16
While I was away traveling so much the last month, the Board of Directors of the St. Petersburg Astronomy Club voted to give me this wonderful 17.5 inch Dobsonian telescope I built for them20 years ago. What a nice surprise. This is an old photo of me with the scope set up on my remote Arizona property. Now that it is my scope, I have some big plans for it.

Click the photo to read more.

Randys Donuts in Los Angeles.05/21/16
Just got back from yet another business trip. This time to the opposite side of the country from my last few business trips to New York. This time I flew out to Los AngelesCalifornia. I landed in LA and saw a couple of the iconic LA area sights on my way to my appointment. How many times have I seen Randy's Donuts on TV and in movies? And thereis was, as I was driving away from the airport. So I had to get a picture.

Click on the photo to see a larger view.

The iconic Hollywood Sign.My route was going to take me near another iconic Landmark, so I made a little detour to get a look at it. So here is a photo of the famous Hollywood Sign. I also drove around in the HollywoodHills a little bit and checked out the mansions of the rich and famous. It was an interesting drive. Worth the detour.

Click on the photo to see a larger view.

All Electronics in Van Nuys, CA.I couldn't very well pass near this place without stopping in for at least a few minutes and looking around. I also bought a few things for future projects. I love electronic surplus stores. I've always wanted to visit All Electronics. I also wanted to go to Apex Electronics, but that place is insane. It would be an all day thing, and I only had a few minutes.So I'll save the trip to Apex for another time.

Click on the photo to see a larger view.

Here is a video I shot at the Carpinteria Seal Sanctuary. I've been here before, several times. It's a great place to hike out to and unwind after a long day of meetings. Thepark is great and the seals are always fascinating to watch as they jockey for position on the narrow beach. There was also a lot coming and going of ships transferring crewsfrom the offshore oil platforms via the pier next to the sanctuary.

In spite of the interesting side trips, it was a grueling trip, especially the trip home. I left my hotel in Carpinteria before dawn, and rolled into my own driveway around 9:30 pm. In between, I drove down the CA coast to LA,fought terrible traffic to get to the rental car return. The shuttle bus took forever to get me to the airport termainal. After the Egypt Air crash, the police had security checkpoints set uparound LAX, further snarling already impossible traffic. The TSA security line was beyond ridiculous. I was expecting it. Glad I left as early as I did. My flight got delayed. Then I spentabout 8 hours on an airplane which stopped in Atlanta on the way home, and got caught in a runway traffic jam in Atlanta. We were on the ground for a long time there. Glad to be home again. Nomore business trips for a while (I hope). The next time I fly I want it to be for my vacation.

05/14/16
Just got back from a business trip to Buffalo, NY. New York is beautiful in the spring. Everything is greening up, the trees and shrubs are all in bloom, there are birds everywhere.After a day in meetings, I had a little time before sunset to do a little sight-seeing. So I headed for Niagara Falls. Haven't seen it since I was a kid.

The transit of Mercury.05/09/16
I ducked out of work for a little while today to check out the transit of Mercury. These two photos show how far Mercury moved across the sun in the space of a little over an hour.I got a lot of photos from in between those two points.

I setup, polar aligned, and star aligned the mount last night in my back yard in anticipation, and left it set up until this morning. It went straight to the sun with no issues andtracked really well. Unfortunately I couldn't watch and photograph the whole transit. Had to go back to work. This was good practice for the total solar eclipse next year.

Click on the photo to see a larger view.

A photo of galaxy M101.05/09/16
A photo of galaxy M101 taken last Saturday night at the SPAC Spring Picnic at our Withlacoochee dark sky site. It is a stack of 7, 5min exposures. Note the small gravitationally distorted galaxyat the lower right. At least two other small galaxies are visible in the full size image. This is by far the best photo of M101 I have ever got. It has been my nemesis overthe years.

Click on the photo to see a larger view.

A photo of M97 (Owl Nebula) and M108.05/09/16
A photo of M97 (Owl Nebula) and M108 taken last Saturday night at the SPAC Spring Picnic at our Withlacoochee observing site. It is a stack of 5, 5min exposures.Not bad, but I probably should have grabbed a couple more 5 min exposures to add to the stack.

I also got some shots of M81 & M82, and M51, Saturday night, but they were only marginally better than the ones I got at the OBS a couple of months ago.Can't wait to get this imaging setup away from the humid and light-polluted Florida skies and under the dark sky at my remote Arizona property. Coming soon!

Click on the photo to see a larger view.

A photo of galaxies M81 and M82.04/02/16
I have added some photos and a writeup of the 2016 Orange Blossom Special Star Party on the vacation and travel photos section of the web site.It was another great star party this year. A great time was had by all, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

This is a photo of galaxies M81 and M82 that I took during the star party. Click on the photo to see more.

Three fused glass telescope mirror blanks.02/17/16
I just added a new section to the web site about my current process for fusing layers of thin glass to make thick telescope mirror blanks. My current process of fusing is (relatively) quick and easy,and produces great blanks. Here is a photo of three 10 inch diameter blanks I made using this process. I am gearing up to make larger diameter blanks too.

Click on the photo for more information.

Three fused glass telescope mirror blanks.02/17/16
I just got back a few days ago from another business trip to Rochester, NY. Not many touristy photos this time. It was downright cold. We didn't spend too much time outside. The first day the temp wasonly in the low 30s, and there wasn't much snow left on the ground, so we got out and did a little sight-seeing along the Genesee River and the Lake Ontario lake front. This photo was taken at OntarioBeach. But then the cold and snowreally started in. It became too rough for us Floridians. There wasn't any more sight-seeing. By the morning of our last day it was 14 degrees and blowing snow. We hoped our flight would beable to leave, fortunately it did. But then after we were in th air a while, a passenger got sick, and the flight got diverted to NC to get the passenger medical help. So that made for anextra long trip home. Just another wonderful business trip.

Looks like these trips to Rochester may become a regular thing. I'm hoping I won't have to make too many more before Spring.

My latest completed light-weight honeycomb telescope mirror.01/31/16
It has been a long, hard slog, but I have finally finished figuring this 12.5 inch diameter f/4.9 honeycomb mirror. It has taken me two years on and off working on it at theSPAC Mirror Lab to get it done. There was a longhiatus while I had health issues. Then I had problems with digging deep holes in the center and badly turning down the edge, multiple times, and having to basically start over from a sphere each time.The combination of plate glass and the shape of the back were giving me fits. The blank did not behave at all like a solid blank. I eventually gave up on using a full size lap and learned how to figure all over again using sub-diameter laps. Finally it is done. The best axis is just short of 1/14th wave. I never expected to getthis mirror so perfect. It was just a proof of concept for my 2nd generation honeycomb mirror design. I'd have been happy to just get it to 1/4 wave, as much trouble as I was having with it. Now itis on to the 3rd generation design.

Click on the photo for more a larger version.

A Focogram of the completed mirror.Here is a Focogram of the finished mirror. Ain't it purty? That is one smooth surface. That's what two years of figuring will do.

A Focogram of the completed mirror.Here is the Surface Error Analysis for the best axis of the mirror. Never thought I could get a surface that close to perfect.

Click on the photo for more a larger version.

The Contact Lens Manufacturers Association Conference in Miami.01/29/16
Again, it took a while, but I finally have some images and a writeup in my travel section of my October business trip to The Contact Lens ManufacturersAssociation Conference in Miami back in late October. I have been traveling so much for work, and so busy with work that I can't keep up with getting it all into the blog.

Click on the photo for more information.

Bear tracks in the mud.01/14/16
Well it took a while, but I finally got the images and writeup of my October business trip to New York put up on the travel and vacation section of the web site. I've just been so darn busy thelast few months that it seems to take me forever to get any updates to the web site done.

This photo shows bear paw prints in the mud near where we were staying in the Adirondack Mountains. We think we missed encountering the bear by possibly only mere seconds. Click on the photo formore information.

The first test firing of my big kiln.11/19/15
This is an image of the first test firing of my large Paragon kiln. It's been a long time coming. I bought this kiln in a thrift store about two years ago. It was a wreck.I rebuilt it, but had no way to test it, and nowhere to use it. It went into storage. Today I got it up and running. You can read the whole story on my House Blog page. I'll be casting large telescope mirrors in it soon.

11/19/15
Photos and a write-up from my most recent vacation have finally been posted to the travel and vacations section of the web site. Check it out.

Taughannock Falls State Park in New York.10/31/15
It's been a while since my last post here. I have been on the run all around the country in the last month. First I want on another vacation out west. It was a great trip.I will post photos from that trip soon to the travel and vacations section of the web site. It seemed like no sooner was I back from myvacation than I was off on a work-relatedtrip to Rochester, NY. Big changes at the company where I work have meant new responsibilities for me, and a lot of travel. This first trip to Rochester was a very interesting,and took me to an area of the country I hadn't been to since I was a kid. Plus it was during the height of the Autumn colors. And as a bonus I managed to do a little exploringof the Finger Lakes region, and spend some time at the hunting cabin a work colleague owns in the Adirondack Mountains. This particular photo was taken at Taughannock Falls State Park.More photos from this trip will eventually also be added to the travel and vacations section of the web site.

Three days after returning from Rochester, I was off to a trade show in Miami, and spent a few days there. I have some photos from that trip too. Whew! Seems like I have beenaway from home more than at home in the last month. I've gone as far west as Arizona, as far north as Lake Ontario, and as far southeast as Miami. I've spent a lot of timeon airplanes, in airports, in hotels, and in rental cars. It's going to be good to hang around my own house for a while.

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