Taking the Next Step: Video with Sony Handycam

Ever since I was a kid I’ve had a penchant for photography.  I started with an old Brownie box camera and through the decades have worked myself up to a mid-range DSLR.  Or… it was mid-range when I got it 13 years ago, now it’s pretty much an antique.  But, it has served me well.

I always figured that my next step would be a new(er) high end DSLR.

Video has been a curiosity for me, but I’ve not done a lot with it.  I enjoy the videos I see on the internet of people and pets doing silly things, but never really considered joining in.  Quite recently, Marie suggested that I reconsider.

I did some homework and decided on a Sony Handycam HDR-CX220.  There are fancier models out there, but for what I will be doing I’d be paying more for features I wouldn’t use.  There are cheaper brands and models out there, too… but reviews from several places on the web proved discouraging about reliability and/or picture quality.  This one seems to do what I want to do, and do it well, for a reasonable cost. That’s called “value”.  (Especially since when we bought it there was a $50 manufacturer’s instant rebate in effect… BONUS!)
Continue reading “Taking the Next Step: Video with Sony Handycam”

Making It Pretty with Timbers

Published in June of 2013 by Grit Magazine

Actually, what I’ve been building is much more than just eye candy.  The thick bed of wood chips over landscape fabric bordered by landscape timbers that now surrounds all the boxes in my “Lower 10” also serve some good purposes:

  1. It keeps grass and weeds away from my garden beds.
  2. I no longer have to weed-whack between the boxes: always a chore and it sprayed plant bits and weed seeds into my boxes.
  3. It makes a cushy surface to kneel on while I’m working the beds.
  4. The landscape timber borders help divert rushing rain water around my garden so it doesn’t flood the boxes or wash away the mulch.
  5. I’m planting flowers around the perimeter timbers that will draw beneficial bugs (bugs that eat the bugs that eat my garden) and add a splash of color.
  6. This should help maintain the moisture levels in the entire area.

My berry house is also done.  It encloses a blueberry bed, strawberry bed, red and purple grape vines.  Bird netting over the PVC frame keeps the birds away from the berries.

The door is the curved section with all the slats between the strawberry and blue berry boxes.  It’s a flap of bird netting that lifts up to allow me in and out, yet keep the avian fiends away from our berries.  I stabilized the edges by trapping them between two layers of duct tape (sticky sides together) and stapled the slats on to lay across the door frame to prevent the netting flap from falling through the opening.  A piece of PVC at the bottom holds the flap down and keeps it from blowing open in winds.

We just bought some marigolds to plant around the high perimeter to brighten it up a bit and help repel rabbits.  They can chew right through the bird netting.

The Middle 10 was completed just days ago.  This section required shoring up the lower ends of the paths between the boxes (the slope is steeper here), which meant some extra digging to level the timbers.

For the most part, this work is very simply done; no hoopla.  Well, almost no hoopla.

I did angle the cuts when I made the timber pieces that went between the boxes so the ends of the timbers sit flat against the boxes despite the slope, and I could not resist showing off just a little by coping the ends of the timbers where they meet the curved face of another timber.

Otherwise, it’s all pretty much plain-Jane work: timbers, pinned to the ground with rebar, on top of landscape fabric to keep the weeds out and filled with wood chips I make myself by chipping up tree branches from the spring trimming.  But it should ease my maintenance chores, make my knees happy, and it looks pretty nice too.

Herbal Cures From Your Garden

I’ve been meaning to write an article about common herbal garden items that have healthful benefits beyond their vitamins and minerals.  Now that spring is upon us and the garden is coming along nicely it’s time I got around to that.

Herb bed, gardening, raised bed, herbs, health, herbal
Growing herbs has many advantages and takes very little space.  You can grow 16 different herbs in a 4’ x 4’ raised bed garden.  You may need to pot some plants: like mint, which is wildly invasive, but you can set the pot down into your bed if you want to keep them all in one place. Continue reading “Herbal Cures From Your Garden”

Blue-Gray Matter and Pink-Gray Matter in Communication

couple sulking, communication, argument
© Lisavan | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Effective communication between men and women has always been a issue of contention.  Let’s look at why that is.

In the 1960’s what is now called Second Wave Feminism began to build up steam as it tried to tell the world that men and women are – apart from some reproductive organs – identical.  This movement took up the mantra of the First Wave Feminists, which began in the 15th century, that women should have rights and opportunities equal to men.  And indeed they should and great strides have been made on that front.

The second wave added the ideology that men and women think just alike.  In the 1970’s gender neutrality became a big issue, and has had major repercussions in our society ever since. Aside from divergent physiology, says this theory, a woman is simply a man with a keenly honed fashion sense, and conversely, a man is just a woman who can’t dance and refuses to dust. Continue reading “Blue-Gray Matter and Pink-Gray Matter in Communication”

Planting Potatoes

I spent most of the day yesterday putting in my potatoes. Well… half of my taters. I planted two bo[;anting, potatoes, gardening, raised bedsxes in Yukon Gold as my early crop. Next month I will plant another two boxes in Russets as my main crop.  But before planting them I had to get the boxes ready.

To hold potatoes I need a double-depth box (2 2×8’s stacked) that I fill half-way with soil. To do this I have bottomless boxes that are used as the second level and are held in place on top of a regular box with pocket hole screws.  These screws can be backed out and the second level moved from box to box as I rotate crops each year.  I mixed 1½ pounds of composted chicken manure into the soil of each box to enrich the soil.

Then I used a modified Stout method of planting. The Stout method sows the potatoes on top of the soil then covers them with a thick layer of straw mulch. Regular planting puts them down about 3” then mounds dirt up around the stalks as they grow to keep the tubers covered. I plant my taters an inch or so deep, then 1½” of mulch on top — as a start. As I plant them, I mark the locations with a craft stick just behind the seed-spud – careful not to stab it!

planting, potatoes, gardening, raised beds  I planted the box in a checker-board fashion with 8 cells as potato and 8 cells as bush style green beans. I put 1½” of mulch over the potato cells – leaving a dimple over the potato for the shoot to rise through.  No mulch on the beans yet; there are 9 bean seeds per cell, I’ll wait for them to sprout and get a little size to them before mulching to discourage weeds and retain moisture – I don’t want to discourage my beans.  As the potato plants get tall (12″ or so) , I’ll mound up more mulch around the stalks to keep the tubers that will grow from them covered.  Sunlight makes the taters turn green and toxic. The mulch makes it easy to reach in and pull out young taters as they get to be golf ball sized. The deeper spuds will get large and be harvested later.

The white grid-like thing is one of two planting guides that I made from PVC pipe fittings; this one helps me plant things 1 or 9 plants to a cell, the other is made to plant 4 or 16 plants per cell (it’s made as 4 quarters, 16 get 4 plants in each quarter – I just eyeball them).  These take care of all the common planting schemes in the square foot gardening method.

My late crop potatoes will be co-planted with black beans. The late crop will be allowed to grow undisturbed for larger spuds, but I’ll use the same planting method. (NOTE: this co-planting scheme did NOT work out.  Here’s why.)

It rained last night, so I’m off to a good start – as long as the frosts are over with; that would hurt the bean seeds.  Since it is early April now the frosts should be done (here in Tennessee) but… ya just never know these days!

Lights Out for Incandescent Bulbs as GE Closes Last Plant – New Technologies Loom

incandescent bulbAmerican manufacturing icon, General Electric, brought an era to a close today; Friday, September 24, 2010 as it flipped off the lights and locked the doors at its Winchester Virginia light bulb plant. This was the last G.E. plant in America to make incandescent bulbs, an item that has been a staple product for G.E. since Thomas Alva Edison’s innovations in the 1870’s.

This closure is a direct result of the energy conservation measure passed by Congress in 2007 which mandates that incandescent light bulbs are too wasteful and must be eliminated from American homes by 2014. The resulting savings in energy and greenhouse-gas emissions are expected to be immense. But this move also has unintended consequences.

To start with, 200 G.E. employees, most of them in their 40’s and 50’s and many of whom have worked at this plant for decades, are now heading for the unemployment office. Employees interviewed as they left the plant for the last time expressed concern over being able to find another job in this economy, at their age, and with no other experience.

G.E. did look at retooling this plant to produce the new Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL) which will meet the governments efficiency guidelines for 2014, but the $40 million conversion cost and the much higher level of labor involved in twisting the tubes of the CFL as opposed to making a round bulb would result in a bulb that would have to sell for a price that is 50% higher than those currently being produced in China. They didn’t feel Americans would pay $12.00 for an American made bulb if they could get a Chinese made bulb for $8.00. GE does plan to build a CFL factory – but they’ll build it in China.

Globalization Impacts the Job Market

When our government began pushing for “green” standards and “green” technology it was said that this would result in more jobs as the technologies developed and companies were built to serve these needs. But government regulations and the high cost of labor in the US appears to be shooting this concept in the foot as companies who want to make products to serve this new “green” revolution go overseas to build their factories.

Under the pressures of globalization, the number of manufacturing jobs in the United States has been shrinking for decades, from 19.5 million in 1979 to 11.6 million this year, a decline of 40 percent.

CFL Bulbs and the Environment

CFL First to burnThen there are the environmental issues. The Compact Fluorescent Lamp uses considerably less energy to produce an equivalent amount of light than an incandescent bulb. But a prime component of the CFL is mercury; a highly toxic element that is highly frowned upon by environmentalists.

Each CFL contains up to 5 milligrams of mercury, which I admit does not seem like much at first glance. But, when you consider that these are to become the defacto lighting source in our homes, and the number of homes and businesses there are in the US… it adds up quickly.

For example; I counted 29 light bulbs in my home (a very modestly sized bungalow) and 33 more in my workshop. So once I convert all of the se lights to CFL I’ll have around 310 mg of mercury in my living environment.

Is that dangerous?

I wanted to find out, so I went looking. The EPA says only 3.7 micrograms of Mercury is safe to ingest. A microgram is 1 1,000th of a milligram. 310 milligrams (the amount of mercury in the CFLs in my living environment contain 310,000 micrograms, when only 3.7 micrograms are considered a safe level of exposure.

But, this mercury is safely contained inside the CFL right? Yes, it is… as long as you don’t break one. The General Electric web site lists the steps for properly cleaning up a broken CFL, it starts with this warning:

Before Clean-up: Air Out the Room

  • Have people and pets leave the room, and don’t let anyone walk through the breakage area on their way out.
  • Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more.
  • Shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system, if you have one.

Also, you cannot throw them away like you did ordinary light bulbs. According to G.E.’s web page on proper disposal of CFL’s you need to take CFLs to a recycling center that accepts them. Their site includes two links to organizations that help you locate companies that will recycle fluorescent tubes and CFL bulbs, but when I followed the bread crumb trail to find out how I am to do this, I ended on a page that stated, “Contact your local solid waste management company for locations and dates of the next suitable recycling event.”

It does say that if state and local regulations do not (yet) prohibit disposing of CFL bulbs with other public waste, wrap the CFL in two plastic bags and be sure they do not get sent for incineration.

But wait … there’s more!

Liz Schwab posted on her blog an article that describes the effects of CFL lights on her autistic son. It seems that the faint flickering that any fluorescent bulb will produce, including CFLs, causes autistic children to become agitated and combative. As soon as she changed the bulb in her son’s room back to incandescent, he settled right down again.

Advantages of CFL bulbs

With all these potential down-sides, is there any good news about CFLs? Yes, there is. Let’s start with the reason that CFLs are replacing incandescent bulbs in the first place; they are much more efficient producers of light.

An incandescent light bulb is better categorized as a miniature space heater than it is a light because only about 10 percent of the energy is consumes is converted to light, the other 90 percent goes out as heat. A fluorescent light on the other hand uses 75% less electricity to produce the same amount of light and produces almost no heat at all.

Most CFL bulbs are touted to last for at least ten times as long as an incandescent bulb. In fact any bulb that is identified as being Energy Star certified has a minimum life span guaranteed. If the bulb goes out too soon, check the bulb for the manufacturer stamp, and contact them to obtain a full or partial refund of the purchase price.

Recent Improvements to CFL Bulbs

New packaging standards are being rolled out whereby CFL bulbs will be shipped in boxes with a selfsealing plastic liner to contain the mercury vapor should the bulbs be broken in transit.

And companies such as ArmorLite are producing a shielded CFL bulb with an incandescent-like outer bulb made of tough plastic that will offer some protection to the fluorescent tube and contain glass shards and mercury vapor should a bulb be smashed.

What’s Up Next in Lighting?

With all of the problems CFL bulbs represent, it’s not hard to imagine that many people are looking for some other option for lighting their home. The most promising technology is the LED.

This is not a new technology as LEDs have been with us for decades but new developments have helped to refine the product to yeild more light and longer life. Several companies are producing an LED product designed to replace standard bulbs in home use.

A typical Listing


A19 9W High Power LED Bulb, Standard, White

LED light bulbBest LED replacement for common 60W incandescent bulbs!  Excellent for table lamps, desk lamps and reading lights.

The NeoBulb!

This is a 120vac high power led bulb the size and shape of an ordinary incandescent bulb. It is 2 3/8 inches (60mm) in diameter and 4 3/4 inches in length. The 8 high power leds are made by a US company, and have a unique patented structure. The advanced design yields superior heat dissipation giving the LEDs greater stability and longer life. The bulb is available in daylight white and warm white. The bulb will maintain 70% brightness for 20,000 hours and has a total expected life of 50,000 hours. UL listed.


Disadvantages of LED Lighting

The downside of LEDs is that they are currently quite complex. The interior of the simple looking bulb pictured above contains many light emitting diodes that produce the light. LEDs do produce some heat, and that has to be channeled away from the diodes and dissipated through a heat-sink assembly. The complexity of manufacturing translates into a bigger hit to our wallets – typically LED light bulbs start around $30.00 and go up to $89.95 for the NeoBulb pictured above. Yes, that is per bulb!

As with any new technology, manufacturing costs will come down as they perfect their techniques and find new ways of accomplishing things. But I doubt I’ll ever be able to pop into Dollar General and pick up a box of 4 60 watt bulbs for a buck like I could with good old incandescents.

Oh well, such is the way of the world.

Racing Solar Powered Cars

For many (many) years I have been a fan of automobile racing, in High School I did some rat racing with cars I souped up myself and, later on, I seriously thought about purchasing a Legends Racer and trying my hand in those competitions. But I settled instead for being an avid fan of NASCAR Cup racing, as well as taking in the occasional Nation Wide Series (formerly the Busch Series) and or a Camping World Trucks race (formerly Craftsman Trucks). I have a brother-in-law and two nephews who are all involved in drag racing. One of those nephews, Paul Timmermann, recently branched out into a new form of racing; solar powered cars.

Team Mercury

solar race car
ISU Mercury III

Illinois State University’s Mercury III team is a multidisciplinary team of students and faculty who volunteer their time and energy to advance their skills and the promise of renewable energy. Led by music major Al Hackel and chemistry major Jason Savage, the team consists of more than 20 students and alumni from four departments at Illinois State University. The student team is advised by Professors Dan Holland, Brian Clark, David Marx, and Jim Dunham in the Physics department. The team entered their car in the 2010 American Solar Challenge; a competition to design, build, and drive solar-powered cars in a cross-country time/distance rally which ran 1,100 miles along public roads starting from Broken Arrow Oklahoma on Sunday, June 20th, wound through Kansas, Missouri and ended at Naperville Illinois on Saturday June 26th. There were stage check-points at Topeka KS, Rolla MO, and Normal IL where the teams would stop for the night and start out together the next morning. Racing times between check-points were cumulative with the lowest cumulative times determining the three winners.

2010 American Solar Challenge Winners

The winners were: First Place: car #2 – University of Michigan with a time of 28:14:44, Second Place: car #35 – University of Minnesota with a time of 30:26:53 and Third place was the unusually shaped car #10 – Bochum University of Applied Sciences (Germany) with a total time of 30:34:50.

A Winning Spirit

The Illinois State team did not place highly due to a series of mechanical failures, but they were awarded the Esprit de Corps. The A.S.C. web site says,This award recognizes the team that most lives up to the mission of the foundation and race to promote education and outreach.”

Laurie Timmermann, mother of Team Mercury member Paul Timmermann states, “Those guys earned that award; they worked really hard, going for days with little or no sleep to overcome the challenges that cropped up. They simply refused to quit and go home. The team’s official time of a little over 70 hours looks really terrible on paper, but is grossly inflated due to penalties. They actually finished just a short time behind the leaders.”

I.S.U.’s Team Mercury states, “We plan to continue competing in races across North America and the world as a way to test and improve our skills and promote a greener future.”

A Saga of Courage and Determination

Illinois State University’s Dr. George Rutherford chronicled the team’s progress and challenges, his notes provide the following account. The complete saga is available [here].

The Race Team:

  • Al Hackel, a music major
  • Jason Savage, a chemistry major
  • Josh Burnet, a biology major
  • Paul Aplington, a renewable energy major
  • Paul Timmermann, a business information systems major
  • Jim Dunham and George Rutherford, advisors

Many others worked hard in the weeks before the race but who couldn’t go on the trip.

​The saga officially begins on June 12, 2010; scheduled to be a travel day, but some of the newly acquired solar cells still need to be attached to the car, so the team decides to work on that first and leave early the next morning for the drive from Normal IL to Texas Motorsport Ranch in Cresson, TX. The caravan consisting of three automobiles and a race car hauler borrowed from Timmermann Construction Company set out at 6:00 Sunday morning and arrived in Cresson just before dark that same day.

Suspect Suspension

A few solar cells still needed to be connected, so Josh B, Paul A, and Paul T. removed the upper shell from the car and worked at the hauler to complete the task while the others took the chassis for inspection.

The safety inspectors decided that Team Mercury’s front suspension parts were too lightweight to withstand the long road race ahead and insisted that if the team were to compete, heavier suspension parts would be required. The inspectors did agree to allow the team to qualify the car with its current set-up while they manufactured an entirely new front suspension.

The Formula Sun Grand Prix

Qualifying the field of solar racer cars that showed up to compete in the “American Solar Challenge” was accomplished with the “Formula Sun Grand Prix”; a closed track race of 100 laps around the 1.7-mile track in a single day or a total of 150 laps over two consecutive days.

Team Mercury felt confident that they could complete their qualifying the first day; Thursday June 17th. Trouble reared its head early when a part of the solar array began to smoke. It was determined that the solar cells along the rear edge and front edge of the car were being shorted out by carbon fiber seam tape – which is electrically conductive. A team brain-storming session yielded a creative solution; plastic playing cards, slid in under the solar cells isolated them from the seam tape and allowed them to get in the race.

Team Mercury was 12 laps from its goal when a tire blew, taking them out of the race for the day. They would need to run at least another 62 laps on Friday to qualify. They did this easily posting a respectable speed on a course with hills, sharp curves, and no-passing zones.  The team took the car immediately back to the trailer area in order to disassemble the front suspension.

Suspension Fabrication

To fabricate a new suspension system, the team needed a full machine shop and a heavy TIG welder. The TIG welder the team brought with them proved to light to weld the heavier metal of the new suspension parts.

Through former ISU colleague Shaukat Goderya, now at Tarleton State University, Team Mercury obtained permission to use the shop facilities there.  The next challenge came when it was discovered that TSU’s heavy TIG welder was not working. But the team engineered a solution to this problem too; they combined TSU’s power supply and their small welder. The heavier power supply allowed the smaller welder to produce the heat needed to weld the heavy metal parts, but a safety system shut the welder down after about a minute of welding and required ten minutes for the welder to cool to safe levels before it would start up again. So the one-hour welding job took the team ten hours to complete, but complete it they did.

Dr. Rutherford states, “The team owes great thanks to Dr. George Mollick, head of the Engineering Technology department at TSU, for his time and generosity.”

However by the time the new suspension was installed, it was early Sunday morning, and the “American Solar Challenge” race was to start at noon in Broken Arrow, OK, a six-hour drive away.  Now the team faced its toughest decision. They could drive through this night and arrive at the race start in time to enter, but they would have to drive the entire day after having gotten no sleep at all that night and precious little sleep for the previous 3 nights, or they could trailer the car to the first check-point in Topeka KS, get a good night’s sleep and begin their race in earnest from there. The down side was a heavy penalty in points is assessed for trailering a car during any part of the race. Team Mercury decided to sacrifice the points in the name of safety, loaded up their car and headed for Topeka.

In the Race Again

Team Mercury rejoined the race on Tuesday, June 22 after some much needed rest and time to tune the car. During pre-race inspection it was found that a brake light switch had gone out. A spare was available, but the new switch was larger than the old, requiring that the shank hole be drilled out. Drilling the hole broke the weld holding the small bracket together, requiring that the welder be brought over from the team hauler, 1000 yards away. By the time the bracket was re-welded, the new switch installed and tested and the gear all put away ready for the caravan to pull out, the race had re-started and Team Mercury was an hour behind the others. The Mercury III car was capable of some good speeds, but along the way to the next check-point; Topeka KS, they blew two tires. Still, they finished the day only 12 miles behind the other teams.

An Uphill Battle

Wednesday, June 23 found the teams racing through hilly terrain and Team Mercury hit another snag when Northwestern University’s car gave out just before the crest of a hill, and in a no passing zone. Team Mercury, of course, was behind them and had to stop and wait while the NU team pushed their car to the shoulder. Getting the Mercury III car going again from a dead stop on a steep uphill slope exceeded the limits of a safety device that restricts how much current can be fed into the motor, so ISU’s team was forced to push the car a bit to get it going, and earned another penalty.

The hilly terrain also took a toll on the battery and near the end of the day, with the sun setting, the team decided to stop for a while and tilt the solar array toward the fading sunlight to juice up the battery. This delay caused them to miss the official closing of the day again, but by less than 15 minutes.

More Suspension Woes

A quick inspection the next morning showed uneven wear on the front tires and great concern about the potential of blowing out more tires enroute. A realignment of the front suspension was performed, causing another late start for Team Mercury, but they set out confident of better racing ahead.

Along the way a drive sprocket wore out and needed replacing. With no spare on hand, Al Hackle set out for a farm supply store in hopes of finding a suitable replacement. What he found was close, but needed modification. Luckily the store owner had an old arc welder and allowed Hackle to use it to make the needed modifications. This delay caused the team to miss the closing of the day again, suffering yet another penalty in points.

The team over-nighted at an Ameren power plant near Alton IL where an inspection revealed yet another imminent failure in the drive train. This time the team pulled out cell phones and cobbled together a support system through friends and relatives in rural Illinois that resulted in spare parts from ISU being delivered to them by motorcycle.

Although Team Mercury was the last team to roll out on the road from Normal, improvements to the drive train and power systems the night before allowed them to pass four other teams along the road to Naperville and cross the finish line an hour before the official closing of the race.

A Poor Finish Is a Good Finish

In conclusion, Dr Rutherford says this of his team, “Of the 15 teams who actually qualified for the road race, Team Mercury came in 13th place, last of the teams who finished the entire race.

Even this modest result was the best of any ISU road race team, since Mercury III drove the lion’s share of the race – every mile from Topeka to Naperville – using only the power of the sun.  Given that the road team was only five students and two advisors (the smallest of any team in the race) and that the team’s budget, including gifts in kind, amounted to only about $40,000 (the smallest of any team’s budget, often by a large factor), I stand by my original description of this team: extraordinary.”

Dr. Rutherford’s complete account is available [here].