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

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

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

Miscellaneous Projects
Miscellaneous Projects
Cooking and recipes

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 blog
My House Blog
My home-built solar panels
My home-built solar panels

So what's new in my life?


07/14/17 - 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 party Monday 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, and spent 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 way through 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. I want 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 is something 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 have to 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 great sense 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 one of 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 the big 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 fossil hunting 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 really good 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 astrophotography but 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 autoguider on 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 got on 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 Easter Sunday 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. The weather 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 Bay taken 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 jar out 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 varies pretty 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 may build 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 going to 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 out of 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 of two 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 showed up 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 off of 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 for myself 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 disks with 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 boot has 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 to be 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 where I 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-injure it 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 construction is 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 lost foam 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 took while 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 watching Craig'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'd seen 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 customer tried 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 kayak I 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 improvement projects 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 in home 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 section of 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 the completed 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 honeycomb designs 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 inch mirror 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 quickly and 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 recover from 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 bit of 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. My very 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 castings are 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 casting in 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 sampling the 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 out the 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 temperature was 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 have my 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 an epic 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 get posted 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 diameter and 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 this the 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 full thickness 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 machine and 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 obvious astigmatism. 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 to get 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 aluminum very 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 the foundry. 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 and out 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 labels on 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 burner over 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 broken kiln 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 with rigidized 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 one furnace 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 seriously light-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 the result. 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) diameter triplet 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 D5100 camera, 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 a really 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 lot easier 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 real objects, 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 sheet of 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 on other 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 first melt 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 it was 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 than try 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 the inside 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't suffer 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, including discussion of safety equipment and precautions, and flux usage. I'm still fairly 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 interested in 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 post the 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 refractory can'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 heat with 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 that it 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 totally rebuild 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 melting temps. 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 lbs for 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 casings to 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 range every 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, clean brass 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 and casting 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 be surgically 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 details and 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 over 6 inches long in total. Plus there are two large punctures from the laparoscopic assisted surgery. The scar will make a nice accompaniment to my gallbladder removal scar from a few years ago. 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. One big 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 because the 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 I do 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 on books 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 my first 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 all the 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 little unpleasant 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, and my 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 record attendance 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 hours of 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 through Saturday 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 until Sunday 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 also made 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 with my 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 my own 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 large foam 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 mark that 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 take a 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 experimenting and 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 other issues. 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 3 on 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 machine all 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 computer and 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. The hardest part was getting the home-made refractory mix recipe right. I tried several different mixes recommended online, but none really worked 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 time working 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 (see video 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 and moved 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 of polishing 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 bought one 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 a large 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's amazing 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. These 1 1/2 inch thick octagonal stacks of glass will now be thoroughly 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 to try out. Maybe a laser cutter head attachment. Or possibly a 3D print head attachment. The possibilities are endless. So it will probably never 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 be made 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, documentation has 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 be great 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 it big 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 Seeker channel 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 volunteer labor, and they are doing it completely from scratch. And by from 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 documented every 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 greatest DIYers 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 valid excuses 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 CNC mill 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 on my 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 likely be 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 accumulation of 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 my Treasure 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 method for 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 a dimensionally 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 plaster negative 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 to burn 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 blank is 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 the SPAC 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 half the 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 with the 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 tool got 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 method really 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 you know 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 into New 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 after sunrise 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 new PVC 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 lot of 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 house was 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 instead of 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 Arizona property, 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 the Sombrero 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 them 20 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 Angeles California. 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 there is 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 Hollywood Hills 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. The park 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 crews from 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 up around 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 spent about 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. No more business trips for a while (I hope). The next time I fly I want it to be for my vacation.

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 and tracked 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 galaxy at 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 over the 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 was only 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 Ontario Beach. But then the cold and snow really 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 be able 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 an extra 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 the SPAC Mirror Lab to get it done. There was a long hiatus 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 get this 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 it is 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 Manufacturers Association 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 the last 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 for more 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.

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 my vacation than I was off on a work-related trip 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 exploring of 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 been away 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 time on airplanes, in airports, in hotels, and in rental cars. It's going to be good to hang around my own house for a while.

60 pound weight loss before and after photos. 09/10/15
Atkins diet update: I haven't managed to push through this plateau at 60 lbs yet. However, I do have some photos to show what a difference losing those 60 lbs has made. This photo was taken a few days ago at the SPAC Mirror Lab. The below photo was taken a couple of years ago at the same place while I was doing the same thing. In the recent photo a 1X shirt is a little baggy on me, while in the older photo I am doing a pretty good job of filling out a 3X shirt at around my peak weight of 305. Big improvement so far.

I still have a long way to go. I need to make some more lifestyle changes to get the weight loss going again. Seeing before and after photos like these are really good motivators to buckle down and get some more of the weight off. I could see the difference in my mirror, but to see it from other people's perspective really helps even more.
Figuring with students at the SPAC Mirror Lab.

My new way of storing my pitch lap between figuring sessions. 08/19/15
It's been a while since my last post. I've been working very long hours at work, seven days a week (ouch). So that hasn't left me with much time for other things. It has slowed down a little lately. I have managed to get back to the SPAC Mirror Lab the last couple of Saturdays for a little glass pushing. This photo shows a new method I have come up with to store my lap between figuring sessions so gravity doesn't make the edge of the pitch roll over. I am storing the lap on the mirror with a sheet of parchment paper between them. The pitch doesn't stick to the parchment paper, and the lap keeps the shape of the mirror. It works great. Wish I had thought of this years ago.

Atkins Diet Update: I have been plateaued at 60 lbs lost for a few months. I have to admit I haven't really been trying all that hard to lose more weight. I've been eating out a lot, and under a lot of work stress. At least I haven't gained any weight back. I have started a new push to loose some more weight before my next vacation. I'm back on the diet, eating out less, and trying to get more exercise. I've been doing a lot of swimming and exercising in the pool. I bought new swimming trunks because my old ones were just too big and baggy on me now. The new ones are a bit tight. I'd like them to fit better before the vacation happens. We'll see how it goes. I am going to try to put together a web page on how I lost all the weight so others can too. I just need to find the time.

Forrest Fenn's treasure chest. 07/13/15
Searching for Forrest Fenn's treasure hidden somewhere in the mountains north of Santa Fe, New Mexico is something that has consumed a lot of my free time over the last few years. Not just the actual boots on the ground searching out in the mountains while on my vacations, but also lots of thinking, investigating, researching and strategizing has gone into it. I spend a lot of time on blogs dedicated to the treasure hunt. I finally decided it was time to have one of my own. A place to post my own ideas, adventures, discoveries and whatnot. Check it out.

Today I have completed 51 orbits around the Sun, and what a long, strange trip this last one has been. It started out kind of rough with me recovering from serious health issues, and serious relationship issues, and living in a tiny rented condo. It ended with me 60 lbs lighter, feeling and looking great, a much improved income, a homeowner of a big house with a pool and garage workshop, happier and having more fun than I have in a long time. Here's to another great year. It will be hard to top the last one, but I have ideas for how to make it happen.

A photo of the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter. 06/30/15
This is a photo of tonight's conjunction of Venus and Jupiter. Managed to get a pretty good shot of them together in the same frame. Tried all kinds of different exposures. This is probably the best of the lot. If the exposure was long enough to show Jupiter's moons, then Venus was just an over-exposed blob. If it was short enough to see a nice crisp crescent on Venus, then Jupiter was barely visible. Big brightness difference between those two.

An arrowhead found on my Arizona Property. 06/19/15
This is a photo of an arrowhead I found on my Arizona property on my vacation last month. I have added a whole bunch of photos and a long write-up of my vacation on the the vacation photos section of the web site. It was a fantastic vacation. I had a lot of unexpected fun and made some neat discoveries. Check it out.

Brent and Joey with their completed mirror. 06/06/15
Joey and Brent Hilker have completed their 10 inch f/5 mirror made with one of my home-made blanks. They made it at the SPAC Mirror Lab. It is better than 1/6 wave. It is a great looking mirror and will make a fantastic telescope.

I just got back from a really great vacation. It was the most fun I've had on a vacation in a long time. Met some great people, had some neat adventures. Did some treasure hunting. And I spent a blissful week of peace and quiet at my remote Arizona cabin. Work even left me alone and didn't keep calling with problems. And even better, I lost three more pounds while I was gone! I'll try to post some photos and a write-up about the vacation soon in the vacation photos section of the web site.

Atkins Diet update: I have now lost 61 lbs. Wow! I am amazed at the transformation I have made in myself. I was standing in front to the full length mirror in my hotel room yesterday before my flight back home, and I said out loud, "Who is that skinny guy in my mirror?" I hardly recognize myself. I fit so much better in airline seats than I used to. I also have a lot more energy than I used to. I went hiking in the mountains several times on this trip and kept up with fit people who do it all the time. No problem even on steep uphill slopes at altitude. I felt like a mountain goat. I also have a lot more confidence and improved self-esteem. It doesn't hurt the self-esteem department that women seem to be seeing me as an attractive guy now. It used to seem like I was invisible and had to get by on just my personality. Now even women I've never met come right up to me and pull me into their conversations and invite me into their circle of friends and ask me along on their activities. Wow, it is suddenly a very different world for me. I had a lot of fun on this last vacation. I should have lost the weight years ago.

It is a shame that society tends to judge people by their appearance. However, changing society is not easy. I have found it much easier to change my appearance.

Donated a massive pile of old fat clothes to Goodwill today. Made a lot of room in the closet and dresser drawers for new clothes.

Atkins Diet update: I have now lost 58 lbs. I'm almost up to 60. I seem to have made it past that 55 lb plateau, and am slowly losing again. I have once again cleaned a ton of old fat clothes out of my closet and have them ready for donation. It's my way of saying (and enforcing) that there is no going back. I'm not going to keep the fat clothes just in case. I'm going to make sure just in case doesn't happen.

04/17/15 - I inherited a 40 Watt industrial CO2 laser from work. Check out the video of me testing it. This came from a retired laser marking system. It took a little research and tinkering to figure out how to drive it, but I got it going, oh boy did I ever. It is scary powerful, and it isn't even focused. As it is it really does a number on wood. With a proper focusing lens it could cut steel. I don't really have a use for it at the moment, but there could be several interesting projects in the future. Watch this space for updates.

Atkins Diet update: I have been stuck at 55 lbs lost for a while, but I still seem to be losing inches. I just bought a bunch of new smaller clothes today. I bought 38 waist pants. I was wearing 44s at the beginning of this. I bought 1XL shirts. I was wearing 3XL and 4XL at the beginning. I am now wearing a size 46 lab coat at work that I borrowed from another guy because the size 56 lab coats I had been wearing are like tents on me now. I bought a shorter belt because my old belts have had lots of extra holes punched in them and the tails are too long to deal with now. Once again I have a closet full of clothes too big for me. Looks like it is time to make another donation run to Gooodwill.

Haven't posted much lately. Very busy with end of quarter craziness at work. Atkins Diet update: I have now lost 54 lbs as of this morning. The weight loss has slowed way down, but I am still losing. Fortunately all the stress I have been under the last few weeks at work hasn't caused me to gain any of the weight back. My body seems to have adjusted to the new normal of my low-carb diet, and further weight loss is getting harder to achieve. I am working on cutting down my calorie intake even further to keep the weight loss going. Fortunately I have already broken a lot of my old bad eating habits, and after these months of dieting, being a little hungry much of the time isn't such a strange and troubling feeling any more that requires urgent snacking to alleviate.

A view of the gardens at The Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park. 03/18/15
It's been a long time coming, but I have finally posted photos and descriptions of my Sept 2014 vacation to Arizona and New Mexico to the Vacation Photos section of the web site. My life has been pretty busy and chaotic over the last year. I managed to disengage long enough to take the vacation, but sorting through the photos and posting them was a job I just never seemed to have the time for. It got put on the back burner. Then it got put in the back room. Then it got put in the back 40. People have been bugging me about it and pointing out the gap in my timeline, so I decided it was finally time to just do it. I'm glad I did. It brought back good memories, and got me thinking ahead to my next vacation. Click the photo to see more.

Atkins Diet update. Saw my doctor today. He is very impressed with my weight loss and encouraged me to continue. He gave me some good advice on how to get past my current plateau and loose more weight. We decided to cut my blood pressure medicine in half since my blood pressure is actually on the low side of normal these days, and I am staring to have dizzy spells when I stand up from bending over or laying down. If I loose some more weight I might be able to kick the blood pressure meds entirely, and kiss their side-effects and on-going expense goodbye.

Atkins Diet update. I finally got into my pool for the first time (finally got warm enough for me). Surprise, I don't float very well any more. I've lost 52 lbs of buoyant blubber. It takes effort to keep my head above water in the deep end. I have been plateaued at 52 lbs lost for a while now, but I do keep losing inches. I've gone from a 44 waist to a 40 waist, and will soon be wearing 38 pants because the 40s are getting pretty loose, and I keep having to punch new holes in my belts. The weight loss should hopefully start to take off again now that my pool is warm enough to get into and get some fun exercise in.

A view of M46. 02/20/15
So I didn't get around to doing any imaging at the OBS last week. Four perfect nights and a 30 acre field full of big DOBs, including my own, just begging to be looked through meant my imaging scope never even left it's case. Fast-forward a week. It's another really clear night, probably the last moonless one for a while. The imaging bug is really biting me bad, but it's been a long, hard day at work. I don't feel like fighting Friday rush hour traffic and driving out to the darker skies at the Withlacoochee County Park. So I decided to just set up on my pool deck and see what I can do from in town. This first shot is of M46, the open cluster with a planetary nebula in the same field. A two for one deep sky object. Not too bad for being in the middle of a major urban area.

Click the photo for a larger view.
A view of the Orion Nebula. Then of course I had to get a shot of the Orion Nebula just because it was there. Again, not too bad. I also tried to do the Rosette Nebula, but didn't see any trace of the nebulosity through the light pollution. I was going to try to do M1, but it was getting close to the trees and I began running out of steam after the long day and called it a night. The imaging bug is satisfied for the moment.

Click the photo for a larger view.

a view of the Valley of the Dobs at the 2015 Orange Blossom Special Star Party. 02/16/15
I just got back form the 2015 Orange Blossom Special Star Party. We had four days (more importantly four nights) of perfect weather. That's the first time in at least a decade we've had such a great stretch of weather during the OBS. It was an amazingly great time, and a nice low-stress break from work, which I really needed. This photo shows the "Valley of the Dobs" set up by the members of the SPAC Mirror Lab. Mine is the 17.5 inch Dob without a shroud around the trusses yet at right of center in the photo. This is only one tiny corner of the 30 acre observing field. There were dozens and dozens of other large scopes set up all over the field. We had a huge turnout. Much fun was had by all.

My plan was to spend part of the time using my big 17.5 inch DOB telescope visually, and spend part of the time imaging with my small 4 inch refractor. The plans wet out the window after the first night. I was having so much fun using the big DOB under the amazingly clear skies, and hanging out with my Mirror Lab buds, that I never even finished setting up my imaging scope. I have always been first and foremost a visual observing guy. The imaging has always just been something of a sideline, and the OBS has always been a social event. I'll go back to the field and do imaging some other night and be off by myself in a corner hunkered down over my refractor and laptop.

Oh, And as a bonus, I lost two more pounds while camping those four days. Win-Win.

Click the photo for a larger view.

01/25/15 - I built a new, heavy duty workbench for the garage workshop. I built it from scratch using inexpensive materials. I'm quite proud of this bench. It is the first of hopefully many projects to be built in my new garage workshop, and it will help me build the others. Check out the video of the build.

Atkins diet update. I hit a big milestone today. I have lost 50 lbs so far! I had been a little bummed out that my weight loss had plateaued for a while. Then I got so busy with work and other things that I hadn't thought about the diet or weighed myself in a while. Someone at work yesterday remarked that I looked thinner, so I weighed myself this morning. 50 lbs gone! My clothes are all getting too big for me again. Soon I am going to have to buy all new clothes for the third time. At least I can buy off the rack again. No more having to go to the big & tall store.

I have started a blog just to document all the repairs, maintenance and upgrades I am doing to my new house. It is at
mdpub.com/houseblog.html. Check it out if you are interested.

The front view of my new house. I've moved into my new house. I am home for the holidays! I got enough of the renovations done that I could move in. The rest can be done whenever. I'll have projects for the rest of my life. I hired professional movers for the first time in my life. No U-haul trucks and trying to get friends and relatives to help move tons of stuff. No cripplingly sore muscles the next day. I'm getting too old for that sort of thing. I highly recommend Two Men and a Truck if you are looking for movers. They really hustled, but took great care with everything. They finished in less time and for less money than the quote. I felt a little guilty watching those guys do all the hard work, but I made sure they had plenty of cold drinks, and tipped them well at the end. I love my new house. It is a great Christmas present to myself.

Atkins diet update. I had been stuck at a little over 40 lbs lost for a long time. I got really busy with the renovations, moving, and excessive craziness at work and forgot to even weigh myself for more than a week. When I finally did get on the scale I was pleasantly surprised to find I was up to 47 lbs lost. I celebrated by having a Chick fil A sandwich and waffle fries for the first time since last Spring. Damn, I have missed Chick fil A. It was good. I'm within striking distance of 50 lbs.

I'm exhausted! I work on renovating the house evenings and weekends, work long hours all week at my day job, then pack and box up stuff at night at the condo. Not much time left over for rest, and none for any of my other projects. Getting the house to move in ready and getting all my stuff at the condo ready to move is now my only project. Covering over the dark colors the previous owners used in many areas of the house is taking several coats of paint, and much longer than I initially expected. I am making good progress though. It looks less like a dark cave every day. I have the master bedroom and the room that will be my office at the house essentially complete. The living room is about half done. Once the living room is finished I can move my furniture in. I'll save doing the third bedroom, hallway, entryway and kitchen rehab work for after I am moved in. I am living out of boxes at the condo. The move is scheduled for the 20th. No rest for me until after that. I need to finish the living room so my furniture can move in. Then I need to clean up the condo. Sheesh! Now I remember why I hate moving. Sometime in January I may be able to actually sit down and rest for a few minutes.

The front view of my new house. 11/24/14
Well here it is at last! I am officially a home owner. This is the day I have been saving for and working toward for years. We had the closing today and I got the keys to my new house. This is the final culmination of a house-hunting process that began during the height of Summer. Here it is three days before Thanksgiving, and I just finally got the keys in my hand.
The pool at my new house. The house has a three bedrooms, two baths, with a solar-heated pool, and a two-car garage, and a very large storage shed in the back yard. It also has a wood-burning fireplace and has a nice open floor plan with amazing tile floors. It has been partially updated and only needs some cleaning and a lot of painting before I move in. The house is huge compared to the condo I have been living in. I don't own enough furniture to fill it.
The livingroom of my new house. Now that I see the house empty without all the previous owner's furnishings in it, I see that the paint is in worse condition than I thought. So the next job is painting before moving in.

After the closing I took several loads of stuff to the house and stashed it out of the way in the garage, did some cleaning, then went shopping for painting supplies. I'll be spending my long Thanksgiving weekend spending quality time with spackle, paint rollers and brushes. It's been a long, busy day, but a good one.

The front side of my first 12.5 inch 3rd generation honeycomb telescope mirror blank. 11/07/14
I have completed the first full scale prototype of my 3rd generation honeycomb telescope mirror blanks. This is a 12.5 inch diameter blank. The photo shows the front surface of the blank. Like my scaled down prototype, I fused a sheet of glass on the top surface to ensure there are no bubbles in the volume of glass to be ground out and polished. This time the fusing went better and there is less air trapped between the top sheet and the cast base. Again, this is a prototype. It has a few minor issues. I learned a lot making it, and have plans to fix the issues in the next mirror.

Click the photo for a larger view.
The back side of my first 12.5 inch 3rd generation honeycomb telescope mirror blank. This photo shows the honeycomb back of the mirror. The ribs and sockets were very faithfully reproduced from the mold in this casting. I seem to be getting pretty good at casting glass. It is not perfect. I made my usual mistake of underestimating the amount of glass needed for the casting, and the top surface was thinner than planned, but still workable. This mirror incorporates some new features not found in my 1st and 2nd generation honeycomb mirrors. The pockets are of different depths, deeper at the edges, and shallower in the middle, to make for a more uniform thickness of glass after grinding in the front curve. It also has six mounting sockets and bearing points molded into the webbing. This will make mounting the mirror in a cell much easier than with my previous mirrors.

Click the photo for a larger view.
A close-up of mounting sockets on my first 12.5 inch 3rd generation honeycomb mirror blank. This photo shows a close-up of one of the sockets cast into the back of the mirror. There are six of these sockets. They are placed 70% of the way from the center to edge. Each is surrounded by a circular flat area to serve as a weight bearing point. CNC machining the molds allows for tremendous creativity and arbitrary complexity in the design. I am working on a mirror cell design to mate with the sockets on the back of the mirror. The prototype will be made from wood. Later I may attempt casting it in aluminum. Casting metal will be a whole new learning experience for me.

Click the photo for a larger view.

I finally hit 40 pounds lost on the Atkins Diet. The weight is coming off much more slowly than in the beginning, but it is still coming off. I had plateaued at 35 pounds for a while, but was pleasantly surprised when I weighed myself this morning and saw I was 40 pounds down from my peak weight. I had a massive celebration today in honor of this new milestone. I ate a (single) piece of left-over Halloween candy, and had French fries at lunch for the first time in four months. Do I know how to party or what? Gotta be good for the next few days to make up for it. More old fat clothes going to Goodwill tomorrow.

Big news! I'm buying a house! The closing date is Nov 24th. Can't wait to move in. I'll finally get out of rental Hell. No more noisy neighbors on the other side of my bedroom wall. I'll have a whole two car garage all to myself for my workshop. No more sharing a garage with a neighbor. No more condo association rules. I'll finally have the room and freedom to spread out and go into full mad-scientist mode with my projects in the privacy of my own fenced yard, without having to worry about my neighbors coming after me with torches and pitchforks. I'm so excited. The 24th can't get here fast enough for me.

I just dropped off a big box of my old fat clothes at a Goodwill collection station. There's no going back now. I'm too cheap to buy new fat clothes if I start putting any weight back on after spending a lot of money to buy all new thinner clothes. I'll starve myself first. There will be no yoyoing.

A photo of The Great Andromeda Galaxy taken on my Arizona property. 10/05/14
Here is another astrophoto taken on my remote Arizona property during my recent vacation. I just got around to processing the images in Registax. It is a photo of the Great Andromeda Galaxy. Possibly my best astrophoto to date. The amount of detail in the dust lanes is stunning, especially in the full-size image. Even the large image here (which has been resized) shows amazing detail.

Click the photo for a larger view.

I have posted some updates to my solar panel tracking system project. I did some work on the system while I was in Arizona on my recent vacation. The new sensor head has been installed and is working. I also found a solution for a problem I was seeing with the pipe connections loosening up. The updates are near the bottom of the page.

A photo of the Great Orion Nebula taken from my Arizona property. 09/29/14
I just got back from a great two week vacation to my Arizona property. It was wonderful to finally have a vacation. It was my first vacation in over a year and boy did I need it. I spent a lot of time working on my cabin during the day, and doing astrophotography at night. I got a lot of great astrophotos. I have hundreds of photos I haven't even had a chance to process yet. Here is a shot of the Great Orion Nebula.

Click the photo for a larger view.

I got a lot done on this trip. I have been working toward getting enough done with the cabin so that in the future I don't have to drive out to Arizona with a truckload of equipment and tools. On future vacations I'd like to be able to just fly out there and rent a car. It will cut several days of travel time out of each trip and leave me with more vacation time. I think the cabin is just barely to the state where I can do that. Unfortunately, if I fly, I may not be able to take my astrophotography setup with me.

I also did a good job of sticking to my diet while on vacation. That combined with all the exercise I got meant I lost another 5 lbs while I was gone. My total loss is now above 35 lbs. I feel great. I worked hard on the cabin and went hiking in the mountains, and had more energy and fewer aches and pains than any time in recent memory. It feels like I am at least 10 years younger. I want to loose even more weight and go back again in the spring.

A photo of the galaxy M33 from my Arizona property. Here is a photo of M33 I took on this trip to Arizona. As a low surface-brightness, near face-on spiral galaxy, M33 has always been a difficult target for me, in spite of it's huge size. I think this is by far my best photo ever of it.

Click the photo for a larger view.

A photo of the Dumbell Nebula from my Arizona property. Here is a photo of the Dumbell Nebula taken on this trip to Arizona. This has always been one of my favorite objects.

Click the photo for a larger view.

A photo of the Trifid Nebula from my Arizona property. Here is a fairly decent photo of the Trifid Nebula taken on this trip to Arizona. I may try reprocessing this image to try to bring out more contrast.

Click the photo for a larger view.

A photo of Sunspots taken from my Arizona property. Since I had my astrophotography setup all aligned and calibrated, It seemed a shame to only use it at night, so I also got a few shots of sunspots during the day.

Click the photo for a larger view.

Atkins Diet Update: My rate of weight loss has slowed down, but it is still coming off. I am creeping up on 30 lbs down from my peak weight. I haven't been this light in, well, a very long time. Can't really remember when I last weighed what I weigh now. Must be more than 10 or 15 years. I feel great. Wish I had done this a long time ago. The only down side is that I need to buy all new clothes. Most everything I own is way too big on me now. A colleague at work has also lost a lot of weight, but on a different diet. He was never as big as me. He has donated some of his old clothes to me. His "fat clothes" which are now way too big for him, actually fit me pretty well, but at this rate will soon be too big for me too.

Joey and Brent Hilker rough grinding their telescope mirror. 08/20/14
Here is a photo of two new students at The SPAC Mirror Lab. Joey and Brent Hilker are rough grinding one of my 10 inch recycled plate glass mirror blanks that I cast in my kiln. My home-made, green glass blanks have become quite popular with students at the Mirror Lab. I can hardly make them fast enough to keep up with demand. So in answer to the question I get a lot by email, no I don't have any for sale right now. All I have are earmarked for the mirror lab at the present time.

Pressing a sub-diameter lap on my honeycomb miror. My own second generation 12.5 inch honeycomb mirror project is coming along very slowly. There have been numerous problems encountered while figuring. I have fought a persistent turned down edge, holes in the center, peaks in the center, uncooperative zones, and a general refusal of the mirror to respond properly to normal figuring strokes on a full-size lap the same way a solid mirror does. So once again I have broken out my collection of sub-diameter laps and am tackling the mirror a zone or two at a time trying to tame it. Here I am pressing a small lap on the mirror to get it into good contact. Looking at this photo I now realize how foolish and dangerous this move was. It would have been far safer to press the mirror on top of the lap. If the weight had been bumped and slid off the lap it could have gouged or even shattered the nearly finished mirror, and ruined hundreds of hours of hard work. Don't try this at home, I'm a trained professional, with more guts than brains sometimes.

The new sensor head for my solar panel tracking system. 07/28/14
I have completed a new and improved, weatherproof, sensor head for my solar panel tracking system. This new sensor head will keep my solar panels pointed at the sun, without being exposed to rain, dew and dust like my original prototype sensor head was.

Click the image to see the projct.

The below telescope mount was one birthday present I bought for myself. Another thing I decided to do for myself just before my 50th birthday was get into better shape. I've been on the Atkins Diet for about a month now. I've lost 20lbs so far. Saw a lot of old friends last night at a SPAC meeting. I got a lot of complements on my weight loss. I still have a long way to go, but it's working great, and I couldn't be happier. I feel great, better than I have in many years. Maybe 50 really is the new 30.

My new go-to equatorial mount. 07/26/14
The new telescope mount is finally all assembled, with my $3 yard sale telescope and my Nikon camera attached. It is all balanced and ready to go. Just waiting for cooler weather, longer nights and clearer skies. Can't wait to get some great photos with this setup.

Unboxing lots of Raspberry Pi stuff from Newark/Element 14. 07/14/14
It's like Christmas here at the old homestead today. I went on a bit of a shopping spree back around the time of my recent birthday. Several packages all arrived together today. I had a bit of an unboxing party here this afternoon. I got a bunch of Raspberry Pi stuff from my go-to electronics source Newark/Element 14. Plus the dovetail plate for my new telescope mount has finally arrived. So what am I going to do with all this stuff? I have ideas for wi-fi security cameras based on the Raspberry Pi and it's camera module. A Pi has nearly infinitely more potential and flexibility than standard off the shelf cameras, but costs even less. I also have plans to work on some home automation projects. Plus I'm still waiting on a bunch of other stuff I ordered to arrive. It is going to be a project filled Summer. Stay tuned for updates.

My new go-to equatorial mount. 07/11/14
Today I have completed 50 orbits around the Sun. Thanks everyone for the birthday wishes.

This is a photo of a little birthday present I bought myself. It is an iOpteron go-to equatorial mount for my $3 garage sale telescope. It makes such nice astrophotos that it deserved a better mounting than the ancient flaky mount I had been using. I'm just waiting for a dovetail mounting plate to arrive so I can mount the telescope on it. I can't wait to get it all together and out under a dark sky. I expect to take some really great astrophotos on my next trip out to my remote Arizona property, and at SPAC's dark sky observing site this Fall.

I had an exceptionally good 4th of July. I finished my first proof of concept 3rd generation honeycomb-back mirror blank, and it turned out great. This video shows nearly every step in the process of making the blank. When the blank first came out of the mold, I wasn't sure it was going to be salvageable. There were issues. But I managed to fix most of them. After the final cold-working, the blank was beautiful. It is a 10 inch blank, 1 and 5/8 inches thick, and it weighs 6lbs and not quite 10 ounces. Since this was just a test, I used a thicker glass plate on top top than I wanted to. I used glass I had on hand for the test, instead of buying glass of the proper thickness. So the face is 1/8 thicker than I originally planned for. The blank would have been even lighter with thinner glass. I won't normally be making 10 inch cellular blanks. This is a scaled down proof of concept blank made just to make sure everything was going to work. In the future I will be making this design in 12.5, and 14 inch blanks, and eventually even larger ones.

Check out the video.

The back of my new honeycomb mirror blank. Here is a photo of the back of the above new mirror blank. I really took a different path on this blank. The mold was CNC milled instead of pieced together as in my previous hex blanks. This allowed me to create a very complex design incorporating bearing points and sockets that would have been difficult to piece together. I know because I have tried for the last couple of years to assemble such a mold by casting individual pieces. I finally gave up and decided the whole thing needed to be machined in one piece. I also departed with the past by not trying to cast the blank as a single monolithic piece. I cast the honeycomb back separately, and then fused a sheet of glass on top to be the surface to be ground and polished. This totally eliminates the problem of grinding into air bubbles that has plagued my previous cellular castings. This will probably be the way I make cellular blanks in the future.

This blank was just a proof of concept test piece, and there was no expectation as I was making it that it would actually be usable, but it came out so nice that I think It could actually be ground and polished into a mirror. Maybe it will be someday. For now it is a trophy that represents the successful completion of a project I have worked long and hard on for many months.

Click the photo for a larger view.

Waiting for it to get dark so I can use my telescope. 07/02/14
Here is a photo of me, sitting next to the big 17.5 inch DOB on its equatorial platform, consulting my star charts, and waiting for it to get dark. This photo was taken at Withlacoochee County Park a couple of months ago. The person who took it just emailed it to me. It was a remarkably clear spring night that night. We had a great picknic and observing session. There won't be any more of those until the Fall. It's too hot, humid and cloudy now in the Summer. Plus the Sun doesn't set until really late. I'll just have to bide my time.

Click the photo for a larger view.

I've had an interesting week. I got called for jury duty. I've been called before, but never picked. I got picked this time, for a two day long trial. So with one day for jury selection, and two days for the trial, I spent three days this week at the Downtown Clearwater Courthouse, instead of at work. I consider myself lucky, because they also seated a jury for a three week long trial at the same time. It was a civil trial, not a criminal trial. It was a personal injury trial. So it was all about money and who should get how much. It was very boring at times, and fascinating at other times. I was elected jury foreman. I think we rendered a good and fair verdict. I feel like I got a really good free education on personal injury lawsuits. So if I am ever sued, or have to sue someone, I think I will have a leg up on the process. So it wasn't a total waste of time. I think I might have actually enjoyed the whole thing If I were retired, and didn't have to worry about all the problems at work and how far behind on everything I was getting.

The below honeycomb mirror is now fully polished and a pretty darn good sphere, if I do say so myself. It has been slow going with this mirror, but it is finally in a state to start figuring. That should start next Saturday. I am excited about this mirror. It is turning out really nice. It has far fewer issues than my first honeycomb mirror. 3rd generation mirror blanks will be coming out of my kiln soon too, now that I can CNC mill molds.

My 2nd generation honycomb mirror is 90% polished. 05/19/14
My 2nd generation honeycomb 12.5 inch mirror is about 90% polished. I'll be figuring soon. I missed a couple of sessions at the SPAC Mirror Lab, so the polishing has taken a while. After the last couple of marathon Saturday sessions, it is finally nearly polished. Can't wait to start figuring.

Finally accomplished something I've been working toward for years. This video shows the CNC milling of a mold for casting my light-weight, honeycomb telescope mirror blanks. You wouldn't think it would take years to do it, but first my brother and I had to design and scratch-build the CNC mill, then I had to teach myself G-Code. All that took a while, especially since I could only work on it in my spare time.

This test mold is a scaled-down version of my 12.5 inch diameter mirror design. I scaled it down to 10 inches so it would fit in the largest piece of florist foam I could find. The foam is cheap and easy to cut, but very fragile. My ultimate plan is to build a dam around the edge of the foam and fill it with refractory plaster, creating a negative. Then I would cast a positive off the negative in glass. Time will tell how well that all goes, but at least this part of the process is working. I gotta find bigger pieces of foam.

Results of a glass melting experiment. 04/10/14
This photo shows some of the results of an experiment I conducted over a period of several weeks while I was stuck at home recovering from major surgery a couple of months ago. I melted down samples of lots of different types of inexpensive, and commonly available glass. The purpose of the experiment was to try to find a new source of glass to use in casting my telescope mirror blanks. The experiment produced some interesting and useful results. Check it out.

My home-built ball mill. 03/29/14
Here is a photo of my 2nd generation, 12.5 inch, honeycomb mirror after fine grinding to 25 microns. It sure is getting transparent when wet. I actually managed to get started on 12 micron grit before the end of the day at the Mirror Lab today. I'll be polishing by next week.

Click the photo to see a larger view.

I'm Baaaaaaack! Spent the afternoon at the SPAC Mirror Lab pushing glass. I made good progress fine grinding my latest cellular, honeycomb-back mirror blank. It's the hardest I have worked since before my surgery. I got all sweaty, and now I'm tired and sore, but no more so than after any other long day of pushing glass before the surgery. It's the kind of tired and sore that reminds you that you accomplished something today. I love it. Tomorrow will be a workshop day. Got more stuff to accomplish.

I'm starting to feel like my old self again, minus the pain and discomfort I was always in before I got really sick and needed emergency treatment and surgery. I don't think I realized just how sick I was and how bad I felt all the time back then. I was constantly run down and feeling crappy for months. Now I feel great. I haven't felt this good or had this much energy in a very long time.

My home-built ball mill. 03/13/14
I have posted a write-up on how I built my home-made ball mill. It was quick, easy and cheap to build. Check it out if you have a need grind and mix chemicals.

Click the photo to see the project.

Thanks to everyone emailing me get well wishes. There have been so many that I haven't been able to keep up and respond to everyone individually. I had no idea so many people followed my little blog so closely. For those wanting updates, I am getting better every day. I should be back to my old self in a couple more weeks. Thanks again.

I think I have finally figured out what is wrong with me. I suffer from Compulsive Creative Disorder. The compulsive need to build and invent things. Saw it mentioned a few places on the web. Sounds just like me. It's not so bad as disorders go, there are much worse ones. Anyway, I woke up today feeling great, almost giddy, even though it is a grey, cold and rainy morning. But I feel really good. Hardly any pain, and excellent mobility today. I'm not just physically feeling good. I think I am also mostly mentally over some other bad things that have happened lately. I've got a whole new attitude today. There's nothing but bright possibilities ahead. Gotta go, it's time to go build something.

I wasn't totally idle during my recovery time. I did manage to accomplish a few minor projects. I got Netflix working on my Linux desktop computer, then spent way too many hours slumped in front of the screen passively watching stuff, but I guess that is what recovery is all about. The instructions on how to set up Netflix under Linux at http://fds-team.de/cms/pipelight-installation.html worked perfectly. I followed the instructions for Ubuntu Linux, even though I use Kubuntu, but it still worked perfectly.

Another project I managed to complete was filming and editing a video of my super simple and inexpensive home-made ball mill. I use the ball mill for grinding and mixing chemicals for experimental batches of glass. It could also be used as a rock tumbler. Check out the video.

Got my staples out today, all 27 of them, and got cleared to return to work. I never thought I'd be so happy to be going back to work, but I've been bored out of my mind for the last few weeks. Not sure if I have the stamina yet for a full day of the usual chaos at work, but we'll see how it goes. At least I won't be bored.

Starting to feel more like my old self. I am getting some of the old passion back for my projects, and some more stamina. I do still tire quickly. But I can go for a couple hours at a stretch, and sometimes even forget for brief periods that I was filleted like a fish, until I move wrong. I hope to be cleared to go back to work soon.

I am starting to realize it is going to take a while to recover. I thought that the enforced time off work would allow me to work on some of my projects. But my body seems to have other ideas. I have very little energy, I tire quickly and easily, and I lack my usual enthusiasm. It seems to take me all day to even accomplish something simple. The pain at least is manageable, and less of a factor every day. Maybe I'll feel more energetic tomorrow, but it looks like today is going to be another day I don't even leave the house.

Well I had an interesting week. I spent it in the hospital instead of at the star party like I had planned. Apparently, I have had some pretty severe gallbladder problems for a while, but was completely unaware of just how bad things were getting. I'd have some occasional discomfort after eating, but nothing that seemed too serious. It began happening more and more frequently. I had resolved to go see my doctor about it last last weekend when his office opened on Monday. I didn't make it to Monday. Sunday night I had a whole different sort of attack. Suddenly I was in the worst agony I could imagine. The pain radiated from my abdomen around to my back and eventually into my chest. Barely able to breathe and convinced I was having a heart attack, I went to the ER. They determined it wasn't my heart, and shot me up with some morphine to make the pain bearable. They admitted me, gave me ultrasounds, MRIs, x-rays, blood tests, you name it. Turns out my badly damaged and stone-filled gallbladder had become infected and plugged my common bile duct, which caused my pancreas to become inflamed. The terrible pain was coming from my inflamed pancreas. It took five days in the hospital with no food or water by mouth and only getting IV liquids and massive doses of antibiotics before I was stable enough for gallbladder surgery. When they did finally operate, my gallbladder was too swollen and distorted for laparoscopic removal. So they had to do it the old-fashion way, and slice me wide open. I am sporting a truly epic scar across my abdomen now. It's going to take me a while to recover from the surgery. It would have been a lot better if I had gone to see my doctor weeks or months earlier about the mild discomfort I was having. Probably could have just taken out the gallbladder with quick and easy laparoscopic surgery and been done with it. So let this be a lesson to the rest of you. Don't ignore that gallbladder pain, even if it seems pretty minor.

At depth grinding my second cellular mirror. 01/25/14
I have reached final depth rough grinding on my second cellular, honeycomb-back mirror blank at the SPAC Mirror Lab. It is actually 2 thousandths of an inch shallow, which I expect to make up in fine grinding. Fine grinding will begin next weekend at the The Orange Blossom Special Star Party where I will be doing a mirror grinding demonstration.

Click the photo for a larger view.

Having fun experimenting with my sand blaster.. 01/25/14
I've been having fun experimenting with my new sand blaster. Here I have used some cheap vinyl lettering and masking tape to mask part of a piece of scrap glass. Then sand blasted it and frosted the surface except the parts that were masked. Looks pretty good, and it only took a couple of minutes. I am going to have fun with my sand blaster.

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Grinding my second cellular mirror. 01/11/14
I have finally started serious grinding on my second cellular, honeycomb-back mirror blank at the SPAC Mirror Lab. I have high hopes for this mirror. This one has far fewer air bubbles in it than the first prototype did. I had forgotten how much hard work rough grinding is. Gotta build a curve generating machine next.

Click the photo for a larger view.

How I built a home-made swamp cooler for my remote, off-grid cabin. 12/30/13
I finally got around to posting a write-up on how I built a home-made swamp cooler for my remote, off-grid cabin in Arizona. It was a quick, easy and inexpensive build, and it works great to keep the temperature inside the cabin comfy on hot days. Check it out.

Click the photo to see the project.

At nearly 50 years old, I am finally (I think) getting my crap together in some areas of my life. In the past when something bad happened and I was sad and depressed, I'd sit in front of the TV and shove comfort food in my face to cope. These days instead I throw myself into working on my various projects. Actually accomplishing something (other than making myself fatter) works a lot better as a coping mechanism than wallowing in self-pity and accomplishing nothing. Also, I've never been big on New Years resolutions, but this year I may make a couple, and work hard to keep them. Time to change a few things.

Repairing the temperature and compass display in my Toyota Tacoma. 11/18/13
I just posted a write-up on how I repaired the temperature and compass display in my Toyota Tacoma. Failure of this display unit seems to be a fairly common problem with Toyota vehicles. Repair or replacement costs can be astronomical. Doing it yourself can save you a bundle. If you have this problem, check out the fix.

Click the photo to see the repair.

Something really cool happened today. I got an email from Chris Hackett from the Science Channel TV show Stuck With Hackett. He used my 555 Based Charge Controller Design in one of his builds in a Youtube video. He built a bike powered generator for recharging batteries and needed a charge controller. He was inspired to build his generator by the power outages after Superstorm Sandy. I have embedded the video here.

The Great Andromeda Galaxy. 10/18/13
Wow, it has been a while since my last update. Work has been so crazy the last few months that I haven't had any time or energy to update my web site. But I just got back from a much needed vacation to my remote Arizona property. The conditions were perfect for astrophotography while I was there, and I got some pretty good shots. This one is of the Great Andromeda Galaxy and its companions.

Click the photo to see a larger view.

The Dumbbell Nebula. 10/18/13
Here is a photo of the Dumbbell Nebula.

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The Trifid and Lagoon Nebulas. 10/18/13
Here is a photo of the Trifid and Lagoon Nebulas.

Click the photo to see a larger view.

The Veil Nebula. 10/18/13
This is a photo of part of the Veil Nebula.

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The Veil Nebula. 10/18/13
This is a photo of my $3 telescope that I took all the above photos with. It is setup on my remote Arizona property where nobody has even heard of light pollution. The scope is a Sky-Watcher 4 inch refractor. I got it for $3 at a yard sale about 2 years ago. The person selling it had no idea what it was or how to use it, and just wanted to get rid of it. The price was so cheap because the tripod it came with was broken. Well I just threw out the tripod and made a mounting plate to mate it to this ancient German equatorial mount that I got for free many years ago. The mount has terrible periodic error. I am limited to shooting maximum of 20 second exposures, and about half of those will have unacceptable tracking error. But If I stack enough of the good 20 second exposures I start getting some really good looking images of things. By the way, the $3 price is a little deceptive. I have to add in my $450 Nikon camera and a $109 Fringe Killer filter that make the complete system. Still it is a really cheap astrophotography setup. In the background of this photo you can see my home-built solar panel tracking system that powers my remote cabin.

Click the photo to see a larger view.

I have FINALLY got around to posting photos and descriptions from my last vacation to the the vacation photos section of my web site. Been so busy since I got back that I just haven't had time until now to do it. I saw some friends of mine last Friday night and they were asking where the photos were? So I figured it was about time.

Today I have completed 49 orbits around the Sun.

My home-built solar panel sun tracking platform. 07/08/13
I have finally finished the web page about my Suntracker. It is a motorized platform to keep my solar panels pointed at the sun. It is based on an old antenna rotator, and driven by a small computer module. It has been tested on my remote, off-grid Arizona property, and works great. I have uploaded all the information on how I built it, and how you can build one too. Check it out.

Click the photo to see the project.

A photo of the Trio in Leo. 06/07/13
I just got back from another vacation to my remote Arizona property. I had a wonderful time and great weather the whole time. I worked on my cabin and on some other projects. I also had a chance to do some astrophotography under my wonderful middle of nowhere Arizona sky.

This first photo is of the trio of bright galaxies in Leo, M65, M66, and NGC 3628. This is a stack of 8 second exposures taken with my $3 yardsale 4 inch refractor set up on a tripod on my equatorial platform. The platform wasn't designed for use at the latitude of my property in Arizona. So I had it blocked up on the north side to compensate. The stars trailed noticeably even in the short exposures, so I probably didn't have the right angle. Still, these shots are not too bad.

Click the photo for a larger view.

A photo of the Ring Nebula. This photo is of the Ring Nebula. It turned out much better than I expected from my primitive setup. This little $3 refractor could probably take world-class photos if I get it mounted on a proper equatorial mount and buy a minus violet filter for it to eliminate the halos around bright stars.

Click the photo for a larger view.

A photo of Antares and M4. This photo is of Antares and the globular cluster M4. Antares is the bright yellow blob on the lower left very over-exposed. The globular cluster NGC 6144 is also faintly showing up between Antares and the top of the frame.

Click the photo for a larger view.

Here is a time-lapse video of my home-built solar panel sun tracker in operation. In the video it is set up on my remote Arizona property, and is doing a good job of keeping my solar panels pointed at the sun. It took me a while to get this project up and running. Work and other priorities got in the way. Plus I decided to scrap my original plan for the electronics and start over with something completely different. So it took a while. Now that it is up and running, a thorough write-up on how I built it and how it works will be coming soon to this web site. So stay tuned for more...

A photo of the Orion Nebula. 04/08/13
I got a few pretty good astrophotos at the new moon observing session last Saturday night. I used the same 500 mm f/5 telescope that I used to get shots of comet PanSTARRS last month. This time though I set it up on top of my equatorial platform so I could get some long exposure photos. I was amazed at how well my $3 yardsale telescope works with my Nikon D5100 camera to make nice deep-sky photos. With a little more practice, I might actually get good at this.

This first photo is of the Orion Nebula. This is a stack of 3 second exposures.

Click the photo for a larger view.

A photo of the Sombrero Galaxy. This photo is of the Sombrero Galaxy. All of these photos are composite photos made by stacking multiple exposures in Registax. I was shocked at how well these dim galaxies showed up in very short exposures. I upped the exposure time to 8 seconds for the dim galaxies.

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A photo of M51. This photo is of M51. Even the individual 8 second exposures showed spiral structure in M51. Once I stacked a few of them, the detail really started to pop out.

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