Monthly Archives: April 2012

Sad but tree

Right after Emily and I were married, we moved to KY to go to graduate school.  The first year, we lived in a tiny little apartment, not much bigger than our current living room.  We were given an opportunity our second year there to earn free rent in another place (which is a great story I will tell another time).  It was a great apartment and allowed us to collect more junk finally unpack all of our boxes.

For some foolish reason, we had a fish tank in that apartment and felt that it needed an algae eater.  There was a local pet store called Fishy Business…a great place to buy a fish, right?  So we walked in and decided to take a turn about the store.  There in the back, we found our kitten.  I do not like to buy pet store animals, but she had chosen us.  Emily and I looked at each other and decided to take her home.  She was Madeline…Maddie the Cattie.  She was a great kitten.  She sucked on her tail at night, not completely over being taken from her momma too young (I guess).  Imagine getting slapped in the face each night by a soaking wet cat tail. Anyhow, Maddie also played fetch as a kitten.  She was our first dependent and sort of the perfect thing for this newly married couple trying to figure out how married people are supposed to be (still working on that one!)

Planting the pear tree

Fast forward 16 years.  Madeline has moved many times with us as we have changed homes.  She has endured other cats and two kids.  Madeline was old.  Plain and simple, she was old and time had finally started to show itself on the poor girl.  She became incontinent and we could not abide that change.  Madeline was put down on Friday among many tears and memories.  I guess it sounds silly but she has been a part of our family almost as long as we have been a family.  She gave us something to be responsible for and she provided many hours of therapy.

To honor those memories, we decided to bury her at our place in the country and we planted a pear tree over her remains.  The kids were pretty cool about it all and I think it was a good life lesson…for all of us

Up on the rooftop

Well, it wasn’t Santa but I was up on the rooftop of the local Lowes store Monday evening.  The manager called me earlier in the day reporting a swarm of bees above the entrance that was shedding bees down onto customers’ heads throughout the day.

The view from atop Lowes
The view from atop Lowes
Windy...that's a large flag
Windy...that's a large flag

The problem with the swarm is that it was at the base of the blue metal roof that hangs above nearly all of their stores.  That roof is far too slippery and far too steep to stand on.  Not being Spiderman, we decided to survey the scene from above.  We thought that I may be able to reach the bees by reaching over.

A bee on my finger!
A bee on my finger!

I have never been on the roof of a large commercial building so climbing up on the roof was pretty exciting all by itself.   It was windy as…well, it was windy.  And cold.  Andy windy.  It was clear, especially with the wind, that there was no way for me to hang over the side to reach the bees.  I looked around at the pretty cool view and could not come up with a good solution but killing the bees with pesticide is definitely not a good solution for me.

A good size swarm of bees
A good size swarm of was 3-5 pounds I bet

I have used a shop-vac to catch swarms in other cases so the manager grabbed one off of the shelf and we rigged it up so it wouldn’t just destroy the bees as it sucked them in (yes, bees can definitely ride safely into a shop-vac if you decrease the suction).  With an audience (that’s the best part of swarm catching), I vacuumed the bees off of the roof at Lowes and took them straight home.  I love free bees!

More info about my bees and beekeeping

There’s a mouse in there!

Isaac and I finished moving the bees last weekend.  We took a little time to check on the solar fence set-up and generally make sure things are ready for the summer bee season.  I wanted to verify that my deep-cycle battery was healthy after being out in the “winter” so we opened the box that contains the controller, fence charger and battery.

Mouse house
Mouse house

Where I grew up out in the boonies, mice were a fact of life.  No one really liked them being around much but they were in everyone’s houses.  They mostly ran off when we were around and didn’t usually tear up too many things.

Cute little field mouse
Mister Mouse
A little field mouse
He's just so cute

It’s been awhile since I have had any mice around so imagine my surprise when I opened the box with the battery and saw a mouse house.  Imagine my further surprise when mister mouse stuck his head out.  At first he just flipped me the middle paw but after he saw I was serious about evicting him, he scooted out.  I sort of hated to make him move but I figured it was only a matter of time until he caved into the pressure of chewing on the wires that are abundant in his new apartment.  It was pretty obvious where he was coming and going to I patched that up and am hopefully done with my little friend.

Also, here is a picture of some lovely little flowers…we call them bluettes:


Bees are Cool!

I know keeping honeybees isn’t for everyone but I remain fascinated by them.  This weekend, Isaac and I moved the last of the bee hives that were here in Charleston out to our place in the country.  It’s perfectly legal to keep bees in Charleston and WV has a very progressive apiary law that makes it safer for everyone involved.  Still, after my episode a few summers ago, I decided that I would no longer keep bees in the city.

Bees are cool!
Click for a cool video I made!

Anyhow, I opened the bee hives after the move and took a good look around.  I am always amazed that they can survive on the back of a trailer, bumping around up my dirt road and across the hayfield.  The bees did great though.  I took this video with my phone and was super amazed with the quality of what came out.  I hope you enjoy a look at the bees and see how cool they are, even if from across the internets!

More info about my bees and beekeeping

J-pole II

After I did some looking around and talking to a fellow ham, I made some significant changes to my j-pole antenna.   You may say to yourself, “self, what did Warren change on that antenna?  It looks the same.”  Well dear friends, I made it flexible.  You see, an antenna is not naturally born tuned. There are fancy tools to let a builder know when the antenna is running on all cylinders.  A big part of what makes my antenna work is related to measurements.  In particular, that little wire that goes across from the long pole to the short pole of the antenna.  Moving it up and down makes a difference when tuning in Taiwan as the kids say.

soldering the center wire to the SO-239 connector on the j-pole antenna
The SO-239 connector on the j-pole antenna
BNC cable attached to the j-pole antenna
I can move the connections up or down the poles

My original version was wrong on many levels but one of the biggest issues was that the little wire between the poles was fixed.  Now, I can move the wire up and down when I get one of the antenna tuning tools (an swr meter if you care).  I am not sure if I will be able to tune in Taiwan but I may get outside of Kanawha county!

Another view of the j-pole antenna
Another view of the antenna...'cause it's pretty
Another view of the j-pole antenna
Sorry about the dog butt

I still don’t know what I am doing really but I am able to follow the FCC regulations and have met a number of folks on the air who have been fun to talk with and have been willing to help me with information and encouragement.  Emily ad I sometimes sit on the couch and text each other.  I think the next step is to get her licensed so we can talk over radio on the couch.  What do you think?


We had a sleep-over for Abigail’s birthday a few weeks ago.  We were talking about what we had to do to prepare and the first thing Abigail said is, “Can we clean up outside?  Can we start with the fence?  It looks trashy!”  Well, she had a point.  We bought this house 6 or so years ago and the fence was a wreck then.  It had stupid English ivy growing all over it and that stuff sucks.  I mean, it sucks the life out of anything it touches.  I despise the miserable stuff.  Oops…sorry…off topic.

Old picket fence
Isn't that old fence a beauty?
Old picket fence
I seriously just pulled it out of place! It was junk!

Anyhow, so back to the fence.  We looked sideways at the old fence and it fell down…well, the parts that didn’t just disintegrate fell over the hill.  Emily hoisted 3 new fence panels into the van all by herself (don’t ask…she was most seriously displeased with the lack of attention from the worthless staff at our local home improvement store).  I dug a lot of post holes when I put up the fence for the bee yard.  It doesn’t get any better with time, my friends.  I once again used the auger which is a man-killer.  Post hole diggers kill also, it just goes faster with the auger and this project was no different.

A post hole!
Auger the center of the earth!
New picket fence
Ain't it a beauty?!

So, we got the new fence up and the party went off without a hitch.  I don’t think that a single 9 year old noticed that we had a new fence in place.  I don’t think my neighbors cared much about my new fence.  Honestly, I sort of don’t care much about the new fence either.  The good news is that we now have a new place to air out shoes or hang laundry to dry.  I am so glad Abigail suggested this new fence so we won’t look trashy!

In the black!

Isaac started taking Tae kwon do a little over 2 years ago (I looked back at that picture of him when he started…*sniff, sniff*  where is my baby?) and I had pretty mixed emotions about the whole deal.  I mean, taking your kid to a class where they learn how to fight, and I mean seriously fight…it just sort of seems messed up to me…or at least it did.  Isaac took his black belt test today and passed beautifully.  He has mastered his forms and knows many good kicks.  He had to break a number of boards and spar with several other students.  He really demonstrated that his skills are well defined and that his training has paid off.  As I watched him spar the other students, I saw Isaac take some hits and land some hits.  In both cases though, he handled it.  He’s not just a little kid any more.  He handled a challenge, he overcame a little pain and he fought hard and with determination.  He’s become such a different (and better) young man than when he started TKD.

Getting ready for the taekwondo black belt test
Getting ready...
Getting ready for the taekwondo black belt test
What nerves?

I think the thing that made me most proud today was how he handled himself and his nerves.  Of course it is a big deal to test for the black belt.  What he didn’t fully know is the degree to which he was to be quizzed on everything.  The instructors asked him all sorts of questions on all sorts of topics and he really made me proud.  He answered with thoughtful, complete answers that were more mature than I ever expected.

Taekwondo board breaking
Getting ready to break boards
Quizzed for black belt test
Grandmaster preparing to quiz Isaac

Teaching a kid to fight is one way to look at learning TKD.  I think the more important view is that TKD  teaches a young man how to handle himself in many situations.  I think this whole process taught me something too.  My son is growing up and I am learning just how exciting it is to watch my little boy grow into a young man. *sniff sniff*

Where are you spaceman?

So I mentioned a few weeks ago that I passed my technician class HAM radio test.  It took me a few weeks to get my call sign and ticket (my paper license) but I am now on the air.  While waiting on the FCC to issue my license, I researched radios and decided on getting a Handi-talkie (aka HT).  Basically, it is a hand-held radio that is a typical beginner radio.  I ordered a Wouxon KG-UVD1P which translates to the cheapest radio that had fairly good reviews (There is your Chinese lesson for the day).

My new Wouxon radio

That’s my new radio…yes, it’s on a new beehive

It took awhile to figure out what I was doing with this radio but a lot of that was really just learning how HAM radio in general works.  I had to research PL tones and offsets and repeaters and then figure out how to translate that to my radio.  Luckily Wouxon provides free software to assist in programming the radio from a computer…if you buy their $15 cable.  It was a bargain I soon found out!

So, I have been talking to (and listening to) lots of local folks on the local repeater.  A repeater is a system that “listens” on a particular frequency and re-broadcasts the signals it receives.  My HT can only transmit over a fairly limited distance, especially in these WV hills.  The frequency band in which I am licensed to transmit typically only works with 50 miles or so max.  As I advance, I will get licensed to talk at the frequencies that people use when they communicate globally, but for now I must communicate through the repeater…mostly.

My j-pole antenna

I was listening on the repeater the other night when “they” announced that the International Space Station would be passing overhead between 6:06 and 6:12 am today.  My HT does ok with its stock antenna but I figured I would need to beef things up if I was going to hear the astronauts, many of whom are licensed HAMs.  I searched around online and found plans to make a j-pole antenna tuned for the 2-meter radio band in which I am licensed and in which the ISS would possibly be communicating.

Close-up of my j-pole antenna
All these pipes have to be just the right length

I bought copper and connectors and a candy bar and worked on my new antenna.  I even used the metric system!  Anyhow, late last night in the dark, I was outside soldering copper pipe to be ready.  I hooked my radio to the new antenna and tested it last night and everything seemed to work well.  I could hear locals talking loud and clear.

The alarm went off at 5:45 am so I hustled outside, plugged in to my new antenna and listened…and listened…and listened.  Finally at 6:20 I gave up.  I was pretty bummed…mainly because of all of the sleep I missed but I am still pleased that I was able to build a nice and portable j-pole antenna.  So, if you see a handsome bald man wandering the streets of Charleston looking to the sky, calling out to spacemen, it is definitely not me…do not make eye contact…take shelter immediately!

Mah baby turned 9!

My baby girl turned 9 today.  How can that be?!  It was just yesterday she was born!  Of course, it was just yesterday I was 18 too so I guess  I have blinked!  Anyhow, to celebrate, we went out to eat with family tonight.  Emily asked Abigail where she wanted to go for her party.  We figured she would pick any number of places but we never expected she would say she wanted to eat at the Mexican restaurant where we often eat.  You see, what makes it especially funny is that she always orders a hotdog or a hamburger…at the Mexican restaurant.

A nasty hotdog Mexican fries

Well, a bunch of us ate together and Abigail had a great time!  She sat at the head of the table and absolutely absorbed every smile and laugh from our group!  She was in her element at the center of attention.  Just as she was finishing up her french Mexican fries, the wait-staff brought her fried ice cream and a big sombrero.  She didn’t know, as they sang her a birthday song, that she would get a nose full of whipped cream, a Mexican restaurant tradition.

Sombrero on her birthday! Fried ice cream on her nose

For her birthday, Abigail wanted folks to donate money to relief efforts for the recent tornadoes in Kentucky.  We sort of poked around a little though to see what else she wanted.  I figured she would pick a new book or maybe some clothes…nope.  She wanted wood files.  That’s right – my little girl wanted wood-working tools that she has seen me use.  Heck, I was happy to oblige…she got wood rasps for her 9th birthday!

The birthday girl! The family! Wood files!

After we got home tonight, she was just a delight.  She danced around and laughed and said, “this was a splendid day!”  That’s my baby girl…growing up so well!