A Jim of All Trades

A New Cigar Box Guitar

leave a comment »

It’s been way too long, but I’ve finally finished making another cigar box guitar:

This is a pretty typical 3-string CBG. I thought I’d put a pickup in it, but realized sort of late in the process that I was out of piezos, so I just decided to keep it purely acoustic. The only real new things about this one compared to others I’ve built are the bridge and nut.

Usually I use bolts or other objects for bridges, but for this one I decided to try a real bridge with adjustable saddles.

It works pretty well but really reduces the amount of vibration that’s transferred into the lid and box, resulting in a quieter playing guitar. The adjust-ability is nice, but I’ll definitely put a pickup in a guitar if I use one of these again.

The nut is unique in that it’s the first one I’ve made on my own, usually I just use bolts. Well, that’s not true, I’ve made some out of wood before, but this was the first time I got a nut blank and shaped and notched it completely myself.

It worked out pretty well. I’m not exactly sure what it’s made out, I assume plastic because it was insanely cheap. I think I’ll continue to use these, at least on my nicer builds.

Overall I’m pleased with how it turned out. There are some flaws but nothing too bad and it plays really nice. It’s also a bummer it isn’t that loud, but I just liked the lid so much that I didn’t want to cut big holes in it, and the bridge is partially to blame, too.

just a picture of the neck markers

This CBG will be gifted to a guitar playing friend. I doubt he’ll do more than tinker with it, so it should serve its purpose well.

Here’s a quick video of me playing around on it. (You don’t have to play the blues on these things!) It’s really quiet so you might have to turn your volume up, and sorry, there’s a weird glitch in the video about half way through; I’m not sure what happened and didn’t want to rerecord, so that’s just the way it’s going to be.

Thanks a lot for reading, happy playing!


Written by Jim

January 12, 2019 at 9:09 pm


leave a comment »

It’s been a while!

I’ve been busy with work and since my last tri I haven’t been quite as motivated to exercise. Well, I did a couple running races just to take advantage of my fitness from the summer but I got away from structured training. One thing I’ve been wanting to do for about a year though was try out cyclocross and over the last month I’ve done a few races…

Before I go on, I started working on a couple of guitars, too, so hopefully I can make progress and share about them soon.

Back to ‘cross…

To train/prepare I’ve been doing some harder trainer sets and have been doing some gravel and off-road riding. While it’s fun to try a new riding style out, I’m not at all skilled at riding my bike off road so I’m really slow, scared most of the time, and not a fan of the extra abuse from bouncing around.

That sort of sums up my experience with ‘cross, too… I’m not good at handling the bike like that, my bike is old and has rim brakes, and the brake tracks on my wheels are pretty worn down, so it’s really sketchy and I have no stopping power. While I’m somewhat competitive in the local tri scene, at least in my age group, I’m not at all competitive in ‘cross. Not that I expected to be, but I’ve been close to last in all three of the races I’ve done, and was lapped in each of them too. That said, I’ve gotten better and in my last race I started getting more confident, didn’t wreck at all, and started figuring out the lines and how to corner a lot better. I still have a long way to go before I’ll even be half good at it, and triathlon will remain my focus so I’ll never be able to compete with the bikers on a fitness level, but it was good to have fun and make some progress. Cyclocross is a crazy workout, by the way… my heart rate runs about the same in one as what it gets when I run hard 5k’s, which is pretty crazy for me on a bike.

I went to one race just to spectate, which was an absolute mudfest. I took some pictures, which are directly below. This was a COLD and WINDY day and these guys were pretty much all miserable. Further below are some pictures, videos, and comments about the races I actually did.

My first race was also very muddy, but not as bad as the one above. I wrecked a lot and just did bad overall. No video to share from that one, but here are some pictures from after…

The next race was dry, but freezing, literally, so the ground was really hard. It was a fundraiser, not an actual “race,” but people took it pretty seriously. I only wrecked a couple of times but was miserable from the cold (I hate the cold!). One fun thing about it though was each lap you had a chance to grab a donut for a time bonus…

this is one of my favorite pictures ever!

Here’s a video of clips throughout the race. This probably only shows half the course but my ride wasn’t exciting enough to justify making a long video from it. Trying to grab donuts is probably the most exciting part!

And finally, here is a video of my last race. It shows about 90% of the first lap; it got more boring afterwards (I caught and passed 1 more guy, then was lapped by a bunch of guys) so I stopped it there.

The colder weather will probably keep me in doors more now, and I’ll start getting into routine tri training soon, but there are a number of local races over the winter, so I might fit another one or two in. We’ll see.

Thanks a lot for reading, hope you enjoyed.
Happy riding!

Written by Jim

December 6, 2018 at 10:13 pm

Triathlon Race Report (HIM)

leave a comment »

Last weekend I did my first half distance triathlon and I’m finally getting around to posting my race report. This was my “A race” for the year, I started training for it in May.

My last few posts have been about my training for it, so please look back if you’re at all interested.

The race was a bit less than a 2 hour drive from my home. I left around 4:20 in the morning to drive there and arrived just a bit after 6. I ate my breakfast (a banana and a bagel with peanut butter) and drank Propel water and coffee on the way. There were already some people setting up when I got there but I got a really good spot in transition and had plenty of time to get ready.

I got a wheel cover a few weeks ago… I’ll probably do a separate post about it at some point. Looks cool though, right? (humor me!)

This was a very small race; I heard that only 58 people registered for it and the results show only 51 finishers. There was an Olympic, too, which had 70 some people in it.


Swimming is my weakest area and I’m very glad that I did a long open water swim about a month beforehand. That really helped with my confidence swimming in a big lake and I felt comfortable going into this swim, which is a first for me in any OWS.

The swim was 2 clockwise loops in the lake, with an in-water start. The water was 72 degrees and really calm. At one point it did get a little choppy, but that was brief; otherwise the conditions were perfect.

I got in as soon as possible, got used to the water temperature, and swam around and treaded water for a bit just getting comfortable before the start. I setup toward the back and edge of the pack and when it started I just set off at my own pace. I had a little contact with others throughout, but not much, and it was just accidental bumping. Really it was uneventful, I just swam conservatively. I didn’t swim straight at all, but that didn’t tack on too much extra distance. The shore was really steep where you exited and there were people there helping you out so you wouldn’t fall, which was appreciated, then a short jog to transition and the timing mat.

I figured my time would be about 43 minutes, which was a bit of a guess… My official time was 40:40, which included probably 30 seconds of getting out and making it to the mat. I’m really happy with this. It’s not fast, but my comfort level was a win by itself.

T1 went pretty smoothly. My wetsuit got caught on my chip and it took a little extra time to get it off, but otherwise I was able to get through pretty smoothly.

Time: 2:09

The bike course was three loops around the lake, totaling 58 miles. There was a decent hill right away out of transition to get to the main road, which was a bit rough after getting right out of the water. The whole course was hilly, but the hills were all long and consistent grades, not short punchy climbs like around where I live. I liked it; you could just sit up, find the right gear, and spin up. My watch had total elevate gain at about 2400 feet, but all other files I’ve seen were in the high 2000 to low 3000 range, so I think my watch was short by a few hundred feet at least.

The roads were a mixed bag, one was freshly paved with a wide shoulder, but another – which was a fast stretch that you spent a long stretch on – was horrible… all cracked up, tons of pot holes, and it really beat you up. That was my least favorite part of the race, not a fun road at all.

I rode mostly by feel, keeping an eye on heart rate so as not to overdo it, which worked okay. At the end of the first lap I started catching people who were faster swimmers, and didn’t have any issues with people not letting me pass or getting hung up. During the second lap I hit a bump that launched a bottle of nutrition from my bike. I had another bottle with one swallow left in it, so had to go about 9 miles until I could get a water bottle at the aid station. I had two gel flasks and some fig newtons with me so didn’t panic about it, but it definitely wasn’t ideal because I lost 200 calories and 600mg of sodium with that bottle.

I was expecting to finish the bike in around 3hrs 15mins, which is roughly 18 mph. Actual time ended up being 2hrs 59 mins – 19.4 mph – which I’m thrilled with. I might have over biked a little, and maybe my expectation was too conservative, but I still did well and am happy.

Went well – 56 secs

The run course was an out and back that you completed twice. There were 2 hard hills on the way out, which you had to come up the other side of on the way back, so it wasn’t an easy course, at least for me. Total elevation gain was 688ft.

I had been training my running the hardest for this and was really hoping to hold a consistent pace throughout. My plan was to start with an 8:30min/mile pace and slowly speed up throughout. That never happened. I started too fast and had trouble settling down. I finally did pull it together a bit and managed mid 8 minute miles for the first 6 miles. During mile 7 things suddenly went downhill fast. I kept running and didn’t walk, but it was a struggle just to manage 9 minute miles. The last 2-3 miles especially, which were mostly flat, were super hard.

I was hoping to finish in 1hr 49 mins, which would be about an 8:20 mile. End time was 1hr 51mins – 8:30/mile. My watch, and other files, only had the run course at 12.8 miles though, so I believe it was short and that my true pace was about 8:44/mile. I’m a little disappointed in that, but happy I fought through and didn’t walk it in.

the one significant drop at about 9.5 miles was where I got water at an aid station…

I was expecting my overall time to be around 5 hours and 50 mins … actual time: 5hrs, 34 mins, 5 seconds. I’m really happy with this. I might have been a bit too conservative with my bike expectations, but still did over perform my swim and bike. The run was a bit of a disappointment, but not a failure by any means… I’m satisfied with it. I also managed to place well in my age group and pretty high overall, which is always nice. It was a really small race, so less competition than an Ironman, but it’s always a bonus to place higher than you expect to.

I won’t say never, but don’t think I’ll be doing another half, or moving up to a full. I just enjoy the shorter races more and the longer training sessions stopped being fun as I was prepping for this. I’m glad I did this race though and am enjoying the sense of accomplishment.

Thanks a lot for reading and following along.
Happy racing!

Written by Jim

September 30, 2018 at 8:21 pm

Run Training Report

leave a comment »

This is part 3 of my training recap leading up to my first half distance triathlon, which happens this Saturday! Hopefully I’ll be able to put up a race report shortly after to share how everything went.

Running was my primary focus while training for this race. I’ve read and heard a lot of stories about people’s races falling apart on the run, and I’ve had experiences where I just didn’t have the running legs I wanted in tris, so really wanted to focus on running to be sure that I’d be able to run a fairly strong half marathon at the end of a triathlon.

I’ve seen the “BarryP run plan” referenced a lot on Slowtwitch and when putting together my training plan I decided to follow it.

The plan takes a high volume, low intensity approach to training. You run 6 times per week, but the majority of runs are done at a very easy pace. The idea is that the easier efforts won’t beat up your body or leave you so fatigued that you can’t recover, and all the while your endurance and speed improve as you keep building up your mileage day after day, week after week, month after month.

Each week you do 3 short runs, 2 medium runs, and 1 long run. The distances are ratios of 1:2:3, meaning if – only for example – your short runs are 2 miles, your mediums will be 4, and the long run will be 6. Distance is added very gradually, timed to build up long enough for your planned race. As you get closer to the race, one of the medium runs is substituted with a threshold or tempo run where you work on your speed, and then after several weeks the other medium run can be substituted with a speedier day as well.

It takes a very long view on training, recommending starting about 6 months before your target race. Many plans I’ve seen really don’t give enough time to make significant gains, so I agree with a longer approach, but still, 6 months is a long time!

My impressions? … I liked it and recommend it. I didn’t follow everything to a T, taking some liberties with the distances, but did keep with the main premise of doing 3 short, 2 medium, and 1 long run per week, and I mostly kept the effort levels low until it was time to add in speed work. I ran by feel and pace mostly, while checking on heart rate. Over time I noticed that my pace got a little faster while I didn’t feel like I was running harder (though I admit that could vary a lot depending on what time of day I ran, the route, and how much rest I had). I started in May, which only gave me 4-5 months versus the recommended 6 to work with, so had to ramp up the mileages faster than recommended, but didn’t notice any bad consequences.

I won’t know whether it was effective until the race, but in my last race I ran faster than I ever have in a tri or duathlon, and that was mostly on this type of training, so that’s a positive sign.

Running slow can really suck though. Plodding along day after day got a little mind numbing and that could be a bit tough mentally. I also think adding a bit more speed/intensity work in wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. The only complaints I really saw about this online were people complaining about the lack of top end work. For my first tri this distance I’m happy with it and feel like I’ve built a lot of endurance, but if I were to do the run plan again I might work in more speed. Finally, it’s hard to fit in 6 runs a week on top of swimming, biking, working, and living a somewhat normal life. To fit everything in I’d usually do two bricks a week where I’d do a short run right after a bike or swim. …just keep the time needed in mind if considering this.

All the above said, I’m entering the race confident, so that’s a good thing.

Here is a link to the full BarryP plan. It’s long, but includes tons of detail, explains the methodology, and has variations for different length races.

Thanks a lot for reading and following along through my training recaps. Saturday is race day, wish me luck and check back to see how it went.

Happy running!

Written by Jim

September 18, 2018 at 7:04 am

Bike Training Report

leave a comment »

This is part 2 of my training recap leading up to my first half ironman distance triathlon. Part 1 was about swim training and I’ll post part 3 about running next week.

My goal for the race is to finish, with as respectable a time as possible. In other words, being able to finish is most important, and putting together a well-paced consistent effort over the entire event is more important to me than how competitive I am, though placing high is always nice. ;)

When comparing my ability levels in swimming, cycling, and running, cycling is the strongest of the 3 for me. Not that I’m an uber-cyclist, just that I’m a better at it than I am running or swimming. So, as I was putting together a training plan, I decided not to prioritize cycling in lieu of focusing on running, where I felt I had the biggest realistic opportunity for improving.

I ended up using the bike portion of a half Ironman training plan on triathlete.com – here’s a link to it.

The plan has 3 bike workouts per week. 2 during the week are shorter, about an hour long each, with varying length intervals worked in; usually 1 session has 4 to 8 short and hard intervals, and the other has just 1 or 2 longer intervals at a “comfortably hard” effort level. The 3rd weekly workout is a long ride over the weekend, sometimes with some higher intensity miles worked in.

As time progresses, the intensity of the workouts gets harder… the length or number of the intervals increase, and more distance and effort are added to the long ride – the long ride maxes out at 60 miles 3 weeks before the race. The entire plan is comparable to other programs I’ve followed before in how it builds distance and intensity, with recovery weeks mixed in, peaking before a taper a couple weeks before the race.

While I did follow this pretty closely, I also took some liberties… Early on I added to the intervals because I thought the plan started a little “softer” than I needed to given my fitness at the time, and I added some distance to some of the longer rides, too. Once and a while I’d slip a fourth ride into a week as well, usually just short mileage at an easy pace, but that didn’t happen very often.

My only caveat, if you can call it that, about this bike plan is it’s a little light. Previously I’d try to bike 4 times per week, and with more intensity, and that was training for shorter races, so it feels a little like I’m not doing enough now. That said, I don’t feel under-prepared and the bike sessions have seemed intuitive in how they’ve built for the race. I’m sure I could have done a more aggressive plan and made some bigger improvements, but I probably would have had to sacrifice some of my run training to do that. As mentioned earlier, my reason for choosing this plan was to train my cycling for the race while focusing on my running, so it seems like it fit my needs fairly well.

I won’t know for sure how well it’s worked until after the race, but in the last few weeks I’ve done longer rides than I’ve ever done before, with more climbing than I’ve ever done, so I do feel confident in my training. I’ve also been doing more challenging routes than I believe the actual race course to be, so hopefully the bike will feel easy on race day. We’ll see.

Well, that should cover my bike training. If there are any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.
Thanks a lot for reading and happy pedaling!

Written by Jim

September 6, 2018 at 7:12 am

Swim Training Report

leave a comment »

As I mentioned almost 2 months ago, I signed up to do a Half Ironman distance triathlon, and it is fast approaching. Well, it’s still a month away, but  that time will fly by. Usually I post a training recap a bit before a race, but since I’ve been training more than usual, I thought I’d break it up into recaps for each discipline and post one a week (roughly) until the race. So read on to hear about my swim training… 
Swimming remains my weakest discipline compared to biking and running. Last year I started following Swim Smooth and have continued with it through this year. The program provides a lot of information about how to swim correctly, identify flaws and how to fix them, and how to train effectively. There’s a lot of emphasis on technique/form, as well as appropriate pacing and workouts that support your ultimate goal. I like it. 
I keep seeing small improvements, though I am still an average at best swimmer. My overall speed has improved, but I’ve probably noticed a bigger improvement in my endurance/stamina and ability to hold a fairly consistent effort level through a session. I do fatigue over time, but it’s nowhere near as bad as it used to be. 
Typically I’ll do three weekly sessions, which end up looking like this (not necessarily in this order):
  • A CSS (Critical Swim Speed) session where you focus on pacing (almost like threshold work on the bike or running)
  • A short session focused on drills and technique
  • Either a session of speed work or a longer and slower endurance workout
It’s not often, but when I’m able to fit another swim in I might do another CSS session, or the opposite of what I did in the third point above.  
My average weekly distance is around 6000 meters per week. I know, that’s not much and swimming more would help me improve more, but I’m somewhat constrained by time and balancing the training between the swim, bike, and run. And, honestly, I still just don’t really enjoy swimming that much.  
One other thing I’ve been doing is using paddles and/or a pull buoy a lot. I read an argument on slowtwitch.com that lots of pulling helps you improve strength and simulate open water swimming, which makes sense to me, so I will often do anywhere from a quarter to half of my main set with those tools. I think it’s helped me get a bit stronger and faster, in the pool anyway, and I recommend it, except you need to gradually work up and build strength; doing too much too soon risks getting an injury.

Also, last week I did a fairly long open water swim. It reminded me how bad I am at open water swimming and that I have a fairly healthy fear of drowning. I’m really glad I did this before the race though; hopefully I’ll be less jittery in the water on race day, and I think I picked up on a few little things I can do to improve my stroke when swimming in a wetsuit in open water. I HIGHLY recommend doing some open water swim practice before racing – with some friends for safety! – especially if you’re not accustomed to it like me. Far better to work through any problems during practice than having to deal with them on race day.  
Well, that should cover swimming. I’ll do a similar write up about my biking and running in coming weeks.  
Thanks for reading and happy splashing!

Written by Jim

August 26, 2018 at 9:01 pm

A Week in West Virginia

leave a comment »

A few weeks ago I spent a week in McDowell County West Virginia, a southern WV county in the heart of the Appalachian Region. I was there in a mission trip with “SWAP,” which is part of the Mennonite Central Committee. It’s a very interesting and worthwhile program, and I intend to link to it so you can read more if you’re so inclined, but it appears the site is down at the moment. I’ll update the link in the future when I’m sure everything is working. I’d be glad to talk more about it as well, so if any one is interested just comment or contact me.

Anyway, it was my first time to West Virginia aside from just driving through the most north eastern corner of the state and it’s just a beautiful area. I took some pictures with my phone while there and have been meaning to share. These are sort of lack luster from a photography standpoint, but still give a glimpse of what a beautiful part of the country it is… lots of mountains, forests, twisting roads with really sharp cut backs, nature, etcetera etcetera. Hope you enjoy!

Uh-mazing roads!!

Where I was working they had a number of friendly dogs… maybe not unique to WV, but still worth taking pictures of:

This guy was actually “smiling” here, sort of…

This little puppy was only a couple weeks old…

Play time!

And I stumbled on how to make gif’s with my phone… lots of fun!

Written by Jim

August 16, 2018 at 9:21 pm