A Jim of All Trades

Baby Bunny

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My wife and I were in our yard this evening and I would have walked right past this little guy/gal (?) had she not pointed it out to me.

IMGP1461xcs

It was just sitting there, still as could be. I went inside, got my camera, came back, and it was still there… hadn’t budged. This picture is from about 10ft away, lens zoomed to 230mm, @ f/13. Viewed full size it is not sharp at all, mostly due to me shaking I think. The colors straight out of the camera weren’t great, either. I’m a little color blind (fun fact!) so it’s always a crap shoot as to whether I get the colors accurate in processing, but it’s fun seeing baby animals, so here you go. This thing is really tiny, comparable to the size of a not very big baked potato. (How’s that for a size reference?)

Thanks for looking and happy shooting!

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Written by Jim

May 21, 2018 at 9:20 pm

Posted in Photography

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5k Race Report

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Last Saturday morning I ran a 5k. This wasn’t on my race calendar, I had just been looking around online to see what local runs were coming up and noticed this one. It was a fundraiser for a local school and the inaugural year for the race. I only decided to do it on Wednesday. 

So I wasn’t really training for this and didn’t try to taper or peak for it. I had done a tri a few weeks before, and I had taken it easy the week before and after that, so felt a little refreshed, but I handled last week like a normal training week with some hard workouts. So my legs definitely weren’t as fresh as they could have been for the 5k. 

It rained in the morning before the race, so it was a little humid, but the roads were mostly dry, and it was cloudy and cool when the race started, so it was good running weather. Only about 90 people participated, many of which were kids, walkers, or joggers that were just doing it for fun or to contribute. Since it is a small private school and the race’s first year, with little to no advertising, I’m sure that kept the numbers down, too. 

I knew what speed I wanted to run, but didn’t really know what was realistic to expect. My goal was 22 minutes, preferably under, hoping to average a 7:00/mile pace; which is attainable for me. 

I started out a bit too fast, but not unreasonably so, and tried to stay around 7:00/mile after I settled down. It as an out and back course that included a few hills; not super long or steep, but enough so that I pulled my pace back so as not to explode. The first half went smoothly but after the turn around I began to struggle. The last half mile was mostly uphill and my pace slipped… I had been averaging about 7:00/mile to that point but that last mile ended up being about 7:30. The hill leveled off a bit before the finish and I sped back up again, but there was not enough room to improve my average pace. 

So, I finished with a time of 22:26, in 7th place. Not far off my goal, but 26 seconds is a lot in a 5k. My legs really were tired till the end, I’m guessing partly due to being fatigued from the week, and partly from just being under trained. I’m still not in the running shape that I was at the end of last year and think I need a few more months of solid running outside to get back to where I was. 

Overall I’m treating this as racing practice, which I think is important, especially for me from a pacing standpoint and getting used to “suffering.” I just can’t simulate this effort in workouts so think it’s smart to do a low priority race once and a while where you know you won’t be at your best, but can practice strategy and experience the pain of racing… that’s something I haven’t done enough of. 

Next on my calendar is another 5k in late May, though it might not be a serious “race” since I could be running it for fun with a young nephew. After that, I’m doing a sprint tri in early July. Otherwise I’m just continuing to train and work on building my distance and speed in the swim, bike, and run. 

Thanks a lot for reading and best wishes for your training and racing!

Written by Jim

May 16, 2018 at 8:46 pm

Posted in Triathlon & Endurance

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At the bird feeder…

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These were not the types of birds I was expecting to find at my bird feeder…

This pair of ducks has been coming and grazing under the feeder every morning this week. I’ve tried to sneak outside to get a better picture of them, but they’re super vigilant and quickly waddle away anytime I poke my head around the corner of the house. So this picture through the patio screen will have to do. A funny thing to see in the morning, anyway.

Have a great day!

Written by Jim

May 10, 2018 at 7:11 am

Posted in Photography

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Electric Cigar Box Guitar

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A little while ago I made another cigar box guitar. Here’s a write up and some pics, a video is at the end.

This one is a fairly typical three string CBG, but there are a few unique things about it that I hadn’t done before…

First, I made the pickup for this one, rather than using a simple piezo pickup or a regular electric guitar pickup. An electric guitar pickup is basically just a magnet(s) inside of a wire spool. I don’t understand the science behind it, but when you pluck the metal guitar string, the wire and magnet create a voltage, which is what ends up making the sound out of a guitar amplifier. Somewhere online I found that power adapters – the older big bulky heavier style – have wire spools inside them, and you can make a pickup by gluing magnets in the center. So that’s what I did:

This:

becomes this:

Taking apart the adapter is easier said than done. I didn’t take pictures of the internals before I gutted it but there are a lot of metal pieces that have to be drilled/cut out to access the wire spools, and it’s very easy to damage the spools. So if you do it, proceed with caution, and with power tools.

I got some rare earth magnets that fit inside the spools from Home Depot, glued them in, and soldered it up with a jack and potentiometer for volume. The Altoids tin is just there for decoration.

Otherwise, the other differences about this one are that I used heavier strings on it. Usually I use the highest three strings from a set (the G, B & E), typically tuned to open G (G, D, G). This time I used the A, D, G strings. It gives the guitar a lower voicing, is much easier to tune to open G, while still being very easy to tune back to standard. I really like the versatility with these strings and the voicing compared to the higher “twangier” sound with the high strings.

The only other major difference is that I used a router for rounding off the back of the neck, shaving down the headstock, and some of the other wood work. I usually do all of this by belt sander and hand tools and the router made things 100 times easier. Seriously, I had the neck done in a fraction of the time it usually takes with the belt sander. I love the router!

It sounds okay, though the pickup has really low output. The amp in the video is actually turned up fairly high with an overdrive pedal on (as well as a delay), that’s the only way I could get decent volume out of it. Since the pickup is small and centered under the middle string, it picks it up much louder than the outer two, so it takes purposeful playing to make it sound balanced (that’s not to say I played it that evenly). Next time I make a pickup like this, I’m going to play around with the orientation of the magnets and positioning to see if I can make it sound better.

Well, that about covers it. I have some ideas for other guitars, but my time is limited and motivation fluctuates, so who knows when they’ll get made.

Thanks a lot for reading – happy playing!

Written by Jim

May 1, 2018 at 9:13 pm

Sprint Triathlon Race Report

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My first triathlon of 2018 is in the books. It was a mixed bag of good and bad; here’s how it went…


all setup in transition before the start of the race

Leading Up
I already did a big long post about my training, so I won’t go over all that again. In short, I was excited to race and felt optimistic headed into this one. Last week I actually missed two workouts, but I don’t think it really impacted me any; I didn’t feel too tired or flat. I have this nagging injury and was a little worried how that would be, especially because it’s worse first thing in the morning, but I woke up feeling very good and loose, so that was great.

The biggest bummer heading into this was that it was cold and windy. Just yesterday the weather was much milder with only a bit of a breeze, but the temperatures dropped over night and the wind really picked up.


temp before the race, though it felt much colder with the wind

I was just planning on wearing a light jersey, arm warmer’s and gloves, but overheard a lot of people in transition talking about all the clothes they were wearing, so actually ran home quick and got a windproof long sleeve jersey and thick socks. This was way more than I usually put on for a tri and I hadn’t practiced using them in transition. More on that later…

The Swim
The swim was an indoor (thank goodness!) 300 meter pool swim. As I mentioned in my last post, I have been working on my swimming and was hoping for a good time. My official time was 6:22, but that included a run to the timing mat. I stopped my watch right when I finished swimming, and it recorded it as a 6:01. My goal was 6:00, so I’m very happy with that. That even includes getting stuck behind two slower swimmers and passing them, which isn’t easy in a pool with two way traffic. I’m still not fast, but am happy to be making progress.

[Official] Time: 6:22
Last year: 6:46

T1
Transition 1 went horrible. It took a while to get my long sleeve jersey and gloves on, and I sat down to put on my socks and shoes instead of doing the normal barefoot running mount I usually do. The socks are super thick and warm, which was perfect for the weather, but they’re also very tight. One got stuck and a hole ripped open over my heal, and the other just took forever. I lost a lot of time.

Time: 2:17 (the year before was about a minute less)

The Bike
The bike course was 16 miles of moderate rolling hills – nothing too difficult, but definitely not flat. I was glad I had the jersey, socks and gloves because I’m a wimp in the cold and it was indeed cold. The wind was the worse part and was blowing some of the cyclists around. I did well though, kept my effort up, and passed a ton of people. I ended up with the 10th fastest bike split overall, which isn’t bad, but still was about a minute and 20 seconds slower than last year. I suspect it was because of the wind; I randomly checked a number of the faster guys’ results from this year versus last, and nearly all were slower this year, so that makes sense. I didn’t wear my heart rate monitor this year so can’t use it as a reference for whether I was working as hard or not, but I think I gave it a good effort. So, disappointing to be slower, but probably not a sign of doing worse… just tougher conditions.

Time: 47:48
Last year: 46:30

T2
Transition 2 went smoothly…

Time: 0:36

The Run
The run was 3 miles on mostly flat roads (my watch measured it as 3.07 miles). There are some really mild changes in elevation, but no true hills. I felt comfortable on the run and just kept trying to push myself. The goal was to average a 7 minute per mile pace and I ended up with 7:07, so it’s close enough that I’m not disappointed. The wind/cold did make it tough, and my pace slipped a few times, but I think I managed it well. Maybe I could have squeaked out a few more seconds had I dug deeper, but I’m pleased with how I did on this day. I was 17th overall out of 113 people, so not bad, but still too many people ahead of me – I’d like to be in the top 10 in both running and cycling.

Time: 21:51
Last year: 22:28

Overall
I’ve done this race a number of times as a duathlon and a triathlon and think, save for my very first time, I have always placed in my age group. Not today! I finished 7 out of 22 in my age group and 16 out of 113 overall. T1 cost me a lot of valuable time and there were 2 guys in my age group that finished less than a minute ahead that I definitely would have beat had I not had the bad T1, and possibly another guy had things just went perfect. I still wouldn’t have placed though, there were just too many fast guys. Bummer, but oh well.

What’s Next
At the moment I’m not signed up for any more races this year. I definitely will sign up for more, I just haven’t done it yet. I’m planning to do one more sprint this summer, and am still considering doing a half, but can’t quite pull the trigger yet.

As for the immediate future, I’m going to take the next couple days off, and this week extremely easy to hopefully let my injuries heal. My wife and I are taking a long weekend away this coming weekend and after that I’ll dive back into training.

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

Written by Jim

April 29, 2018 at 10:00 pm

Pre-Race Report

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You wouldn’t know it from the weather, but spring is here and my first triathlon of the year is less than a week away. This is a write up of how my training has been going and my thoughts leading into the race…

The weather here – Southern Central Pennsylvania – has been crazy this year. It’s been unseasonably cold, we’ve had snow much later than normal, and winter has just lingered on. It’s made training outside quite challenging, especially for wimps like me that don’t like being outside when it’s less than 40 degrees. Thankfully it’s finally starting to warm up and looks like some nicer weather is here to stay.

I’ve still been training pretty consistently, mostly in doors, averaging about 8 to 9 hours a week. I usually swim, bike and run three times per week each. I’d like to be putting in more time, but it’s been hard with other things I have going on, and my motivation to train inside is pretty low at this point. Just in the last couple weeks I have finally been able to start running outside a bit more consistently, and I’ve gotten some outdoor bike rides in too, so things are looking up.

This upcoming race is the sprint tri hosted by my gym and I’ve done it each of the last two years (last year, 2 years ago), as well as when there was a duathlon option in years prior (1, 2). I really enjoy this race since it’s so close to home, I’m very familiar with the course, other people from my tri club do it or come out to support, and it’s just fun and well put together in general. My high-level goal is to be faster in each area than I was last year, and I think I should be able to do that…

For swimming, I’ve seen some small improvements over the winter following the Swim Smooth program, but am still a slow swimmer. The race has only a 300m pool swim, so my overall results shouldn’t be ruined by the swim. This evening I actually just swam the fastest 300m set of my life, so I’m hopeful I’m able to duplicate that.

For biking, I’ve been doing a lot of trainer time on account of the weather/cold. At first I felt like I was improving, but as winter rolled on I started to feel burnt out and like progress wasn’t happening. On my few outside rides it does seem like I’ve gotten a bit quicker, though my hill climbing ability isn’t where I’d like. I rode the tri bike course at a high effort on Sunday and nearly matched my race time from last year. That’s very promising since I had to slow down for intersections and wait for traffic on Sunday, whereas during the race I will be going full-on all the time. I’ll also be wearing my more aero tri kit and will have the bike setup for racing, so I should be able to improve on last year’s time. Provided, of course, the weather is good, it’s not too windy, and I feel fresh.

For running, I’m definitely slower than when I was at the end of last summer. Last year I was fast as I’ve ever been running and, though I’ve continued to train over the winter, I’ve lost some speed. My training time has been cut back a bit, and I don’t think I get the same quality of workouts on a treadmill, so I think those are the main reasons I’m slower. I’ve had some solid runs outside recently, and still think I can at least match what I did a year ago, I just don’t feel as in good shape as I would like to be.

Finally, I’ve been dealing with some small injuries. My piriformis muscle (a muscle in the butt/hip) on my right side has been aggravated and causing some soreness and stiffness. As a result, my lower back and right hamstring are also often tight and sore. My right calf also has some pain and stiffness, though I think that might be unrelated to the piriformis. All this stuff actually bothers me more when I’m inactive… the first few minutes of an activity are usually a bit rough, but after I warm up and the muscles loosen it doesn’t seem to slow me down. When sitting down or being sedentary for too long though, everything gets quite stiff and painful. I’ve been dealing with this for over a month now. My doctor prescribed me an anti-inflammatory medicine, and I’ve been doing a number of stretches and exercises. It’s improved, but I think I need some actual rest to let things heal. After the race I plan on doing very little for the next week and hopefully my body will recover. I have still been able to train well and don’t think I could blame these injuries if I have a bad race, but they’re still worth mentioning.

Okay, that’s more than enough to share about my training. I’m really looking forward to the race and hope it goes well. Wish me luck and happy training!

Written by Jim

April 24, 2018 at 9:07 pm

Another Diddley Bow

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This is my latest project, another Diddley Bow (one stringed cigar box guitar). Construction wise, this is basically the same as the last one I made.

The story behind this one is, that my mother has a friend, who has a son, who collects cigar boxes; apparently he has hundreds of them. My mom’s friend took one of the boxes without him knowing and asked my mother if I would make a guitar for him, thinking it would be a neat thing to add to his collection, though to the best of my knowledge he doesn’t play guitar at all or know about cigar box guitars. So, this was made as a gift for him. The thing is though, that I was given the box like two years ago and just made the guitar now. Oops. I lost motivation to make these for a while, and just generally have been busy, so I just kept putting it off until recently. Seeing the box sitting on my work bench for all this time finally wore me down I guess.

The box is a cheap cardboard one, which I usually wouldn’t make a guitar out of. For a decoration it works just fine though.

I do really like the label and design. Owls are cool. The little ones perched on cigars around the outside edge are a neat touch. The inside is neat too. Cigar boxes typically have really cool labels on the inside. I think it’s because they would be sitting open in a cigar store to display the cigars so it made for a better presentation, but that’s just a guess and I’ve never researched it to find out for sure.


It says “Invincible White Owl” on the inside” but only “White Owl” on the outside. If it’s really invincible, I’d think that’s a good selling point and it should be plastered all over the box!

Quality wise, my workmanship here isn’t that great. The piece of wood I used wasn’t the best and I didn’t pay as close attention to detail as I should have when making it. I didn’t install frets; considering it’ll likely never be played it wasn’t worth the effort, but I did still notch the neck so the reference points are there and it looks better. Overall I do think it looks okay, but it isn’t as nice as it should be.

It does play, and sounds so-so. I didn’t record a video and my mom has already picked it up so I won’t have a chance to any more. I do hope the recipient likes it and feel bad for taking so long to do it. This is the last guitar that I’ve promised to someone and I don’t intend to take on any more requests unless something really special comes up. I do have anther guitar that’s roughly half done under work (started that one a couple years ago, too) and have some fresh ideas for other new ones, so I think I’ll keep building while my motivation’s up. Stay tuned…

Thanks a lot for reading and happy pick’n!

Written by Jim

March 12, 2018 at 1:07 pm