A Jim of All Trades

Big Moon

leave a comment »

In case you haven’t heard (or seen), January 31st was a Super Blue Blood Moon. Summarizing from the link, this means:

  1. The Moon was closer to earth in its orbit (looks bigger) and brighter than normal; a “Super Moon”
  2. It was the second full Moon in the month, making it a “Blue Moon”
  3. Due to a lunar eclipse, the Moon had a reddish tint while in Earth’s shadow, hence “Blood Moon”

With all this happening, I wanted to try to photograph it, but unfortunately was busy on that night and didn’t get a chance to get out, then the next night it was very cloudy and I couldn’t even see the moon. Friday night, the sky finally cleared up and I got to see it. Of course it was no longer full, and the eclipse had already happened so there was no reddish tint, but the Moon was still closer than normal and looked big in the sky.

I set up my camera with my new lens on a tripod and took some shots… It took a lot of experimenting until I got the settings right, but in the end I was pleased with the results.

This was zoomed all the way to 300, and I didn’t photoshop it aside from cropping it down, making it smaller for posting, and adding back a bit of lost sharpness from re-sizing. For what it is, I think the lens did well, and I’m feeling good about my decision to get it. Also, the moon is cool! (well, cool looking from earth, anyway… I don’t think I’d actually want to go there)

Thanks a lot for looking and happy shooting!

Advertisements

Written by Jim

February 4, 2018 at 1:27 pm

Triathlon Training Report

leave a comment »

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything triathlon or fitness related… Last year it’s pretty much all I wrote about, so I’m going to try to maintain some variety in topics, but “exercise” is my biggest hobby, and it’ll still receive a fair amount of attention here.

I’ve been training consistently since my last triathlon with the goal of maintaining, or even growing, my fitness and speed for this year. I also did some running races in the fall: a 10k, two 5k’s, and a 5-mile race…

Last Fall’s Races
The 10k was a bit disappointing; I didn’t manage my pace well and the course was a lot hillier than I’m accustomed to. I finished with about a 7:45/mi pace, which was slower than I wanted, but really it went okay and I ran it with some family, which was fun. I had just hoped to be a bit faster. Like always.

The two 5k’s went pretty well. I started too fast in one and my pace consistently dropped throughout as a result, but I managed the other better. In both I averaged around a 6:50/mi pace, which is pretty fast for me; not quite PRs, but right on the verge. I also biked to one of them (about 17 miles), and a bit of that race course was in grass, so I am pleased with my time considering the extra effort and fatigue from biking. Riding home wasn’t fun. The 5-mile race also went well. I don’t remember my exact time/pace, but it was in the low 7:00/mile range, which I was pretty pleased with.

Training
For training, I’ve been swimming, biking, and running consistently. Nearly all running and bike work has been done inside, but I have managed to do a few workouts outside when the weather has allowed. On average I’m putting in about 9 hours per week between the three disciplines, which is only a little below what I’d normally average during the summer. I’ve even been getting a little weight lifting in, though that’s pretty inconsistent.

For swimming, I’m following the Swim Smooth program and usually get 3 or 4 sessions in per week. My swimming is still slow and I’ve been putting extra focus on improving it this off season. At times it seems like I’m not making progress, but then I’ll have little breakthroughs that help with my motivation and keep me going. I’ve accepted that I’ll never be a front of the pack swimmer, but if I can shave some time off my swims I’ll be happy.

For biking and running I’m not following a program. In the past years I did follow training schedules, but I’m trying not to be as strict about it. I try to get three bike sessions and three runs in a week, and vary them based on how I’m feeling, but do aim to get one “intensity day” in where I do harder speed or hill work, and one longer day where I put in extra time/miles, usually working a specific intensity or heart rate zone. The freedom to adjust what I’m doing and the variety of the sessions helps keep things fresh. I’m not sure that I’ve gained much speed to be honest (I really should do some tests from time to time!) but also don’t think I’ve regressed. My goal is to enter the race season with good base fitness and be primed to build on it.

2018 Plans
I’m planning on three races this year. The first will be in late April, it’s the sprint triathlon put on by my gym each year (Previous reports: 1 and 2). It’s close, convenient, I really enjoy doing it, and it serves as a good measure of where my fitness is at. The next is a sprint triathlon in July that I haven’t done before. Well, I did the duathlon there a number of years ago so am familiar with the course, but this will be my first time doing the tri. It’s also fairly close and usually has a strong field of participants, so I’m looking forward to trying it.

The last race is a bit more up in the air. I’m contemplating doing a half distance race and have one picked out that’s in September to try (i.e. Half Iron distance, but not the IRONMAN brand). If I don’t sign up for it, I’ll probably do an Olympic instead, and there are a few late season races around here to choose from. I have mixed feelings about the half race; I really enjoy doing the shorter races and going long hasn’t really appealed to me. However, the new challenge of doing the half distance does interest me, and I think I’d like to try it at least once in my life. If I do it I’d want to be at least somewhat competitive in my age group, not just complete it slowly, so whether I think I’ll be able to get enough training in while still balancing life will be the determining factor.

For training, for the next couple months I’m going to keep doing what I have been doing, but will gradually add more intensity and speed work as I build up to my first race. In late spring to early summer I’ll reassess based on how I’ve been feeling and what late season race I decide to do, likely changing to a structured program for that longer race.

I don’t envision posting about training again before my first race unless something really exciting happens. Thanks for reading and best wishes on your training and racing in 2018!

Written by Jim

February 1, 2018 at 9:21 pm

A New Camera Lens

leave a comment »

About two weeks ago I picked up a new camera lens and, though I haven’t had a lot of opportunity to use it, I wanted to post about it.

The lens is a Tamron AF 28-300mm F3.5-6.3 LD Aspherical IF Marco.

To simplify that a bit, it’s an auto focus zoom lens that has a fairly broad zoom range, meaning it can be used for taking pictures of things both fairly close and far away. This is an older film lens that’s still compatible with digital Pentax SLRs, the model was introduced around 1999 but I don’t know how old this specific one is. The longest zoom lens I had before is a 70-210mm so, though it’s very good lens, it doesn’t quite have the reach for shooting things further away, nor is it good for closer work. Aside from that I only have the standard 18-55mm kit lens (again, a decent lens, but no zoom at all really) and some prime (non-zoom) manual focus lenses, so I was wanting something auto focus that had more reach to it.  

I haven’t had much time to use it yet but here are some pics from just walking around testing it out one day. The only editing I’ve done to these is re-sizing them and sharpening them a bit to add back detail from the sizing, otherwise I haven’t made any corrections, or changed color, contrast, etc. These are all hand held shots as well, and it was very cold and windy when I was out (temperature in the 20’s (-4 Celsius, roughly) with 20 mph wind gusts!) so I’m sure there was a fair amount of shaking going on … not my finest work. My impressions of it and final thoughts are at the very end.

My thoughts so far:
I like it, but do have some mixed feelings as well… I love the versatility the range provides and think this will be an excellent lens for walking around with, but it is not incredibly sharp (I really like a sharp lens!) and the more you zoom, the worse the quality gets. That’s a trade off with zoom lenses, I know, but some are better than others. Also, zoomed the whole way out, and shooting into high contrast situations, you can find purple fringing (a purple outline) on dark lines in the photos, like on the pole holding the bird feeder with the snow as a backdrop, the black hook with the white spouting behind, or on the top edge of the building with the bright sky behind. I will learn what settings yield the best results in time to minimize this, and there’s always photoshop, but it is a weakness. It also simply isn’t that sharp at the long end. Another negative: it is basically worthless in low light; it has a terrible time focusing in doors and I had trouble getting anything usable.

That said, when pulled in just a bit from full zoom, the purple fringing basically disappears, and I was able to get a few “good” long range shots. For medium range shots, where I think it will see most of its use, I was able to get some shots I was really quite please with. For instance, the trash on the road and water cap above are reasonably sharp and true to color. The very last picture gave me a lot of hope, too; it was taken at full zoom, is reasonably sharp, and there is a fair amount of detail/sharpness with little to no fringing at all.

Overall I think it will make for a good all purpose walk around lens (how I do most of my shooting anymore), I didn’t pay much for it so feel like I’m getting my money’s worth, and it’s not like I’m a professional photographer and need the highest quality gear. Given more practice I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to get fairly consistent good shots with it, especially zoomed at the long end. I’ve also ordered a lens hood for it (a metal screw on hood from China for just $0.99 from eBay!), so that should help with the image quality and sharpness some, too. I really want to do more photo shooting this year so it should be put to a lot of use.

Thanks a lot for reading and happy shooting!

Written by Jim

January 15, 2018 at 8:06 pm

A Diddley Bow & Bottle Neck Slide

leave a comment »

For Christmas this year I made a diddley bow as a gift for my sister, her husband, and their four boys. A diddley bow is a single stringed instrument, typically played like a guitar, or a slide guitar that you would lay across your lap. You can make them as fancy or as basic as you like. Do a google search and you’ll find all kinds; some including electric pickups and intricate decoration, others as simple as a string stretched over a board.

I had never made one before and decided to do this rather last minute to give them as a gift. It took about a week to do, working a bit in the evenings, which is pretty quick for me. I figured, having only one string, it’d be easy enough for even the least musically inclined among them to be able to get some sort of tune out of. As you can see, it doesn’t have frets, so it’s best played with a slide (see further below), though you can still get notes out of it by holding the string down with your fingers. They all seemed to like it and my sister has since told me it gets picked up and played with a lot, so I’m really pleased that they enjoy it.

Here are some pics:


I think the bridge is a key for winding clocks. I found it in a bin at an antiques store a year ago.


The fret markers; I only marked the odd and 12th frets.

So they’d have a slide to use with it, I made [well, sort of] one of those too. I’ve seen bottle neck slides online and at festivals and have always wanted to try making one. I have some old wine bottles collecting dust in my basement, so gave it a go. It took me three of four tries until I was able to do it without cracking the neck, but finally got it right.

It’s a cool process, first you etch a line around the neck, then hold the neck up to the etched line in boiling water for a few minutes, then immediately move it to ice water, and, when done right, the glass cracks through along the etch line. Finally, just polish off the broken edge (I used a Dremel) and you have a slide. There are many good videos on YouTube if you’re curious enough to look.

No video of this guitar, I half forgot, half didn’t have time to do one, but it isn’t anything special, just a single stringed CBG really.

Thanks a lot for reading, happy playing!

Written by Jim

January 13, 2018 at 8:28 pm

Cyclo-cross – Photography

leave a comment »

This morning I went to a Cyclo-cross race, watched, and took some photos. Cyclocross (“cross”) is a form of bicycle racing, done on a varying terrain (mostly off-road), where the competitors do multiple laps of a course against a time limit, and there are obstacles, hills, and/or other challenging parts of the course where they might have to dismount and run carrying the bike to get by. (Check out Wikipedia: Cyclo-cross for a better explanation.) I’d never been to a cross race before and have been interested in seeing what it’s like so, when I found out about one close by, I happily took the chance to check it out. I haven’t been shooting much photography this year, so it was a good opportunity to get the camera out as well.

I really enjoyed it and think it would be neat to try sometime, though don’t have any serious expectations about really getting into it. More of a if I ever own a suitable bike I’d try it out at least once kind of thing. I did start working on convincing my wife that I need a cross bike though. ;)

It was fun shooting some photos, too. The course was very spectator-friendly and you could get right up next to the riders. I’ve found that I really like getting action and panning shots (not that I’m great at getting consistent good quality results yet) and it was cool to get a chance to get some cyclists in action. Here’s a random selection of shots I took with a few comments mixed in…

IMGP1202xsIMGP1212xs

There were 2 wooden barriers, about a foot tall, that riders had to cross. Most dismounted, ran, and jumped over…

IMGP1149xsIMGP1122xsIMGP1147xcs

Others jumped the bike over them…

IMGP1181xsIMGP1183xsIMGP1187xs
a little hard to tell, but he’s completely air born here 

One steep hill on the course that most people dismounted and ran up…

IMGP1217xcs
it’s steeper than it looks! 

IMGP1207xsIMGP1205xs

Thanks for reading and happy riding!

Written by Jim

December 2, 2017 at 10:30 pm

Gas Can Guitar

leave a comment »

It’s been a while, but I made another guitar. This one’s a Gas Can Guitar, made out of, well, a gas can…

I saw one online a while ago, thought it was awesome, and wanted to make my own. My dad gave me the gas can a year or two ago, I found a donor guitar for the parts cheap online at the beginning of this year, and I finally got around to making it. This one was probably the easiest I’ve made so far, but I wasn’t overly motivated to do it, so it dragged on for a while.

As for play-ability, the action turned out pretty high and there’s not much I can do to lower it easily due to how it’s made. It also goes in and out of tune while playing due to the can bowing and shifting the bridge (I think). So, it’s not the best sounding or playing guitar, but still good enough to play around and have some fun with. Also, the pickup is a little on the hot side, which I like.

The back:

And here’s a pic before it was assembled, so you can see what’s inside:

And finally, here’s a short and rather sloppily played video:

Thanks as always for reading and Happy Thanksgiving!

Written by Jim

November 24, 2017 at 10:23 am

Triathlon Race Report

leave a comment »

Last weekend I competed in another local sprint triathlon, my fourth and likely final for the year. I did this race last year as well. It’s only about a 15 minute drive from my house so it’s very convenient, which, along with the reasonable cost, is mostly why I did it. Here’s how it went…

Leading Up
I had a 5 week block between my last race and this one. I took the first week pretty easy and the following week I was off work and worked out a lot, though it wasn’t very structured. The remaining weeks were a mixed bag. I had some good workouts, but also missed some and got my schedule a bit messed up. I’m not exactly sure why that happened, but it’s possible I’ve gotten a bit burnt out on training… I’ve been going at it since January. I did get my key workouts in and don’t think my preparation suffered that much. A week out from the race I did a hard brick that went excellently, so I was really feeling ready to race.

The Swim
This was a 300 meter pool swim, swimming in a serpentine pattern from one side of the pool to the other. Swimmers started 15 seconds a part. Swimming remains my weakest leg but I’ve been working on it and was hoping for an improved time. I swam in my tri top; I had tested it in the pool and it didn’t seem to slow me down that much, so I figured it would be better to wear it than mess with putting it on in T1. Unfortunately I was still really slow and I do think the top had something to do with it. Not that I would have been super fast without it, I could just tell it was causing extra drag. I made it through fine but was super slow. Unfortunately I bumped my watch on a lane line and paused it in the second lap, so I don’t have data to go back to look at.

Time: 6:50
Last year: 7:06
Both include about 15 seconds of getting out of the pool and running to the timing mat. It was a slight improvement over last year, but still not good.

T1
Transition 1 went really well. It was my fastest T1 of any race I’ve done. I did try to do a running mount on the bike though and as soon as my foot hit the pedal the chain seemed to jump a tooth or something and I almost wrecked. I caught it and got going right away, just wasn’t smooth. More practice needed.

Time: 0:39

The Bike

I didn’t get my watch restarted until about a half mile in – total actual distance was 15.8 miles. I was hoping to average 21 mph for the bike segment and came up short at 20.7. My hamstrings and butt felt tight almost immediately when I got on the bike and they never really loosened up… I just didn’t feel as comfortable as I normally do. Not sure if I didn’t prep right, didn’t stretch/warm up correctly, or it just wasn’t my day. In any case, I got through without incident and, being a slow swimmer, passed a lot of people who were already out on the course in the process.

Time: 45:50
Last year: 46:24

T2
This transition went really smoothly as well and was the fastest T2 I’ve ever had. Nothing to complain about.

Time: 0:37

The Run

I started off the run too fast, like I always do, but also calmed down quicker than normal. However, as soon as I started running, I did not feel smooth or like my legs had any “pop” to them. I don’t think I over biked since my legs never felt right from the onset, though it is possible. The whole run just felt a bit more labored than it should have been. My plan was to start a bit conservatively but increase my pace as I went, hoping to finish with close to a 7:00 per mile average. I ended up not having the energy or strength to consistently go faster though and finished with a 7:20/mile average. You can see above how my pace was all over the place. The course was “officially” 3.1 miles, but actually measured longer at 3.17.

Overall
My overall time was 1:17:14 and I finished 12th overall out of about 140 and 4th out of 25 in my age group (10-year age groups, not the typical 5 years).

I’m not going to lie, I’m disappointed in how things went. It was good that I improved in each area and I am truly happy with my transitions, but I’m still really bummed about the swim and know I can do better on the bike and run.

That said, it was still fun. Even when things don’t pan out how I want them, I love racing! I knew a few people there too and had fun hanging out with them, so I had a good day, just am not pleased with my results.

What’s Next
I actually have a 10k on Saturday – 2 days away. I’m doing it with a couple family members who are runners so it should be fun. I have no expectations on how I’ll do for it and haven’t been training for it. I know I can finish, just don’t know how to pace the distance. Should be an interesting experience.

After that, I am 99% sure that I won’t do any more triathlons for the year. There is a duathlon I’m a little interested in but with the timing and where it’s located I doubt I’ll do it. I will likely do a 5k or two, and I know of a time trial a bike club is hosting that I might try. Otherwise I’m going to keep working out, though not quite as structured for a bit, and I’M GOING TO WORK ON MY SWIMMING!

Thanks a lot for following along – happy training and racing!

Written by Jim

August 10, 2017 at 9:24 pm