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Sunday, August 15, 2021

Crystal, 2006-2021

This is Crystal, and she has been our cat for 15 years. She came to us from the neighbors who were making her an outdoor cat, and she kept "invading" our home. 

We adopted her and kept her indoors and she would still love to go in and out at her leisure and cruise the neighborhood. Some crazy cat lady apparently would feed her when she wandered down to her house and we didn't know this and couldn't figure out why she'd come home to eat then throw it up! Only when we were leaving to go on errands and saw her at the cat lady's house did crazy cat lady confess she thought she was a stray (even with a COLLAR???) and was feeding her...

She was loud, noisy, annoying, always hungry (only to throw it up!) and independent. She had a damned attitude about everything and everyone. She would also find time to be affectionate and loving and allowing you her undivided attention. Usually when she was hungry...

I found this damned cat annoying. I kept remarking how I was gonna kill this damned cat if she wouldn't get out of my way, shut up, etc....

Saturday at 5:45 PM, we said goodbye. I've been taking it harder than I ever thought I would. I've attended family funerals and not lost my composure as much as I have with my animals when I've had to make "that decision". 2 dogs and now her. I'm not a cat person. Didn't think it'd hit me as bad as it has. 

She had lung cancer and was having trouble breathing. I thought we'd have a week or so but only had 72 hours to spend.

As usual, she didn't want much anything to do with me, probably from having to take her to the vet. But in those last moments, she put her paw on me as if to say it was okay.

We're all hurting, but life will go on. Both kids have their own cats. But they had Crystal first, and they were reminded (like we all were) not to take our pets for granted.

Give your fur babies an extra treat and a hug. You never know when it will be the last time you get that opportunity.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Walking the Road to Clingman's Dome - 12/13/2020

Last Sunday, Jes and I hiked the 7 mile road to Clingman's Dome, then trekked the 1/2 mile up to the Dome from the parking area. 

We're both still sore from the journey but feel very accomplished and it was a beautiful day and could not have asked for a better time (other than the sore feet/back/knees...)

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Ride along for a trip to Myrtle Beach!

For our recent anniversary, my wife and I travelled to Myrtle Beach, SC. I decided to attach the dashcam and record the journey! The video (below) is sped up about 32x normal speed, but still took just under 12 minutes for the full video journey to play! 

The way the dashcam worked, it records in 5 minute segments. So imagine trying to edit 7-8 hours of videos in 5 minute chunks! Fortunately, Windows Movie Maker allowed for me to upload multiple videos and connect them together seamlessly. It still took about 12 hours of uploading, waiting, adjusting time to speed it up, and then save it on a laptop disk drive begging for more space as it was!

Enjoy the video. It's published to Youtube. I also put it on DailyMotion if Youtube decides it's violating someone's copyright or hurting someone's feelings.

If you must, you can mute the Yakety Sax for the music.


Saturday, October 24, 2020

Pandemics, Elections, and Comets, Oh My!

 Is it safe to come out now?

This whole Covid-19 Pandemic can just stop at anytime now, can't it?

It's been a little over a year since I posted here and I've been so preoccupied with so many things I literally forgot I had this blog thing...

Where to start:

  1. I got a new position at my job, so I'm no longer on the Service Desk, and while I'm sad I've left a good many friends behind with my new job, I moved my desk one aisle over...for all of two weeks before COVID-19 shut...it...down!  I've been working from home, which I'm fortunately able to do, but I miss the camaraderie and the ability to nag my coworkers for questions on the fly. Zoom has been an amazing videoconferencing tool but Zoom Fatigue is real and I can attest to it. While working from home saves on the gas expenses, it also can be costly when you don't use your car for so long the battery dies and needs replacing.

  2. The plumbing plague from a year ago has not reared its ugly head further. We're still feeling the effects of it, however, in our quest to pay off the costs...

  3. Comet NEOWISE made a visit through here in the Summer and I was fortunate enough to get a photo of it that got featured on Channel 10 here in Knoxville. I took the picture on Jes' birthday and it was one of probably 1000 pics I literally took that morning and the best one I got from the trip. A slight trip through Photoshop Express made it really turn out amazing:

    Comet NEOWISE by @k4hsm
    Comet NEOWISE

    It turned out so well I had it blown up into an 18x24 and got it framed in a barnwood/distressed wood frame. I just felt it was the best type frame for the photo:

  4. I've traveled to Myrtle Beach twice, once after Christmas and again last month for my 22nd wedding anniversary. We were blessed with great weather and great accommodations both times. Just Jes and I were on these trips. We spent the majority of our time beachcombing for sharks teeth and seashells.

  5. I've developed tendonitis in my shoulder. Currently undergoing physical therapy twice a week in order to prevent Frozen Shoulder from happening. I'm still not sure how it happened, but at first I thought it was a slight soreness that got worse while on our Myrtle Beach trip. As soon as I came back I went to the doctor who determined it was tendonitis. Hopefully it will heal sooner rather than the 1 year they gave me!

  6. Both of my daughters are starting college at UT Knoxville. Lauren finally took the plunge and enrolled and Amber graduated L&N STEM and went right in to UT, both have been taking mostly online courses and are hoping to get more on-campus classes once COVID-19 ends. So far they are doing well, and adjusting to college better than expected.

  7. I have probably made more treks up to Clingman's Dome this year than in previous years. While the Comet and COVID were a part of a few trips up, I've also gone up to watch SpaceX launch a Starlink batch from the Dome one morning! The pictures didn't turn out well, but hopefully I will have plenty of opportunities to see many more as they continue to send up Starlink satellites. I've been to the parking area probably over a dozen times this year, but not to the Dome itself except once. The reason was most of my journeys were at night. Other times were to catch a sunrise. It could make for some exhausting days, but capturing moments like this were worth it:

    A sunrise from the Dome Nothing better!

  8. In case you've not noticed, I've ramped up my interest in photography. I've snapped a lot of pics during the pandemic, but most have been less than stellar. I'm still a rank amateur. I've been asked for my Instagram from some others I've run into when snapping the Comet, but I haven't posted a lot of my pics (yet!). Here's a few of my favorites:

  9. And finally...on top of a Pandemic that's cancelled sports, forced many companies like mine to work from home more, created a fashion statement with masks, and has altered the way we look at the world and how we go about our daily lives, there's also going to be a Presidential election in less than two weeks.

    No matter who you prefer to be in the Oval Office, go out and vote! Both of my daughters will be participating in their first election this year.  Vote early, vote often!


Until next time, whenever that is... 


Sunday, October 6, 2019

My house is in need of an exorcist!

So where have I been the last few weeks?

Let's just call it an "unwanted staycation". I swear I'm writing a diary of my life the last 3 weeks and it could be made into an HGTV series!

Besides K4HSM.com, this blog page also comes up when you enter KHAOS.net. Believe me, it's very appropriate for what's been going on! Where to begin...

It all started on Thursday, September 12, 2019. This journal of events is being logged almost as the days progress, because it's still an ongoing drama.

BE WARNED: This is a long read. Grab a beer, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

September 12, 2019

I'm awakened around 7AM from a phone call from my aunt to inform me that my uncle Jack has passed away. I went upstairs to tell my mom and let her know that we could go up to the family home if needed. 

As I went back to bed to crash for a couple more hours, I noticed a cooling sensation at my feet. I reach down and it's wet. I looked at the table next to my side of the bed as I tend to keep a bottle of water there, as my mouth gets dry overnights. I didn't see one and I thought maybe I'd knocked it off overnight. But as I feel around below the bed, the wetter it became.

I called upstairs to my wife and had her come down and we pulled the bed out from the wall and the entire side of the carpet against the wall is soaked. The drywall appears to be dry. We call for a plumber (I'm going to omit the business name for reasons to be discussed later) and he shows up and he starts troubleshooting where it could be coming from. He shuts off the main going into the house and it appears to still be leaking. It's somewhere between the meter next to the curb and the house. 

It appears to be a slow leak so he turns all the water back on and says we'll need to run a new main from the meter to the house. There's two options:
  1. Tear up the yard with a backhoe and run a new line to the main or,
  2. Have a ditch witch drill underground using a guided drill to bore a new line
The difference in price? $54. We decide to "splurge" on the drill. After everything that you're about to read, perhaps tearing up the yard would have been optimal...

The easier option?
The bad news is that they won't be available until Monday. We make due by putting towels down and sleeping in the bed in the middle of the room.

However the more we thought about it, the more that a soaked carpet over the weekend introduces mold and other problems, so we call ServPro and they opt to come Friday morning. We contact our insurance company and give them a heads up.

We just installed the carpet about a year ago. The flooring was done back in February. The one room in our house with carpet and guess what happens...

The fun begins.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Friday the 13th, and it's definitely an unlucky day.

ServPro comes in and cuts open the drywall. While inspecting the wall they hear a hissing noise and cut open the drywall in the center. There is a pipe coming through the masonry and an elbow joint was fed through the hole (with foam for insulation) and angled towards the center of the house where the main shutoff valve is located.

All this time we thought that the main came up to the house where the shutoff valve is, under the stairs and into the house. We now discover that THIS his how they ran the main!

They tell us that they cannot continue without shutting the main off. The plumber isn't going to be there until Monday with the contracted crew for the ditch witch, so we have no choice. We call the insurance adjuster and he advised to get a hotel for the weekend while they dried out the carpet.

Kinda giving us the middle finger, no?
Already mold was showing in frame and masonry, so they spray a peroxide agent that kills the mold and then place a dehumidifier and 3 large fans in the room to suck out the moisture.

The dog and cats (and fish) will stay at the house and everyone else shacks up at a hotel. Of course the Volunteers football team is playing a home game this weekend so 3 rooms are hard to find, and they're priced higher than usual...

So now, we're homeless, we have to fork out money up front for overpriced lodging and we have to wait until Monday to begin getting back to normal (or so we thought).

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Saturday the 14th, the sequel!

We go back to the house to check on the animals, dodge traffic heading to the game, and try to enjoy the amenities of the hotel, such as an indoor pool and hot tub.

Jes has to work, so she can't attend my uncle's funeral. We drive up to the funeral home and pay our respects. It's good to see my family, but it sucks the reason.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

We're late getting to the funeral home for the burial service. Since my brother an I are pallbearers, we floor it getting up there, and of course every cop is positioned to pounce on speeders the whole way up.

We spend the day at the family home and reminisce with many people. My daughter Amber and I crashed out on the couch.

Rest in Peace, Uncle Jack.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Everyone...and I mean EVERYONE shows up early.

The plumber and contractors arrive with the ditch witch. Then the insurance adjuster pays a visit to inspect the damage. Then a rep from Lowe's comes to measure the bedroom for new carpet. All of this while trying to get my daughter to school. Imagine the pandemonium.

We discussed the leak location with the plumber but agreed that patching it would lead to continued issues and a new main is the better option.

Attempting shot #2
So the PLAN...was to drive a boring tool horizontally into the ground near the meter, then guide it to the water closet in the middle of the house to become the new main. That was the PLAN...

The actual result of "shot #1" was that it went too far past the closet and was below, so they then decided to set up "shot #2" in the middle of the yard. 

According to the plan, shot #2 would go straight to the water closet, and then they would run another shot lateral from the meter and guide the tube that will house the main (with pex tubing) to the meter. 

I'm not sure what happened, but they missed the mark AGAIN, and they hit at about the same spot in the house. I say I'm not sure because the guy that was guiding the drill bit was yelling at the guy with the high-tech locator that he sent him in the wrong direction, but the plumber said they kept "hitting a rock".

Time for sh!t...I mean shot #3.

Shot #3 succeeds...barely
So they move the ditch witch over to yet ANOTHER spot in the front yard and this time they actually hit the mark...barely.  If you look in the picture, you'll see that they got the lower right corner of the closet where the main shutoff valve is located.

So they get the tubing that will be run back through and get it down to the middle of the yard, then run the borer through laterally to the spot in the yard and come through with no issue, surprisingly.

So we get the main run through and the plumber takes most of the day to put the connections in and get the water turned on. So far so good, right?

We get water restored to the house, everyone comes back, and everyone except for Jes and I will stay in the house until the carpet is replaced.

Then I go to pick up Amber from where she works, and notice water running from near the meter down the road. I'm not terribly concerned because I was told that water would come out from where they drilled the holes as they used water to assist with keeping the drill cool and loosening the soil (it's not rained in over a week at this point). When I returned I'm seeing more water coming out of the ground near the meter and start to panic. Did he not connect the main correctly?

We get on the phone to the plumber and the on-call calls me back...and it's our plumber! He says it's probably water purging from the new tunnels but I tell him the water changed from a slow dribble to a more rapid leak, then back to dribbling again. He asks me to check the meter and see if any numbers on the meter are changing, and they are not. He concludes that it looks like the SEWER LINE WAS HIT DURING THE BORING PROCESS!!!

He assures us that we can still use the facilities and he would be out in the morning to investigate. There is no smell and no signs of leaking in the house.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The plumber came by with an apprentice and they put a camera down into one of the sewer cleanouts. Within a few minutes they locate the break. Sure enough, the PVC is damaged. They then grab a locating device (a high-tech metal detector) and run through the den (where my daughter's been staying) and find that the break is under the house, within the den. They were told by the borer that they didn't make it in to the house until the 3rd shot, but this proved otherwise. 

Even better, the den floor is newly-installed Cali Vinyl laminate and underneath it is concrete. They're going to have to jackhammer the floor to get to the break!

They get a supervisor out to the house (turns out it's the owner) and they discuss a plan of action. To his credit, he did a lot to make things right for us, which is why I'm not going to mention them. I'm not out to shame them, as it was the contractor's fault. 

They decide to bring out several people on Wednesday to get this issue resolved "once and for all". They put my daughter up in a hotel for the night with us at their expense. So Wednesday is yet another day to get this situation resolved.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Two crews show up to work on the break. One team for the sewer issue, and another for replacing all of our copper plumbing with pex tubing (that my wife decided needed to be done while we were discussing the main fix). I found out later that the crew that came to fix the break was the company owner that contracted the ditch witch. He was also familiar with flooring and was able to pull up the Cali Vinyl without breaking any, so no need to get replacement flooring. It's the little things...

Ironically enough, a week before the main break, we returned the overstock flooring back to Lowe's to get refunded!

All morning long the jackhammering was insane! I decided to record it, and give a breakdown of events:

Uncovering the sewer line.
The break is underneath.
Even with this insanity, I had to make light of it. I was going to go insane otherwise!

When they finally broke through, the break was below and towards the bottom. They pulled out the pipe and worked on replacing it. They also had to dig down on the outside of the house in order to replace the pipe and inspect the masonry for damage. The break was right at the brick masonry boundary apparently.

Removal of the offending piece...
They spend about 5 hours jackhammering, replacing, and repaving the den.  They spent all day on the sewer pipe replacement and and the pex plumbing install. They leave around 6 o'clock and as I'm signing my life away on the dotted line I tell them, "no offense, but I hope to not see you again!"

Yeah...I'd see him again...

Thursday, September 19, 2019

After an exhausting week, Jes and I celebrate our 21st wedding anniversary (and 1 week anniversary of the leak!) at Longhorn Steakhouse thanks to a couple of good friends who were following this odyssey of mine on Facebook. They gave us gift cards to use at the restaurant and we enjoyed a nice quiet evening trying to regain our appetite after almost a week of stress and sleepless nights. Everything seems to be coming back to normal, right???

Friday, September 20, 2019

The second leak
After almost a full day of not dealing with a plumbing problem, at 7:31 AM I get a picture from Jes of the following (to the right):

Not what I wanted to wake up to, but what else is going to surprise me anymore...

I rush back to the house (we're still at the hotel, remember?), and call the plumber....AGAIN! Same guy. He says he thought I didn't want to see him again and we laugh about it. This would be the last time we'd be jovial towards one another...

The plumber inspects the line once again, going through the sewer cleanout and finds what appears to be a hairline crack, right at a joint, halfway down the line from the house to the city line.

Even better, they call it a "pre-existing condition" and will charge us for this one. I'm having trouble believing that a leak on the far LEFT (looking at the house from the street) is causing a leak into the street from the MIDDLE of the yard. But he insists that the boring job did not interfere with this break.

I'm skeptical that this is the break causing the leak, but he's insistent that it was pre-existing, and that the leak is just now coming to the surface and is coincidental.

Jes is furious, I'm beside myself, and the plumber is not exactly thrilled with telling me this. The funny thing was, the previous visit (Tuesday) he ran the camera down to that exact spot and I pointed it out and he seemed to brush it off as just a joint connection slightly off center...and NOW it's a problem!

And of course they can't work on it until MONDAY because it's "not an emergency". Plus the logistics of getting a bobcat ready would take most of the morning. Fine, whatever, just get...it...fixed! He marks an "X" on the grass where the locator had the leak. I'm still skeptical this is the right leak but at this point my nerves are shot.

So we spend the weekend lightly using water (toilet, washing hands, etc.) and wait for Monday to roll around to fix this issue once and for all...again!

Saturday, September 21st, 2019

My brother-in-law replacing the drywall
My brother's birthday. Happy birthday, Shane!

Today would be spent replacing drywall in the bedroom. My brother-in-law Dave owns a drywall business and so we would naturally choose him for the job.

I assisted as best I could (I don't know anything about this stuff to be honest, but it's complex and fascinating as well when you do this type work) and we spent most of the late morning and afternoon working on it. We worked on it during the UT/Florida football game, but we didn't miss much of anything...

Behind the washer
Not only did we fix the bedroom, but the bathroom where the pex line was run for the clothes washer was also repaired as well. They cut a hole in the wall to set a new box for the connections, and a hole in the ceiling to assist with running the lines down to the spot in the back of the washer.

The plumber told Jes he was going to do this, and she approved it, but when she saw the large holes in the wall she about had a heart attack! She was very upset about the job they performed.

Dave was able to fix the holes with amazing work. Especially the ceiling. Other than a very slight discoloration, it looks almost invisible. We'll be repainting it anyways, so it's no big deal.

The way the drywall was cut in our bedroom looked like our house was giving us the "finger" so I was glad to see that gone for good.

Monday, September 23rd, 2019

I won't lie, this whole situation has put a serious strain on our marriage. I spent the weekend trying to figure out who the hell I pissed off in another life to cause this kind of grief. We just celebrated 21 years of marriage, and I started to wonder if there's be a 22nd.

"X" marks the spot???
The plumbing company comes out with a different plumber this time around. I guess our usual guy was over it? They claimed he was off for the day after being on-call all weekend. I sort of believe it but then again I wonder...

He begins digging where the spray-painted "X" in the yard was placed, and gets down to where the pipe SHOULD be...nothing there. He then goes back into the house and re-runs the camera down the sewer cleanout...AGAIN...and turns on the locator and heads back out into the yard, and he's off by a foot to the left.

First off, why would the other plumber mark it wrong? Second, why wasn't this checked FIRST BEFORE DIGGING???

And then...as if we didn't have enough going on from all this...when he digs, his Bobcat is scouring our driveway! Seriously?!?!?!?

I can just feel my hair turning gray.

He continued digging and found the pipe, and the "crack" was actually where the joint had started to come off due to roots under the ground working it upward.

My driveway!!!
I looked it over and had trouble understanding how this was causing the water spilling into the road. The ground all around it (hard clay mainly) was mostly dry, and it appeared gravity would take it toward the driveway and mailbox, not where it was coming out.

Uncovering the "crack" in the pipe.
The plumber was astounded at the shoddy workmanship of how the pipe was set. First off, this was all done before we ever moved into the house (20 years ago!) and he'd told us before digging he suspected a rubber coupling was used to connect it and it was rotted and/or poorly tightened. When he dug it out he was amazed that it was PVC coupling, and that it was not a straight coupler, but slightly angled elbow connection when it really didn't need to be.

He then looked at it further, and there was no glue to keep it together! There was also no base underneath the coupling (concrete or gravel) to support it. I could not see any erosion around the "leak", but what do I know? I'm not the plumber, right?

Coupling replaced and reinforced with concrete
He replaced the fitting, pulled out a bag of Quikrete and spread it over the pipe, and said that it was "fixed". So we ran water through the pipe for 5 minutes. Not seeing anything happening, he climbs back into the Bobcat to begin re-filling the hole when I look out towards the cul-de-sac and guess what starts flowing down the road?

I holler at him to look and he was startled at the water flowing.

My yard just got torn up for NOTHING.

I told him to get a supervisor over here and he said he was already on the phone with the office to get someone out here. Within 15 minutes the owner is there and the two of them go back to the camera to find out just what the hell is going on.

A few minutes later the owner spots the problem. Remember when the contractor hit the sewer line?  They hit it TWICE!

So it appears that the first shot hit in the sewer line inside the house, and all the water was draining through that new "tunnel" and came out next to the meter. When they fixed that hole, the second hole then was getting the water and coming out the second hole they drilled, which was in the middle of the yard. It wasn't even reaching the pipe that was just dug up.

So after 4 visits into the sewer line with the camera, how is it they missed the second hole? The only things I can surmise is that:
  1. The camera cannot pan around, only straight. So wherever the cord goes, it can miss something if it's not aimed in the right direction going around elbow joints.
  2. There was a leaf in the pipe in front of the hole. I asked about that and was told it could have entered the line when the previous leak was fixed. What it did was block the hole they were looking for!
  3. When they initially ran the camera down the pipe they might have mistaken that 2nd hole for the first one.
In any case, the owner immediately began  forming a plan to fix it once and fo...oh hell, forget it!

He was about as fed up as we were, and he was definitely NOT happy with the contractors who caused this whole...well...shitstorm!

The sewer pipe from the first repair. Had they gone down
about 6 inches further they would have found the 2nd break!
Then they began digging around the front of the house where they'd fixed the break the first time. It was thought that the break was again under the house, but fortunately for everyone it was outside. In fact, he told us if the other crew had dug under the pipe (as they apparently should have done) and looked about 6 inches further down the pipe, they'd have seen the second break.

To his credit, the owner made things right and personally worked with his employee to repair the break. Then they ran the water for 10 minutes, re-ran the camera through the pipe, and guaranteed that there was NO FURTHER ISSUES WITH THE SEWER LINE. 

When we discussed the dig for the wrong leak, the plumber and owner said that within a year it would have been a problem because of the roots around it. So it had to be done. There were some roots growing around it so I quickly grabbed some RoundUp I had laying around and dumped it in there for insurance.

They brought asphalt patch for the driveway, put down grass seed and straw in the yard and patched everything up as best as they could. The front yard has straw all over it and the area underneath the spigot has a new sewer cleanout, and now we have to focus on the carpet.

Picture taken the day of the boring. The eventual sewer leaks are shown but not thought to have been an issue as they used water to assist the drill with boring the new holes. They would eventually show themselves over the next several days

Saturday, September 28, 2019

It's been 5 days and so far so good on the plumbing. The carpet, on the other hand, has been patiently waiting for us to focus on it and get our bedroom back to normal and we can get out of this damned hotel room. My sister-in-law is helping with that. Her husband fixed the drywall last weekend, so I'm glad it runs in the family!

New wall is painted
They've decided to try and re-stretch the carpet into place and clean it to see if we can save a little time and unnecessary carpet replacement. So far all is going well. Jes and her sister reset the carpet and baseboard into place and now it has to be cleaned, the replacement drywall painted, and then we can put all our belongings back where they belong. It's truly the beginning of the end.


Sunday, September 29, 2019

New blinds for the window (they were needed, anyway) and new shelving (for all my electronic gadgets in the corner of the room that you see in the pics) are purchased. They'll be hung up in the next day or two.

The bed will most likely be put back in tomorrow (Monday) and my ham radio gear re-set up in the back corner.

We will finally check out of the hotel Tuesday morning and this chapter can finally be put to rest.

On a positive note, my grass is regrowing where the sewers leaked quite nicely...

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

We have finally checked out of the hotel. We moved the bed back into the bedroom and set up some shelving and are working to re-wire some of my electronics. Other than the bed and a lamp, the room is empty, and yet life's starting to get back to ... *ahem* ... normal.


As I'm filling out some insurance paperwork and preparing to send off the receipts for the hotel and some of the food we ate, we learned a lot of valuable lessons regarding this whole brouhaha:
  • Know your home's plumbing both going in and coming out. It will save you a lot of headaches later.
  • Keep all your receipts! Everything you do both during and after the event may get reimbursed if you have the right insurance coverage. Which leads me to the next point...
  • Get good insurance! My insurance is through Farm Bureau and I can't recommend them enough! Cut-rate insurance will come back to haunt you in the end if you don't have good insurance. Just because Big Box Insurance Company has a lot of flashy commercials doesn't always mean they are the best out there. Your mileage may vary, however.
  • Keep your plumber honest. Question EVERYTHING. Watch over their shoulder if you have to. 
  • Patience. Patience. Patience. But know when it's time to stop being patient.
  • Your relationship will be tested with your significant other. There were a few times Jes and I felt we were going to have lawyers on the phones by the end of this. Trust in the man upstairs and in each other is essential.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Draconids Meteor Shower Coming!

Skywatchers should be prepping for the Draconids upcoming in October.

This meteor shower is different as the meteors tend to peak after sunset, not after midnight as many meteor showers tend to do.

The best night to watch is Tuesday, October 8. However there should be good opportunities a couple of days before and after.

The peak should have around 60 per hour, but the comet that produces the meteor shower, 21P/Giacobini-Zinner, made it's closest approach to the Sun last year. While there is not an outburst predicted with this shower, they can surprise stargazers with unexpected bursts of meteors and the recent pass by the comet may do just that.

Some meteors may be washed out, however, as the moon is waxing gibbous and will be over 50% full during the peak.

Still, I plan to watch. Weather permitting, of course...

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Pluto's a planet to me, dammit!

Ever since Pluto was demoted to a "dwarf planet" in 2006, I've been disgruntled about it. Back in my day, there were NINE planets, and to me, it will always be a planet.

New Horizons' flyby of the PLANET PLUTO supports a lot of astronomers' feelings about its status. And now, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine agrees that it should be re-promoted to planet status.

"Just so you know, in my view, Pluto is a planet. You can write that the NASA Administrator declared Pluto a planet once again. I'm sticking by that, it's the way I learnt it, and I'm committed to it."
And there you have it! 

Of course the IAU has to get on board with it as well. However, after the controversial way that Pluto was demoted, it's still a long shot. On the last day of the IAU's conference in Prague in 2006, a vote was cast with approximately 10% of the 2700 attendees present regarding the criteria for how a planet is defined:
  1. is in orbit around the Sun,
  2. has sufficient mass to assume hydrostatic equilibrium (a nearly round shape), and
  3. has "cleared the neighborhood" around its orbit.
#3 has been the sticking point, and some claim that planets such as Earth and even Jupiter are not planets by definition as they regularly encounter asteroids that are orbits near theirs.

Some scientists are championing the cause to keep Pluto relegated to "dwarf planet" while others are in the opposite side. It's a battle debate that's bound to last for many years to come.

Whichever side you're on, you still have to admit, Pluto is a fascinating body in our Solar System.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Happy 24th Anniversary to Windows 95!

On August 24, 1995, the computing world took a major step in the computing world in the infancy of the internet and the World Wide Web when Windows 95 was made available for retail sale:

Crowds of computer geeks lined up for hours and many electronics retailers were open at midnight in order to handle the demand for the new Operating System.

Microsoft spent over $300 million marketing Windows 95, including a catchy jingle from some rock band called the Rolling Stones or something like that, and a cringe-worthy video by some cast members of the popular sitcom "Friends".

Windows 95 succeeded the popular Windows 3.1 / 3.11 For Workgroups, The Graphic User Interface (GUI) was revolutionary, what with the "start" button and the capability for long file names.

It wasn't all wine and roses. For some, upgrading from Windows 3.1(1) to 95 was a strain on their "state-of-the-art" computers, and some (like myself) had to wipe the hard drive and start fresh because the upgrade didn't work as planned.

The internet was still in the early stages of its infancy. in fact, the now infamous Internet Explorer wasn't even installed with 95. It came few months later. Once the internet began to take its hold on society, however, the need for a computer made 95 the industry standard.

Of course, looking back, it seems so amazing at how far we've come since those days of yesteryear. I can remember Windows 95 on 13 floppies. It's successor, Windows 98, was on 38! not only are floppies obsolete, but Windows 95 is now all but a memory. It may exist on nostalgic machines or in a virtual machine environment, or as an emulated ROM, but it was a cornerstone in the computing world that made modern-day computing what it is and will be regarded as one of the most iconic OS's to have come along.

Friday, August 16, 2019

NASA Image of the Day: Hubble’s Portrait of Star’s Gaseous Glow

August 16, 2019 - Although it looks more like an entity seen through a microscope than a telescope, this rounded object, named NGC 2022, is certainly not algae or tiny, blobby jellyfish. Instead, it is a vast orb of gas in space, cast off by an aging star. via NASA https://ift.tt/33DMs3i

Thursday, August 15, 2019

NASA Image of the Day: NASA and SpaceX: Dragon Crew Extraction Rehearsal

August 15, 2019 - On August 13, 2019, NASA astronauts Doug Hurley, left, and Bob Behnken continue to work with teams from NASA and SpaceX to rehearse crew extraction from SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. via NASA https://ift.tt/2z2gPSN

Monday, August 12, 2019

HDTV Antenna Project - Finished!

My bow tie HDTV Antenna!

A few days ago I posted about working on an HDTV antenna project I'd seen on the internet and wanted to try it. Finally, I decided to get going with it after scrounging for the parts needed. 

I found some parts around the house and picked up an item or two from local stores. Some of the parts are not as easy to come by these days.

Here's the parts I used:
  • 1 2x4 Piece of wood
  • 4 wire coat hangers 
  • 8 #10 x 1" screws 
  • 8 washers
  • #10 gauge wire (Purchased from Rural King)
  • 1 matching transformer/coax connection (Purchased from Radio Shack)
  • 6" of cable TV coax 
Most of this stuff is lying around the house, but the transformer (also known as a "balun" is by far the hardest part to locate these days. I found some on Amazon that are en route, but yesterday I went to nearby West Town Mall and there is a hole-in-the-wall Radio Shack that surprisingly had it available. It was the most expensive piece to purchase. While the part from Amazon was $3, Radio Shack had it for $11! I didn't want to pay that much but after checking Hoem Depot and Walmart and turning up empty, I wanted to finish this project by the end of the weekend and needed it, so I went ahead and paid for it. I asked for 3' of TV cable coax and they were going to sell it to me for $16! I politely declined and found some after a brief search in my broom closet.

I used the instructions found here for a reference guide. 

Re-positioned to pick up
even more channels
I found a leftover 2 X 4 in my backyard and cleaned it up. After measuring and drilling the holes that would hold the coat hanger wires, I then measured and cut one side of a wire coat hanger to the required 14" length. I marked the necessary length using the curve of the lower part of the hanger to become the base of the "V" shape so very little bending would be needed to get the hangar in the necessary form. I then used the piece that was cut from the first hangar as a "template" for the remaining hangars.

While cutting one of the hangars, it was extremely brittle and when I attempted to bend the base of the "V" it snapped. The other side of the hanger behaved the same way. It was the same type of hangar as the others but for some reason was way more brittle. Fortunately another hanger was available. All of the hangers were coated in plastic, so I took a lighter and used it to burn through the center, exposing the metal to make the necessary contact. 

The exposed metal of the hangar was connected to the screw once it was set, and the #10 wire was cut through with wire strippers in order to expose the wire and make contact with the screws as well. I tried to solder the balun but the prongs were not making a good connection, so I clipped them off and stripped the wire 1/4" and was able to easily solder to the middle of the wire. The washers were used to help keep all of the parts together where they were connected at the base of the "V"s.

It took about an hour to piece all of the parts together and align. I stapled the prongs of the matching transformer to reduce stress on the soldered connection.

The Old Rabbit Ears
I opted to not use a metal backing for the reflector as I felt that it wasn't needed at this time. I may test it out later but don't think it will improve the performance.  

The End Result

After plugging the 6' coax in to the antenna I then took it upstairs to the living room TV. Prior to this antenna, I had a set of good ole' fashioned rabbit ears for the antenna. While it worked for what I needed, I would have to occasionally need to re-position the antenna and use the tuners on the rabbit ears in order to get better reception. I had about 25 channels the rabbit ears received with adjustments needed if I changed channels on several stations. I even used a "signal booster" to try and get additional channels to no avail.

Full Disclosure: I live about 5 miles from Sharp's Ridge, where most of the transmitters for the local channels reside, so tuning in to the "big three" are not difficult, even on rabbit ear antennas. However, two stations in particular (The Fox and CW affiliates) are located elsewhere and are often harder to tune in. The Fox station could be picked up by the rabbit ears after some fine tuning, however the CW affiliate was not received no matter what I attempted.

Rabbit Ears reception
As soon as I plugged in the new antenna, all of the channels were crystal clear (no pixelation or dithering that can occur on a DTV signal) and no fine tuning was needed.

I performed a re-scan of all the channels I could pick up and was amazed that I had 6 new stations on the list. The CW affiliate (4 stations) and a low-power religious channel with 2 stations (HD/SD) were now on the list.

HDTV Project reception
The best thing was I didn't have to get up and retune any of the channels! The reception was perfect. I moved around the living room and no change was noticeable on the TV.

After I scanned for new channels, I decided to check a couple of things out on the old rabbit ears. I had a "signal booster" that was plugged in to the AC and was supposedly designed to boost the reception of any antenna, SD or HD. I didn't really notice a difference in reception but kept them plugged in. After plugging the rabbit ears back in I went back to 29 stations received. When I removed the "signal booster", it actually increased to 31 stations! When I plugged my HD antenna through the "booster" It reduced the number of stations scanned to 33. The damned thing was an attenuator in disguise!!! I will probably throw that in the garbage. I doubt it's good enough for Goodwill at this point...

Signal booster, residing
on a throne of lies!
While Knoxville is not a "major" television market, it does offer many stations over-the-air for those wishing to "cut the cord" and reduce their cable costs. I cut the cord over 4 years ago and have not missed it. Many of the channels I can get through over-the-air TV or online via streaming. I do have services like Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime as well as Sling TV, but I'm still paying less than half what I was paying with cable TV, and that was without the "Premium Channels" like HBO/Showtime. An antenna such as this helps with television selection.

Overall, not bad for less than $20 of parts purchased, parts lying around, and an hour's worth of time to piece it all together. Even if you had to purchase all of the equipment, you're looking at $25 at the most. Compared to the price of many commercial antennas, this has impressed me the most. I will recommend going to a hamfest or other electronics parts store for the coax connector to the antenna. That will cut the cost even further.

When I get the $3 coax connector I purchased from Amazon (due to arrive next month, presumably from China) I will construct another one of these and use it for my mother's TV so that she can enjoy more over-the-air channels as well.