Monday, May 30, 2011

Garden Buddy

This little lady is a Venusta Garden Spider, and we've been co-existing out in the garden for a couple of weeks now. I first spotted her orb web after a drizzle, when it was holding water droplets like strings of pearls along its entire structure. Very pretty. I finally spotted her hunkered down under cover, waiting for the rain to end.

When I go out to the garden, I usually glance over to make sure everything is ok with her. She's usually sitting under the center of her web (the business part of the web is about 8" across, but the structure itself is about twice that), waiting for dinner.

After our big big rain the other day, I went out back and spent a quiet little while watching her rebuild her tattered home.

The truce holds as long as she doesn't startle me.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


Time for another Rocket Jones folder dump of pictures that made me... uh, whatever they made me do enough to save 'em. Today's theme is "Animals". Enjoy.


They don't poop Skittles either.

For the love of God...

He'll be found, about 10 minutes after you fall asleep.

What? It's a bear. A Gummi Bear skin rug.

Yeah, like he needed *another* reason.

Not available from Adam & Eve.


This made me smile.

I Want To Be One When I Grow Up

"Indiana Jones is old school, we've moved on from Indy, sorry Harrison Ford."

-Dr. Sarah Parcak, Space Archaeologist - in BBC article

From the comments:

...does this woman not have the GREATEST job title ever?!



This photo shows the first of my garden harvest for 2011. A single sugar snap pea. It looks a little silly sitting there all by itself, but I decided to take photos of all the veggies I grow this year on this small platter, for future reference and comparison purposes.

Thinking back, I believe this is the first edible thing I've ever grown from a seed.

It was delicious.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Dirt Watch - Holiday Edition

Around here, Mother's Day is when you can start putting in plants that can't handle frost: tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and such. I'd bought some of each early this week, and have been slowly getting them into the ground as time allowed.

Today I finished up by planting bush bean seeds (a little late, but they should be ok). I'm not a green bean fan, but my family is, so eight of the little guys went in.

Also in the ground is more Swiss Chard. The original ones didn't fare well, and I think only one is still alive. I replanted there and added a couple more squares worth.

I have two tomato plants in big pots. One's a beefsteak variety and another of cherry tomatoes. In the boxes there are two Roma tomato plants. These beasties will climb the net trellis and are supposedly great to make tomato sauce. I've had good luck with tomatoes in the past, so I'm optimistic.

Also in the ground this week are cucumbers, a couple of green pepper plants, a square of parsley, and another of basil.

From the original seed stock I started with, the carrots seem to be doing great, as are the radishes. The lettuce and spinich is finally taking off, and the peas (snow and sugar snap) are climbing the net and already pushing out a couple of little pods. I'm pretty much writing off the onions this year.

I think I've made some basic mistakes during this initial year of Square-Foot Gardening. First off, I don't think I watered enough early on. I'm thinking about adding a drip irrigation setup next Spring. Second, I really need more sun in the backyard. I took out some overarching branches from the neighbor's tree, which helped, but I've got one massive branch about 45' up on a maple in my yard that needs to go (I want to get rid of the whole tree - maybe next year). I can do it from the ground with my rope saw if I can get the thing up and over the branch. Sounds like a project for this weekend, eh?

Thirdly, I didn't put enough dirt mix into the boxes to begin with. On the plus side, I used 2x10's instead of 2x6's as recommended, so even with the settling of the mix I'm still barely ok. But I need to really overload the boxes next time.

My final problem is that I bought into the hype about not needing fertilizer. I got some slow-release general purpose stuff that I've started adding to the dirt. We'll see how that works out.

Aside from the food crops, I planted a Hibiscus for Liz (because she wanted one, I give it 50-50 about surviving our Winters) and a few boxwood shrubs. Dusty Millers and Impatiens (the ol' go-to) are in the front bed and should be spectacular as they spill out between the pickets of the fence. Mucho hardwood mulch went in today.*

That pretty much wraps up the garden prep for the season. All that's left is to water and enjoy.

* I don't get this new "rubber" mulch. They claim it doesn't rot and will last for years. To me, the idea of mulch is that it does compost and improves the hell out of your soil - year after year after year. Oh well, what do I know?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Chopawamsic Backcountry - 5-20-2011

Work has been pretty stressful for a while now, so I really needed a getaway. On Thursday night I loaded my backpack and gear into the car so that on Friday I could head directly to the Chopawamsic Backcountry Area for a bit of hiking and camping.

Photographic evidence here.

Chopawamsic is one of the best kept secrets in Northern Virginia. Eight campsites on 400 acres of hardwood forest, all connected by a loop trail. You wanna camp, you gotta backpack in. Extra goodness is that there's no fee to use the area, but you do have to get a permit from the ranger station at the nearby Prince William Forest Park (part of the National Park system).

They don't make it easy either. The permit is simple (and free!), and then they give you directions. Basically, you go a few miles down a two lane road and then make a left onto an unmarked gravel road. One half mile down that and on the right is the only sign to the area, in front of a locked gate. The rangers give you a key along with the permit. Go through the gate, go a ways further and you'll come to a gravel parking lot. From here it's all on foot.

I selected campsite #7. Actually, I had the entire place to myself for the night. Along the loop trail - blazed in white - are occasional double yellow blazes along with a numbered post. From there, follow the side trail to the campsite.

At the campsite itself is another post. You have to set up your tent within 20' of the post, this minimizes the impact of many people camping in the area each year. No fires or pets are allowed either.

Camp #7 was set up on a wide ridge, and in the area is an old homestead site. This part of the forest had a fire go through in 1985. Many of the old hardwood trees were damaged and died, so by now, 25 year old oak and sycamore are standing tall, but there is still enough light coming through the canopy to allow a heavy understory of smaller trees, shrubs and bushes. Eventually those will disappear as the old trees completely block the sunlight at ground level.

I'd set up camp, and just as I was finishing dinner it started to rain. It was kind of cool because I listened to it rain for a good 10 minutes before any drops penetrated to where I was camped. When it finally did I retreated into my tent with a good book and occupied my evening with some reading and writing.

It probably only rained an hour or so, but the trees dripped most of the night. Other than the soothing sound of the water I heard a few birdcalls, and the occasional jet passing by on its' way to one of the local airports.

I was up at dawn but lollygagged around before finally packing up and heading up-trail to finish the loop.

On my way back out I came across an old cemetary. The oldest legible headstone was dated 1822, the latest 2008. The cemetary was semi-maintained and there were flowers on a few of the graves. After getting back in my car, I spied a tick on my leg. No free rides for him.

As I drove down the gravel back to civilization I came up to a sun-dappled stretch of road and something magical happened. A dozen or more of the shade spots lifted and fluttered away. What I had taken for shade were actually large dark blue butterflies, sunning themselves. Not 50 yards later, a large deer exploded out of the brush on one side of the road and, with a graceful leap, disappeared into the woods on the other side.

I returned the key to the rangers and will certainly be going back. A couple of the campsites are very close to a small reservoir and supposedly the fishing is pretty good. It felt good to be away from the phone, the computer and television, the cars, the noise and people. It felt very good indeed.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Team America Rocket Contest 2011 - Updated with Pictures!

For the ninth straight year, I was a member of the volunteer range crew for TARC. The weather forecast was ugly, but except for some occasionaly light misting the rain stayed away during the contest itself.

100 teams from all over the country came to fly rockets and try to win a piece of the price pool. The winning team took top honors on the very last flight of the day, bumping the next two teams into a tie for second.

So, this year's challenge was to design and build a rocket that:

1. Flew as close as possible to 750', measured by an on-board altimeter.
2. Flew - from 1st motion to payload touchdown - between 40-45 seconds, under a 15" parachute.
3. Carried aloft and returned unbroken a raw egg.

The first place team will be going to the Paris Air Show, complements of Raytheon, to have a fly-off against the winners of the UK and French versions of the contest. All contests use the same rules each year. The first winning team of the Japanese contest were here this year. They were from Iwate High School, which is in the prefecture that got stomped by the earthquake and tsunami.

The first eight teams split a pool of scholarship money. The top twenty teams all get invites to NASA's Student Launch Initiative, which is like Team America, but with much larger rockets, much higher altitudes, and tougher objectives (not that Team America is easy!)

And the prizes just keep getting better and better. I didn't catch all the details, but one participant got a $5,000/year scholarship towards a four year degree from Raytheon. Yep, $20,000 towards college.

As usual, the kids were great, the rockets were cool and it was a great day. Reuters and Wired magazine were there, along with many local media.

It sounds corny, but there are many ways to love America. One way that I choose is to encourage kids to pursue careers in Science, Technoloy, Engineering and Math. TARC is only one vehicle to the future, and so far it's working beyond all expectations.

Links to pictures! YAY!

Photos from Steve Schowiak:

Photos from Glenn Feveyear:

Photos in fast-paced slide show format from Steve Schwartz:

A Couple of Witticisms

Veni, Vedi, Velcro - I came, I saw, I stuck around.

Don't believe everything you read on the internet. That's how WWI started!

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Cultural Enhancement

KISS Ragtime Band.

Friday, May 06, 2011

One European's Analysis of Current Events

*wink wink* *nudge nudge*

The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent events in Libya and the announcement of the death of Osama bin Laden, and have therefore raised their security level from “Miffed” to “Peeved.” Soon though, security levels may be raised yet again to “Irritated” or even “A Bit Cross.” The English have not been “A Bit Cross” since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies nearly ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorized from “Tiresome” to “A Bloody Nuisance.” The last time the British issued a “Bloody Nuisance” warning level was in 1588, when threatened by the Spanish Armada.

The Scots have raised their threat level from “Pissed Off” to “Let’s get the Bastards.” They don’t have any other levels. This is the reason they have been used on the front line of the British army for the last 300 years.

The French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from “Run” to “Hide.” The only two higher levels in France are “Collaborate” and “Surrender.” The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France ‘s white flag factory, effectively paralyzing the country’s military capability.

Italy has increased the alert level from “Shout Loudly and Excitedly” to “Elaborate Military Posturing.” Two more levels remain: “Ineffective Combat Operations” and “Change Sides.”

The Germans have increased their alert state from “Disdainful Arrogance” to “Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs.” They also have two higher levels: “Invade a Neighbor” and “Lose.”

Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual; the only threat they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels .

The Spanish are all excited to see their new submarines ready to deploy. These beautifully designed subs have glass bottoms so the new Spanish navy can get a really good look at the old Spanish navy.

Australia , meanwhile, has raised its security level from “No worries” to “She’ll be alright, Mate.” Two more escalation levels remain: “Crikey! I think we’ll need to cancel the barbie this weekend!” and “The barbie is canceled.” So far no situation has ever warranted use of the final escalation level.

– John Cleese – British writer (of Monty Python fame), actor and tall person”

Geek Amusements

In order for some commands in IBM's Job Control Language (JCL) to work properly, a program must be executed, even if there is nothing that the program needs to do. Hence the standard IBM utility program IEFBR14, which was designed to not do anything at all.

There have been several versions released over the years, meaning that it took IBM multiple tries to write a program that does nothing.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Overnighter in Shenandoah National Park

On Friday two friends and I went backpacking in Shenandoah National Park in Northern Virginia. Greg also brought his Golden Retriever, Phoebe, who was a sweetie.

Hey look, a map!

We started at the Elkwallow picnic area, heading south on the Appalachian Trail until we hit the Neighbor Mountain Trail, which took us up and over the summit of the mountain. On the other side we got to the bottom of Jeremy's Run and set up camp. All told, about eight or nine miles for the day.

On the AT itself, we met three section hikers. Section hikers do only a part of the trail at a time, unlike "Thru Hikers" who do the entire length in one trip. It doesn't matter how you do it, hiking the whole length of the AT is an accomplishment no matter how long it takes. One guy was doing all of VA in April (about 500 miles), another all of SNP (101 miles), and the third was just hiking as far as he could in the time he had. Once we left the AT, we didn't see another soul for the rest of the day.

Jeremy's run was beautiful, but the night was a little colder than we'd anticipated (mid 30's). Even so, everyone slept warm.

The next morning, we ate and broke camp and started up Jeremy's Run. In fact, the very first thing we had to do was cross the stream to get to the trail on the other side. Greg decided to do it barefoot, but was complaining of numb feet on the other bank as he put on his socks and shoes.

The water in Jeremy's Run is really high and moving right now. The trail crosses the creek "at least a dozen times" (more than 15 I think) and a lot of the rock hopping that might be possible later in the Summer was just wishful thinking. Ice water is refreshing, right?

Being one of the more popular trails in the park, Saturday was like an interstate on the trail. One hiking group of at least 20 passed, five or six fishermen went by and all told there were easily 50 others we met or who passed us. I'll admit it, I was envious of their tiny day packs. Especially since the almost six miles back to the car was 90% uphill.

Oddly enough, I only saw one squirrel and a few birds. There were plenty singing away in the trees, but not many visible.

It was beautiful, we had a great time and I learned a few things about myself, my gear and packing (we all brought way too much food).

Photos here, and I'll update with another link when Alan posts the pictures he took.

Hometown Boys Done Good

The last thing Osama saw was a member of Seal Team 6, based in Dam Neck, Virginia.

Adios asshole.

Sunday, May 01, 2011


If you want to see what I did Friday and Saturday, look here.