Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Curious minds want to know...

If you look in the comments section of the previous post, you'll see dlr asked, "Couldn't you do that inside where it's a little warmer?" We gave it a try, and we can definitively say, "Sorta." To prepare, we set the specimen tray outside for several minutes so it would reach the same 15°F temperature that the snow was at, and then tossed a few snowflakes on and rushed inside where the microscope was already focused, a light was situated nearby, and the camera was turned on. While it usually only took a few seconds to move the tray around under the microscope to spot a decent snowflake or two, it generally took a few anxious seconds more to get the camera situated such that it could see through the microscope.

After about 10 seconds, this is how the snowflakes looked. There is already some melting and fine features are being lost.

A few more seconds, and the melting is accelerating.

A little later...

...and finally a nice exercise in looking at water under the microscope! I don't think the liquid water is quite as interesting as the frozen stuff. It typically took about 40 seconds to go from 15°F snowflakes to liquid, so you don't want to dally through the process. The 40 seconds could probably be stretched a bit if you didn't have an incandescent bulb providing light and heat less than a foot from the microscope. Next time, maybe we'll try a flashlight or a fluorescent bulb. In the meantime, I'll gladly put on the boots and gloves and enjoyed a longer viewing cycle outdoors.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

What do you do with a fresh blanket of snow?

If you have a stereo microscope, and you're inspired by a recent blogpost by a friend, you look at snowflakes under the microscope!

We received about 2 inches of fresh snow this morning that settled softly on the yard and roofs. We set the microscope out on the porch before church so it would cool down and the snowflakes would not melt when they came in contact with the device. As it turned out, we weren't organized enough this morning to do our viewing when the flakes were falling, so we had to wait until we got home in the afternoon. By that time the snow had finished falling and we had to shake snow off bushes or scoop some out of the yard to look at. Consequently, the viewing was not ideal. The flakes were pretty small when they fell this morning, and as you can see in the images below, it was hard to find a complete flake that was not attached to another flake, or damaged in handling.

Here's Karen setting up the first sample while Lily waits in the background. The wind direction this morning providentially kept snow off the porch by the front door, so we could set up the scope there without getting into a lot of snow.

The subjects ready for viewing.

Here's what those little flakes looked like magnified 30 times. This was the first time we've tried to photograph anything through the microscope, and I'm pleased at how the digital camera performed. We were able to put the lens right up next to one of the eyepieces, and it seemed to have little trouble focusing on whatever the microscope was focused on. Because the snowflakes are three dimensional, you normally can't focus on the entire flake at once, hence the focused and unfocused portions of the photos due to the short focal length of the microscope and the camera. I should also mention that the camera chose a pretty slow shutter speed (1/4 second) due to the lack of light, so it was hard to hold the camera still enough to avoid blurriness.
Here's a bigger clump of snowflakes that were difficult to separate. I especially like the hexagon shaped flake near the top of the image in the middle.

Here's the last image for this episode of snowflake viewing. I'd forgotten how icy snowflakes look when seen up close and personal, although logic would tell you when water gets cold it turns to ice. That's something that always seems to surprise me when they are magnified big enough that you can see through them. Hopefully we'll get some larger flakes someday in the near future, so we can get some better images. Until then, thanks for stopping in....

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Construction update #28

On January 12, the linemen from Corn Belt Energy arrived to change our electrical service for the house and garage. When I first talked to Corn Belt about doing this work last August I didn't think it would be the middle of winter before it was done. As you can see from these photos, they brought lots of neat tools and equipment, and put on quite the show for a few hours.

Even though they had 10 to 12 inches of frost to trench through, this little machine did a pretty quick job of it. Butch the lineman appears to be in a bit of a compromising position in this photo.

This is the only glitch in the project that I noticed. That's our phone line running through the trench in a discontinuous fashion. I didn't think Verizon's line locating marker was very accurate, and evidently neither did Butch.

Here's the view looking west down the trench. The wires previously ran overhead through the branches of the tree on the right. There was at least one branch resting on the wires and I didn't really want to hack half the branches off the tree just to provide clearance for the wires, so burying the wires removes the need to be concerned about tree branches pulling wires down. I hope the trenching didn't do more harm than trimming would have done.

Butch is putting the final touches on the trench in this shot. I didn't catch the names of the two linemen that did all the ground work, so I don't know if his name really is Butch, but for the sake of this post we'll call him Butch, and his coworker will be Slim.

That's Slim over by the truck stretching out the wire that will be our new service. The metal conduit on the ground parallel to the trench will eventually be mounted to the side of the pole at the road.

Slim is guiding the wire through the hole in the meter base while Butch does the pushing. They hit a bullseye on the first try.

Butch ready to cross the trench after the new wire has been laid in it. The trench was less than 24" deep, so we didn't come very close to the septic tank pipe that runs perpendicular to the trench.

After lunch Mark arrived in a second truck and proceeded to do the high work out at the road. Butch and Slim both called him Mark, so I don't think we'll have to invent an alias for him. If you look closely you can see Mark's yellow staff hanging from the wires and the transformer wire hanging limp meaning the power was disconnected to the house at this point. Time = 12:52 PM.

Closer view of Mark disconnecting the transformer from the pole.

Meanwhile Slim has hoisted the new transformer off his truck and prepares to pass it to Mark's truck. I didn't know a new transformer was included in the deal, but it appears to have more capacity than the old one. I think most of the features of the old service were marginal, so it's good to get an upgrade.

Butch keeps busy disconnecting the wires my friend Bud had temporarily connected in October so the new service could be installed with minimal extra work.

Back at the road, Mark extends the arm on his boom so he can grab the transformer on the pole, while Slim stuffs the wire in the conduit so it's ready to be attached to the pole.

This shot gives you a little better perspective on where the new transformer is sitting in the midst of the other activity.

The new transformer waiting patiently.

The details of the new transformer for the sake of all my geeky engineer friends, and because I'll probably never be this close to this nameplate again.

Mark lowers the old transformer to Slim.

Slim attaches Mark's cable to the new transformer preparing it for a little ride to the top of the pole.

Another shot to give you a better perspective on how the trucks were situated, and how impressive it is that both booms can reach far enough to transfer something between them.

Mark approaching the pole with the new transformer.

Almost close enough to attach it to the pole.

Hey Butch, sorry I dug that hole right where you wanted to stand! Note the meter lying on the ground next to his tool pouch, i.e. the power is still off.

Slim pulls the old wire out of the tree.

Mark has the new transformer attached to the pole, and works with Butch to get the new conduit and wire attached to the pole.

Slim takes over assisting Mark as he nails straps around the conduit.

A look inside the finished meter box before the meter was installed.

Mark connects one of the wires to the transformer...

...and makes the final connection using his fiberglass staff. The power is back on. Time = 1:33 PM. Much quicker than I expected!

The finished product on the pole at the road. Other than the severed phone line, I thought the whole process went pretty smooth. The only outdoor work remaining on the system is to connect the barn wiring to the new disconnect, but given the amount of frost in the ground, it may be a while before that job is even attempted.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

In Memory of Mr. Henry Tilney, Apr. 7, 2008 - Dec. 31, 2008

We made it almost a full year before losing another cat. This time Mr. Henry Tilney was not cautious enough crossing the road, and died shortly before noon on December 31. Our last loss was Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, who met a similar fate early on the morning of January 1, 2008. Tilney showed less fear and skittishness than the other two cats in most situations, and that trait ultimately betrayed him. We've included a few photos here to chronicle the short life of a unique pet.

Here's Tilney shortly after he joined us in June. Although kinda scrawny at the time, he was bigger than his cousin, Mr. George Knightley, who joined us at the same time.

That's Knightley playing with Tilney's tail. By this fall Knightley had grown larger than Tilney, although Tilney had in turn grown larger than our third cat, Mr. Charles Bingley.

Looking particularly cute peering over Gretel's shoulder.

Any cat at our house is subject to the will of Gretel, including Tilney. We're not sure if the cats enjoyed the ribbons, but they definitely didn't like the basket. Notice the absence of relaxed postures and purring.

The kitties were pampered with a blanket spread on the deck most days last summer, and they enjoyed many naps in the comfort of the hackberry tree.

Tilney and Knightley enjoying each other's company.

Mr. T was generally happy to be held and the least skittish of the cats. Hey! What's that cat doing in the house?!

You've seen this image before, but it accurately represents the relationship the cats enjoyed this fall and winter. Mr. T was the last to pile on in this pose, and the others were happy to let him join the fun.

Mr. Tilney was the first of the cats to feel comfortable in Gretel's new "walking jacket."

Tilney was the best climber of all the cats, although this ladder is a minor feat for this cat. Tilney would regularly climb the trees in the yard as if hunting for birds or just looking over his domain. He was a bit cruel in that he would coax the other cats into the trees, run from branch to branch while they plodded along carefully behind him, and then leap to the ground and run away while the others were still high in the tree wondering how to get down.

This is our last photo of Mr. Tilney as he explores in the upstairs of the barn on a blurry day. Like any of the other cats, we miss Mr. T already, although as one of our family commented on the day of his passing, "At least it was the stinky one that died." On this blog, even epitaphs tell it like it is.

A Collection of Beautiful Sunrises & Sunsets

It seems I've been saving some of these and neglecting to post them. I hope you enjoy them nonetheless.

Sunrise #8, January 2, 7:11 AM

Sunset #11, January 4, 4:49 PM

Sunset #12, January 9, 5:01 PM

Sunset #13, January 13, 4:58 PM