We’re Home

Windsurf 1Part of my long absence here was due to our vacation in the Caribbean. We left on Friday, Feb 23 – just ahead of the huge winter storm that hit our area that evening. Now we are home again with the ice and snow 🙁 , but we did get away for a wonderful, warm, sunny and relaxed week.

Above is a picture of our ship, The Wind Surf, taken from the beach at the small island of Mayreau. It was tiny as cruise ships go, only approximately 300 passengers and nearly 200 crew. Anyone who doesn’t like the huge ships with thousands of passengers might consider trying the WindStar cruise line.

Right now we are still unpacking, getting the photos organized, and trying to get back to our normal routine. In the next few days I’ll post more about what we did and saw on this trip.

FM25B Most of you know what Internet radio is. For those who don’t, it’s simply radio programming transmitted over the Internet as a stream (rather than a download like a podcast). Usually, but not always, the programming is associated with a normal broadcasting station and mirrors their on-air content.

The benefits of Internet radio are several:

  • Variety: You can listen to programming outside of your normal radio range. I regularly listen to stations in Los Angeles, Duluth, Boston, Houston and Colorado Springs. There are even Internet Radio stations in countries all around the world.
  • Time Shifting: For network or syndicated programming you can listen at different times due to time-zone shifting or station schedules. Often on weekends I don’t get up in time for the NPR Weekend Edition but I can catch it from stations in the Mountain or Pacific time zones.
  • Quality: Many stations stream high quality audio – much better than you get on an AM signal and often better than a distant FM signal.
  • Freedom: If you live in an area where your local stations all have crappy programming you can find something more to your liking somewhere else. Since our local public radio stations imploded recently, I’ve been getting my radio fix from a wide range of stations. There is an all folk music station I listen to in Boston, a station that carries Old Time Radio programs on the weekend, and several stations with unique local programming. I’m still looking for one that streams Dr. Demento!

Of course the downside is you can’t do this in the car. You are not, however, tied to your computer to listen to Internet radio. With a low-powered FM stereo transmitter (I purchased the FM25B kit from Ramsey Electronics) you can listen anywhere in your house. Ramsey and other manufacturers have a number of models in a wide price range.

With the FM25B connected to my PC and using a simple wire antenna, not only can I listen to Internet radio anywhere in the house, but in the garage, out on the deck or when out working in the yard.

It’s perfectly legal within FCC Part 15 regulations though if you get interference complaints you must change your operation to eliminate them.


Just a warning that Rock Ends may look weird for a bit. I’ll be upgrading to the newest version of WordPress and won’t have all my customizations restored immediately.

Brrrrr!It’s colder than (fill in your own epithet)!

How cold is it?
Here is the forecast for our area (Shellsburg, Iowa) over this weekend (February 3-4)

Today: Partly cloudy and cold, with a high near 0. Wind chill values between -20 and -26. Breezy, with a west wind between 15 and 23 mph, with gusts as high as 32 mph.

Tonight: Mostly clear, with a low around -15. Wind chill values between -24 and -29. West wind between 9 and 15 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph.

Sunday: Partly cloudy and cold, with a high near 0. Wind chill values between -21 and -31. Northwest wind between 9 and 13 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph.

Sunday Night: Mostly clear, with a low around -18. Wind chill values between -23 and -32.

(Those are degrees Fahrenheit)

Guess I’ll hibernate now.

People who have visited our house will remember the doormat on our back porch. We picked it up at a pet shop in Florida years ago and it had started to show its age. We ordered another one online and it came today. Why talk about this doormat?
Well, the doormat is cool but even cooler was the warning statement on the back.

Important things you should know about your new doormat
warning: Do not use mat as a projectile. Sudden acceleration to dangerous speeds may cause injury. When using mat, follow directions: Put your right foot in, put your right foot out, put your right foot in and shake it all about. This mat is not designed to sustain gross weight exceeding 12, 000 lbs. If mat begins to smoke, immediately seek shelter and cover head. Caution: If coffee spills on mat, assume that it is very hot. This mat is not intended to be used as a placemat. Small, food particles trapped in fibers may attract rodents and other vermin. Do not glue mat to porous surfaces, such as pregnant women, pets and heavy machinery. When not in use, mat should be kept out of reach of children diagnosed with CFED (Compulsive Fiber Eating Disorder). Do not taunt mat. Failure to comply relieves the makers of this doormat, Simply Precious Home Decor, and its parent company, High Cotton, Inc., of any and all liability.

So my hat’s off to Simply Precious Home Decor, and, High Cotton, Inc., Humor will get my business nearly every time.

But there is more… We got a second package in the mail today that was another example of good business practices.

We have Cuisinart coffee maker and like it a lot. Recently it started having trouble with its automatic shut-off. It looked like the valve on the filter holder had somehow been damaged – probably in the dishwasher.

Jan found their website and asked about purchasing a replacement filter holder. In a day or so she received an email that the part was in the mail. When it arrived today I looked at the invoice. Cost: $0.00, shipping $0.00.

So I also want to say Way To Go! to the Conair Corporation and to Cuisinart. That sort of customer service is a rare thing nowadays. They will also get my repeat business.

I wish more corporations were like these.

Bald Eagle

For the last week or so Jan has been seeing a bald eagle as she drives to her morning exercise session. It tends to hang out in the same place so she has been taking my older Panasonic FZ-20 with her, in hopes of getting a picture. That camera has a great 12X zoom so it’s perfect for something like this. Today she got several good pictures. Here is the best of them.

Bald Eagle

Good shot Jan. I’ll have to try taking my D80 out sometime and see if I can do as well

Yesterday we got around 5″ of snow – the first significant amount for this winter. As a result many birds are unable to find food in the surrounding fields. This brings them flocking to our feeders. In the following picture I count over 50 birds, mostly Sparrows and Juncos, at the feeder or gleaning what the others scattered out.
Feeding 1

In the second picture they are lined up at the feeder like a bunch of drunks at the bar on Saturday night. There is lots of pushing, pecking and jostling for position among the small birds but when the Blue Jays or Woodpeckers show up, the little ones back off and wait their turn.

Feeding 2

We are half way through our second, 130 lb, load of bird seed. At this rate we will probably use over 500 lbs for the season, possibly more depending on snow cover and temperatures.

Stars in Winter

Last night we had one of those winter nights with crisp clear transparent skies. I decided to try my hand at photographing the sky with my new camera. The picture below was taken January 6th at 18:56:36 CST. It was a 30 second exposure at f/3.8, 20mm FL and ISO 1600.

Orion S
To see a larger image, click here

In the picture, the constellation Orion is just rising from behind the trees at the bottom and Taurus is near the top of the picture. You can see just a hint of the nebulosity around M42 in Orion’s sword.

I’ve still got a lot to learn about this sort of photography but I’m fairly happy with this early attempt. I’ll be trying again on the next clear, moonless night.

We got up to a rather dull, overcast morning today but had an interesting sight in the yard to brighten things a little. Here is one of several pictures I took.


The youngster seems to be determined to stay ahead of Mom! I find it amazing that these animals know hunting season is over. We saw none of them in-season.

Today (Christmas Eve day) we awoke to a bright and sunny morning with a delicate coating of hoar frost on nearly everything. Just after sunrise the light on the frost was magical. These pictures don’t quite do the scene justice but I’ll post them anyway.

Our garden Gargoyle has a nose fuzzy with frost.


These pines are just south of the pond.


Not exactly a White Christmas but about as close as we are likely to get.