Friday, November 4, 2011

Murmuration - Video by Sophie Windsor Clive

This is an awesome video! I am in awe every time I watch it.
The sound of the Starlings when they swoop over the girls heads gives me goosebumps every time.
Just an awesome display of nature. I only wish I could have been there to experience it first hand.

Video by Sophie Windsor Clive

Friday, September 30, 2011

Warning: Shameless Self Promotion!

Backyard Books of the Piedmont
Over the last year or so, I have been involved in a couple of book projects that are geared toward children. It seems like they have been 'in the works' for a decade. They now are finally completed and in print!

My sister, Suzanne Walls, writes children's books. We decided a few years ago to collaborate on a series of books about the wildlife found in the Virginia Piedmont. I had written a book using about birds, "Backyard Books of the Piedmont" but it was written for adults who are new to birding. After almost two years and many re-writes the children's version of the book is finally going to press. It has turned out beautifully if I do say so myself!

"Backyard Birds of the Piedmont" presents facts and a cheerful discussion about their lives to beginning readers and interesting to people of all ages. Using simple, easy-to-understand terms and high-quality photography, this book encourages children to appreciate the beauty of nature. It is sure to become a family favorite. It is a fun and entertaining way to introduce your family to the beauty of our feathered friends that can be found right in your own backyard!

Backyard Birds of the Piedmont is the first book in the Exploring Wildlife Series of children's books. It will be followed shortly by the "Insects & Spiders" book.

All photos contained in Backyard Birds of the Piedmont are available in larger formats on my web site:

"Backyard birds of the Piedmont" is available NOW on and will be distributed in Europe by Mariposa Press

So You Thought You Couldn't Cut It, A Beginner's Guide to Wood Carving
While working on the Backyard Birds of the Piedmont my sister came in contact with Bobbi Carducci, Founder and Director of the Young Voices Foundation. The Young Voices Foundation mentors young writers from k-12. The Young Voices Foundation™ is a 501(c)(3) Educational Charitable Organization. Through that relationship I became involved in a new photography project, photo illustration for a how to book on carving.

The Young Voices Foundation coordinated the effort to produce the book "So You Thought You Couldn't Cut It, A Beginner's Guide to Wood Carving" Written by Jim Calder and Jen Coate.

See more of Jim's work at his Wizzard of Wood web site.
"So You Thought You Couldn't Cut It, A Beginner's Guide to Wood Carving" is a cut by cut guide to carving wood or a sweet potato. Simple, easy to follow instructions and photos to teach you the fine art of carving.

I can't tell you how much fun this project was to work on. I actually did some sweet potato caving and have my completed work sitting on my desk.

 "So You Thought You Couldn't Cut It, A Beginner's Guide to Wood Carving" is available on

Working on these books has given me a new respect for writers and publishers. It is really a long process to get your book into print. Hours and hours of writing, re-writing then more time spent with design and layout. As I said before, both of these books have been in process for over a year. I had the easy part of taking the photos. The real work was done by the writers and publishers! But both books are now completed and available for order at

So You Thought You Couldn't Cut It, A Beginner's Guide to Wood Carving
 it is also available at:
Community Voice Media

Backyard Birds of the Piedmont

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wasp and Aphids

I didn't even notice the aphids until I saw this picture. Nice surprise!
Wasp and Aphids.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"So You Thought You Couldn't Cut It; A Beginner's Guide to Woodcarving" is Published!

Here is the timeline for the book. It started last year and below is the blog entry for the start of the book:

July 2010 - 
I am very excited to tell you that I have agreed to do the Photo illustrations for Jim Calder's and Jen Coate's new book, "So You Thought You Couldn't Cut It; A beginner's guide to woodcarving". I am proud and humbled to be asked to contribute to this collaboration of such talented artists.

Jim Calder is a world renowned master carver and has been profiled on "ABC's World News Tonight" and "Master Carver" magazine. Jen Coate has just won First Place in the Schizophrenic Writer's “Speaking of Getting Paid for Writing” contest.

Bobbi Carducci, Founder/Director of the Young Voices Foundation has brought Jim and Jen together to collaborate on the wood carving book for children and kids at heart!

This morning we met to discuss the business details of the book. But a full scale teaching lesson broke out! Bobbi supplied Sweet Potato's and Jim supplied his talent and skill. Within an hour "I" had carved a Viking from the sweet potato! Jim really made the whole thing easy... really! I must say that I have a lot of practicing to do but his method of teaching really gives you the confidence to cut it up!

Above: Bobbi Carducci, Jen Coate and Jim Calder. The orange sweet potato lower right is my first attempt at carving... not bad huh?

Tomorrow, we begin shooting for the book. It should be fun but challenging. Lots of macro work for me and the lighting will be a tough thing to set up. I'll try to keep updating this entry to show the progress of the project.

Tuesday July 13, 2010:

Well, shooting began a little after 10:00am this morning. As I said yesterday, it was a challenge with the lighting but I think after a couple of hundred shots we've got some keepers! And the best thing is that with the lesson from yesterday, I could actually follow what Jim was doing! I know I've said this before but it really does pay off to do some homework before a shoot. I am so glad that Jim worked with us yesterday, teaching us before we attempted to do anything for the book. It really made a BIG difference for today's shoot!

Here's a few of the photos from today, I don't know if they will make the book but you can see some of the carving process:

Sketching the carving. (click on any photo to enlarge)

Pencil marks for my benefit.

The face is taking shape

Almost complete!

Thursday July 15, 2010
Tonight Jim held a class for children on how to carve a sweet potato. 11 kids and their parents took part in the class. From a photographers stand point, it was really difficult to shoot. I have always found it hard to shoot children. I can't seem to anticipate what they are going to do and when they will do it! Very unpredictable! But, as always, the smiles are genuine, and all the kids were fantastic photo ops!  I just had a hard time getting to the right angle at the right time to capture that BIG smile when they saw what they were creating! Here are a few shots from last night's class.

Jim started the class by showing what the kids were going to create.

Admiring her work!

The Kids were very serious learners!

The new carvers display their works of art!

I didn't post a lot of the pictures from the class. You'll have to buy the book for that! I can tell you that everybody had fun and learned a new skill!

Saturday July 24, 2010
Most of my work is done. I took about 800 photos all told. The next step is for Jim and Jen. They have the hard part of laying out the book. I'm not sure how long this will take but I'm really excited to see what they come up with. Once they have chosen the photos for the book I will then have to make them print ready. That will take some time to complete. The book will be mostly pictures showing the work flow on how to create the face both on a sweet potato and on wood. Then some pictures of Jim's work, for a little inspiration of what you can do with a LOT of practice!

The Young Voices Foundation was established as a 501(c)(3) non-profit educational charity to help finance our outreach to young writers.

Facebook Fan page

Follow Bobbi on Twitter: @bobbicarducci

Jim Calder, The Wizzard of Wood

To Order: "So You Thought You Couldn't Cut It; A beginner's guide to woodcarving"

August 30, 2011 Update
The book is finally in print! After more than a year after we first started the first shipment of books arrived today!
If you've ever wanted to carve the is the book for you. Step by step instructions from the Master Wood Carver... Jim Calder! It was such a pleasure to work with such talented people. I was happy to add a little something to the book!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Vertical Axis Wind Turbine

While surfing the net I ran across some videos on generating electricity from the wind and/or solar panels. This idea really intrigued me and I started looking for more information about this green power. I'd always considered wind and solar energy way too expensive for me to try at this point but to my surprise I found many videos of homemade generators using recycled materials found around the house! (for wind anyway)

I figured, what the heck. It would be kind of cool to generate my own electricity, however humble. If I could light just one light bulb I'd be happy! The only thing I know about electricity is when you flip the switch up, the light turns on and when you flip the switch down the light goes off. Other than that, I know nothing.  But I'm going to learn! 

Having watched lots of videos on youtube I decided the Vertical Axis Wind Turbine (VAWT) seemed to be one that I had a chance at building and maybe even have some success at lighting that bulb. 

So, yesterday I started building my prototype. I spent the entire day trying to get my band saw to work. Very frustrating. The first step of my VAWT project hit a giant snag. I needed to cut two circles of plywood for the top and bottom of my turbine. I always use my band saw to cut circles. It's quick and easy to get perfectly round pieces of wood on any other day. But yesterday, my band saw decided to be the temperamental  diva of my shop. After cleaning the entire machine, replacing the tires, blade and fine-tuning the tension, the darn thing still wouldn't work. After about 6 hours of tweaking and adjustments, I decided that the best course of action at that point was to have a couple beers and relax in the living room for the remainder of the day. 

Undaunted by yesterdays lack of production I headed straight to the shop to dive into the band saw without care. Well, for some reason, today, my good old band saw was back. I still had a couple of hiccups but I just closed my eyes and plowed forward! Finally, after a day and a half, I had two circles of plywood!! 

Now that the plywood was cut I layed out the position of the roters on the plywood. The total height of my turbine is 27". It is a little shy of 24" round. I have 16 roters, each 4" wide. I'm trying a 45 degree angle for each roter, I don't know how well that angle will work but this is just a prototype so I'm expecting to make adjustments based on the RPMs . Since I don't have a wind tunnel I have to use the trial and error method! 

Below is a picture of my prototype. The next step is to 'dry mount' it for some field testing. That will probably be next weekend because I still need to work out how to mount this beast to get the best performance. 

Any comments and or tips would be appreciated! 

Picture of Prototype Vertical Axis Wind Turbine

Saturday August 13,2011
Today I rigged up a frame to hold my wind turbine. I used a wooden pallet for the base and some 2x4's for the verticals. Crude but effective. Since this is a prototype I'm not spending much time making everything tidy. I used wooden dowels into bearings for the axles on both ends. Seemed to work ok for now. When I build the permanent turbine these will be metal.

Here's a shot of the turbine in action. We had some weather coming in so there was a nice breeze and the turbine worked fairly well considering it was close to the ground and about 30 feet from the wood line. I need to find a more open area to install it for good. And raise it up, maybe only 8 feet in the air but I think it will catch a lot more wind there.

Until I can find a motor I'll be tweaking the turbine. I was expecting the turbine to start turning with lighter winds. We don't get much wind here so the lower it can start turning the better. I'm guessing that I got about 60 rpm (peak) today. I'll need more than that to start generating power. I may have to start thinking about gearing.  I'm also thinking of making the blades longer and maybe add some 'scoops' on the back of the blades.

All in all I'm pretty happy with the turbine. It did turn after all. I was a bit afraid when the bearings were not turning very smoothly when I hand tested them. They were used and very dirty. I'll get new ones for the real turbine. Should be perfect! 


Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Back Forty

This year I finally got around to putting in a vegetable garden. I affectionately refer to it as 'the back forty'. It is about 25' x 20'.  It's been years since I've had a garden and I was a bit apprehensive that I would be growing deer food. After a little thought and the hard work of my sister, We have a couple of gardens.

The back forty is all vegetables, the front 10 is mostly herbs with a few vegetables and sunflowers thrown in. 

I'll try to get out this weekend to get some better photos but for now here's a few to show the bounty! 

This first photo is my sister showing off the radish harvest. Man, those puppies where hot! I built the fence to keep the rabbits out. It took me almost a month. I could only work on it a couple of hours each weekend. LOTS of rocks. But it is finally done for now (I've got big plans). I left the fence posts high so I can use them for trellises in the future. This year we didn't plan at all so there are plants all over the place with nowhere to walk. We'll do better next season. 
We wanted to keep the garden close to the house so we didn't have to lug water too far. 

We have peas, cukes, beans, squash, watermelon, tomatoes, radish, cabbage, onions, carrots and leeks in the back forty. See what I mean by over-planting! So far, so good, but I've started to go vertical. The shot above was about a month ago. I'll get out this weekend to get some shots of the jungle as it is now! 

We planted the herbs in the front garden. We put it right over the septic tank, but I don't think that will be any problem (I hope!) 

Here's a shot of the sunflower that seems to have 7 blooms. I didn't know they would produce more than one blossom per plant. Go figure! This is the first time I've grown sunflowers and I must say that I think I'm hooked! They are very cool and very big flowers! 

I'm planning on planting many more sunflowers next year. I'll plant one with each row of veggies to help attract bees. They are bee magnets! Plus, with the cost of sunflower seeds, it will help save on the cost of keeping my bird feeders full! 

That's it for now. I hope to get out this weekend to get better pictures of both gardens. 

The heat wave hit here in Warrenton today. Almost 99 degrees with a heat index of 113. It's only day one and is supposed to last through Sunday. If you want to keep track of how hot it is here, click on my weather station. The link is on the right side of this blog, labeled "Old Waterloo Road". It shows you the data from my backyard weather station and updates about every 5 minutes.