Northern Michigan Fire – Duck Lake

I haven’t been watching a lot of TV since I’ve been on vacation at my cottage, but I have heard that news of this fire has gone national via the internet and television airwaves.  FOX News and CBS News have talked about it I’ve heard.  

In case you are not aware, there is a massive wild fire spreading through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula near the Tahquamenon Falls area, specifically around Duck Lake.  It is about 14 miles north of Newberry, MI.  

Firefighters who got into the burned out areas have come back and given some damage estimates:

34 homes / cabins

22 garages

22 sheds / outbuildings

17 campers

1 store

1 motel

About 23,000 acres of land is now burned.  Fire crews are still working trying to maintain the fire, specifically at its southern end where a blowout has pushed the fire over State Highway 123.  

Vacationers and property owners are being let back into the region on a limited basis to quickly grab any surviving valuables and assessing damage at this point.  The last I heard, groups of 15 were being let in at a time.  Many were forced to evacuate on Wednesday / Thursday of last week.  

Governor Snyder declared a state of disaster for the two counties the fire is in last Saturday.  The decree states that here is an open flame fire ban (no camp fires are allowed) in 49 counties across the Upper Peninsula and parts of Lower Michigan as well.  Those counties are:

Alcona, Alger, Alpena, Antrim, Arenac, Baraga, Bay, Benzie, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Chippewa, Clare, Crawford, Delta, Dickinson, Emmet, Gladwin, Gogebic, Grand Traverse, Houghton, Iosco, Iron, Isabella, Kalkaska, Keweenaw, Lake, Leelanau, Luce, Mackinac, Manistee, Marquette, Mason, Mecosta, Menominee, Midland, Missaukee, Montmorency, Muskegon, Newaygo, Oceana, Ogemaw, Ontonagon, Osceola, Oscoda, Otsego, Presque Isle, Roscommon, Schoolcraft and Wexford.

There’s also a fireworks ban in the counties surrounding the fire area.  So if you’re up camping, please no fires.  It’s so beautiful up here, I’d hate to see this region look like a barren waste land.  

I’d like to send out a huge thank you to the Michigan DNR and the firefighters helping out in this bad fire!  

Have you been effected by this fire in any way, shape, or form?  Feel free to comment below.  

Here are some pictures of the fire as well as a video.  Pictures and video courtesy of the Michigan DNR website.  

IMG 3179IMG 3180IMG 3181IMG 3182IMG 3183IMG 3184IMG 3233IMG 3234

      

Northern Michigan Wine Tasting

Last night, I attended my first official wine tasting event help at a place called Bayside Dining on Drummond Island, MI.  I’m normally not a foodie nor am I a wine snob.  But I thought I’d share with you what kind of food to expect at a fine dining experience in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  

Everything was just perfect.  The atmosphere, setting, mother nature in all its glory in the background, a perfect evening.  

To top that off, you had awesome company, food, and beverages to match.  

The food & drink theme was “A Touch of The Deep South.”  

Our first course was frog legs.  I love frog legs.  It was very delicious.  And the wine paring was perfect.  Trignon Roussane, a honey & elegant white wine.  

I apologize for the half eaten frog leg in this picture.  I thought I snapped a picture with my camera before hand, but apparently I didn’t.  

IMG 3199

IMG 3198

Next up was the No-Bite Snapper Turtle soup!  Delicious!  But it is very spicy!  If you have any allergies to pepper, stay away from this soup!  The wine paring was a Sacromonte red wine, a floral and spiced wine.  Only 100 cases were brought into the United States!  So I felt very fortunate to have a sample of this wine!

IMG 3201

IMG 3200

The third course was a Blueberry Sorbet to cleanse the palate.  It had a sour flavoring, but also sweet.  A true journey for your taste buds!  No wine for this part.  

IMG 3202

Fourth course was a Southern Salad with grilled prawns!  Very delicious!  No fishy taste at all!  Grilled to perfection as well!  Wine paring was a Lola Kay white wine, a peach and honeydew flavor!  A fabulous paring!  

IMG 3204

IMG 3203

Our last course was a Roasted duck leg and thigh confit!  I haven’t had duck in a while so I was very happy to have it again.  Also cooked very well!  The roasted pecans really brought out the flavor of the duck!  The wine further enhanced it.  The wine was a Haywood Zinfandel, a red wine!  I never had a red zin before, so I was intrigued.  Sadly, the picture didn’t turn out very well for this wine.  My apologies.  

IMG 3206

And to finish off an fantastic meal, you gotta have a good southern dessert, right?  Well we had one and it was delicious!  A peach Streusel!  Very delicious.  It’s kind of like a strudel but in a mini pie form, almost like a tart.  And the dessert wine of choice…a Lodali Moscato, a sparking wine!  I love sparkling wines!  It was a fruity wine.  Most wine people don’t’ go for the sparkling, but I love sparkling wine!  I’ll be buying a bottle of this wine for sure! 

IMG 3208

IMG 3207

Well I hope you enjoyed my food journey.  As I said, I’m normally not a foodie or wine snob, but I thought I’d share this with you just in case you’re ever interested in attending a wine tasting.  They are a lot of fun and you can meet some very interesting people.  

Now wipe that drool off your keyboard and / or screen and go find a wine tasting near you, especially if you’d like to get into wines.  

Feel free to leave a comment and / or ask a question and I’ll reply as soon as possible.  

Happy tasting!  

Numbers Stations

Remember at the beginning of LOST, Sayid took the aircraft transceiver from the cockpit and got it working?  Remember when Shannon was trying to translate the French distress signal?  Remember a computer voice coming on and announcing some numbers?

For those of you just getting into LOST, hopefully I didn’t ruin anything for you.  For those of you who love the show, then you know what I’m talking about.  The computer kept announcing numbers before the distress call at each loop. 

If anyone is into this weird hobby or found that transmission from LOST cool, you can listen to something similar for real!  All you need is a ham radio scanner and a fairly tall antenna or a high hill.  Just surf around the different bands / frequencies and you might just pick one up.  Listen for a computer voice announcing numbers, letters, strange and creepy music, and / or cryptic phrases.  

Number Stations have been around since the dawn of the Cold War, relaying urgent messages from intelligence agencies to their “agents” abroad.  The spies would use a device called a “One-Time Pad,” to translate the message.  Each time a new message was relayed, the spy would have to use the next pad in sequence to translate the numbers into readable text.  

Nobody, without the spy’s specific “One-Time Pad,” has been able to decipher a number station message since its conception!  Number Stations have proven to be most effective means of spy & intelligence agencies communicating with their agents in the field.  

But now that the Cold War is over, why do these stations continue to broadcast numbers?  Some stations, after the war, closed up shop…until 20 some years later.  The old stations that went dark after the war suddenly became active again and started broadcasting numbers!  Conspiracy theorists have made claims that the Cold War never ended; They believe we still have agents in the field, sneaking around secret military projects, gathering information about aircraft, etc. I don’t buy into this myself.  Some people believe that this is an elaborate hoax, like the crop circles.  I, personally, don’t know what to make of these number stations.  It’s very strange indeed, but who knows if there’s still a use for these stations or not.  So anyone’s guess is as good as anyone else’s.  

No government agency (US or abroad) has come forward and taken responsibility nor taken action against these number stations, which are not “officially” licensed to operate.  They should take action since they interfere with legit Ham stations around the world.  Although I know they won’t since thanks to signal triangulation, someone found a numbers station broadcasting from an antenna farm owned and operated by the US government.  No independent agency has taken responsibility for broadcasting either.  Whenever someone, whether a private citizen or journalist, tries to get a comment from a government official on these number stations, they either dodge the question or tell people not to even bother with them.  One politician, in the UK, made a bold statement saying that UK citizens shouldn’t be interested in these stations anyway.  It’s illegal to listen to them.  So, to my UK readers, you cannot listen to these strange broadcasts.  It’s illegal!  I personally don’t understand why it is illegal since nobody can own the airwaves themselves.  Once a signal goes over the air, unencrypted, then anybody with perfectly legal equipment can pick it up and should be able to listen since the government will not take responsibility for what they transmit from their property.  Anyway, I digress.  

If you’d like to listen to samples of number stations without a radio, a project called The Conet Project put out a 4-disk album containing different number stations’ messages.  I have had the chance to listen to some of them and there are a couple creepy ones.  There’s one that plays “taps,” then announces the numbers.  That one creeped me out.  There’s one that plays a creepy music box song and then a little girl’s voice starts saying random numbers and letters.  That is especially creepy.  You can buy it, but at the time of this post, they’re out of stock.  They DO encourage you hit up file sharing services and download it that way!  They even have a PDF containing some cool information. If you want to learn more about number stations, head over to the Wikipedia Page to view more.  

Here are some samples taken from YouTube:

Would you listen to number stations?  Have you?  Feel free to comment either way!  I’d be interested to hear what anyone has to say about them!  

Amateur/Ham Radio – A Communication Art-form

When I was in 6th grade, my uncle introduced me to amateur radio.  I thought it was the coolest thing ever since…I don’t know…the tape recorder that Macaulay Culkin uses in Home Alone 2!  I thought it would be so cool to pick up a microphone and talk to people around the world or on the other side of town.  

I remember getting onto the ham radio subject via CB.  I was an avid CBer when I was younger.  I loved to talk to the truckers as they’d come through my hometown.  I learned all the 10 codes, bought different kinds of radios from mobile unites to base stations, and got into the advanced CB sideband a little bit.  But my uncle thought I’d be interested in something else…something that works greater distances…and thus began my journey into amateur radio.  

We talked for several hours about the hobby.  He told me about some of his QSO’s (establishing contacts) that he made with people in his community but also around the world.  Well, being a tech savvy youngster, I decided I’d look into getting my license to operate ham radio.  My dad bought me all the Gordon West (WB6NOA) books and audio cassettes I could get my hands on.  I read the books and studied, but I kept finding it hard to stay focused on studying until I just fell out of the hobby.  I didn’t lose interest, I just found it hard to get my head around the concepts at that time.  

2 weeks ago, I decided that I’d start listening to our local 2 meter linked repeater system (147.160, Grand Rapids Independent Repeater System) via my tiny RadioShack scanner.  I enjoyed tuning in and listening to the local traffic.  And then it hit me…some of these people were talking from a couple hundred miles away!  I was listening to someone about 20 miles away talking to someone about 100 miles away from their current location.  Best of all, I could hear both sides of the conversation clearly right from my basement with no external antennas!  I was very happy!  And this is where my interest was rekindled in the hobby!

I started doing searches on Google for other repeaters in the area.  I found plenty in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, which is great.  But what about the Upper Peninsula?  I started doing some research…and boy did I find a lot of local repeaters in the U.P!  And this is when I got really excited.  I was looking for a repeater near our cottage, but I couldn’t find one in the repeater central database.  I did a Google search and found that there’s a repeater being built right near our cottage!  

Done!  Now I really want to get back into amateur radio and start exploring the hobby.  So I started doing various things to learn more about it.  I’ll break it down for you.  

First, I just went around YouTube and found videos of people operating on various bands and frequencies.  But there’s one YouTuber / Operator I’d like to give a big shootout to..and that is David (YouTube, KF7ETX).  He doesn’t know it, but his videos have really helped me along in the hobby over the past week since subscribing to his channel.  Thank you so much David!  Your videos are top notch and you’re doing a good job elmering me into the hobby! 

*(The term Elmer, in Ham Radio context, is a person who teachers people, new to amateur radio, the proper operating procedures, basic skills, and general knowledge about the hobby.  They are very wise individuals in the hobby who take the time to teach newcomers.)

Next, I am getting an information kit from ARRL (American Radio Relay League) in the mail.  The kit will tell me all about the hobby and how I can start getting prepared for a lifetime of fun with this hobby.  I think it’ll include information on licensing and the procedures for that.  I’m still currently waiting for that information to come.  But that website has a ton of information about the hobby about testing locations, field day stuff, local hamfests, etc.  

Next up, I started looking for gear.  I’m still a ways from this aspect yet, but I wanted to see what is out there now so I can get some ideas and “wish lists” started!  I’m looking at a Yeasu VX-8DR handheld for my first radio.  And I’m thinking about buying it from Ham Radio Outlet.  Sadly, I don’t live near one of their physical stores. If you guys could build a store in the West Michigan area, that’d be great! 🙂  I have heard great things about that store and would love to shop there one day, in person.

Lastly, I started to learn all the terminology.  Probably the biggest portion of the Ham Radio jargon are the Q codes.  You saw me use one early to reference making a contact via Ham Radio (QSO).  If you’d like to see a list of Q codes, head over to the Q Code Wikipedia page for more info.  

Finally, I started going to various sites and learning all that you can do with Ham Radio.  

Morse Code – You can communicate with other people all over the world via Morse Code.  It’s pretty cool and will provide you with a fun challenge.  

Echolink – Allows Ham Radio Operators to communicate with other Echolink users using VoIP via either a Ham Radio, computer (downloadable software for Windows, Mac, or Linux), and/or an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch and Android devices.  

Communicating with ISS (International Space Station)!  How cool is that?!  

Communicating with other people around the world by bouncing your signal off of amateur radio satellites!  Pretty nifty stuff!  You can even bounce your transmissions off the moon!  It’s called moonbouncing.  

Amateur Radio Television – Yes, that’s right.  You can hook up an old analog TV to your radio and watch TV.  Now it’s not local channel stuff or cable TV  shows like you’d find on traditional television.  Think of ARTV as indie television like PBS only without funding from views like you. (Pardon the terrible pun 🙂 )

Slow Scan TV – Slow Scan TV is a way to transmit one frame of video or one picture at a time.  Think of it like scanning a picture or a document to your computer via a scanner.  The scanner head moves slowly down the picture and the image slowly appears on your screen.  SSTV is very similar to that.  

IRLP – Similar to a linked repeater system, but instead of relaying your transmission over a 440 frequency to the other repeaters on the network, it uses a broadband connection i.e. DSL or cable to link the repeaters together in the system.  An affordable solution.  

There’s just so much you can do within amateur radio!  You need to be licensed to transmit.  There are three different licenses: Technician, General, and Extra.  And you can either go with no-code, or CW (Morse Code).  Personally, I’m going to start off with no-code.  

Hopefully some of you reading this are now thinking great!  I’d like to get into this, but I’d like a way to practice before I get licensed.  No problem!  You have two options.  

First, if you have a licensed family member or friend, ask them if you could get on the air and make some QSOs.  As long as your family member / friend is with you in the room, an unlicensed person may communicate over ham radio.  If you don’t have a friend or family to help you out, no problem.  There’s one other way.  

The only member of my family, my uncle, with a license lives 1,000 miles away!  And I don’t know anyone else with a license.  So I did some research and found a way to practice amateur radio without the need for a license!  It’s called HamSphere!  HamSphere is a program you download to your computer, (Windows, Mac, Linux apps available).  When you open it, it opens up a virtual ham radio on your screen.  If you have speakers and a mic plugged in, you’re good to go!  You need to create an account first.  If you’re a licensed ham radio operator, you can use your personal callsign.  If you are not licensed, they will issue you a callsign (this call sign may not be used for real ham radio operations!)  Once your account is created, you can get on the air, visually speaking.  There are a lot of people on at all times of the day, so it’s easy to get QSOs whenever you are able to jump on.  HamSphere is a lot like Skype, only that anyone on HamSphere can listen to your conversation and hear both sides of the conversation.  The admins of HamSphere want people to treat it like you’d treat normal Ham Radio.  Give out your callsign as soon as you transmit, keep language clean, etc.  You can view their rules and regulations via the link above.  

My callsign for HamSphere is 2HS918.  

I hope you find this post informative.  If you have any feedback for me, please feel free to comment!  Also, if anyone reading this is a ham radio operator, I’d appreciate any advice you can offer and elmer me along!  Thank you so much in advance.  

Bark At The BOB And Police Dogs

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I’m now working for my dad in his vet clinic.  Working at his clinic has given me many opportunities to meet some really amazing people.  Some of these people I have known prior to my employment there, but now I actually get to see them in their work environment.  

Last month, I attended a special event at The BOB (Big Old Building) located downtown Grand Rapids.  The event was called Bark At The BOB.  It’s an annual event hosted by Mackenzie’s Dog Sanctuary.  

Mackenzies is a wonderful dog shelter / organization.  They are a “no-kill” shelter; they are also one of the largest no kill dog sanctuaries in the USA.  All dogs live out their lives there unless they are adopted.  All the dogs they take in are housed in spacious runs / kennel areas.  The dogs get spacious outdoor areas to roam and play in.  They have several pools for the dogs to play in.  It’s an amazing facility.  They do have adoption days where you can go and tour the facility and go play with the dogs.  I believe you need to setup an appointment to do that.  To learn more about them, click here.  

Last night, I went to an event called the K-9 Cabaret.  It was sponsored by the Western Michigan Human Society.  (They aren’t affiliated with the national human society which I have deep routed issues with).  The event was all about the police dogs!  I’ve seen the police dogs before either in my dad’s clinic or at other events, but it was really cool hearing some of their stories.  

K-9

Petted

It was a lot of fun getting to see them and socialize with them.  It was fun meeting some very interesting people as well.  

Please support your local police dogs.  They mean a lot to their human counterparts.  They’re not just a working dog, they are also apart of the officer’s family.  

Have you seen a police dog in action?  Have you had a chance to socialize with them?  Feel free to leave a comment and share your experiences.  

What I’ve Been Up To

Found via http://parenting.leehansen.com/Printables/School/welcome-back-sign.htm
http://parenting.leehansen.com/Printables/School/welcome-back-sign.htm

Good afternoon everyone!

You’ve all been wondering what I’ve been up to these several months where I’ve been absent from blogging.  The truth is…I haven’t had much time to sit down and write.  Sure, I could have started something and then saved as a draft and keep adding as time progressed.  However, if I were to do that, I would have a novel on my hands because I’d have so much to say.  It wouldn’t be broken down and I’d have no viewers.  Not many people want to sit down and read a blogger’s novel.  🙂

So here’s a semi-nutshell story of my life so far over the past 9 months.

As many of you know, I was living in South Bend, IN for a couple years while my cousin was in school. We had a lot of fun together…and we hope to live together again sometime in the future.

Back in April of 2011, I took a job at my dad’s vet clinic as the IT guy.  I thought it would be a routine job of walking around the clinic and fixing computers.  Boy was I wrong!  In June, 2011, I found out we were going to do a massive computer software upgrade and change over from one veterinary management software to another!  The jump was so big, I’d compare it to jumping from MS-DOS to Windows 7!  Yeah, it was crazy!  We began implementation in August, the same day I moved out of my apartment in South Bend (yeah that was super crazy, driving to GR from SB only to go back to SB a couple hours later to finish moving out so we won’t get fined).  I found myself getting more busy each day.  We had a lot of preparation.  I found myself taking over most of the jobs our offsite IT people were doing which brought me to the role of IT director as well as director of Marketing.  We had a private training session with the top 5 key employee on the new software system back in September.  At the end of October, we went live with everything.  Our clinic is now totally state-of-the-art with digital lab equipment, digital X-Ray computer system, digital whiteboard, etc.

Now that the dust has settled and the employees are getting accustomed to the system, I now have time to work on some other things / projects.

I’ve been going up to our cottage more frequently this year (and last fall, winter) to chill up there and relax.  Although with new systems at the clinic means that I need to be reachable for computer emergencies and spontaneous updates.  And that’s why I’m glad I have AT&T cell service.  It’s the only provider that gets decent coverage at my cottage.  And with 3G data on the way in the next month or so, in addition to a higher tower, service will greatly improve for us!

I’m getting back into writing again.  I normally write fan fictions, but I’m looking at writing an actual novel with original characters and plots.  I’m mapping it out right now.  If all goes well, I’m going to see if I can get it published.

I’m getting back into photography.  I bought a new digital camera, which I really love.  I’ve been taking lots of pictures with it and having a lot of fun with the hobby.  But I also love taking pictures with my iPhone and uploading them to Instagram.  You can see a portfolio of sorts on my DeviantArt photography folder if you’d like to see what my interests are.  
I’ve been uploading a lot of videos I take on YouTube.  You can head over to my channel and check it out as well.  

I’m getting back into website creation / design again.  MobileMe (now iCloud) is shutting down its web hosting services next month.  I have been using iWeb to create my websites.  Since I learned about the switch to iCloud about a year ago and that certain services were being discontinued, I stopped publishing / updating my website.  I almost gave up on website creation all together at that point as well.  Then a couple weeks ago, I stumbled upon RapidWeaver.  Now, I’ve used it before, but I found it intimidating and a little more difficult to use than iWeb.  But with iWeb (probably) on its way out of the iLife suite, and MobileMe hosting being shutdown, I figured it was time to make a transition.  I removed all remnants of my old website from MobileMe, I downloaded RapidWeaver, and then I began searching for hosting.  It didn’t take me too long to find good hosting.  Javabeanhosting is my host now for my new RapidWeaver website.  If anyone reading this is using RapidWeaver and wants a host that supports RapidWeaver and is compatible with most, if not all RapidWeaver plugins, check it out here.  Gregg, the founder, is very active on Twitter and Skype and makes himself readily available should you have questions.  Here’s his Twitter Page.  My new and improved website is now live for the masses.  This blog is directly tied into the website, even though it is hosted at Blogger.  You can check out my website here.  If you have any feedback on my website or would like to get in touch with me, feel free to use the Contact Form on my site to get in touch with me.  I will be making updates to the site as time progresses, so please keep coming back!

Just a side note, an FYI, I used to run this blog over on WordPress.com under the old URL littlepoopmachine.wordpress.com.  I have deleted that blog and migrated everything over to Blogger.  The reason behind leaving WordPress is that it would have been extremely difficult to move a blog to my website and keeping it inline with my website theme using WordPress.  Plus, I wanted to synchronize my WordPress blog with my website.  Well that’s not possible with WordPress and RapidWeaver currently.  That’s why I moved to Blogger.  RapidWeaver has an awesome 3rd party plugin called RapidBlog, which allows me to blog from my website directly in RapidWeaver, plus synchronize the content / posts directly from blogger to RapidWeaver and my website and vice versa!  Very handy tool!  It (not the RapidWeaver plugin, but Blogger) also allows me to blog from my iPad and iPhone as well, which will come in handy at times when I travel without my computer.  I know you can do mobile blogging with WordPress, but again, I wanted blog synchronization on my blogsite and well as my website.

Well I think that just about sums up what I’ve been up to these past several months.  Feel free to check out these links and feel free to leave a comment as well!  It feels good to be back in the blogging community again. 🙂