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Enough of Walter Kirn!


This is a new one for my blog.

I love Terry Gross on NPR. I’ve probably listened to around one thousand interviews she has done and they are the most interesting you can find. Anywhere.

BUT… Her interview of Water Kirn is OVER THE LINE! Who was conned into doing what?

Ok, so this is the story: Walter Kirn, a novelist (who I never heard of but is apparently influential) was fooled into thinking this guy was a wealthy freak. Kirn even said in the interview that everyone was fooled, there were no examples of someone who was not fooled. Seriously?

No, during Gerhartsreiter’s entire life of deception, just about everyone who knew him, including ex-wives, figured out he was a lying freak. Everyone except Kirn, apparently. Read it in wikipedia. Why didn’t Kirn figure this out? Is he one of the few chosen ones who had never seen a con man prior to becoming an adult? Maybe. But now he can write a book about it.

Sorry Terry, you were conned into giving this con man an interview.

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How To Build A Laser

Screen Shot 2014-03-10 at 9.28.14 PM6500 Volt Spark Gap Flashes Immediately Prior To Laser Firing

Ok, here is how to build a low cost laser using easy to obtain parts.

This is what you need and where to get it:

  1. High voltage DC power supply that you can make from a neon sign transformer as described here.
  2. Three sheets of aluminum foil – grocery store.
  3. Thin plastic vapor barrier sheet – hardware or flooring store.
  4. Aluminum right angle bar – hardware store.
  5. Copper wire – hardware or electronics store.
  6. A one watt resistor of any value between 10K and 1 meg ohm – electronic parts store.
  7. 1 inch long bolt – hardware store.
  8. Nut for above bolt – hardware store.
  9. Round capnut for above bolt – hardware store.
  10. Highlighter pen – department store.
  11. One sheet white paper – duh.

First, you need to cut the aluminum angle bar into several pieces using a hacksaw. The first two pieces should be about a foot long, the next two about an inch long. File down all sharp edges.

photo 4

Drill a hole in one of the small pieces to put the bolt through. Construct the piece so that it looks like the righthand assembly in the above pic. This will be your spark gap.

With one of the long aluminum angle bars, cut two notches in each end. Stretch the copper wire between the two notches and fold it across them.

photo 5

The wire should be very straight as shown above. The object is to make physical contact over the entire length of the aluminum bar.

photo 1 copy

When you are done you the two bars should look as above, one with the copper wire as shown. These two bars will function as the laser electrodes with the laser light being produced between them. Next, you need to construct the laser discharge capacitors. It’s pretty easy to do.

Cut out a big sheet of aluminum foil with a tab on one side as shown below. Pretty much any size will do, a good place to start is one square foot.

photo 1

Next, cut a square of the thin plastic vapor barrier sheet. This sheet will lay on top of the first square aluminum foil sheet you cut. It should be the thinnest you can buy, probably around 4 mils thick. The plastic sheet should be cut so that it is about a quarter inch larger than the aluminum foil square below it on all sides except for the tab that sticks out to the left.

photo 2

Next you cut two more aluminum foil sheets of equal size, a little less than half the width of the original sheet of foil as shown above. They will lay on top of the plastic sheet.

photo 3

Align the two foil sheets so that they are 1/8″ apart lengthwise. The spark gap is shown in the upper righthand corner. One element of the spark gap is contacting one of the top aluminum sheets, the other end is contacting the bottom sheet where the tab protrudes from under the plastic sheet.

photo 2 copy

Next, you must place the two aluminum bars along the edges of the top foil sheets as shown above. Note that the copper wire must be in contact with one of the foil sheets and the other bar is simply sitting on the edge of a sheet. There should be a gap of one millimeter. This is easy to gauge, it is about the thickness of the wire on your one watt resistor. Make sure the gap between the bars is as consistent along the length.

photo 3 copy

The spark gap is made of your two small angle pieces. Place on piece on the bottom foil tab protruding from under the plastic sheet. Place the other on top of the top aluminum sheet. The spark gap is between the cap bolt and the flat face of the other small piece of angle beam. Lastly, place the resistor across the top of the laser. It just needs to touch each of the electrodes as shown above. To add reliability, weigh the beams down on the aluminum plates using small rocks.

The power supply should be applied to each end of the spark gap pieces. The gap should be approximately 1/8″ so that the capacitors will charge to around 6,000 volts before firing. You can see the beam that is formed in the small lengthwise area between the electrodes and shines in the lengthwise direction from the electrodes. The beam is a momentary pulse that shines immediately following a spark gap firing.

Screen Shot 2014-03-10 at 9.07.41 PM

Screen Shot 2014-03-10 at 9.06.29 PM

The beam consists of invisible ultraviolet light. To see it you need to place a material that fluoresces in ultraviolet. This is easy to do. Both highlighter ink and white paper will fluoresce in ultraviolet light. Paint a square on your white paper using your highlighter pen or simply place the white paper in the beam line. The above photos show the ultraviolet beam fluorescing green highlighter ink on the left and white paper on the right.

This is a Transversely Excited Atmospheric laser, or a T.E.A. laser. All lasers need a material, or medium, that “lases.” This means that a material, which can be a solid, liquid or gas, is “excited” by some energy such as a high voltage, and has the right properties to allow stimulated emission to produce laser light. It turns out that the lasing material for this laser is nitrogen. Remember that 78% of air is made of nitrogen. It need not be pure nor at some exotic high or low pressure for this to work. We know that the lasing material is nitrogen because the ultraviolet frequency emitted is associated with characteristics of the nitrogen atom.

Here is a video of the laser in operation. Turn your speakers down, the spark flash is loud…

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The Fascinating Laser

BlueBurnerBurning Blue Laser

I’ve always found lasers fascinating, not only as devices but also philosophically. What I mean is this: Natural laser light does not exist in the universe, yet the principle that makes lasers work, called “stimulated emission,” is a fundamental physical property of the universe. Stimulated emission was first predicted by Albert Einstein in 1917, and the first working laser was built in 1960. Actually, the first device built based on stimulated emission was the “maser” first built in the mid-1950s, but it was based on microwaves and not visible light.

The physics and technology to understand and make lasers gets quite complicated. However, all you need to understand from a  philosophical perspective is that no laser light existed in the universe before 1960, yet it had always been possible. Humans revealed an obscure physical law of nature and manipulated their environment to make use of it and wow, how useful it has proven to be in science, medicine, consumer electronics, communication. Almost everyone in this country makes use of lasers many times per day without realizing it.

Laser light makes all these things possible. Nature gave the possibility of generating this light, but not the light itself. It took humans to bring that kind of light into existance.

Up next: Laser experiments!

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A new blog, kind of…

Hey all,

My new blog will look very much the same as my old one. Instead of being a “year long” project it is now an indefinite project. I changed the title from “Venture 365!”, which indicated a year long project (365 days) to “Venture 360!”, which implies looking all directions (360 degrees around). Easy change, only one number…

Anyway, off to the races!

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New Year’s Eve


Avalanche Ranch Hot Springs

Today we soaked in the new hot spring pools at Avalanche Ranch near Redstone. This is a natural hot spring in the sense that they don’t heat or treat the water in any way. They did however dig a well at a geological hot seam (Penny hot spring is a mile upstream and there are others nearby including Glenwood Springs hot spring). Apparently they got lucky and tapped a hot spring on their first try. They pipe the water to the pools and then circulate it back underground so there is no net water table loss. Interesting idea.

Later this afternoon we took a long walk up the valley. No skiing today. Tonight is the NYE party here at the Inn. I’ll be surprised if we can stay awake until midnight, we almost never do.

So this posting concludes my year long project. I ended up with 68 posts, averaging a little over one per week. This is the point where you might expect a recap of the year. Lucky for you, I hate that kind of thing, mainly because if you were actually interested in knowing what went on with me this year, you can go back and read it online as it happened! My blogging won’t end though, stay tuned for the next phase…

The one recap I do have is that this was not the year of the comet as I speculated in my first post of the year.

Last pic of 2013 is Chair Mountain from Redstone.

Happy 2014!


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Travel Day


The Redstone Inn

Today was a travel day. We departed the paradise of Steamboat to arrive in the winter wonderland of Redstone. Unfortunately, despite the beautiful facade pictured above, the hot tub was broken, something they failed to inform us about even as we asked the front desk how to get out to it. We pulled back the covers and it was filled with cold water, an unpleasant surprise when you are out in a 12 degree evening clad only in your bathing suit. One wonders why they failed to inform us of the hot tub status while we were inside. Ouch!

This “incident” makes us appreciate the excellent job the are doing at the Inn at Steamboat, where our place is.

No problem, we have a hot spring plan for tomorrow. Below is downtown Redstone:


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Rabbit Ears Mania!


Shelly Preparing For Rabbit Ears Mania!

Today we returned to backcountry skiing, this time on Rabbit Ears Pass. Our goal was to complete what is called the South Summit Loop, a moderately difficult route just over three miles. We hadn’t done this particular loop on the pass, the last new one to us. About a quarter mile in Shelly suggested we do some yo-yoing on one of the steep slopes just to the west of the loop. Our GPS track below shows the loop and where we did two runs down the slope:


The snow was “the best evah!” Perfect crystalline powder. Below is Shelly tele skiing down the open slope:


The day started out foggy and about 14 degrees F. There was a slight cold breeze. But after about 30 minutes the fog burned off and it wa blue skies. It actually got quite warm. We made two runs down and skinned back up. Here is Shelly arriving at the aspen grove near the bottom:


We continued around the loop after these runs, not as exhilarating but it gave us a great workout. And it’s always fun to glide through these pine forests and meadows:


This was our last full day at our place in Steamboat, it was great to finally get out here, we’ve been tied up with work and travel and unable to visit since last summer.

So of course it was good to end up at the Sweetwater Grill for dinner and a drink. But this is not yet the end of the year, more to come!


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Another Steamboat Day


Skate Skiing Through Multi-million Dollar Mansions

Today we did a bit of skate skiing, this time around the Steamboat Nordic Center, which doubles as a golf course in the summer. It is surrounded by huge luxury mansions, almost all of which appear unoccupied. They are fifth homes for the uber rich, there is a lot of money around here, far beyond the imagination of the average person. Note the pit dug into the snow in the foreground. This was done by elk wandering through the course.

Anyway, we skied about an hour on this course which is a bit more difficult due to the ups and downs. GPS track shows our route around the course:


There is a gap in the track where I turned off the recording while we took a break and forgot to turn it back on for about 5 minutes.

After our ski we rambled up to Strawberry Hot Springs, which I wrote about last January, we visit Strawberry most trips up here. It was a relaxing soak in the winter air.

We then went to Mambos, our favorite Steamboat Italian restaurant for pizza and a beer:


Afterward we retired to the fireplace at our condo to relax with some wine. More fun awaiting tomorrow!


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Near the Wyoming Border


Shelly Ready For First Backcountry Ski of the Season

Today we drove up to just north of Columbine, Colorado, to get some backcountry skiing. The snow was fantastic and it was 25 degrees warmer than yesterday, though still below freezing.

As you can see there is about 3 feet of snow on the ground. Columbine is about 30 miles north of Steamboat and is really just a collection of old miners cabins. We used to gather our gang and rent out the place over Thanksgiving weekend hoping for enough snow for early season skiing. Great times were had by all.

One tradition we had was to ski up and down Hahn’s Peak, pictured below:


It looks pretty high but is a minor peak for Colorado and there is an old mining road that winds to the summit.

Hahn’s was our original plan but we got a late start and so opted for the tour just north. The sun sets early though so our entire trip lasted only two hours. It was getting cold and we had the hot tub waiting:


And so I conclude this entry with an appropriately mangled poem:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But my ass is frozen and of beer I think,
And miles to go before I drink,
Miles to go before I drink…


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Boxing Day Activities


Shelly Under The  5 Degree Sun

2014 is rapidly drawing to a close and so is my year long blog project. For the last few days I will post post photos of our  year end vacation in the beautiful, snowy and cold Colorado mountains.

We’re in Steamboat for a few days. Today it was about 5 F degrees And so we went out to Catamount to do some skate skiing. We did two loops totaling about 7.5 miles. GPS track below:

We kept warm by moving fast. Here I am catching my breath:
This ski area is on country club property but open to the public. They have about 30 kilometers of excellent groomed trails that run over wide open snow covered ranch fields. The photo below shows a bit of the area. Those paths are not roads, they are the groomed trails:
We stopped for a snack and to warm up at the Nordic center after the first loop. After the second loop we were mucho tired and cold, this was our first skate ski of the season.
Back to our condo for a hot tub soak with a sunset view!

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