Summer 2016

Summer 2016
Summer in Tsukahara

Spring in Tsukahara

gkimbal's Spring in Tsukahara album on Photobucket

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Planning Stage 1

One of the major tasks of creating an observatory is planning. I’m using present tense since I’m still in that stage of construction. I’ll share some of my ideas and the reasoning behind those ideas as the project progresses. Why build an observatory, George? Good question! Setting up and tearing down a hundred pound telescope takes precious time away from what I’m most interested in…astrophotography. With a permanent setup (observatory), I’m able to start taking pictures in minutes rather than hours. I won’t go into detail here, but I wanted to point out that I’m not doing any kind of scientific research. I just want to take “pretty” pictures. I do have a few goals in mind. I think my ultimate goal (dream) is to have a photo published in APOD (Astronomy Photo of the Day). This is a project run by NASA and it’s targeted for “backyard” and professional astronomers. I think it would be quite an honor to be recognized by professional astronomers and it’s something worth pursuing. To reach that point will require a lot of preparation, skill, patience, time, knowledge, and luck. I didn’t mention "money" because some of the photos on APOD are taken with relatively modest equipment used by very skilled individuals.

Over the course of the past couple of years, I have been carefully trying to figure out where I would build the observatory. I needed an unobstructed 360 degree view to the horizon. Dreamer…What I have is a view that has a volcano towards the southeast, a three story house towards the west, a roof of my garage towards the northwest, and two tall trees towards the southwest. Other than that it’s perfect. Well, not exactly perfect. The volcano creates its own weather by not allowing clouds to pass. During the summer months, Tsukahara will have thunderstorms when everyone else is hot and humid. I’ll take the storms, thank you. What this means is that I can almost rule out taking photos in the summer due to cloud cover and the potential for lightning strikes. I’ll talk more about lightning strikes in another post. I’ll just mention that lightning is a bad thing for the delicate electronics associated with astrophotography. What kind of electronics are you talking about? I’m glad you asked.


Here is a diagram of what I’m trying to accomplish…an observatory that is automated. What does that mean? I like to sleep at night. I enjoy spending time with my family. I do not want to stay up all night babysitting my equipment. Instead, I want the computer to do most of the work. Believe it or not, there are inexpensive software and hardware that will detect the weather conditions and determine if it is safe to open the observatory roof. The program will close the roof if clouds roll in. Another program will wake the telescope, point it in the correct position, focus, track the object, take the required photos, change filters, take more photos, park the telescope, close the roof, and put the system to sleep. Yes, the whole thing is automated. In the morning, a stack of images is ready for processing. Does it sound too good to be true? Not really. There are hundreds of backyard observers doing just that…getting a good night’s sleep and creating images suitable for publishing. The trick is to have all of the equipment working in sync and 100 percent reliable. It’s easy to say, but incredibly difficult and frustrating to accomplish. Hey, if it were easy, then where is the challenge? The journey to create this form of art (and it is art) should be fun. I have to keep reminding myself, this is fun. It’s a lifelong hobby and it’s fun. I’m having fun, but sometimes…     George

Monday, May 19, 2014


Suzumebachi is the Japanese name for the Asian Giant Hornet. In my previous post I mentioned that I called them "Yakuza". I included a Youtube link to this fascinating creature. Suzumebachi has the distinct reputation as being the "Most lethal animal in Japan." They can fly to a distance of 60 miles at a speed of 25 mph. The hornet is responsible for 30 to 40 deaths a year in Japan. The hornets can tear apart a bee hive in a few hours. If a single hornet is detected early, the bees (hundreds) can overpower the intruder by forming a tight ball around it. The bees fan their wings and increase the inside temperature and carbon dioxide of the ball to kill the hornet.

The Japanese have learned to live with Suzumebachi. Some very "unique" people even raise them as a crop. Yes, some Japanese eat the larvae raw or fry the adults and eat them like potato chips. They also put the insects into sake and drink them. Oh, and the spit from the Suzumebachi is a favorite athlete drink. If you don't believe me...just watch the video. The nests are collectors items if they are found intact. All of this sounds a bit too much for me. I have 10 to 15 of these buggers in the backyard trees and the dogs are afraid to go outside. I'm researching ways to make them go away before they decide to build a nest. At which point, we would have to hire someone to remove them. We were told that could cost around $300. Stay tuned...      George

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Please let me explain the title to this post. “Yakuza” are members of the Japanese mafia. It’s a good idea to leave them alone. If you happen to cross paths with them, steer clear and get the heck out of there. That is how I feel about these flying yakuza. As soon as we experience a warm day, they magically appear. The loud and distinctive drone gives them away, long before they can be seen. That’s a good thing as it gives me time to retreat and run for safety. Yes, I actually run! I’m not too proud to say that these flying terrors scare the heck out of me. I hear them coming and I drop everything and run for cover. I was told that the sting from one of these beasts is extremely painful. The first close encounter will send you to the hospital where they are prepared to deal with such things. The second close encounter, can result in death.

Wearing certain colors (black, red, or orange) can entice these winged devils to sting you. My biggest fear is that I’m up high on a ladder and a yakuza decides to greet me. Thirty feet is a long way to crawl down a ladder. I need to work on the crown of the roof, but I have been putting it off for as long as I can. It’s already too risky to work up there this year. I’ll have to plan an attempt next March when it’s too cold for them.
I found this yakuza in front of our neighbor's house. It looks like was hit by a car. For some strange reason, I was sad to see that it was killed. I have the upmost respect for this creature and to see it lying there made me realize how vulnerable we all are. Out of respect, I placed the deceased yakuza into the bushes. Strange, I know, but hey, it's strange to be living out in the middle of nowhere.    George

Monday, May 12, 2014

Inch By Inch

 Golden Week is finally over and it’s time to go back to work. Most people use Golden Week as an excuse to take time off work, spend time with the family, and do some traveling / sightseeing. That means the entire country is out and about on the limited highways and byways. Long lines and traffic jams are the norm during this period. Where did you go George? Here’s my answer and the reasoning behind it.
Repairing our driveway
Erika loves to move gravel?
Firewood had to be moved, railroad ties moved, weed barrier installed, gravel moved, railroad ties moved, firewood split and stacked. Still a long way to go...

Erika and I stayed at home. One of the advantages of living in a tourist area is that travel is not required to enjoy nature. We’re immersed in the beautiful scenery and all that we need to do is to enjoy it. Our definition of “enjoy” might be a little different than most. For us, we enjoyed moving gravel, splitting logs, stacking wood, gardening, sealing and staining walls, cleaning, and weeding. Sounds like fun? Our enjoyment comes from the fact that we accomplished things as a couple. With our busy schedules, we rarely have the time to do major things around the house. Golden Week gives us a chance to do things that need to be done. Of course, we never get half of the things done that we wanted to do. That’s okay. A little bit at a time goes a long way when you add it all up.

Logs waiting to be sawn, split, and stacked
 Spring is the time for collecting and processing firewood. Our efforts in that department are well under way. The woodshed has been emptied and reorganized. Currently, we have almost a two year supply of firewood. Our goal is to have enough wood for three years. The problem is that we don’t have the storage space. I’d like to build another woodshed, but Erika doesn’t agree.

Garden #2

Garden #1

Garden #3 needs lots of work
Spring is also the time for gardening. We have three gardens. Garden #1 is used for blueberries and a nursery for various fruit trees. Garden #2 is used as a nursery for Japanese maples, berries, and some vegetables. Garden #3 is used for fruits and vegetables. After all the wood is processed, we’ll be building garden #4. That garden will be used for the vine-type plants like pumpkin. I’m pretty sure we’ll need more room for cucumbers and watermelon. Erika is even trying to grow corn. I have to remind her that the plants are going to grow very large. Inch by inch, row by row…we’ll see. Weeding is a pain, but the Hula Hoe is doing the trick. The soil around here is amazingly friable, dark and rich with nutrients. Just about anything will grow as long as it can handle the deep freeze of winter.      George