Allen's spec on the spot on the web

Last Updated 3/15/2017

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  A little about me...

If you care to know how old I am, my birth date begins at the 71541070st digit after the decimal point in PI (in the MMDDYYYY format).  If you put enough numbers together anything is possible.   In my younger days I live about a year on God's Island, near Ft. DeSoto,  without electricity or running water.  Having only a kerosene lantern at night really got me into reading.  The no-name storm of 1983 rearranged my living situation and I ended up on a houseboat in Hurricane Hole.  This was the same time that movie Summer Rental was filming the sailing scene about 100 yards away.  It was a great lifestyle until Billy Morning's restaurant went in and brought along caravans of people.  These days I live in a average house on an average street with a not so average cat that keep me in line and assist with whatever I'm doing - unless it's his nap time.


My free time is split between house and lawn care, kayaking, photography and tinkering around building things.  Occasionally I spend too much time trying to get my money out of Netflix, but that's usually in the evenings.  Many of these things have their own pages on my site (except for Netflix).  This is likely the most unfocused page on the site.  The goal of my web site is to offer information and examples that are not available in other places.  This will mean that you will get a taste of whatever I'm up to.  I guess that the site as a whole is my Great American Novel.

When the weather permits I spend much of my free time kayaking.  It's a wonderful activity that has allowed me to visit places that were previously only accessible on a map.  I paddle with friends, local kayaking groups and, often, solo.  Most of my paddles are in the 5-15 mile range.  My kayaking page has much more information on the subject.

I've been into photography for more than 30 years.   I don't know if I'll ever be good at it, but I enjoy attempting to capture the moment, especially with animals and nature.   Visit my photography page for some examples of my work.

My woodworking hobby is really a vehicle to get other hobbies where I want them to be.  My primary goal with woodworking is to end each day with the same number of fingers that I started with.  So far, so good.  At some point I realized that it would be possible to construct almost everything needed to enjoy the night sky, including telescope optics, with my own hands.  This isn't necessarily less expensive than purchasing commercial equipment, but it had a strange appeal for me.  I got my first taste of astronomy while in the Boy Scouts during a summer at Camp Soule. One night Earnie, an Eagle Scout, was pointing out the constellations and that inspired me to work for my Astronomy merit badge. About a year later I was presented the merit badge and, in 1979, I joined Earnie as an Eagle scout.

Outside of astronomy I'm into SCUBA (advanced certifications with NASDS and PADI and Nitrox with PADI) and thinking up ways to annoy the cats.   I'm busy with other things these days so I expect that SCUBA will be an occasional venture and no longer the main weekend event.  Besides, I've seen most of the local dive sites back when they had big fish on them.  It's still fun to visit the keys and enjoy clear water.

My day job is at the Tampa Bay Times where I've been in various positions since 1981.  My current position is in IT as the Technical Lead for Applications.  In the past I have worked in the Ad Production Dept as a Harris 2220 Operator and, later a supervisor.  In 1994 I transferred to the IT department where I focused on Solaris development (sockets and general utilities) using C. One of my larger projects was writing the system that created PostScript newspaper pages with ads on them at the rate of 110 newspaper pages a minute.  Six months before Y2K I was handed a VB6 compiler and asked to learn the language and rewrite the Times Ad Tracking System, which I pulled off with 3 weeks to spare.  After that I was part of the Server Admin team for about five years. For about seven years beginning 2006 I was the Prepress Technical Team lead which was a combination of news, ad and archive systems administration ad workflow management.  I also switched from VB to C# for any new coding.  After being tech lead I was promoted to Solutions Engineer for a couple of years where I researched and implemented new systems and  their integration and interfacing with existing systems.


The 8" 'Fritz' scope and my first attempt at making my own telescope and optics.  Although small, only 4' long, it is great for Lunar viewing and I use it during public astronomy talks.

My latest projects are mirror grinding and telescope making at the Mirror Lab of the St. Petersburg Astronomy Club on Saturdays.  There is a great satisfaction in looking at the cosmos through a telescope that you made with your own hands.  As I write this, the 8" mirror and Fritz scope are finished (photo left), as is the 12.5" Griffin ScopeThe 18" Maxx telescope was finally finished and had first light on 2/6/2010, just four days before the star party. 

I'm currently working on a light weight 1" thick mirror that will someday become a light weight 16" f4.7 scope.  As of March 2017 I just started polishing the mirror.  About 40 years ago this mirror was the tool for a 3" thick 16" mirror.  It took a while to make the convex curve concave.

While working on the 12.5" I was told about an interesting home-made B-Box project.  A B-Box is a interface between telescope encoders and a laptop computer.  The end result is similar to digital setting circles.  The B-Box parts cost about $20, but the interesting thing was the microprocessor that controlled it - a PIC 16F84.  I started this not knowing diddly about electronics but everything worked on the first try.  Yeeeeha!  In fairness, it was a really easy, well laid-out circuit board with great instructions (Thanks David!).  

In the last few years I have become a PIC junkie with my favorite being the 16F88 at the moment.  I even know what a PNP transistor does now (hurts when you step on it barefoot).  I finished a Bluetooth remote NGC display, a three axis quadrature encoder reader using gray code and TBL230 based dark sky meter using the CCS compiler.  I recently designed a dew heater controller using a PIC 16F88 and we have made a dozen of them at the Mirror lab. 

The 18" blank before any grinding in early 2004.  The mirror is 1/7th wave and the Maxx telescope is finished.

I've also been known to spend some time Geocaching.  Geocaching is the 'sport' of hunting down hidden boxes of Dollar Store junk with an expensive GPS and a few billion dollars worth of military satellites.  The best part of this is that I've visited many great parks that I never knew existed.  Some of the more memorable trips were wandering alone into a cypress swamp at dusk and the combo of Infochallenge South and Going for Distance in Balm Boyette Preserve, which turned into a 18 mile no-trail bike ride over two days.  My biggest beef with using a mapping GPS in some if these areas is that there's no decent GPS maps for them, so I became an amateur cartographer and started making my own GPS maps that download into a Garmin GPS.  You really get to know an area well when you are collecting data to map it and then draw it with a resolution of a few feet.

Allow me to recommend some of the books that I have enjoyed lately: Shadow Divers was a fantastic, true(ish) tale about some New Jersey technical divers (modern term) discovering a German U-Boat that shouldn't have been there.  I believe that it will be a movie in the next year or two.   The Elegant Universe, The Whole Shebang: A State-of-the-Universe(s) Report, and Five ages of the Universe.   I read The Fabric Of The Cosmos, by Brian Greene (he also wrote The Elegant Universe) twice and then bought it on CD to absorb any parts that I still missed.  This book is the first one that I have read explains WHY the universe inflated, among other things - cool stuff!  For a little lighter reading check out Bill Bryson's exceptional work, A Short History of Nearly Everything - The Yellowstone section will knock your socks off.  I went through a caving phase with the Deep Zone, Beyond the Deep and Blind Descent. If you are not familiar with a Rappel Rack you'll want to look it up after reading these. At the moment I'm reading The Coming Plague which is a heartwarming story about how much microbes enjoy our company.

Over the past years I have had the pleasure to visit some remarkable locations.  My favorites were:  The reefs of Cozumel, Museums of Washington DC, Arches National Park in Utah, Acadia National Park in Maine, Grand Canyon National Park, a too short visit to Yosemite National Park and a couple of weeks on a houseboat in the Florida Keys SCUBA diving until I looked like a mutant prune, among others.  Recently I had the pleasure of diving with Dive Duck Key and really enjoyed the comfortable boat and fine reefs.

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