Let’s Talk About Drones: DJI Mini 3 Pro

This is pretty much what I look like when I try to make myself sit down and figure out how to use my video editors.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I’ve been messing around with drones for many years now. I don’t talk about them a lot here because there’s not much point to it when my internet speeds are so slow it takes an hour or more to upload a 1 minute video. Well, that and the fact that I’ve been too lazy to actually figure out how to use my video editing software. But that may change in the future. In any case I wanted to talk about this new one.

I’ve been flying drones all along, though. Sort of. They’ve ranged in size and capabilities from massive camera drones with high res cameras to tiny little indoor toys that aren’t good for much more than annoying the cat (and MrsGF). And drones have gotten very interesting in the last year or two as the manufacturers have been shrinking them in size while at the same time making the cameras and software much, much better.

Which brings me to the DJI Mini Pro 3 which I just got a few weeks ago. It’s fairly new and it is, well, wow. It’s replacing a DJI Mavic Mini (which I absolutely hated for reasons I won’t get into. I wished I’d never bought the thing. Despite rave reviews about the M2 it was utterly horrible in almost every way.)

Before I talk about the Pro 3, let me talk about drones in general for a moment if you’ll put up with stuff you may already know.

As soon as drones hit the market, it seems every jackass, jerk, and (insert unflattering term of your choice here) in the world bought one and started using them in ways specifically calculated to endanger people, aircraft and just generally piss people off. This is why the rest of us can’t have nice things.

The result of all of this was, of course, a whole host of rules and regulations coming down from the FAA and other government agencies, and even requiring a type of pilot’s license in order to operate some types of drones. I’m not going to go into the specifics about all of the rules and regulations. You can find all that out for yourselves in about ten seconds with a simple Google search. But what I do want to talk about is the 250 gram rule.

The FAA, in its infinite wisdom, came up with the 250 gram rule which basically says that any drone weighing 250 grams or more has to be registered with the FAA and must be prominently labeled with a registration number. So the drone makers have been trying to squeeze more and more sophisticated stuff into drones in the under 250g category figuring that people aren’t going to want to go through the hassle of registering the drones.

Sidenote: I should point out that registering a drone with the FAA is not difficult. You go the FAA website, plug in some information, pay the nice people five bucks, and you get a registration number you have to stick on the drone. It’s easy, fairly fast, and I’ve done it myself.

This has resulted in some absolutely amazing equipment turning up in the last few years in this category, with the Mini Pro 3 being at the top of that list.

This thing is really, really nice. Almost too good to be true, really. Every time I fly it I find it hard to believe they’ve crammed so much capability into a drone this small. And when I say small, I mean small.

The whole drone, when folded up, fits in the palm of my hand. And the whole package, including batteries and controller, can easily fit into a small backpack.

I’m not going to get into the actual operation of the drone. Like most modern drones in this price range it’s simple to fly. You can find dozens of videos on YouTube demonstrating it in actual use so there’s no point in me duplicating that information here. It even has some autonomous operation functionality. It can, for example, automatically follow a moving target around when that target is selected with the controller. I’ve highlighted myself, and then walked all around the backyard and around the house and the drone maintains a specific distance and height, following me wherever I go, keeping me centered in the field of view of the camera.

It has some really useful features as well, like object avoidance. Take a look at this thing in the photo on the right. Those “bug eyes” above the camera and the black spots on the bottom of the drone are sensors for the object avoidance system. It’s damn near impossible to run this thing into a tree or pole or anything else for that matter. Once it gets within a couple of meters of an object it might possibly hit alarms go off on the controller along with a visual indication of where a potential obstacle might be located. And it will simply refuse to get any closer to an object when it gets too close. I’ve tried. I had it hovering about 5 feet off the ground and tried to walk into it. It backed itself up away from me when I got within a couple of feet of it. I tried flying it into a tree (slowly, ready to stop if it didn’t work). It got within about 3 feet of the tree and simply stopped with the warning signals going off.

It has excellent battery life too. On a full charge I can fly it easily for 20 minutes before it starts yelling at me that the battery is getting low. There is an extended range battery that’ll give me up to 40 minutes of flight time, but that battery will nudge the weight of the drone over 250g.

But since I’m a photographer my real interest in these things is as flying cameras, and the camera on the 3 is excellent. Let’s look at a video first, if I can get this thing to put in a Youtube link

That’s one of the first videos I shot with the 3 when I first got it and I think the quality is pretty darned good. Especially considering it was windy with gusts up to about 20mph and the poor little drone was bouncing up and down all over the place. Despite that the video is surprisingly smooth and steady.

Still images taken with the camera are just as impressive.

You should be able to click on a photo to see a larger version. That’s Hilbert from about 350 feet up.

Overall I really like the Mini 3 Pro and you’ll probably be seeing images and maybe short videos from it in the future.

Does it have any issues? Sure it does. Nothing is perfect.

It feels cheap and flimsy, to be honest. But that’s probably because they’ve had to shave off weight wherever they could to keep it under 250g. So the plastics are as thin as they can possibly make them. I haven’t actually measured temperatures, but the drone and batteries seem to get very warm to the touch. The drone will get hot to the touch just sitting there while turned on. I’m not sure if that’s going to be an issue in the future or not yet.

Getting the battery out of the drone is often difficult and I’m not sure why. It’s like it is getting wedged into the compartment somehow. I think that what’s happening is that as the drone and battery heat up during use the plastic expands making it more difficult to get the thing out.

Getting at some of the options on the controller is unnecessarily awkward. To get at one set of options, for example, I have to swipe down twice on the screen. Swiping down the first time seems to do absolutely nothing, but if you look close a bar will appear on the top of the screen. Put your finger on that bar and swipe down again opens the options screen. Why do I have to do it twice? No idea.

DJI will sell you the “Fly More” kit which gives you a couple of extra batteries, a nifty charger to plug the batteries into, and some extra props. Oh, an a case for everything. Don’t bother. It isn’t worth it. The drop in battery charger and batteries and props can be bought individually. The case is utterly worthless. It’s a generic soft sided camera case you could pick up for $5 at a thrift shop. Personally I’d spend the extra money for the extended range batteries anyway, even though they push the drone over the 250g limit. And as for a case, get something like this:

They’re not that expensive, especially when you consider you’re lugging around a drone system that’s more than $1,000. The one up there in the photo is about $50 and is waterproof (it will actually float), hard sided to protect the equipment, and has room for everything including batteries, props, etc. I can either strap it to the luggage rack on the bicycle or carry it with a shoulder strap.

The most frustrating thing has been trying to find time to take it out and actually fly it, but now that fall is here and gardening related stuff isn’t occupying so much of my time I’m hoping I’ll have a chance to get out with it more.

Another issue I’m going to have to deal with is the amount of data this thing generates. One day’s worth of messing around with the drone resulted in about 50 gigabytes of video and still photos. Sheesh… Most of that will eventually just get erased but I’m going to need extra storage space for the Macbook if I’m going to be editing videos with it. I have a 4TB external SSD on order for the Macbook so I’ll have some space to play with. I could use my gaming system down in the basement. That has more than enough storage space but that’s a windows box and it’s also used to drive the laser engrave, 3D printer, my amateur radio equipment and for stuff like this I’m more comfortable using the Mac. We’ll see.

New Computer, Movies, Fall, and Stuff

That’s the new one on the right. Smaller than the old one was but unlike the old one it actually works.

I hate moving to a new computer and try to avoid it as long as I possibly can, which is why my MacBook Pro up there on the left has been still limping along despite it being about 10 – 12 years old and having a wonky screen that sometimes made me open and close the lid a dozen times before it was readable. That Macbook gets used a lot. It lives in the kitchen where it’s used for emails, reading the news, looking up recipes, sorting photos and writing this blog. That it’s lasted this long is a bit of a miracle. My attempt to replace it with the iPad were very awkward. I could have done it but the iPad was just too clumsy, the software uncooperative with the way I liked to do things, and too limited in its capabilities. The iPad is great for must messing around, playing games, reading and things like that, but despite Apple’s efforts, it just isn’t a full blown computer. It’s basically an oversized iPhone without the phone.

I originally was not going to get another Macbook Pro. Don’t get me wrong, I love the things. I love the whole Apple “ecosystem”, as they call it. But Macbooks are expensive, and I wasn’t willing to spend $1,500 or more for one. But…

I’ve had really good luck with refurbished computers. I’ve bought several over the years for various reasons. You can often pick up a refurbed computer that’s only a few years old for a fraction of the original retail cost. And that’s what I did here, I picked up a three or four year old refurbished Macbook Pro for a third of the cost of a new one. And it’s pretty darned nice. It arrived in a plain cardboard box with nothing but the power supply/charger, which was fine too. And upon opening it, well, the thing looks like it is brand new except for a very small dent in the lid which doesn’t seem to hurt anything.

Biggest problem with adopting a new computer is moving all my stuff from the old computer to the new one. But Apple makes that easy too. Just connect the two laptops together with a USB cable, start up a migration assistant app, and a little over an hour later everything on the old computer was on the new one. I had to verify a few things like passwords and log in information, but that was about it. When it was all done the new computer looked and worked pretty much exactly like the old computer did, with a few minor differences because some of the apps I used were now newer versions.

There are two things I don’t like about the new one. The keyboard is without a doubt the worst laptop keyboard I’ve ever had to use. I’ve typed on everything from 1960s era IBM keypunch machines (seriously, I’ve had crank out those ancient punch cards to program computers once upon a time) to the original (and excellent) IBM PC keyboards, to a variety of cheap slush boxes, to the excellent mechanical keyboards made today, and everything else imaginable. And I’ve never seen a keyboard that was this bad before.

The other thing I don’t like is that this thing only has USB-C ports. One of the things I’ve always found irritating about Apple is that they often are obsessed with form over function. They get what they think is a good idea into their heads over there and run with it, and the hell with whatever anyone else thinks, wants and even needs. Now USB-C is, probably, a good thing. But millions of us out here are still using devices that require the original USB plugs. And a lot of us are photographers who need to transfer photos to computers with SD cards. And Apple has given me neither of those. Grr… So I’m going to have get a stupid adaptor to hook things up or read SD cards from my camera.

Movies: Warning, Thor Spoilers

I want to talk about movies for a while. I’m not a huge fan of the genre, to be honest. I hate going to theaters. My idea of a good time is not being sandwiched in between a bunch of people who haven’t bathed in three weeks, who are constantly checking their cell phones, munching on snacks they smuggled in, and talking all through the quiet parts of the dialog.

I also think that a lot of the most hyped movies out there are, frankly, crap. I hated the Lord of the Rings, but to be honest I thought the novels were even worse. Avatar? I couldn’t make it more than half an hour into that thing before I bailed out. And and my feelings include a lot of Marvel movies.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was just plain nasty. The only bright spot in the entire movie was Awkwafina, who plays Simu Liu’s sidekick. The whole movie was just one cliche after another. But perhaps I’m jaded because I watch a lot of Chinese television where they’ve been making much, much better martial arts style movies and television series for decades. I thought the editing was badly done. It looks like large bits of the movie were left on the cutting room floor.

The biggest problem is trying to take a complex story like this one and squeeze everything into a two hour block of time. Often story elements that are necessary to help the movie and the characters make sense are left out, and that’s what’s happened here. The characters are never given enough time to really develop well enough that I wanted to care about them. And I don’t like Simu Liu, to be honest. I’ve seen him in other things, including the Canadian series Kim’s Convenience where he was, frankly, more of a distraction and even an annoyance than a necessary part of the show. In the Ten Rings he just never seems, oh, comfortable in the role? It’s like he’s trying way, way too hard to adapt to a role he just isn’t suited for.

Basically if you want to see how a movie like this should be done, go find the Wu Assassins on Netflix.

I did, however, like the Eternals. I thought that was well done, despite the bad reviews it got.

But then we come to Thor: Love and Thunder. And oh dear lord… There is a phrase in the entertainment industry, jumping the shark, which refers to the writers and producers having totally run out of ideas for a series and introducing ever increasingly bizarre elements to the story to try to keep viewers interested. What they’ve done to Thor is even worse than jumping the shark. They brought in the kids. Children. They’ve Disneyfied the thing.

I knew the Thor series was eventually going to end up being wrecked, the whole story line I mean. Once you take a story arc that is about love and loss, death, mass murder and literally genocide, and try to make a comedy out of it, you are heading down a dark, dark path from which there is no return. And ultimately you end up with TLT. They’ve – they’ve Disneyfied it, heaven help us. They’ve completely run out of ideas and now are trying to turn it into a kiddie show.

They took the tragic story of Jane Foster and turned it into a five minute soap opera. They shoveled a bunch of kids into the story for “reasons”. And end up with Thor’s new partner becoming, drum roll please, an eight or nine year old girl. Yes, apparently Thor’s new partner in running around the universe slaying monsters, killing off bad guys, enduring horrible tortures, watching mass murder and genocide, is going to be a tiny little girl wielding a magic weapon? Seriously?

Some parts of the movie aren’t bad. The special effects are decent, there’s some snappy dialog. This could have been a fairly decent movie. But a lot of the jokes fall flat to the floor and lay there twitching waiting for someone to put them out of their misery. The only good part about the movie was the screaming goats. Maybe Marvel could spin off the screaming goats into their own series of movies?

Fall

It’s definitely fall up here in Wisconsin. Temperatures last night were down in the 30s. The days are much shorter. Most of the birds have fled for warmer climates. We cleaned all the vegetable gardens out the other day. Good thing, too, because MrsGF and I are sick of dealing with the stuff. Our pantry has enough canned beets and various types of tomato sauces and pickles to last us probably two years. The freezer is full to overflowing with more tomatoes, peppers, wax beans, green beans and beets.

There are still some wild flowering plants out there when I bundle up and head out on the bike, but not many. It’s still pretty green out there but I can see that this isn’t going to last long. The grasses and other plants in the more wild areas around here are starting to dry up and turn brown, and a lot of trees are starting to turn color.

We had to turn the heat on in the house days ago already as daytime temperatures struggled to hit 50 degrees even with the sun out.

I like autumn, even though it means I have to bundle up to get out on the bike and I usually get home with cold feet and even colder hands. Getting out in the crisp, autumn air is worth it. After the heat and humidity of the summer it feels refreshing, cleaner, out there.

Of course winter will be here before long, but that’s all part of the cycle of life.

Stuff

With the number of outdoor chores and projects dwindling it means it’s just about time to open up the wood shop again. I haven’t even been in there except to grab a tool since spring. I still need to finish taking down the old suspended ceiling, replacing the old fluorescent ceiling lights with LED lights and doing a general cleanup before getting started with wood projects again.

I need to get my vertical antenna down and checked over before the snow flies. It got smacked by a tree limb in the spring and I think there’s a loose connection up there somewhere. I’ve been using the dipole antenna all summer, but I would like to get that vertical working properly again as well because the dipole is probably going to have to be replaced or at least taken down and have some repairs done as well in the near future.

And speaking of doing stuff, I need to shut this down for this time and actually go get some work done!

New Project, weather, and the ever popular Stuff

Weather here the other day was about as good as it gets. It was so nice out that I ended up staying out on the bike for a lot longer than I intended just because it was so beautiful out there.

Temperature was about 70, almost no wind, brilliant sunshine. Ended up putting about 20+ miles on riding around in the countryside just looking at nature, watching birds and animals. I wasn’t the only one out there. I’m not a fast biker because I’m having too much fun looking at stuff and finding little “hidden treasures” here and there as I ride along. Like, well, this…

I was rolling down one of the trails and these brilliant purple flower were so bright I could see them from half a mile away, standing out against the dull green grass that’s starting to die back.

And turtles. Seeing turtles around here used to be pretty rare. In all the hours I used to spend in the woods and along the rivers and creeks when I was a kid and teenager, I never, ever saw a turtle. Or a snake for that matter. But in the last few years there seems to have been an upsurge in the number of reptiles and amphibians around here. We have frogs all over our backyard, there are massive bull frogs in the neighbor’s pond, tree frogs in our bushes, toads in the undergrowth. I’d never seen a tree frog in my life until just a few years ago. Now we got these guys hanging around here. This little guy was sitting up on the window shutter outside the house one day and scared the heck out of me.

He’s a tiny, tiny little thing, hardly an inch long.

I’m thrilled to see these little guys hanging around here because if these little fellows, and the toads and turtles etc. are thriving it means the environment around here is fairly healthy.

One thing this year was very curious. No mosquitos. None. Well, okay I did get bit once, but that was it. Once. All summer. Usually by mid summer around here you don’t want to go outside at all in the evening or you’ll be swarmed by the little buggers. This year, nothing. Even in the early evening when mosquitoes are at their worst, nothing. I have no idea why. All of the frogs and toads out there might contribute to that but it was still remarkable.

And the new project. Well, sort of new. it is both new and very, very old, this project. One of the things I salvaged from the farm right before we sold it was my father’s old workbench. Which had been his father’s workbench before he took over the farm.

I’m not entirely sure how old this thing is, but it is very old. I know for a fact that it is well over 100 years old because my father remembered this thing from when he was a kid.

Look at the dovetail joint there on that corner and that scalloped edge there. Someone did a lot of work on this thing.
That square thing you see on the front there? That’s a wooden bolt. Seriously.

This thing wasn’t just a slab of wood on legs, either. This thing was a rather elaborate and very well made workbench for a woodworker or carpenter, and hand a lot of fancy features. And it was obviously made by someone who knew what they were doing with dovetail joints, scrollwork, those wooden screw vises and other goodies. And it is massive and very, very heavy. The top is one solid, 3 inch thick piece of hardwood. My son and I got it out of the garage where I’d been storing it yesterday and set it up on sawhorses so I could start working on it, we we figure it has to weight at least 200+ pounds.

Was this thing handmade by someone or was it a commercial product? That I don’t know and I don’t really care. It’s one of the few artifacts from the farm that I feel nostalgic about and I’m hoping I can clean it of about a century of grease, oil, grime, old nails, etc. and restore it to a usable condition and turn it into the main workbench in my woodshop.

Stuff Time

Computers: I do most of my writing on a 12 year old Macbook Pro that lives in the kitchen. I’ve mentioned this before, I believe. It’s been having some nasty problems with the video display for a long time now, but wiggling the lid back and forth or closing it and opening it a few times generally brings things back. But it’s been getting worse and worse. I was going to start using an iPad for all this stuff, but, yeah, that hasn’t worked so well. The iPad is nice, don’t get me wrong. I use it all the time, but not for this kind of thing. Trying to edit photos, write, cut and paste, using the iPad is, to me at least, ridiculously awkward.

So I went looking around for Macbook computers and guess what? If you’re willing to take a chance on older, refurbished equipment, well, damn these things get cheap. Relatively speaking. I picked up a refurbed Macbook Pro with decent specifications that’s about 3 years old for a bit over $500. So we’ll see how that goes when it gets here.

Drones: The DJI Mini 3 Pro drone I got a few weeks ago is bloody amazing. I’m going to take a closer look at it here in the near future. I only have a few hours flight time on it so far but the camera, the flying characteristics, the software, everything about it is, to me at least, amazing. But more about that later, maybe.

Gardening: We’re going to be moving two of the raised beds to a new location with better sunlight. Now that the big ash tree is gone it opens up much more space to full sunlight. We haven’t settled on a new location yet but that’ll be coming up pretty soon. We’re thinking of putting a small garden shed in the spot where the two raised beds are now. More about that as things progress.

We’re still harvesting tomatoes and peppers. Both seem to actually like the somewhat cooler weather we’ve been having. We stopped watering the darned things because, well, we were hoping they’d die, really, because we already have omre produce canned and in the freezer than we know what to do with.

I’m thinking about talking about so-called “solar generators”, unless Chris over at Off Grid Ham beets me to it. I’ve been getting interested in these things recently as an alternative to gas powered backup generators. But there are a lot of problems with these things, starting with the fact that they are most definitely not “solar generators”. And anyone who calls them that should be sued, frankly. What they are is a battery in a box. Period. That’s it. Oh, there are some electronics added to regulate power, put out 120V and that kind of thing. But they are neither “solar”, nor are they “generators”. The other problem with these things is the advertising, which often is blatantly misleading and even out right lies.

But while I’m interested in these things, the question is, am I interested enough to overcome my innate laziness to do the research?

That’s about it for now.

Fall Catch Up

Technically it is still summer, but it’s the middle of September and it is sure starting to look and feel like autumn out there. I have to wear a jacket when I go out on the bike in the morning. Early morning temperatures are generally down in the mid-50s. Not bad, really, but chilly enough that it makes things a bit shivery without a bit of extra clothing. But then, this being Wisconsin, the next day we have to turn on the air conditioning by mid afternoon. When I was still working at the school district there were a lot of days when we had to run the aircon during the day and then fire up the boilers at night.

The growing season is over for some things here. We took out the butternut squash plants two days ago. Well, what was left of them. They’d been dying back for a couple of weeks now as they came to the natural end of their lives. But they left behind a massive amount of squash.

This is the second year we’ve had squash in the corner garden by the air conditioner, and the second year we’ve had a bumper crop. This area is amazingly prolific no matter what we plant in there, as long as we water it regularly. The corner faces south-west, so it gets direct sun almost every day. Plus the white siding of the house helps to concentrate the light and keep the temperature in that corner more moderated. We’ve also dumped a heck of a lot of compost in there as well over the years. We put parsley along the edge, a line of wax beans just inside there, and squash in the middle, and everything grew like crazy. We have enough beans to last us more than a year, and the squash…

A whole wheelbarrow full of the things. These will keep just fine for a while, at least until we have time to process them and get them into the freezer.

We pulled out the cucumber plants as well. We only put in two this year, but those were ridiculously prolific as well and we just didn’t know what to do with the cukes any more. We have enough pickles of various types on the shelves in the basement to last us probably two years.

We still have some beets and carrots left in the ground that need to get harvested and processed. Carrots will get blanched and frozen. The beets that ar eleft are really too small to do much with and will probably get eaten right away. Most of those are already either canned or in the freezer.

Some things are still going strong, though. My jalapeno plants were disappointing all summer long. i didn’t get more than a dozen fruits off them during the summer. But now the dopey things have decided to start to go crazy and they’re covered with flowers. Why? I have no idea.

We still have lots of flowers in bloom around here and some of them are pretty spectacular.

Let’s see, what else…

If you’ve been following this blog you know the big ash tree in the backyard came down earlier this summer. That area is finally cleaned out. I found a local fellow in Forest Junction who built his own sawmill and could use the massive log that was left. I didn’t get paid anything for it. Didn’t want to. I just wanted to see that log get used for something useful rather than end up rotting in an old gravel pit which is where it would have ended up. Depending on the quality of the wood once he starts sawing it, it could end up as molding and trim for local houses being built just a few blocks from here. Wouldn’t that be neat?

MrsGF and I still haven’t decided what to do with the area that the removal of the tree opened up. It was way too shady back there to grow much of anything. Now that the area is opened up to full sun we have a lot of options. We kept the stump intact and we’re thinking of doing something interesting with that. Ideas range from using it as the base for a garden bench to using it as a pedestal for a piece of artwork.

We should have new garage doors going in fairly soon. The existing doors, hardware and openers are over 30 years old and definitely showing their age. But as is all too common these days, supply chain issues are a bottleneck. The installer said we’re looking at a 2 to 6 week wait for all of the parts to come in.

That doesn’t really bother us, though. MrsGF and I are from a generation where we often had to wait for things. We didn’t grow up in this instant gratification society that seems to have developed over the years. To us the fact that you can order something online and have it arrive at your door within 48 hours or even less still seems a bit startling.

Speaking of businesses, I’ve had three different job offers in the last week alone, ranging from some recruiter who wanted me to do COBOL programming (I haven’t used COBOL since, oh, 1985 I think and I don’t remember how to do even the basics) to a local fellow who is a professional carpet cleaner who would have paid me embarrassingly large amounts of money for even a few hours of work per week, set my own schedule, work however long I wanted, etc. That’s how desperate people are for workers around here. Last night we went to a restaurant in the Fox Valley for our son’s birthday and they’re so short handed they don’t have wait staff at all any more. They’re somehow keeping open by just manning the kitchen and customers ordering at a counter, getting their own drinks, etc. We certainly didn’t have to worry about catching covid. We were the only people in the place.

Sidenote: One of Wisconsin’s more well known village idiots (cough, sorry, typo there) politicians came up with the perfect plan to solve the labor shortage. He wants to kill Social security dead and force all those lazy old people to go back to work. Of course now that he’s facing an election he has a good chance of losing he denies he said any such thing, but he did. And some of the things he’s said recently indicate he still thinks that way.

Enough of that, though. What else… Oh, I want to talk about drones in the near future. I got a new one which is pretty darned nice. I want to talk about bicycling in general. A lot of communities claim that they are “bike friendly” and they claim they would dearly love to shift people out of cars and onto bicycles. But they sure as hell don’t make it easy for people to do that. Now that the growing season is winding down I should have some time to start fiddling around in the wood shop again. I haven’t even been in there in the last few months. That all got shut down because of how busy we get during the spring and summer. I was in the process of taking down the ceiling in there to do some major remodeling and that’s been on hold way too long.

And that’s about it for now.

Zuck’s Idea of a “metaverse”. I don’t get it.

Okay, so here’s Zuckerberg’s idea of what a virtual reality should look like.

And here down below is what the granddaddy of virtual worlds, Second Life looks like. This is an actual location in SL called Morning Crescent Moon with the owner, Angharad, standing there in the foreground.

Which one would you rather spend time in?

In addition to looking ridiculously cartoonish appearance of, well, everything, apparently the avatars don’t have feet in Zuck’s world? Or legs?

I don’t get it. Why in heaven’s name would someone want to hang around in what looks like a rejected scene from the Jetsons?

Lost and Found Photos

Sometimes I lose photos. I try to keep all of my photos from my various cameras and other devices in folders that are collected into one master folder that is then backed up to multiple devices (and to the ‘cloud’). But sometimes I’ll move photos into a temporary directory for sorting or cropping or something and forget about them, especially if I’ve named the directory something odd. That’s where I found these, in a folder on my old Macbook Pro labeled something like “110-24”. What the hell was I thinking? I have no idea. And I should add that these were not taken by me, they were taken by my youngest son when he spent a few weeks out west doing geology stuff. Anyway, I’m very glad I found ’em. So without further ado, here we go… Oh, you should be able to click on an image to see a larger version of the photo. Maybe. I hope. If WordPress cooperates…

And that’s about it for now.

Stuff coming up – I got a new drone, a DJI Mavic Mini 3 Pro that I want to talk about. MrsGF refinished our dining room table and it turned out amazing so I want to talk about refinishing furniture. And gardening stuff… Sheesh, we cut way back on the amount of veggies we planted this year. Didn’t matter. We put in 3 tomato plants instead of the 6 we had last year, and we actually have ended up with more tomatoes than ever. We only put in 2 cucumber plants, and we’re up to our eyeballs in cukes. The butternut squash plants are starting to die back now and the squash are freakin’ huge. The peppers went a bit bonkers too. Only thing that didn’t do very well were the jalapeno peppers. I’m the only one who eats ’em so we only put two plants in pots on the front porch and that gives us more than enough to keep me happy. But this year for whatever year they didn’t do very well. The plants look healthy but they haven’t been producing much fruit. I have the laser engraver fired up again doing some stuff for a brew pub…

On the amateur radio front I’ve been finding FT8 to be more annoying than anything else so I’m moving to different communications modes like PSK31 and JS8Call. I may do a semi-rant about that in the future even though it will probably bore you all.

And, of course, what the heck are we going to do with the space that was opened up when we had the old ash tree taken down?

Catching Up, Internet, Drones, and More Photos From The Roadside

It is crazy busy around here this time of year. Between processing pickles, tomatoes, carrots, beets, beans and other produce from the garden, keeping up with the grass and landscaping, plus family stuff and everything else going on, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done it seems. The woodshop has been shut down since mid-spring. I haven’t even been in the woodshop except to grab a tool or some screws or something. The 3D printer and engraver have been gathering dust. I did get my dipole antenna fixed, so that’s something. MrsGF is tackling the massive job of refinishing our big old dining room table. Stuff just keeps piling up.

Then we had internet problems. Sheesh… We were suffering multiple outages a day, often as many as a dozen or more, lasting from a minute or so up to 10 or 15 minutes. Rebooting the modem and WiFi didn’t do any good. In fact just waiting without rebooting and the service would come back by itself. We finally got Spectrum, our ISP, out here.

I know that it is something of a fad to complain about customer service these days but Spectrum was great. I got a technician in an online chat within a few minutes and they immediately set up an appointment to get a service person out here. It took a couple of days to get someone out here because they’re short on staff just like everybody else out there. But he showed up exactly on time. He ended up replacing just about everything. New cables, new box on the side of the house, new cables coming into the house, new cable modem, etc. We moved the access point from a spider filled corner of the basement to the office where it’s much easier to get at. Took him only an hour or so to do all of that and we’ve had no problems at all since then. Good job, Spectrum.

Drones: If you’re a long time follower of this nonsense you may remember that I used to fly drones, ranging from those goofy little toys that are really only useful for flying around a room and annoying people, up to a massive camera drone. But then the FAA had a hissy fit and decided that not only did you need to register bigger drones you needed a pilot’s license to fly ’em, I said the hell with that. I got rid of the big drone, flew the tiny ones until they broke and gave up on them because the tiny drones that didn’t need to be licensed and registered were all pretty much junk.

Not any more, though. I’ve been keeping an eye on the drone market and in the last couple of years there have been some very, very good camera drones in the 250 gram size that have been looking very, very good. Drones in that weight class avoid a lot of the registration and licensing requirements in many jurisdictions. And if something does go wrong and it crashes, it’s so small and light weight that it isn’t going to do serious damage to anything. Unlike the big camera drone I used to fly that weighed pounds and was about 2 feet across.

So I got one, a DJI Mavic Mini Pro 3 and I’ve had it out for a few brief flights and, well, damn the thing is good. Technology has made some astonishing advances in the years since I last fiddled around with drones. The flight technology, the duration of flights, their capabilities and intelligence have all improved enormously. And the camera is absolutely amazing. Here’s an example

This one is of the old stone bridge that’s on my regular bike route, taken with the drone hovering about 2 meters above the river. That photo is about as good as it gets, really.

This one is my neighborhood, looking straight down from about a hundred or so feet in the air.

Anyway, more drone stuff will be coming up in the future. Let me wrap this up with some photos from the roadside. I’m out biking almost every day and I take a lot of photos. Here are a few.

And now it’s time for me to get back to work.

E-scooters. Saving Cities or an Abomination? Oh no, GF is off on a rant again.

I’m bored and waiting for the cable guy to come and fix my internet, so I’m going to complain talk about e-scooters for a while.

Oh, and I should warn you right up front that there will be sarcasm.

So let’s look at the abomination that is the e-scooter. Yes, I said abomination because that is what a of a lot of people think of them in the cities that they have infested. At least the ones who have had to jump for their lives off a sidewalk to avoid being run down by one of the things.

Some people are looking at the problem of “the last mile”. This refers to one of the problems with public transportation. Let me explain.

In the dreams of the more progressive city planners out there, personal transportation should work something like this: First you’ll take a high speed train (which doesn’t actually exist) to the city to a central depot (which doesn’t exist) where you will get on a subway or a light rail system (which doesn’t exist in the vast majority of cities in the US) to another depot somewhere in the city (which doesn’t exist) where you will get on a pleasant, clean bus (which doesn’t exist) that totally isn’t covered with the vomit, blood, feces, urine and body parts of the people who were on it the night before, that will take you to a bus stop (which doesn’t exist) near your final destination which is within easy walking distance (it isn’t).

Sidenote: The more practical of you out there will have several rather serious objections to these dreams of how personal transportation should work, even if you ignore the fact that most, if not all, of the infrastructure needed for all of this doesn’t actually exist, its cost to build would be mind boggling, that it would take decades to build, and that there would be thousands of lawsuits trying to stop it before anyone even turned over the first shovel full of dirt. The problem is, well, it doesn’t seem that anyone has actually bothered to take into consideration the reason why people want to go to town. All these city planners seem to think that I’m going to get on a train, go to, oh, Green Bay, take a bus around town, get back on a train and then immediately turn around and go home again. No. The only reason I want to go to town is to go to the shops and get out again as fast as possible. I want to get groceries, stop at Fleet Farm to get a new tire for my lawnmower, buy a cat tower that my cat will never actually use, and then scurry back to the house to spend two days recovering from the trip. The problem with these public transportation systems is what the hell do I do with all my stuff? There is no way in hell I am going to be able to lug all of that stuff along with me on a bus or commuter train or any of the methods of transportation they want to push me onto.

That last bit, the distance between where your bus drops you off and your final destination, is sometimes known as the ‘last mile’. And that last mile really often is a mile or more. In some cases a lot more. So that last mile is a real problem because people look at this whole plan and say wait a minute, why the hell should I go through all of that nonsense when I still have to walk a half hour to get to my destination? I’ll just skip all of that crap and take my car and be done with it.

And the entrepreneurs out there are dealing with the lack of infrastructure by simply totally ignoring all of it and concentrating instead on the last mile because that’s where they figure they can make huge gobs of money at very little expense. So a bunch of them sat around brainstorming one night and what they came up with was a… Wait for it… A scooter. A rental scooter.

A rental scooter? What? Seriously? A fricken scooter? Yeah, a fricken rental scooter. But wait! It’s special! It’s an e-scooter! (Waits for hushed ooos and aahs to die down) It’s like all “green” and stuff because they stuck an “e” in front of the word scooter. It’ll work. Seriously. Really. Trust me…

Take basically what is little more than an upscale version of the kid’s toy that seems to have been designed specifically to make sure emergency room doctors are fully employed, strap a motor and battery to it so it can zip along at 20+ mph, and there you go. It ain’t exactly rocket science. My kid literally made one of these back in the 1990s out of parts from an old office copying machine. Seriously. Granted it didn’t work very well but it worked. Sort of.

I have to admit that on the surface at least it doesn’t seem to be an absolutely horrible idea. Maybe? The idea is that they leave these things in appropriate places around the city. The user uses an app to unlock and pay for using the scooter. The user gets to their destination and then just leaves it there where, hopefully, someone leaving that destination will need a ride and then go through the same process to take the scooter elsewhere. Then at the end of the day someone with a truck will run around town, find all of the scooters, throw them into the back of the truck, take them to a central warehouse somewhere to recharge them, and then get them back on the streets before the morning rush starts.

Only it hasn’t actually worked all that well. First of all some of the companies never bothered to tell the cities they were moving into what they were doing. The city went to bed one night, got up in the morning, started to watch the morning news while having a nice cup of coffee, and immediately was deluged with complaints from people wondering what the hell was going on with all of these stupid scooters laying all over and people riding them at 20 mph down the sidewalks and running over small children, pets, and less than agile pedestrians, and the city says what? Wait a minute, what scooters?

Some of our more enterprising citizens went “Ooo, free scooters!” and snapped them up, stripped them of every resellable part they could, and tossed the remains off the nearest bridge into the river. Or they just tossed them off the nearest bridge without stripping them of parts because, well, hey, this is Wisconsin. It’s boring up here. We have to make our own entertainment. And I’ve ridden one of these things and after going half a block on the stupid thing I wanted to throw it off a bridge myself.

Building owners found their entrances so cluttered with the damned things that people couldn’t get into the shops or offices, and that even the sidewalks were blocked by abandoned scooters. Poor pedestrians out walking their little doggies or trying to walk down to the shops to get a coffee had to quickly learn the fine art of running for their lives or be run down by some loonie on a scooter zipping between walkers at about a zillion miles per hour. And if you think I am exaggerating this, I assure you I am not. This is exactly what happened when these things hit the streets. I have a lot of friends who live in Milwaukee and this is what happened down there when these things were dumped on the city almost literally without warning.

I won’t go through all of the nonsense that took place in Milwaukee when the e-scooters moved it. Let’s just say that it was real interesting. After a lot of threats of lawsuits and other ridiculousness they are apparently now back on the streets, but only in certain zones and with restrictions on how many can be in each zone. And, Milwaukee being Milwaukee, they want their cut of the action, too. Companies are apparently going to have to pay the city $50 per scooter, twenty-five cents per trip, and if a city employee has to touch one of the things to move it out of the way, the scooter company will have to pay a $25 fee. Considering none of these scooter companies seems to actually be making any money in the first place, yeah, that’s going to work real well.

Sidenote: The comment above may make it sound like the city of Milwaukee is desperate for money. That’s because it is. They’ve managed to so thoroughly screw up the city’s employee pension plan that within a few years pretty much most of the entire city budget is going to have to go to paying off the pension system.

Milwaukee and a lot of other cities wanted to ban the things completely. But there were threats of lawsuits, warnings that the city wouldn’t look ‘environmentally friendly’ if they tried to ban them, etc. So the city caved in and permitted them, but it did ban them from using sidewalks ( a ban which almost everyone ignores, by the way). This meant that e-scooters now had to ride on the streets. Streets which look like this:

Now do I really have to tell you that shoving what is basically a kiddie toy with a motor on it out onto streets that look like this is not a good idea? Streets and roads here in Wisconsin are utterly horrible for the most part. Wisconsin roads and streets cause about $650 damage to the average car driver every year. And now you want to push scooters onto those same streets? Scooters have tiny, tiny wheels, no suspension, not very good brakes, and are unstable to begin with. And now you’re going to dump them onto streets full of cracks, potholes, expansion joints, rocks, mufflers that fell off of cars, etc? Oh, and do I need to mention thousands of car drivers who are already pissed off by, well, everything, I guess judging from the way they drive?

And speaking of safety, according to a study published in the journal of American emergency room doctors, e-scooters have an injury per mile rate that is two hundred times higher than any other vehicle. Two hundred times.

Then let’s talk about money. These scooter companies have literally burned through billions of dollars of venture capital since this nonsense began. They might as well have just taken all of the money, put it in a big pile and burned it because to the best of my knowledge none of them has actually managed to make a profit. Several have gone bankrupt. Others are “right sizing”, pulling out of markets where they haven’t been able to bribe (cough cough, typo there, sorry) convince city officials that they are a “good thing” and should be allowed to operate virtually without regulation. Bird’s stock value was, when it first went public, selling for about $21 a share. The last time I looked back in June, it was hovering down round $0.50 per share. Yeah, half a buck a share, and the stock exchange was threatening to delist them. I hope you didn’t invest your kid’s college fund in the e-scooter business.

And people are still pumping tens of millions of dollars into these companies in the hopes that somehow, some way, they can make a buck off this whole scheme.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against electric vehicles. I love electric vehicles. I have an e-bike that I’ve put 500 miles on in less than 2 months. If Ford ever gets their act together and actually produces the electric version of the F-150 in sufficient quantities that I could actually buy one without being on a two year waiting list, you’d probably see one of those sitting in my garage as well. But these stupid scooters? No thanks.

Ebikes and a Sort of Review of the Specialized Vado

I’ve had the Specialized Vado ebike for about three weeks now and I love the thing. By the time I get around to finishing this article and posting it I’ll have around 300 miles on it. But I suppose before I get started I should define the term ebike because it’s gotten a bit confusing since there are actually two types of bikes that now fall under the term. One is an actual ebike and the other, if one wishes to be pedantic about it, isn’t.

The first type has a motor and battery but it is still an actual, real bicycle that you have to pedal to make it move. It will not move on its own. This type of ebike uses the motor system to to provide assistance to the rider. It does some of the work for you. How much work the motor does is generally adjustable. I can switch mine from giving no support at all, all the way up to nearly 100% where the motor does almost all the work while I pedal along.

The second type isn’t really what I would call a bicycle. It looks like a bicycle, probably has usable pedals, but it is really more of an electric moped or small motorcycle. With these bikes the motor can be used to do all of the work. You don’t have to pedal at all. There is a throttle on the handlebars to allow you to control the speed. All you have to do is just ride.

There are some issues with this second type. There are potential legal issues for one thing. In a lot of jurisdictions these types of bikes aren’t technically bicycles, they probably should be classified as mopeds or even small motorcycles, and if one were to be strict about it, in those jurisdictions they should be registered and licensed as such and the riders required to have at least a driver’s license and perhaps even a motorcycle license, and they should be insured as such. But fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view) no one seems to be paying much attention to that.

They also, legally speaking, should be required to meet the same equipment and safety requirements as mopeds or small motorcycles. They should have turn signals, proper brakes, headlight, tail light, brake light, properly rated tires and wheels, etc. And because a lot of these are basically just bicycles that someone strapped a motor and battery to, a lot of them have none of those things.

(Sidenote: A word about speed. Most people toodle along at about 5 – 10 mph on a bicycle. Someone who is in relatively good physical shape can cruise along considerably faster than that. With my 24 speed (no motor) a comfortable speed for me on level ground on a nice paved road is about 10 according to my gps thingie, and if I work really, really hard I can hit 19 mph on a level road for short periods of time. I used to work for a bicycle race and those guys cruise along at 24 to 30 mph all day long, and they can max out at about 45 mph. I usually average about 8-10 mph on the bike though because I’m in no real hurry to get anywhere. I’m just out there to enjoy being outside. With the ebike I find myself now cruising easily at about 13 – 15 mph, even going up hills. If I kick up the boost I can run at 20 mph all day long and I max out at around 28 mph.)

Prices on ebikes of both types are all over the place. They range from a low of about $700 up to, well, up to whatever your bank account can withstand. There is a Porsche branded ebike out that that supposedly sells for $10,000.

Sidenote: Yes, Porsche, the maker of supercars and sports cars with eye watering prices, is in the ebike business. They’ve been selling a Porsche branded ebike for a few years now, and have been investing in ebike companies for some time. They’re staring up two new companies specifically to develop, build and sell their own in-house created ebikes. Why would a company known for it’s overpriced, gas sucking, tire squealing sports cars that no one except influencers and trust fund kiddies can afford be getting into the ebike business? Money, of course. Ebikes make a lot of sense in Europe. The population density is high, towns are generally very close together, commutes to work or to do shopping are generally much shorter than they are in the US, traffic in cities is generally horrific with the average speeds for motor vehicles down to just a few miles per hour because of congestion. In most European cities you can get around a hell of a lot faster on a bike than you can in a car. So for a lot of people in the EU ebikes make a lot of sense. Porsche figures it can take a $4,000 ebike, slap some Porsche stickers on it and sell it for $10,000 to the same status hungry influencers and pretend millionaires it sells its cars to.

Now if you go online and start looking around at ebikes you’ll notice a couple of things. First, if you’re at all familiar with the bicycle market you’ll know that if you want to buy a good non-electric bicycle it’ll cost you around $600 and for anything really good the prices go up fast. So how can these companies be selling ebikes for the same price? It makes one wonder about the quality of those inexpensive models.

The second thing you’ll notice is that when it comes to a lot of those cheap ebikes, no matter what the brand name may be, they all look suspiciously alike. That’s because they are. Very few of the companies selling ebikes at the low end of the market actually manufacture them themselves. They all buy the bikes from the same factories and the only differences between them are a few plastic stick on bits and the company logos.

But I wanted to talk about the Vado and let myself get distracted, so let’s get on with this sort of review. I want to talk about ebikes and transportation but I’ll do that in a separate article.

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first before I move on to the goodies.

First, it’s heavy and it’s big. It won’t fit into the back of my Buick even with the rear seats folded down. I had to use MrsGF’s Rav4 which has a larger cargo area to pick it up. And it is definitely no light weight. It scales in at around 60 lbs. It definitely is not some kind of sleek road racer. But it has to be big and heavy because it’s designed to not just carry a person around, but also a big battery, a motor, all the electronics, me, and supposedly 50 pounds of cargo as well. And unless you have the motor turned off and you’re using it as a regular pedal bike you won’t even notice the weight.

Second, it’s not exactly cheap. When all was said and done, with taxes and other stuff tacked on, that Vado up there in that photo set me back close to $4,000. That is a hell of a lot of money for a bike, even an ebike. In my opinion the Vado was well worth the money, but that’s me. I put a lot of miles on a bike.

Third, the seat it came with was horrible. It was one of the most uncomfortable saddles I’ve ever had the misfortune to sit on. First thing I did when I got it home was replace the seat with the one from my old 24 speed bike.

Fourth, it comes with pretty much nothing but the bike itself. While the bike is reasonably well equipped and includes a luggage rack on the back, it comes with nothing else. The bag, water bottle bracket and rear view mirror were add ons I put on myself. You’d think they could at least include a water bottle holder on a four grand bike, but that’s the way it goes I guess.

Let’s get on with the good stuff.

The brakes are frankly amazing. No caliper brakes that squeeze on the rim of your wheels. This thing has actual hydraulic disc brakes like you get in a car. Yes, hydraulic, not cable actuated. I’ve never had a bike that stopped this well before. Braking is smooth, predictable, with no unexpected grabbing or fading after repeated stops.

The Vado comes with a 10 speed derailleur gear changer. Anyone who has had a bike with a derailleur system will be familiar with this. It’s the one part of the bike that I think could be a weak point. When I first got the bike it would miss shifts and under hard pedalling it would jump a cog on the gears once in a while. I figured I was going to have to take it back to the dealer and have them take a look at it, but after I’d ridden it for about fifty miles or so the gear changes became smoother and it stopped jumping cogs on the gears. So perhaps it just needed a break in period to work smoothly? I still think this could be a weak point, however. It’s a 10 speed and I think that’s too many gears for a derailleur to handle without some issues. But it’s working fine now so we’ll see.

It comes standard with a very bright LED headlight and a tail light that wraps around the cargo carrier on the back. The tail light isn’t super bright but it will hopefully help make me more visible to car and truck drivers when I’m on the road.

Also note the fenders. I like fenders on a bike. I often ride on gravel trails, run through mud patches, ride right after rains when the roads are wet, etc. Not having fenders on my old bike meant I’d come home with a streak of mud up my back and splatters all over my legs. These fenders work quite well. They are very thin and very flexible but stiff enough to work well.

Front suspension is fantastic. The front forks seems to absorb bumps, railroad tracks and potholes very well. Some people don’t like front suspensions like this for various reasons. I think those people are, frankly, stupid. With the multiple railroad track crossings, gravel trails, potholes, washboard roads, etc. around here, some kind of decent suspension is a requirement around here.

The battery is removable and completely tucked away inside the frame of the bike. It’s relatively easy to get out. Removing it requires using a key in a lock located alongside of the charging socket. Just for the heck of it I looked up what a new battery would cost, thinking that it might not be a bad idea to have a spare. So go ahead, guess what that battery costs. Just take a wild guess.

Try $1,200. Seriously. Twelve hundred bucks for a replacement battery. I find it a bit difficult to believe that the battery alone costs more than a quarter of the value of the bike, but, well, that’s the way it goes I guess.

That’s the charging port in the photo up there, and it is one of the most unnecessarily frustrating things I’ve ever had to fiddle with. It has a kind of magnetic holding system which is neat, but trying to get the blasted plug actually inserted into that socket is infuriating sometimes. It won’t just slide into place and latch on. I’ve spent minutes fiddling with the damned plug, turning it, twisting it, trying to get it to lock in place. And from what I’ve read online I’m not the only one who has problems with the damned thing. There’s no excuse for this on a bike this expensive. Yo, Specialized! Fix the damned plug!

This is an ebike so you need some kind of display and control system. The dashboard, if you want to call it that, defaults to the view you see in the picture above. There are controls on the handlebars that let you flip through various screens that display various bits of information that I suspect I’ll never need to know and will never actually care about, but it’s there if you need it. The left handgrip has a push button control that lets you cycle through various information screens, and a + and – button that cycles through four different levels of ‘boost’, Eco, Sport, Turbo and Off, the latter turns the motor off completely.

There is an app (because of course there is because everything has to have an app on your phone these days whether you want one or not) that does many things, none of which I care about except for the ability to tailor the amount of boost you get from the motor. Eco setting has the motor take up about 30% of the work, Sport is 50% and Turbo is 100%. Basically in Turbo all you’re doing is moving your legs up and down, the motor does almost all of the work. And, of course, Off, which switches the motor off entirely and the only thing powering the bike is your legs. I’m told that I can change the level of boost the motor gives to almost anything I want but the defaults work good for me and probably will for most people.

Yes, you can use this as a normal human powered bike, and it works rather well that way. Despite the bike’s weight it works quite nicely as a normal bicycle.

You’ll have noticed that Garmin thingie on the handlebars up there next to the bike’s control buttons. That’s why I don’t care about the app the bike comes with. That’s a Garmin GPS/fitness tracker/mapping system and displays text messages, emails and other goodies. And, in a feature I hope I never need, will supposedly send an email to my wife if I crash that says something like “Hey, your idiot husband wiped out and he’s laying in a ditch somewhere at these coordinates so you better go sweep him up before you get fined for littering.”

But back to the Vado. I’ve put 300 miles on it now in the three or four weeks I’ve had it and so far I love the thing. It rides well, stops well, handles well. The motor works seamlessly with the bike. The electronics make its presence entirely unobtrusive. The only way i can tell it’s even working is because I can feel that I’m using less effort pedaling up hills or when starting out from a dead stop, which is exactly how it’s supposed to work. It’s very well made. The frame is extremely robust, the welds are just about perfect.

Normally I drive in Eco mode which is the least amount of boost, which is more than enough for me to deal with things like long uphill climbs. If I’m out on a long ride in hot weather and I’m getting tired out I might kick the boost level up to Sport. I’ve tried it in Turbo mode several times. I still have to pedal, but in that mode I’m not doing any work at all, just moving my legs up and down.

Range is always something one needs to be concerned with when it comes to electric vehicles. The manual says I can expect about 40 miles range under normal usage, but I suspect in real life it would be much, much more than that. I went out for a 20 mile ride one day, running mostly in Eco mode, and when I got back home I still had 70% battery life left according to the monitor.

I really, really like the Vado so far. It meets or exceeds all of my expectations. If I didn’t live in a rural area where it’s at least 15 miles to get anywhere I need to go I could easily see using it as my primary means of transportation when the weather was reasonably nice.

The only thing I hate about it is that damned charging port. It’s keyed, so it will only fit into the socket when you have the plug oriented at exactly the right angle. But the port is recessed into the frame, and down near the bottom of the frame, so you can’t actually see how you’re supposed to orient the plug unless you literally get down on your hands and knees. I thought maybe it was just me. I’m not exactly the most graceful person in the world, after all. But it isn’t just me. I’ve read other reviews of the Vado that expressed similar frustrations with the charging plug, so this is a common problem. And there is absolutely no excuse for this. Not on a bike that costs this much money.

To wrap this up, overall I really, really like the Vado. As I said earlier I have over 300 miles on it now and it has worked pretty much flawlessly. It’s great fun to ride, the motor and electronics work beautifully. It’s robustly made and has handled all of the railroad tracks, potholes, expansion joints and other garbage we have to contend with on the roads around here. Brakes are simply excellent. It’s expensive, yes, but I think it’s worth the money if you put as many miles on a bike as I do.

I want to talk about biking, ebikes and transportation in general but I’m not going to do that here. This is already getting on the long side so I’m going to end this right now. 🙂

Camera Stuff

People know I’m a semi-serious photographer so I get questions from people about all sorts of photography related stuff. One question I get a lot comes from people who are thinking of upgrading their camera. They want to move from a cellphone camera or a cheap pocket camera to a “real” camera and want advice about what to get. So let’s take a look at some basic information about the different kinds of cameras out there and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Sidenote: Got questions? Leave them in the comments section or you can reach me at old.grouchyfarmer@gmail.com

And I’ll let you know right up front that there is no hard answer to the question of what camera to buy. When it comes to cameras there are always trade offs. There is no “perfect” camera. Which camera is best for you depends on what you want to do and what compromises you are willing to accept.

Let’s look at the basics. There are four basic types of cameras: Compact (or pocket), bridge, DSLR and mirrorless. But while these are widely accepted as the different types, in reality there is a great deal of blurring of in the lines separating these types, especially when it comes to the camera’s sensors, the part that actually takes the photo, and the electronics and software.

Sidenote: A word about viewfinders. Most modern cameras come with an LCD screen that shows you a representation of the image the camera “sees” through the lens. One would think that the traditional viewfinder, a sort of peephole that you push up to your eye to peer through, would be a thing of the past. It isn’t. A lot of photographers, myself included, still use and still want a traditional viewfinder. My Nikon has a very good LCD screen, but I still use the viewfinder a lot, far more often than I use the LCD screen. For me it seems to work better.

Compact cameras can range from very very bad to very, very good, and prices bounce all over the place from under $100 to, well, to almost as much as your wallet can handle. What they all have in common is small size, usually small enough to easily slip into a pocket. The problem with compact cameras is that unless you’re willing to spend a heck of a lot of money on one, you’re going to be better off just using the camera in your cellphone. Modern cell phone cameras are excellent, often far superior to most of the compact cameras on the market, especially the inexpensive cameras.

The other thing that is true or, rather, used to be true about compact cameras, is that they were very simple to use. They were basically point-and-shoot cameras. There were few if any settings to worry about, the camera’s computers took care of setting everything for you. All you needed to do was point it and press the shutter button. But that’s changed too, especially at the higher prices. A lot of these cameras come with almost as many bells and whistles as DSLR cameras. And this is both good and bad. It’s good in that it gives the photographer more creative control over what the camera does. And it’s bad in that it complicates things when all you want to do is take a quick snapshot. They all will have some kind of default mode where the camera makes all of the decisions for you and all you need to do is press a button.

The good ones, like the Cannon up there, are very good indeed. But it will also cost you about $650, and for not much more than that you can get a pretty nice DSLR with better specifications.

Sidenote: If you have a relatively modern, high quality cellphone, either one of the Android models or an iPhone, chances are good you already have a camera that is as good as, or even better than, most of the compact cameras on the market. If you have something like an iPhone 13 or a Samsung Galaxy S22, you already have one of the best compact cameras made.

Yes, some of them have some pretty clever electronics and software built into them with some interesting special effects capabilities and things like that. Some of them have some pretty nifty zoom lenses. But most of that stuff, well, frankly a lot of those ‘features’ are little more than gimmicks that you’ll play with a couple of times and then never use again.

The only reason to really buy a compact camera is if you need a pocket sized camera with a decent telephoto lens. And if that is your need, go for it. But you’re going to pay for it. Figure on spending around $400+ for a good one.

Don’t get me wrong. Some of these cameras are excellent. I’ve owned a few that were pretty darned good. But I also have a iPhone 13 pro max, and the camera in that is, frankly, amazing, and far, far better than any of the compact cameras I’ve owned in the past.

Bridge cameras are supposed to fill a niche between compact cameras and full blown DSLR. They will have, maybe, much better sensors which offer better resolution photos, better lenses, possibly a zoom lens that will reach out to about 25x telephoto or more, and lots and lots of goodies in the software that let you do interesting things. They will give you some control over things like shutter speeds, apateure, focus, etc. They are supposed to be a jump up in quality from compact cameras, but don’t have interchangeable lenses and lack some of the high end features of a DSLR, which is supposed to help make them cheaper and easier to use than a full blown DSLR.

Yeah… Right…

Here’s the thing with bridge cameras, they’re sort of like the worst of both worlds. You have a camera that is heavy, awkward to carry around, physically as large as a DSLR, and damned near as expensive as a DSLR, but without the advantages of having a DSLR’s interchangeable lenses.

Some of the bridge cameras are excellent, even outstanding. Even some of the ones in the under $500 range aren’t too bad. But if you want a really good one? Be prepared for a bit of sticker shock because some of these puppies will run you well over a grand, which is getting up into DSLR territory.

The biggest problem with bridge cameras, IMO, is the lens. Because the lens cannot be removed it has to be able to do everything the photographer may want to do. They come with a “do it all” type lens that can go from extreme closeups (macro) to extreme telephoto. And in order to do that they have to make compromises that affect things like focus, depth of field, shutter speeds, etc.

And then as I mentioned above, there is a problem with the cost. Yes, you can get a decent bridge camera for around $500. But the really good ones with what I consider to be professional quality features and and software are all in the $700+ range, and some of them run as high as almost $2,000. Just for comparison, my Nikon D5600 DSLR, with a pretty nice 55mm lens, is going for under $800 right now on Amazon.

Let’s move on to SLR type cameras.

DSLR – That’s an acronym that carries over from the film camera era when SLR cameras were considered the high end. So what’s the big deal with SLR type cameras? There are two things, interchangeable lenses and how the photographer sees the image in the viewfinder.

Before SLRs came along, cameras had a separate viewfinder. Sometimes this was little more than a peep hole bolted to the body of the camera to give you a general idea of what you were aiming at. Sort of. You weren’t seeing what the camera was seeing through the lens. Because you weren’t actually seeing what the camera was seeing, this caused a lot of problems. The viewfinder could be misaligned or because of things like parallax, you couldn’t tell if the focus was correct, etc.

SLR cameras use a mirror and prism system where a mirror drops down in front of the film (or sensor in the case of digital cameras) directing the light from the lens into a prism which sends that light into the viewfinder and to your eye. With a SLR what you are seeing in the viewfinder is exactly what the camera sees through the lens. When you press the shutter button, the mirror snaps out of the way so the light coming through the lens falls on the film (or sensor), giving you an image that is, if everything works right, exactly what you saw through the viewfinder.

Needless to say, the ability for the photographer to see exactly what the camera was seeing through the lens was an important development. The SLR system was first introduced in 1935 and has been in use ever since. That it’s been around for nearly a hundred years should give you an idea of just how useful it is. Things are changing, though, and mirrorless cameras are starting to become popular, but I’ll look at those in a minute.

SLR type cameras also have interchangeable lenses. You aren’t stuck with whatever lens the manufacturer decided was best. You can get different apertures, different focal lengths, telephoto, zoom, macro, wide angle, etc. And you weren’t stuck with a single lens manufacturer either. The only problem was that every camera maker had their own lens mounting system, so your Nikon lenses wouldn’t work on your Canon camera, etc.

SLR type cameras also generally have better, well, better everything, really. Better sensors, higher resolution images, better electronics, better software, more options for getting the best exposure, aperture settings, shutter speeds, etc. The problem with all of that is, of course, figuring out how to use all of it to your advantage. Even back in the pre-digital days a lot of SLR cameras had a bewildering variety of knobs and buttons to allow you to set up the camera for the perfect photo, giving you a large number of ways to screw up your photos. Modern cameras with their fancy electronics and processing abilities give you even more control, more complexity, and even more interesting ways of messing up. You can adjust white balance, contrast, brightness, color intensity, shutter speeds, aperture settings, even do some special effects. A lot of these cameras come with WiFi and Bluetooth to connect to your phone or computer to transfer images directly to other devices

Almost all DSLR cameras come with some kind of automated “point-and-shoot” mode where you just let the onboard computers control all of that stuff for you, but if that’s all you’re going to do you might as well stick with a compact camera. One of the points of getting a DSLR is so you can fiddle with all of that stuff to get the perfect photo. So if you do decide to get one of these be prepared to do a lot of homework and a lot of experimenting before you become proficient with it. But the results are worth it.

Now we come to mirrorless cameras. These are a relatively new development. They are basically SLR type cameras that have gotten rid of the mirror. That mirror has always been a bit of a pain in the neck. It is mechanically complex in that it has to drop down in front of the focal plane of the camera to reflect the image into the view finder, and then almost instantly snap up out of the way when you press the shutter button. This can cause vibration, which can mess up an image. It is expensive to manufacturer. It is always a potential failure point in SLR type cameras. And then someone said hey, wait a minute, why do we need that mirror system at all? Just pick off the video from the primary sensor and route that to an LCD display and/or a viewfinder.

And that is the direction cameras are moving these days. A lot of big camera makers are starting to, or already have, phased out most of their SLR style cameras in favor of the mirrorless variety. Despite some pushback from some photographers, mirrorless cameras make a lot of sense and I think you’re eventually going to see DSLR type cameras go away. Does this mean you shouldn’t buy a DSLR? No. DSLR cameras work very, very well. And despite all of the hype about mirrorless cameras, IMO the only thing that makes them attractive is that they are less mechanically complicated and have fewer moving parts that can break. In some ways DSLR cameras are still superior, but that’s changing rapidly. The mirrorless cameras that I’ve seen are very, very nice. I have no incentive to get one, though. I am more than satisfied with the one I have.

Decisions, decisions, decisions…

So, which one should you get? Heck, I don’t know. It’s entirely up to you. That’s going to depend entirely on you. All of the different types of cameras have advantages and disadvantages. There is no such thing as a “perfect” camera. There is no quick and easy answer to that question. All of them have advantages and disadvantages. You’re going to have to decide for yourself if the disadvantages are worth it.