Photography Stuff – New Camera, and some Thoughts on Technology

If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time you should know I’m something of a photography nut, and that goes back many years, and at one time it was a pretty serious obsession. But let’s skip the nostalgia, at least for now, and talk about the present. My good camera, a Fujifilm, is a pretty nice camera, but it is now more than 11 years old which makes it probably three or four generations behind the times. Technology has moved on. It’s time to replace it. So I did a lot of shopping around and and research and finally ended up with a Nikon D5600. It is considered to be at the high end of the consumer grade DSLR cameras. It’s been on the market for a few years so all the bugs are worked out of it and it has a solid track record. It is generally considered to be a pretty nice camera, so I got one with 2 lenses, an 18 – 55 mm lens and a 70mm to 300mm telephoto zoom.

Notice the manual sitting there. It didn’t come with the camera. The only “instructions” that came with it was a single sheet of paper. I had to track down the manual on the internet and print it out. All 400+ pages of it. Sheesh…

It wasn’t… I was going to say it wasn’t cheap. But everything is relative. My first really good SLR camera was a Minolta XG-M with a 50mm lens that I got back in 1982, and I quickly added several other lenses to the package. Accounting for inflation the Minolta was actually more expensive than the Nikon.

I’ve only had the Nikon for a few days and I’m still trying to get it all figured out. The Fujifilm was bad enough with multiple menus, way too many buttons and knobs, and the ability to adjust just about everything. The Nikon is all that and a lot more. I can still just put it in one of the automatic modes and let its computers handle everything, but the fun part with cameras like this is when you shut off the automatics and venture out on your own experimenting with ISO, shutter speeds, light levels and other goodies. The automatic settings are fine for making fast snapshots of a family picnic or something like that. But if you want really good images, images that really show off the scene you’re photographing, that express moods and feelings, well then you need to shut off the auto modes and start fiddling around. And there’s a lot to fiddle with.

The biggest improvements over my old Fuji are the lenses and the image sensor. The image sensor is much, much larger, the pixels are smaller and packed more densely, giving a much crisper, more, oh, dense, let’s call it, image. That also means the size of the resulting photo is much larger. For jpg images that seems to be running about 7 – 10 megabytes. RAW files are even larger. And one mode produces both RAW and jpg files. So this thing needs a decent sized SD card.

The lenses – the Fuji had a really nice lens that was more than adequate for the job, but it was permanently attached to the camera and I wanted to be able to get other lenses for special purposes, like for macro photography, or bigger telephoto, that kind of thing. So far the quality of the two lenses I got for the Nikon seem excellent.

Of course the most important thing is does it make good photographs, so let’s look at a few I’ve taken over the last few days. You should be able to click on an image to see it in a larger size. Some of the images have been cropped but no other processing was done on them.

This one is my favorite

I should point out this flower is only about a half inch wide

So far I’m pleased with the camera. I’m going to need to experiment and learn how to tweak the settings to get the results I want, but overall it seems to be pretty nice so far.

Now let’s talk about technology for a moment, specifically about photographic technology. Once upon a time I was heavily involved in film photography. I went through several 35mm cameras including some fairly expensive SLRs like the Minolta in that photo up there. That was the first really good camera I ever bought, purchased in 1981 or 1982. And it was expensive. I paid about $350+ for that camera at the time, a bit over $1,000 after including inflation. It was a very nice camera for its day. Still is. I still have it and it still works just fine. If I could be bothered to buy some 35mm film and deal with processing I have no doubt it would still turn out very good images even today.

I was pretty serious about photography. I also had my own darkroom and enlarger, developed my own film, made my own prints, etc. It was expensive, messy, I worked with potentially dangerous chemicals and I had to work in pitch black conditions or risk ruining the film or a print. It was a pain in the neck but it was also enormously satisfying.

A lot of semi-serious photographers complain about the decline of the use of film photography. They claim that digital photography lacks — well, lacks something. They don’t seem to be sure what it lacks, but for “reasons” digital just isn’t as good as film. The process isn’t as pure or something. Being able to manipulate images easily using Photoshop somehow makes images less real. That’s all BS of course. Film photographers like me always post-processed our prints to get the results we wanted. We just did it using chemicals, different types of photographic paper, dodging and burning and the like instead of tweaking settings on a computer.

I did pretty good with that old Minolta up there and my little darkroom. But I freely admit that the photos I produce today with modern equipment and software are so much better that there is simply no comparison. I would never, ever want to go back to the days of film.

I can understand why some people might feel that way, though. It’s like the people who think vinyl records are better than digitally recorded music. I share some of that feeling. I have a nice turntable and vinyl records and I love them. But even I admit that it is more a nostalgia thing than anything else. What I missed wasn’t some kind of ‘purity’ of the music, it was the process of playing the record that I missed. Getting out a record, putting it on the turntable, setting the tonearm down, I think it made me listen more attentively to the music because there was more physicality to the act. With modern streaming the music just plays. It’s almost like background noise, something you can ignore. When playing a record you couldn’t ignore it. You tended to concentrate more because you were physically involved with playing the record.

Drought Is Over (at least for now), Gardens Going Crazy And a B Movie?

The drought, at least for us here in east central Wisconsin, is over following a week or so of pleasantly damp and relatively cool weather. We got some significant rainfall that’s kick started everything out in the gardens. Unfortunately that also includes weeds, but that’s the way it goes.

We don’t have a lot of raspberry plants, just a fairly small corner of the garden behind the garage. They’re so loaded with fruit this year we had to put up support posts with twine to hold the dopy things up. They’re just starting to ripen right now. This is probably the best crop of berries we’ve had since we put them in a few years ago. We won’t get a lot, but we don’t need a lot. I’m not supposed to eat them because of the seeds, but I can’t help but snagging a handful when I’m working outside. They’re beautiful this year, and sweeter than usual as well.

MrsGF and I both love beets but we’ve had trouble growing them. This year we decided to fill one of the raised beds with them and wow, that worked amazingly well. They’re about 1.5 – 2.5 inches across now and we’ve been harvesting them periodically for over a week now. We just clean them, throw them in a pot, bring them to a boil and then simmer for a few minutes, then plunge into cold water. That lets us slip that outer skin off easily and they’re ready to either freeze or cook up for dinner. They are so good when they’re fresh. Much richer, sweeter flavor. Mostly we just simmer them in water until tender and top off with a bit of salt and pepper. We both love harvard style with a sweet sour sauce as well, but these are so good you don’t need a sauce to perk them up.

We have one bed that’s just assorted peppers. I didn’t think these were ever going to amount to much. They looked healthy enough but just weren’t growing. But now that we’ve had the rainy weather they’ve started to take off. They’ve almost doubled in size in the last 10 days and are starting to blossom. We eat a lot of them fresh off the plants during the season, but most end up diced up and frozen for use during the rest of the year. They get used in tomato sauces, egg dishes, chili, curry, etc. I’m hoping we’ll have enough that I can put up a few pints of pickled peppers as well. I wish I could tell you exactly what’s all planted in there, but not even MrsGF remembers what she all planted in that bed. Which is okay. They all taste good.

Speaking of peppers, I have two jalapeno plants in pots on the front porch again this year. I only grow two because I’m the only one who seems to like them. Last year I put in a ‘no heat’ variety that they claimed tasted like jalapeno but didn’t have the heat. That was sort of true? Kind of? They did taste like jalapeno peppers and they were a bit milder, but I thought they were lacking a bit in flavor. This year I put in normal jalapenos and as you can see they’re starting to fruit. I picked a few for use over the 4th holiday when we had our sons over for a picnic. I’ve been eating them diced up in things like omelets or thinly sliced on a burger. I think they’re delicious. They are definitely not mild but I didn’t think they were that hot until I got my eldest son to try one and he nearly went through the roof. He loves spicy food but he turned bright red, started gasping and had to go walk it off. So a couple of observations. First, apparently I can handle hot peppers a hell of a lot better than I thought I could. Second, I’ve now been told by people who know these things that these peppers are really, really hot, a lot hotter than a normal jalapeno should be. So I’m going to need to be really careful with these when I cook with them so I don’t end up with MrsGF throwing things at me when she recovers from eating them.

The tomatoes have gone absolutely bonkers. In the last two weeks they’ve just about tripled in size and if you could peek in there you’d see dozens of tiny green tomatoes. I wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing them coming ripe in a week or two the way they’re going. BTW, there are only 3 plants in that bed up there. I am really glad we didn’t put in more.

It’s hard to see now but there are onions all the way around the edge of that bed. We’ve been doing that for a few years now, sort of double cropping. The onions get a head start and get fairly mature before the main crop in the bed gets big enough to compete with them, and by that time the onions are big enough to hold their own and keep growing slowly through the season.

Why grow our own onions when they’re so cheap in the store? Flavor, of course. Most of the commercial onions are decent, but they just don’t have the intensity of flavor that our home grown ones have.

Those are wax beans in front, with some squash plants in the back. The perspective of this photo is kind of weird. The leaves on those squash plants back there are literally as large as dinner plates or even larger.

This is our “super” garden. It is in a corner of the house where the living room meets the kitchen, and faces south and west. We’ve put hundreds of pounds of compost in this garden over the years and that, together with the good drainage and protected, sunny location generally means things grow like crazy in there. And this year is no exception.

Those beans… Dear lord, what are we going to do with all those beans? There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of flowers on those bean plants in there. If half of those turn into beans we could probably fill up the entire freezer with the things. We love wax beans but I suspect we’re going to end up giving away half of these to anyone who’ll take ’em because we’ll never be able to eat all of these.

We also have pole beans in another bed and those look like they’re going to be just as crazy as the wax beans. That’s only about six bean plants in there. Sheesh…

We were only going to put in two cucumber plants because I’m the only one who really likes cukes. The seeds MrsGF planted out here didn’t sprout so she bought a few plants at a local nursery and put those in. And then, of course, the seeds sprouted as well, so it looks like we’re going to have an overabundance of cucumbers as well.

MrsGF is trying to grow blueberries because, well, why not, eh? We had two originally and haven’t had a lot of success with them though. First because we stuck them in a poor location, and when we transplanted them to a better location one didn’t survive so she bought another one. Then the original survivor had some kind of rust that was covering the leaves. We trimmed all of the infected branches off and didn’t think it would survive, but it did and looks pretty healthy. And the new one that we put in this spring has actual fruit on it. Not a lot but heck, even a few dozen berries is better than none.

On the decorative side of things we have these cute little dwarf sunflowers coming up now. along with a few other types in there including one variety that is such a dark purple it looks almost black.

The hot, dry weather didn’t do the hostas any good this year. The poor things look pretty beat up. They usually don’t start looking this poorly until September. Still they’re hanging in there and coming into flower which will hopefully attract the humming birds. I’ve seen a few humming birds but for some reason they aren’t coming to the feeder. I think they had a nest somewhere out back because I’d see them buzzing around back there, but I haven’t seen them for a while now.

Finally, how about a bee video because without bees none of this would even be possible.

Stuff From The Dim Past Because I’m Waiting For MrsGF and I’m Bored

This one is still up in the ancient archives of this blog or whatever it is and I keep telling myself I should just delete it completely, but oh, what the hell. The cow is clipart but I actually drew the rest of this — this whatever it is. Yes, I used to draw manga. Or tried to. This one goes back to around 2013 or so and, well, lord, what the hell was I even thinking?

The only excuse I have for this is that I was listening to a lot of Lawrence Welk music at the time. This is what happens when you listen to Lawrence Welk music for too long. Don’t let this happen to anyone else. If you know anyone who listens to Lawrence Welk, get them help now. Stage an intervention or something. Don’t let this happen to them.

You should be able to click on the image to blow it up to readable size.

Oh my god I can’t believe I drew this… This is what happens when you work in an elementary school for way, way too long. And listen to Lawrence Welk music. Don’t let this happen to anyone else. Ban Lawrence Welk now.

Catch Up: Gardening, Flowers, Hollowing Tool, Logo Designs and Stuff

We’ve been getting rain! The drought finally seems to be over. We’ve received several inches of rain over the last week and will be getting more today. Things were getting bad, and not just for home gardeners like me. We’ve had enough rain now that the plants have completely turned around and things are actually starting to look lush out there. The tomatoes have tripled in size and in full blossom. We even have some baby tomatoes on them already. The squash are growing so fast you can almost see the vines getting longer. We have baby cucumbers developing. The raspberries are probably going to be ripe in a week or so. Wow, it’s amazing what a bit of rain can do.

Baby cucumber

The color on the lilies has been almost breathtaking this year.

The warm, damp weather has really jump started the tomatoes. They look beautiful this year.

The raspberries are so loaded with fruit this year MrsGF had to put posts with string to rest the canes on because the weight of the fruit was bending them in half and snapping off the canes. I’ve never seen that happen before.

Anyway, as you can see the gardens here have been doing very, very well of late. Yes, we were watering everything carefully during the drought and keeping an eye on soil moisture and all of that, but for whatever reason artificial irrigation never seems to give the same results as natural rainfall, at least not for me. Even though I was sure the plants were getting adequate water, once it started raining everything just started going crazy.

Possible Logo

I’m going to (well, maybe) start selling some of my wood stuff. I got an account with Etsy now, but haven’t gotten around to actually putting anything up for sale over there, and I’m thinking of putting up a separate set of pages here to showcase a few things for sale. Don’t worry, none of that will appear here in the blog except for a link to the sales site. I’m not going to spam you or anything like that.

But I needed to come up with a name for this for Etsy, and a logo or something to mark the bowls. Most of my bowls have a 2 1/8 inch mortise (basically a shallow hole) in the bottom. This is how I attach them to the lathe with a four jaw chuck. I like using a mortise rather than a tenon because unlike a protruding tenon which has to be removed, I can leave the mortise in place. That means that if something goes wrong with the finish or something else happens, I can easily reattach the piece to the lathe to rework it or refinish it. And as for the remaining hole, I thought why not use it for a logo? I got these thin, 2″ wooden disks which work really well with the laser engraver, so I came up with a name and logo that looks pretty good when burned into the disk.

One of the experiment logo tests

Then just glue the disk into the mortise on the bottom of the bowl. I’m not sure if this is going to be the final version, but so far I’m fairly satisfied with it.

Hollowing Tool

One of the issues I’ve run into with wood turning is dealing with objects that aren’t actual bowls, but instead are what are generally called “hollow form vessels”, things like, well, this one down below here.

This thing is supposed to be hollow, and it is. Sort of. Kinda. But not much. I ran a 2″ hole into it with a forstner bit and then fiddled around with the tools I had to try to hollow it out, but it’s a damned poor job because trying to reach in there to hollow it out without damaging the small opening and without hurting myself is a pain in the neck, even with special tools. I have tools that claim they are for hollowing out forms like this, and for whatever reason they just don’t work well for me. I see guys on YouTube doing this stuff effortlessly. How the heck do they do that? I’ve tried using their techniques and tools and what I’ve ended up with is dangerous catches, broken bowls, broken tools, and a real mess.

So I spent way more money than I wanted to for this:

This is the “Simple Hollowing System” from Harrison Specialties. Harrison markets a line of lathe tools under the “Simple Woodturning” brand. I have some of their carbide tools and they are very, very good indeed. This system is supposed to make it relatively easy to hollow out even something like the bowl in that photo up there. This version comes with just about everything you need, including the system itself, the tools, cutters and even a laser guide system to prevent you from accidentally cutting through the side of a bowl as it is being hollowed out.

As you can see I haven’t even had a chance to set it up yet because it’s been so busy here, but hopefully I’ll be able to give it a try in the next week or two and I’ll talk about it then. I also want to cover the laser engraver in some detail as well in the future. So keep an eye out for both of those coming up.

Car Stuff

Let’s see, what else… Oh, almost forgot. I sold the Corvette. It was a very, very nice car, it was huge fun, but, well, even I had to admit that it wasn’t exactly practical. Basically it was a vehicle that I could only use about 5 months of the year, was a two seater, had very little cargo space. Oh, and did I mention that new tires for that thing were $500? Each. Yeah, it was over $2,000 to put a set of four tires on it because it ran high tech, high speed, run flat racing tires.

I bought, heaven help me, a Buick. Yeah, a Buick. It’s an Envision Avenir which is, according to Buick, at least, “the highest expression of Buick luxury” available. Here’s a photo swiped from Buick’s website because I’m too lazy to go out to the garage and take a picture of mine at the moment.

And I really, really like it. Well, of course I do or I wouldn’t have bought it. Duh.

The list of options on this thing runs two full pages of small type. Emergency braking systems (which I tested the first day I had it. Neighbor’s dog ran in front of the car when I drove into my driveway and the car stopped itself before I could even get my foot off the gas pedal. Wow), lane divergence warnings and even steering. Apparently if you wander outside your lane on the freeway the thing will actually steer itself back into the center of the lane you’re in. Automatic headlights, automatic cruise control that slows down or speeds up itself to match traffic, a 360 degree camera system along with radar systems to assist with parking. I won’t go into the whole list because it’s a bit ridiculous, really. Bumper to bumper warranty that covers everything, and I mean everything. With the package I got even the interior fabrics are covered. Tears, burns, stains, paint chips… All covered. Sheesh…

This thing is very, very nice. I absolutely love it.

And there’s another reason I went with it. It’s four wheel drive with good ground clearance. The roads here in Wisconsin are utterly horrible and getting worse every day. We have one of the worst maintained highway systems in the country. The roads around here are so bad you’re risking doing serious damage to your car if it doesn’t have enough ground clearance to get through the pot holes, cracks, gravel patches and other garbage we have to contend with. The Buick can deal with that a lot better than the Vette.

Why are our roads so bad? Go talk to our state legislature if you want the answer to that one. They can find billions to pay for building new freeways down around Milwaukee that no one wants, but they can’t find the money to maintain the highways, roads and bridges we already have. Those multi billion dollar freeway expansion projects are done by huge corporations that funnel enormous amounts of money into the campaign funds and PACs of our dear legislators down there in Madison. Meanwhile most road maintenance is done by local governments and small contractors who don’t have any influence at all with the legislature.

Let’s see, what else… I’m hoping to actually go fishing this year. Maybe. Every year I get my Conservation Patron license. That is an all inclusive license offered in Wisconsin that covers just about everything you can legally fish or hunt for in the state. At first glance it seems expensive, but when you consider that it includes almost everything, it is actually cheaper and more convenient than trying to get individual licenses. So I get the license every year and generally end up doing, well, nothing, because I don’t have the time. Spring turkey season came and went this year before I even remembered I had a spring turkey permit. Sigh… I think I went fishing exactly twice last year, and once so far this year.

I don’t deal with leisure time very well, I’m afraid. Heck, I’m retired for pete’s sake. I don’t need to constantly be doing something practical. But every time I start planning to go fishing there’s this little voice in the back of my head that’s saying things like “you know you really should be weeding the gardens, not wasting your time with this”, or “you should be spending your time finishing that jewelry box you started last week not sitting along a river waiting to catch a fish and wasting your time.”

Anyway, that’s it for now…

Farm Catch Up

It’s been ages since I did one of these and I was thinking of not doing one at all because I’ve been moving away from farming as a topic here for a long time now, but what the heck, why not? A lot has been going on in the ag world of late, so let’s take a look.

This bunch over at UW Madison are trying to convince people that milk, especially their “milk based beverage”, is a great sports drink. They claim that there is even actual real sciencey stuff behind their claim. Since the article doesn’t actually give any real data to back that up, excuse me if I take that with a rather large grain of salt because the entire sports drink industry is full of hype, nonsense, misleading information, heavily slanted “research” and in a lot of cases, flat out lies. I saw one “study”, for example, that claimed that drinking sodas like Pepsi and Coke was better for you than drinking water. Seriously.

Do we really need another sports drink in a world that is already infested with similar muck? Of course not. We certainly don’t need this stuff either.

Sidenote: Trying to do research about milk on the internet is interesting and frustrating. It’s almost impossible to find any kind of truly independent research being published if you start searching the internet. Just about any “study” that treats milk favorably ultimately traces back to the dairy industry either directly or indirectly. And they pump so much of this heavily slanted information out there that it buries the real independent research which almost all tends to indicate that milk really isn’t all that good for you in the first place.

Dicamba Banned by Court (but not really)

The dicamba based herbicides introduced by Monsanto, the so-called “XtendiMax with VaporGrip Technology” were originally permitted in 2016 by EPA for widespread use. But it was immediately alleged to have damaged millions of acres of crops and other plants as the herbicide vaporized and drifted for long distances. Something Monsanto claimed it couldn’t do. And also immediately Monsanto (and later Monsanto’s new owner, Bayer) was hit by hundreds of lawsuits over the product. And despite the seriousness of the problems, EPA approved the stuff again in 2018.

But now the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that EPA’s approval of the product is invalid because EPA apparently ignored multiple rules, regulations, federal law and actual real world data when it issued the approval. It violated the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. It violated the Endangered Species Act. It refused to consider multiple reports of widespread damage caused by the products. It violated its own internal rules and regulations. It… Well, the list goes on, and on, and on.

I imagine Bayer thought Monsanto was going to be a cash cow when it bought the company. I wonder if they still think it was a good deal now that it is being hit with hundreds of lawsuits over not just the dicamba problem but also over Monsanto’s RoundUp herbicide?

What about that “but not really” bit in the header there? Well it turns out that isn’t the last word on the issue. The Arkansas state supreme court apparently just told farmers in the state something like “Hey, go ahead and use the stuff anyway for another couple of months.”

Drought

It’s been dry here in Wisconsin where I live just east of Lake Winnebago. Dry and unseasonably hot. We went directly from heating season into air conditioning season with temperatures abruptly leaping from daytime highs of about 50 degrees to temps in the high 90s. At first this was actually rather pleasant, but it’s getting a bit much now. The forecast indicates temperatures are going to remain in the high 80s to low 90s for the rest of the week, with little or no chance of rain in sight. And the long range forecasts are not looking good. They’re predicting above normal temperatures and little or no rain through the entire long range forecast period.

They’re even thinking now that we could be heading into the worst drought we’ve had since 2012.

The drought here is concerning, but it hasn’t reached the extremes it has hit in the south and west, and up into the Dakotas and into Minnesota. This is causing huge problems for the entire ag industry, of course. Ranchers and dairy farms are already culling cattle, some farms aren’t even bothering to plant crops because there’s so little moisture in the ground the seed wouldn’t sprout.

It’s especially hard out west where aquifers are already depleted after years of drought conditions and over pumping of water, and reservoirs depleted by a lack of winter snowfall.

Of course it’s still early in the season, at least for those of us up here in Wisconsin and Minnesota. If we get any kind of decent rains up here in the near future it isn’t going to be too bad. But in other parts of the country, well, things don’t look good at all.

One good thing is that the drought has kept the mosquitoes down. MrsGF and I can actually sit out in the backyard in the evening without getting eaten alive by the little buggers.

Prices Going Up

Yes, the I-word, Inflation, is back. It is only just starting to filter down to the average consumer but it’s been hitting the ag industry hard for some time now. Construction lumber has skyrocketed, doubling and even tripling in price. Corn and soybean prices are still floating at extreme highs, with corn flirting with $7 a bushel and soybeans up close to $16. Increased corn prices have pushed ethanol costs up which, along with increased demand, have pushed gasoline prices up.

Trucking costs have skyrocketed as well, which has hit food distributors hard. And as if that weren’t bad enough, they’re having trouble finding pallets. Pallets, for heaven’s sake. Costs for those have shot up from about $12 each to as high as $40 each. Considering most pallets are made from wood and wood prices have gone up about 300% that’s not surprising.

Anyway, there are a lot of different factors that are pushing prices up. A lot of it is increased demand. After over a year of hunkering down because of the pandemic a lot of people now want to get out and buy stuff and do stuff that they couldn’t do before. I think a lot of this is going to be temporary. Once things start to settle down a little as people get used to living a more or less normal life once again, demand will start to ease.

Employee Shortages

Farmers have always had trouble trying to find workers but now they’re competing against just about everyone else as the pandemic slows down and people try to return to some kind of normal life. The pent up demand for consumer goods is putting huge pressure on the whole system, and just about everybody is scrambling to try to find employees. For decades farmers have relied on immigrant labor to perform temporary jobs like harvesting fruit, vegetables and the like. Jobs that are strictly temporary and only last a few weeks or even days. But government policies have made it far harder, even impossible, to bring in enough immigrant workers to do the work. The same is true for the restaurant, hotel and tourist industries which have also relied on immigrant labor for decades.

Farmers aren’t the only ones having trouble finding employees. Just about everyone is. A lot are going to extreme lengths to try to attract people. It isn’t just increased wages, either. KayTee, the bird and pet food company, is located here and their starting wage for warehouse workers is now pushing up to $20/hour starting, with full benefits, including health insurance, starting the first day of employment, longevity bonuses, and even arranging shifts to be more attractive. You can work a three day shift, 12 hours, get paid for a full 40 hours, and then have the rest of the week off.

Farmers can’t offer those kinds of terms, though. Farmers can’t increase the prices of their products the way manufacturers can in order to try to cover increased labor costs. They get whatever the monopoly food processors will pay them. It’s hard to try to reduce costs as well because most farmers are already operating on razor thin profit margins.

Hemp Hype Hits Roadblock

For decades certain persons have been pushing hemp as the crop that would save the American farmer or some such nonsense. Hemp was going to be hugely profitable, would be in demand for paper making, making clothes, making rope, foods, as yet discovered medical advances and, well, magic pixie dust for all I know.

Yes, hemp was indeed a major industrial crop in the US up through the 1950s. The last commercial hemp crop was planted in 1957 here in Wisconsin, and the crop was banned entirely in 1970 when hemp was classified as a Schedule 1 drug, making it comparable to heroin. Apparently certain persons in the administration at the time had a nightmare involving roving bands of stoned hippies wandering from farm to farm smoking industrial hemp?

Anyway, it is now legal to grow industrial hemp. Sort of. Maybe. Kinda. And it sure isn’t easy. Federal regulations seem to change on almost a monthly basis, and what was legal last month may not be legal this month. Every state has its own laws and regulations. Three states, Idaho, South Dakota, and Mississippi, don’t permit it at all. But the others generally have some kind of permitting process to allow growing it.

But here’s the big question: Can you actually make money growing the stuff?

The answer to that seems to be, frankly, no. At least not enough to bother actually going through all the headaches involved in growing it. Wisconsin’s ag department received 48% fewer applications to grow the stuff this year. The number of registered processors dropped by 37%. And the reason why is that it is damned hard to make a profit off the stuff.

The problem is that except for CBD there just isn’t any market for hemp. Yes, hemp makes an excellent fiber for making paper, even better than wood fibers I’m told. But none of the major paper manufacturers have the equipment or skills to actually use it, and they don’t want to invest in changing because it would be hugely expensive. Yes, you can make a lot of stuff out of hemp. Once upon a time we did. But none of that infrastructure exists any more. Manufacturers switched to different materials and different technology and they have absolutely no reason to switch back.

So that leaves CBD as pretty much the only product that’s made from hemp that might be profitable, and CBD is, well, basically it’s snake oil. Except for use to treat some forms of epilepsy and perhaps arthritis, most of the claims you see made about the stuff are entirely unproven or even outright lies.

So, if you are a farmer with bills to pay, employees to pay, a mortgage to pay, equipment loans to pay, are you going to plant hemp which you will probably lose money on, or are you going to plant corn or soybeans or milo or some other crop that you will actually get paid for?

Cybersecurity

JBS, the huge meat processor (they have 25% of the market in the US) was hit by a ransomware attack that shut down their operations in the US and Australia. JBS apparently had to pay $11 million to the attackers to get control of their computers.

This and the pipeline attack should have people not just outraged but also more than a wee bit frightened because they’ve proved that our basic infrastructure systems are woefully inadequate when it comes to security.

Anyway, let’s wrap this up for now.

Coming up…

I need to get out in the gardens with the camera and get some pictures up. It’s going crazy out there. We’ve had to water the gardens pretty much every single day for two weeks now because of the lack of rain and the abnormally high temperatures, but there is a positive result, everything is growing like nuts and most of our plants out there are about two or three weeks ahead of normal. The tomato plants are loaded with flowers, the raspberries will be ripening in probably a week, we’ll be harvesting lettuce today, we’ll have a few blueberries coming ripe in the next few days on the new bush. The poor hostas are showing some problems from the heat that we normally don’t see until the end of summer.

I haven’t been talking about woodworking and amateur radio much of late because I just haven’t had the time. We spent all of yesterday morning buying food and helping to prep for a kids’ day camp coming up in the near future. That’s something MrsGF is involved in and I just get dragged along to do the heavy lifting. Do you have any idea how much food 40 kids can eat in one week? I didn’t until now. We’re helping to fund a university research project to study the effects of climate change on small fresh water lakes with a small college in upstate New York. And now that the pandemic has started to settle down we really, really need to get down to the brewpub and see how things are going down there because it sounds like the place needs to have some basic renovations done that have been ignored up until now.

My wood shop is horribly over crowded. I need more storage space down there, I need to move out equipment I no longer need and, build racks for wood storage. I just got in $400 worth of wood the other day and until I get things reorganized I don’t have any place to store it conveniently.

I need to get something set up on Etsy so I can start selling some of the stuff I’m cranking out. That means I need to set up a separate bank account for that because I most definitely do not want to tie my personal accounts to an online sales system.

And my kids thought I’d have nothing to do when I retired….

Tree, Spring Photos, Garden Tour, And Stuff

I’m not going to miss this tree too much. It’s been shedding limbs every time we get a 20 mph wind for years now.

The only big old tree we have left on the property is going to have to come down. I’m sad about that but it has to go because it’s rotting out from the top down where two of the major branches of the canopy come together. If we don’t take it down soon it will come down itself and quite possibly do some serious damage. So that will be coming down probably in August. That’s going to mean some big changes in the gardens around here. That tree is massive and it shades out a huge area which always meant what we could grow back there was seriously restricted because of the shade.

Right now I’m thinking of putting in another decorative feature like this one:

MrsGF looked at me like I was nuts when I first proposed it, but then she thought about it for a moment and said sure, why not. Neither of us want to end up with just a big area of nothing but grass back there. So we’ll see. Putting in that feature up there with the retaining wall blocks and all that was a hell of a lot of work and it wasn’t exactly cheap. I think I have about a thousand bucks sunk into that one garden when the costs of the retaining wall blocks, rock, plants and everything else is added up.

The two new raised vegetable beds are doing quite well. One of these days we’re going to get around to building a brick/stone wall around these to make them more decorative looking, but that’s in the future. We have three tomatoes in one, surrounded by onions, and pole beans and more onions in the other.

I highly recommend raised beds for vegetables. They work really well, are easy to keep weed free, easy to tend the soil, the height tends to discourage animals from getting into them. The biggest drawback is that they dry out rather fast and they need to be watered almost every day. Especially this spring because we haven’t had a decent rain in, well, a month or more, I think. It has been an exceptionally dry spring here.

The other two raised beds are doing well also. One has a variety of pepper plants in it. You can see that the plants have #10 cans with the bottoms cut out surrounding them. Those will be coming off this week yet. The cans are a great way to give the plants protection when they’re first transplanted into the garden. The other bed is all beets with more onions planted around the outside. We really, really like beets. We like ’em roasted, sliced, pickled, etc. They freeze pretty well also so we figure we’ll have enough to hold us through the winter with all of these.

Mr. Spiny, our pet cactus is still doing fantastic along the foundation wall. It’s hard to tell in this photo but there are three other cactus off to the left, started from pads we took off Mr. Spiny and stuck in the ground. The soil right along that wall is absolutely horrible and normally almost nothing will grow there. The cactus seem to love it, though. Makes a great conversation piece because people can’t believe that a cactus will thrive here in Wisconsin for some reason, even though Wisconsin does have some native cactus, including this one. There are some other types that are hardy here as well. You don’t need to live in the southwest to have cactus in your gardens.

If you want to grow your own, go for it. I will warn you that in early spring they will look absolutely horrible and you’ll think it’s dead. At least this one does. It’ll be laying flat on the ground, the pads looking all brownish and nasty. It isn’t, though. Once the weather gets a bit better the pads begin to turn green again and start filling out again.

The hosta garden in the front of the house came through the winter quite well and is looking pretty good. They still haven’t reached full size yet but will be getting there pretty soon at the rate they’re growing.

And then the flowers – holy cow have we got flowers this year!

Other Stuff

Yes, I’m still doing the wood turning thing. Below is a tiny little bowl I cranked out the other day from a piece of scrap walnut I had laying around. It’s only about 3 inches wide and 2 inches tall. Cute little thing. Useless for just about anything, but cute.

This one down below is a rework. This was a rosewood bowl that started to show microcracks on the surface about a week or so after I made it. So I put it back on the lathe the other day and reworked it.

It turned out that the cracks were surface defects that only extended a few millimeters into the body of the bowl. So I reshaped the bowl, put on a finish, and we’ll see what happens this time.

My experience with rosewood has been puzzling. I’ve made four pieces with Indian rosewood, and three of them exhibited what I’ve been calling microcracks, very, very thin, sometimes lengthy cracks that do not follow the grain of the wood and seem to be confined to the surface of the wood. I’m not sure why, either. The wood was dry and stable, didn’t exhibit any other defects. Someone said that rosewood is very oily and that perhaps the oils were evaporating from the surface causing the wood to shrink, and I suppose that’s possible. We’ll see what happens with this one.

Night Sounds, Lasers and Handles

Let’s start out with frogs with this little 30 second video. I put up a video a few weeks ago of some frogs singing when I was out on the bike, but this is in my own backyard this time. As soon as it starts to get dark here, this is what it sounds like here at the house. Turn up your volume and wait a bit. It takes about 10 seconds for the sound to kick in. You aren’t going to see much, it’s dark. It’s the sound that I want you to hear.

Frogs. Dozens and dozens of frogs singing their little hearts out. It one of the most amazing things I’ve ever heard. As soon as the weather got warmer and we got a bit of rain this frog chorus started in and I find myself going out into the backyard a couple of times a night just to listen to these guys.

Lasers

So, let’s move on to lasers, specifically the laser engraver over there on the left. This is the “Laser Engraver laser engraving machine 3000mw laser class 4 Off-line Upgrade Version CNC Pro DIY Logo engraver” from a company called GanGou.

Now I’ve been interested in laser engravers for some time now. You all know by now I fiddle around with wood, and I thought it would be interesting to be able to burn artwork onto some of the things I crank out here from time to time. Especially now that I’ve been getting into this lathe stuff. If I am going to sell this stuff I’d like to put a logo, name, maybe a date, on the bottom of the bowls. A lot of people use custom made branding irons, but those are expensive and can’t be changed without buying a new one. A custom made branding iron with your own logo can set you back well over $100 or more, and then that is all it can do. This laser here costs about $250 and can engrave just about anything you can stuff into a .BMP file.

I never bought one before because they were way, way out of my budget. The good ones anyway. There were always really cheap ones on the market but every one of those I saw was utterly horrible in every single way. ES (Eldest Son) bought one of those a few years ago and it took him days just to get it running and it was utterly useless if he tried to engrave anything bigger than about 1 square inch.

That’s changed, though. Some of the cheap models are now very, very good, and this is one of them. It goes for around $250 on Amazon and it is a lot better than I expected it to be. The build quality on this thing is excellent. It is very, very well made. The hardware is all beautifully finished, the tolerances are excellent, the stepper motors are high quality. It is just very, very good.

This is what comes in the box. Don’t be intimidated. Everything is pre-wired. All I had to do was bolt it together. Four screws hold the arm with the pre-mounted laser to the main arm, 8 screws hold on the feet, and that’s it. It’s ready to go. I went from opening the box to making the first (successful) test engraving in less than 20 minutes.

It does have its quirks, though. The manual is terrible. But then I expected that. Utterly horrible manuals, instructions, assembly notes, etc. are pretty much par for the course with a lot of equipment these days, and this is no exception. The instructions were in both English and Chinese, and interestingly enough the Chinese instructions were just as bad as those in English. (Google Translate makes life for us dabblers in oddball equipment much easier.) The instructions for putting it together are pretty clear, but the rest of the manual deals with the included software, not the engraver itself. And, well…

The software that comes with it, well, you might as well not even bother installing it. In my case I installed it on my test computer, a more or less bullet proof generic, business class Lenovo laptop that I picked up refurbed for $200, running Win 10. This computer will run anything because there is no speciality hardware, no oddball drivers, nothing. It is your basic, simple, 100% compatible Windows 10 computer.

It won’t run the Gangou software, though. The drivers installed. Well, I think they did but it was hard to tell because all of the prompts were in Chinese. The software installed. It ran, and then immediately locked up tight as soon as I tried to click on any of the buttons. As far as I can tell, clicking anywhere in the program, on any control, makes it lock up tight. Sigh… I’ll fiddle with it a while longer to see if I can figure out what’s going on, but I don’t have a lot of hope. I don’t know yet if the hardware will work with the other open source or commercial laser engraver programs out there. I only just got the thing and I haven’t had time to really look into it further.

Fortunately you don’t need the software at all to run this thing. You can do everything from that little touch screen. Plug a flash drive with your .BMP file into it, turn it on, select the file you want to use, set the laser strength, do the positioning test to make sure the object is in the right place, and hit start. Using it from the touch screen is about as simple as it gets. And as you can see from the results of a test run on a tap handle I cranked out the other day, it does a pretty darn nice job.

So far I’ve only done about a dozen engravings with it, including test runs, so I have no idea how long it will hold up under continued use, but considering how well made it seems I’m not too worried about that. And at around $250 the price is right. The reviews on Amazon are all over the place. But you have to be really cautious about reviews these days. And a lot of the really negative reviews seem to have been from, well, idiots, to be blunt, people who couldn’t figure out how to put it together, didn’t know anything about laser engravers in the first place and that kind of thing. One of these days I should really do an article about product reviews and how to try to sort the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.

Tap Handles

So I’ve been making handles for beer taps of late. A couple of very good friends of ours bought a tavern in a Milwaukee suburb and are converting it into a brewpub, and we might have invested a few bucks in it. The handles on their taps were left over from the previous owner, and all of those handles are left over from the usual big monopoly beer brands which sell stuff that tastes like their breweries are directly connected to the Clydesdale stables drainage ditch. So those handles have to be replaced with something that reflects what’s actually in the kegs they’re connected to. Hence the need for the laser engraver I’ve been talking about. I’ve done a couple of experimental efforts already. They’re dirt simple to turn out in just about any shape I want. The chrome ferrule down at the bottom consists of a threaded rod; a wood screw on one end to go into the tap, machine threads on the other end to fit into a chrome plated brass fitting that then screws onto the tap itself. Those are cheap. I got these for about $1.50 each from a company in India and they’re good quality.

So now that I’ve done some experimenting I am going to crank out about 8 of these for them, and use the laser to engrave their own company logo on them and even specific beer names if they want. And I can make ’em out of scrap wood I have left over from other projects, even glue up blanks with different types of wood like the experiment over there on the left.

Still Biking

Someone asked if I was still bike riding and I am indeed. As soon as the weather started getting warm enough to get out I was out on the bike every chance I had. I’ve had some issues with breaking spokes. I’ve had to have spokes replaced three times already this year and I only have a couple of hundred miles on the bike. I think it’s being caused by shock from going over the railroad tracks around here. The rail crossings have gotten really, really bad over the past year.

Anyway I am out and about, but I haven’t said much here because I figured you all were getting bored with it.

Holy cow it’s dry out there. Thats the river down by the old stone bridge which is on my regular route. This time of year that river up there should be about 3 feet deeper and flowing along at a pretty good speed. Instead it looks more like it normally would at the end of August – completely stagnant, only about a foot or so deep.

We’ve been under fire warnings almost since the snow melted here, and we’ve already had several wild fires. They’re small when compared to those out west, but yes, we have them here too. We got a good shower last night but it doesn’t come close to making up for it. We’ve had to water the gardens here on a regular basis already, something we generally don’t have to do until mid to late summer.

But it still looks amazingly beautiful out there. The road and trailside flowers are in full bloom and I really look forward to getting out of town and into the countryside.

Let’s see, what else… The vegetable gardens are all in. We have the raised beds planted with onions, beans, a variety of peppers, etc. We have one that’s all beets this year because, well, we like beets so why not? We put in a couple of squash, a few cukes. I have two jalapeno peppers growing in pots out front. Only two because I’m the only one who likes jalapenos around here. We only put in 3 tomato plants this year because we still have a lot of canned tomatoes from last year.

The big ash tree in the backyard is going to have to come down. I noticed a large hole near the top of the trunk right where two of the main branches come together and it looks like it’s rotting from the top down. So that has to go before it comes down and damages something. We already talked to a service about doing that and they’ll be coming at the end of summer to take it down. I’m going to keep the wood, at least all of the big stuff, and we’re going to keep the stump and turn it into a decorative feature. That means we get a significantly lower cost for the removal of the tree, all they have to haul out is the brushy stuff.

And that, my friends, is about it for this time.

What’s coming up…

I’ll put up photos of the “official” tap handles once I get those done.

I’m doing some experimenting with the boxelder wood I got from MrsGf’s sister and that stuff looks really nice. If that turns out I’ll put up some pictures of that.

I suppose I should talk about the DeWalt battery chainsaw I picked up a few months ago. That has turned out to work a lot better than I ever thought it would and it deserves a look. I have a Poulan gas chain saw but it is very, very old, very noisy, very messy, leaks oil and is just nasty. So far the DeWalt has been working well. I use it for cutting up large blocks of wood that won’t fit on my band saw or table saw so they’ll fit on my lathe.

Diving Into the Photo Archive

I have about 7,000+ photos in the archive and I keep telling myself I really, really need to sort them all out somehow because there’s stuff in there I’d really like to keep and possibly make prints of, and stuff that should just be deleted. I got bored this morning and started doing some sorting, so here’s a few I dug up in no particular order because why not? Some I haven’t published before, some I have. They’ve more or less been selected at random for no real reason.

I’m a real sucker for roadside attractions. They’re often silly, cheesy, ridiculous, sometimes inexplicable. This place allegedly bought up all of the movie props from Dances With Wolves and then used them to recreate scenes from the movie. I haven’t seen the movie. My wife chased me out of the room when she watched it because I couldn’t stop laughing.

Everything in this place was covered with a thick layer of dust. It was really rather sad.

This was supposedly a recreation of a late 1800s classroom. What’s really sad is that those are exactly the same type of desks I had when I was in the 1st and 2nd grade. Seriously. That should give you a hint that either my school was really, really bad, or I am really, really old.

Not many people have a hot air balloon land on the road in front of them. I wasn’t in a hurry so I just pulled over and watched them recover the balloon. They were actually pretty lucky. They were coming in from the right and if they hadn’t hit the ground where they did they would have hit the power lines on the left.

Did I ever mention I’m an amateur astronomer? Technology has gotten so good that we amateurs now have access to equipment that even professional astronomers would have drooled over twenty or thirty years ago.

Alien cat from outer space with laser eyes.

Farm Catch Up: Corn Goes Nuts, Lumber Goes Insane, Dairy Pride Act Back, Herbicide Shortages, And Stuff

Let’s Start with Corn

Photo by Adonyi Gu00e1bor on Pexels.com

Well it was a wild ride on the commodities market this past week as corn hit $7.40 and soybeans hit $15.71. We haven’t seen prices like this in something like ten years or more, and a lot of people are puzzled by why the commodities prices have spiked up this high, this fast. There are no natural disasters or reports of extreme shortages that would cause this, so what’s going on?

It’s a combination of things that have made the markets a wee bit nervous. China is trying to rebuild its pig herds after they were decimated because of culling from African Swine Fever, so there is increased demand there. There are weather problems in parts of South America that are interfering with some corn production down there. USDA announced that US farmers are going to plant less corn this growing season. The reduction isn’t much, but enough to make people think it might make supplies tight. They think people are going to be driving a lot more this summer which is going to mean increased demand for gasoline which, in turn, means more demand for ethanol to meet the blending requirements.

So here we are with corn at 7.49 at the moment. Extended out into the future commodities prices get more reasonable, but not by much. July corn is sitting at 6.73 which is still high but not utterly horrible, and September corn is at 5.92

So, why should you be interested in corn prices? Because volatility in corn prices ripples through the whole economy. High corn prices mean it costs a lot more for the dairy, beef, chicken and pork producers to feed their cattle. That’s going to put pressure on consumer food prices across the board, not just dairy products and meat. High corn prices can force producers to look at other grains like wheat to substitute. That can push wheat prices up, increasing costs for flour, which increases the cost of baked goods. Well, you get the idea.

It also puts pressure on fuel prices. The government mandates that refiners blend a certain amount of ethanol into their fuels, and in the US the majority of that ethanol is made from corn.

Now the markets can absorb some of these increased costs, but not a lot and not for long, and sooner rather than later it’s going to result in increased prices on consumer products. So if corn prices stay this high for much longer, you’re going to see that rippling out into increased prices on food, fuel and other products that you buy yourself. Some companies like General Mills and a few others have already already announced that they’re going to have no choice but to start raising consumer prices. Wholesale beef prices have gone up about 33% already this past month.

And it isn’t just food. Just look at the craziness going on with lumber. And speaking of lumber…

What The Hell Is Going On With Lumber?

That’s a question a lot of people are asking because lumber prices have gone nuts. Prices on lumber have spiked up around 360% in just the past year. That is not a typo. 360% in one year. I was paying under $2 for 2×4 studs last year, now that’s up to around $7 each. MrsGF and I have pushed back plans to do a few remodeling projects here at the house because not only have prices skyrocketed, it’s hard to get materials even at those prices. I talked to one contractor who builds houses. he bid on building one house late last year at $350K and now the same house would be closer to $450K.

Why this abrupt spike in prices? It isn’t because there’s a shortage of trees or something like that. Nor are the people growing trees getting the money. They’ve seen only a 2% increase in the price they’re getting for the logs. It’s all the haulers, sawmills and processors in between that are the cause.

The claim is that it’s being caused by a labor shortage. They can’t find truck drivers, workers at sawmills, tree cutters, etc.

Herbicide and Plastic Shortages

As if corn and lumber prices weren’t enough to worry about, we’re also seeing shortages of herbicides, insecticides, fungicides and, believe it or not, plastics. Farmers are having trouble finding things like field drainage tile and the plastic wrap used to protect bales. There are reported shortages of glyphosate and some other herbicides, some fungicides and insecticides that are used to prevent weeds and protect crops.

What this all adds up to is considerable pressure to increase prices. Someone has to pay for all of these increased costs and in the long run that’s going to be us, the consumers. How bad those increases will be, well, I have no idea. It is going to depend on how long commodities prices remain high and how much of the cost increases the industry is willing to absorb before they have to raise prices. As I said earlier in this, a lot of companies have already announced price increases.

Dairy Pride Act

So, let’s talk about plant based “milk”. I didn’t really want to talk about things like almond milk and all that, but it’s in the news again thanks to the Dairy Pride Act being pushed by Sen. Baldwin from Wisconsin and a few other politicians.

The whole problem revolves around that one word, milk, and how it is defined. There are two real definitions of the word, one biological, and one legal. Biologically speaking milk is the scrections of the mammary glands from mammalian animals and which are used to feed their young. The legal definition is, well, here’s a direct quote from federal government regulations:

“Milk means the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows, which may be clarified and may be adjusted by separating part of the fat therefrom; concentrated milk, reconstituted milk, and dry whole milk. Water, in a sufficient quantity to reconstitute concentrated and dry forms, may be added.”

You will undoubtedly note a lot of problems with the above. The most glaring problem is that it claims milk only comes from cows, ignoring the fact that goats, sheep, horses, oxen, even beavers, give milk. (Mmmm, beaver milk. Yum. Wasn’t there an old Monty Python joke about Peruvian beaver cheese?) (Sorry, my mind just flashed up an image of a farmer trying to milk a beaver. That’s just the way my brain works. It scares me sometimes. My brain, not beavers.)

So, here’s the problem. For years now certain companies have been selling nut, grain or bean based liquids as substitutes for dairy milk and calling the stuff milk. This is, technically, illegal. The US has very strict labeling requirements when it comes to food, and the government has gleefully gone after a host of companies and individuals who mislabel their products. But not when it comes to this stuff. For whatever reason the agencies responsible for food labeling accuracy have blithely ignored the mislabeling of these products, despite a considerable amount of pressure from the dairy industry to do something about it.

Now you might think this whole thing is silly, and you do have a point. But on the other hand the anger of the dairy industry is understandable as well. The dairy industry has spent many, many decades and hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising, propaganda, health claims, puffed up PR campaigns and other efforts to try to make its products appear to be healthy, good for you, pure and wholesome, and even essential. And then along come these upstarts trying to cash in on all of the work the dairy industry put into making milk look good, and claiming that their products are “milk” as well, and, well, they’re pissed.

Legally speaking, the dairy industry has a valid point. This stuff does not meet the legal definition of “milk”. US food labeling laws, if strictly interpreted, should make the labeling of this stuff as “milk” to be illegal. But the court system doesn’t seem to see it that way and has let this continue, so, well, here we are then.

Politicians from large dairy states like Wisconsin are upset about this as well because, well, let’s be blunt here. The only reason they’re upset is because the dairy industry is paying them to be upset. The dairy industry pumps huge amounts of money into the coffers of these politicians and their PACs. The result is this Dairy Pride thingie which basically says that you can only label actual milk as milk.

Will this actually go anywhere? I have no idea. If it passes, will it help the dairy industry? No. Won’t do a thing to help the dairy industry. Will it hurt the fake milk industry? Probably not. They’ll just come up with something else to call their stuff, pump a few more bucks into their advertising budgets, and that will be it.

Now, let’s see, what else did I want to babble about? There was some more stuff… Oh, amateur radio! Gads, almost forgot about that.

My OCFD (that’s an “off center fed dipole” for you non-radio people out there, a kind of antenna) came down again. That is a long wire antenna, about 130 feet long in total. It had snapped before and I’d repaired it and put it back up, but it snapped again now, so I figure that years of hanging in the air and flapping about in the wind has caused metal fatigue or something in the wires, so I didn’t bother fixing it again. It’s going to come down and I already have another one on order. Why not build my own? I could, but I did mention about the lazy thing, right? Why build one when I can buy one that’s probably going to be better than I could make myself.

Meanwhile I’m using a GAP Titan DX vertical antenna which has turned out to be way, way better than I’d hoped. I’ve had that one up for some time now and it works amazingly well. I had contacts with 3 Japanese stations in the space of about 10 minutes yesterday afternoon using less than 100 watts output, plus one or two in Europe and in other exotic places like Texas, New York, etc.

Who wants to sit in a basement workshop when stuff like this is outside?

My woodworking and wood turning has come to a screeching halt recently because I’ve been spending a lot of time out in the gardens hauling compost, tilling up stuff, etc. We got the onions and garlic in but it’s still too early to put anything else out. The weather hasn’t exactly been warm here except for two days when it was in the mid 80s. Generally it hasn’t gotten much above 50 here, with night time temps pushing down into the mid 30s or even a bit lower. That hasn’t kept the tulips from blooming though as you can see from that photo up there.

But back to wood working to wrap this up. I really enjoyed making decorative lamps with resin and wood and want to do some more of those, so I’ve got more resin on order and that should be coming this week yet. The few “jumble” pieces I did as experiments with odd bits of wood cast into resin, well much to my surprise people really seem to like those for some reason so I’ll probably do a few more of those. But what I really want to make are more decorative lamps. Anyway, more about that when I get into that.

Corn Hits $6, New Windows, New Wood, New Laptop and the ever popular More Stuff!

Corn futures prices have been flirting with $6 for weeks now and prices finally pushed over that line when I got up this morning and started reading the news. As of right now May corn is sitting at $6.32. Soybeans were up to $14.78 and I wouldn’t be too surprised to see it hitting $15. We haven’t seen corn prices this high in a long time. If I remember right we haven’t had prices this high since we had a serious drought quite a few years ago.

While high corn and bean prices are good for the farmers who grow the stuff, they’re bad for just about everyone else, and if prices stay this high for more than a short time it is going to have effects that will ripple through the whole economy. Dairy farms are starting to cull their herds already because of high feed prices, as are beef ranchers and hog operations. That could potentially result in higher food prices for you and me. It could put more pressure on wheat, forcing that up causing increases in prices for anything that uses cereal grains like bread. It could even cause significant increases in fuel prices.

Weather

Holy cow it’s been cold up over here in Wisconsin for the last few days. As anyone who’s lived in Wisconsin for more than a few years can tell you, we’re all a bit paranoid about weather up here, and for good reason. We all figure Mother Nature is a sadistic b**ch and is out to get us. She lulls us into a false sense of security with a period of abnormally nice weather, and then BAM, she nails us with something nasty.

So after a couple of days with temps up in the high 70s a few weeks ago, she brought the hammer down and nailed us with icily cold weather ever since, with nighttime temps dropping down to the mid-20s and daytime temperatures rarely getting above 45 or so. We’ve had light snow for a few days, including last night. They had a bridge or two in Green Bay closed for a while because of icing.

So it’s a good thing we finally got the new windows in eh?

This project actually started late last summer when the storm window in the office was literally sucked out of its frame during a high wind. Turned out that what we thought was a solid window frame wasn’t so solid. It had been slowly rotting away behind the paint so we didn’t know how bad it was until the damage was done. So we decided to replace all the office windows and the one in the dining room.

Now usually it doesn’t take long to get new windows made, a week or two at the most. But we hadn’t taken into account the fact that 2020 was far from a normal year. Between shortages of construction materials, disruptions at the factory from sick or quarantined employees and everything else, it was mid November before the windows finally came in and by that time the weather was so bad we couldn’t do the installation.

Anyway, they’re finally in, look good and our contractor, Russ, did his usual excellent job dealing with the situation.

We’d been considering remodeling the main bathroom as well, but we’re going to be putting that off until next year because Russ told me he’s not sure he can even get the stuff we want in any kind of reasonable amount of time. He’s had a bathtub/shower unit on order since January for another job and that won’t be coming in until June. So we’re going to wait until things calm down a bit before going forward with that project.

New Wood

Friends and family know that I’m always looking for interesting bits of wood, so MrsGF’s sister and her husband showed up this weekend with this in the back of their van, some neat looking boxelder from a tree they took down a few weeks ago.

Boxelders are considered a weed around here. They’re extremely invasive, tend to grow fast and die young, and the wood isn’t really good for much. Even healthy looking trees will turn out to be rotting away on the inside. But I’ve seen some really spectacular pieces turned from boxelder so I’m looking forward to tackling this stuff. Some of it looks really promising with some spalting and interesting coloration.

One of the fun things about wood turning is you can put just about anything on that lathe. You don’t need expensive, furniture grade wood to end up with a nice bowl or art project. In fact, some of the nastiest looking stuff that you’d think should end up in the fire pit can end up making some of the most spectacular objects you can imagine.

New Laptop

I do most of the writing and photo stuff for this blog on a 10 year old Macbook Pro that lives on the kitchen table. It gets used a lot. And it is starting to show its age. The keys on the keyboard are chipped, worn and cracked, the LCD display is exhibiting, oh, I suppose you’d call it ghosting. If I bring up a white page like the editing screen for this blog, I can still sometimes see shadows of images that the screen had been showing before. Anyway, I figured it’s time to replace this thing before it just up and dies on me.

Once upon a time what to buy would have been simple, I’d just buy another Macbook. I’ve always liked Apple’s laptops and I’ve had two or three of them over the years. But… Well, Apple’s been having some problems, hasn’t it? There was the infamous keyboard problem with some Macbooks. There have been display issues, battery issues, rumors about problems with SSDs… The latest is that some models of the Macbook had bad cables connecting the LCD display to the computer.

And then there is the price problem. Apple equipment has always been expensive. And what you get for that price — well, Apple’s computers have never exactly been “cutting edge” when it comes to the capabilities of their computers. The hardware stuffed into those fancy cases might be good quality (most of the time), but the actual specifications of that hardware are mediocre at best.

What I ended up with, well, okay, what I ended up with is a bit overkill for a computer that’s probably only going to be used for doing email, writing and reading stuff. (A bit? Ha!). It’s a 17″ MSI GE75 with an i7 6 core processor clocked at a bit shy of 3 gHz, 32 gb RAM, a GeForce RTX 2070 and a 1TB SSD. So, well, yeah, it’s a bit overkill. But on the other hand I got a really good deal on it and it was a lot less than even a low end Macbook Pro would have cost me.

I needed something with some horsepower because eventually it’s going to be used to run Adobe CS to edit photos and videos, and while I don’t do actual gaming any more I do play around in SecondLife and need something with a fairly high end graphics.

Anyway, more about that in the future. Maybe.

That’s about it for now. Hopefully we’ll be getting some decent weather soon so we can get out in the gardens and I can get out on the bicycle. Trying to get on the bike when the temperatures are in the 40s isn’t exactly a lot of fun.