Catch Up: Monsanto Ceases to Exist, Heat, and Stuff!

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A picture of a rose because, well, why not?

That heading up there is not a typo. Monsanto ceased to exist as of June 7 when the merger with ag giant Bayer was completed. The name “Monsanto” will be retired completely within a few months, the company will no longer exist, and all of its business will be conducted under the Bayer name. The complete acquisition will take a few months longer. Bayer still has to sell off some of its business parts to satisfy the DOJ’s requirements for approval of the acquisition, but it’s pretty much a done deal.

If you don’t find these mergers concerning, well, you should. As the saying goes, “the only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history”. The claim that these “mega-mergers” improve the efficiency of a company, reduce prices to consumers, etc., is pure nonsense. There were valid reasons for the rise of the “trust busters” in the late 19th and early 20th century as the abuses of the monopolies became so great and so obvious that not even their wealth and influence could prevent the outrage that caused the development of the anti-monopoly laws, lawsuits and legal actions that broke many of them up back then.

Trade Wars

Oh brother… I could go on and on about this nonsense. I won’t. I try to stay away from politics here because, well, why bother? You get flooded with enough of that nonsense in other forums. However, I find it more than a little ironic to have you-know-who here in Wisconsin celebrating giving away more than $4 billion in taxpayer money to a Chinese company to lure it to Wisconsin while at the same time engaging in never ending tweet-storms about unfair trade practices by that country.

Oh, I should add that the company quietly announced that, to paraphrase them, “oh, by the way, the factory we’re going to put up is going to be a fraction of the size we said it would, isn’t going to make the product we said it was going to make, and we’re only going to hire a few hundred people not the 13,000 we said, but that the big factory will be put up “real soon”. Maybe.”

What remains to be seen is where FoxCon is going to find any employees. The unemployment rate in the state is under 4%, and in some parts of the state it’s under 3%. Employers have tried hiring bonuses, improving benefits, even upping starting wages. Several companies here have now even dropped the high school diploma requirement.

How Hot Is It?

In a word, very. It hit 97 F here yesterday (Friday), with very high humidity. Heat index was up around 107 the weather people said. It’s supposed to be even worse today with a heat index pushing 110. It was already 83 when I got up at 5:30 this morning. Basically no one goes outside in this weather unless they absolutely have to.

I remember what it was like milking cows in this kind of weather. Dear lord, it was bad. The cows were miserable, we were miserable, the cats were miserable, the dog was miserable…

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I don’t know what in the world made me think taking this photo was a good idea. MrsGF makes me wear the dopey vest. Make it easier for the police to find my body when I get hit by a truck, I guess.

While I looked at the poor bike sitting there in the garage behind the car, and was momentarily tempted, not even I am crazy enough to go out on the back roads and trails on a bicycle in this kind of weather.

I’ve become addicted to biking, though. Whenever the weather is even close to being decent I want to get out and put at least a few miles on. Being addicted to biking isn’t a bad thing, of course. It’s healthy, fun, relaxing.

But definitely not when it’s this hot and humid.

Amateur Radio Stuff

Okay, I have to admit it, I’m a bit bored with the FT8 mode. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not agreeing with the curmudgeons who think FT8 is ruining amateur radio. FT8 is just one of a long line of technologies that was going to “destroy amateur radio” according to the GOBs (good ole boys).  If you get on some of the amateur radio forums like QRZ and listen to some of these people ranting, you’d think FT8 was the harbinger of the apocalypse, for heaven’s sake.

But dam, FT8 does work if you want to make contacts under bad conditions and with less that ideal equipment.

Speaking of the QRZ website, I don’t know what’s wrong with some of the people who stalk the forums. And I do not use the term “stalk” lightly. That’s what they seem to do. They haunt the forums just waiting to pounce on anyone they think they can get away with insulting. Newcomers to the hobby are the natural prey of these jackasses. The most innocuous question will result in them pouncing on them without mercy with snide remarks, sarcasm, insults, accusations of them not knowing what they’re doing.

It’s a shame, really. QRZ has some great resources and there are a lot of people in the forums who are genuinely willing to help when you run into problems or are looking for information. But this handful of jackasses really ruin things. The moderators really need to step up and shut this kind of crap down. Right now QRZ has become so toxic because of some of these people that I have started to tell newcomers to avoid it completely and when my current subscription runs out next year I might not renew it.

Astronomy Stuff

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my 11 inch Celestron set up in the driveway. I must confess I don’t use it very often because the thing is almost impossible for one person to set up. Just the optical tube goes about 70 pounds.

Newcomers to this blog or whatever it is may not know I’m also an amateur astronomer because I haven’t talked about that in a long time here. I have two telescopes, the big 11 inch Celestron shown here, and a 3 inch Meade. I’ve been fascinated with astronomy since I was a kid. But as much as I love astronomy, there are aspects of it that I find more than a little tiresome, the main one being so-called scientists who claim life is everywhere out there.

It seems NASA spokespersons and even a lot of professional astronomers have gone right off the deep end with this. Mars could have life. Or may have had life billions of years ago. Moons of Jupiter and Saturn could have life. Hell, according to some of these people, Pluto could have life because they think there may be liquid water under the crust. Venus, which is as toxic a place as you can imagine with temperatures of 700+ degrees and sulfuric acid rain could have life, they tell us. And…

well, it’s all BS. I’m sorry, it just is.

As the Fermi paradox points out, if life out there is as common as some people claim, where the heck is it? Fermi pointed out that, given the number of stars in the galaxy and the age of the universe, if there was any intelligent life out there, there should be some kind of evidence that it exists that should be obvious to us by now. So where is it?

Despite the PR fluff pieces coming out of NASA and from astronomers who really should know better, there is no evidence of life anywhere outside of the Earth. The SETI project has turned up nothing but a few questionable signals that could be from natural sources or from man made sources. The Mars rovers have turned up some interesting results,  yes, but any sign of actual life either now or in the past? No. A lot has been made of the presence of methane on Mars and they’re attempting to link that to some kind of life. But there are other, far more likely explanations for the presence of methane.

We have no evidence at all that there is life out there. None. All we have is speculation, theory, beliefs, claims, and no actual evidence.

A study by Oxford scientists Sandberg, Drexler and Ord that came out a short time ago, examined the Fermi paradox and the Drake equation and other factors with an unbiased eye and, well, the results aren’t good for the proponents of life being common. They found huge margins for error in the calculations and that the “evidence” presented to support wide spread life in the universe is little more than wishful thinking.

The Drake equation is pretty much worthless. The parameters assigned to the equation are, well, flat out guesses. No one knows for sure. The parameters are often wildly optimistic, failing to take into account known facts.

If you look at the actual facts, the results are less optimistic. As the authors said in their report, “When we take account of realistic uncertainty, replacing point estimates by probability distributions that reflect current scientific understanding, we find no reason to be highly confident that the galaxy (or observable universe) contains other civilizations.”

“When we update this prior in light of the Fermi observation, we find a substantial probability that we are alone in our galaxy, and perhaps even in our observable universe.

“‘Where are they?’ — probably extremely far away, and quite possibly beyond the cosmological horizon and forever unreachable.”

 

 

More Stuff!

Almost as soon as the weather got warmer the bike got pulled out of storage and I was out on it. It took me a few days to get back into it again, but it was easier than I thought it was going to be. Apparently doing the treadmill every day during the winter kept me from completely falling apart and it wasn’t long before it was comfortable to be back in the saddle and putting on more than a few miles.

IMG_0895This is an amazing time of year to be out in the countryside biking around. Everything is lush and green, everything is in flower this time of year. I sometimes struggle between the temptation to keep going to put on some miles in a reasonable amount of time and the temptation to stop every few hundred feet to take photos of some neat plant or flower as I rid around the backroads.

I wish the trail in the lead photo up there was a bit closer, though. The start of the trail is about four miles from town, but once you get on it, it runs for more than 30 miles all the way to Green Bay, with branches leading off into towns like Brillion.IMG_0901.jpg

This year I’m trying an app for my phone called aprs.fi. It uses the phone to tie into the APRS system. Automatic Packet Reporting system. It uses the phone to send and receive little bits of data back and forth to a network. It’s been used by amateur radio operators for many years now to send information, and one of its uses is position tracking. A lot of VHF/UHF transceivers have APRS capabilities built into them, and some transceivers have GPS built into them as well. They can be set up to periodically transmit the position of the radio to permit it to be tracked by others using the system.

MrsGf has a similar program for her iPhone plus the FTM-400DR transceiver in her car has APRS and GPS capabilities. The local ARES group she belongs to is just now looking into using APRS to track members of the group when they’re out in the field. Since APRS/GPS capable transceivers are still pretty pricy they’re looking at the APRS applications available for smart phones. Some work pretty well, others have problems, some serious. The one I use is aprs.fi and it seems well above average in it’s utility and capabilities. When the group was out doing volunteer communications for the Elkhart Lake Triathlon over the weekend a couple of people were using using some of the apps and I was able to track their positions in near real-time on a map.

IMG_0902I had it running when I was out on the bike Saturday and used it to plot my course when I did about 11 miles that morning. You can see the plot in the screen capture.

The question is why would I want to do this? Well, I’m out on the bike, on backroads or trails, and you never know what happens. Accidents, health issues, any number of things could happen that would incapacitate me. Yes, they can use the cell phone to try to find me, but trying to find the exact location of a cell phone is an iffy thing and often very inaccurate. The APRS app uses the phone’s GPS system so it’s much more accurate than trying to use the cell phone system to do the locating.

Certainly it’s a great technology for emergency services and ARES/RACES organizations should almost certainly be looking into it as a way of tracking their operators when they’re out in the field.

Let’s see, what else… The gardens are doing well. We’ve had to do a lot of watering. It’s been pretty dry around here over the last couple of weeks. Temperatures have been fairly cool after the heat wave we went through a few weeks ago.

They drag me into the clinic every 6 months so I spent the whole morning doing that. To make a long story short, everything checked out fine. All the numbers were where they are supposed to be. BP is still higher than it should be, but it’s no where near as bad as it was a year ago so I’m happy about that. And they’re delighted I’ve taken up biking. I think everyone was afraid that once I retired I was going to end up sitting on my butt all day in front of the radio or computer or television and it kind of surprised everyone that I started doing that last year.

The next thing I want to do is put together a low-power (QRP) transceiver that I can throw into a backpack and take out on the trail with me. I think it would be great fun to sit out in the woods or on a trail somewhere with an antenna strung up in a tree and trying to make contacts with just a couple of watts of power.

 

Rabbits, Cans and Antennas

Screen Shot 2018-06-05 at 6.07.48 AMWhile we live in town, we live in an area with large house lots, many trees, lots of bushes and a lot of rather lush vegetation, so we have the curse of the gardener, rabbits. Last year the little buggers ate all of my red runner beans almost as soon as they sprouted. There are mornings when I get up and I’ll see a half dozen of them in our yard or in the neighbors’ yards grazing on whatever the four legged locusts can gobble down. They’re getting more and more brave, too, coming out by mid afternoon in some parts of town. One of my neighbors tried live trapping them but had no success.

IMG_0891So to keep the little four legged vacuum cleaners out of our veggies we resort to fencing and one of the things MrsGF and I did over the weekend was put one up to keep them out of our produce. We got new fencing this year to replace the nasty looking chicken wire we used previously. It’s only 2 feet tall, a dark green color to make it less intrusive looking, and it’s fairly easy to put up. Hopefully it will keep the little stinkers out of our just barely sprouting beans.

Now you probably see all those #10 sized cans in there and you may not know about this trick. This is something MrsGF introduced me to years ago. When you first put seedlings out into the garden it’s something of a shock for them. They’ve just come out of a damp, warm, cozy little greenhouse and now are stuck out in the cold, cruel world and have to fend for themselves. The cans help to give them some shelter from the elements and protect them from the previously mentioned rabbits. Just get some empty #10 cans, cut the bottoms out of them, and push them about an inch into the soil around the newly transplanted seedlings. The only thing you have to remember is that when you finally pull the cans out after the plants are established is to give the can a twist before lifting it up or it can pull up large clods of earth which can disturb the roots.

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There are big changes coming for this area back here shown above. Right now it’s largely just decorative except for the lettuce bed behind the big rock. The problem back here is this area is really low and is almost underwater in the early spring, which makes it hard to grow anything except grass. That’s why we put in the raised beds which are off to the right out of sight. MrsGF and I decided this whole area is going to get raised up, perhaps yet this year if we get the time. We’re going to get decorative retaining blocks like the ones currently surrounding the lettuce bed, pull out all of the plants we want to keep, and then make the whole thing into a single raised bed about a foot above the height of the lawn.

Antennas

Well, we’ll have to move the antenna parts you see off to the right before we can start anything back there. Hopefully that tower you see laying back there that has been going to be put up “real soon now” for about 5 years will get put up this year. Maybe. And the GAP Titan vertical antenna will replace the Comet vertical as soon as I can corner eldest son and guilt him into helping.

The antenna tower… I traded a deep cycle marine battery for that with one of the ARES guys. He needed a battery for the power system in the emcomm trailer, he had this tower laying around that he just took down, so we made a swap. The tower was supposed to go up at the end of the garage and be the support for various antennas, including one for broadcast TV so MrsGF can watch PBS in the evening. (The problem with digital TV versus the old analog is that with the old analog if you were in a fringe reception area, you still could see and hear something. There would be static, yes, but you’d still get a watchable picture. If you’re in a fringe area with digital, you get nothing). Eldest son keeps claiming he’s going to help get it up the next time he gets over here.

Antennas are really my biggest problem when it comes to amateur radio. I play around with them, experiment, etc. but I haven’t come up with anything really any better than the off center fed dipole currently strung up from the garage to a couple of trees. It works reasonably well, but is way too low to the ground. And the biggest problem is that one leg of the dipole runs to a tree in the neighbor’s yard, and the neighbor is moving, so that means the antenna has to be moved too.

Like a lot of amateur radio operators, I’ve accumulated a lot of junk related to the hobby, including several different types of antennas. And despite claims from the manufacturers of many antennas, most of them don’t really work all that well. It’s basic physics, really. In order to be efficient, antennas for radio frequencies down in the shortwave (HF) portions of the amateur radio bands, like down in 80 or 40 meters, need to be pretty long. Your cell phone has a really, really tiny antenna, because it works with very, very high frequencies.

Antennas for the frequencies I work with are huge. We’re talking 80, 90 feet long or longer. My OCFD, if laid out straight, would be 135 feet long.

So if it needs to be that long, how can that GAP Titan antenna laying out there be only 21 feet tall? Well, it cheats, basically. It uses various tricks to make itself work better than it really should at first glance. It looks simple, but it isn’t. It’s actually a very complicated piece of equipment with various radiators and stubs and, well, antenna stuff. It would take more space than I have here to try to explain it all.

What it boils down to is you can’t get something for nothing. You can’t fool physics. You can make smaller, shorter antennas, but you sacrifice efficiency when you do that. I wince when I see some of the ads for some of the antennas on the market because I know the claims being made for the are pretty much bogus.

Catching Up

I suppose I could talk about how Mike Pence not only killed NAFTA but drove a stake into it’s still quivering heart last week, or how the latest round of that popular game in D.C, Trade Wars, is going to decimate the agriculture economy, but that’s just too damned depressing. Besides, if you want to read about that kind of thing there are only about five hundred million websites out there where “experts” are pontificating and bloviating.

No, it’s spring. Everything is in bloom, as you can see from the closeup of the lilac there up at the top of this. I’m rather pleased with how that image turned out. MrsGF keeps telling me I should start printing some of these and trying to sell ’em, but well, that would mean I’d actually have to do some work.

Almost everything we planted is doing well. Tomatoes are doing great. One variety we planted called Wisconsin 55 (I think) is already starting to blossom. The peppers are doing pretty good. Even the two blueberry bushes MrsGF picked up seem to be doing pretty good. Even the spindly and sickly looking cucumber plants that looked like they were dead are starting to take off.

And the weather has been — well, I was going to say good, but that’s not really true. The weather has been odd. In late May we had temperatures well up into the mid-90s that broke records all over the state. And caused dozens of incidents of highways buckling from the heat. And in just the space of a few days we went from conditions being too wet to conditions way too dry. We haven’t had any significant rainfall in weeks now. Other parts of the state did get some rain, but it always seemed to evaporate before it got to us. We have to water everything almost every day. It’s rather discouraging. If it’s this bad this early in the season, what is it going to be like come August? We did finally get some rain over the weekend, about half an inch.

Still, it’s hard to complain when I see stuff like this when I walk out the door:

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And I’ve finally been able to get the bike out and put some miles on on a fairly regular basis. I’d almost forgotten how delightful it is to get out in the country on the bike this time of year. A lot of people don’t understand why I enjoy it so much. It isn’t the exercise, it’s getting out in nature and being able to hear the birds and frogs, and seeing the little treasures along the roadside like these tiny little flowers:

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Amateur Radio Stuff

Field Day is rapidly approaching. I think it’s June 23-24. It’s an annual event that has been going on for ages in the amateur radio community. The idea is to get us troglodytes out of our basements and the dark corners where we usually huddle over smoking soldering irons, and play with all kinds of technologies that range from 100+ year old telegraph keys to ultra-modern mesh networks, satellite communications and bouncing radio signals off the moon, and set up our gear in parking lots, parks, and even fields in the middle of nowhere, and hope we don’t burst into flames like vampires from the exposure to the sun.

Alas, I’ve never participated because MrsGF and I are usually gone of vacation at that time of year because of how our schedules work out. It’s great fun, though. So if you see a bunch of very pale looking people stringing up wires in trees, standing around tables laden with strange looking equipment, don’t worry. It’s just us making a rare excursion into the daylight.

 

 

 

 

Amateur Radio & Gardening, Hey, Why Not

The weather has been amazingly pleasant for a change these last few days. Everything is growing like crazy as you can see from the photo of the hosta garden in front of the house that I took yesterday. Wonderful plants, hostas; decorative, resilient, with so many different shapes and types it’s hard to keep track.

IMG_0875The corner garden here has been completely redone. In the past it was mostly herbs and decorative plants, but this year we more than doubled it in size, hauled in a tons of compost (well, my aching back claimed it was tons) and it’s being switched to mostly vegetables this year. MrsGF put in something like 20+ pepper plants of varying types (can you tell we like peppers?) plus two blueberry bushes and a couple of rows of beans down along the front. The soil in there is so utterly horrible that I did something I very rarely do, I raked in some commercial fertilizer as well. We’ll see what happens. It will either be wildly successful or everything will die off.

IMG_0873We were not going to make the same mistake we did last year by crowding too many plants into the two raised beds. It’s very tempting when putting in seedlings to crowd them in because it seems like there is so much wasted space, and forgetting just how big those plants get when they’re mature. We only put 6 plants in each of the beds this year and I hope that will help to eliminate some of the issues we had last year. While we avoided the dreaded blossom end rot last year, we did have some fungus problems because the plants were so crowded together.

IMG_0881And then when I was walking around the yard yesterday I nearly stepped on this guy. Yes, we have snakes in Wisconsin. You wouldn’t think they could survive our winters up here, but several species do quite well. Heck, until the 1950s or 60s we still had timber rattlers around here. This little guy… Little? Ha, he was a good two and a half feet long. He scared the heck out of me although I’m sure nearly being stepped on while he was sunning himself in the grass scared him more.

Amateur Radio Stuff

IMG_0863After the fiasco of wrecking the fold down mount for the GAP antenna, I put the crappy old Comet 250 vertical back up, hooked up the coax, went inside, checked to make sure everything looked OK, turned on the transceiver and — and immediately made about 6 different contacts all over North America with the thing on 40, 30 and 20 meters, running about 40 watts of power, less than it takes to run a modern lightbulb.

Sigh… radio propagation is weird sometimes.

I’ve been getting more and more interested in QRP operations. That’s amateur radio slang for very low power. QRP operators put out 5 watts of power or less. Often a lot less. The guys who are really good at it often operated with less than one watt of radiated power. They often use transceivers they built themselves or got as kits that can be ridiculously inexpensive.

There is a ‘gotcha’, though. Trying to make contacts using voice at those low power levels is damn near impossible. If you’re going to run QRP, you really need to go with good old morse code, or CW as it’s called.

Now I’ve thrown myself at CW on numerous occasions over the years, and failed miserably in learning it. The recommended techniques, the tapes, the CDs, none of them have worked. It all sounds like pure noise to my ear.

But then I ran into an IOS app called “Ham Morse”. It does have the more traditional teaching method, which doesn’t work for me. But what does work is that Ham Morse can also tie into the headline news feeds of various news organizations and sends the as CW at whatever speed you’re comfortable with. And guess what? For me, at least, this works. Now that I’m trying to copy actual meaningful text instead of single letters or groups of letters that have no relationship, my weird brain is actually starting to make the connection between those strange noises and the text.

The result is that I can copy CW at up to about 6 – 8 words per minutes. Maybe. Sometimes. Sort of. I’ve been listening to a lot of CW down on 20 meters trying to make sense of it all and despite all of the odd abbreviations and symbols and prosigns they use, I’m starting to pick some of it up.

Anyway, one of the reasons I’m interested in QRP is that the equipment is small, the antennas are small, you can operate with nothing but a relatively small battery. The whole kit can be thrown into a backpack easily, set up and taken down quickly. It’s ideal for someone who spends a lot of time on a bicycle like me. Would be great fun to sit out on the trails making contacts on summer mornings with just a wire hanging in a tree and a couple of watts of power.

http://offgridham.com/

I don’t make a lot of recommendations for websites or products or stuff like that, but if you’re at all interested in QRP operations, battery technology, solar power technologies and amateur radio, click the link up there at offgridham.com. Chris over there has provided a wonderful resource. He delves into alternative power technologies like solar, evaluates and discusses battery charging systems, battery types, etc. While it’s oriented for amateur radio, the material he covers is going to be of interest to anyone who is interested in unplugging from the power grid.

And that’s all for now.

Oh, I keep forgetting. I have email here. If you have questions or stuff you don’t want to put in the comments, you can reach me at old.grouchyfarmer@gmail.com

 

Rain and More Rain and Stuff

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5.5 inches over night. Total rainfall was a bit over 8 inches in 2 days.

May came in wet and soggy. Very wet. Yesterday morning when I got up we’d had 5 1/2 inches of rain over night to add to the nearly 3 inches we had the day before.

Between a blizzard that dumped 2 – 3 feet of snow on us in April and now the heavy rains just a couple of weeks later, I’d say that our weather could officially be called “weird”. I haven’t been out to look around much, but we went out to eat Friday night and there was some significant flooding in low lying areas, lots of roads closed, lots of areas where water was over the road. The local radio station just announced a list of roads closed due to flooding.

I haven’t had a chance to talk to the farmers around here yet about what the weather has done to their spring planting schedule, but I’m sure they’re worried. My backyard is a swamp and has been since the snow from the blizzard started to melt. Walking through the grass is a mistake because it’s covering up about 2 inches of water and if you stand still for too long you start to sink into the ground. Sigh…

This is an old house for the most part, and the foundation walls leak, so we’ve had water in the basement following the heavy rain. It’s a pain in the neck but we’ve lived in this place for almost 20 years now so we’re used to it and know how to deal with it.

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It’s hard to tell from the photo but there is about an inch of water just under the top of the grass. The water way back behind the trees is the neighbor’s pond which is overflowing. Just behind the spruce tree it’s about 2 feet deep.

And out back along the property line, well, the water back there is a good foot deep or more. We aren’t going to be doing much of anything in the gardens for at least a few days. It’s going to take a while for the water to go down so we can get some work done. I think we’ll be lucky if we can start working by mid week. Oh, well.

I was down at the town’s compost site yesterday to drop off some leaves we raked before the rains hit and noted there is a huge pile of sifted compost ready to go. We’re very fortunate in that regard. The compost site is just down the street from us, an easy run with the garden tractor and trailer, and compost is free for the hauling for town residents.

MrsGF got a backyard composter thingie for Christmas, one of those things that looks like a rotating barrel on a stand. She’s going to be experimenting with that this year and see how that works out. I’m curious to see what kind of results we get from it.

Also gardening related is our rain collection system. We have a rain diverter attached to the downspout at the back of the garage. We’ve had that set up for years now and it’s been working great. We found a food grade 55 gallon plastic barrel, attached the valves and stuff to it, hooked it to the diverter, and that’s all it took. Virtually zero maintenance and it’s worked great. There isn’t enough water to keep the veggies watered, but there has always been more than enough to water all of the potted flowers and plants scattered around. The connector hose cracked over the winter and we ordered a new one from the company, but that’s the only problem we’ve ever had with it.

Radio stuff — Still don’t have the new vertical antenna up. We’ve been waiting for a weekend when eldest son can get down here because it’s a two person job to finish putting it together and getting it on the mount. I was a bit concerned about what the neighbors would think but then MrsGF pointed out that our next door neighbor has a big vertical antenna up that’s even higher than mine will be and no one complains about that, so I stopped worrying about it.

For a long time my radio equipment did little more than gather dust, but not long after Christmas I started getting interested in it again, and the reason why is FT8, the relatively new digital mode. Like a lot of other people I quickly discovered that FT8 lets me make contacts even when propagation conditions stink, as they do now, and even though my antennas are not all that good.

Long distance communications down on the shortwave bands depends on reflections of radio waves in the F layer of the atmosphere. Solar radiation causes the F layer to ionize, which causes it to reflect radio waves back down to the Earth rather than shooting straight out into space as they normally would. We are at solar minimum right now, meaning the sun is very inactive. Very few, if any, sunspots, means the atmosphere is not being ionized, which means radio waves aren’t being reflected or are being reflected very weakly generally speaking.

With my less than ideal antenna system, I normally wouldn’t be able to make many contacts. But since I started playing with the FT8 mode, I’ve made contacts in 36 different countries including ones that are notoriously difficult to reach. I’ve worked Australia, Japan, Tasmania, most of western Europe, Hawaii, Alaska, and doing that with about 70 watts of power and an antenna that is little more than a wire strung up between the garage and a couple of trees.

Despite the success of FT8, it generates a lot of controversy among some AROs who don’t consider it to be “real” amateur radio for a variety of reasons.

They don’t like the fact that is partly automated, with a computer decoding the information and issuing appropriate responses. But the fact of the matter is that AROs have been doing that for a couple of decades with packet radio, RTTY, PSK and other modes, using software that can be programmed with macros to generate automated responses.

They claim it isn’t “real” AR because the amount of information exchanged is little more than call signs, a location and a signal report. But that’s nonsense too because that’s often all you hear in a typical contact via any mode of communication on AR except for the guys down on 75 meters who go on and on and on about their hemorrhoids and hip replacement surgery or rant about politics for hours on end.

Fortunately while the detractors are rather annoying and occasionally abusive, the rest of the AR world just gets on with stuff and the attitude for most people is hey, if it works for you and you enjoy doing it and it’s legal, go have fun.

 

 

Misc. Catch Up: Snow, Gardening, Bike, AR, etc…

I have to admit that things have been a bit slow around here after the blizzard. I’ve been spending most of my time fiddling with radio equipment and antennas, but I haven’t been entirely isolated from the real world.

While we still have some piles of snow remaining, most of the white stuff has melted off thanks to daytime temperatures that have been pushing up into the 50s. The storm did lots of damage around here, mostly from roofs caving in. It’s a miracle no one got killed. Local fire departments were busy helping out farmers by bringing out their ladder trucks and using high pressure hoses to blast snow off of roofs. They saved several barns from collapse in this area.

The Resch Center in Green Bay had it’s entry way caved in when snow falling from the dome hit the entrance. No one is sure what to do about it at the moment because the Resch Center is scheduled for demolition in two years anyway. But they do have events scheduled up until that time so they’re trying to determine if it’s cost effective to repair it, or start canceling events and just bring it down and be done with it.

Any kind of gardening is still on stand-by. It’s probably going to be a week or more before we can get out there and start working on anything except superficial projects. Still, there are signs of life out there. The lilac bushes are starting to bud, the rhubarb is starting to peek up out of the cold, wet ground, and one sure sign of spring is that I got the bike out of storage at last.

Unfortunately I rather quickly remembered that riding a bicycle uses an almost entirely different set of muscles than jogging on a treadmill. That and the fact it was only about 40 degrees out this morning kept the ride rather brief, but it was still nice to be back on the bike again.

Amateur radio stuff —

The ARRL is really pushing the FCC to expand the privileges of the Technician class license. They want to give Techs voice and data privileges down on the HF bands, claiming that this will give Technicians an incentive to eventually upgrade to a General or Extra class license and get them more interested in AR in general.

Don’t get me wrong, the ARRL does a lot to support and improve amateur radio in general, but this is one case where I think they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. The organization seems to be under the impression that there are tens of thousands of Tech licensees out there who would love to get down on the HF bands, but for whatever reason refuse to upgrade to a General class license, and as a result they aren’t upgrading their licenses, aren’t operating at all, and eventually drop out completely.

The problem with this notion is that the Tech licensees don’t give a damn about HF. I’m sorry, but they just don’t. The Tech licensees who do care about HF quickly upgrade to a General or Extra class license, and the rest just don’t care. I’m sorry, but they don’t. I know a lot of Tech license holders who haven’t upgraded and the reason they haven’t is because either they lost interest in AR completely or the Tech license allows them to do everything they want to do.

The exam to get the General class license is just not that hard in any case. Anyone who’s already passed the Tech exam could easily pass the General with minimal amount of work. It isn’t a lack of privileges on HF that keeps Techs from upgrading, it’s a complete lack of interest in HF in the first place.