Still More Stuff!

Weather news has been pretty boring around here, which isn’t a bad thing. Mostly it’s been hot. Like large parts of the country (and apparently large parts of the world) we’ve had unusually warm weather during the last couple of weeks, but that seems to have moderated.

What’s been interesting is the lack of storms here. We haven’t had a single thunder storm here all season. At least not one that amounted to more than a few distant rumbles. Storms have gone all round us, north, south, etc. But pretty much nothing has rolled over the county since the start of storm season. It’s been so odd that people are starting to wonder what’s going on.

There is an old theory floating that because of our location between Lake Winnebago and Lake Michigan, some kind of updrafts or downdrafts or some other curious effect caused by the two lakes does something to keep storms away. I’ve heard this theory before and it is nonsense, really. All it takes to debunk it is a quick glance at past weather data. If you look at the historical data you quickly see that this area is just as prone to severe weather, thunder storms, and tornadoes as the rest of the state.

The garden is going gangbusters. The hot temperatures and high humidity have everything growing like crazy. The tomatoes up there in the lead photo are absolutely lush and loaded with young fruit. The pepper plants (what in the world are we going to do with all the peppers we planted? What were we thinking?) are loaded with blossoms an young fruit. The two squash plants are looking good. The cucumbers look a bit ragged, but I’m the only one who eats fresh cukes around here anyway so if they don’t do good no one cares. Lettuce, we have so much lettuce we’re getting sick of it and the onions are now big enough that we can stop buying from the store and just run out to the back yard and pull a couple when we need them. Green beans are looking good after a few issues earlier in the year. Even the parsley, which got in very late, is up and looking good. We have sunflowers starting to blossom. It’s a great time of the year.

Keeping up with watering is a pain. It’s been pretty dry over the last couple of weeks and we have to water everything almost every day now. But that’s not unusual for this time of year.

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Out on the trails it’s been beautiful, but the hot, humid weather makes it a bit troublesome. I carry about 2 quarts of water with me when I go out and go through at least half of that by the time I get back. Depends on the temperature and how hard I push it. I’m not a ‘power biker’ by any stretch of the imagination. I’m lucky if I keep up an average speed of 8 – 9 mph when I’m out, and I rarely go more than 10 – 15 miles. And there are always surprises, like that photo above. That, believe it or not, is a flock of about 30 pelicans having some kind of feeding frenzy on the river down by the old stone bridge on Irish Road about 4 miles out of town.

I never expected to see pelicans way out here. They generally stay close to the bigger lakes, like Michigan and Winnebago. Seeing a whole flock of them feeding in a tiny river like this was quite a surprise.

This was another surprise:

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This goof is probably the one that scared the hell out of me the other day when it bounded up onto the trail right in front of me a week ago. I’ve been seeing an unusual number of deer out in the open this summer, even in broad daylight. According to the old timers it’s because the mosquitoes and biting flies are absolutely vicious this year and it’s driving the deer out of the woods. Judging from my own experience, that’s probably true.

The mosquitos this year are horrible. If I get within 5 feet of the tomatoes or raspberries or other fairly dense vegetation after about 5 pm and I see clouds of the damned things come swarming up out of the plants and heading straight for me. It’s gotten to the point where I’m considering chemical warfare. I don’t like using insecticides for a lot of reasons, but it’s gotten so bad it’s impossible to go in the backyard. And considering West Nile Virus is popping up all over the place, well… I start eyeing those cans of foggers on the shelf and it’s damned tempting.

Out on the trail it’s gotten bad too. I can’t stop anywhere in the shade or I get swarmed by the things. Out in the sun on the road where there aren’t any trees or bushes it isn’t too bad. But on the trail itself you don’t dare stop for more than a few seconds.

Speaking of biking… It looks like I’m going to have to put new tires on the bike by the end of the month. They’re starting to look a bit worn. I have to admit I don’t know how many miles you’re supposed to get out of a set of bike tires, but I have about 1,100 miles on these now.

Yeah, that’s right, 1,100 miles. I’m a bit surprised by that. The odometer reads 1,000 miles, but I put over 100 miles on the bike before I put the odometer on it, so 1,100 is probably pretty accurate. If you’re an avid biker that probably doesn’t sound like a lot, but for a 64 year old grouchy old fart who hadn’t been on a bicycle since 1980? That’s kind of surprising.

Speaking of biking, I’m going to get out for a while before it gets too hot.

It’s Been Busy…

MrsGF had last week off so we took some time to go wandering around in between getting caught up with chores and gardening. We headed down to Fond du Lac, a small city on the southern end of Lake Winnebago. I’ve always liked the town. I used to spend a lot of time down there, and so did MrsGF. When I was a technician working for a POS company I had three clients I worked with down there, two grocery stores and a commercial bakery, and MrsGF worked there too for a while when she was with Aramark for a few years.

We rarely get down there now so we just wandered around town for a while looking at how things have changed over the years. It’s still a very pleasant town, but it’s had it’s problems over the years, along with just about every other city in the country. Like most small cities, trying to keep it’s downtown district from falling apart has been a problem. Fondy has been fairly successful. There are very few empty storefronts, and while you won’t see any big name retailers down there, most of the shops seem to be doing fairly well financially.

We’re lucky enough to live near Lake Winnebago. The lake is big. It’s 30 miles long and ten miles wide at it’s widest point. It’s a hotbed of activity all year long. During warmer weather boating (both sail and power boating), water skiing, swimming and fishing keeps, including some big fishing tournaments, keeps the place busy. In winter the lake has ice boating, snowmobiling, skiing and, of course, ice fishing. At the peak of the ice fishing season, there will be thousands of people out on the ice trying to catch perch, bluegills and, of course, 6 or 7 foot long, 200+ pound sturgeon. IMG_0904.jpg

We stopped at Pipe, a small town along the eastern shore with a wonderful little park and boat launch area. Alas, you could have gone surfing on Winnebago that day. There were 4 or 5 foot waves crashing into the shore and lots of whitecaps out there, and very few people willing to brave the waves to try fishing.

Back at home things are growing like crazy, but it was a bit iffy there for a while. We went through a very dry period where we had to water everything on a daily basis, to it being way too wet after we got deluged with about 6 inches of rain in two days.

One sign that summer is here is the lilies are coming into full bloom now. Screen Shot 2018-06-22 at 6.55.52 AM.png

This pink one has over a hundred blossoms on it. MrsGF didn’t believe me when I told her that so I dragged her outside and made her count them herself.

The real show stopper is this one, though:IMG_0921.jpg

The color on this one is so intense it almost glows in the dark.

And the pear tree — good grief…IMG_0923.jpg

The tree is so heavily laden with fruit that I think we’re going to have to get out there and snip some of them off or the branches are going to break off from the weight as the pears mature.

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Along The RoadSide

I was finally able to get the bicycle out on the road the other day. It felt great to be out on the road on a warm, sunny day again. Unfortunately I also quickly found out that bicycling takes an entirely different set of muscles than jogging on a treadmill does. It’s going to take a while before I’m comfortable doing 10 or 15 miles, but it was worth it. The frogs were singing, the sun was bright, and the wild flowers alongside the road had me stopping every once in a while to take photos.

So, here’s some photos… Oh, click one of the photos to start a slide show of the full size images.

 

Indoor Tulips & Assorted Stuff

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MrsGF has been just as sick of looking outside at the brown wasteland that is March here in Wisconsin as I have, so she shoved some old bulbs into pots and put them in a sunny window a few weeks ago and this is what we have now. Great fun to see tulips starting to pop open again.

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That’s not to say that there aren’t things growing already. She was outside looking things over yesterday and discovered that the chives are already six inches tall over in their protected corner. They’re always the first things to spring up and they’ve been ridiculously prolific. We put those in shortly after we bought the house so they’ve been going strong for almost 20 years now.

The big question now is sod, as in how are we going to get rid of it. There is a pretty big section of lawn we want to rip out to expand one of the gardens here, and getting rid of

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This was the little Massey. Fun, useful little tractor but keeping it in town was a bit ridiculous

the sod is always a pain in the neck. I sold my tractor a couple of years ago. After selling the farm we kept the little Massey for a while, but keeping it was a bit silly. It was mostly in storage over at the farm of a friend about 8 miles from here and there it sat until we needed it perhaps for one afternoon a year. So keeping it and its trailer was ridiculous. So it looks like I’ll resort to the good old fashioned dig it up with a shovel method as soon as the frost is completely out of the ground.

MrsGF and I were sorting through seeds and tentatively making plans earlier this morning. We were thrilled when Eldest Son gave us literally a whole shopping bag of seed packets for Christmas, but we have to be realistic. We can’t grow all of it as much as we’d like to. And there are quite a few that we don’t really like or couldn’t use. Neither of us like melon all that much, and it takes up a lot of space, so those got set aside. Same with eggplant. Don’t get me wrong, eggplant is a perfectly delightful vegetable. But that one summer our eggplant was so ridiculously prolific that we got so sick of eating eggplant that we can’t really stand looking at them any more.

We brought up the little portable greenhouse rack we use to start seed and MrsGF is in the process of starting trays of seeds even as I write this.


Amateur Radio Stuff

I’ve been having a lot of fun with the FT8 mode over the last couple of months. Even with my seriously bad antenna system I’ve had a couple of hundred contacts and have managed to hit something like 35 different countries, including some really long distance contacts with Hawaii, Alaska, Japan and Tasmania.

I’ve even started playing with PSK again and have made a few contacts with that mode as well. Unlike FT8 you can actually chat with people using PSK. Unfortunately it seems most PSK users have jumped ship for FT8 and seeing a PSK signal on the bands has been a rather rare thing. Even more annoying is that the powers that be decided that on 17 meters the frequency recommendation for FT8 mode is the same one as the PSK allocation, so PSK on 17 meters is a lost cause because the frequency is swamped with FT8.

antennaI’m hoping to get this puppy up in the air this spring. It’s already mostly assembled out in the back yard and we have all the hardware for mounting, including the tilt-over base. It’s a GAP Titan multi-band vertical antenna that should help to give me a significant boost over the OCFD I currently have hanging out there now. This one is going to replace the Comet 250 vertical I have and which is… Well, let’s face it, the Comet isn’t that good of an antenna. It can only handle about 240 watts and to be perfectly frank I’m amazed the thing works at all.

I also have a 40 foot antenna tower laying out in the backyard that will hopefully get set up sometime this summer. Of course I said that last summer, too. And the summer before that…

 

New Photos And How Stupid Am I (Very)

Even though today is officially the start of spring it sure doesn’t feel that way. Temperature around 34 degrees, cloudy… We’re impatient to get outside and do something again.

Nevertheless, I had the camera out and was taking some photos of the indoor plants, some of which are flowering right now.

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This guy is sitting in the kitchen window at the moment. Those flowers are only about a quarter of an inch across. Here’s another shot of a different cluster of flowers on the same plant with different lighting…

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That camera does a great job taking closeups like that.

Another plant in flower at the moment is this one:

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I love this plant. The color of the leaves, the texture, and those tiny little pink flowers that are about the size of the head of a pin. It’s a lot of fun.

MrsGF’s violets are in full bloom too right now:

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Then there’s this really weird plant…

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That’s Kai. I’m very surprised she held still long enough for me to get that photo. She usually runs away when she sees me with a camera.


And now, on to the stupidity…

Nothing makes me look dumber than when something goes wrong with my radio equipment sometimes. This one was a real gem, though.

For some reason the TS-990 decided to stop transmitting AM and I couldn’t figure out why. Everything seemed to be working just fine otherwise. I could still use SSB, the digital modes, FM, all were working fine. But when I keyed the mic using AM, it would go into transmit mode, but no signal.

I spent something like two hours this morning trying to diagnose what the problem was. As a last resort I got out my morse code key and hooked that up. Not sure why. Just was trying to eliminate other things as problems. I tried sending my callsign in CW and…

And nothing. Same symptoms as the AM problem. It went into transmit, but no signal, no power going to the antenna.

Hmph… I went on line and searched around, found out there was an update for the radio’s firmware, so I downloaded that and installed. That went well. In fact, better than well because now the noise blanker works the way it’s supposed to and some other little things were fixed. But same problem as before, no AM and no CW.

I pulled out the manual once more and started to dig through that and…

Oh. Oh, brother… All right, look, the 990 is a very complicated piece of equipment. I mean it has controls and knobs and buttons on it that I’ve never used in the almost four years I’ve owned the thing. So I suppose I can be excused for not noticing this.

Most of the knobs on the radio are “nested”, that is there is a central knob that controls one function, and an outer ring around the central knob that controls an entirely different function.

The Power knob which controls the rig’s output power is the central knob. The outer ring is something labeled “Car” which stands for carrier. The carrier setting is essential to transmitting in CW and AM modes. I normally have it set dead center right in the middle. But since I almost never do CW or AM I almost never touch it. But I do use the Power knob to adjust the wattage going out to the antenna or feeding into the amplifier.

Somewhere along the way, the Car knob got a bit sticky and started to track along with the Power knob when it was turned. But only in one direction: down. When I turned the power down, it was also dragging the carrier knob down towards zero, but not dragging it back up when the power was turned back up. Eventually the carrier was turned down to nothing. So without a carrier, there was no AM or CW.

Sigh… Spent more than two hours trouble shooting a problem that didn’t really exist. All I had to do was turn the Car knob back up to the center position and all was well.

And now I just found out my amplifier relay isn’t working… How did I get into this hobby in the first place?