Let’s Talk About Drones: DJI Mini 3 Pro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still images taken with the camera are just as impressive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Project, weather, and the ever popular Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stuff Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s about it for now.

Fall Catch Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s see, what else…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s about it for now.

Lost and Found Photos

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

And that’s about it for now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos From The Backroads and a New Bike

The new bike, a Specialized Vado
That’s my Giant 24 speed. That turned out to be a heck of a good bike. Aside from a few broken spokes and replacing the tires when necessary it’s worked perfectly for thousands of miles.

The new bike first: When I started bicycling when I retired it surprised the family a lot. They all figured the bike I bought would end up gathering dust in the garage. Here we are several thousand miles later and I’m still at it, and it was time to replace my old bike with something a bit better, and that’s it up in the first photo. It’s a Specialized Vado and it is very, very nice. Hydraulic disc brakes, built in lights, great front suspension, a fancy built in computer system, a cargo carrier on the back I can strap stuff to. And best of all, a motor.

Yes, it’s an ebike. I still have to pedal, I still get my heart and respiration rates up, I still get back from a long ride with my legs pleasantly tired. I have the thing set up so I do most of the work but when I get to a steep hill the motor gives me a boost to help me get up the hill, or gives me an extra burst of speed to get away from dogs that want to eat me. I’m no spring chicken. I’m sixty-eight this year and while I’m in pretty good shape I’ve been getting twinges in my knees trying to power up hills and I’ve been having to drop down a gear or two to get up ’em.

The Vado is, frankly, amazing. And it is well suited to the type of riding I do which is, I must admit, pretty leisurely. I make a lot of stops to take photos and I’m out there not so much to get exercise but to enjoy nature. I watch birds and animal life, look at the vegetation, watch the sun coming up, stop to take pictures and that kind of thing. The Vado is perfect for me. I’ve had it for about a week and I have over a hundred miles on it now and I love it. I did a twenty mile ride the other day that would have left me exhausted on the other bike. I’ll take a closer look at the Vado later after I’ve lived with it a while long.

When I’m out on the road on the bike I’m constantly stopping to take photos of stuff I find interesting, things that you don’t see when you’re zooming past at sixty mph, so here are a few.

I live about a 4 mile ride away from an extensive trail system. It runs more than 20 miles north all the way to Green Bay, and from a little town called Forest Junction it also branches off to the east to the town of Brillion. This is the trail that runs to Brillion.

These grow wild in the ditches all over around here and I suspect most people don’t even see how beautiful they are because they’re zooming past at 80 mph or too busy trying to text, talk on the phone and eat a cheeseburger at the same time.
I found this stunning flower growing along the side of one of the trails. I took about a dozen photos of it from different angles.
This is another “weed” that grows all over around here. But up close it has one of the prettiest flowers I’ve ever seen.
I’d stopped at a small parking area for a nature reserve to get a drink and found this lonely little guy hiding in the tall grass. I thought it was one of the loveliest things I’d seen. There’s something about the symmetry of those petals surrounding that central pod that I found very striking.
And of course I had to include queen anne’s lace. The stuff grows everywhere in the ditches along the roads around here. Those intricate little flowers that make up that lace like structure are amazing.
Another “weed” you’ll find growing along the roads around here.
A thistle, one of several varieties that grow around here. They’re considered a “noxious weed” around here but the flowers are this rich purple-lavender color and so beautifully delicate that I find myself photographing them a lot.

This is, I think a verbascum or mullein. Maybe. My father called it wild tobacco which seems to be a fairly common name for it. When I was a kid I’d see this stuff all over the place. On the farm it would grow along the makeshift roads we had around the farm to access the fields and sometimes along cattle trails. It can be a spectacular plant, growing up to three or four feet tall.
This is the river down by the old stone bridge and that white thing you see out there is a pelican. I watched this guy swimming around feeding for several minutes.

And that’s it for this time. Hope you enjoyed the photos.

BTW: You’re more than welcome to leave comments in the comments section. Or you can reach me at old.grouchyfarmer@gmail.com.

Tree Update, Gardens a Lily, and Heat

Let’s start out with heat. Yesterday it hit 95 here and today it’s supposed to be even hotter. The only thing we did outside yesterday was water the gardens in the evening. It was too hot to do much of anything except huddle around the air conditioner and today is going to be even worse. I know Wisconsin is known for things like ice fishing and snowmobiling, but we do get hot weather here, but only rarely does it get this hot. (Edit: I wrote the above at around 7 AM and it was already in the low 80s. It’s now late afternoon and my recording thermometer tells me we hit a high today of 101. Sheesh…)

Do I need to tell you that I am really, really glad I’m not farming any more when we get weather like this? Remembering what it was like to be out working in the fields or, even worse, milking cows in that crowded old barn, makes me shudder. I don’t know how the hell we managed to do it back then. We’d rush through milking as fast as we could and quickly get the cows down into the woods where there were springs with plenty of water and a lot of shade and it was much, much cooler. Of course today they can’t do that. The majority of cattle these days are crowded into feedlots and never see actual real grass or natural springs and streams in their entire lives.

I’ve been slowly working on cleaning up the mess that was left after they brought the trees down. That picture up there shows what I was left to deal with after they were done. And the picture below is what it looks like now.

As you can see considerable progress has been made in reducing the pile of wood. Considering I’m just one old guy with a chainsaw nibbling away at it when I get some time, I think I’ve made pretty good progress. There’s actually less now than what you see. Pretty much all that’s left out there is just the main trunk from the ash tree.

My neighbor came over with his little Oliver and hauled out three good sized logs that will hopefully go to a friend of his who has a small sawmill. The idea there is to slab them to eventually make table tops out of the slabs.

The gardens are looking good, but things are getting dry again. We’ve been watering all of the vegetable gardens almost on a daily basis, especially now that it’s got so hot and breezy. That hot wind really sucks the moisture out of the soil.

The carrots are looking absolutely amazing. We need to get in there and start thinning them out again so they have a chance to grow to a decent size. Why so many carrots? Well, why not? They’re tasty. The home grown varieties always seem to have much better flavor and are much sweeter than the ones we get in the store. And they’re easy to harvest, clean and freeze.

The beets are looking just as good. MrsGF and I both love beets. We like them roasted or made into harvard beets or just cooked up on a stove top with a bit of butter, salt and pepper.

And you can see that the onions to the right of the beets are looking good as well. We put in a lot of onions this year because I want to can pickled onions. We have a mix of white, yellow and red onions out there. And they’re delicious right now, young, tender, sweet but with a delightful spiciness to them.

We only put in three tomato plants this year because we still have a lot of tomato sauces on the shelves down in the basement. They’re looking pretty good and are just starting to blossom.

We put in pole beans again this year. We had good luck with them last year and they looking like they’re going to be just as good this year.

We also have some bush beans planted in the corner garden, along with some squash. The stuff does really well well but we really have to watch the moisture levels in the soil. This corner dries out very, very quickly. Those squash plants you see behind the line of beans will rather quickly grow and totally overwhelm that whole area if we don’t keep them trimmed back. It’s amazing how fast those squash vines grow once they get started.

We’re trying to plant pepper plants along the south side of the house this year. This is another area where we have to watch the moisture levels. that area dries out very quickly as well so they have to be watered every day as well. We were thinking of expanding this area out to about the end of the downspouts, more than tripling the size of the bed. We might do that this fall after the peppers are done.

Ooo, and I can’t forget the lily! They’re just starting to pop open and they look amazing!

Let’s see, what else…

We still haven’t really decided what we’re going to do in the area where the tree was. We’re still thinking of making a large decorative raised bed back there surrounded by stone or brick. It’s going to depend on how much work and money we want to sink into that area. We probably won’t do anything until at least this fall, maybe not until spring next year.

Woodworking projects are all on hold as I’m doing some major remodeling in the workshop. The 25 year old fluorescent lights, along with the entire ceiling, are coming down. Lights are going to be replaced with LEDs and I am not going to put another drop ceiling in there. The ceiling is pretty high in there and I’m thinking about building a lumber storage area up there. Right now my spare boards and things are sitting on pallets in the other part of the basement taking up a huge amount of floor space and it’s always in the way.

Trees Come Down

Aspen Tree Service from Chilton was here Thursday and Friday of last week to take down the ash and maple trees out back. The ash tree he’s working on in the photo looks fairly healthy but it wasn’t. About a quarter of the branches he’s taking out up there were already dead or dying. He found evidence of a fungus infestation up there as well as some rot starting in the crotches where the main branches attached to the trunk. The maple tree was in even worse condition.

To give you an idea of how bad that ash tree was that pile of firewood in the foreground to the right of the chairs are just from branches that fell down in the last few months

I’ve dropped a lot of trees in my life but there is no way I would try to bring down two full size trees near buildings and decorative landscape features like these two are. In cases like this I let the professionals who have the equipment and experience deal with these situations. These guys are good. They’ve been in the business for years and know what they’re doing.

And down comes the ash. That tree was pretty massive. All of us underestimated just how big the thing was. The main trunk ended up being almost 36 inches thick. The maple was smaller, about 28 inches thick at the base.

Normally when these guys get done with a job you can hardly even tell there used to be a tree there. They clean up everything, haul it all away, take out the stump, repair any grass that was damaged, seed bare ground, etc. But I complicated things for them because I wanted to keep the wood, or most of it. They chipped the brush and hauled it off but I got everything else. And now I have a massive pile of wood to deal with.

Why would I keep all that stuff? I hate to see anything go to waste, especially trees. I love trees, but I know that eventually all trees die and have to be taken down and I’d like to see them used for something useful rather than ending up being chipped for mulch. Even going for firewood would be better than having them just dumped somewhere and left to rot. We have friends and family members who use wood for heat so a lot of the smaller stuff might go to them.

We’re contacting a couple of local guys who have small sawmills to see if they can use anything in that pile up there to make some usable lumber. The problem with urban trees is that the big lumber companies don’t want to deal with them. Running their equipment into a town just to pick up one or two logs isn’t cost effective for them. Plus the logs are often too short for them to get commercial sized lumber out of them. They want logs that are over 8 feet long and most tree services cut them up much smaller than that to make them easier to remove. And the firewood dealers around here don’t want to deal with 36 inch thick logs, either. It’s too big for their equipment to handle. So as often as not those logs end up being dumped in an old gravel pit somewhere and just rotting away.

I want to keep a lot of the wood myself. I’m going to make bowl blanks out of as much of the wood as I can for future projects. Ash and maple are both great woods for making wood turnings. I figure I’ll end up with enough material to keep me busy for the rest of my life.

There’s a stump in there too, somewhere. We’re going to keep that too. That’s going to become some kind of centerpiece for a decorative feature we’ll be putting in back there. We’re kind of tossing around ideas for how to deal with it. Right now we’re leaning towards the idea of using the stump as a base for a bench in the center of a decorative garden. We’ll see how that goes once we get the mess cleaned up back there.

On The Silly Side…

On the silly side of things I’m making allegedly humorous “artwork” for a brewpub down in Milwaukee and then using one of the lasers to engrave it on stuff for them. Drinks coasters seem really popular. People just sort of start giggling over these things when they find them under their glasses at the bar. I either draw the images myself or, as is the case with the one on the left, I find public domain images and add suitable captions. Hopefully people steal them and take them home. They’re cheap to make and if people pass ’em around it’s good PR for the pub.

Weather, gardens, and Stuff

We’ve been on a sort of weather rollercoaster here. We went from high temperatures in the low fifties to 91 degrees and humid on Tuesday, then back down to a high of about 60 on Wednesday, and today we’re supposed to be back up in the steam bath again today with temperatures up in the 90s. Sheesh. It’s been an odd spring.

I’m back out on the bike on a regular basis at least thanks to the warmer weather. It looks like farmers are a bit behind in planting this year from all of the unplanted fields I’m seeing out there.

It’s dry out there, folks. According to the statistics we’re reasonably close to normal rainfall, but actual ground conditions are not good. The entire state is under a burning ban and we’ve had wild fires popping up all over the state. Some parts of the state got some decent rainfall but it skipped around us. We’re going to have to start watering the vegetable beds here today or tomorrow if we don’t get some rain.

Now that I’m back on the bike again I’ve been down to the river at the old stone bridge about 4 miles from here and things look unusually dry down there as well. Water levels in the river are unusually low for this time of year. This branch of the Manitowoc River usually isn’t this low until mid to late summer.

The old stone bridge is a great spot to stop and get a drink and just watch nature. There’s almost no traffic on that road. I’ll stop there for ten or fifteen minutes, get out my water and stand on the bridge and just watch nature. There are at least two families of geese out there, a few muskrats swimming around, turtles and birds everywhere.

Here at the house the early spring flowers are popping up everywhere. The tulips are coming up now that the daffodils are coming to an end.

Out in the raised beds everything is coming up; onions, lettuce, carrots and beets and even the garlic is emerging now. The garlic we planted last fall didn’t make it through the winter, so we planted a different variety and hopefully we’ll get some by fall. We’ll see how that works out.

We talked to the tree service and let them know that it’s dry enough out here now that they can get in with their equipment so they’re going to be coming over next week to take out the two trees you see in the photo up there. The one on the right is a big old ash tree that’s starting to rot from the top down. Every time we get a good wind it sheds branches all over, some of them big enough to cause damage or injury if someone happened to be standing in the wrong place. The one on the left is an old maple that belongs to our neighbor. Almost the entire right side of the tree up in the canopy is dead so that one has to come down too. I hate to see trees coming down but these two are at the end of their lives and they need to come down before they do some serious damage or even hurt someone.

Removing the big ash gives us a lot more options for gardening as well. It shades out a huge amount of space in the yard making it difficult for growing anything except grass and weeds back there. Once that’s gone we’ll have a large area back there with full sun that give us a lot more opportunities for growing stuff. We have some general ideas about what to do with the space back there but nothing firm as yet. I’ll keep you posted.

With those trees coming down I also had to take down my OCFD antenna (off center fed dipole) and it’s a good thing I did because I found this:

Well, that’s not good, now is it? The antenna was just hanging on by a thread. Fixing something like this isn’t hard to do but it’s annoying. The problem area is only a few feet from the end so I could have just fudged it by cutting it off at the frayed bit and attaching that to the insulator. Cutting a couple of feet off of a 130+ foot long wire antenna isn’t going to screw it up too badly, especially since I use an antenna tuner anyway.

What caused the damage? The antenna was running to the cedar tree behind that small shed in that photo of the trees up there. It looks like my line sagged letting the wire down far enough so it was rubbing on the roof of the shed.

I really need to look into a different antenna configuration. That OCFD is just too long to fit completely in my yard. Fortunately both of my neighbors don’t mind if I run a line into trees on their property, but I need to try to figure out a different way of setting it up to try to keep it entirely on my property. I do have a vertical antenna which works fine, but that OCFD gives me more options. And it’s also my NVIS antenna for semi-local communications down on 75 meters and I don’t want to give that up.

Other stuff going on:

Now that the weather has turned nice I can finally finish up bringing down the dropped ceiling in the woodshop. I’ve been procrastinating on that because there is a lot of dust up there above those ceiling tiles and I wanted to put a couple of exhaust fans in the windows to suck it out of the house instead of having it plug up my air filters in the shop. That ceiling is getting bad. It’s been up for more than 20 years, and incorporates old fashioned fluorescent tube lights which are terribly energy inefficient. I already have new shop lights waiting to go in, LED versions which will use about a quarter of the energy and give better light.

I reviewed the LaserPecker 1 laser engraver a while back, and I now have its big brother, the LP2 sitting on the shelf and in use and I want to do a review of that. The hardware is very, very nice. It’s much, much faster, more powerful and has a lot more options, including a roller system that should be very useful. Unfortunately it shares the same major problem the LP1 had: the software is horrible. This is a professional quality engraver that is badly hampered by amateurish cell phone based operating software. There is PC based software for the LP2 which is what I’ve been using which makes it easier to use, but the program riddled with bugs and odd quirks. It’s sad, really, because the LP2 is a fantastic gadget. I’ve been doing custom artwork and engravings for a craft brewer and pub owner in Milwaukee and it does a great job.

On the wood lathe side of things I’ve had a really nifty bowl hollowing system sitting around for months now that I’ve never had an opportunity to really talk about here, so I need to put that in the que one of these days.

And one of these days I want to talk about the “metaverse”. What’s his name over at “Meta” as they now call FaceScam, uh, excuse me, Facebook, has stumbled across an idea that is at least 25 years old and has been done before with varying degrees of success (and more often failure), they’ve stolen that, claimed it as their own, and is now are hyping up a storm. Meta’s “vision” of this metaverse is, frankly, silly, childish, badly implemented, laughably cartoonish and doesn’t even take into account basic human nature. It’s really kind of sad, to be honest. I’ve seen Meta’s “virtual world”, which they call Horizons, and to be honest it looks like a badly rendered version of The Jetson’s cartoon show from the 1960s. To call it cartoonish is insulting to cartoons

I want to talk about cameras too somewhere along the line. I want to talk about “cryogenic” tools… Egads, look at that list… Sigh… I’d better get to work.

Well, maybe I’ll get to work later. Right now it’s sunny out, warm, there’s a bicycle sitting in the garage waiting for me…

Frosted Roses and GF Gets Excited

I generally get up a little before dawn and just for the heck of it I went outside not long after sunrise and found our roses covered in frost and got these photos before it melted. Just cell phone images because by the time I’d have got in the house, got out the good camera and got back out the frost would have melted. These aren’t as good as they could have been I suppose, but I like them. You should be able to click or double click on the images to see a better resolution version.

Oh, the excited part? Once you scroll down past the photos I’ll tell you about that.

There’s a lesson to be learned here for amateur photographers. You don’t need to go traveling to exotic places to get really interesting photos. Just look around in your backyard.

Now, the fun part. One thing I’ve done for years now is fiddle around with 3D printing. I’ve had a Flashforge Creator Pro 3D printer for years now, although my son has had it for some time using it to print parts for a laser engraver/cutter and other stuff.

I’m getting a new printer, the brand new Flashforge Adventurer 4 that just hit the market this fall. Flashforge came out with the Adventurer 3 shortly before this one came out and this is basically the same thing only with about twice the build capacity as the 3 version. I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on this one.

This is supposed to be a more or less ‘turnkey’ printer, just unpack it, put in the filament and start printing right out of the box. The extruder can also operate at a wider range of temperatures meaning it can use just about any type of filament on the market. I liked my old Flashforge a lot but it is definitely showing its age and its inability to work at the higher temperatures that some types of filaments require limited it to using only ABS and PLA. The print quality of this thing is supposed to be outstanding from the preliminary information I’ve dug up.

Supposedly there are some issues with things like WiFi connectivity and cloud access. Neither of which I care about in the slightest. I don’t want a printer connected to the “cloud” in the first place and my preferred method of getting files to the printer is via a flash drive, not over the network.

Anyway, this puppy is supposed to be here within the next seven to ten days so keep an eye out for that in the future.