This Is Spring? A Sort Of Review. And Random Stuff

Well they tell me it’s spring out there. Yeah, right…

I was going to start building the frames to hold the solar panels but you can see how well that worked out. Also I’ve been having “issues” with Amazon of late, which is where I bought the panel clamps, so they aren’t here yet. More about that down below. If I remember. I probably won’t.

We got 8 – 10 inches of snow the other day. I just spent half an hour digging the solar panels out of the snow drift they were in. Yep. it’s spring in Wisconsin. Sigh… We’ve been very, very fortunate up here, to be honest. All of the storms raging across the country have been tracking well south of us before running up the east coast.

But it is looking like spring down in our basement. MrsGF has a small greenhouse with grow lights and a heating pad set up down there and has a lot of seedlings started already. And the stuff is growing like crazy. The way the weather is going I have no idea when we’ll be able to actually move plants outside. All we can do is wait and see what happens.

Now let’s talk about this -this thing

This is something called a Click N Grow hydroponic growing system. Only none of those words are actually true, to be honest. What it looks like in real life is this-

Can you say ‘disappointing’ boys and girls?

I got this is a gift from someone who got it as a gift from someone else and didn’t want it so I set up and tried it. Sigh…

How it works is like this: The base is filled with water. Those little pots have a sort of wick in them that extends down into the water to draw it up into the pot. Inside pot you have put the company’s “plant pods” which, of course, they will gladly sell you for many, many $$$.

So let me tell you what you get for your $180. You get a small grow light. You get two plastic arms that hold the light in place above the tank. The tank itself is lightweight plastic with some holes in it. You put plain water in the tank. You then put small plastic cups with a wick on the bottom into the holes. The wick draws water up into the cups.

And that’s what you get for your two hundred bucks. A $30 grow light and about $5 worth of plastic. No electronics, no pumps, no heaters. Just a grow light and some plastic bits.

Into those plastic cups you put the company’s “plant pods” which, as far as I can tell, consist of a chunk of peat moss worth maybe $0.20, and a couple of seeds. The company will (start sarcasm font) generously (end sarcasm font) sell you their proprietary “plant pods” in a 9 pack for about $24.

I should point out that while that looks pretty good in the photo those plants are only about 4 inches tall and most of them died shortly after I took this photo.

Now it does work. Kinda. I have to admit that. I have actual tomato plants growing down in my office with actual tomatoes growing on them. Well, sort of. The plants don’t look very healthy any more and the “tomatoes”, if you can call then that, are the size of peas and they never seem to actually get ripe. I got one tiny, tiny salad out of the three lettuce pods. Well “tiny” is being generous.

Do I need to tell you to avoid this thing like the plague? It consists of a $20 grow light and a few bucks worth of plastic. And that literally is all it is. And they are selling it for $180. The plant pods are peat moss with probably some added fertilizer, and a seed or two. MrsGF has a 4 shelf mini greenhouse down in the basement that can hold 2 or 3 full sized flats on each shelf, with grow lights and heaters, and that entire setup cost about half of what this — this thing sells for.

I’ll keep it going because I’m curious to see if those so-called tomatoes will ever actually turn red. After that the plastic bits go in recycling and the grow light might be salvageable and used in MrsGF’s greenhouse.

Amazon Issues

I don’t know what’s going on with Amazon of late. Maybe it’s just a local issue? Let me explain. A couple of weeks ago I ordered a monitor stand. Amazon told me it would arrive in 2 days. Fine. On the 3rd day I got a message saying delivery had been delayed and would now take another two days. Okay. I’m in no big rush. Then on the day the stand was supposed to arrive I got a message telling me it was “undeliverable” and it was being returned to the warehouse and I would be issued a credit. There was no explanation of what “undeliverable” actually meant. By that time I kinda really wanted the stand so I ran all the way up to Appleton and bought one at Office Max.

Three days later, guess what Amazon dropped off at my door? Yep, the monitor stand I’d ordered a week and a half earlier.

Earlier I’d ordered a heavy electrical cable to connect my backup generator to the transfer switch in the house. These things are expensive, around $200 for the one I needed. The cable arrived two days later. It was the wrong one. The day after that the right cable came. Amazon says they have no record of the wrong cable being sent and I should just keep it. Not sure what I’m going to do with it, but okay…

I ordered mounting brackets for my solar panels last week. They were supposed to arrive on Saturday. Sunday I got a message that they were delayed and they should come tomorrow, Tuesday. Okay…

I ordered a National Geographic science kit as a gift for a great nephew. They told me it would arrive in two days. Great. It arrived in 8 hours. Seriously. I ordered it around 10 AM and it arrived at 4 PM the same day.


I’m more grouchy than usual at the moment. I’m prepping for a colonoscopy tomorrow so I’ve had no solid food for 2 days and now I’m trying to gag down a half gallon of Gatorade mixed with laxatives that will keep me huddled near the bathroom for the rest of the evening. Great fun.

Bluetti Update: Yes, Another One

Can you say hernia, boys and girls? That sucker weighs in at 80 pounds. The AC200Max is another 70, so this whole “portable” power station weighs in at 150 lbs.

The B300 external expansion battery for the AC200Max just arrived an hour ago and dear sweet mother of milk of magnesia that puppy is big! Not only is it physically larger than the AC200Max it’s considerably heavier too. The specifications page pegs it at 80 pounds and after lugging that thing down the basement stairs and into my office/lab/radioshack I can assure you that it is every single ounce of that.

Seriously? The connectors are on the wrong side and the cable is too short to reach if both boxes are facing the same direction.

And to make things even more interesting the connector for the massive cable that connects it to the AC200 is, drum roll please, on the wrong side of the damned battery box! The connector on the battery box is on the right. The connector on the AC200 is on the left. And the cable is too short to reach if the two of them are stacked with the front panels towards, well, the front. The only way to connect them is to turn the battery around so the panel and switches are facing the rear.


Right now I’m dumping about about 800+ watts combined solar/grid power into it to fully charge the B300 and it’s sucking it down just fine. It’s already up to near full capacity. Of course I’m also drawing about 250W out of it at the same time to run my office so that’s slowing it down a bit. Yes, you can charge it from two different sources at the same time, and draw power from it at the same time as well.

So far so good. I’ll keep you posted.

Yet Another Bluetti Update: Be Cautious

Later Edit: Okay, within an hour of me posting this, guess what happened? I got a response back from Bluetti regarding the message I’d sent them last week about the RFI issue. They acknowledged that yes, there are RFI problems but they can’t do much about it at this time and are working to try to improve future models. And they gave me $2,000 Bluetti Bucks, whatever the heck those are. So I changed the headline up there from “do not buy” to Be Cautious.

From what I’ve been seeing on social media, Bluetti’s customer service is allegedly not very good. Scrounging around on places like Reddit, Youtube, and various forums, I’ve been seeing story after story from customers having trouble getting any kind of response from the company’s customer service department.

You can’t sell a very high tech, very complex and extremely expensive product like Bluetti does without a good customer service department to solve customer problems. And it seems that as of right now at least, Bluetti doesn’t have a good record when it comes to service after the sale.

The Bluetti equipment I’ve been working with here has been excellent, well made and it works. But seeing all of the stories about their customer service makes me very, very nervous.

So, does getting a response back from the company make me feel less uncomfortable? That I got a response back that actually addressed the problem, even though they couldn’t do anything about it, and that they tried to make up for it by giving me the “Bluetti Bucks” does help, I must admit. But I’m still nervous about all the issues I’ve been seeing regarding customer service.

Deja Vu All Over Again

(C) 2021 Randall Krippner

A couple of months back I went through the ordeal of watching administration spox patting themselves on the back over having “fixed” the rail strike threat and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. And it was all a lie because there was no actual agreement. What they had was a proposal thrown together by negotiators, and nothing else. All of the unions, all 12 of them, still had to vote to approve or disapprove the proposal.

It was basically a house of cards that would fall apart almost before they got done announcing their “big win”. If any one of the twelve unions voted against the proposal, the whole deal would fall apart because if one of the unions went on strike, all of them would. If anyone had bothered to talk to the actual union members they would have found out immediately that they were not happy with the proposal. And almost immediately that’s exactly what happened, the proposal was rejected by one of the unions. And as of this week, four unions have now rejected the proposal and we could be looking at a railroad strike by Dec. 5.

So what happened? Why did the deal fall apart? Because the proposal did almost nothing to fix the problems that were causing the employees to consider going on strike in the first place. The problem wasn’t so much salaries, it was was the the railroads arcane and even, according to some, outright sadistic scheduling system and lack of sick leave that caused the problems, and that system was going virtually unchanged under the new proposal. (If you want to see what the employee scheduling system is like, you can read all about it here at Inlander. )

So here we are, nearing the end of November, and there could be a rail strike that could shut down the entire system by Dec. 5. And it’s highly likely that everyone will blame not the railroads which caused the problem in the first place, but the employees. I’ve already seen headlines and news stories laying the blame directly on the employees, and completely ignoring the real cause of the employees’ anger. I just read one headline at CNN that read something like “Unions Reject Lucrative Offer” implying that the union members are just being greedy, and nothing in the following story mentioned what the real grievances were.

So what’s going to happen now? I have no idea. Under a nearly 100 year old law Congress has the authority to force a contract on both parties, and the new contract would almost certainly leave the existing scheduling system in place. The result of that would be a hell of a lot of very angry employees. And, well, let’s put it this way – I know six people who worked for a railroad. Every one of them has quit in the past year because of the scheduling system. If Congress imposes a contract that doesn’t deal with the scheduling system it could result in the railroads losing so many employees it would be almost as bad as a strike.

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

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

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

Which one would you rather spend time in?

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

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

Camera Stuff

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

Sidenote: Got questions? Leave them in the comments section or you can reach me at

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah… Right…

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

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

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

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

Let’s move on to SLR type cameras.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decisions, decisions, decisions…

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

First Veggies of the Season

Well sort of. We’ve been eating lettuce all along and picking beans for over a week now so technically this isn’t the first, but the peppers are starting to come in now. This is the first bell pepper of the season and it’s destined to turn into supper, along with that onion and baby garlic head up there. The garlic MrsGF put in as an experiment in early spring is looking fantastic. We couldn’t resist pulling one up to see how they’re looking and that’s a perfect little baby head of garlic. In another couple of months they’ll be ready to harvest. Well if they last that long.

When someone asks me why we do all the work to grow vegetables when they’re so cheap to buy (even now with inflation veggies are cheap if you stick with the generic store brands), my answer is simple. It’s the flavor. The stuff you buy in the grocery store produce department has been bred specifically to make the produce easier to harvest, store for longer periods of time, and to look more appealing to the eye. And in the process of breeding for those traits what they’ve also done is eliminated a lot of the flavor and aroma.

Farm Catch Up: It Isn’t Looking Good for Farmers or Consumers. But then there are cats…

I’m generally a fairly optimistic person but when it comes to the agricultural sector and, more importantly for you and me, us consumers, things aren’t looking too good on the agricultural front. I got up this morning to find soybean futures over 16.50, wheat back up to over 10, and corn flirting with 7.75 on the commodities market. Then I read an article from a JP Morgan analyst indicating that commodities prices could push up as much as 40% higher than they are already. Then there is everything else going on, and it isn’t looking good.

First there is, of course, Ukraine and what’s going on over there. Ukraine is a major producer of wheat and sunflower seed for cooking oil. That supply is now pretty much shut down. Russia exported a large amount of wheat as well and that supply is mostly shut down as well because of sanctions. That’s caused huge disruptions in the markets for wheat and vegetable oils.

Of course things were chaotic even before that. We’re still experiencing shipping issues thanks to ports, shipping companies, railroads and the trucking industry failing to engage in modernizing, improving their facilities, failing to deal with employees fairly and a host of other issues. Problems that have been going on literally for decades but which haven’t become critical until the pandemic stressed the system and it basically broke.

Natural disasters and production problems curtailed the manufacture of herbicides like glyphosate. There have been trade wars going on over the import and export of fertilizers. There is the infamous computer chip shortages which hasn’t just disrupted the auto makers, it’s also messed with ag equipment manufacturers as well. If you’re a farmer in the market for a new tractor, well, good luck trying to find one.

Then there is the drought.

The entire western half of the US is under drought conditions except for northwestern Washington.

Then the avian flu has been sweeping through the country. Here in Wisconsin poultry growers have had to euthanize millions of birds already. In the last two weeks the price of eggs has gone from $1.24 a dozen to over $4.00 a dozen.

But then again I have a cat sleeping on my chest so things aren’t all bad…