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…

Oh Brother, Here We Go Again…

I generally stay away from things like this for a variety of reasons, but sometimes things get so utterly ridiculous I just can’t help myself… But let me get on with this.

It is never a good thing when your home state turns up on Snopes. This time it’s about furries. And… Hear that thumping sound in the background? That’s me banging my head on the table because, well, never mind, let’s get on with this.

Someone is now claiming that the Waunakee school district here in Wisconsin has something called a “Furry Protocol”. The claim is that the school now has a policy in place to protect furries from discrimination, including an image of a Powerpoint slide being projected on a screen displaying the supposed protocol and…

I’m trying to imagine what it would have been like if a legitimate news reporter like, oh, Walter Cronkite, was reporting on this back in the 1960s. He would have started talking and when he got to the point about schools putting litter boxes in classrooms he would totally lose it, start giggling, then collapse in laughter and they’d have to cut to a cigarette commercial or something while he recovered.

Now we have a news media that gleefully runs stories where a politician claims, with an absolute straight face, who absolutely believes, that kids are running around schools dressed like cats and dogs, meowing and barking and using litter boxes…

Farm News: Drought

If you’re waiting for food prices to start to come down, I have some bad news for you. The way conditions look right now food prices are probably going to keep going up for a while, and it isn’t just the Ukraine crisis that’s driving it. It’s the drought.

Unless you’re directly affected by water shortages out west you may not even know it, but the US is in the middle of one of the worst droughts in memory, with about 65% of the country experiencing drought conditions. Look at that map up there, just about the entire western half of the country is under drought conditions.

In the last few weeks the commodities market price for wheat has almost doubled, jumping from a bit over $7 up to $13.40 a bushel as of this morning.

Part of this is due to the situation in Ukraine of course, but much of it is because of weather issues. Corn and soybeans haven’t been hit quite as hard but they are up as well.

The drought situation is going to hit the cattle markets as well. With everything as dry as it is out west that means that grass for grazing cattle is in short supply and feed costs are going to be going up.

Changes, GF Complains About Stuff, What’s Coming Up. And a Dog.

Considering how fond I am of gadgets, technology and all that stuff, you might be surprised to learn that I also hate having things change. I develop ways of doing things and I dislike having to change. But sometimes there’s no way changes can be avoided, and I’m dealing with that right now.

For something like 10 or 12 years a MacBook pro has lived in our kitchen, mostly on the kitchen table, dealing with day to day chores like handling my email, reading the news, sorting my photos and writing this blog. But after more than a decade of flawless service the MacBook is showing signs it isn’t long for this world and it is going to need to be replaced. But new MacBooks, especially the Pro version, are most definitely not cheap. I was looking at the MacBook Air which is very, very nice. But…

But then I saw my new(ish) iPad sitting there and started wondering why I needed a laptop in the kitchen at all. Why couldn’t I use the iPad for the same things I used the MB for? It’s the new generation iPad so it certainly has the processing power and memory to deal with 99.9% of the stuff I used the laptop for. I decided I didn’t need a laptop, all I needed was a keyboard for the iPad.

And here we are, the first post written and edited entirely on an iPad instead of the elderly MacBook.

The keyboard is – interesting? It you look at a newer iPad you’ll find 3 little gold dots along one edge. That’s how it connects to the optional keyboard. Magnets hold it in place. The keyboard folds up to cover the screen, and folds out to form a stand to hold it in place while typing. It’s a really slick design. There’s no physical connection at all except the magnets so the iPad can be pulled away to use by itself.

But do I like it? Not really. The keyboard isn’t exactly comfortable to use. It’s tiny, the keys are too close together, it is uncomfortable for someone with big hands, like me. Still, it isn’t horrible and it does work and I’ll probably get used to it. Biggest problem so far is trying to use a touch screen instead of a mouse and trackpad. I’m still trying to adapt to that.

It seems that the iPad can do pretty much everything I need it to do in order to replace the Macbook, but it’s going to be awkward for a while until I get used to this setup. It’s easy to copy and paste photos. It can even do some photo editing. So far I’ve been adapting. I don’t have my email switched over yet but that’s coming next.

So Let’s Talk About Toyota…

Toyota managed to p*** off just about all of its customers this past month by announcing that people who owned 2018 or newer vehicles were going to have to start paying a $8 a month subscription fee for a premium audio service they probably don’t want if they wanted to maintain the remote start capabilities of their key fobs. Now the whole story gets complicated and confusing and seems to be changing all the time as Toyota tries to do damage control. Basically here’s what Toyota claims is going on.

Sidenote: I should point out that leaving your vehicle running unattended, even if it’s locked, is illegal in a lot of jurisdictions and can you can get a citation for doing so.

According to the company the key fobs are going to lose the ability to remote start the vehicle because of something to do with the 3G cellular system is shutting down soon. Maybe? But this makes no sense at all because the key fob has absolutely nothing to do with the cellular system. The key fob works by a short range radio transceiver built into the fob, communicating via coded signals with another short range transceiver built into the car. The cellular network has nothing to do with it. And in any case why would key fob functionality be tied to the car’s stereo system to begin with? The explanations I’ve seen so far make absolutely no sense at all.

This is a software problem. Either accidentally or deliberately Toyota tied the remote start function to the premium audio system. If you don’t subscribe to the premium audio features, it is shut off, and the remote start is shut off with it. So rather than fixing the bug and rolling out a software update, Toyota is telling the owners of these cars they’re going to have to pay $8 a month for a service they don’t want in order to keep using a feature they already paid for.

While I’m complaining about stuff let’s move on to Tesla. The company has announced it is going to now cost you $12,000 if you want the self driving functions of the car to be enabled. Twelve. Thousand. Dollars. For a piece of software that, judging from the videos I’ve seen, doesn’t actually work very will and is quite possibly actually dangerous to use. And which now enables activities which are actually illegal, like performing rolling stops at stop signs. And even Tesla calls it a beta version of the software. That means it is still very much in the testing stage of development and is still being modified frequently and still has bugs in it.

And they want you to pay $12,000 to be able to use it.

Do I need to say any more about this? No? Good.

Let’s look at what’s coming up.

I’ve finally had a chance to work with a new bowl hollowing system from Simple Wood Turning Tools. I’ve been using some of their carbide turning tools for some time and really like them, and I’ve had their hollowing system sitting on the shelf and finally had a chance to use it. I liked it so much I want to take a closer look at it here. It just works really, really well. So keep an eye out for that in the future.

I’ve had some ”issues”, as they say, with my old laser engrave and have a new one on the way that is supposed to be coming yet today. Maybe. I hope. It has the rather unfortunate name of Laserpecker, but there’s nothing I can do about that. If it works half as well as the demo videos it should be interesting. It does have some problems that make me a bit nervous, like the fact that a lot of the accessories they advertise for it like the roller and traveling systems don’t actually seem to exist. But we’ll see. Hopefully.

Oh, and I promised you a dog! Here you go:

This is Dash. MrsGF’s sister just got this guy a few weeks ago. His hobbies include slobbering on people, trying to sit on laps, chasing toys and smelling things. Oh, and staring at you when you’re eating because you aren’t sharing with him.

Mr. Bitey says Merry Christmas and What Happened to Part II???

This is Mr. Bitey, the T-Rex. Teeth? Bitey? Bite? Get it? I’m not the only loony around here. MrGf is the one who came up with the idea of making the little Santa hat for him. Added bonus, he glows in the dark. Oooo, the excitement…

So, what happened to Part II of the resin series? There have been problems. Massive ones. This has turned into a situation where everything that can go wrong, has. Stuff like this…

and this

Chipping, pitting, cracking, warping… I’ve had some messes on my hands before but I’ve never run into one this bad before. What makes it even more frustrating is that I don’t know why it’s doing this. All I can think of is that the resin I was using had been sitting on the shelf for too long. Maybe?

I got so frustrated I just let the thing sit for a while and I was seriously considering just chucking the whole thing into the fire pit. Fortunately a new 3D printer arrived to distract me and after playing with that for a few days I got back to work and eventually ended up with something that wasn’t so bad I would be ashamed of showing it in public. I ended up having to resort to using 60 grit sandpaper to get all of the pits and chips out and doing the final shaping because even touching it with a lathe tool did nasty things to it.

Resorting to 60 grit sand paper… Oh the shame of it…

Anyway I’m editing some video right now and collecting photos and hopefully will have all of this finally wrapped up pretty soon here.

Also in the que is some stuff about 3D printing, including a quick review at the Flashforge Adventurer 4 and an article explaining the different types of 3D printing and, most importantly, why you really, really don’t want one yourself. If you feel the sudden urge to buy a 3D printer go take a little lie down until you feel better.

Wheel of Time The Video Series

Warning: There may will be spoilers ahead. Seriously. If you keep reading you have no one to blame but yourselves. Oh, I might also say “bullsh*t” once or twice so there’s that.

I have a confession to make. I am a Wheel of Time fan. When the first book came out in 1990 I’d picked it up out of curiosity and was immediately hooked. But the problem was that the whole thing just never seemed to end. It was originally going to be a series of six books and, ultimately, turned out to be fourteen volumes, each one a massive brick of a book. (How big? Each book in the series averaged 826 pages in paperback format. And there are 14 books. That works out to 11,564 pages total length. Eleven and a half thousand pages. There are almost three thousand named characters. And I, heaven help me, read all of those pages. Several times. What this says about me is open to debate.) And it took so long to finally wrap up the series that I was wondering if I was going to die before it came to a conclusion.

I didn’t die but the author, Jordan, did die before it was finished. Fortunately they found an author who was quite possibly even better at this than Jordan himself was, and the final three volumes were excellent. Brandon Sanderson turned out to be the perfect choice to replace Jordan. Sanderson wrote the last three volumes, wrapped everything up to everyone’s satisfaction (well, to my satisfaction at any rate. There were some who were not pleased with the ending but they can go clutch their pearls elsewhere) and that was that.

Or was it? Hardly had the series wrapped up than rumors started that there was going to be a WoT movie which we fans openly laughed at. You can’t take what is basically an eleven and a half thousand page novel and turn it into a two hour movie. You couldn’t even take one plot line from the books and turn it into a movie without eliminating 99% of the story to make it fit.

If someone were to make a video out of it they’d have to go down the same road as the Chinese costume dramas which run literally 50, even sixty or seventy hours. “The Untamed”, for example, is a historical fantasy drama that is basically a 50 hour long movie broken up into one hour chunks, and “Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms” (also known as Eternal Love) is another fantasy drama that runs almost 60 hours. (Both of those are on YouTube, by the way, if you ever have a week or two with nothing else to do. I’m not sure if I should recommend you give them a try or not. These things are definitely an acquired taste, at least as far as us westerners are concerned. And often they end with everyone you like dying in the end.)

But then along came Amazon and they said hey, guess what? We’re going to do the Wheel of Time! I was neither impressed nor optimistic about what the results would be. But I’ve seen the first three episodes now and so far it is very, very good. Mostly. There are some things going on that don’t make a lot of sense, even rub me the wrong way.

The casting of the main characters seems – oh, how can I put this… Not quite right? Just a bit off? And so does the portrayals of those characters.

The main characters are Rand, Matt, Perrin, Egwene, and Nynaeve. (And to a lesser extent, Moiraine and Lan.) These five people are basically all kids, teenagers, or supposed to be. But except for Rand they seem far too mature both physically and mentally. Perrin especially but also Nynaeve and Egwene. Rand is the only one of the bunch that seems to actually be following the character development as portrayed in the book.

Matt… This is where things start to rub me the wrong way. In the book he is a jovial, fun loving prankster at first. The video version of Matt is more crude, more, well, nasty. He comes off more as a petty thief and mildly nasty little git, to be honest. Well, okay, I suppose I could give them some leeway. I suppose they could take him in that direction. But then…

Then we come to Perrin and dear lord that’s where things start to get strange. In the books Perrin is the same age as Matt and Rand, basically a teenager. But here they have Perrin already married to someone named Laila. And for no apparent reason that I can determine. This is a huge problem because a major part of his story revolves around his relationship later with Faile Bashere. Unless they’re planning on totally rewriting his entire relationship with her later he can’t be married now to Laila.

So they fix that problem by almost immediately killing Laila in the most horrific and emotionally wrenching way possible. And there is absolutely no reason for doing any of it! None.

The showrunners claim they did that to fill out Perrin’s backstory. Bullshit. Perrin has no such backstory involving a romantic relationship. At one point he muses that if he’d stayed in Two Rivers he might have eventually ended up married to someone named Laila, but he has no relationship with her and she never actually exists as more than a name mentioned in passing. There is no point in introducing a character and a marriage that never existed in the first place, only to then brutally and horrifically kill off the character to fill out a backstory that didn’t exist in the first place.

So why do it? To make him a more, oh, haunted and brooding character than he already is? Or basically just an excuse to throw up more blood and horror and shock in the middle of a scene that is already about as crammed full of blood and horror as it can get?

And speaking of blood and horror, now we come to the Whitecloaks, the Children of the Light… Oh, brother. Okay, we know the Whitecloaks are nasty, hypocritical bastards but they are cast as so over the top evil and sadistic that they’re almost a parody of themselves. The writers should be reminded that you can take things too far, and they did exactly that.

Okay, okay, I’m done with the ranting now. Let me get on with this. Except for the almost immediately brutally killed wife who didn’t exist in the first place and some minor quibbles about some of the characterizations, I have to admit I was impressed with what I’ve seen so far. Moiraine and Lan are spot on and beautifully rendered characters. As is Thom Merlin. The red sisters are a bit over the top but not, overall, horribly done.

The characterization of Rand seems almost spot on. He is, basically, little more than a well meaning country bumpkin at the start of the books, a teenaged kid with no experience outside of his little community, being thrust into a world he doesn’t understand and has difficulty comprehending.

And Logain – wow… Alvaro Morte plays Logain and dear lord he is good. Very, very good.

The visuals are outstanding. The scenery is stunning. The special effects are decent.

Overall it looks good so far. But what they’ve done with Perrin so far makes me a bit nervous. If they’re already inventing characters out of thin air for absolutely no reason at all just to immediately kill them off as horrifically as possible, it make me a bit anxious.

Catching Up: 3D printer, Snow, Kimchi and Stuff. Oh, and a Cat

When they packed this thing they didn’t fool around. Layers of ultra dense, shock absorbing foam inside and out, everything that could possibly move taped down, all shoved into a box the size of a small chest freezer. One of the best packing jobs I’ve ever seen.
you can tell from the wear on the build plate that I’ve been using this thing a lot since I got it

ES (Eldest Son) has had my old 3D printer for some time now using it to print parts for, believe it or not, a replacement power supply for IBM PC Junior computers. Seriously. The PC Jr, what has to be one of the worst computers ever made, is now something that people are looking back at with affection. IMO this is sort of like looking at, oh, toe fungus with affection, but some people are like that, I suppose. People his age and a bit older are experiencing a wave of nostalgia for old computers and are repairing them, running them and playing with them, and the power supply of the PCJr seems to be one of the more fragile parts of the system. So he came up with a design for a circuit board, has a company make them for him, then adds the components, prints various brackets using the 3D printer and makes a tidy profit off it.

I now have the thing unpacked and up and running and I am pretty impressed with it so far. I’ll be talking about it in depth in about a week. I would have covered it before now but I ran into some issues that that turned out to not be a problem with the printer but with the filament I was using. That delayed things until I figured out what was going on.

Yes, we got snow! Well, not now. All of that stuff up there melted away rather quickly, alas, but still it was, for a brief time, winter here in north eastern Wisconsin. It has been cold here, though, with night time temperatures down as low as 18F, or about -7C for those of you outside the US who are reading this. (When in heaven’s name are we ever going to get in synch with the rest of the world when it comes to measurement systems?)

Let’s talk kimchi. How the hell did an aging, grouchy old ex-farmer get hooked on kimchi of all things? Well, I did and no, I am not suffering from dementia.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, kimchi is basically, well, sauerkraut. Fermented cabbage. Only sauerkraut kicked up a few notches. Well, kicked up a lot of notches, I suppose. It’s loaded with garlic and massive amounts of red pepper and some onions, with a bit of fish sauce and soy sauce thrown in. I love the stuff. The rest of the family looks at me very odd when I bring it out, but then the rest of the family looks at me very oddly most of the time anyway so I don’t care. I love hot, spicy food to begin with. And thanks to the popularity of K-dramas on Netflix and other streaming services, kimchi, which is a staple of every Korean household, has started to become more popular and even our local Walmart carries it. Well, not for long because I buy it up as soon as they restock it. That’s the only reason I go to Walmart. Seriously. I scarf up all their kimchi and don’t come back until they get a new delivery.

It’s not cheap though, which makes sense since they import the stuff from Korea. So could I make the stuff myself? Basically it’s just fermented cabbage, right? So I found a recipe in, of all places, Ball jar company’s canning cookbook and I decided to try it, and it’s now bubbling away down in the basement and we’ll see what happens.

It’s easy to make. About 2 pounds of napa cabbage, sliced, lots of garlic, a couple of tablespoons of fish sauce and soy sauce, about a quarter cup of salt, and lots and lots and lots of Korean red pepper. There’s about a cup and a quarter of ground Korean red pepper in that mess up there. Then you shove it into jars, put a weight on top of it to keep the cabbage submerged in the liquid, and stick it in a cool, dark place and let it bubble and churn and do stuff for a while and keep your fingers crossed

That’s been sitting down in the basement for about 2 days now and apparently I’m supposed to taste it after 4 days.

MrsGF tells me that what it’s going to actually taste like is going to be different for just about everyone who makes the stuff because wild yeasts or bacteria or something like that in the environment that actually cause the fermentation process are going to be different in every home, so the actual flavor could be quite a bit different from what I’m used to. And even the exact same recipe fermented in a different location could have a much different flavor. So we’ll see.

I have to admit that this kind of thing goes against my basic instincts. I grew up in a household where the only spices in general use were salt and pepper, and not much of that, where vegetables were cooked until they turned gray and meat was not treated very gently. I loved my mother dearly but lord, her pork chops… you could have re-soled shoes with her porkchops. Her idea of food safety, well, I’m not sure where she got it from but she had the idea that if there was any kind of pink in even the thickest cut of meat, it was going to kill you.

So I wonder sometimes where my love of highly spiced foods comes from, along with my enthusiastic embracing of some foods that would have made my mother turn white with horror. She’d have had a heart attack if she’d ever heard of sashimi, which I absolutely love and she’d have probably wondered about my mental health if she’d seen me eating jalapenos right off the plants out in the garden.

But even so, letting jars full of cabbage just sit there in the basement at room temperature for days, even weeks at a time frankly makes me nervous.

I just took a peek at it. It’s been sitting over there in the dark for two and a half days now and it doesn’t look like anything is actually happening. No bubbling or anything, it hasn’t tried to crawl out of the jars to escape. And I have to admit that it smells absolutely amazing right now, so that’s hopeful? Maybe?

And to wrap this up, how about a cat?

Yes, lowly human, you may worship at my feet.

That’s Martin up there, one of son’s and his fiance’s cats. He’s a rescue kitty and he is amazingly beautiful, incredibly smart, breathtakingly stupid, adorable and annoying all at the same time. So pretty much a typical cat.

Is This The Future?

Photo by Carbon Robotics

This is the Autonomous LaserWeeder from Carbon Robotics. And this could be a real game changer for agriculture. This is an AI operated, self driving weeding machine equipped with powerful computers, cameras and high power lasers. Using GPS and it’s own cameras and inertial guidance systems, this thing will travel the fields by itself at about 1 – 2 acres per hour, using its lasers to blast anything that isn’t the crop you’re trying to grow. It will run about 20 hours on a tank of fuel.

No labor costs, no chemicals, no weeds.

And this is not a prototype. This piece of equipment is in operation now, working in carrot and onion fields, and according to the company it saves farmers up to 80% or more of the costs normally associated with manual weeding, cultivating and herbicides. They are already testing it on other row crops and it works just as well on them as it does with carrots and onions.

Could we be looking at a future where we’d no longer be drenching crops with toxic chemicals? Maybe.

There are some problems. Aren’t there always?

First is cost. I wasn’t able to actually pin down a price on these things even though they claim they are in actual use right now. I scrounged around for a considerable amount of time and couldn’t come up with a definite purchase price for one of these things. But I imagine they are most definitely not cheap. (Well nothing is cheap when it comes to ag equipment. You can easily drop a half million bucks on a decent sized tractor these days.) Farmers of all types operate on razor thin profit margins. Just a few cents per pound increase in costs can be enough to put a farm out of business. But considering that right now human labor of any type is damned near impossible to find and the costs of herbicides are skyrocketing, if you can find them at all (we’re having a glyphosate shortage right now) even an expensive machine like this could be economically viable, especially if you can get a premium price for your produce by marketing it as herbicide free.

Second problem is size. These things are the size of an SUV, but even so they are tiny by modern agricultural equipment standards. And they are slow. They only cover about an acre or a little more every hour. A single large corn or soybean grower plants thousands of acres every year. Collectively we grow tens of millions of acres of corn, soybeans and other crops. These things, in their current form at least, could never deal with that much acreage. A typical soybean or corn grower would have to have dozens of these things running 24/7. Could the technology be scaled up to work with large ‘industrial’ growers? Maybe? We don’t know yet. I’m sure they’re going to try.

But that being said, this could be a real game changer for vegetable growers. I really hope this turns out to be a viable method for dealing with weeds.