Stuff

Spring daffodils are up!

Woke up around 4 AM for some reason, pulled open the curtains and saw – snow??? Yeah, snow, not that daffodil up there from this weekend. But I’m not going to put up a picture of snow because things are depressing enough, so hopefully a daffodil will cheer you up. We knew it was coming, the storm, but I don’t think we really believed it. We were lucky because we got just a light dusting. Other parts of the state got as much as 5-8 inches. Sheesh. Welcome to spring.

Perfectly safe to go vote, says the man in full infection control equipment. No need to delay the election.

I have to admit that all of this is getting to me. I’m a rather anxious person to begin with and this whole climate of fear we’re living in with the 24/7 virus news going on right now certainly isn’t helping. I try to avoid even watching the news or reading newspapers, to be honest. But it’s hard not to. You can’t turn on the television, pick up a newspaper, turn on a radio or get on the internet without being bombarded with infection numbers, number of deaths, warnings to stay home and if you do have to go out wear hazmat equipment and treat everyone you meet as if they were infected. And meanwhile we have an administration that is saying everything is going really, really well and the isolation may be lifted at the end of the month, and at the exact same time the crawler down at the bottom of the screen is showing the number of deaths ticking up all the time and an announcement pops up that New York had to hire a contractor to begin digging mass graves on an island in NY harbor because they can’t deal with the number of bodies, and one of the heads of the Wisconsin legislature is shown in full hazmat gear telling people it’s safe to go vote in person without taking any kind of special precautions and later claiming the election is totally valid even though hundreds, perhaps thousands of people gave up trying to vote because of the 4+ hour wait times because most of the polling places were closed (only 5 out of 180 were open in Milwaukee) and the fact that the post office didn’t bother to actually deliver hundreds, perhaps thousands of absentee ballots that people had sent in for weeks ahead of the election, and even if people did get them and sent them in they won’t be counted because the post office didn’t put a postmark on them…

Yeah, it’s starting to get to me.

Weird stuff at WordPress

I’m not sure what’s going on with WP this morning but I’ve been running into all kinds of issues here. I can’t “Like” posts or comments on other WP sites, I can’t Like comments on my own blog, for heaven’s sake. I can’t access WP tools from my website, only if I go directly to my administration page. All kinds of weird stuff. I don’t know if it’s something local (i.e. and issue with my browser) or if this is effecting other people. Hopefully it’s just a temporary thing, possibly caused by system overloads. It’s about 7 AM local time so that means a hell of a lot of people are probably trying to get online to check emails, do work, school, etc so it could be just some kind of overload.

More on the Dicamba Case

I did a bit more digging into the case of the Missouri peach grower who won a large judgement against Bayer and BASF over it’s dicamba herbicide blend and ran across this item. Bayer markets a dicamba blend called Xtendimax and BASF markets a similar herbicide called Enginia. In addition to a $15 million judgement for actual damage, the jury tacked on $250 million in punitive damages. So the total judgement against the company stands at $265 million. punitive damages are awarded when a jury finds the actions of the defendant to be especially harmful.

They will certainly appeal this case and, like the judgement against Bayer/Monsanto over health problems with it’s glyphosate herbicide, the monetary amounts will almost certainly be reduced by a huge amount on appeal or even thrown out entirely. And even though I dislike dicamba a great deal, even I have to admit that there are some serious issues with this particular case.

There was evidence that trees in the orchard were suffering from Armillaria root rot which could have caused the problems the trees were suffering from. Some testing did indicate the trees were exposed to dicamba, but at a time before Monsanto released its Xtendimax herbicide for use, so how could Monsanto be responsible if the product hadn’t even been released for sale yet?

As with the case where Bayer/Monsanto lost the glyphosate trial, there seem to be some serious problems with this verdict, at least on the surface. I didn’t hear the testimony and didn’t read the entire court transcript, but from what I know now, if I’d been on that jury I don’t know if I would have been able to rule against the company.

But that goes only for this specific case. Dicamba is a nasty, nasty herbicide that vaporizes easily and can drift for miles. There is absolutely no doubt that it has caused millions of dollars in damage because of drifting, despite what the company says. Bayer continues to claim there is no problem with it, and that all of the problems either A) didn’t really happen, B) were due to illegal applications of its product, C) caused by applicators not following application guidelines or D) were due to other plant diseases.

BASF, Bayer Found Liable for $15 Million in Dicamba Peach Damage Trial – AgWeb

Source: BASF, Bayer Found Liable for $15 Million in Dicamba Peach Damage Trial – AgWeb

I haven’t done an ag related post in quite a while so it’s kind of sad that the first one I do involves something like this, but the whole dicamba thing could have the potential to do a hell of a lot of damage.

To summarize, Bayer (now the owner of Monsanto) and BASF which also makes a dicamba product, were found guilty of being responsible for significant damage to a peach orchard in Missouri and liable for $15 million in damages. The companies will almost certainly appeal, of course. The companies are claiming that the peach trees were already dying from disease, it seems. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. You can be sure that as with glyphosate, the other product Monsanto/Bayer is being sued over, the dicamba problem has armies of lawyers lining up at the doors of court houses all over the country to file suits.

I’ve talked about dicamba before, but here’s a brief recap: Dicamba is a rather powerful herbicide with some serious problems. One of the biggest is that it vaporizes easily and can then drift for long distances, some claim for miles, and cause significant damage or even kill plants that are not resistant to it. Monsanto (now Bayer) and BASF (which has a similar product) claim that their version of the stuff has special additives which prevent it from vaporizing so easily. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case because as soon as the stuff came into widespread use for dicamba resistant soybeans, hundreds, even thousands of reports of damage to non-resistant soybeans, other crops, trees, bushes and ornamental plants began to flood in.

The response of Monsanto and others making and selling the stuff has been to blame everyone and everything, except themselves. The damage isn’t from their product, they claim. Or the plants were already diseased. Or people were using the product the wrong way, applying it wrong, even using non-approved and illegal dicamba formulas the companies didn’t make. But when it comes down to it, it seems that the only people who believe the companies’ claims are the PR departments issuing the statements.

Despite increasingly strict regulations, strict training requirements, restrictions as to when it can be applied, etc., the alleged problems haven’t gone away. If anything, they seem to have gotten worse. A lot of farmers are being forced to plant Monsanto’s dicamba resistant beans (at a steep cost) just to keep from losing their crops in case their neighbors use the stuff. (And some farmers are claiming that’s exactly what the company hoped would happen.)

Monsanto (well, BASF now because they’ve inherited all of Monsanto’s problems after buying the company) is already facing hundreds, even thousands of lawsuits over alleged health problems caused by glyphosate, the active ingredient in it’s RoundUp herbicide. And those suits haven’t been going very well for the company so far. And now the dicamba thing? The company is going to be tied up in the courts for years, if not decades.

When Monsanto began to shop around for a buyer some years ago I wondered why. The company was in reasonably decent financial shape, it had product lines that would be profitable for a significant time and it had other products in the pipeline that looked promising. It didn’t seem to make any sense to me that the company would be trying to sell itself off to someone and even acting a bit, well, desperate about it.

Well, now I can guess why. Was the company foreseeing the upcoming legal problems? Did the upper management know that they would be facing possibly hundreds of millions of dollars in legal fees, penalties, lawsuits and possible government intervention over their products in the near future and desperately needed a way to bail themselves out before the storm hit?

Is BASF management now very, very much regretting it ever heard of Monsanto? Frankly I never understood why BASF wanted to buy Monsanto in the first place. Even back then the Monsanto was facing lawsuits not just in the US but in the EU as well over the alleged health issues with glyphosate, and there were already problems with dicamba drift showing up. The potential liabilities were huge.

But that’s the problem with a lot of companies – the upper management, the people who make the decisions, are almost never held personally responsible for the decisions they make. Look at what happened at Yahoo. The last CEO of the company oversaw the company descend into chaos with one failed project and acquisition after another, and all the while collected a ridiculously huge salary, and left with a multi-million dollar payout when the company fell into oblivion and was sold off for pennies on the dollar. Above a certain level at a company, there seem to be no adverse consequences for failure. They get their money whether the company sinks or swims.

Stuff I Dont Understand. The Witcher

Yes, I know there’s an apostrophe missing up there in that title. I don’t know why but the service insists on replacing apostrophes with some kind of weird looking code in article titles. I have no idea why and I’m too lazy to go ask someone.

The Witcher

This is the new Netflix series that seems to have everyone raving about it, and I don’t understand why. I managed to make it (barely because, OMG the pain…) through the first episode and skipped through (one finger on the fast forward button) a few more episodes and, well, no. Just no.

No, it is not Lord of the Rings Lite. Nor is it Game of Thrones lite. Nor is it, well, much of anything, really. It is a rehash of various fantasy themes that have been boring us to sleep for centuries, coupled with a stilted, stiff, emotionless reciting of lines from what is allegedly a script. (In a few scenes the actors, if you can call them that, looked like they were literally reading their parts off cue cards.). Cavill tries to look menacing, grits his teeth a lot, tries to look angry and mean and sympathetic, etc. in all the appropriate places and, well, manages to end up looking like he’d rather be anywhere except in this show. Or is suffering from a really bad hangover. Don’t blame him if he is. I’d have to get roaring drunk too if I had to get through that.

And do you have to run everything through visual filters to make everything look “dark” and “edgy”? It seems that every show these has to run the video through filters to desaturate the color or flip it into grayscale and it’s turned into a cliche.

Speaking of cliches – the costumes are a mishmash of styles, like someone took all of the worst costumes from GoT, LoTW, and STNG, along with some really badly modeled Mr. Spock pointed ears, shoved in a generous helping of “cool” steampunk stuff, shook it all up in a barrel, and then dressed the cast in whatever they pulled out at random. They take Cavill, put a bad wig on him, roll him around in some dirt, dress him up like a lumberjack with a leather fetish, and… Oh, come on, really?

The first scene (after the obligatory “hero kills CGI monster” scene at the start) looks like it was stolen almost word for word out of a 1950s episode of Gunsmoke (“We don’t cotton to strangers in these parts, mister.”) And it goes downhill from there.

There is one scene in the first episode where Cavill walks through a door (without opening it – ooo, magic!) and into some kind of Playboy fantasy world where young, naked maidens wander through a soft focus garden, and, well, it was just creepy . The 3rd episode, after the obligatory “horror” sequence in what looks like a medieval version of a meat locker, shows Cavill in bed with a woman who’s shirt conveniently slips down to bare her breasts for no reason other than the hopes that this will help attract teenage boys to watch the show and bump up the ratings. (I can just imagine the production meetings: “Look, this thing is a real stinker and if we want to get anyone to watch it we have to throw in boobs and disembowelments. That will at least get us the high school market…”)

Someone told me that you can’t really understand what’s going on in The Witcher unless you’ve read the original books, and well, no to that too. This thing is more than 8 hours long, for crying out loud! If you can’t adequately explain what is going on in eight hours without making the viewer go read the original books, there is something seriously wrong with your writers and your whole concept of what a video is supposed to be in the first place.

Look, if you like this thing, good for you. Apparently a lot of people do. But frankly the sight of Sean Connery in a pornstache and running around in a scarlet diaper and thigh-high boots for almost two hours in Zardoz is more palatable than this. (Whatever you do, don’t look at that picture over there on the right. If you do you’ll never, ever get it out of your brain and it will torment your nightmares for the rest of your… Oh, you already looked, didn’t you? Oops. Sorry.)

Oh no, he’s off on a rant…

Politics and how to fix it. Sort of. Maybe.

I don’t talk about politics in this blog for a lot of reasons. Primarily because we’re already drowning in it every day, it seems. But I think there is one thing we can agree on, and that is that our current system is badly broken. Can it be fixed? I think it could be and a major part of fixing it would be fairly easy to do, and that’s regulating how politics is funded.

We are not a democracy. The US is a representational government. The people themselves do not decide how the country, its states and local governments operate. Instead we elect representatives who are supposed to govern the country according to the wishes of the people who elected them. Unfortunately this system is broken because more often than not what influences how our elected representatives govern us are not the voters who elected them, but special interest groups, corporations and the wealthy who funnel obscene amounts of money into the politicians’ campaigns, and as such wield an enormous amount of influence over what those politicians do.. We don’t have a government that represents the voters any longer, we have a government that represents whoever has enough money to buy it.

So what would be a fairly simple fix? It’s easy, really.

First – Only individual persons can contribute financially to politicians’ campaigns, not corporations, companies, PACs, unions, etc. Many will claim that this somehow violates people’s rights. This is a lie. Corporations, etc. have no rights. They are not people. They are a legal fiction. A corporation is nothing but a collection of rules and regulations that are intended to make operating as a business easier. Period. It has no rights except those specifically granted by the law to operate as a business. The individual people who work for that organization have rights, yes. But the corporation or other entity does not. This is in no way would eliminate the rights of anyone. But it would go a long, long way to avoid concentrating large amounts of money in the hands of PACs, businesses, etc. that could then use that money to unfairly influence elections.

Politicians will respond that they need that money to run their election campaigns. I will put this bluntly – bullshit. If they would spend the time they now spend schmoozing with lobbyists, attending $5,000 a plate “dinners” where the wealthy bribe their way in to get up close to candidates, and begging money from corporations and the wealthy, etc., and instead spent that time in their home districts actually talking to the people who elect them, they wouldn’t need a fraction of the money they need now.

Second – only individuals actually living in a politician’s home district can contribute financially to a politician’s election campaign. People, PACs, corporations, unions, etc. who are outside of the home district of the politician have no damn business trying to influence an election. Period. The politician in question is supposed to represent the wishes of the voters who elected him or her, not some political action committee in D.C. or multi-national corporation or wealthy individual who doesn’t even live in the state or district of the politician they’re contributing to.

For decades now almost every election of any importance in this state gets flooded with money by PACs, special interest groups, and wealthy individuals trying to influence how a state they don’t even live in is governed. And the amount of money we’re talking about is almost scary. We’re not talking thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars, we’re talking tens of millions. A certain mining company, for example. made a single contribution of almost three quarters of a million dollars to a dark money pac that supported politicians in Madison that were trying to gut the state’s mining regulations. The only reason the public found out about it was a clerical error. That almost certainly wasn’t the only “contribution” they made to that PAC or other similar organizations specialize in what basically amounts to money laundering, i.e. covering up who is giving how much to who. Cutting off funding from these outside sources would go a long way to making politicians more responsible to the people who they are supposed to be representing.

There. Rant mode off. I’m going to go back to posting pictures, talking about amateur radio and farming and gardening again.

Cheap Amateur Radio. The FT-450D and holy s**t it’s cold! And some flowers and stuff

Okay, can we stop with this nonsense already? It’s only Nov 8, for pete’s sake! Normally we don’t get really cold weather and snow until mid to late December. Usually it’s in the mid 30s to low 40s this time of year and you can still go outside without freezing your bits off. Last night it was 10 degrees. Night before that it was 11 degrees. And snow? Really? A lot of years we’re lucky if we have snow by Christmas. In the last two weeks we’ve had a total of about 12 inches here. Most of that melted off, thank goodness, but now that the temperatures have plummeted it’s sticking around.

There’s so much we didn’t get done outside this fall. Between MrsGF’s knee surgery and everything else that’s been going on, I just didn’t have time to get everything done. I didn’t get some of the dahlias dug up, so those are probably going to be a total loss. Didn’t get any of the leaves raked because I was waiting for both the pear tree and the maple in the backyard to shed their leaves. Only they didn’t this year for some reason. It’s been a strange, strange autumn.

On the plus side, MrsGF’s Christmas cactus is in full bloom and it’s gorgeous. I know a lot of people who just can’t get these things to blossom no matter what they do, but MrsGF has a real knack with plants. I’m not sure what it is. I suspect she could take an old, half rotted twig, shove it in the ground, and in a few weeks it would turn into a healthy tree. This thing just keeps going and going. Some years it blooms twice.

And she has a rose bush in the living room this year, also in full blossom, in November. I don’t know how she does that, either. But it does make me grin like an idiot to have a rose in full bloom while it’s 10 degrees and snowy outside.

But I was really going to talk about amateur radio stuff when I started all of this so let’s get on with this…

Yaesu FT-450D hooked to the SCU-17 interface. It’s been in production for a while but it’s still one heck of a nice little radio for the money

Oh, before that, though, I thought I’d just throw this in even though it has nothing to do with the headline starting this off. This is what it looked like here on Oct 31 a little after 6 AM.

Last day of October in Wisconsin.

Now I know this is Wisconsin and the weather here is a bit, well, odd, but still, really? Ick.

Now, finally, the amateur radio stuff!

The Dilemma

Whenever I start talking to someone about amateur radio, whether they’re other amateur radio operators or people who know nothing at all about it, invariably the topic turns to cost, and it becomes clear immediately that a lot of people, including a lot of hams, think that amateur radio is way too expensive. A lot of people I know who would otherwise be interested in getting into the hobby think it’s so expensive they could never be able to afford it. And that simply isn’t true.

I can’t really blame them for thinking that because some of this equipment is indeed expensive. The top of the line transceivers that the manufacturers and owners love to show off can quickly push up into the $5,000+ range or more. The Kenwood TS-990 sells new for just under $8,000 and iCom makes one that sells for more than $12K, for heaven’s sake. Once you add in other things that you may think you need, if you believe the ads, like amplifiers, computers, morse code keys, etc. you can quickly end up sinking $15,000 or more in a top of the line set up.

But here’s something the manufacturers don’t want you to know:

You don’t need any of that high priced junk.

Seriously. You don’t. If you want to get on the air on the HF bands (shortwave) you don’t have to spend a fortune. That little Yaesu in that photo up there costs literally less than one tenth of what my TS-990 costs new, and to be perfectly honest, does everything you need. Granted, it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles the 990 has, doesn’t have the fancy displays and all that, but when it comes down to actually communicating, those bells and whistles aren’t really necessary and the 450 will do everything you need.

I was looking for a fairly full featured, small, full power (100 watts output), 12V powered transceiver to lug out to field day and special events or whenever I feel like it, in situations where the little low powered 818 wouldn’t do the job. I love that little 818, but let’s face it, with a maximum of 6 watts output (3 watts or less running digital), any kind of communications using it is going to depend more on luck than anything else. I ran across someone talking about the 450 and it sounded like a nice little transceiver so I looked into it more and decided it was just what I needed. It sells new for about $750 – $800 which is, as I said before, one tenth of the cost of my TS-990. You can find them used for about $500 or even less if you look around.

And for that price what you get is not some stripped down little radio, either. This thing has a lot of features, including a built in antenna tuner, decent filtering, good noise reduction features, etc. In fact, just about everything you might need in an HF transceiver is packed into this little unit. True, it doesn’t have many of the goodies my 990 has, but I have to admit that in real life I don’t use a lot of those goodies anyway. If this were the only transceiver I had, I would be more than satisfied with its capabilities.

But for me the main question was how well was it going to work using digital modes like PSK, FT8 and JS8Call because those are pretty much the only modes I use. And it turned out it deals with digital very, very well indeed. It took me all of 10 minutes to get it up and running with the SCU-17 you see sitting on top of it in that photo. It was just a matter of plugging in the cables, setting the baud rate in the menu, firing up the computer and setting things up in the software there, and I was on the air. Now granted I had only just fairly recently set up the Yaesu 818 with the same interface, computer and software, so I already had experience working with Yaesu equipment which certainly made it easier. But still, for me, getting a rig up and running on digital modes in under 10 minutes is a bit of a miracle, really. It took me days to get my TS-2000 working properly with digital modes when I first started this years ago.

It’s currently set up in the basement, hooked to the Titan Gap vertical antenna, and it’s been doing a very, very nice job. I’ve made contacts all over the place with it using JS8 and FT8, putting out about 40 watts.

Sidenote: The 450 may be capable of putting out 100 watts, but you never run full power in the digital modes on any transceiver because the power ratings of all transceivers are seriously misleading. Those maximum power ratings they give you are for single side band, which does not stress the transmitter in the radio. With SSB you’re actually averaging far less power output than advertised. Your signal may peak at 100 watts, but you’re actually averaging 50 – 60 watts or so because of how SSB works. Unlike SSB, most digital modes are considered to be 100% duty cycle. A general rule of thumb is when using digital, always dial your power levels back to less than 50% of the radio’s maximum. Sometimes the recommendations are as low as 25%. Otherwise you risk overheating the radio and damaging it.

Anyway, I’m very pleased with this little radio. I didn’t really expect much from it when I got it, and it has certainly exceeded all of my expectations. I’ve been having a lot of fun with it, and I’ve been using it more than my TS-990 of late.

Lets see, what else? Oh, yeah. This showed up courtsey of our friendly UPS delivery person the other day.

I picked up a Raspberry Pi 4 to play with to join the RPi 3s I’ve already been playing with. I have a specific goal for this one. There are Linux versions of FT8 and JS8Call that, I’m told, run just fine and dandy on the RPi. I’ll find out this winter as I experiment. My eventual goal is to put together a compact QRP digital system that is backpackable that I can take along when I’m out on the trails with the bicycle. I’d thought about configuring the Rpi as a tablet computer with just a touch screen and no keyboard. I’ve done that before with the Rpi3s I’ve had, but I think that might be a bit awkward, so I’m looking at compact keyboards and maybe a small trackball or touchpad for mouse control. We’ll see. This is still very much a work in progress.

I know, I know… The used Lenovo laptop I picked up was supposed to serve that role, and it does, but while it works just fine it is also big, heavy and clumsy to lug around. I can squeeze a RPi into a package not much bigger than a small tablet computer and a fraction of the weight. We’ll see how it goes.

And that’s about it for now. I’ve been boring you long enough with this.