Garden Stuff

The hostas loved the cool, wet spring. They’re wonderfully lush this year.

Despite all the water we’ve been getting the gardens have been doing pretty good. We’re still a bit behind schedule because of the cool weather we had up until now, but the gardens at the house are definitely doing better than what the farmers around here have been experiencing.

When we bought this place some twenty or so years ago the front of the house was a mess. The space between the front of the house and the sidewalk was a nasty little border type flower bed mulched with small stones, sort of curved and indented, with some of the worst grass I’d ever seen between that and the sidewalk. It was a maintenance nightmare. The plants up there were some of the worst you could possibly select for a border, and because of the stones it was impossible to properly weed or do anything to improve the horrible soil.

We finally got fed up, went in with the tractor and ripped everything out, scooped up the stones with the front end loader and hauled them to a friend’s farm where he used them for fill, and we put in the cedar rail fence and the hostas. No bushes to trim any more, the fence has weathered to look like it’s been there for generations, and the only maintenance is to go in with a hoe and knock the few weeds growing in the mulch down once in a while. There are a couple of spots where I want a bit better coverage so I might throw in a few more hostas.

The tomatoes are looking pretty good. We put in a lot less of them than last year because we were nearly overwhelmed by them last year. We still have enough canned tomatoes to last us probably through 2019, although all of the soup and pasta sauce got used up.

With fewer tomatoes we had some extra room in the raised beds so we put onions in along the edge and they’re doing beautifully. We tried raising them in a different spot but they never got enough light and didn’t do well. They’re looking fantastic in this new location. They’re big enough now that I can run outside and pull a couple whenever I need onions for anything. I love green onions so they may never reach maturity, but that’s okay.

Every year I have to put in something different, this year it’s this, something that the label says is a “hot salsa pepper”. And that is literally all it says. I don’t know what variety or anything else about it. It is starting to produce pretty little yellow peppers, so that’s something. I picked one yesterday and tried it and it is most definitely not hot. Not by any standards. I’m not one of those people who loves peppers that make your face turn red and your eyes bug out and necessitate a trip to the ER because they’re so bad, but I do like a pepper that bites back at least a little. Jalapenos are about the limit of what I can handle for heat. But these, well, there’s just nothing there at all. Hopefully they’ll get better as they mature.

Speaking of jalapenos, I got another experiment going in pots on the front steps, a “mild” jalapenos. The two plants are doing quite well, both are in flower now and one is starting to develop fruits. The blurb on the tag was “all of the flavor without the heat”. I’ve tried variations of peppers like this before that claimed they still had flavor without heat, and they were disappointing. Usually when they breed out the heat, they also breed out the flavor, alas. But we’ll see what happens with these. They certainly are looking healthy.

And then, of course, there’s the water. Oh brother… The ground is still so saturated that you can audibly hear it squishing when you walk through the grass. And the whole area back by the raised vegetable beds still had standing water under the grass as you can see in that photo. If we didn’t have the raised beds nothing would be growing back there this year. I don’t think we’ve gone more than three days in a row without significant rainfall since April.

Let’s wrap this up with this one:

I end up with dozens of photos of that lily every year because I love the color, the shape of the flowers, and just about everything about that plant. It certainly didn’t disappoint this year.

Stuff

If you live in the midwest in the US you don’t need me to tell you that the weather hasn’t been very good. Unusually cold temperatures and seemingly non-stop rain has been hitting large parts of the midwest. Corn and soybeans were, for the most part, planted late or even not at all. Ohio seems to have been hit the worst. Looks like almost 25% of the Ohio corn crop isn’t going to be planted at all. The situation with soybeans isn’t quite as bad, but the numbers there aren’t looking very good either.

The exact numbers are uncertain because a lot of farmers and people in the ag industry are being openly, even brutally skeptical of the data coming out of USDA. There are claims USDA is including acreage that has been planted but is under water and will never grow, acreage that has been planted with cover crops instead of corn because it’s already too late to plant, etc.

I can’t confirm or deny any of those suspicions. All I know is that when I ride around the countryside I’m seeing a hell of a lot of fields that look like the picture there on the left; lots of mud, lots of standing water, and lots and lots of weeds. It is too late to do anything with fields like that except to try to plant a cover crop to keep down the weeds and prevent erosion. You aren’t going to get any kind of economically viable crop planted in this area, this late in the season.

What about hemp, you ask?

Well, okay, you didn’t ask, but I’ve had a couple of people ask me about what the situation is with hemp. It is now legal to plant, harvest and process hemp here in Wisconsin, and despite the fact that a lot of people have been hyping the hell out of it and claiming that it is going to be the savior of agriculture, well, hemp, so far at least, has been pretty much a total bust for those few farmers who’ve tried it. Raising hemp for grain was a total loss last year from what I heard. Because of wet fall it was almost impossible to harvest the stuff. And what they did get harvested was hit by mold because of the damp weather so they couldn’t sell it at all.

Instead of depressing stuff, how about some pretty flowers instead? This is alyssum growing in my backyard. Wonderful stuff. Beautiful tiny, tiny flowers that produce some of the most amazing scent imaginable. I love this little plant. Those flowers are very small, about the size of a match head.

Raising it to produce CBD oil didn’t work out too well either for a lot of farmers. One farmer I heard about did successfully get his crop in, but trying to actually sell it was a different story. It seems no one actually wants large amounts of the stuff. Or none that he could find, anyway. None of the CBD oil producers he’s dealing with seem to want more than a few pounds of it at a time, and you can’t make money that way. His problem is marketing, of course. It sounds like he jumped into production before he was even sure if he could sell the stuff.

Hemp isn’t going to be “the savior” of agriculture. It is, at best, going to be just another crop that some will have success with. And all of the hype about CBD oil seems to be mostly that, hype, with few actual facts to back up any of the claims. There seems to be some indications it can help with epilepsy and discomfort from arthritis, but that’s about it.

Antenna Stuff

Strange things are growing in my backyard behind the garage. No, that’s not some kind of weird sunflower, that’s a GAP Titan DX vertical antenna which has been laying around for years now. Eldest son and I finally got the dopey thing put up over the weekend. That thing has been laying around for, oh, lord, has it really been three or four years? Sheesh… Talk about procrastination…

It replaces the Comet 250 vertical that was back there since 2013. The Comet – people like to complain about it but to be perfectly fair it wasn’t a horrible antenna. It is exactly what they claim it is, a multi-band vertical that doesn’t need radials or a counterpoise, that works from 80 to 10 meters without an antenna tuner, and can handle up to 250 watts. It is unobtrusive, the neighbors probably won’t complain about it, and under the right conditions it will even work as an antenna. Sort of. Not a very good antenna, true, but it will work.

The Titan has a pretty good reputation. It too is an all-band vertical, but you can see that it isn’t exactly simple, with all kinds of stubs and wires and stuff coming off it. But it is much, much more efficient than the Comet. And I can feed this one up to 1,500 watts if I want to without damaging it, where the Comet, well, I heard reports that if you tried to put more than 100 watts into the Comet you’d melt down the coils. Anyway, I still have work to do on this one. I need to get the counterpoise installed, need to get some connectors on it, need to tune the stubs. Hopefully it won’t take me another four years to get it hooked up!

It’s up high enough so it won’t interfere with the flowerbeds behind the garage. The counterpoise will take up a bit of space so I imagine MrsGF will not like that, but I’m hoping to get her to upgrade to a general class license now that she’s retired and if she does she’ll get as much use out of that antenna as I will.

Speaking of flowers, (well, okay, I wasn’t speaking of flowers but what the heck) the lupins have just gone nuts this year. They’re everywhere. It looks like someone bombed the entire backyard with seed. We didn’t plant any of these, they just came up by themselves. Not that I’m complaining. Those flowers are spectacular.

Let’s see, what else? Oh, yeah…

Stuff On The Air

Amateur radio operators can be a bit, well, odd, shall we say? (Personally I suspect it’s solder fumes.) Some of them seem to be obsessed with lugging their equipment out of the safe environment of their basements where spouses have exiled them and into the great outdoors with the intent of doing “Things On The Air”. They do SOTA (summits on the air), IOTA (islands on the air), POTA (parks on the air) WPOTA (Walmart parking lots on the air), and, well, the list goes on and on.

I’ve decided to join the ranks of these intrepid and brave explorers going to exotic places and sticking still more letters in front of “OTA”, risking life and limb outside of the safety of my normal operating location. Yes, I’ve started FPOTA! Front Porches On The Air! Ooo, the excitement! Ah, the thrills!

The plant there is important. It adds about 0.001 dB to the gain of the antenna.

Well, okay, I’m being silly here. (But to be honest I’m getting really tired of these “OTA” things and people running around “activating” parking lots and hills and parks and bridges and I don’t know what all else.) Still, we had a very rare nice day so I set up the mag loop and the 818 out on the front porch with a cup of coffee, a copy of “The Bathroom Reader” and and contacted, well, no one, to be honest. Chris over at Off Grid Ham tells me he’s been having similar results and not to feel too bad about it. Propagation on the HF bands pretty much sucks because we’re at the bottom of the solar cycle.

By the way, if you’re at all interested in solar power, batteries, solar controllers, and alternative ways of keeping your radios running, battery charging systems, etc, Off Grid Ham is the place to start.

The Great QRP Saga Continues

If you’ve been reading this nonsense for the last couple of weeks you know about my efforts to put together a portable QRP (low power) radio setup that’s small enough I can throw it into the back of the car and take with me when I go fishing and stuff so I can do PTOCCOTA (Picnic Tables Of Calumet County On The Air). Okay, I’m being silly, but I have long wanted to have a nice QRP set up that I could take along with me to play amateur radio while out enjoying the glorious environment of Wisconsin’s great outdoors and it’s swarms of blood sucking, disease carrying mosquitoes and ticks.

I’m mostly interested in digital modes of communications like PSK, FT8 and JS8 because despite the fact my hobby is communications technology, I don’t like to actually, well, talk to people. Yeah, I know. Weird, isn’t it?

So as you may recall, the ancient Toshiba laptop I was going to use decided it was time to go to that great recycling center in the sky. So I’ve been scrounging around for a cheap (emphasis on cheap because I already got way too much money invested in this project already) replacement and came up with this:

It’s a refurbed Lenovo that I picked up for $300 and, frankly, it’s ridiculously nice. I mean this thing looks and feels literally like brand new. There isn’t a single scratch or smudge or physical defect anywhere on it. Has a core i5 processor, 8 gig RAM, 500 gig SSD drive, DVD drive, 4 USB ports and seems entirely too nice to lug around out in the field. I have FLDIGI, JS8Call and FT8 software installed on it already. And I think I have the right cables to hook everything up to the SignaLink and the 818. So this weekend I’ll be taking over the dining room table for a few hours and see if I can actually get all this to work together.

I am not looking forward to that because, well, it’s embarrassing. I’ve been working with computers since 1979, both hardware and software. I’ve been fiddling with radio for even longer even though I didn’t get my amateur radio license until 2013. I was an electronics technician. I repaired laser scanners, set up computer networks, worked with ridiculously complex point of sale systems. So I ought to know this stuff, right? But whenever it comes to trying to hook a computer to a transceiver it quickly turns into an extremely frustrating experience. It never, ever works the first time. Or the second. Or the third. Or the fourth… Well, you get the idea.

I spent days trying to get Ham Radio Deluxe to work with first my Kenwood TS-2000 and then later with the Kenwood TS-990 and a RigBlaster Advantage interface. It was so frustrating that at times I was ready to just give up and then, for no apparent reason, the damned thing would just start working, with the same settings and cabling that didn’t work the day before… Arrgghhhh! The last time I had to rejigger stuff was when I got the new gaming PC and was trying to hook that up. Same settings, same cables, same everything, and, of course, it wouldn’t work right. Ham Radio Deluxe worked just fine and dandy until I wanted to transmit. Then it would key the transmitter but nothing actually transmitted… I struggled with that problem for way, way to long. And then it just started working for no apparent reason… I still don’t know what the hell happened there.

Anyway, enough of that. I’ve been boring you long enough with this stuff. Hopefully come Monday or Tuesday I’ll be able to report that I’ve got the 818 working flawlessly with the ThinkPad and I’m making contacts all over the place.

I doubt it, though.

Gardening Catch Up

Wow it’s been busy here. Well, at least when it hasn’t been raining, which it seems to have been doing almost the entire month of May. I’d say we’ve had maybe 5 nice days out of the last 30. The rest of the time it’s either been raining, or cold with temperatures never getting much above 55 degrees, or both at the same time. The farms around here are running weeks behind with planting. Well, so is most of the midwest. This time of year we should have just about all of the corn crop planted. Instead we have about 45% of the crop in the ground because the fields around here look like this:

We’re at the point now where if farmers can’t get the corn in the ground in the next few days they might as well not bother at all. Every day’s delay means a significant reduction in yield, and it isn’t going to be long before even the faster growing varieties won’t reach maturity before we get frost in the fall.

The commodities markets were so distracted by the trade wars going on that they didn’t notice the weather problems we’ve had, but they sure have now. Corn prices have shot up over $1 per bushel in the last week and a half, and are now sitting around $4.30 on the Chicago market.

But I wanted to talk about gardening, not farming, so let’s drop that and get on with this.

It was a hard winter here, which was easy to tell from looking at our yard, especially behind the house. The decorative plantings got especially hard hit, and the decorative area back there was an absolute mess.

The bark mulch had disappeared, for the most part, probably floating off in the heavy rains, the rest was discolored and deteriorating badly, parts of the area had sunk in where the old koi pond had been, the irises were drowning, it was pretty bad back there. So we decided the whole thing had to be redone. So we started digging up the old plants, moving rocks, putting in something like 250 retaining wall blocks, and about a week of work, and this is what we ended up with.

Still a lot of work to do but we’re getting there. You can see the raised vegetable beds off to the right.

We still have a lot of work to do to finish it off obviously. Some of the block have to be straightened up, some things moved around, but we’re relatively pleased with the result. One problem is that boulder sitting there. I moved that sucker there when I still had the tractor because it seemed like a good idea at the time and since the tractor got sold, well that’s where it’s going to stay, so we’re stuck with it and have to work around it.

It’s still pretty messy back there and we have a lot to do. We’re debating whether or not we want to put capstones along the top of the retaining walls. We have probably several more yards of dirt to haul in to fill the planting bed, a lot of crushed rock for the area around and behind the boulder, lots of plants to transplant into there and buy, and probably a truckload or two of mulch.

The old stone wall containing the garden at the back of the garage isn’t in good shape either any more. You can see what’s left of it here at the back of the garage. It’s just barely hanging on and needs to be replaced. But we’re pretty sick of putting in retaining walls at the moment so we’ll let this go another year and worry about it next spring. Despite the cold, wet weather you can see the raspberries are doing pretty good back there.

The 55 gallon drum you see in the background behind the lilac at the corner of the garage is our rain recovery system. There’s a piping system attached to the rain gutters that diverts water into the barrel that we use for watering plants in the dry season. Works pretty well. That’s generally enough to handle all of potted plants around the house. Not enough to deal with the vegetable gardens as well, but it helps a lot in keeping the water bill down during the summer.

We’ve cut back on the vegetable plantings this year. We had ridiculous amounts of tomatoes last year so we cut way back on that. Lots of pepper plants, though. We seem to go through a lot of those. But tomatoes? We still have quarts and quarts of canned tomatoes on the shelves from last year, although we did run out of soup and spaghetti sauce.

That opened up space in the raised beds so we put in a variety of onions this year to see how that works. I love being able to just go out in the backyard and dig up fresh onions when I need them during the summer. But the area where we were planting onions until now didn’t work very well because it was getting shaded out by the trees. The onions would start out well but would never grow very big because of the lack of light.

But then I have this going on right now —

She’s been sitting there staring at me for the last half hour waiting for her breakfast so I suppose I better feed the little goof.

Cleaning Up, Snow, Evaluating the Gardens, And Stuff…

MrsGF and I set aside Saturday to clean up the last of the gardens around here. We’ve had several hard frosts now and almost everything has died back so there was no reason to put it off any longer. So, of course, this happened…IMG_0056

Yep, that’s snow. Saturday was pretty miserable. Temperature around 38 degrees, 30 – 40 mph winds and then it started snowing. Oh, well. Ah, Wisconsin weather…

 

IMG_0055We got out the winter coats, hats and gloves and went at it anyway because, well, it has to get done. It wasn’t exactly a fun job in that kind of weather, but we did get it done. There was no point in putting it off because this time of year the chances of the weather being much better are pretty slim.

We ended up filling the entire back of the old truck. It’s amazing how much debris we ended up with after cleaning everything up. And this is just half of it. We already had taken out the remains of the tomatoes, squash and a lot of other stuff over the last few weeks. Good thing we live just down the street from the town’s compost site. That makes this a heck of a lot easier.

The snow didn’t stick around. It was too warm for that. But the wind did, with gusts of up to 40 mph all day. That kept us from raking up the leaves in the yard, but we got that done on Sunday. So we have just about everything cleaned up outside now.

All things considered, the growing season was pretty successful this past season. The tomatoes and peppers were ridiculously prolific. Our little lettuce bed kept us supplied with greens when we needed them. Some things weren’t very good, and some of that was our own fault.

We keep trying to plant onions and they never seem to make it to maturity for us. They start out good, but as they mature they seem to just stop growing before they get anywhere close to full sized. I don’t really mind that too much because my main interest is in having fresh green onions, not in full size bulbs for storage. So while that crop might look like a failure, it really isn’t because I get what I want out of it.

The squash disappointed. The acorn squash never developed fully at all and were a total loss, and while we did get a few absolutely beautiful butternut squash (wow, they tasted good!) they didn’t produce as well as they should have. We aren’t sure why because they were in the same place they’d been last year where they’d done really well. We’re going to have to reconsider planting squash. The stuff takes up a huge part of the garden and if all we’re going to get for it is three squash, well, there’s not much point in planting them and we need to look for alternatives.

Our rhubarb plant wasn’t looking too good towards the end of the season, but we think that’s the fault of the squash which were planted nearby. It was getting shaded by the huge squash leaves and wasn’t getting enough sun, so we’re hoping it will come back.

I raise that rhubarb more for nostalgic reasons than because I like it. For me, a little bit of rhubarb goes a long, long way. But I have fond memories of playing under the huge rhubarb plants we had when I was a little kid on hot, summer days, and whenever I see that thing in hot, summer weather it brings back memories that make me grin. So yeah, I’m going to grow rhubarb if I can even if I don’t particularly like eating it.

Let’s see, what are we planning on changing — I’d like to put in more raised beds if I can find a good location for them. Those two 4 X 8 raised beds I put in a few years ago are ridiculously productive. If I’d known how good they were going to be I would have built them long ago. Just those two beds provide more vegetables than the rest of our gardens combined some years. The problem is where to put more of them. We just have too many trees so finding a spot where there will be direct sunlight for more than 4-5 hours a day is difficult here. About the only decent location is on the south side of the house and there isn’t much room there any more.

Of course that could change if the pear tree doesn’t survive the damage it suffered. I figure about a full third of the canopy of the tree went down because the limbs were too loaded with fruit to be able to handle a thunderstorm that rolled through here. I’d hate to lose that tree. We planted that, oh, about 17 years ago, a couple of years after we bought this place. It’s not a very good looking tree, it leans at a crazy angle, but wow, it produces some of the most delicious pears I’ve ever had.

But on the other hand, if we do lose it, it would open up a very large area that could be garden with full sun. So if it does have to come down, well, it wouldn’t be the worst thing.

With MrsGF retiring in March she’s trying to figure out just what the heck she’s going to do if she isn’t working full time any longer. Right now it looks like as soon as she pulls the plug on her job she’s going to be dragging me along into the Master Gardener classes. Well not dragging, to be honest. I’m rather looking forward to it. We’d talked about getting into the Master Gardener program for a long time but we never had the time to do it. So now is the ideal time for it. She’s been on-line looking to get us signed up for the classes next year. And being able to tack on “certified master gardener” on the byline up at the top of this website is an added incentive because, well, hey, I’ve got an ego too, you know <grin>.

The other thing that is (probably) going to happen after she retires is all of my electronics gear, test equipment, radio equipment, etc. is going to get moved out of the office/library/workshop and moved into what used to be eldest son’s work area in the basement, and the office space is going to be her’s. She loves sewing and craftsy kinds of things but she’s never had much time to actually do it. Right now her work area for that kind of thing is in a small room upstairs. But it’s hot up there in the summer, cold in the winter, and she has difficulty getting up and down a lot of stairs because of her knees. So the solution to that is turn the office on the main floor over to her and have me move my stuff out.

I am not looking forward to moving. Eldest son’s work area down there is still crammed full of old computers and other equipment that somehow never got moved when he moved out years ago. So all of that has to be moved somewhere. Hopefully out of our house and into his house. Then I have to buy or build suitable work surfaces for all my stuff. Then tear down all of my equipment, move all of it down to the basement. Then I have to re-route all of the antenna cables, ground cables and other stuff to the new location down there. Then install a new electrical system down there including 240V lines to run some of the equipment like the amplifiers. Then try to figure out how to set up all of the equipment again because by that time I’ll have forgotten how everything was set up originally. Move all of my computers… Like I said, I am not looking forward to it.

Well, I’ve bored you long enough with this. Time to go.

 

Autumn

Autumn is finally here. With temperatures in the low 80s or even higher and high humidity for large parts of September, we were beginning to wonder what the heck was going on. But we’ve had a couple of hard frosts now and daytime temps are about where they should be for this time of year, around 45 – 50 degrees, and at night down in the mid 30s. It’s something of a relief after the hot, humid summer we had.

And the mosquitoes? OMG — they were horrible this year, especially starting in August and going through September. We’ve never seen anything quite like it. Walking through the grass would cause clouds of the little blood suckers to rise up around you. Getting close to any kind of bush would result in an immediate attack by swarms of the things. The bug repellants did no good at all. Deep Woods Off and the others we tried didn’t seem to deter them in the slightest. My wife’s sister and her husband started to wear their bee keeping suits just to go out in their garden to pick berries or tomatoes. Even the hard core environmentalists I know were so fed up they were resorting to chemical warfare and fogging their bushes and yards to try to get any kind of relief.

Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 6.24.53 AMAnd while it seems we’re finally getting a dry spell, it was raining almost every day for the first two weeks of October. There is still water standing everywhere. Down by the old stone bridge where the river is usually almost completely dry this time of year the water is 4-6 feet deep and running fast, and it’s well over it’s banks in some places. But at least the farmers have been able to get out and get their soybeans off around here.

We still haven’t gotten all of the gardens cleaned up yet, but there’s no rush on that. We’ll probably get most of that done this weekend unless something comes up or the weather gets nasty.

Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 6.23.36 AMThe sedum — what amazing plants those are. This time of year the color is absolutely astonishing, running from a brownish red to a deep, rich burgundy. And if you get out right after sunrise in the morning and see the flowers covered with frost crystals, wow, they look absolutely magical.

Speaking of mornings — My body and I have this argument going… I want to sleep until about 6 AM. It wants to get up around 4:30 for some stupid reason. It isn’t a big deal, more annoying than anything else. But, well, why? MrsGF thinks it’s because I spent so many years having to be up around 4:30 or 5 AM to do chores on the farm, but that’s silly. I haven’t actively worked in farming for ages now. In my last job I worked 2nd shift, working until 11 PM and not getting up until about 8 in the morning, and I had absolutely no problem at all with that. I liked it, in fact. But now that I’m retired and could sleep late if I wanted to, my body decides it needs to be up at 4:30 again? Sheesh… My doctor says maybe that’s all I need to sleep. Everyone is different. Not everyone needs 8 hours of sleep. If I’m healthy, which I am (sort of) and I’m not getting tired during the day, and I’m waking up feeling refreshed and comfortable, well, don’t worry about it.

Let’s see, what else — Oh, someone asked me about the new iPhone XS Max and was wondering if it was worth all the hype and what it was like to actually use. After living with this thing for a month or so now, it is a pretty slick piece of equipment.

The camera is quite good. Not up to the standards of a dedicated mid-range or high end camera, but for a phone? Yeah, it’s good. It has a semi-decent real telephoto lens, up to 4X. Color rendition still seems a bit off to me, but that’s a personal opinion.

As a media device it’s excellent. The sound quality out of those tiny little speakers is, frankly, astonishing to me. I have no idea how they get sound like that out of something that tiny. I sprung for the AirPod thingies, Apple’s wireless ear buds. I find those astonishing as well. To me the sound quality is amazing. They were ridiculously easy to set up. Just bring them near the phone and they automatically link up. I didn’t need to do anything. No issues with those as well. But whenever I use ’em I’m always worried one of them will fall out of my ear and I’ll break it or lose it so I’m always nervous when I wear them outside. Are they worth $150? Hell no. The sound quality is good, but not that good. To my ears the sound quality isn’t any better than the $40 wired earbuds I used with my old iPod.

The screen is absolutely fantastic. Crisp, clean, outstanding color rendition, incredibly high resolution. Streaming movies or TV on this thing is a joy. It isn’t as nice as, oh, a 40 inch high-def monitor, but for a device this small it’s wonderful. I find myself reading my Kindle books on it all the time now because I don’t get eye fatigue from trying to read a fuzzy display. And for the first time the auto-brightness functions that are supposed to adjust the brightness of the display to suit viewing conditions actually works on this phone.

So it has a good camera, it’s a fantastic portable media player, how does it work as an actual phone?

Badly. I’m sorry, but as a phone it just isn’t very good. Cell reception is horrible. And I’m not the only one who’s been having this problem. There have been a lot of reports that cellular reception with the XS models is pretty poor. Frankly if the phone didn’t have WiFi calling I probably wouldn’t be able to use it as a phone at all here in the house. But that being said, WiFi calling is amazing. Just flip a switch in the settings and it turns on, and talking to someone on the phone is as clear as if they were in the room with me. But still, it isn’t, well, a cell phone then, is it? It’s using VOIP and damn well should sound that good.

Face ID – everyone knows by now that the new iPhones starting with the 10 series unlock by facial recognition. This seemed to freak some people out for some reason, but I’m not going to go down that road. The question is does it work, and the answer is definitely yes. Even wearing my bike helmet and wrap around sunglasses it recognizes me. Occasionally there will be an issue for some reason, but then it just goes to the standard PIN number unlocking system.

Wireless charging – the model I have, the XS Max, supports wireless charging and charging stations are available for well under $40. The one I have cost all of $24 and seems to work pretty well. Just put it face up on the pad, wiggle it around until you feel the phone buzz, and it starts to charge. The only issue here is that it won’t charge when it’s in a case, and who in their right mind doesn’t put a $1,200 phone in some kind of protective case?

But maybe the whole issue of needing a case is becoming unnecessary. I’ve seen tests where the XS phones have been drop tested and they’re pretty impressive. The ones that I’ve seen show the phone surviving drops of 4 feet or less on a concrete floor with no damage at all. In one test they kept increasing the height of the drop and it wasn’t until they dropped it from over 10 feet that there was any damage at all, which was slight. And the phone wasn’t actually destroyed until they dropped it from 20 feet down a stairwell to a concrete floor.

I’m sure as hell not going to try that, though. Nor am I going to test the water proofing. The XS is supposed to be pretty water resistant, but I’m not about to dunk it in a bucket of water to see if it really is.

The question is, is this thing worth the cost? This is, after all, one hell of an expensive piece of equipment. The model I have goes for around $1,200 retail. The only reason I can afford the thing is because I don’t buy my phones, I lease them and get a new one every 18-24 months under the leasing plan.  So is it worth it? Frankly, no. You can get a phone that does pretty much everything this one does for half the cost or less. It wouldn’t sound as good, wouldn’t have the beautiful display, wouldn’t be as fast, but it would work just fine and do everything you need a phone to do.

But that being said, despite the reception problem, holy cow it’s fun to play with. It’s so fast, the display is so good, the sound quality is so good, that I find myself using it more and more.

Farm Catch Up

It’s been a while since I did one of these so let’s see what’s been going on in the agriculture industry.


Screen Shot 2018-10-10 at 5.43.30 AM.pngI’d be willing to bet there are a lot of people over at Bayer who are wishing that they’d never thought of the idea of buying Monsanto. Before Bayer completed its purchase of the company, it was already involved in a lawsuit in California claiming that RoundUp ™ caused the plaintiff’s (a school groundskeeper) cancer. The company lost and was hit with a $289 million dollar judgement against it. Bayer is trying desperately to get the judgement voided, claiming that there is little or no evidence to prove the product causes cancer and a lot of evidence proving it doesn’t.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Bayer, which now owns Monsanto, is facing dozens of similar lawsuits. There are apparently about 8,700 people in the US who directly blame the herbicide for their cancer, so Bayer could be in court for a long, long time over this unless the company can figure out a way to get out from under this.

Note: The day after I wrote the above item a judge in San Francisco has indicated she is inclined to set aside a $250 million punitive damage judgement against Monsanto and even reopen the case. In a preliminary statement the judge said the plaintiff’s lawyers did not present clear and convincing evidence of malice and suppression of information by Monsanto.


The Farm Bill – The farm bill has turned into more or less a very unfunny joke over the last few decades. It has less and less to do with agriculture and more and more to do with social welfare programs, especially SNAP (food stamps). Something like 80% of the funding in the so-called farm bill actually goes to the SNAP program, not to agriculture. So while the collection of laws and regulations that has become known as the “farm bill” does indeed deal with things like crop insurance, ag subsidy programs and other ag related programs, the vast majority of the money involved is funneled into the SNAP program.

This means that when it comes time to redo the bill, the political bickering gets intense and it’s gotten harder and harder to get the thing passed. It is currently bogged down over, surprise, disagreements over the SNAP program, and doesn’t look like it’s going to pass any time soon. You aren’t going to see any action on the FB until after the November elections, and there’s a good chance it could be pushed off into next year, which means the whole bill would have to be rewritten and the whole mess would have to start all over again.

One of these days I should really write an article about what the “farm bill” really is and how it was transformed from a collection of programs to help agriculture into a program where 80% of the funding goes to non-ag related support programs, and why there is so much resistance to splitting off the welfare related parts of the whole mess and making the farm bill really about agriculture again.


Sales of the abomination that is “American Cheese” are declining according to an article from Bloomberg over at AgWeb. As a friend of mine once said when confronted with so-called “American cheese” for the first time, “I don’t know what the hell that is, but it isn’t cheese.” A lot of people have said even less flattering things about the stuff, with some justification. With a list of ingredients that reads more like a chemistry lesson than something you should see in a food product, the muck was invented back in 1916 and was canned (yes, canned) and sold to the US government to feed soldiers during WWI. I’m not sure why sales are declining. Perhaps it’s because people are finally finding out that it doesn’t really taste like, well, much of anything, really. Except salt. Certainly it doesn’t taste like actual cheese. Perhaps they’re concerned about the fact that a lot of those ingredients in it shouldn’t be anywhere near any kind of product you put in your mouth. Or perhaps it’s just a trend. But whatever the reason, restaurants and even the fast food joints are moving away from the stuff and switching to actual real cheese for their products, and have been for quite a while. Except for McD’s and a few other fast food places, restaurants switched to using real cheese some time ago, substituting cheddar, swiss, asiago or blends of different cheeses for their cheeseburgers, grilled cheese, etc.


Sears Files for Bankruptcy. The Sears bankruptcy didn’t really surprise anyone. We’ve seen that coming for years now. The only really surprising thing is that it took them this lon to do it.

Why talk about Sears in a post about farm news? Well, if you grew up on a farm in the 60s like I did, Sears was the place you went for just about everything from work clothes to hand tools to car batteries to household items. I’m sure there will be (if there aren’t already) books and scholarly papers written about the decline and fall of what at one time was the biggest retailer in the country.

It is popular these days to blame Amazon for the failure of retail stores, but even as early as the 1980s the company was showing signs of serious problems. The quality of the store branded products it was selling began declining. Craftsman hand tools which had been of good quality and came with a lifetime warranty, became less polished, less well made, and that famous lifetime warranty which had always been a major selling point for them, disappeared. The company seemed to lose focus. It moved into areas that made no sense. It started selling glasses. Portrait studios began popping up in the stores. The stores started to look more and more shabby as the company tried to cut costs, and Sears’ reputation declined rapidly. The only thing its cost cutting measures did was drive more and more customers away. And the worse its financial situation became, the more strange the decisions of management seemed to become.

The purchase of Kmart (I’m not really sure who bought who, if Sears bought Kmart or Kmart bought Sears. Not that it really matters) was pretty much the last nail in the coffin, really. Who in the world thought that a failing company buying a retail chain that was in even worse financial shape than it was made any kind of sense at all?


Weather – Up here in the midwest the weather has been, well, odd. By Oct. 9 we’d already had more rain than we normally get in the entire month, and it still hasn’t stopped. We’ve had rain every day for the last 14 days or so and we’re getting a bit tired of it. Soybean harvest should be almost done by now, but a lot of fields are still standing because the farmers can’t get their equipment in the fields without burying their combines in mud.

Over in the Dakotas they got hit with a snowstorm that dumped 5-9 inches of snow on them right in the middle of soybean harvest.


E-15 On The Way – The administration announced it was going to approve the use of E-15 fuel (15% ethanol blend) during a campaign rally in the midwest. While it’s been approved for limited distribution during certain times of the year already, it will, apparently, now be available all the time. While some corn farmers (and the ethanol makers, of course) are cheering the decision in the hope it will boost corn prices, a lot of other people don’t think it will have much of an effect, if any, on corn prices in the long run.

There are a lot of problems with the whole ethanol fuel idea. It isn’t a very good fuel, it isn’t really very “green” as far as the environment is concerned, it’s a government mandated program so it can be ended overnight at the whim of congress, and, when it comes down to it, it’s a dead end technology. The future of the automobile appears to be electric. Once Tesla proved it was possible to make a vehicle with a realistic travel range at a fairly reasonable cost, the big car makers began to jump on board and now just about all of them have at least one EV or they’re going to be coming out with one soon. I suspect that the next vehicle I buy will be an EV. I’d probably already have a Tesla if they had a normal dealer network where I knew I could get the thing serviced.


Dicamba Lawsuit Coming Up – Monsanto put it’s dicamba resistant seed line on sale a year before the government approved the dicamba blend herbicide Monsanto intended to be used with the new seeds. Apparently that didn’t stop some farmers from using regular dicamba with the new crops, resulting in widespread damage to adjacent crops and other plants. The problem with dicamba is that it vaporizes easily and can drift over very long distances, causing widespread damage. So, of course, there are lawsuits. The first of these is coming to trial in October of next year. The plaintiff blames Monsanto (now Bayer) for the damage, claiming that the company should have known that as soon as it started selling the dicamba resistant seeds, farmers were going to use unapproved mixtures of dicamba on the crops.

While I think Monsanto should not have started selling the new seed lines until the herbicide blend was approved, as far as I can tell the company did indeed warn farmers, seed dealers and herbicide applicators that there were no legally available dicamba blends approved for use at that time with the new seeds. The damage was caused by growers and applicators who illegally used dicamba blends that were not approved for that use at that time. So I don’t know how Monsanto can be held responsible for that damage.

But that being said, there are serious problems with even the approved dicamba blends of herbicide. Even the approved blends seem to be drifting over long distances, damaging tens of thousands of acres of crops. While the company continues to claim this is due entirely to improper use by the applicators, states and the feds are putting ever increasing restrictions on the use of the stuff, and some states are thinking of banning it entirely.

Well, that’s enough of that. You’re probably getting as bored as I am already😜

Autumn and Garage Sale Find

We’ve finally moved into more typical autumn weather for Wisconsin. The heat and humidity were finally pushed out of the state and we’re going through more typical weather for this time of year. We still haven’t had a frost yet as of Oct. 6, but that will be coming soon. But even fall couldn’t arrive in a typical fashion. After a few days of crisp, cool weather with temps in the low 50s, the heat and humidity pushed back in for a day, with temps up in the mid-eighties with high humidity, triggering more rain and storms which we didn’t need at all. The Manitowoc County fairgrounds got hit by what was either straight line winds in excess of 75 mph or a weak tornado.

IMG_0037It may be October but there are a surprising number of flowering plants still bopping along as if it were still summer. I’m still seeing a huge number of bees, both native bees and honey bees. That’s kind of unusual for this time of year, but as long as the temperatures are still warm enough for them to be active and there are still food sources out there, they’ll be around.

I found this thing sitting in the basement the other day and had no idea where it came from.

IMG_0031

I learned that eldest son found it at a garage sale for $5 one day and picked it up and, of course, it ended up in my basement. Well, I’m claiming this one for my own because I’m fond of old Hallicrafters equipment. I have two restored Hallicrafters short-wave receivers from the 1940s-1950s era and I love the things. This one looks like it’s in good enough shape cosmetically that it might be worth restoring. I haven’t done any research on this model yet, but judging from the way it looks I’d say it’s from the late 50s or early to mid sixties.

Once upon a time you couldn’t give away old tube radios. Thousands upon thousands of them ended up going to the landfill because no one wanted them. Now they’re turning into collectors items. Sort of. Prices on these things are all over the place depending on the brand, model and age.

There are issues with restoring old radios like these. Some of them pretty serious and if you don’t know what you’re doing, they could even be life threatening because of the dangers of electric shock. Depending on the radio and the design, some of these things had potentially lethal voltages floating around inside of them. So if you don’t know much about how these things were made and the potential dangers, don’t go fiddling around inside of them without educating yourself first.

The other issue is you can’t just plug these things in and turn them on if they haven’t been used in a long time. When it comes to these old radios, there is no such thing as “mint” condition except when it comes to the external appearance. You will always need to replace components inside with modern equivalents. Capacitors are the biggest issue with these. Those old caps will fail. There is simply no doubt about it. Usually the first thing you do with one of these is go through it and replace all of the capacitors right off the bat.

Another issue is finding things that can’t be easily replaced with modern equivalents, like vacuum tubes. Under normal operation vacuum tubes are amazingly long lasting. I know guys running old amplifiers, receivers and transmitters that are from the 1940s and 50s and are still running the original tubes. But they do fail sometimes, and finding replacements is a problem because they haven’t been made in decades. If you have an old tube radio, chances are good the tubes will still work unless the radio was abused or had some kind of electrical failure. But if you have a bad one, finding a replacement tube could be a problem.

Anyway, when I get some time I’ll open this one up and see what it looks like inside. It might be a good candidate for restoring.