More Stuff!

Almost as soon as the weather got warmer the bike got pulled out of storage and I was out on it. It took me a few days to get back into it again, but it was easier than I thought it was going to be. Apparently doing the treadmill every day during the winter kept me from completely falling apart and it wasn’t long before it was comfortable to be back in the saddle and putting on more than a few miles.

IMG_0895This is an amazing time of year to be out in the countryside biking around. Everything is lush and green, everything is in flower this time of year. I sometimes struggle between the temptation to keep going to put on some miles in a reasonable amount of time and the temptation to stop every few hundred feet to take photos of some neat plant or flower as I rid around the backroads.

I wish the trail in the lead photo up there was a bit closer, though. The start of the trail is about four miles from town, but once you get on it, it runs for more than 30 miles all the way to Green Bay, with branches leading off into towns like Brillion.IMG_0901.jpg

This year I’m trying an app for my phone called aprs.fi. It uses the phone to tie into the APRS system. Automatic Packet Reporting system. It uses the phone to send and receive little bits of data back and forth to a network. It’s been used by amateur radio operators for many years now to send information, and one of its uses is position tracking. A lot of VHF/UHF transceivers have APRS capabilities built into them, and some transceivers have GPS built into them as well. They can be set up to periodically transmit the position of the radio to permit it to be tracked by others using the system.

MrsGf has a similar program for her iPhone plus the FTM-400DR transceiver in her car has APRS and GPS capabilities. The local ARES group she belongs to is just now looking into using APRS to track members of the group when they’re out in the field. Since APRS/GPS capable transceivers are still pretty pricy they’re looking at the APRS applications available for smart phones. Some work pretty well, others have problems, some serious. The one I use is aprs.fi and it seems well above average in it’s utility and capabilities. When the group was out doing volunteer communications for the Elkhart Lake Triathlon over the weekend a couple of people were using using some of the apps and I was able to track their positions in near real-time on a map.

IMG_0902I had it running when I was out on the bike Saturday and used it to plot my course when I did about 11 miles that morning. You can see the plot in the screen capture.

The question is why would I want to do this? Well, I’m out on the bike, on backroads or trails, and you never know what happens. Accidents, health issues, any number of things could happen that would incapacitate me. Yes, they can use the cell phone to try to find me, but trying to find the exact location of a cell phone is an iffy thing and often very inaccurate. The APRS app uses the phone’s GPS system so it’s much more accurate than trying to use the cell phone system to do the locating.

Certainly it’s a great technology for emergency services and ARES/RACES organizations should almost certainly be looking into it as a way of tracking their operators when they’re out in the field.

Let’s see, what else… The gardens are doing well. We’ve had to do a lot of watering. It’s been pretty dry around here over the last couple of weeks. Temperatures have been fairly cool after the heat wave we went through a few weeks ago.

They drag me into the clinic every 6 months so I spent the whole morning doing that. To make a long story short, everything checked out fine. All the numbers were where they are supposed to be. BP is still higher than it should be, but it’s no where near as bad as it was a year ago so I’m happy about that. And they’re delighted I’ve taken up biking. I think everyone was afraid that once I retired I was going to end up sitting on my butt all day in front of the radio or computer or television and it kind of surprised everyone that I started doing that last year.

The next thing I want to do is put together a low-power (QRP) transceiver that I can throw into a backpack and take out on the trail with me. I think it would be great fun to sit out in the woods or on a trail somewhere with an antenna strung up in a tree and trying to make contacts with just a couple of watts of power.

 

Catching Up

I suppose I could talk about how Mike Pence not only killed NAFTA but drove a stake into it’s still quivering heart last week, or how the latest round of that popular game in D.C, Trade Wars, is going to decimate the agriculture economy, but that’s just too damned depressing. Besides, if you want to read about that kind of thing there are only about five hundred million websites out there where “experts” are pontificating and bloviating.

No, it’s spring. Everything is in bloom, as you can see from the closeup of the lilac there up at the top of this. I’m rather pleased with how that image turned out. MrsGF keeps telling me I should start printing some of these and trying to sell ’em, but well, that would mean I’d actually have to do some work.

Almost everything we planted is doing well. Tomatoes are doing great. One variety we planted called Wisconsin 55 (I think) is already starting to blossom. The peppers are doing pretty good. Even the two blueberry bushes MrsGF picked up seem to be doing pretty good. Even the spindly and sickly looking cucumber plants that looked like they were dead are starting to take off.

And the weather has been — well, I was going to say good, but that’s not really true. The weather has been odd. In late May we had temperatures well up into the mid-90s that broke records all over the state. And caused dozens of incidents of highways buckling from the heat. And in just the space of a few days we went from conditions being too wet to conditions way too dry. We haven’t had any significant rainfall in weeks now. Other parts of the state did get some rain, but it always seemed to evaporate before it got to us. We have to water everything almost every day. It’s rather discouraging. If it’s this bad this early in the season, what is it going to be like come August? We did finally get some rain over the weekend, about half an inch.

Still, it’s hard to complain when I see stuff like this when I walk out the door:

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And I’ve finally been able to get the bike out and put some miles on on a fairly regular basis. I’d almost forgotten how delightful it is to get out in the country on the bike this time of year. A lot of people don’t understand why I enjoy it so much. It isn’t the exercise, it’s getting out in nature and being able to hear the birds and frogs, and seeing the little treasures along the roadside like these tiny little flowers:

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Amateur Radio Stuff

Field Day is rapidly approaching. I think it’s June 23-24. It’s an annual event that has been going on for ages in the amateur radio community. The idea is to get us troglodytes out of our basements and the dark corners where we usually huddle over smoking soldering irons, and play with all kinds of technologies that range from 100+ year old telegraph keys to ultra-modern mesh networks, satellite communications and bouncing radio signals off the moon, and set up our gear in parking lots, parks, and even fields in the middle of nowhere, and hope we don’t burst into flames like vampires from the exposure to the sun.

Alas, I’ve never participated because MrsGF and I are usually gone of vacation at that time of year because of how our schedules work out. It’s great fun, though. So if you see a bunch of very pale looking people stringing up wires in trees, standing around tables laden with strange looking equipment, don’t worry. It’s just us making a rare excursion into the daylight.

 

 

 

 

Along The RoadSide

I was finally able to get the bicycle out on the road the other day. It felt great to be out on the road on a warm, sunny day again. Unfortunately I also quickly found out that bicycling takes an entirely different set of muscles than jogging on a treadmill does. It’s going to take a while before I’m comfortable doing 10 or 15 miles, but it was worth it. The frogs were singing, the sun was bright, and the wild flowers alongside the road had me stopping every once in a while to take photos.

So, here’s some photos… Oh, click one of the photos to start a slide show of the full size images.

 

Indoor Tulips & Assorted Stuff

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MrsGF has been just as sick of looking outside at the brown wasteland that is March here in Wisconsin as I have, so she shoved some old bulbs into pots and put them in a sunny window a few weeks ago and this is what we have now. Great fun to see tulips starting to pop open again.

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That’s not to say that there aren’t things growing already. She was outside looking things over yesterday and discovered that the chives are already six inches tall over in their protected corner. They’re always the first things to spring up and they’ve been ridiculously prolific. We put those in shortly after we bought the house so they’ve been going strong for almost 20 years now.

The big question now is sod, as in how are we going to get rid of it. There is a pretty big section of lawn we want to rip out to expand one of the gardens here, and getting rid of

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This was the little Massey. Fun, useful little tractor but keeping it in town was a bit ridiculous

the sod is always a pain in the neck. I sold my tractor a couple of years ago. After selling the farm we kept the little Massey for a while, but keeping it was a bit silly. It was mostly in storage over at the farm of a friend about 8 miles from here and there it sat until we needed it perhaps for one afternoon a year. So keeping it and its trailer was ridiculous. So it looks like I’ll resort to the good old fashioned dig it up with a shovel method as soon as the frost is completely out of the ground.

MrsGF and I were sorting through seeds and tentatively making plans earlier this morning. We were thrilled when Eldest Son gave us literally a whole shopping bag of seed packets for Christmas, but we have to be realistic. We can’t grow all of it as much as we’d like to. And there are quite a few that we don’t really like or couldn’t use. Neither of us like melon all that much, and it takes up a lot of space, so those got set aside. Same with eggplant. Don’t get me wrong, eggplant is a perfectly delightful vegetable. But that one summer our eggplant was so ridiculously prolific that we got so sick of eating eggplant that we can’t really stand looking at them any more.

We brought up the little portable greenhouse rack we use to start seed and MrsGF is in the process of starting trays of seeds even as I write this.


Amateur Radio Stuff

I’ve been having a lot of fun with the FT8 mode over the last couple of months. Even with my seriously bad antenna system I’ve had a couple of hundred contacts and have managed to hit something like 35 different countries, including some really long distance contacts with Hawaii, Alaska, Japan and Tasmania.

I’ve even started playing with PSK again and have made a few contacts with that mode as well. Unlike FT8 you can actually chat with people using PSK. Unfortunately it seems most PSK users have jumped ship for FT8 and seeing a PSK signal on the bands has been a rather rare thing. Even more annoying is that the powers that be decided that on 17 meters the frequency recommendation for FT8 mode is the same one as the PSK allocation, so PSK on 17 meters is a lost cause because the frequency is swamped with FT8.

antennaI’m hoping to get this puppy up in the air this spring. It’s already mostly assembled out in the back yard and we have all the hardware for mounting, including the tilt-over base. It’s a GAP Titan multi-band vertical antenna that should help to give me a significant boost over the OCFD I currently have hanging out there now. This one is going to replace the Comet 250 vertical I have and which is… Well, let’s face it, the Comet isn’t that good of an antenna. It can only handle about 240 watts and to be perfectly frank I’m amazed the thing works at all.

I also have a 40 foot antenna tower laying out in the backyard that will hopefully get set up sometime this summer. Of course I said that last summer, too. And the summer before that…

 

New Photos And How Stupid Am I (Very)

Even though today is officially the start of spring it sure doesn’t feel that way. Temperature around 34 degrees, cloudy… We’re impatient to get outside and do something again.

Nevertheless, I had the camera out and was taking some photos of the indoor plants, some of which are flowering right now.

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This guy is sitting in the kitchen window at the moment. Those flowers are only about a quarter of an inch across. Here’s another shot of a different cluster of flowers on the same plant with different lighting…

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That camera does a great job taking closeups like that.

Another plant in flower at the moment is this one:

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I love this plant. The color of the leaves, the texture, and those tiny little pink flowers that are about the size of the head of a pin. It’s a lot of fun.

MrsGF’s violets are in full bloom too right now:

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Then there’s this really weird plant…

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That’s Kai. I’m very surprised she held still long enough for me to get that photo. She usually runs away when she sees me with a camera.


And now, on to the stupidity…

Nothing makes me look dumber than when something goes wrong with my radio equipment sometimes. This one was a real gem, though.

For some reason the TS-990 decided to stop transmitting AM and I couldn’t figure out why. Everything seemed to be working just fine otherwise. I could still use SSB, the digital modes, FM, all were working fine. But when I keyed the mic using AM, it would go into transmit mode, but no signal.

I spent something like two hours this morning trying to diagnose what the problem was. As a last resort I got out my morse code key and hooked that up. Not sure why. Just was trying to eliminate other things as problems. I tried sending my callsign in CW and…

And nothing. Same symptoms as the AM problem. It went into transmit, but no signal, no power going to the antenna.

Hmph… I went on line and searched around, found out there was an update for the radio’s firmware, so I downloaded that and installed. That went well. In fact, better than well because now the noise blanker works the way it’s supposed to and some other little things were fixed. But same problem as before, no AM and no CW.

I pulled out the manual once more and started to dig through that and…

Oh. Oh, brother… All right, look, the 990 is a very complicated piece of equipment. I mean it has controls and knobs and buttons on it that I’ve never used in the almost four years I’ve owned the thing. So I suppose I can be excused for not noticing this.

Most of the knobs on the radio are “nested”, that is there is a central knob that controls one function, and an outer ring around the central knob that controls an entirely different function.

The Power knob which controls the rig’s output power is the central knob. The outer ring is something labeled “Car” which stands for carrier. The carrier setting is essential to transmitting in CW and AM modes. I normally have it set dead center right in the middle. But since I almost never do CW or AM I almost never touch it. But I do use the Power knob to adjust the wattage going out to the antenna or feeding into the amplifier.

Somewhere along the way, the Car knob got a bit sticky and started to track along with the Power knob when it was turned. But only in one direction: down. When I turned the power down, it was also dragging the carrier knob down towards zero, but not dragging it back up when the power was turned back up. Eventually the carrier was turned down to nothing. So without a carrier, there was no AM or CW.

Sigh… Spent more than two hours trouble shooting a problem that didn’t really exist. All I had to do was turn the Car knob back up to the center position and all was well.

And now I just found out my amplifier relay isn’t working… How did I get into this hobby in the first place?

Amaryllis

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I keep mine in a south facing window with a lot of other plants, and it’s been doing quite well there as you can see.

You have to love amaryllis. Those huge, brilliantly colored flowers are amazing. And the fact that this is the time of year when you most often see them in homes and shops when it’s so cold and bleak looking outside makes them all the more spectacular. MrsGF got me this one one for Christmas and it’s just come into full flower and it is spectacular. And they aren’t expensive, either. I saw them at Walmart selling for about $7.

A lot of people throw them away when they’re done blooming because they’re usually fairly inexpensive to buy and people think they’re hard to get to bloom again, but they aren’t difficult to get to flower again. It does take a bit of work but it isn’t hard to do. So if someone gave you one of these or you bought one yourself, here’s how to care for it so it will bloom again next year.

Once the flowers have wilted, cut the flowers from the flower stalk. When the flower stalk wilts, cut it off at the top of the bulb but leave the leaves alone.

The leaves will continue to be green and growing for about another six months. Then they will begin to yellow and die back naturally, usually in the fall of the year. When this happens, cut the leaves off about 2 inches above the top of the bulb. Remove the bulb from the potting soil.

Clean loose dirt from the bulb, but be careful not to scar or scratch the bulb itself if possible. It now needs to be kept in a cool, dark place. Like a lot of bulbs, it needs to go through a lengthy dormant period before it will regrow. Don’t wrap it in plastic or put it in something like a ziplock bag or a sealed plastic container or trapped moisture could cause it to mold. You can wrap it loosely in something like parchment paper or newspaper. The ideal temperature for storing the bulbs is around 40 – 50 degrees (F), so if you have an older house with a cool basement like we do, that’s a good place to put it. I’ve heard of people keeping them in the vegetable crisper in their refrigerators with good results as well.

Oh, I should add that you should never store the bulbs near apples. I’ve been told that apples give off a gas that can sterilize the bulbs.

The bulb needs to be kept in in storage for at least 6 weeks. You can keep them like this for longer. When you take the bulb out of storage depends on when you want it to flower. You want to plant it about 8 weeks before you want it to flower.

When you’re ready to plant it, get out a pot at least two or three inches larger in diameter than the bulb, and several inches taller. Use a good quality potting compost soil mix. You can make your own but the commercial versions work quite well and have the advantage of being pre-sterilized and have nutrients added so you may not have to fertilize. Put an inch or two of soil in the bottom of the pot. Exactly how much depends on the height of your pot. You want the neck of the bulb to be just above the level of the soil. Push the soil down around the bulb just tightly enough so there aren’t any air pockets, but not so tightly that the soil can’t absorb water.

Put the bulb in a window where it will get direct sunlight. Mine is sitting in front of a south facing window. Ideally it should be a fairly warm location. They like temperatures around 65 – 75 degrees, but will still grow fairly well if it’s a bit cooler than that.

Water lightly until the leaves begin to form. Once the flower stalk begins to emerge, increase the amount of water a bit. Some growers will tell you to fertilize as well, but I’ve never done that. If you use a fresh, commercial potting compost mix when you plant it, it should have enough nutrients. But if it looks like it’s not growing as quickly as you think it should, you can add a bit of something like Miracle Grow to the water once a week or so.

The bulb should start to flower about eight or nine weeks after planting. Exactly when depends on temperature, sunlight, etc.

So if someone gave you one of these or you bought one and the flowers are beginning to wilt, yes, you can keep them and get them to flower again next year with a little patience and very little work.

It’s Gardening Time! Sort Of

Screen Shot 2018-01-13 at 7.02.24 AMOkay, so it’s the middle of January and it’s 12 degrees out so it isn’t really time to go out gardening, but this time of year I start to get that ache that every gardener gets in the middle of winter, that need to go grub around in the dirt and mess around with plants. The handful of house plants we have is better than nothing, but it just isn’t the same.

But this is, believe it or not, a good time of year to start the garden season. It’s never too DSCF1860early to start planning, making lists of things that need to be done, and beginning to get things you may need when the weather finally does cooperate.

It could be an interesting season here. We’re thinking of adding a new raised bed back in the low part of the backyard by building a stone retaining wall. The iris bed is way too low, the irises need to be dug out and broken up anyway, and that area is so low I’m amazed that anything grows back there anyway. We’re also thinking of adding another bed, this one not raised, on the south side of the house/garage. If we do all of this, and that’s still up in the air at this point, it will be a fairly ambitious project and could be a lot of fun.

We were thinking of doing this anyway, but what really lit a fire under us was that Eldest Son showed up at Christmas with an entire grocery bag full of seed packets. Seriously. He works at the corporate offices of a large discount retailer, and they occasionally run special deals for employees where they can get merchandise that is being dropped, out of season, etc. for literally pennies on the dollar. And they were getting rid of all of their seeds from the previous summer. So he got one or two packets of everything. Literally. He got one or two packets of every single type of seed they sold in their garden centers. We have something like 120+ different varieties of seed to play with this spring.

So Mrs. GF and I are looking forward to  having a lot of fun this spring, needless to say. Oh, there’s going to be a lot we aren’t going to be able to use. At least not right away. And probably we’ll never use quite a bit of it, but we’re going to have a lot of fun figuring out what we want to plant because no matter what we want to put in this coming spring, we probably have it already.

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