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.

iPhone XS, Photography, Weather & Stuff

After still more rain on Tuesday we were treated to a brilliant double rainbow and the weather abruptly turned very nice indeed. Cool, sunny and dry. Everyone has been taking advantage of the situation to finally get things done. Plus the cool weather has slowed down the mosquitoes so you can at least outrun the little buggers. They’ve been absolutely horrible this fall. The warm, wet weather we had turned into a plague of mosquitoes that has been driving everyone crazy. Even hard-core environmentalists have been out there spraying to try to get some relief.

The new XS

This is the first time I’ve bought a phone right after Apple introduced it. Usually I don’t upgrade until the next new model is out and I can get a pretty steep discount on the previous generation of phone. That also means that by the time I get my hands on one, the bugs have pretty much been worked out of it. The problem with buying brand new equipment is that often things slip through the cracks that don’t show up in the initial testing and don’t become apparent until it’s out in the hands of the consumers. And that seems to be the case here.

There are reports (which I can confirm from personal experience) that while the device is brilliant in many ways, as an actual phone it pretty much sucks. Cellular reception absolutely sucks!

Now I admit that I live in an area where cellular reception is for the service I’m on (Sprint) is definitely not good. But generally with the old phone I would have 2 out of 5 bars showing, and a decent LTE data connection. With this phone inside of the house I have no LTE connection at all and only 2 bars of standard cell reception. Basically this phone would be almost useless as a phone for me if I didn’t have WiFi calling. (The phone uses my WiFi system to do VOIP instead of using the cellular system. That, fortunately, works brilliantly. Calls are rock solid and sound quality is amazing.)

Various tech media outlets have been reporting on this and it’s apparently a wide spread problem. No one is sure exactly what the issue is. There are rumors that it might be the antenna, but no one seems to know for sure. Whether it is something that can be cured in software or if it’s a hardware problem doesn’t seem to be known yet.

The phone is otherwise brilliant. As a media device the video and sound quality is absolutely brilliant, especially with the AirPod wireless earbuds. And the camera in this thing is absolutely wonderful by anyone’s standards, I’d think.

Take a look… Click on the image below to start the slideshow.

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I always thought that if you wanted to take good images you needed a dedicated camera, but this one is just outstanding. The resolution, color, focusing, light sensors, all of it seems to work beautifully.

And everything else seems to work very well indeed. And fast? Wow, this thing is fast. Apps that would poke along with delays and stuttering video now work smoothly. I have a NOAA app that displays weather radar from all over the country and I was used to lengthy delays to load the weather data, render the graphics, display the radar animation, etc. On here it works more smoothly than it does on my desktop equipment.

On a less pleasant note, we got this crap going on out at the old stone bridge on Irish Road, my usual route when I go out on the bike:

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The old one lane bridge isn’t very picturesque, but it’s still a bit of history around here and seeing people do crap like this to it makes me angry. You’ll note that most of the capstones are missing. This has been going on for ages. Some jackasses seem to take great delight in levering the capstones off the top of the bridge and dumping them into the river below. And now we have the graffiti, people throwing tires and old furniture off the bridge into the river… This kind of thing is very disappointing. Some of us are talking about setting up trail cams in the trees on the approaches to the bridge to try to catch the jerks who are doing this.

Fall, Pears, Water, Cold (the sneezing kind) and Stuff

Alas, that photo up there was an all too common sight around here as we got bombarded with rain for a two or three week period. Things are finally starting to dry out, but a lot of rivers are still at flood stage, there’s still a lot of standing water, and that one storm spawned something like 17 tornadoes across the state. Damage estimates are still being made, but I wouldn’t be surprised in if they hit $200+ million between the flooding and the wind.

Here in Calumet County we got lucky. Things could have been a lot worse. Aside from soaked and flooded farm fields, damage here was fairly minor. Most of the more serious storms went to the north or south of us. Mostly south. The southern half of the state really got hammered.

Screen Shot 2018-09-09 at 5.37.28 AMWe weren’t entirely unscathed, though. Our poor pear tree suffered major damage one night when two of the main branches came down. I’m going to wait until the pears are picked before I go up there to see how bad it really is. We’re hoping that the tree can recover from this, but I don’t know. It’s hard to tell right now how badly it was damaged because the foliage is so thick.

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Nice weather at last!

Still, the weather had gotten much better, with sunny conditions and temperatures more typical of early September in Wisconsin. Daytime highs have been in the low 70s and night time temps have been in the 48 – 55 degree range. It’s been really quite pleasant after the extraordinarily hot and muggy weather we had all through August.

Screen Shot 2018-09-09 at 5.38.25 AM.pngThe bees have certainly been enjoying themselves. We’re seeing them all over the place. Just about every flower at the house is covered in bees, mostly bumble bees and native bees, which is really nice to see.

Just as conditions change so I can finally get off the allergy meds, of course I come down with a nasty cold. At first I thought the symptoms were from going off the allergy meds. I’ll often get a rebound effect when I stop taking it. But no, definitely a cold. Coughing, sneezing, wheezing, sore throat from the coughing and congestion will be the norm for the next few days, it seems. I can’t take decongestants because I have high blood pressure, and the so-called cough remedies, well, they’re virtually useless anyway. So all I can do is wait.

I’ve taken to sleeping in the recliner to keep from bothering MrsGF otherwise I keep her up at night too. And in any case, when I lay down all the garbage from my head seems to drain down into my throat and makes the coughing all the worse. Still, it seems to be getting better. Only woke up once during the night last night and managed to sleep six hours. Would have been seven if the dopey siamese hadn’t started demanding breakfast at 5 AM.

The good news is the tomato plants are finally giving up the ghost and we can put the canning equipment away. MrsGF finished off the last of the tomatoes yesterday, putting up about 22 pints of chili sauce.

Well, we call it chili sauce but there is no actual chili in it. It’s a mixture of tomatoes, onions and bell and banana peppers with a bit of lemon juice and a pinch of salt. It tastes utterly amazing and we use it in almost any kind of dish that calls for tomatoes, either as  a base for the sauce, or as a flavor enhancer.

The Wisconsin 55 tomato variety we tried this year was a bitter disappointment. Very few fruit, and the ones we did get were soft, often discolored and not a very good flavor. The Early Girl variety, on the other hand, were absolutely spectacular.

We put in 3 cucumber plants this year and, well, we might as well have not even bothered. I don’t think we got more than 6 cucumbers off them all season long and a lot were misshapen. They were disappointing as well.

The squash look pretty good. We’re going to get several nice sized butternut squash and I noticed that there are some acorn out there. But the acorn are very late this year and I’m not sure if they’re going to amount to much.

Let’s see, what else… I had to get new tires put on the bike. I have to admit I know pretty much nothing about bicycle tires. I got about 1,500 miles out of these and I don’t know if that’s about average or not. I ran it up to the bike shop to get them replaced. I could do it myself but I’m terrible with bicycle tires. I always end up wrecking the inner tubes when I’m installing them. Took the guy at the shop all of 45 minutes to change both tires, adjust the derailleur, adjust the brakes, lube it, etc. Would have taken me half a day to do all of that, and it would have involved the use of much foul language, I suspect.

That’s it for now. It’s 6:30 AM, the sun is finally up and I’m thinking of taking the bike out for a few miles despite the cold.

 

A video experiment not sure if this is going to work

Let’s see if I can do videos on this thing… I keep forgetting the iPhone can do pretty good videos.

Wow, seems it actually worked. Well, if I can put up with the 350 kbs upload speed. 350 kbs? Really? I’m supposed to have 7 mbs upload according to the info the cable company keeps sending me. A wee bit of discrepancy there…

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Went to the antique farm equipment and steam engine show at Chilton on Sunday. It’s an annual event they do every August and it’s always interesting.

Oh, and in case you can’t play the video for some reason, here’s a picture of a butteryfly so this hasn’t been a complete waste of time for you:

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Still More Stuff!

Weather news has been pretty boring around here, which isn’t a bad thing. Mostly it’s been hot. Like large parts of the country (and apparently large parts of the world) we’ve had unusually warm weather during the last couple of weeks, but that seems to have moderated.

What’s been interesting is the lack of storms here. We haven’t had a single thunder storm here all season. At least not one that amounted to more than a few distant rumbles. Storms have gone all round us, north, south, etc. But pretty much nothing has rolled over the county since the start of storm season. It’s been so odd that people are starting to wonder what’s going on.

There is an old theory floating that because of our location between Lake Winnebago and Lake Michigan, some kind of updrafts or downdrafts or some other curious effect caused by the two lakes does something to keep storms away. I’ve heard this theory before and it is nonsense, really. All it takes to debunk it is a quick glance at past weather data. If you look at the historical data you quickly see that this area is just as prone to severe weather, thunder storms, and tornadoes as the rest of the state.

The garden is going gangbusters. The hot temperatures and high humidity have everything growing like crazy. The tomatoes up there in the lead photo are absolutely lush and loaded with young fruit. The pepper plants (what in the world are we going to do with all the peppers we planted? What were we thinking?) are loaded with blossoms an young fruit. The two squash plants are looking good. The cucumbers look a bit ragged, but I’m the only one who eats fresh cukes around here anyway so if they don’t do good no one cares. Lettuce, we have so much lettuce we’re getting sick of it and the onions are now big enough that we can stop buying from the store and just run out to the back yard and pull a couple when we need them. Green beans are looking good after a few issues earlier in the year. Even the parsley, which got in very late, is up and looking good. We have sunflowers starting to blossom. It’s a great time of the year.

Keeping up with watering is a pain. It’s been pretty dry over the last couple of weeks and we have to water everything almost every day now. But that’s not unusual for this time of year.

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Out on the trails it’s been beautiful, but the hot, humid weather makes it a bit troublesome. I carry about 2 quarts of water with me when I go out and go through at least half of that by the time I get back. Depends on the temperature and how hard I push it. I’m not a ‘power biker’ by any stretch of the imagination. I’m lucky if I keep up an average speed of 8 – 9 mph when I’m out, and I rarely go more than 10 – 15 miles. And there are always surprises, like that photo above. That, believe it or not, is a flock of about 30 pelicans having some kind of feeding frenzy on the river down by the old stone bridge on Irish Road about 4 miles out of town.

I never expected to see pelicans way out here. They generally stay close to the bigger lakes, like Michigan and Winnebago. Seeing a whole flock of them feeding in a tiny river like this was quite a surprise.

This was another surprise:

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This goof is probably the one that scared the hell out of me the other day when it bounded up onto the trail right in front of me a week ago. I’ve been seeing an unusual number of deer out in the open this summer, even in broad daylight. According to the old timers it’s because the mosquitoes and biting flies are absolutely vicious this year and it’s driving the deer out of the woods. Judging from my own experience, that’s probably true.

The mosquitos this year are horrible. If I get within 5 feet of the tomatoes or raspberries or other fairly dense vegetation after about 5 pm and I see clouds of the damned things come swarming up out of the plants and heading straight for me. It’s gotten to the point where I’m considering chemical warfare. I don’t like using insecticides for a lot of reasons, but it’s gotten so bad it’s impossible to go in the backyard. And considering West Nile Virus is popping up all over the place, well… I start eyeing those cans of foggers on the shelf and it’s damned tempting.

Out on the trail it’s gotten bad too. I can’t stop anywhere in the shade or I get swarmed by the things. Out in the sun on the road where there aren’t any trees or bushes it isn’t too bad. But on the trail itself you don’t dare stop for more than a few seconds.

Speaking of biking… It looks like I’m going to have to put new tires on the bike by the end of the month. They’re starting to look a bit worn. I have to admit I don’t know how many miles you’re supposed to get out of a set of bike tires, but I have about 1,100 miles on these now.

Yeah, that’s right, 1,100 miles. I’m a bit surprised by that. The odometer reads 1,000 miles, but I put over 100 miles on the bike before I put the odometer on it, so 1,100 is probably pretty accurate. If you’re an avid biker that probably doesn’t sound like a lot, but for a 64 year old grouchy old fart who hadn’t been on a bicycle since 1980? That’s kind of surprising.

Speaking of biking, I’m going to get out for a while before it gets too hot.

It’s Been Busy…

MrsGF had last week off so we took some time to go wandering around in between getting caught up with chores and gardening. We headed down to Fond du Lac, a small city on the southern end of Lake Winnebago. I’ve always liked the town. I used to spend a lot of time down there, and so did MrsGF. When I was a technician working for a POS company I had three clients I worked with down there, two grocery stores and a commercial bakery, and MrsGF worked there too for a while when she was with Aramark for a few years.

We rarely get down there now so we just wandered around town for a while looking at how things have changed over the years. It’s still a very pleasant town, but it’s had it’s problems over the years, along with just about every other city in the country. Like most small cities, trying to keep it’s downtown district from falling apart has been a problem. Fondy has been fairly successful. There are very few empty storefronts, and while you won’t see any big name retailers down there, most of the shops seem to be doing fairly well financially.

We’re lucky enough to live near Lake Winnebago. The lake is big. It’s 30 miles long and ten miles wide at it’s widest point. It’s a hotbed of activity all year long. During warmer weather boating (both sail and power boating), water skiing, swimming and fishing keeps, including some big fishing tournaments, keeps the place busy. In winter the lake has ice boating, snowmobiling, skiing and, of course, ice fishing. At the peak of the ice fishing season, there will be thousands of people out on the ice trying to catch perch, bluegills and, of course, 6 or 7 foot long, 200+ pound sturgeon. IMG_0904.jpg

We stopped at Pipe, a small town along the eastern shore with a wonderful little park and boat launch area. Alas, you could have gone surfing on Winnebago that day. There were 4 or 5 foot waves crashing into the shore and lots of whitecaps out there, and very few people willing to brave the waves to try fishing.

Back at home things are growing like crazy, but it was a bit iffy there for a while. We went through a very dry period where we had to water everything on a daily basis, to it being way too wet after we got deluged with about 6 inches of rain in two days.

One sign that summer is here is the lilies are coming into full bloom now. Screen Shot 2018-06-22 at 6.55.52 AM.png

This pink one has over a hundred blossoms on it. MrsGF didn’t believe me when I told her that so I dragged her outside and made her count them herself.

The real show stopper is this one, though:IMG_0921.jpg

The color on this one is so intense it almost glows in the dark.

And the pear tree — good grief…IMG_0923.jpg

The tree is so heavily laden with fruit that I think we’re going to have to get out there and snip some of them off or the branches are going to break off from the weight as the pears mature.

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.