January Log Check Reports

While the full line results aren’t published yet, it appears as though the January contest log checking records are available. While I was nervous about losing points due to potential logging issues, it wasn’t necessarily as bad as I thought it was going to be. I lost right around 1000 points, winding up at 22,800 as my final score, my listed claimed score being slightly less that I had jotted down in my notes. Surprisingly, this wasn’t due to any timestamp issues, or incorrect call inputs, but do the duplication. Probably a matter of my forgetting to clear the ‘call’ field of roverlog when logging a new contact, or forgetting to change the band that I was operating on – the latter seeming more likely. In any case, this leads me to question whether I should be trying to change my logging software up, or just attempt to pay more attention moving into June.

I thoroughly enjoyed the set up that I had running, I was running RoverLog off of my MacBook in Wine, and WSJT-X for digital modes. Didn’t have any issues with speed, or power – running out of juice an an inopportune time was kind of my fear running this computer as I only ran short spurts of charging between setup points due to the inverter(s) used being so heavy in RF noise, at times producing an S9. The previous two in one that I had been running in the last couple contests allowed for micro USB power, which allowed me to charge much easier on the go, and additionally utilize rather large portable battery packs to keep it boosted when it seemed like power may be getting low. The issue with that device, was just how small it was. Running a full version of Windows on a 10″ screen with a non-illuminating keyboard was a little difficult, especially when it began to get dark. Running Logging software, as well as attempting to operate FT-8 or my quick attempt at MSK-144 is just too difficult on a screen so small. Not to mention the fact that it’s running Windows 8.1 – should really at least upgrade that to Windows 7… yes, I did say that correctly.

In any case, something to definitely look at moving into the June contest, I know the issue was purely operator error, and therefore it gives me something to correct, and work towards! One of my complaints about RoverLog is that while it does flag duplicates, it merely highlights the text and moves on. A likely alternative I may consider is operating the ASUS for Logging, with either RoverLog, N3FJP, or N1MM, and also running the Mac for Digital – as digital is something I do not utilize until it gets later, I can detach the physical keyboard of the ASUS, and use the touchscreen for easier input. Too many ideas, too little time. Trial and error over the next few contests will be key… that is until I decide to try something completely different next year!

It’s almost Dayton time!

That time of the year is almost here… Dayton! Time to be a kid in a candy store! This year I don’t have a whole lot on my list, although the last two years I have not so that’s not much of a change. Usually it’s one of those things where I don’t realize I need it until about a week after the Hamfest, or in most cases until… well… I need it. This year I have three objectives:

1) Attending more Seminars: I try to make this my goal every year, but I usually get lost in the abyss that is the flea market, or sucked into wandering Mendlesons or one of the other outlets with clearance goods that I probably don’t need, but wind up finding myself looking at anyways. Not this year! Thanks to the release of the new app, I’ve been able to go through and find some of the ones that I’m interested in attending beforehand more conveniently, allowing me to go in with more of a plan than normal. I’m planning on attending Five, however the likelihood of attending more than two or three is slim as I’ll likely get distracted somewhere else.

2) Better outfit for Rover operation: January, and June VHF Contests are my primary operation times – sure, I could play around anytime really, however I have really enjoyed my time getting to work with my local clubs and getting on the air, and racking up the contacts! These two contests I dedicate the weekend to, and enjoy every minute of it! So long as I don’t decide to make additional plans, I may even pickup the September contest this year, which would be a new one for me. We’ll see how everything shakes out though. Finding some microwave transverters and adding some more bands would be nice, however I am content with running 6 band in June. I’m really looking for anything that may help with organization of the radios, and comfort while operating. I had so much help this past January with getting the rover fast, it’s time to get the rover a little more practical than the desk setup that takes 20 mins to batten down between stops.

3) Base Station Activation: Having moved into a new house in the last few months, I have had very little time to operate from home. With that being said I have still had some, and currently just have a wire dipole thrown up in the back yard for the moment. I would like to change that, even if it’s just a vertical for the time being, really just something else that’s a little more out of the way during the summer. Currently, the way the dipole is strung, RFI tends to kill the network when I’m on the air… which when you’re running smart bulbs and such can become a little problematic.

Lets see if holding to those goals can actually happen, and I hope that everyone who attends enjoys themselves! I may have some content while down there, but if not, look for new posts after!

FT4: It’s exactly like FT8… But faster!

I know for a fact that I’m not the only one out there that just isn’t crazy about FT8, but I’ve used it. It’s fine. It’s a digital mode. Sure, it’s great for weak signal, and times where general propagation is in the doldrums, but I don’t see the general appeal – that’s fine if it’s your thing, but it just isn’t mine. With that being said, with the introduction of the FT4 beta, of course I’ll get on! It’s a new mode, feedback is likely appreciated, and… well… it’s new! Reaction? It’s a nice, quick mode, each exchange is right around 6 seconds, so your full QSO is under a minute! I see this being very beneficial, and I’m excited for the full release! Yes, I know I said that I’m not crazy about the mode, I do use it still as there is a TON of activity on it. And in addition to that, I see the increased activity generally that it has produced for the hobby as a whole, and that is a huge plus!

Moving into installing the beta of the software was a breeze, since I was setup for FT8 already the configurations from the prior version of WSJT-X on my computer simply imported to the release installed (as it would if you updated the software. The only issue that I came across was with the frequency configurations… they were non-existent within the application. I happened to stumble upon them in an FT8 Users Facebook group I belong to. This meant that changing frequencies had to be done with… *gasp* a knob on the radio, not just the software! Sure, I could setup rig control for my 7100 or something, but unless I’m working digitally, the computer is often off/in hibernation, and I paper log, and I’ll add to LOTW afterwards. This is actually a running joke in my family and with a local group – I’m one of the youngest, active people in the group, but have a personal aversion to SDR’s like the Flex simply because, well, they don’t have a control head with knobs and buttons, they require a computer to function (yes, I know there is an add-on control head and such, but it’s an add-on! Come on, man!)

Actual exchange of FT4? Well, you’ve used FT8, right? It’s the exact same. CQ with Grid, Signal Report, Received, 73, Done. Quick, to the point, and you’re back to CQ-ing. For a contest, FT4 is drastically going to increase QSO rate. Still not as fast as a voice exchange is going to be, but it’s getting there (FT2 in the future? Does Yaesu have a patent on that name and would they give Joe Taylor a hard time with it?) and I can see this being huge when the band is so-so on 6m, as it still fully embraces the weak signal mode that FT8 is… just faster!

All in all I’ll just say this, that QSO rate is a huge increase from FT8, over twice as fast, and I believe that this is going to be the next big thing with contesting, much the same way FT8 has been, and especially so in the VHF/UHF realm. Whenever the stable release in planned for I’m sure it’s going to take off much the same way it’s predecessor has, and while I’m not crazy about this being such a predominant mode now, I do think that the activity that it has attracted, and the increase that it seems to have sparked in the last year is fantastic. Let’s see what the future holds!

Apple AirPods – Feature Packed, but not really designed for activity

I’ve only owned my AirPods for a short time, but I’m already a huge fan.. I stated before that I was using a cheap Chinese knockoff brand of headphones, and was thoroughly impressed! I still think that they are the only knockoff type product that I would even recommend, but after about six months of serious usage I was beginning to notice some issues with them. For $40, I’ll admit, 6 months was a lot longer than I thought they’d last. The battery was no longer going the full three hours it once did, especially when taking phone calls, and they would randomly connect and disconnect when being stored in my pocket and moving around, and additionally I was beginning to notice some connectivity issues that I didn’t have before. I originally bought them not for the price or quality, but in reality to see how much I would actually use them, and if eventually purchasing the $150 Apple Branded device was even going to be worthwhile. Well, I guess if anything this really brought to light how much content I intake via earphones. I listen to somewhere between 12 and 18 hours of Podcasts a week, as well as Music as I’m accomplishing tasks at Work and at Home. As the battery was starting to wear on the other device, I figured that this was as good of a time as any to try out the new generation of Apple AirPods.

The first thing I thought when I put them in? Wow. This look goofy… but they sound incredible… if only they fit just a little better. I shouldn’t knock the look though, that stem adds a serious hardware advantage that other varieties just don’t have, it allows for more to be crammed in there, and if it weren’t for that space, the H1 Chipset that allows the “Hey Siri,” feature that is more handy than I ever thought it would be on a set of headphones, wouldn’t be there. The double tap controls are programmable via Bluetooth, and can be set to Summon Siri, Play/Pause, Skip Song (or Fast Forward Podcasts), or Go Back. In addition being able to setup Automatic Ear Detection (default on) is handy if you’d like to have it automatically pause when you remove one of the pods. Lastly, you can configure which AirPod the microphone is set to, or have it set to automatically select one. I’ve left most of the controls where they were preset when I pulled them out of the box, my left ear tap is pause, and right ear tap is skip, though asking Siri to skip or rewind is the more common thing I do anyways.

Within 48 hours of using these though I noticed a severe accumulation of pocket lint/dust within the case, which isn’t the end of the world. Pairing them couldn’t be more simple, unlock your phone, ensure Bluetooth is on, and open the case. The rest is automatic! While I’ve been on a longer stretch of days where I really like to have audio going while I’m working I haven’t truly tested how long it’d take to kill the batteries completely, in my time so far I haven’t been able to get the case down below 75% by the end of a 10 hour day. The headphones themselves I put below 80%, as I’ll have to pull them out to talk or perform particular tasks, so they go right in the case, and in that matter of 20 mins (maybe), they’re back to fully charged!

The quality sounds just like the Apple Wired Headphones… maybe even slightly better, which thoroughly impressed me. Losing some quality via bluetooth is pretty much expected as far as I’m concerned, but there is no loss that I can hear. Even with bass heavy music, an area that I have always found Bluetooth audio to be somewhere around the level of listening through a tin can, that just isn’t the case. It is impeccable sounding.

The fit is something I’m not too crazy about, but at the same time I’m not really concerned. They fit exactly like the wired headset does, but with that being said, they stay in a bit better as you don’t have the wire to knock around… with that being said you don’t have the wire to catch them if they slide out. There are numerous little slip over covers, and hooks to go around an help these grip to your ears, something I now have on order and should be seeing tomorrow. For me, part of the beauty of wireless headphones is when you’re working out, or are just plain out and about and you don’t necessarily want to have your phone right nearby. The reason I went with these over the Galaxy Buds, or Bose (which are in the same price wheelhouse) is due to the capabilities that these offer – customization of the touch controls, as well as full voice control are something that this really offers that nobody else does.

The case, as I mentioned before, seems to get ‘gunked’ up pretty quickly, so finding a case… for the case… ??? … seems like it may be a good idea.

All in all I really am fond of these, however the issue of the fit, which can hopefully be solved with silicone tips is kind of keeping me on edge about actually hanging on to these – the Apple 14 day return policy is something I’ve never had to use, but if these little covers don’t do the trick, I may have to. Last thing I want is these pricey little things slipping out of my ears somewhere along a 60 mile bike route.

Anybody else have any experience with these? Any tips or tricks to keeping them in? The next best thing would likely be the Powerbeats Pro, they’re the same specs as the AirPods 2, however with the Beats logo, and are $100 more, which is not something I’m feeling like shelling over money for.

FTM-400 vs. ID-5100 – A couple of months side by side

After finally getting some time to use the FTM-400 along side the ID-5100, I thought it was time to contrast the two. I believe that (after looking around and doing some research) these are probably the best mobiles on the market at the moment – the offer digital capabilities – the open standard of D-Star vs. the proprietary System Fusion, APRS/DPRS respectively, on top of just being solid sounding FM rigs that would make any everyday user happy. There are a few points that I would like to put down for each rig however, as they both do have their quirks that make each one something that different people may want to consider.

Pros – Yaesu FTM-400

  • Color TFT display makes reading in the sunlight much, and is easier on the eyes at night
  • Menus are probably the most straightforward of a Yaesu radio I’ve ever used
  • Full APRS Functionality
  • Relatively simple navigation in DX mode
  • YSF Compatible
  • Sturdy built
  • Decent Microphone Controls
  • Temperature Swings do not seem to affect the display

I’m actually hard pressed to find what I would deem a con about this radio. While I said that the Menus are the most straightforward of a Yaesu I’ve ever used, while that is a compliment to the relative simplicity of the rig, there are a few quirks that I’m not too crazy about – remembering that tone control is in “signaling” and not a separate tone control menu. Again, this isn’t a big deal, it’s just an odd thing to remember, but I’m sure anyone can get the hang of this eventually.

To draw a comparison of this radio to the Icom ID-5100, I actually think that overall the FTM-400 is a just a better radio. The ID-5100 offers D-Star which is a much more capable, narrower bandwidth mode that offers much more flexibility in your radio options. The menu simplicity, near repeater functionality, etc. make the functions of the ID-5100 far superior to that of the FTM-400. With that said though, the display, and the overall build quality of the FTM-400 is what pushes it ahead.

Pros – Icom ID-5100

  • Black and White display is less distracting while driving
  • Simplicity of menu navigation – almost the exact same going from an IC-7100, to an ID-5100, to an ID-51A, or an ID-31A. I would liken Icom’s line to the Apple of Ham Radio, when you pick up any other iPhone, you’re going to have an almost exact same experience between devices, the same goes for the Icom line of D-Star ready radios.
  • D-Star ready
  • DPRS – while not the same as APRS in the slightest when it comes to the beaconing and messaging features, if you’re an exclusive, or predominantly D-Star user, this is a very nice feature

However I have a few cons with the ID-5100:

  • Display difficult to read in sunlight – full brightness helps, but still just difficult compared to most mobiles
  • Display now displays grid marks after having been left in the car through a WNY Winter (while admittedly I did not receive the FMT-400, and we’ll have to see what another winter does to it)
  • Speaker is quiet on digital – this is more of a comment on the mode though, as DMR and Fusion do not seem to have the same Audio Level issues

All in all they’re both great radios for a similar price point, the ID-5100 is a bit cheaper, however they’re within $75-100 of each other depending on rebates and sales you may catch. If you want something D-Star ready, trust me, you can live with the shortcomings of the display, because the rest of the radio capabilities far out match that of the FTM-400, however if D-Star isn’t the top of your priorities when looking, and you really just want a quality radio with a small form factor that will give you many options to nicely mount in your car, the FTM-400 is the way to go.

June Contest Planning Underway!

Admittedly I don’t plan on tweaking as much as planned at this moment – I will definitively be running 50-1296 mhz at the moment. Definitely going to keep eyes open for transverters, and amplifiers in Dayton, no matter what I think at this moment it’s safe to say that it’s going to at least be that that spread at the moment. 6m will finally have a reliable antenna – I have one on order from a recently dissolved contest station that is a 3 element beam with collapsing elements… this was actually something I was planning on building during the upcoming months, however someone offered one up, and the price was right, so how could I not turn it down? This is a huge time saver for someone who’s free time is few and far between during most of the year, and hopefully alone should pick up the slack that I had in the last half dozen contests – a solid 6m opening puts crazy amounts of mults out there that just cannot be missed.

The other issue I’m attempting to address is logging – I’m thoroughly concerned that due to time issues I was having within RoverLog, this will lead to some points lost in the January contest. I’m hoping to transition it over to N1MM or N3FJP run via Windows Emulator on my MacBook. Being an Apple user when it comes to radio software is a little tricky – there are applications out there for logging, some really good ones too, but they just aren’t designed for contesting, and the ones that are aren’t setup for VHF/UHF Contests. I’d really like to get my hands dirty on this front and begin to develop something for iOS/Android over the next year or so, but given that I have very VERY little programming experience (as in I gave up at “Hello World” with Java, and have made a Random Number Generator with Python), this is going to be an endeavor. The platforms are ripe for picking in this front, but that’s down the road for sure.

All in all though, I think due to the assist I was given by other local hams in getting something good to go, January (despite the weather) went as well as it could – and June will be the best contest yet, I can feel it now. Even if I don’t add any more bands, I’ll be on location, and on the air on time, the question is what grids and what locations are going to be the plan to hit? This is the million dollar question.

 

“Well what charger do you need!?”: Standards at an Awkward Time, and How much longer does Android have?

This was an encounter that made me realize what the state of the current landscape is. We have standards in computing – USB, WiFi, Bluetooth, but how many out there actually understand them? This exchange was specifically around USB ports. Someone needed to borrow a charger – and I’m a solid iOS/Mac user for everything, however I have devices that use other connectors, so I tend to keep an array in my backpack, specifically mini-USB, micro-USB, and USB-C, as they tend to be standard with my other devices. Someone asked if they could borrow an “Android Charger.”

I said, “What connector do you need?”

They responded, “The Android One.”

I was in the middle of something and couldn’t immediately break away, so I proceeded to ask, and we went back and forth for a few mins, other chimed in, but this led me to a realization of how many various consumer devices are using different connectors at the moment. And on top of that, how little people know about their devices in some cases. I understand that people just want a device that works, but shouldn’t people have a better understanding of just how it works? In school we all get the basic science of computers explained to us Hard Disk space, versus RAM, etc., but as time goes on things change, and we have to educate ourselves on those changes. It can be difficult to keep up sometimes, but if you want to use these devices, you should be able to sound some semblance of educated, or at least have a basic understanding of the question. Knowing what type of port your phone is should be a minimum, as when you go shopping for a new cable as we all have to do, you should know that you need a lightning connector, or a micro-USB.

While we’re moving towards the standardization of the USB-C port (keeping in mind different protocols from USB 3.1.2.3 or whatever it is, versus Thunderbolt 3 all working off that connector), with even Apple adding it to the latest generation of iPad Pro, and the MacBook having it for over a year now, this comes at kind of an awkward time in technology. The average life span of mobile devices, as apple pointed out in it’s last report, is longer than ever – therefore the transition over to a more standard connector on new devices is going to take a little more time than it would have in the past to actually get rolled out. For the time being, the most that anybody can do is just keep an eye on what’s going on with this, and as things move over, try to stay on top of it. Standards only become standards because people want them.

Sure, this whole exchange above led to an Android versus iOS debate as it always does, and as someone that has used both I have settled on iOS as my preferred mobile operating system – admittedly due to being committed to iTunes with purchases, and much preferring iMessage over any other messaging service. There are various applications where I can see Android being a much better alternative, but for me that’s not the case. This brings up a question based on Google’s history – How much longer do we really think Android will be around? This month Google is killing a bunch of applications, and launching a gaming service with ChromeOS in mind. All of its new hardware (short of the Pixel phones) are running versions of Chrome – could Android be among the services that Google is considering ending? The Chromecast is right up there with the Fire Stick, and Roku as far as affordable streaming devices, and has support for iOS as well. Its new Stadia service will be usable on a Chromecast Ultra.

What’s your opinion? Is Android on its way out now that they’ve gotten it to a refined point? Is Android what it once was, the space where the geeks could do what they please with the OS, or is it becoming as locked down as iOS with a different shell?

The Summer for Charity

For those that follow my social media pages this is not news, however I will be participating in a series of rides to support local charities over the summer – starting with the Tour de Cure to support the American Diabetes Association. If you’re interested in donating to support my ride, and the ADA, please click the link below:

http://main.diabetes.org/site/TR/?px=15483234&pg=personal&fr_id=12756

 

Amazfit Bip – Two Weeks Later

About two weeks ago I posted about a Chinese Wearable, I’m thoroughly anti buying products that are not directly sold through US retailers, however I figured for the price, and the overall high customer satisfaction score that it had off of Amazon (which I guess technically classifies as a US retailer), I’d give it a shot. This is the second time I’ve done this with products there over the last year or so – the first being a pair of Bluetooth Headphones branded “Popchose,” I’d never heard of them, and honestly still have no clue who they are, however they are to date the best Bluetooth Headphones that I’ve owned to date, miles ahead of the LG Tone set, and about on par to the Plantronics, however the battery is much better… but I digress. This was the catalyst for me deciding that maybe these were okay, and that I should give them a shot. Besides, it has a decent return/exchange policy, and again, the reviews for both customer service and the product itself were very positive, so why not? I was in the market for a new smartwatch, my previous “Pebble” smartwatch (RIP Pebble) was some odd company I had never heard of, and they blew up, so I wound up ordering it.

This product arrived on a Tuesday, and it was Saturday morning before I ever put it on the charger because I wanted to test the battery life a little bit. It was at 81% when I removed it from the box, and after it performed all of the “day one” updates. I installed a custom watch face that has seconds ticking, so that tends to drain the always on display a bit more than the traditional minutes only display. In addition, it continually updates my steps/calories burned every minute, and measures my heart rate every 10 minutes, and I also configured it to maintain a GPS connection as well. Basically, I wanted to set this up to have as much wear and tear on the battery as possible to deem exactly how long I could get it to last without a charge. I took it off when I went to bed that night, leaving it off of the charger, and it remained at 81% when I checked the next morning. I work in an environment where I am constantly moving, and always on my feet (sure, there are some exceptions to this, but for the most part I’m always moving), which means that it will constantly be documenting my motion, and steps. For the first day, it was a really busy day, therefore I was moving an above average amount, it kept right up – to kind of calibrate for my own piece of mind, and understanding before I left for the day – I picked a fixed point, and walked to that place. It was 96 steps by my count, I started at the top of a minute, it took me under a minute to get to my stopping point, so when I stopped, I lifted up the watch, waited for the minute to be up and for it to update my steps, and when it did, there were 96 steps added to my count for the day. I was impressed, I mean I shouldn’t have been, it’s just the device doing it’s job, but the odd company I had never heard of was more accurately counting my movement than my Samsung Gear Fit, or Apple Watch Series 1 ever did.

There are quite a few basic functions built into it as well such as workout tracking, which I found to be simply okay. If you’re running on a treadmill, it does a pretty good job at tracking your heart rate, and calories burned, however you have to use it for a little bit for it to calibrate to you. There is a bit of learning required by the device. For example, when you finish your workout recording, say you’re getting off the treadmill and hitting end, it will give you a summary of what it’s recorded. When you hit next, it will allow you to calibrate the distance ran. My workout only recorded .85 miles on the treadmill, when in fact I went 1.01 miles. It was more accurate the second time that I used it, but still not quite synced with the treadmill from that perspective. Moving on to weight equipment, usually on other devices I can simply select an “other workout” option, where it’ll time me, record heart rate, gauge physical stress from that, and really I use it more just to track time doing specific workouts – this however does not have that option, which I see as a missed opportunity for more people in the fitness community. With that being said, I primarily will run, and bike, and this device has both of those in there, so I’m pretty well set for that.

The sleep tracking is an interesting feature, both my prior Apple Watch, and Samsung Gear Fit had these features, however the battery life was not nearly long enough to actually use there, and this is something that this does a great job at tracking. I’m thoroughly impressed at its ability to pinpoint exactly when I fall asleep, and when I get up, for the latter end it’s usually within about 3-5 minutes of when I actually get up, and as far as I can guess it’s quite accurate as to the time I fall asleep to, I’m not staring at a clock when I’m crashing at night. It shows you how you compare to other users, as it anonymizes your data, and compares to other users. According to the app, I usually go to sleep about 2 hours earlier than the average user, however I’m up earlier than most… and I also sleep better than more than 75% of users! There is something mildly creepy about sharing all of this data, but at the same time, it is nice to be able to see these metrics on my own screens, to change my habits if I’m not sleeping well, and see some data driven results as to how my changes are actually effecting my sleep from a more clinical perspective, and less of a “sure, that helped a little” perspective.

All in all, I think that this device is great for someone that wants a basic activity tracker with a few more advanced features, and does not want to pay an arm and a leg for one of the more main stream devices – Xiaomi is a large company overseas, and this is not meant to detract from that, however in the US they’re a no name, and I likely wouldn’t be prone to buying one of their devices normally… besides, we know about all of the conspiracy theories with Huawei and data collection, is Xiaomi another one that may be collecting data too, and we just don’t know it yet? Probably not, but a lot of people will err on the side of caution. With all of that being said, I do recommend this for someone as their first smartwatch, if you’re not sure you’re going to use the features, or remember to charge it, or what have you. If you have one presently, and are looking for an upgrade, I would say that depends on what you have now, and what you’re looking for. There is an actual watch UI, which is more than the Fitbit Charge or Alta has, but the workout tracking features just aren’t as advanced, so if you want more of a watch, and less of a tracker, this is for you. I would say that this is just a stepping stone to something like a Samsung Gear or Apple Watch if you’re looking for a device that does more, and that if you’re looking to really step into the world of wearables, look into those before you look too much further into these, because you’re going to be disappointed if you think you’re getting something like those, and get one of these.