January VHF 2019: Day 2 and Summary

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Day 1 was ended with 16 contacts, only a very few multipliers, and I was just generally in bad shape, but Day 2 was a completely different story. Instead of monkeying around with 6m, I just shrugged it off, the band wasn’t very open, it just wasn’t worth the time. I started off fairly close to home allowing me to get things resettled a bit before hitting my first grid (only 20 mins behind schedule!) – the roads were a mess, but this is why I drive 4×4 vehicles. Plows hated me for the first few hours I was out – I was well out of the realm of where they’d normally plow, but for some reason they decided I was in the way and made me move. I was able to find a new spot and rack up a few more points before we met up for our rover lunch. We quickly make a stop, eat some lunch, hammer out a handful of contacts, and get back on the road to hit our next grids.

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After the lunch activity, I headed down to FN12, which for me was a new grid that I do not normally work, and am I glad I did – the majority of the contacts that I made for this entire contest were from that grid! Not to mention that after having given up on 6m, I thought about the fact that I could try and go QRP with my new Yaesu FT-818 by attaching the BNC Duck and the 6m Element to it. I was able to pull off quite a few contacts this way – upwards of 60 miles from my site!

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All in all it wasn’t a bad contest, as I was about to pack up I peeked at the temperature gauge ad we were holding steady at -3… which didn’t make hanging out of the car to make those 6m QRP contacts easy! (Pictured is the 818 on the hood, had just made a contact on the other side of Rochester from about 40 miles away) Ending with a score of 24,840 I will say that while it was a dip of about 9400 from my score last January, it was an increase of about 3000 points from June, which I’ll take as a win. There are numerous improvements to make to the rover for this upcoming June, starting with 6m, and then working towards adding microwave equipment. I would like to, at a minimum, be capable of working up to 3456 in June reliably. This contest reminded me a lot of what it’s like climbing an Adirondack Peek in the winter – you’re cold, there are little things you have to pay attention to that don’t even phase you in the summer, you’re incredibly tired by the end and sometimes wait a day to put the equipment away, but it’s always fun to look back on it, and you’re excited to do it again.

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My first contest like this was June 2016, I had a mere 2100 points, and I think I only actually worked about 4 hours of time on the radio, and drove for 6. In June 2017, I put in a little more effort, and 6m opened up – happened to work down to DM32 from FN02 with a wire dipole that year! Last January was my first January contest, scoring 34,224 which was a fantastic first year to have. Wasn’t able to get near that score in June, scoring 21,758 in that contest. This June I’m aiming for 50,000, with hopes that I’ll shatter that – new plans in the works, hoping to activate extra grids early in the contest, as well as improve the antenna systems. We’ll see where it goes!

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Day 1 of January 2019 Contest

I just would like to say that so far, just about everything that could go wrong has gone wrong… I say just about because there are a few things, mainly things I’d rather not jinx as some equipment is not mine, and I really don’t want to have to tell people that it’s broken.

Issue that arose today were as follows:

  • it wouldn’t be a contest for me if I actually had 6m up and running… in fact, my nice 6m moxon I built disintegrated (note: I even waited to put it up until I was stopped to prevent this very thing from happening)

  • 70cm isn’t tuning

  • I keep finding things I either need to make another jumper cable for, or have the wrong connector on

  • It took 4 trips to Home Depot for me to realize that they didn’t have a long enough 2″ width U-Bolt for the new Roof Rack Mount – so I’m U-Bolted to one crossbar, with paracord tied to the other crossbar, and the actual luggage rack

  • Oh… and need I discuss the weather? I don’t think I should bother because it’s all we’ve heard about on the news for the last week

But, with all that being said, this has simultaneously been one of the more fun, and adventurous contests so far. I was an hour late to getting on the air, wasn’t even in the location I was supposed to be in, or with the group I was supposed to be with, in fact I only have 16 QSO’s in the log, and nothing above 440. Tomorrow is a new day, one that will have a bright and early start to try to hammer out some of these issues before hitting the road. I’d like to at least get 440 back on the air, and if I have time I’ll get the 3 element 6m beam assembled and ready to go.

A Fully Functioning Zumspot; Chinese Radios, and my seemingly unpopular opinion

Listen… We’ve all said some things we regret… I mean, I don’t necessarily regret saying that DMR Sucks, I think I just over reacted at the time because I couldn’t get my Zumspot working. Well, that’s all changed now! Now, this was actually a few months ago now due to the fact that I’ve pretty much been dead (according to my WordPress lack of activity that is) this last few months, but I’ll explain what the issue is for those with Chinese DMR Radio’s such as myself..

For starters, I have truly become a firm believer as of late that buying the cheap, off brand variety of something really isn’t worth it. Sure, it’s cheap right now, and you may not be able to swing buying the quality thing that you want right at this very moment. WAIT. Especially where it comes to technology. Pinch those pennies for a little bit, and just buy the quality item once. I learned this lesson hard with my phone(s) in the last couple of years. I used my iPhone 6 Trade in to get a Moto Z Force. That was supposed to be the top of the line Motorola Phone, if not the top end Android phone when it launched. It was supposed to be the best for any developer, our just someone who wanted better speakers, or a full, optical zoom camera or what have you. With all the cool “mods” that made the phone an awesome modular platform – fun fact, this was one of those many posts that died in draft land – but, a year and a half, three replacements, and a doggedly slow speed being the last straw, I rejoined Apple Land. But I digress… Chinese Radios! They’re still here despite the recent FCC scolding about them not being Part 97 compliant, and people were buying them in bulk for business, preprogrammed on a variety of frequencies, having no clue what they were interfering with. Not only are they still here, they’re still popular. And, to express a seemingly controversial, and unpopular opinion? Good.

It may seem as if I’m contradicting myself here with this, but I guarantee you that it serves a purpose. As a college freshman having just got my ticket, I had pennies to spend on radios compared to what I needed to have for something decent. A Yaesu VX-8 was kind of a pipe dream, and I wasn’t entirely convinced that I would be on enough to make the $400 worth it. So, at the first ham fest I went to in Rochester, NY, over the July 4th weekend, I picked myself up my first radio, the Baofeng UV-5R. And when I bought mine, it was right when the craze was starting to really take off. The radio cost me $70 with the programming cable, an extra battery, speaker mic, and desktop charger, which I thought was pretty cool! I was a broke, going into college kid, and was able to get on the air. My dad gave me an Alinco DR-110 to put in the car, we installed it right where the Tape deck was with very little trouble. It actually seemed like my Malibu was built to have a radio in it somewhere. Not two months later, at another local hamfest, did I have an issue that broke my Baofeng though. I went to unplug the speaker mic, and the audio connection was stuck. I could transmit, but I just couldn’t hear anything unless I had something plugged into the speaker slot. I was able to get it exchanged under warranty, but knew that those radios were not meant to last. I could go into the details of how I sold a few things to buy a radio that was a steal of a deal, to sell that to buy another one, to then sell that to eventually purchase the Kenwood D-74 that I now use, but that’s a story for another time. I’m here to talk about hotspots, and Chinese digital radios.

Two years ago at the Dayton Hamfest, at the Connect Systems booth, I decided, hey, why not. They were selling BFDX DMR handheld radios that they’ve branded the CS-580. If they’ll brand it, it has to be a halfway decent product, and for $110 with the programming cable, I went for it. As far as build quality goes, I cannot complain about this product, it’s a sturdy radio for sure, in fact it reminds me a lot of a Yaesu in the way of how it feels, but without the price tag. That same year I received a DV Mega, that I had just gotten working not two weeks before we left for the hamfest, but since I didn’t have anything in the way of a case, portable display, or battery, I decided to leave it at home. As soon as I got back from the hamfest though, I decided that I was going to give it a shot. I plugged in the hotspot, but there was no TX/RX at all. I tried everything I knew of, but that was that. I called HRO, and they sent it away for repair… and… well, they still have it actually. And, since there’s little to no DMR coverage in our area, away the radio went until I could get my hands on another hotspot to play with it again. This year was that year, the year of the Zumspot! I’m a huge fan of this Hotspot, you cannot get much more plug and play than it is – I was on Fusion immediately, XRF D-Star Reflectors, but the others took some time… someone forgot to change their call sign in the gateway registry, so anything in the D-Plus network took some time to finally get fixed, but that has nothing to do with the hotspot, and was complete operator error. DMR on the other had, that was the tricky one. Why? Well, because of my Chinese radio. They transmit slightly off frequency, so in the settings you have to adjust the sensitivity +/- .400 MHz. I researched this for days, over the span of weeks, I racked my brain around for ever, only to eventually find this fact on a very similar blog post to this one, buried at the bottom of a long rant… kind of like you just did. All in all, after a few months of using it, hopping on a few DMR nets, one during pumpkin patrol even – which was very informative about how NY is one of very few states to partake in this activity, and many operators have no clue what this is – I can say with certainty that I now have a new appreciation for the mode, and that saying that it sucks is a bit of an overstatement. It’s fine, in fact I think that the UI allows more functionality than Fusion does at the moment, but when it comes to the tech, it doesn’t win over D-Star. I’ll keep it as my second favorite for the moment.

Sorry Fusion, you just took a demotion to something that I have to use a Chinese radio for.

Oh, and lastly, to wrap up the Chinese radios discussion, everybody has an opinion on them, but here’s my two cents. Sure, the cheap radios aren’t the greatest, but they’re a means to spark interest. For me, getting that radio and getting on the air was probably one of the most important moments in radio for me. I wanted something so I could hop right on, and I didn’t make much money teaching swim lessons to kids, and lifeguarding. I was also trying to save money for books for my first semester of college. What was available to me? An old, mobile, or HT that may not have even had a tone board, making it useless for local repeaters, and that I’d likely have to repair to get on, or the Baofeng. I chose the latter. While I still have my replacement one for the first one I bought, it’s not my primary radio anymore, I stated above how much I like the D-74, but had I not been able to get on the air for an affordable price, and eventually work my way to something much more functional, and reasonable, I don’t know that I ever would be sitting here now discussing all of this cool stuff, or going from Tech to Extra in a year and a half, and now considering trying to go for licenses from other countries even (yes, I’d like to take a shot at getting a VE3 this summer, since I can technically only operate under the basic privileges anyways). They’re not ideal, and if someone can afford something better they should definitely not buy the Chinese radio, but get one, play around with it, and then pinch the pennies for something better.

January VHF Contest Prep – 2019

Hi Everyone! So my grand plan of writing frequently hasn’t quite panned out as I had posted about – I still have a quite a few posts canned for publishing, I just need to read them over so I don’t sound like a complete dimwit… with that being said, it’s not really in the cards to get to those at the moment, but I thought I would make a quick post about how contest prep has been going!

I’ve been fortunate enough to have a fellow club member assist me with the construction of a luggage rack mount for antennas, in addition I’ll be borrowing a couple antennas, and utilizing a few home built ones as well.. The goal of this? To cut setup time to virtually nothing but getting out of the car to add a few feet to the masts to give more height. This will definitely aid in the addition of more grids this year. In the past two years that I have really gotten into the rover form of contesting, or just contesting in general, I’ve done a few modifications here and there to make operating easier, but overall, I haven’t contributed much to aid my setup times, which would seriously help with the ability to add some more grids. I always go out with the plan of operating from four grids, but usually something happens, and I’m stuck operating only two or three if I’m lucky. This year, I’ll be shooting for five to six, but I’ll be happy if I can at least circle my four. The plan will be to operate three or so hours in a grid, and move on.

In addition, instead of hoping I’m typing the correct call in the dark, I’ve been able to get Roverlog, the software that I have been using on my tiny ASUS Transformer for the last four contests, running within my MacBook!! Meaning that nice illuminated keyboard will be at my disposal finally! In addition to that, I will be running WSJT-X for digital mode operation from the rover… assuming that the rig interface is still functioning well. That is something that I have been unable to test yet, as we’re in the middle of a move, and all the radios just were packed up as I got everything working well.

With any hope, so long as all is functioning properly, and I’m on the air on schedule, I think that this is on pace to be the best score yet in a contest for me, and if not, we’ll see what can be learned from this moving into June. Usually I’m scrambling the day before, but I think at this point I can officially say that even with this being near the bottom of the totem pole as far as current priorities, I’ve put more planning into this than previous years, and I’m incredibly grateful for the big save I’m receiving for getting antennas properly mounted for roving this year. As long as the remainder of this move goes according to plan, we’ll be right on track for the remainder of the contest planning, and ready when it’s go time!