From KD2CJR/R to K2ET/R: The brief history

June 2015 was the first VHF contest that I took place in… in fact it was pretty much the first contest outside of one CQWW, and a handful of Field Day events that I had participated in – while that was a mere 4 years ago, a lot has changed in that time. I had minimal equipment, an Icom IC-7100 as my main rig (still is) to get me through 6m, 2m, and 70cm, with a Yaesu VX-7 HT that I had recently added to replace my Baofeng filling in for 220. I was in college still, didn’t really have any disposable income to part with for any of my hobbies – not that I have a ton now, but knowing a deal, and how to buy and sell is something that has come over time too.

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This was the first iteration of the rover – I utilized bungee cords with fiberglass masts off of the front grill of my Jeep, and a pair of 2m and 70cm Moxon Antennas I had been using for the last year in my dorm, and had just setup in my new apartment. Using the top of the mast and a nearby tree, I strung a 6m dipole, but having not tested it beforehand, I noticed that the SWR was through the roof, I tweaked it a little to get it down to a reasonable point. The 2015 contest really just became a little day and a half road trip from Niagara Falls, to Erie PA, as I didn’t really plot much of a course other than the next grid. As evidenced by the photo here I had no clue what I was doing, this was in Whirlpool Park on the Niagara Escarpment – loads of trees in the way, worked maybe four stations? I made maybe two dozen contacts in the entirety of the contest, and completely forgot to even submit a log as I paper and pen logged, and missed the deadline. While I didn’t really put any of the time or effort into this, it just gave me the itch to try this again with a little effort.

June 2016 unfortunately didn’t yield much better results, however the setup didn’t really change, the effort however did. I hit three grids, and actually put in some operating time… well kind of. I was still using my Moxon for 2m/432, and a dipole for 6, but I also had a vertical on the front of my Jeep at the time, and with the right opening that helped pickup some unique grids! For 223, I was still utilizing a Yaesu HT, but my mobile antenna at least supported 220, so I had a bit more gain. In this contest I also had the advantage of having picked up a hitch mast holder, and while I didn’t have it setup in a way I could leave it up while moving, meaning at least 20 mins of setup time a stop, I at least wasn’t using bungee cords, and scuffing up the grill on the front of my Wrangler! For this contest, given it was only my second go around, I took those 2100 points with stride. For such a small setup, I didn’t think that was half bad for a new Limited Rover!

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June 2017 was a little better – having been in our apartment for a little while I decided that our storage compartment could hold a 14 element 2m beam easily…. well… I drastically underestimated how large a 14 element beam was… the package alone would barely fit in the doorway. I did find a way to disassemble it just enough to get it in and out of the door for testing, but the tear down and setup of that at each stop was a bit much. I did it anyways, but as soon as the wind picked up, my dipole for 6m broke from catching on the 2m when it took a gust, I just called it a contest then. I was also roving with a broken rear window at the time due to needing to change a hinge at the top and having it shatter in my hands while trying to fix it.

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June 2017 actually wasn’t half bad either, and while I did do the Grid Blitz with my club, for some reason I thought I may have a chance to place well within the Limited Rover category, so I submitted all of those contacts as a Check Log, so they did not go towards my score, but served as contact verification for my club members as we utilized additional bands. Looking back this was a huge mistake, and I probably could have wound up with a half way decent score. I was looking at this as improvement though, I more than tripled my score in 2017, ending up at 6,408 in the limited rover category. The coolest part of this contest though was the 6m contact that I made – way out to DM32 on that little dipole! This would be my last contest as KD2CJR – in December of 2017 I was granted the Vanity Call, K2ET.

Fun fact: my drivers side door also broke during this contest – when I arrived to FN03, and decided that it was too windy to try to balance the 2m antenna to put it up, I hadn’t fully closed the door. A wind gust caught the door and blew it so hard, the strap that kept it from flying a full 180 degrees open snapped, and the door banged into the front fender..

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Moving into 2018 I wanted to push this effort and expand, I now have a half of an idea of how to go about all this…. but… I was now having car troubles. I figured it still had a bit of time in it, but little did I know that this would be my last contest in the old Wrangler. In 2018 I participated in my first January contest. Borrowing a microwave setup for 2304, and 5g, not wanting to fumble with that 14 element beam again… especially in a WNY Winter… so I went back to the moxon for 2m/432, and had built one up for 223 as well.

Jan 18 - 4.jpg I had picked up a 902/903 radio back in September from a club member, and had a small beam to work that with, and was borrowing an Icom ID1 for 1296 that I merely used a mag mount for.

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I thought that this was a pretty tidy setup, and something that I could carry over to any vehicle, I glued a piece of shelving to a bin lid, and was able to secure the control heads and any external speakers to this. Any full sized radios would go below the control heads, and this left room for a laptop, and paper and pen… as well as a coffee. The back of a car can be a little cramped, but with no back seat, there’s pleny of room to sprawl out, and make it work. This was my first contest Digitally logging as well, and while I did not have any issues with the software, I did have some battery issues – and just for sheer entertainment value, since it was such a sunny contest which is a complete oddity for WNY, I ran the laptop via a Solar Trickle Charge.Jan 18 - 3.jpg

While I didn’t quite put the effort into setup that I would have liked, I did however commit the operating time. I wound up scoring over 34k points in this contest which I was incredibly happy with, and remains my best score to date of any VHF contest!

The old Wrangler frame was to a point where it probably shouldn’t be driven anymore by May (still for sale if anybody is interested!), which was awful come June. Luckily, I was able to borrow a vehicle to still get on for the contest (thanks to my dad, N2OA)! Now this was by far the most pieced together iteration of the rover to date as I had absolutely no clue what I was doing here, and knew nothing was going to be a fixture by any means, and building something specific made no sense as I had no clue what the car situation was going to be. This was one of those, grab what I can, and throw it on the air times.

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This started off with a nice 6m Moxon on the top of the mast, and while I had the larger 2m antenna, that was just a bear to haul, especially when you’re trying not to scuff up the vehicle you’re borrowing! So it was over to Moxon’s for 2m/440, and 223, and running beams for 902, and 1296, but also using a mag mount as backup. Sadly the 6m Moxon just didn’t have the integrity utilizing smaller PVC to make it light, so it was back to the 6m Dipole pretty quickly… which then started to give me troubles, and I wound up just giving up on 6m entirely.

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I somehow (absolutely no clue how) was able to eek out a score over 21,000 with the monstrosity that was solidly held together by gorilla tape, and sheer will… though as you can see below the desktop style setup carried over nicely here, too! For more on this contest, click here: It’s Over, Rover – a Detailed Summary of the June VHF Contest 2018 from K2ET/R

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This year, 2019, I was in the middle of moving, and didn’t have much of a desire to get on for the contest in January, but a fellow club member encouraged that I should get on to push the club effort since it’s our 70th Anniversary. With a new car, and no plans I had absolutely no clue what I was going to do. The same club member that lent me the 2304 and 5g setup offered to build up a roof rack, and lend me a rotor, and Log Periodic Antenna to cover from 2m-1296, all I had to do was figure out 6m, throw the 902 antenna up there for additional gain, and I was set! I said I’m in! So, as soon as that was constructed, I drilled out the holes to feed U-bolts through to fix this to the luggage rack of my new vehicle (2014 Jeep Patriot – purchased with roving in mind!), and we were set!

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Since he built this up for me, I figured I should definitely put in the effort to try and maximize my score for the good of the club! Mother nature had a slightly different idea. Western NY was under a travel ban for the entirety of the contest… did that stop me? No.

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Did it prevent me from attending our little Eastern Grid Blitz? Yes. But that’s okay, I found a few nice spots in the local two grids to hammer out contacts, and truly only activated three grids, but I did attend our Western Grid Blitz eeking in a fourth. After some logging hiccups with utilizing Roverlog on a different computer than normal, and log checking reports with this, I wound up with a score just over 21k. A 13k point drop from the previous January, but I’ll just blame my eternal 6m problems, and mother nature for that one… and somehow my log switching over to manual time keeping instead of automatic. For more on this past January Contest, click here: January VHF 2019: Day 2 and Summary

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While I had big plans for this June, it seemed like stuff just kept getting in the way.. I won’t go into too much detail about the June contest, as you can read about it here June VHF 2019: Poor Score, Fun Run, but the setup used in January was broken out again, and this time I utilized a 3-element beam for 6m. This was a huge advantage compared to previous years, the beam actually has gain, and… well.. it didn’t malfunction! What this past June did show me is that it’s time to upgrade the Coax. I’ve been using RG-8X everywhere, and while that’s okay on 6m, for the other bands it’s time to start feeding it with something like LMR-400, especially if I’m planning on getting into the microwave bands a little more.

This year, so long as all plans stay as they are now, I’m planning on participating in my first September VHF contest as well. I know activity tends to be a little less (based upon research of past logs), but with all functioning well, and assuming I don’t lose much operating time in this one, it’ll be interesting to see what kind of score I can post, and if I can find spots in some unique (at least to me) grids to activate..

2020 will mark 5 years of doing this, and I’m planning on doing a few little different things to change this up, stay tuned!

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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!

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.

Made in China?: 2019, Global eCommerce, and New Gadgets

2019 has already turned out to be an interesting year in the tech world, and it’s only February. Samsung, Huawei, HTC, and Xiaomi have all announced folding phones that are all priced in the $2000-3000 range, which puts them more in the luxury device category… 3/4 of these are Chinese companies, and items that are “Made in China,” from what we in the US refer to as off brand companies are not items that we would traditionally call luxury products, what does this say about the changing landscape that it the global economy? Is this something that we can look more towards in the future?

Being curious about this, I was doing a little research as to what some of these Chinese brands have to offer, and other than scandals involving executives from Huawei, data leaking, etc., there isn’t much that’s sold in the US. For a brief time their Honor line of Smartphones were sold in Best Buy, but due to the current Trade War and Tariffs being imposed on products made overseas, there virtually not sold by US retailers anymore. However, of course you can buy anything you’d like online! Through looking at these other products, I came across Xiaomi, and a subsidiary company Huami, which has become one of the leading companies globally when it comes to the wearables market. I’m usually of the mindset of buy from a company that I know, and I have no clue who these guys are, but their device the “Amazfit Bip” Smartwatch was an Amazon Choice device, under $100, ($75.99 to be exact), and had an average 4-star customer review, the majority of which were between four and five stars, with almost 2000 reviews written. After combing through some of the positive and negatives, I figured, hey, why not?

I’ve been wearing the watch now for a little over a day, and I can say at this point, I’m thoroughly impressed. We’ll see what a week of usage comes back with, however it’s as accurate as the Samsung Galaxy Gear Fit I had previously, which was slightly more accurate than my Apple Watch Series 1 before that when it comes to activity tracking. The touch sensitivity is right there with all of the other devices, I know the cheaper devices can sometimes have a slow response time due to less processing power on average, but that is not the case here – likely due to the fact that it really cannot be bogged down, it has its main features it’s designed to do, and won’t do much more. The customization aspect is severely lacking, but I knew what I was getting when I picked it up – a cheap, well liked Fitness tracker.

My guess is that in the next 3-5 years, we’re going to see an entirely new wearables marketplace and landscape. It’s ugly, but I think that Nubia is truly into something with it’s “Alpha” platform, a fully functioning smartphone on your wrist. While this is kind of playing into the foldable phones marketplace, it’s more than just a phone, it’s a smart watch as well. While this is contrary to my “multiple devices doing things perfectly” theory that I hold to, I believe that if we truly want to only have one thing that we’re carrying around, this is the way that the landscape will shift. While it’s bulky, kind of ugly, and running a custom version on Android (don’t get me wrong, Android is great, and a perfectly capable OS, but custom shells tend to create problems) I think that this is the way we can see more things shift, if there’s just a solid design behind it.

What does this all mean though? It means that there are new companies looking to really get their foot in the North American markets by releasing their cool, new more neat looking gadgets in a public forum, they’re now in the consumers minds. Looking at the landscape that’s in front of us now, we’re seeing a little bit of innovation in the Smartphone marketplace for the first time in a while – everything that’s out now looks quite alike, sure some have different notches, and some have glass or ceramic options, but they all look like a thin block of carved glass. The last true innovation in this area was wireless charging capabilities – we’re going to see a huge jump to things that can bend, fold, and mutilate to any position that we’d like, and processing power that rivals a lot of modern laptops (see Samsung’s 16gb RAM model of the s10!). It’s going to be an interesting couple of years for sure… being the Apple-o-haulic I am, it’s going to be interesting to see what their response to this is.

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!