New shack arrangement

Over the past number of weeks I’ve been selling things like a mad man. I’ve sold a number of radios, and also my primary computer.

A few months back I upgraded my iPad to the 2020 12-inch model. I also sprung for the official Apple Magic Keyboard for it. My plan was, this would be my primary computing device. However, I still had my iMac. And my wife was very against me selling it… because of the greater-than-zero chance that I might turn around and buy another one later. Yes, I’ve done that.

As a matter of fact… two of the radios I sold were my second copies of those same two radios. I had them, sold them, and then bought them again. Well, now I’ve sold them again.

And I sold my iMac… and I sold my Apple Watch… and I downgraded my iPhone from the iPhone 11 to the iPhone SE 2. I’ve been scaling back my tech. Most of these things I’ve been wanting to do for quite awhile. And it’s nice to put some finality to it.

As long as I had my iMac… I would alternate between having it on my desk, or having it in the garage in a box. Because there was absolutely no barrier to setting it back up and using it. The same thing was true of all my radio gear. I had way too many radios. And I would constantly rearrange them. Since I already owned them. The idea of going “minimal” really has no merit unless you actually sell what you are going to stop using. Otherwise… hey, why not set it back up?

I have had an ICOM IC-7300 for almost a year. And I have been hankering for a new radio of some kind, you know… because I’m a ham. The ICOM IC-9700 is certainly more radio than I needed. But it’s the natural companion to the IC-7300. I eventually decided to buy the IC-9700, and then sell all my other base VHF/UHF rigs.

This was a bigger decision for me, because I was essentially pulling the plug on WiRES-X. As of now, I’ve sold all my WiRES-X gear… my FTM-400XDR, FTM-100DR, HRI-200, and SMB-201. The only Yaesu gear I still own is my FT-3DR. And while I can technically run WiRES-X with it… it’s like the lamest possible way to do so. So it’s not likely that I will.

One reason for dumping my Yaesu gear… I don’t like the direction they are going with their gear lineup. They killed their only semi-affordable node radio. So now to run a proper node, you have to sacrifice a $470+ radio. It’s almost like they don’t want people to run bonafide nodes. I have no interest in playing their game.

I also sold my ID-5100A and ID-4100A. I am bound and determined that this new IC-9700 is going to fill my needs when it comes to VHF/UHF. I think it’s a safe bet. If it can’t be done with the IC-9700, I just won’t do it. I put a much better vertical antenna in my attic (Diamond X-300A vs X-30A). And I also ran another length of LMR-400 up there with a 2-meter dipole at the end on the chance that I work some SSB and want horizontal polarization.

On the HF front, I finally put an HF antenna in my attic. So I can do something with HF without setting up my portable antenna in the front yard. I built myself a little 20-meter “hamstick” dipole in my attic.

I do have five different hotspots. I was initially just going to dedicate them all to various D-Star reflectors. I have the UHF side of my IC-9700 hooked to a dummy load just for this purpose. But with the FT-3DR I can still work Fusion. And I have a Radioddity GD-73A that I can use for DMR.

But the GD-73A has always been rather lame. It probably has skewed my impression of DMR to use such a cut-rate radio. So a few days ago I ordered an Anytone 878UV. That should fix that problem.

What should have happened

It’s funny. I was just sitting here thinking about my immediate family. I’m turning 60 in a couple of months. My older brother turns 65 today. My younger brother is a couple of years behind me. And my mom is a central figure in our lives (thankfully).

The part that is funny… I don’t think any of us have really changed all that much in the last 40 years or so. Sure we have changed a bit. But we are way more the same than we are different.

I look back at my youth with the knowledge that I squandered an inheritance. I encountered a fork in the road in high school… and I chose badly. The inheritance I’m referring to is the legacy of a solid Christian family life with parents that loved God. And… grandparents that loved God.

After I got a little older… and maybe a tiny bit wiser, I have been trying to gain back what I lost. But it seems that those bad decisions and the experiences that went with them have become a permanent part of me. And yes… scripture teaches us that God forgives… and erases our sin. But I really think I forfeited being the person that I would have been had I taken the other path. But I will keep trying.

The main epiphany that I had was… that I have been spending most of my life trying to become what I would have been had I made different choices when I was young. I guess that’s ok. It does make me thankful. To a large extent I feel like I was rescued. And I thank God that He doesn’t give up on us. He keeps drawing us to Him.

I’m going to leave you with the following song… which illustrates my feelings on this matter.

What makes you a Christian?

I was thinking. I’ve been in the Church quite a lot over my lifetime. I know a little. And one thing I know… is that most pastors will tell you that going to church does not make you a Christian.

As a matter of fact, one of my favorite Christian artists… Keith Green, was famous for saying… going to church no more makes you a Christian than going to McDonalds makes you a cheeseburger.

And of course, everyone knows that a good Christian should give to the needy. But that doesn’t make you a Christian.

As Christians I think we are constantly told this whole list of things that do not make you a Christian. Reading the Bible is good. Praying, also good. There are many good things that Christians should do. None of which makes one a Christian. That begs the question… if those things don’t, what does?

Well, most churches will tell you that you can’t earn it. It’s a gift. And this is clear. And most churches will also tell you that it really just comes down to believing a fairly specific and agreed upon set of things and affirming that belief. The better churches will also say that repentance is a key component. But not all.

Ok. Then what about all these things that don’t make you a Christian? The way it seems, is that they are all pretty much optional. Sure it’s a good idea to do them. But you cannot earn your salvation, so doing these things clearly cannot save you.

But there is something else that I know in my heart. A person cannot simply affirm a set of facts and then go about their life and expect anything to come of it. I am convinced that being a Christian is not the result of a one-time event or decision. Sure, that’s where it starts. But if that’s where it ends, then it truly does end. I think it can also be discarded at a later time. But that gets into the weeds. Let me just say that I would surely not wish to bet on the outcome of making that particular choice.

I have often thought that living as a Christian isn’t so much about where you are at morally or spiritually, as it is which direction you are moving. I think being a Christian is about moving toward God. Getting closer. Putting behind us things that are not from Him. This of course takes effort. Effort and sacrifice.

Sacrifice? What is that you say? Yep. While salvation is a free gift from God. It will literally cost you everything. Because that’s what it’s about. Only when we give up all the ungodly things we continually clutch to, all the things we think we want, can these temporary things be replaced with eternal things that are so much better. Of course this is a fantastic opportunity for us. But letting loose of things that we are comfortable with in favor of what is essentially unknown to us just seems so counterintuitive.

You have to give to get? That is a truth found throughout the Bible. Jesus is even quoted as saying this very thing twice in the book of Matthew.

“He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”

The only way you can really have life is to give it up. That’s a hard pill to swallow. Hey, I thought it was free?

Here’s what I think. God did all the work. He came and died a horrible death at the hands of His own creation. Just so that we could have this path to life. He did the hard stuff.

When you hear people say… that all you need to do is “accept” this free gift. I don’t think God ever intended it as a singular event. As a matter of fact I’m sure He didn’t. I think that the act of accepting it is truly a lifelong process. And this ongoing process of accepting it results in us giving up our lives in exchange for what He is truly offering us.

I recently had pretty much this whole discussion with a friend. And when asked what I thought was the answer, here’s what I said. I think that the answer to all these questions and living in a way that truly does “make one a Christian” is the by-product and natural inevitable result of an ongoing relationship with Jesus.

Ok, and what on earth does that mean? I ran across a verse that drove this home a few days ago. I realize the truth I gleaned from this was not the full meaning of what was being said. But it was a pretty good nugget. It was a promise. And it starts like this:

“If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you…”. You know, I think that kinda sums it up. There are a bunch of cools things in the Bible that we get where those are the actual requirements. And what does that mean? I figure it means that we regularly spend time talking to God. And we regularly spend time in the Bible. That covers both abiding in Him, and His words abiding in us. And that’s what actually constitutes the “relationship”.

Honestly… I’ve heard pieces of this my entire life as well. And I’ve practiced it to varying degrees. But I just happened to put it together in my head for the first time in quite awhile. Figured I would share. While I started out talking about the things that don’t make you a Christian (and might seem optional)… the relationship with Jesus is the one thing that is not optional. Particularly since all the rest of the things are a result of that. And it would follow that doing the things that actually cultivate and foster that relationship are way more than just a good idea.

FTM-100 repair

Still waiting to get my Yaesu FTM-100DR back from the Yaesu repair shop. I am very curious to see if they will even acknowledge that it has a problem. Honestly, when it comes back I’m not even sure that I will use it. It really boils down to whether or not I decide to go back to running WiRES-X. I do know that I really like not having a laptop on the desk. And since the only reason for the laptop is to run WiRES-X… it makes the idea of using a hotspot instead very attractive.

Below, you can hear the recording of the problem that caused me to send my radio to Yaesu for repair. It happens when receiving data via WiRES-X. And it happens even with the volume all the way down.

New blogging setup

I used to have a “personal website” back in the day. And I played with that quite a lot. But that whole concept seemed to go away at some point. I probably milked it for awhile too long, but I eventually chose to setup a blog to replace my personal web site. The free Google Blogger product seemed like a good choice.

I used that for years, and my wife even made a few of her own blog posts. But we never really took it seriously. I suspect very few people read any of it.

But at some point I sprung for a nice blogging app for macOS. And it worked with Google’s Blogger product. At least until a couple of weeks ago. I had wiped the drive on my Mac and was running into problems reconfiguring this blogging app with the Blogger service. It was just refusing to work.

After the author pretty much gave up trying… he suggested I switch to a better blogging service. I thought that was a fine idea!

It was probably less than 24 hours later… I have a managed WordPress site at my own domain with an actual site security certificate. And it’s pretty dirt cheap.

I migrated my two old Blogger blogs into the new WordPress site. And the blogging app that wouldn’t work with Blogger, works very nicely with WordPress!

Ham radio, again

Back in February I made the decision to jump back into amateur radio. I’ve had an extra class license for a number of years. So I have the maximum privileges. And I just renewed it for another ten.

I dropped a pretty good load of cash on a bunch of new gear. Probably the biggest piece of the expenditure is an HF setup that I haven’t even used yet.

This is partly due to laziness. It’s also partly due to being so entertained with the other gear that I bought that I haven’t really been wanting for more to keep me busy.

The HF setup I have uses an outdoor portable-style antenna. I did this because we have antenna restrictions where we live. While I’m not allowed to have a permanent antenna outdoors, I can’t see that it would be a problem to have one that I setup and take down each time I use it.

So this is what I have. But that actually presents a bit of a barrier to actually using the thing. All my other gear is setup to where I can just sit down and use it any time I like. But the HF rig, I have to hassle with setting the antenna up each time. So I haven’t done it yet.

Another aspect is… I have never really understood how to operate on HF. And conditions aren’t good these days. I am really expecting that it will be a frustrating experience when I do get around to trying it. For many this is the most fun part of the hobby. For me… I haven’t spent enough time doing it to really get the hang of it yet.

On the other hand… virtually all of the other gear that I bought is oriented to digital communications via the internet. Yes, some will say that this isn’t “radio”. But the fact is, it has four things that are very much in the spirit of amateur radio.

First, I am talking into a radio on my end. And the person I’m talking to is typically talking into a radio on their end. So we still get to play with the cool gear. It’s really a minor technicality that it’s the internet that is connecting us.

Second, this form of digital communications has the aspect of enabling conversations with interesting people around the world. And for me, that has always been the most appealing aspect of ham radio. Good conversation!

Third, when using these digital modes there is really plenty of tinkering around to do. Sure, maybe there is more computer tech and less radio tech. But it’s still tinkering all the same.

Fourth, there is the aspect of a cohesive community. Hams helping hams has a long tradition. And with many internet groups dedicated to this digital communication tech, there is plenty of opportunity to learn and help others learn.

One major difference between these digital modes that use the internet vs HF, is that communicating via the internet is quite reliable. It is not dependent on solar conditions or propagation. Whereas operating HF is very hit and miss. In my experience, one can operate for hours without even making one contact. 

There is no doubt that I will be trying out my HF gear before too long. Maybe even today. I do know that I picked out some good gear. And it ought to be a lot of fun. My challenge will be learning the appropriate operating procedures for the mode. People do things differently on HF.

Regardless, so far my foray back into ham radio has been a lot of fun. There are so many things to learn that I think the process could go on for quite awhile.

Ham shack

I recently decided to jump back into amateur radio with both feet. This last weekend I picked up a bunch of gear. And I have a couple of radios still on their way. Our little home office (man cave) is now looking like an actual ham shack.

Previous to this, I was using a couple of raspberry pi VoIP nodes to do IRLP, AllStarLink, and echolink. I was using a handheld transceiver to utilize this. Well, I unplugged that stuff and decided I would try some new things.

 Here is a list of my new capabilities:

  • I now have a regular VHF/UHF dual-band dual-receive mobile rig as part of my shack. This is an improvement.
  • I now have HF. And a very capable radio at that. Unfortunately I am stuck with a definite compromise for an antenna in that I will be using something small, portable, and temporary. I will set it up outside when I want to use it. And take it down when I am not. I have very little choice about this due to neighborhood restrictions. Although the antenna situation may evolve into something better if I get creative.
  • I’ve added D-Star capability. I built a little D-Star hotspot using a raspberry pi with a DVAP. And I obtained a new handheld transceiver that has D-Star capability. 
  • I have also added WiRES-X capability. To do this right I went ahead and ordered the official WiRES-X interface box and a node radio. One downside is, this forces me to run Windows on my desktop computer system. This will be a big change. I’m not that happy about this aspect. Luckily I already had my Mac setup to dual boot. So it’s doable. 

Most people reading this probably don’t know what these things are. Here is some explanation:

  • HF is a mode that uses radio frequencies to potentially communicate with other hams around the world. Signals bounce off the ionosphere. 
  • VHF/UHF is pretty much local only. It’s a line-of-sight mode that uses repeater systems located at high elevations to communicate with others. 
  • D-Star and WiRES-X are digital modes that are directly supported by radio manufacturers. These modes use UHF/VHF as described above. In addition, they use the internet to link repeaters (or private nodes) together. This facilitates long distance communications where one can talk to individuals and groups of users around the world. There are typically radios and repeaters on each end of the connection, with internet in between.

Audio nirvana

I like to play with audio gear. And I’ve been searching for a good setup in the office in our home where I sit in front of my computer most of the time. It’s basically the smallest room in the house. A small bedroom that I use as my man cave.

My last good audio system was comprised of a basic $500 stereo receiver and a $1,500 pair of speakers. That sounded very nice.

After getting married, my needs changed. I no longer needed a $2,000 sound system to listen to Fox News. So I gave away my speakers and downgraded to a Polk Audio soundbar. Actually, the Polk soundbar doesn’t sound half bad. But it’s in the bedroom with one of our TVs. We use a Yamaha soundbar in the living room with our other TV. (the Polk sounds better)

So then I’m left with the dilemma… what to use for audio in my man cave?

I’ve played with a number of solutions. I tried a set of highly-rated studio monitors. I also tried a highly-rated 2.1 setup. More recently I settled on a pair of Apple HomePods. They were pretty good. The HomePod is relatively new from Apple. It’s a “smart” speaker. We use them to control our lights and things. But they also sound really good. As a matter of fact, their quality sound is what sets them apart from other smart speakers.

Two of these were pretty good. But we recently traded in our smart phones and ended up stuck with a couple of Apple Store gift cards as a result. Not what we were hoping. So I was trying to think of what we could possibly use these gift cards for and boom. I have it!

I thought, why not add two more HomePods to the man cave mix? So I did. And I configured them as a second stereo pair. I keep up on the forums and things and I haven’t heard of anyone who has been crazy enough to put four of these together in a small room. However they sound pretty awesome.

I have them configured as two stereo pairs. One front, one rear. My seating position is roughly in the middle. One big selling point of these speakers is their omnidirectionality. They have seven main drivers that point out in all directions. And they have smart beam-forming tech that tunes the output to the room characteristics.

Tonight I gave this setup the Metallica black album test. And wow. This actually doesn’t seem that far from the quality of the old audio setup that I used to have with the two 90lb speakers.

The real thing about this is… these speakers are “omni-directional”. Meaning no matter where you are, you are in front of them. This makes for an “immersive” experience. Which is something that all audio buffs are after. With four of these bad boys I am basically surrounded with omni-directional sound.

My ears are still ringing. Seriously.

The reality is, the Apple HomePod totally scales. Get one if you like good sound. Add a second one if you want really good sound. And if you’re totally nuts, add two more. 

Value vs Value-to-me

I’ve been known to ramble on about tech device overload. That’s what I call it when I have too many gadgets that get too little use. I was avoiding selling them because of the loss that I would incur (new vs used price).

I had a desktop computer, a laptop, a tablet, and a smart phone. The laptop and tablet saw very little use. Most of my time is spent at my desk at home in front of my desktop computer (when I’m not at work). And the times when I am out and about, the last thing I normally want to do is tote my larger tech devices around with me. I mean the idea is to get away from it right?… and be with actual people.

My wife and I recently upgraded our smart phones to Apple’s latest. As I was working out the details I had a thought. And the thought was, I am putting so much money into this device, perhaps it should be my only mobile device. After all, it’s very capable right?

That’s when I put my laptop and tablet up for sale on Swappa and cashed them out.

Now I have only two computing devices. My desktop computer and my smart phone. The items I sold had a fair amount of value. But they did not have very much value to me. And by no longer having them in my mobile device mix, I have increased my smart phone’s value to me. So getting rid of stuff for cash gave something else I had more value. And I will actually get more use out of it. I like that.

Cloud services

This last week was a real exercise in futility. Before this, I had been firmly planted in the Apple camp. Using iCloud for email and all my files. Using Numbers and Pages for my spreadsheets and documents. This worked pretty well.

Enter the thought, that Numbers is maybe sort of lame. Google Sheets is much better they said. So I moved my email over to Gmail. I moved all my cloud stuff over to Google Drive. And I converted all my documents over to Google Sheets and Google Docs.

Gmail has a big advantage over iCloud email if you have your own custom domain. Because it lets you send email from an address at that domain. This something that iCloud does not allow. This is all great and everything.

It was around this time that I realized… I’m basically doing the ChromeBook thing again. That’s the thing where all my stuff is using Google and it all sits in the cloud. At that point it makes no difference WHICH operating system I’m running. So I setup both of my Macs to dual-boot Windows 10.

A little background on this… I have frequented a Mac chat channel on IRC for quite some time. Those guys are very knowledgeable about the Mac. But they bash it a lot! I had grown quite weary of hearing very technical people who were also very clearly Apple fans, bash macOS. Another reason why I figured FINE, I will run Windows 10 on my two Macs, and I will use Google for all my things, and life will be great!

Then I realized there were a few problems. One problem, is that many email clients (Apple’s included) do not have the ability to use that nice functionality in Gmail where you can send from an address at your own domain. So that cancels out that benefit. If your desired email client can’t deal with it, it’s of no use. Unless you want to be stuck using Gmail’s web interface, which I did not.

The second problem however, was by far the biggest. And that is the fact that when you are using Google Sheets and Google Docs, you essentially have ZERO ability to back up your documents. Yes, you can install Backup and Sync for Google Drive, but that does NOT give you local copies of these documents. It only gives you shortcuts that point to the web. Having an IT background means… I don’t do things without backups. I just don’t.

So then I figured… how bout MS Office 365? It understands native Excel and Word formats. And you get local copies of these documents so you can easily back them up. Perfect! So I subscribed to Office 365 and converted all my documents and cloud stuff over to OneDrive.

After finding out that my preferred email client didn’t support Gmail’s custom domains I figured great, with Office 365 I get Outlook! That will surely do the job right? No. It does email fine, but it FAILS to integrate with iCloud calendars and contacts. Yet another fail.

This is about the time where I started realizing how good I had things when I was in the Apple ecosystem. And so back I went. I moved everything back to Apple services. Email, spreadsheets, and documents, the whole bit.

Now I’m back to having ZERO integration problems. And Numbers does everything I need. I have experienced the other worlds first-hand, and found them lacking. Of course this means that the Windows 10 partitions on my two Macs are a bit useless. During the course of this whole escapade, I did end up having to spring for an additional Windows 10 license for about $120. I guess the lesson was worth that.