Not gonna do it

After recently switching from ICOM over to Yaesu, of course I realize (and already knew) that Yaesu has its own problems. For example… their mobile radios are missing fairly essential features that their handhelds have. The two primary missing features that affect me are:

  • Memory banks
  • Scan restart time

The memory bank issue is self-explanatory and has been beat to death on social media. Without memory banks you literally cannot scan two different sets of memories on this radio. As a dual-receive radio… my first move would be to set a bank of memories to scan on receiver A and a different bank of memories to scan on receiver B. No can do with Yaesu mobile radios.

The scan restart time feature is not as well-known. Say you’re scanning a set of memories. And the scan stops on a frequency… you’re listening to a conversation… and the signal drops. Well… if you are able to set the scan restart time, you can have the radio wait for up to 10 seconds before it restarts scanning. This way… you’re way less likely to get jerked out of a conversation that you wanted to listen to. Without that feature… as soon as someone unkeys… boom… you are gone… back to scanning.

Of course the new FTM-500DR is all the rage in the Yaesu groups. You have people buying them and posting pictures of the box when it arrives. Of course, for ham radio operators… any new gear put out by their manufacturer of choice is tempting. To be honest, getting new gear is half the fun of ham radio. But I think these radios have a real limited usefulness without memory banks. So I resisted. And instead of buying an FTM-500DR… I simply bought another FTM-200DR.

So now I have two FTM-200DRs on my desk and a third one I use for my WiRES-X node. Of the two on my desk, one is hooked to my attic antenna. The other is connected to a dummy load for use with my hotspots and nodes. Two FTM-200DRs on my desk actually gives me more functionality than an FTM-500DR and at a lower price.

And now for something completely different

I got a wild hair a couple of days ago. I decided to switch all of my ham radio gear over from ICOM to Yaesu. There are various reasons for this. I’ve listed these in order of importance, 1 being the highest.

The reasons…

  1. The ICOM IC-9700 has a really annoying problem. In order to sound good (or anywhere close), the mic gain for DV mode must be set much lower than the mic gain for FM mode. Switching modes requires adjusting the mic gain. Every time. ICOM knows about this and no solution is forthcoming.
  2. I came to terms with the fact that D-Star is the worst sounding digital voice mode. Yaesu’s C4FM is probably the best. Even though I crossmode quite a bit, using the better mode as a foundation makes sense.
  3. I’ve been wanting to try the Yaesu FT-710.
  4. The ICOM ID-52A is a great handheld. But it was sitting around not getting used most of the time. I’ll always prefer operating on a base rig.
  5. Two of my ICOM radios were fairly expensive. Both the IC-9700 and ID-52A are the highest-priced radios in their class. Although some might argue there is nothing else in their class. Let’s just say they were both way more radio than I needed. And getting the money out of them was appealing.
  6. The ICOM IC-9700 and ICOM IC-7300 are twin brothers. If I was going to sell my IC-7300 to buy a Yaesu HF rig… that’s one less reason to keep the IC-9700.

Long story short…

I sold…

  • ICOM IC-9700
  • ICOM IC-7300
  • ICOM ID-5100A
  • ICOM ID-52A

I bought…

  • Yaesu FTDX-10
  • Yaesu SP-30 external speaker
  • Yaesu M-70 microphone
  • Yaesu FTM-200DR x 2
  • Yaesu FT-70DR

I initially bought the FT-710 and tried it for about a week. Then I took it back to HRO and swapped it for a Yaesu FTDX-10.

The FTM-200DR is the perfect VHF/UHF radio for me. I have zero need or desire to have the dual-receive feature. I’ve had the FTM-300DR and FTM-400DR before. I prefer the FTM-200. It does exactly what I want it to do. My plan is to use one FTM-200 on my desk. And the other will serve as a node radio for my WiRES-X node (along with the HRI-200 I already had).

I’ve always heard good things about the Yaesu FT-70DR handheld, so I figured I’d try it. I’ve had the FT-2DR, FT-3DR, and FT-5DR. Those radios were all considerable overkill for what I need in a handheld.

I sold most of my gear on the for-sale forum. If you list something for the right price there it will sell within minutes. My IC-9700 and IC-7300 didn’t last an hour.

Hotspot farm

I have waffled back and forth on my hotspot strategy. I initially wanted to monitor multiple digital voice reflectors (or talk groups, or whatever). So I thought having a radio for each mode and multiple home-built Pi-Star hotspots was the way to go.

Then I discovered the idea of cross-mode operation. Pi-Star was never very good at that. But with the openSPOT3, cross-mode operation became quite viable. So I bought one. I eventually accumulated four of these. This allowed me to monitor various modes all at once… just by putting my radio on scan… and all with one radio.

But the Pi-Star still had attraction. There is some really fun software written by Tom Early (N7TAE) that one can use as an alternative to Pi-Star. Of course this software will not run on the openSPOT.

When the openSPOT4 came out… I sold all my openSPOT3 devices. My intent was to go back to different radios for different modes. And I did this for awhile.

For my Raspberry Pi hotspots… I went with the Pi 400. Because all the other Raspberry Pi were impossible to get. The Pi 400 is essentially a Raspberry Pi 4 built into a keyboard. I simply zip-tied six of these units together into pairs because I used them headless with no need to access the keyboards. Then… I had six ZUMspot-USB devices. One of these plugged into each of the six Pi 400 units and I had six Raspberry Pi hotspots ready to rock. This was a happy solution for a while.

Then… SharkRF went and had a sale. Their prices were very reasonable. That’s when I decided two things.

  1. It was time to divest myself of my Yaesu equipment.
  2. It was time to go back to the openSPOT.

So I sold all four of my Yaesu radios and bought six of the openSPOT4 Pro devices.

So once again I’m able to do all the digital voice modes with one radio. And I can park on six different things at once. Add in two Allstar nodes and that makes eight.

Update 3/27/2023: In addition to my six openSPOT4 Pro… I am now running my six Raspberry Pi hotspots as well. I use the six openSPOT4 Pro to cross mode to DMR and YSF from D-Star. And I use the six Raspberry Pi hotspots to run native D-Star. If you count my two Allstar nodes… this makes 14 different local nodes I am typically scanning at any given time. Still a Yaesu-free shack.

For my Raspberry Pi hotspots I am using the Raspberry Pi 400. Each one uses a ZUMspot-USB stick. The Raspberry Pi 400 is basically a Raspberry Pi 4 built into a keyboard. When I bought these, the normal Raspberry Pi were unobtainium.

New shack setup

I’ve had an ICOM IC-7300 for a few months. I knew it was only a matter of time before I would also end up with its VHF/UHF twin the ICOM IC-9700. These radios make a nice looking pair. Add a couple of matching speakers and walla.

I’ve done something new with these radios. I bought a Heil iCM mic for each of them. In theory this should result in very good transmit audio.

With this new addition to my shack, maybe now I can get a break from GAS (gear aquisition syndrome) for a little while.

I will admit that the IC-9700 is overkill for me. I don’t do satellite work. But I do have a horizontally-polarized dual-band antenna for it. This would of course be better if there was actually some SSB activity on VHF/UHF in my area. But there generally isn’t.

Prepper stuff

We have been thinking about being more prepared for awhile now. Simple things like having some extra toilet paper and non-perishable food on hand.

But we recently took a big step. We contracted with an electrician to wire the power panel of our house for use with a generator. This allows the generator to basically power everything in the house with no need to run extension cords and such.

There were two key components to the project. First… we had to add a circuit for the generator “inlet”. This included a beefy new circuit breaker and wiring that went from the power panel to the back patio. The second component was an interlock kit. This ensures that you can never feed power from the generator back into the power grid. The interlock kit is simply a sliding metal plate. It’s notched in such a way that it physically prevents the main power breaker from being on at the same time the breaker for the generator is on. Nice and simple.

A fair portion of the cost for this project was running the circuit for the generator all the way to the back patio. On the back patio there is an “inlet” for the generator to plug into.

Generator inlet on the back patio

We did spring for a “tri-fuel” type generator. This generator can run off regular gasoline, propane, or natural gas. There happens to be a natural gas outlet right out on the back patio next to where we placed the generator inlet. That should work nicely in most cases. In the case where the natural gas supply is disrupted, we can always fall back to using propane.

For the curious… the electrician work, wiring, etc… cost about three times as much as the new generator. But this “manual” solution is still only a fraction of the cost of those next-level systems that automatically switch over whenever the power goes out.

Dopamine detox

I am currently attempting something called a “dopamine detox”. I have just read a booklet by that name. As part of this detox, I am attempting to avoid the activities that provide “over stimulation”. One goal was to identify these before starting. Turns out there are a lot of them. And when I think back about my habits over the course of my life, I can conclude that I have been pursuing these activities that provide over stimulation for quite a long time.

And regularly practicing these over stimulating activities, reduces one’s sensitivity to stimulation. Just like any drug addiction. And reducing one’s sensitivity to stimulation causes regular daily activities to no longer be fulfilling or enjoyable to the extent that they should be.

So right now… I am motivated. Not to pursue these over stimulating things… but to avoid them. And avoiding them is far better. Because as I do this I will essentially reset my level of sensitivity to stimulation. And my normal daily activities will be more fulfilling and enjoyable. This is the purpose of the detox.

I think this will become more than a short term “detox” goal. I think it may be a long term lifestyle choice. Because… as I continue to avoid these over stimulating things… the pleasure that regular life gives will be restored to a more natural level.

Finally… HF RFI problem diagnosed

I’ve been frustrated by an ongoing RFI problem here at home when I attempt to transmit on my HF radio. I will frequently blow 4-5 circuit breakers when I key up. Not fun.

Well, I happened to be Googling around a couple of days ago and found a very interesting article on the ARRL website.

This article describes a certain model of faulty circuit breakers that will incorrectly trip when faced with the RF from a ham radio transmission. These are AFCI breakers. Kind of a special thing. They trip when they sense an arc. Well, turns out this article was written within months of when our home was built. And the circuit breakers they were talking about are the same exact ones that we have!

So, problem solved. The manufacturer will be sending us $345 worth of replacement circuit breakers under warranty. Yay! I just have to pay an electrician to replace them.

But after they are replaced, I should be able to use my HF radio without being concerned about popping breakers.

Well almost. My neighbors undoubtedly all have the same circuit breakers because our houses were all built by the same builder around the same time frame. I’m really hoping that they won’t be suffering from tripping breakers when I play radio.

Religion or relationship?

My cousin posted this meme on Facebook today. I thought it was interesting.

I know I need to think about God more… and my relationship with Him. I seem to go through phases. When I am out of practice… there is a certain sort of “coming to terms” with Him that is necessary. That forms a barrier to getting there. And that can significantly delay the process. Because the longer I wait the harder it is.

I don’t really have an answer to this. Except to acknowledge that it’s good to make sure one is on speaking terms with God on a daily basis. Going weeks (or longer) without real communication means that getting back to where I should be will not happen without significant effort and/or some kind of wake up call.

It’s hard to imagine a neglected friend who continues to wait day after day for us when we just go about our days not giving them more than an occasional passing thought. But God is faithful, even when we are not. And I believe that when we do turn toward Him, He is there. And He welcomes us.

Wayward Son

There was a song by the group Kansas that was very popular when I was in high school called “Carry on Wayward Son”. Unfortunately that became my anthem for roughly the next decade. Let’s just say, I made more than my share of bad decisions.

But thank goodness that I was raised in the church and had a personal relationship with Jesus. He kept bringing me back to himself. And he still does. Every day.

There are at least a few people who think those bad decisions “ruined my life”. I would challenge that. God forgives and forgets. And the Bible clearly teaches that when we confess our wrongs to him he no longer holds them against us.

Why should people have a higher standard for others than what God does? If God can forgive and forget, it seems like others should as well. I don’t feel very good about being used as an example of what not to be like.

The fact is, God has blessed me beyond any measure that I could have imagined. If my life was truly ruined… why am I so thankful? Every day God inspires me to be my best. And I fully believe that he furnishes me with what I need to do that. If my life was ruined… then I guess I must be the luckiest person with a ruined life that there ever was.

I am thankful that God has been with me through all my experiences, good and bad. He said he will never abandon me and I have personally found that to be true. And not only do I feel extremely blessed. I can be extra thankful because I am under no illusion that I earned any of it. It was clearly a gift from a loving God.

I do occasionally lament the choices I made when I was young. That’s my prerogative. But I would appreciate it if others didn’t do that for me.

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.