First Look at the Kenwood TS-2000

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I wanted to talk a bit about the Kenwood TS-2000 now that I’ve spent a couple of weeks actually using it. This isn’t a formal review, you’ll find enough of those out on the net, along with specifications and all that other fun stuff. I want to talk about what it’s like to actually use it, something that gets lost in the mix in formal reviews.

The 2000 is an impressive piece of equipment straight out of the box. I’m used to consumer grade electronics which are generally so badly made that it’s lucky if they survive being unpacked. The build quality of the 2000 is so far beyond what I’m used to that I am still impressed by it. The knobs and keys are rock solid. The knobs are silky smooth in action, with no side play at all. The keys are extremely well fitted and solid as well, with positive tactile feedback. Everything about this radio is extremely well made with tight tolerances, with excellent attention to detail.

The display is reasonably well laid out, if a bit cramped. It’s generally easy to read, although a bit intimidating and confusing at first as all of the different functions come into play. Fortunately the manual has several pages devoted to just explaining what in the world pops up on the display. Although a bit confusing at first, it doesn’t take long to get used to.

There is an SWR meter built into the unit, but you can’t see it here. It appears over on the left side of the display with the other meters and seems to only appear when you hit the button to activate the internal antenna tuner (yes, it has a built in antenna tuner). Unless I’m missing something (which I admit is entirely possible), the SWR meter appears only at that time, and is only active during the actual process of tuning for the antenna. Considering that this takes all of about 2 seconds, during which time the meter jumps around all over the place as the unit works on acquiring the best SWR reading for the antenna, you’d better keep an eye on that thing when you hit the antenna tuner button or you’re going to miss it.

By the way, the antenna tuner and SWR meter only work on HF.

Once I got used to the control configuration, the radio isn’t hard to use. It can be a bit intimidating, though, because all of the keys have multiple functions. A quick press does one thing. Press the key and hold it down, and it activates yet another function. Press the FUNC button, and the keys now activate an entire different group of functions. It may seem confusing at first, but I got used to it quickly, although I found it necessary to keep the manual handy. But once I started to use it seriously, everything started to make sense with control groups laid out in a logical fashion.

There are 2 HF antenna connectors on the back and 1 VHF, both 259 style connectors for standard coax. The UHF antenna is an N style connector (which means that to use UHF I’m either going to have to get a separate UHF antenna or cobble together adaptors to feed my multi-band VHF/UHF antenna). There is also an antenna jack for HF receive only if you want to go that route. (There is a lot of other stuff back there that I’m ignoring because I don’t use any of it, except for the CW key jack).

On the VHF side the transceiver is being fed with a Comet VHF/UHF vertical antenna that seems to work pretty well. On HF it’s hooked to a Comet 250B vertical because a) I’m really lazy and the 250 is real easy to put up, and b) it’s the middle of winter and trying to put up complex antenna systems with 3 feet of snow on the ground and -10 wind chills is no fun at all.

Actually using the 2000 is pretty straightforward, with no glitches or nasty surprises. Everything works exactly the way it’s supposed to and I’ve had a lot of fun with it.

I did replace the included hand held mobile mike with a desktop model.

There are some minor irritations, like the numeric keypad. I find the buttons too small for my short, stubby farmer fingers. I also question why I have to press the ENTer button before I can enter a frequency directly. I understand the need to have multiple functions for keys, but the thing most users are going to use that numeric keypad for is entering frequencies (or at least that’s the case with me), not using the functions associated with the keys. But the ENT button has to be pressed first or you’ll end up selecting various functions you don’t want. Even after having used the radio for a couple of weeks I still find myself trying to punch in frequencies without hitting that blasted ENT button first.

Having the dual receivers is fantastic. It lets me monitor my favorite repeater frequencies up on VHF while I work on HF on the other side. In the photo you can see that the main receiver on the left is down on 14.27 mHz while the sub receiver is on 144 mHz. Since the photo was taken, I’ve programmed the memories in the radio with a dozen or so of the repeaters I use on a regular basis, and generally I keep the ‘B’ receiver on the left scanning those frequencies for activity while I’m down on HF with the main receiver. If I hear someone I want to talk to on VHF I just hit the ‘SUB’ button to the right of the main tuning dial to transfer the transmit functions over to the sub-receiver and away I go.

VHF-wise, the radio has been fantastic. Even with transmit power dialed down I can hit the local repeaters with no trouble at all. 

On HF the results have been mixed. Not because of the 2000, but because of the antenna I’m using. I’m not going to go into detail about the drawbacks of a multi-band HF vertical antenna because you can read those anywhere. Let’s just say that the Comet 250 isn’t the most efficient antenna in the world and leave it at that. At best it is a compromise for someone like me who wants to get on the air on HF fast and easy. 

It’s South Dakota Day at Grouchy Farmer

It’s South Dakota Day here at grouchyfarmer. Why? Why not? I’ve managed to get out to western South Dakota almost every year since 2007, and whenever I get out there I stop at the Badlands.

As always, photos are copyrighted by the photographer and should not be used without written permission.

It’s Alive!

Eldest son Steve and I spent Friday getting the temporary mount for the VHF antenna set up and the cables run, and then spent Saturday getting the Comet HF antenna assembled and attached to a temporary mount and the cables run for that.

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Here’s the temporary grounding rod with the lightening arrestors installed. Trying to drive a 6 foot long grounding rod through the frost layer was entertaining, to say the least, but we got the thing in at last.

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Here’s the temporary mount for the VHF/UHF antenna. Basically it’s just screwed to the side of the garage. With the weather the way it’s been recently there’s no way we can get up on the roofs to do anything, so we have to settle for temporary mounting until the snow and ice melts and we can do more permanent mounting systems.

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Another temporary mounting, this one for the Comet multi-band vertical. Basically it’s just an 8 foot pipe driven into the ground for a temporary mounting mast. Not exactly an ideal setup, but it will work until we can get a permanent antenna system installed this spring.

Ore Dock at Ashland, Wisconsin

This is the old iron ore dock at Ashland, Wisconsin. Wish I had taken more photos of it the last time I was up there because I heard it was recently demolished, which is kind of a shame but understandable. I’ve been in Ashland many times and the dock was always an amazing sight to see.

The dock was built back around 1915 or 1916. It was enlarged in 1925. It was 1,800 feet long, 85 feet tall and 75 feet wide. Ore from iron mines in the area was hauled by rail where it would be dumped down the chutes you can see on the side of the dock down into freighters which would take the ore out through the Great Lakes.

The dock was shut down in 1965, and has been badly deteriorating ever since. In 2009 Ashland gave the Canadian National railroad permission to take the dock down because it was in such bad shape that it was downright dangerous.

As usual, all photos are copyright by the author and should not be used without permission.

Amateur Radio

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I’ve been a ham radio licensee for a week now! I passed my General license exam on Feb. 2 and got my call sign about a week later (KC9YGN) and now I can annoy people on the radio as well as on the Internet.

The rather intimidating looking gadget is my Kenwood TS-2000 multi-band transceiver, and yeah, it’s as complicated as it looks. Just got the thing unpacked this morning and I’m still suffering from a bit of shock. It’s going to take me longer to figure out how to use the thing than it took to study to get the license in the first place.

Right now I’m limited to VHF operations because I don’t have the HF antennas set up yet. And the VHF antenna is not mounted up on the roof, but leaning up against a wall because it’s hard to install antennas when there’s 8 inches of snow and ice on the roof.

The most frustrating thing is that I’m getting some really nasty interference from somewhere in the neighborhood that completely wipes out one of the more popular VHF repeaters in this area, and we can’t figure out where the hell it’s coming from.

Concrete Park, Phillips Wisconsin

The photos above are images I took at the Concrete Park in Phillips, Wisconsin in Price County. The more than 200 statues in the park were all created by Fred Smith, a local farmer and tavern owner. The first time I saw the place I thought it was utterly charming, and after visiting there several times and taking hundreds of images, I still find it absolutely fascinating.

Fred was an interesting character by all accounts. He began working on the statues in 1950 when he was 65 years old, and he continued making them until he had a stroke fourteen years later.

The statues are made out of pretty much whatever he had at hand; concrete over wooden frames, bottles, broken glass, insulators, stones from the property, anything might become part of one of these whimsical statues.

The statues depict people, agricultural scenes, animals and the last piece he worked on, the Budweiser Horses pulling the wagon.

The story I heard was that the family was rather ashamed of the whole thing, and after his death they were going to bulldoze everything. But the 16 acre property was purchased by the Kohler Foundation. While restoration work was done to maintain the statues, if you look closely at some of the images you can see that many are in poor condition and deteriorating badly.

In 1995 an organization was set up whose mission is to restore and maintain the statues.

The park on the outskirts of Phillips is open to the public. The old farm house has been turned into a visitors’ center.

If you ever get up in Price County, stop in and wander around. It’s  a fascinating place to visit.

Note: All images are by the author, copyright 2013 and may not be reproduced without permission

The French Baby Story

For reasons I don’t fully understand myself, I’ve decided to tell the French Baby story. I’m also going to do something no author is supposed to do, which is tell you that you probably shouldn’t read this. It’s way, way too long. It rambles all over the place. It isn’t really all that amusing. It features two girls named Gretchen. The only pay off you’ll get if you manage to get through the whole, painful thing is a really, really bad joke.

Oh, and it also insults the French. But that’s okay because they started it.

I was going to put this up on my blog on Tumblr at first, but decided those poor people over there had suffered enough. It also doesn’t really suit that venue. So I decided to put it over here on grouchyfarmer where no one will ever be forced to read it.

Oh, and whether any of this is true or not is up to you to decide. I’m a firm believer in not letting the truth get in the way of a good story.

So here goes nothing.

It was nineteen seventy-mumble. It was spring. I was sitting in an outdoor cafe about twenty miles from Nice, France. Sitting across from me were two quite beautiful but very intimidating young women, the Gretchens.

The Gretchens were Valkyries. No. Seriously. Valkyries. Or at least as close to Valkyries as I’d ever get. They were identical twins, almost six feet tall, impossibly fit, long, straight blonde hair, icy blue eyes, and if you’d put them in breastplates and winged helmets would have fit right into a Wagnerian opera.

Now the Gretchens and I had been together since the Channel crossing, where the three of us had shared a railing as we deposited pretty much everything we’d eaten during the last three days over the side of the ferry. British cuisine being what it is, it wasn’t much of a loss, really.

In between retches, we managed to introduce ourselves. The first one was Gretchen. The second one’s name was apparently “urrppaarrghh”. Not that it really mattered because if you said “Gretchen?” both of them would turn, look at you, and say “Ja? Vas ist los?” Which basically means something like ‘what’s up, dude?’ So I just called both of them Gretchen.

As you might guess from their Teutonic appearance and language, the Gretchens were German. They spoke almost no English at all, which was okay because I spoke almost no German at all except for an extensive collection of obscene words and phrases taught to me as a child by a very odd uncle. Oh, and I’d been taught how to count to 89 by a nazi wanna-be back in the seventh grade. And no, I don’t know how a seventh grader becomes a nazi. I didn’t want to know.

For reasons known only to themselves, the Gretchens decided they were going to travel with me. Perhaps they felt sorry for me. Or perhaps they felt it was their duty to keep an eye on me until the people at the asylum I’d escaped from came to get me. But for whatever reason, when we got off the boat in France, I found myself flanked by two Valkyries, each of whom could probably have bench pressed a Volkswagen without breaking a sweat.

I must admit that the Gretchens intimidated me. It wasn’t the language barrier. I was used to not understanding what people said because my grandparents and a lot of my aunts and uncles spoke German whenever they didn’t want us kids to know what they were talking about.

Still, I was grateful for their presence when we hit the shore and had our first encounter with the French authorities at customs.

Now the French Tourist Board tells everyone about how friendly the French people are. They wax poetic about the beautiful countryside, the incredible food, the amazing wine, the astonishing art treasures. Most of the people speak English. And they all absolutely adore tourists.

It’s a lie. All of it.

The French universally hate everyone who isn’t French, and from what I saw, they don’t like each other much, either. No one in France speaks English. Or at least they won’t to you. You can overhear a Frenchman speaking fluent English to someone, go up to him to ask directions, and he will shrug, launch into a lengthy rant, in French, insulting you, your mother, your dog, and make disparaging remarks about the size of your genitals before sending you in the wrong direction.

Now I’d been told that French customs was no big deal, more of a formality than anything else. The people who told me that were liars as well.

A very tiny man in a very small uniform, wearing a peculiar had and sporting a slightly obscene mustache glared at my passport. He called over another fellow who was even smaller, and had an even more disturbing mustache. He called over a third. One of them brought out a magnifying glass.

Meanwhile, my bags were being strip searched. Litterally. Everything was removed from them. One guard slit the linings of the bags open. Another rifled through the pockets of my clothes. All my tooth paste was squeezed out onto a tray and fingers were poked through it.

I had to turn out the contents of my pockets. Everything was removed from my wallet and examined with the magnifying glass. My parents were insulted, as were, I suspect, my genitals and my bad haircut.

The Gretchens, meanwhile, had breezed through customs. They hadn’t even looked at their bags. They were getting impatient and came over to see what was going on. THey stood on either side of me, arms folded, glaring at the head customs official.

Being on the wrong end of that glare was something no one would enjoy. Those cold, ice blue eyes probed the official’s black soul and found it wanting. The official started to get nervous. Gretchen 2 started tapping her foot impatiently. He started to sweat.

He barked something at his comrades. Everything was shoved hastily back into the bags. My passport was stamped, scribbled in and handed back to me. My ancestry was insulted, as were my shoes, and I was finally allowed in.

Now you’re probably wondering why simply having the Gretchens glaring at him made the fellow so nervous. To understand that you have to understand the French’s attitude towards Germany.

Once upon a time, France had a wee bit of a disagreement with Germany. You might have heard about it. It was called World War II. And the French are fully aware of the fact that if the Brits and Americans hadn’t saved their skinny Gallic asses they’d be singing “Deutschland Uber Alles” at football games instead of “La Marseillaise”. So while they hate the Germans just as much as they hate Americans, British, Australians, Russians and pretty much everyone who isn’t French, they’re scared of the Germans and don’t want to piss them off.

Oh, they’re not afraid Germany will attack again. Germany doesn’t do that kind of thing any more. No, what they’re afraid of is Germany coming down there and just buying the whole bloody country out of petty cash, and then charging them rent.

So we finally get to the train we’re to take to Paris. It lurches out of the station a half hour late. It runs about two miles, shudders to a stop. It backs up a few feet. There is a rather disturbing sound similar to a distant explosion. The train shudders.

An unintelligible announcement comes over the speakers which not even the French can understand, it seems. An Italian man traveling with his daughter shakes his head.

“I think they said they’re looking for volunteers to get out and push,” he said in English when he saw the puzzled look on my face.

The train shuddered again, and then backed all the way back to the station at about 2 miles an hour. We were herded off that train. It was dragged away and a different train was dragged over. We got on that one. The engine caught on fire.

Another engine was brought in and we embarked again. All of a sudden about a dozen police officers swarmed past the window towards the front of the train, dragging two members of the train crew with them. Hopefully to the guillotine.

A replacement crew was brought and away we went again.

Finally we reached Paris. City of lights! City of Beauty! City of Culture! City of Art!

Uh, well, no.

I’d planned on staying in a cheap boarding house for the few days I’d planned to be there. The Gretchens had other plans. I was hustled into a taxi. Curses and insults were exchanged between the Gretchens and the driver, and we finally arrived at, well, let’s just say it was beyond posh.

The crowd in the lobby parted like the sea before a pair of magnificent battle ships as the Gretchens stalked into the place as if they owned it. I suspect now that they did.

By that time I was starting to pick up a bit of German as I began to remember my high school German classes. Gretchen 1 told the fellow behind the desk that we required a two bedroom suite and if he pretended he didn’t have one he would be working at the local frog canning factory the next morning.

He never even blinked. We were escorted up to the very top floor of the hotel and into a suite of rooms that looked like something out of a fantasy movie. One of the bedrooms was given to me, the Gretchens took the other.

The Gretchens were hungry, and I was made to understand they would take me to a restaurant that was ‘less filthy’ than most. It was only a short distance from the hotel so we walked. It was a rather small place and smelled, well, odd. I’m not sure what it smelled like, but it wasn’t anything I would associate with food.

We were taken to a table and we waited. Half an hour later Gretchen 2 got a waiter’s attention by tripping him as he scurried by. I let them order for me because I hadn’t a clue. I just hoped it wouldn’t be snails.

Another half an hour went by. A waiter unceremoniously deposited an already open bottle of wine on our table and three glasses. Gretchen 1 eyed the bottle suspiciously. She sniffed it warily. She then picked it up by the neck as if it were some kind of dread disease and dropped it on the floor.

The waiter shrugged as if saying “Well, it was worth a try”, scurried off and brought up a still corked bottle and opened it at the table and poured a little into a glass. Gretchen 1 tasted it and seemed surprised that it was drinkable. Glasses were filled. Waiter went away.

Gretchen 2 was curious about the bottle. She examined it, and poked at a corner of the label with a fingernail. The label came off and under it was another label. Gretchen 2 began giggling. The restaurant had slapped a French label over a bottle of German wine.

The meal was edible. Barely. One dish looked like a used bath sponge covered in catsup. It pretty much tasted like a used bath sponge as well. Gretchen 1 amused herself by throwing snails at the waiters between courses.

The next few days were occupied by sightseeing. The amazing art was all out to be cleaned. My genitals were insulted on several different occasions. Taxi drivers scammed us, we’d all developed a hacking cough because of the smog, and terminal indigestion from the amazingly bad food. The only good meal we had all the while we were in Paris was at a German restaurant.

The taxi drivers were in a class by themselves. A 15 minute trip would end up being a 15 mile excursion through the most unsavory parts of the city, during which time our ancestors would be insulted, our morals called into question, and snide remarks were made about our shoes.

Once we got out of Paris things did start to get a bit better. The insults became less personal, the food got a bit better. The wine was always horrible, though. And some parts of France are genuinely beautiful.

So there we were, outside of Nice. In a few days we would be parting company and we were reluctant to do so. IN spite of (or perhaps because of) the bad food, horrible wine, insults and all the other stuff we’d gone through, we’d had a great time. The Gretchens had a wicked sense of humor, and had exactly the right kind of personality to deal with what we’d endured for the trip through France.

So we were at the cafe and feeling a bit melancholy. We’d be parting at Nice, the girls to return to Germany, me to go on to Italy. We would not, however, be disappointed about getting out of France.

Two young women were at a table near us, their babies screaming and screaming. It was really annoying, but the two women didn’t do anything about it.

I turned to Gretchen 2 whom I had been helping to learn English.

“Why are they crying like that? Why don’t they do something?”

“Ah,” she said, nodding wisely. “There is nothing they can do. They are screaming in terror because they have just been told they are French.”

And that is the French Baby story.

I did warn you, remember?