Ham Radio: DMR versus D-Star and why I am going to D-star and hoping DMR becomes cracked wide open by ham operators.

Ok I dipped my toes in the digital ham radio world for local repeaters.  I bought a TYT MD-380 DMR radio for $95 and programmed it in my home town where even the analog 440 repeaters are dead and turned off.  But one town over has a couple of DMR repeaters and I was headed to Chicago that also promised some operation.   So I checked carefully and spend a couple of days reading to make sure it was programmed right, and set off towards Chicago 350 miles away.

I arrived and was surprised at the range I was getting from DMR on 440 and had a blast talking on the North America group to other hams all over the USA and Canada.  until it started to blank out for some reason in the middle of a QSO.   I though it was my radio until I got to the hotel and started to read up on causes.

It seems that DMR has 2 timeslots and repeaters that have multiple call groups on a single timeslot will get other hams cutting them off without knowing it. This is what was happening to me, another ham was kicking me off of the north america talk group and I was knocking him off.  no warning just audio gone, and if you did not specifically go looking for this information, you would never ever know it.  So to support the entire talk group spread you really need 5 DMR repeaters.

Well also come to find out a radio to radio conversation ALSO takes up a timeslot so now you can unknowingly knock others off the repeater or tie it up.   This makes DMR not very good for ham radio the way everyone is using them.

mototrbo DMR repeaters should be set up with only 2 groups available.   timeslot 1 is local chat, timeslot 2 is the NA channel. and you do not do long QSO's on the NA channel.   This really limits the usefulness that is promised but did not completely make me write it off.   I think it's a great mode with dirt cheap great quality radios....  and was going to look at buying gear to put a DMR repeater on the air in my home town...   Then my enthusiasim drained.....

a mototrbo repeater is about $3000  if you want to program it that is another $300 in software and another $150 in the cable.   You also need a set of cans, cheaper cans can do a 7.5mhz spread so your repeater will be "wierd" for $500  then you have tower, antenna and broadband and router//software to join the worldwide DMR network.   Suddenly that free repeater location you know of becomes a $70 a month rent repeater location for broadband directly to it.  Overall if you have a tower and location with antenna already set up you need $6000 to spend to get a Motorola DMR repeater on the air.   That means only the rich ham clubs.

So I look at D-star.  Radios are $400 instead of $95 but repeaters can be built easily AND I can put a mini gateway in my home on my own internet to get to the global D-star network for only around $200 spent!  You also do not have the kick other hams off the repeater without warning problem. But you alienate the poor hams over the rich ones.   Yes I can easily afford a $400 handheld, but most cant.  Many cant afford that $95 china DMR radio but it is a lot easier reach than the only icom offerings out there.   So it is only price?  Nope.

D-Star was made for ham radio use, you do not have to register your radio number like you have to with DMR, you can program your dStar radio and just go on the air.   It operates more closely to what a ham radio operator is used to and new users will not cause communication problems like they do on DMR simply because they dont know they need to check ALL The talk groups before they start using the repeater.

I like DMR and what it can do, and the range is insane compared to traditional FM 440.   I am all the way out in Shaumberg, IL and still talking to the downtown Chicago repeater with my handi talkie.  the sound quality blows away all analog modes hard.   But sadly until someone cracks the Motorola DMR code to get other china repeaters ont he DMR-MARC network its a closed system where only the rich can get a new repeated added to it.  which is sad because I know that DMR with cheap radios and the North America talk group would get new hams excited about ham radio.  Cracking the motorola DMR network protocol so that hams can set up local home gateways will really make the whole DMR network explode.  and if someone finds a way to translate from the Hytera chinese DMR repeater networks to bridge the Motorola DMR-MARC network  It will really make the whole network so much more versatile overnight.  I want it to succeed, and Motorola could do this incredibly fast for ham radio operators by opening up their protocols completely and give us hams the keys to the workings of the network packets...  Otherwise it will take hacking the protocols by hams that are far better at it than I am to make that change.  

I know I felt like I did back in the 80's when I was a 17 year old with a fresh tech ticket in my hand and talking on the local repeaters that were teeming with other hams to talk to.  Today the FM repeaters are dead, but the Digital modes on national talk groups are like our local repeaters were back in the 80's...  exciting, friendly, and makes you want to be a ham radio operator again....

I try yet again to want to get back into ham radio, and walk away sad.

I am having fun with HF QRP portable.  The technical challenges are most of the fun and PSK31 makes it entertaining..   But once again this weekend and I turn on my tri band FM rig in the car and listen to the repeaters while I drive.... and it's silent.

Nobody talking, not even on the state wide linked repeater.  And this is Good-Old FM 2 meter.   I have never had a spontaneous conversation on a 220 or 440 repeater, except for the 440 repeater my friend and I had in college set up in the apartment building.   And that was only because friends used it, Nobody else every stumbled on the repeater even though it was in the callbook.   I look at the siren song of D-star and other digital modes of nation wide and world wide QSO's but then read that many D-star owners gave up as even those are dead.

Honestly people, get off your phones and turn on your radio.  when someone is on the repeater calling ANSWER THEM!   Otherwise all you are doing is being one of those hams that is trying to kill the hobby.

Every time you do not turn on the radio and answer a call on your local repeater you are actively killing the hobby for someone else.  I have met many new hams that gave up because "there is nobody to talk to"...  and they are right.

I keep thinking of putting a radio on my motorcycle, almost pull the trigger and then stop.... I won't use it, I will ride 600 miles and never hear a peep break it's squelch but maybe a birdie or a random kerchunk.  I keep thinking of getting a Icom Dstar handy, but that $400 would be better spent elsewhere instead of a radio that just sits on my desk next to the other icom triband handheld that has never had a conversation on 6 meter or 440 ever in it's existence,  Only on 2 meter.   So why spend the money?  The only place that is slightly active is the HF bands and sadly none of the techs can get there.  and most can't afford the $600 minimum to play the HF game, for an HF  station active.

There is no excuse for not having a thriving ham community still out there, and there are more and more callsigns added to the database every year.... so where are they?

Installing Ubuntu Server 14.04 On a Sun X4100 server

IF you try to install Ubuntu server on a Sun X4100 M2 server you will get greeted with a blank screen and a "out of range" error after your first reboot after an install.   This is because of the RageXL video chipset on the motherboard and that linux for some wierd reason no longer supports these chipsets well.   There is a fix...

Do the install as normal, when it kicks out the Install DVD/CD at the end let it start the reboot and kick that disk back in.   restart the install but in a "recover mode" and go through until it asks what drive partition you want to boot from.  this drops you into single user mode on your fresh install.

go into /etc/default/grub and disable the graphical console.
then run the update-grub command and exit then reboot.

you now have a system you can actually get into....  now on to fix that damned network connection that for some reason did not work during install.


The adventures of getting a cablecard to work with comcast....

I bought a HdHomerun Prime so I could get at least some unification of video in my home.  the bedroom has a Nexus Player that has the ability to use the HDhomerun app to integrate live TV, and the apple TV plus XboxONE can also view the channels..  Awesome.  I na also add a MythTV backend recorder to the home server so I can get a free DVR  as well.

So I head to the comcast office and get a cablecard.  The lady smiles and hands me a card and says, "It's all ready to go, just call this number when you get home"   and that is where it all falls to pieces.

I call the number and the person at the other end tells me, "that is not a cablecard, that is a cable box."  I assure her that I inserted a card in the slot and not a whole cable box.  she then tells me that it will not work and I need to go back to the local office to get another card.   I do this for another 3 times to discover ALL the cablecards are flagged as cable boxes in comcasts system, and the cablecard people you call do not know what to do and want me to pay $50 to have a tech come out.

I finally in frustration start searching and find that comcast has a online forum on the Xfinity website and people complaining there get resolution for cablecard issues.  and my issue is a very very common issue.

With in minutes of complaining I had a response that someone will help me, then I got 3 calls. each asking for all my information, then finally transferred to the only person in the United states that can actually activate a Cablecard in the system.  so 36 hours later and tons of frustration I have a working setup.

The problem is that Comcast has only a tiny handfull of people that actually know what they are doing. all the rest are told that if there is any problem at all, tell the customer to go back to the store or pay for a service call.  If you complain loud enough you will get help and you MUST do it on their customer forum on the xfinity website.

What I was told was impossible to fix by 6 different Comcast employees was fixed within minutes once I was transferred to the right person.  They really need to train their people better because they all want to give up right away instead of trying to help find a solution and find that one person in the company that actually knows what they are doing.

Lastly, It's mind blowing that I had to go to my local office.  they should have mailed me a card that was already set up.  yes, let me click on "give me a Cablecard" that then tells James in Philadelphia that he needs to grab a cablecard and do his magic to it to make sure it's right, then mail it out to me.

It's sad because the utter mess that customer service is was the #1 complaint when I worked there 10 years ago.... today it's the same.  And I am sure it is completely the fault of management as that was what we all knew 10 years ago... Management refuse to let many of us do our jobs. we had to work under their strict requirements and they all were micro managers from hell.  It seems it is the same way.


So if you try to get a cablecard activated and they tell you it is coming back as a cable box...  Get ready for your pain, it will take about 36 hours and you need to go straight to the Xfinity forums and start the process that will work.  because nobody at the local office or on normal phone tech support will help you.

The Oneplus X cellphone review: It's $250, is the low price worthoverlooking the glaring flaws?



I just got my OnePlus X cellphone in the mail, I had an interest and honestly I can easily sell it for what I paid for it if I really don't like it in the next 20 days, so no big loss.

First the box and packaging are apple level presentation.   It's awesome, they even include a thin rubber case for it in the box.   It feels great, it looks great, and that is where it is at it's best.   Once you turn it on, things go sideways.    First you have to wait out the failure of connections on first start so you can skip them.  OnePlus shipped it with a gigantic flaw in the operating system and the update will fix that problem, but you cant update it until you get past the flaw.  so skip setting up the wifi and do everything on your cellular data for setup.

The phone has hardware buttons.... except they are not lighted so they look invisible in all but direct sunlight.  if they would have silk screened them in a bright white this would not be an issue...  Glaring design flaw #1.

The phone is amazingly thin and light,  but is losing an additional 1mm of thickness worth it at the expense of battery life?   I am starting to think no.   After a week of living with this phone as my daily at the end of the day I am at 25% battery on the OnePlus X while my iphone 6S is still at 75%   I actually would like the phone to be 2mm thicker and give me great battery life.  Yes batter is more important than style to me.   Some others may feel differently.

Audio is great,  the phone will get crazy loud, almost as loud as an HTC ONE,   the OS is fantastic, but the huge flaw of not supporting all LTE bands are starting to show.   I am in 3G more more than anything else because OnePlus did the really stupid move of excluding the 700mhz LTE band that is in use for most of the united states.  So for most USA users your One Plus will NOT get LTE speeds but will be a 3G phone for most of the time you are using it, unless you are lucky to live in an area that AT&T has not upgraded yet.  But the clock is ticking  the 700mhz LTE band will be the standard in the next 2 years and the OnePlus X will end up as a unuseable phone for the US market for people that want high speed data. Lastly it's sensitivity to receive signals is not really good. In a building that I get 1 bar of signal on AT&T. The one X reports no service.  I am betting they did not hire an antenna designer and are using the reference design from the cellular radio chip manufacturer.  

Do I recommend anyone buying the phone?    Are you a tinkering type?  love the idea of a completely unlocked phone? And will gladly live with the flaws?  then get the OnePlus X.   It's fast, it's nice, it is unlocked and a lot of people are already working on leveraging the possibilities the phone offers.  but for a general user you need to stay very far away from this phone.  the bugs will get you, the flaws will annoy you, the battery life is just not there, and finally lack of 700mhz LTE means you are stuck using low speed 3G or relying on open wifi.

If you have an invite for this phone and you are not a developer or high end tinkering type,  pass your invite along to someone who is.

Make a Solar Power supply

Solar power is a finicky animal.  Yes It's just DC power but it's wildly fluctuating DC power.   Depending on the day, clouds, shadows, etc..  a solar panel can output 20Volts to 5 Volts and everything in between in the matter of seconds.   Plus solar panels are kind of wierd.  you have two voltages and two amperages to think about.   Open circuit and max power.    Max power is where you want to calculate things as I assume with solar power you want as much power you can generate.  But if your load drops off, things will change.   So treating a solar panel like a battery just does not work.

You can buy solar chargers,  But they are designed to charge a battery,  some times you just want a power supply that is somewhat stable, and in my case that is exactly what I want.  a 13.5 volt power supply that replicates a car's electrical system (no your car is not 12 volts, when it's running it's 13.5 or higher.  Go ahead and grab your voltmeter and check.) for a QRP Ham radio portable station that I like to bring camping.   I dont want to carry a battery with me as the radio has a built in battery pack,  but I do want to run off of free solar power during the day as well as charge that internal battery pack.  So I decided to build a very simple regulator power supply to stick to the back of a small solar panel I have.
I bought off of ebay a couple of years ago, several 10 watt small solar panels for $20 each,  I was going to set them up to run a couple of LED lamps in a shed but instead decided this project will be more fun and useful.    They were sold as 12 volt 10 watt panels,  but solar panels dont work that way.  These panels are actually 18 volt 10 Watt peak power panels that have an open circuit voltage of 24 volts.  so depending on the power draw the voltage will change.  These numbers are also under perfect conditions on a clear day.  Reality is that you never ever get perfect conditions.    Add to the whole mix that I want to power a portable HF radio and I need to be careful as to what kind of voltage regulation I want to use.    A switching supply is highly efficient but will generate a TON of RF noise, so I need to use something that is quiet and lives in the DC world.  Linear Regulators are where I needed to go, specifically the good old 7812 regulator from the 78xx series of linear regulators.    These regulators have been around for ever and are available in a 5V 9V 12V and 15V flavors.   But what if I want a different voltage?  well you can do some tricks to make them adjustable, but I like to simply put a couple of diodes on the ground leg to "lift" the ground voltage and fool the regulator.   Diodes do not conduct electricity perfectly, they have some loss, and typically you get from 0.3 to 0.7 volts lost.  I want high power diodes so I am looking at 0.7 volts lost.  Putting two on the ground leg will give me 1.4 volts.   This will lift the 7812 regulator up to 13.4 volts or 13.5 after all losses and rounding. 

But, the 7812 regulator NEEDS 2.5Volts of power higher than the output.  so a 7812 needs 14.5V at a minimum to work properly, adding another 1.5 with the diodes that brings us up to 16V needed at a minimum from the solar panel to work.   Luckily the panel I have runs at 18V at peak power draw so I have 2 volts of safety margin.  I can already hear everyone out there screaming about my choice in voltage regulator,  Yes they waste power.  These old 78XX regulators can waste up to 50% of the power IF the supply voltage is too high.   I am going to be 2 volts higher than what the regulator wants so this should work just fine and only lose about 25% of the power to heat.   I could get away with 1Amp diodes, but I like to over design for safety.  I will never really see 1 amp of power through them unless things go sideways, but it can get close to a half amp if I do not have a load connected to the regulated side.  

Each 7812 an handle about 1.3 amps,  I have two so I can handle more than the 2Amps needed by my radio when it is transmitting at full power.  Again I like a safety margin in my designs. I might want to add a second device, or even use it to charge a couple of cellphones when not used for my radio.  building in some extra capacity means you can use your projects for more tasks in the future without a redesign.  For example, staying at 13.5 volts I can actually use this to charge a lead acid battery, because it's voltage is less than the 13.8/14.0 Volts that a typical lead acid wants for full charge it can not overcharge the battery if left connected.  Granted it will not have the ability to charge a dead car battery, but a very small 12V sealed gel battery will work just fine to even out a partly cloudy day for my radio.  So I do have the option of upgrading the system with a small lead acid or even a LiFePo4 battery that is very tolerant to charging in this way.  Battery charging is it's own animal,  I will not be covering it with this circuit. 


Newbie to used BMW ownership: Realities and falsehoods of buying and owning a used BMW.

I did it, I took the plunge and jumped from domestics and "economy brands" to full on BMW ownership.  I don't make brand new BMW kind of income, so I am one of those icky dirty plebs that buy used,  and not even "Certified Preowned" used, but Under $12 Grand high mileage used.   That's right I bought a 8 year old over 100,000 mile AS-IS BMW.   I can already hear people screaming out there in the internet as to the error of my ways,  and all of them are completely wrong.

First let's get some facts about buying a used BMW.   First,  Carfax is 100% worthless for anything in a premium brand.  BMW does not report anything to Carfax, and from what I learned, neither does Audi, Mercedes, VW, etc..  In fact it seems that Carfax is pretty darn useless outside of showing if the car was completely totaled.  So do not waste your time with a carfax....  the BMW dealerships do have a full service history on the car,  but they do not want to give it to you.  Used car buyers are the bane of BMW and they will use some BS like "protecting the security of the previous owner" for the reason to not tell you what was done to the car.  You have a better chance of getting the information after you buy it, but no way in hell is any BMW dealer going to give you any of that information before you buy a car.  BMW dealers hate used car buyers, so get used to being treated like a 3rd class citizen when you go to one. If you are very lucky you live near an honest dealer and you will find someone to work with.

So you need to do one of two things.   either pay to have the car fully  inspected at a BMW dealer, About $450.00 or if you are actually skilled at vehicle maintenance and repair look it over yourself or with a friend that is very good at cars.   BMW cars are not magical unicorns, they are 100% identical in the important parts to a ford, toyota, honda.  The engine has pistons that go up and down, they have a transmission that is pretty much the same as all other car's transmissions, and they have electrical systems with undersized wires compared to american cars.  But are identical to Japanese cars.   when you look at the different systems they are not special, just a little different and need some different tools.   Even the computer system can be managed by a home shade-tree mechanic if you are willing to learn.  Lastly BMW makes service interval claims that are outlandish.  15,000 miles for oil changes are fine for a 3 year old car coming off lease.  7500 miles are more realistic.  BMW service intervals are set to lower costs for dealerships as the first 4 years all service is "free".

Your next stop is edmunds and kelly blue book.  Look up the car's year and mileage with condition.  THAT is what you should pay,  any cars listed higher than that price should be showroom new condition or ultra rare like a 1982 M1.  Sadly a lot of sellers do not want to admit do the depreciation BMW has, walk away from those people with their car listed with a high selling price.

So listen to the car,  when started cold what does it do?  is there any engine ticks that go away after it warms up?   a high mileage engine may have those noises and the ticks that disappear are fine.  Ticks that do NOT go away are a worry.  how does the exhaust smell? gas? oil?  get an ODB-II code reader and read the codes, both stored and pending.  is there any?  etc...  Brake fluid, does it look clean and new?  this one is highly important.   Coolant is it a clean clear blue or is it grey?   Oil color and condition is harder as there is no dipstick anymore on BMW engines. you can open the filter housing on top but you might cause a leak if you do as the o-ring should be replaced every time it's opened.  Be wary if they don't have proof of recent service like oil changes. But also look at the rest of the car how was it maintained?  s it full of dents as if the owner did not care and let it get knocked around?  this is a red flag that the previous owners did not care about the car so may have missed service.  does the interior look new or is it ragged and dirty?  again a red flag that the car was not cared about.  The car is going to have some wear, the leather in the drivers seat will not be perfect,  dirty carpet, etc.  BMW Steering wheel plastic pieces are coated with a very low grade rubberized plastic that shows wear fast. So those are normal to see a lot of wear on.  Are all the tools in the tool slots or tool kit? is the spare still there (if the car has a spare) Look for the jack is it the real jack? Don't go looking for the BMW first aid kit or safety kit.  Those are removed before importing due to US regulations.  Do not be afraid to ask the seller to lower the price for anything wrong.  BMW's lose value rapidly.  My 2007 X3 sold new for $49,900  It's now worth $11,500 and anything wrong like AC not working you need to instantly remove $2500-$3000 from the selling price as that is how much it will take to have it fixed.  Also do not be afraid of walking away from it. there are 10,000 more just like it out there. Dont fall in love with a specific car as that will be your doom. If anything just does not feel right to you, walk away from that car there are many many more out there in better shape, everything working, or with full service proof in hand.   One last thing I check that is a tell tale that the frontend had some major work.  Check the headlight alignment.  if they are aiming very low, someone had the frontend completely disassembled or had to replace the headlamps, this is a HUGE red flag if they don't admit it was in a major accident and had the front end repaired.  Also a 120,000 mile car with no stone chips in the hood is a telltale of front end repairs unless the owner has proof they had a shop do paint repair, some shops are really good and can fix stone chips to nearly invisible.

You also need to hit the forums and learn what the common failures are.  My BMW X3 the water pump will fail by 100,000 miles.  It's so guaranteed of a failure that BMW even has it as a item on the suggested replacement schedule.   For example all BMW 4WD/AWD vehicles will have the plastic gear strip out on the Transfer case that selects power transfer.  BMW does not sell this tiny $30.00 gear, instead they will sell you a $1200 transfer case selector assembly, this is another guaranteed failure.   Panoramic sunroofs fail a lot due to another plastic gear and nobody actually cleaning and lubricating the sunroof mechanisms yearly.  Learn what to expect as common failures on the BMW you are looking at, look at the solutions as well.  Also remember that only the people that complain will post,  the people that have perfect running cars that ran trouble free for 500,000 miles will not post on the forums about problems.  BMW actually has a reputation for being very reliable, their inline 6cyl engines are known to be indestructible if they are taken care of.  Little things like the power seats, heated steering wheels, auto dim mirrors, radios and navigation fail all the time, those are no big deal as a dead radio will not leave you stranded.

Lastly do not believe that you have to use special BMW fluids for your car. BMW simply relabeled common products that meet the standards they  were looking for.   Castrol 0W30 synthetic  is the BMW special 5W30 needed for many of their cars, places like rock auto can get you BMW filters for significantly less than the dealership, so if you want to change your oil yourself, you can do it in your driveway for $45.00 instead of the $165.00 the dealership charges.  And that is where BMW get's its reputation for being expensive.  The dealerships charge close to $300 an hour for labor because most BMW owners will not bat an eye at anything under $2000 for service on their cars. As a Poor BMW enthusiast  you have to do most of your own work. By learning skills, getting the manuals and getting the tools needed you can save tens of thousands of dollars and actually afford to drive a car that really is the "ultimate driving machine".


Selling your soul; my first step into the Microsoft Surface eco system

I am a Tech Geek.  I have been a tablet user far longer than almost everyone as I started with a Dauphin DTR1, the very first tablet computer back in 1994.  It was impractical in every way but in other ways it was incredibly functional and obvious that it was the way of the future.  From that point I have used pretty much every tablet ever made, and I was overjoyed when Apple got it right with the ipad.  The UI being designed from the ground up to be touch based solved all the problems that others before it had.  Windows 3.11 for pen computing, Windows for Tablets, Windows XP all worked but were clunky in every way as you kept running into keyboard and precision pointer needs.  the iPad solved all those and with Android hot on the heels created some of the best tablets we have ever had in the history of computing.  Android and iOS both created very useable and smooth interfaces that changed the world and brought us the true Star Trek data pad we all have seen and wanted.

But for me it has always been a slight miss, I do some things with computers that 99% of the world does not.  Tuning and troubleshooting motorcycles and cars via the ODB-II interface simply has no real software or hardware options on Android Tablets or Apple iPads.  Same goes for Ham Radio software as well as what I use for my profession as an AV programmer.   It is getting better, but 3 years later I still need software and apps  that Android and iOS just do not have, so I need to return to the Windows Ecosystem.  That means a Microsoft Surface Pro, and after research the Pro 3 is not worth the money, but you can get from several sources Microsoft Refurbished Pro 1 tablets for around $350.00 in like new shape.  Ok, I'll take the risk on one at that price, at worst I can install Ubuntu on it and have a linux tablet to earn some nerd street cred.  NewEgg had some refurbs so I ordered one.   At first glance this "old and fat" surface is not bad at all, the screen is incredibly clear and easy to read even at it's 10.2" size,  I do like the true 16:9 aspect ratio more than the apple standard.   But I cant play with it yet, just like the Xbox One experience I have to wait a few hours while it downloads and installs about 900,000 updates.   it seems that microsoft never updates their internal image files to include any updates, so devices that get refurbished get installed the oldest possible OS image available.  That means waiting for downloads, updates, reboots, more downloads, updates, reboots...  it sure looks nice while its updating..... and the updates are forced, I tried to install some software from the store before updating... but everything complained that I was out of date and only after updating will I be able to install software.   Knowing that this is the typical Microsoft Operating standard, I complied.....  3 hours later and it's still updating, this time around it's on update 73 of 108.

It is now 6 actual hours later and I have updated the tablet enough to install windows 8.1 update.  That only took another hour and now the tablet is useable.  Yes it's still the horribly outdated old Surface Pro 1 but it's 100% useful.  Sadly it suffers from all the problems I have experienced with previous Windows on Tablets iterations.   99% of all software out there is not designed for a tablet and is klunky, including internet explorer.  Microsoft still has a long way to go with their on screen keyboard, it covers up what you are trying to type in and is freakishly huge.  It's nice to type on, but honestly taking up 50% of the screen is just nuts.  Sadly microsoft is typical and you can not download and install a better keyboard.  This is the #1 reason why everyone buys the $160 keyboard cover.   Windows 8.1 is actually brilliant on a touchscreen device, that same interface when used with a mouse makes people want to murder puppies.  After learning some of the strange UI quirks, like the start boxes will not show the menu options until you let go of them it's fairly easy to get around.   I understand that I inflict this klunkyness on myself by getting the pro and the full OS.  and to be honest, Windows 8/8.1 is massively better than Linux is in the tablet/touchscreen world.  I have never understood why there has not been a touch based windows manager ever made for Linux/BSD.

Build quality is nothing like an ipad,  it just feels cheap, and that kick stand really needs to go away, yet microsoft tried to tout it as a reason to get it in their ads.... very odd.   Using this tablet for the Car ODB-II scanning and performance tuning will work just fine, in fact it will be a lot more convenient as you can get a suction cup window mount for a tablet so it can stick there on the dashboard while I drive and collect data.    ECM programming on the motorcycle will also be a lot easier, although I know the screen will be completely unreadable when outside in the sun.  But where I am really excited is that my ham radio hobby I can now run all the digital modes with standard desktop software.   Yes it will have uses at work as well, I will be able to just grab the tablet and do some basic tweaking or uploading to a customers Crestron system without having to break out the laptop, as well as use some of the really good acoustic room tuning software that you need a full PC for.

 Would I buy a Surface Pro 3 for the $1299 to $1499 price point?   Nope,  this is just not worth the price of a premium high end laptop without the processing power and expandability, they really should have been priced the same as the iPad.  What would I pay extra for?  get rid of the kick stand (yes that again) and make it 1mm thicker to deliver a replaceable battery and a door to access the mSATA SSD drive for upgrading.  Hack if they used a decent engineer, the back panel would side off after a couple of screws removed and allow you to release the front plate and LCD to deliver some repairability.  Yes I know that the ipad is not really repairable, but it's $399 and not $1299.  at $1299 I want at least the illusion of repairability or upgradability.  Overall I am happy with my purchase, it's fast as any i5 laptop and the 4gb of ram is plenty for every task I throw at it.  the 64 gig of space is in reality less than 30gb because the OS and the recovery partition takes up all of that.  I'll be installing a 64gig MicroSD card for file storage.  and when I get bored with it, I may even try to set it up to dual boot linux/windows so I can impress the Linux nerds at work with an Ubuntu Tablet.