Thursday, April 8, 2010

New Domain!

I've decided it's time to add a little flexibility. I've got a new domain and you can find me at I'm still working on integrating the new blog so for now you can follow the continued ramblings at Hope you enjoy the new look.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

It's Aliiiiive...Pt 2 (or so)

On Thursday I ordered an OpenTracker+ from Argent Data System. I couldn't believe it with yesterday being Good Friday but it arrived in the mail today. From CA no less!

It took me about an hour to assemble. I realized after I'd already connected it to my FT-8800 that I hadn't done a power check of the IC socket. Whoops. Oh well. I didn't let any smoke out.

Seems to be working like a champ. I only configured it for a quick smoke test. As you can see below I have a mixed status. This image actually shows the last update from my TinyTrak. However, it's added the comment I put in to indicate it's coming from the OT+. I guess it just appended it to an existing entry. That sort of surprised me but it does seem to be working.

OpenTracker Initial Update

I'll put the radio in the unit in the truck tomorrow to see if it tracks like it's supposed to. I really hope this unit works with the M120 since I still haven't been able to get the TinyTrak to work with it.

One thing about soldering so close to bedtime is that I think I'll sleep good. :-P

I also did a little work on the rotator issue. I pulled the Hy-Gain Ham IV rotator that I have and put connectors on the cable coming out of the rotator and a small section of cable to the controller. I powered it on and it buzzes when I hit the break release but nothing seems to move when I try to turn it either direction. I'll have to play with it more tomorrow. I was too anxious to put the OT together so I didn't troubleshoot it any.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Cookin' with Fire!

There are a few repeaters in town that I have a difficult time hitting with any consistency. I've had good success for the most part with my Diamond X300 vertical but for repeaters in other counties I struggle. I decided it was time to make a change.

On the way home from work today I stopped by a friend's and bought a Cushcraft 4-element 2M beam from him. I threw it up on a 20' portable mast and actually guessed the right bearing for the main repeater I was after. I was surprised when I put the compass on it and realized I was right on the money.

Cushcraft  124WB

I dropped the power on my FT-8800 to low power (5W) and called another buddy that lives closer to the repeater to give me a radio check. On 5W both transmit and receive were pegging the meters! I'm thrilled. Such a simple solution and the problem is solved.

The next step is to affix the mast so it's not just bungie corded to the eaves. :-) I also need to put a rotator on it to get the full use of it. Of course both of these mean getting in the attic to run cable and it's already too hot for that. Not sure when I'm going to get around to it now.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Cruising Along

I've made some more headway on the Linux/Amateur Radio front. Now I have Xastir running on the desktop and I'm picking up stations. Well, I'm sort of cheating I suppose. I don't have a TNC so I'm using internet feeds. At least it's a step in the right direction though. Once I get either the TinyTrak4 or perhaps an OpenTracker+ running I'll have true APRS capabilities.

Xastir Image

Monday, March 22, 2010

I Think I Got It

I had a moment of lucidity this afternoon over lunch. I think I realized why the placement of the nylon washer had such an effect on the Arrow antenna. I believe that fact that when it's placed on the bottom where I had it the isolation between the feedpoint and the rest of the bracket throws things out of whack. At least that's what I'm going with. :-P

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Sweet Smell of Success

I haven't been able to use Echolink since I made the switch from Windows to Linux. I've been bummed out about it since I used to be on Echolink running a weekly net for about two years and then I got in this huge dry spell. I downloaded Echolinux but never really got around to trying it out. The more I read about it the less appealing it became.

Well, today I'm working on a presentation on radio direction finding and wanted to take a break. It's raining so I can't do the things in the yard I need to (like move the VHF beam antennas on the ground so our new puppy doesn't hurt himself on them). Instead I decided to see if Echolink works under WINE.

I'm happy to report that it DOES! I not only successfully connected to the test server to configure my audio but also had my first Linux-based Echolink QSO. I connected to our local node and chatted briefly with our District Emergency Coordinator and got a good signal report. I guess I did a good job of setting up my headset. He was a little weak, though, so I need to see about increasing my receive audio. I'm very happy to have it working again.

Echolink in Linux

The previous screenshot shows Echolink running with the Ubuntu 9.10 desktop behind it. You can see there is a station list on the right and the audio is active at the bottom.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

River Cleanup & A New Antenna

Today we (Duval County ARES) did another special event with the City of Jacksonville. It was the 2010 St Johns River Celebration Cleanup. There were about 20 sites around the city where volunteers gathered to collect trash and debris from the parks and waterways. It's a fun event and gives our radio operators the chance to get out and about.

I was net control with a new operator assisting me. Things got off to sort of a rocky start. We weren't sure where to setup first off. I'm usually at one of the cleanup sites and not net control. The event coordinator hadn't communicate where I was to setup so I went with what the park foreman told me when I arrived. We set everything up and started doing initial checkins. Many people were still en route so I decided to wait about 15 minutes.

During the waiting period the event coordinator arrived and said I was in the wrong place. No big deal. I just announced to everyone on frequency that I'd be offline while we relocated. Since the event covers the entire city I decided to use two repeaters to give everyone the best chance of making contact. The secondary repeater was UHF. This posed a problem to me as most of our work is done on 2M and I didn't have a dual-band antenna.

This wasn't really a big deal as I was withing spitting distance of both and could've easily used my HT but I wanted to use my FT-8800 go-box since it's more geared to net control usage. I'd been wanting to build a knock off of the Arrow Antennas j-pole but haven't had time. The materials are in the garage but the opportunity hasn't presented itself. Instead I took advantage of HRO's close location and ordered one that arrived the next day. I assembled it last night but couldn't check it out because my MFJ analyzer batteries were dead.

On location I put the new Arrow on the 14' telescoping pool handle that serves as my portable mast I always keep it in the toolbox of my truck. I mounted it to a railing away from any metal and ran a 50' section of RG-8 to the room we moved to. I couldn't get the SWR below 3.5. I tried a different piece of coax (RG-8X) and it was worse. Keep in mind that I still hadn't gotten back to the net checkins and time was wasting. Well, as it turns out our UHF repeater was offline. Now what? Well, I picked another VHF repeater and put out the word via my HT to use that.

The good news is that I had my standard deployment antenna, the EE-3, with me. I put that on the same mast, in the same location, with the same coax, and read 1.5! Once we were back on the air the event flowed very smoothly.

EE-3 Antenna

Over the course of the event the volunteers collected over 1200 bags of trash and all sorts of items that shouldn't be disposed of around our lakes and parks such as couches, TVs, used motor oil, etc. After the event everyone was invited to Metro Park to enjoy a free lunch and entertainment.

Net Control Station

When I got home I decided to investigate the high SWR issue and was surprised with what I found. As I reviewed the assembly instructions again I noticed that the nylon washer that was supposed to be on top of the feedpoint connection was on the bottom.

Incorrect Washer Placement

I really didn't see how how the location could matter. Top or bottom it seems to me that the measurements would still be the same. However, the SWR was definitely showing a problem. (Sorry for some of the blurry shots. The macro feature on my camera quit working for some reason.)

High SWR

I disassembled and reassembled per the instructions and was shocked.

Proper Washer Placement

That fixed the problem! I still can't figure out why but I can't argue with the meter.

Perfect SWR!

I guess I'll just accept that the placement of the washer is critical and move on. Here's a close-up of the antenna after the proper assembly.

Arrow J-Pole

And the total deployment on the bed of my truck.

J-Pole deployed in truck

All in all not a bad day. Had a great event and figured out the source of my problem. If only every day were like this one!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Another Successful Event!

And more APRS goodness to boot!

Today Duval County ARES supported the 2010 Gate River Run. This is an ever-growing 15K race that draws runners from around the country in search of $85K in prize money. I was happy to have every mile marker covered this year (though I did decide to skip mile 1). We also had a few additional positions along the route for extra coverage.

Myself and another operator serves as net control. He handled most of the radio traffic and I monitored the tail car. Once again we used APRS in the patrol car that was serving as the tail car at the end of the race. I think it's safe to say that we considerably reduced phone and radio chatter since nobody had to try to get in touch with the office to find his location, they just had to ask us and wait for us to check the map. Our APRS updates were set to broadcast every 180 seconds at a fixed rate. This worked very well for us and we always knew where the last runners were within a block or two.

In addition to the LEO and Fire personnel in the communications tent with us, other LEO got a sneak peak at what we were doing. One of our operators used his iPhone to show the position of the tail car to two motorcycle officers. "They were very impressed and wanted to understand how the heck that was working....!" is the report I received.

Unfortunately next weekend's event, the St. Johns River Celebration Cleanup, won't really provide us any opportunity to use APRS. While we do have several boat ramps in areas that are being cleaned we won't have any maritime mobile stations at these locations.

River Run APRS Track

I was quite pleased that I finally had what I would call a successful round with Depiction. I had my doubts as it didn't seem to want to work for me but during the net I spent some time working on it again. Fortunately this was a very small area we were working in and I only had a few stations to add. I fired up the Quickstart and was pleasantly surprised to see our tail car (JSOTL-9) appear on the map. I think I still have a number of kinks to work out but at least it would appear that I'm making some progress.

On Monday I meet with the Tour de Cure team again. I'm looking forward to sharing with the event director the results of our test last weekend. Now we just need to start scrounging up some radios that we can use as well as some inexpensive GPS units to go with the TinyTraks. I know we won't have enough this year to put one in every vehicle but if we can cover even half of the vehicles and cover the others with actual radio operators that would make me happy. We can spend the rest of the year coming up with more self-contained units that we can deploy as needed.

Our APRS testing has also caught the eye of our Red Cross liaison. He's very interested in putting these soon-to-be kits to use with vehicles that are deployed as part of disaster assessment.

We're making headway with our goals to really implement some good technologies in the county. I can't wait to see what the future holds.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Tour Trial Run

Well, a number of us from a couple of counties did a trial run of the 100-mile route for May's Tour de Cure. We started at 2pm with stations located at key mile markers along the route. I then drove the route from start to finish to see how well my APRS packets were received.

Several of the guys had Kenwood 710s running and the hope was that they'd be able to digipeat for me. Unfortunately this didn't quite happen as planned and I went off the grid for over an hour. We had one station positioned at a rest stop in the middle of our "dead" zone and he was running UI-View on his laptop. We made a great discovery. He could see all of us and his packets were being seen online. So as long as we can work out the technical kinks so that the digipeating actually works then we should have full coverage. Another point about this critical location is that we have some former ARES members that moved and now live 15 miles south of his location along another portion of the route. Hopefully we can stage a digipeater at their QTH and see the same results.

While I was driving I also used today as on opportunity to test my new Virgin Mobile Wireless Broadband adapter. It worked great the whole way with covering ranging from 1 to 4 bars. I only briefly lost the signal in one area and it was back quickly. I also noticed that I have very little bandwidth usage when just trying to get APRS updates and not browsing, emailing, etc.

I left the course about 6:00 with good feelings about what the future holds. Overall I think it was a great learning exercise for everyone involved. Now my critical need is to figure out a way/place to download individual APRS tracks so I can overlay every station's track in Google Earth. So far the only KML options I've found (through and are only real-time options and don't let you download the resulting track. The latter says you can save tracks but it hasn't seemed to have worked for me yet.

Well that's all so far. I'm sure I'll have more to report back later.

Friday, March 5, 2010

APRS Coverage Testing

Well, tomorrow is our first attempt at multi-county APRS tracking in preparation for the 2010 Tour de Cure. Much of the course route is in very rural country and the current coverage is slim to none. We've got four operators from Duval and Clay counties capable of digipeating and tracking via UI-View. I'll be driving the 100-mile route from start to finish to see if having multiple digipeaters along the route will improve our odds of getting accurate updates.

After talking to the event director we have a better idea of what we need communications-wise. I don't know that we'll be able to track every vehicle with APRS since we just won't have enough trackers but we'll do what we can. We'll have 8-10 SAG vehicles along with a sweep vehicle for both routes. I at least want to have the sweeps tracked so we always know where the end is. I'm also keeping my fingers crossed that we'll be able to get more tracking systems setup.

There's a lot to do between now and May. I'm very excited that we've got some new people involved and that we're planning well in advance of the ride. It's a huge undertaking but I really think it'll blow some minds when we pull it off.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Some Linux Success!

One of the issues I've been battling since making the switch to Linux is getting my radio programming software to work. The apps run under Wine but I couldn't get my USB/serial adapter to be recognized by the software.

I finally had success tonight. It was so simple I'm kicking myself. All I needed to do was create a symbolic link from the device to the COM port I wanted it assigned to. So the syntax is:

ln -s /dev/ttyUSB0 ~/.wine/dosdevices/comx

where 'x' is the port number. Works like a dream!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

New Position

Well, it's with mixed emotions but I was appointed as the ARES Emergency Coordinator at tonight's meeting. Our District EC made the announcement and it was approved later in the evening when our Section Manager arrived. I truly wish my predecessor hadn't needed to step down but I'll do my best.

We had a great meeting. Our guest speaker had to be pleased with the more than 50 people in attendance. He gave a great 2-hr talk on D-Star and his vision for the East Coast of Florida. Hopefully we'll be another D-Star hub in the state in the next few weeks. Looking forward to learning and exploring some new technology.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Marathon APRS Success...Mostly

It was an early start to the day. The alarm went off at 5:20 and my fellow net control operator arrived in time for us to leave by 6. We picked up our NCS student at 6:08 and then got stuck in traffic. It's usually not a problem but road construction and fewer lanes killed us. We arrived later than expected but didn't have to rush too terribly much to get on the air for a 7am roll call.

About 7:30 the JSO tail car arrived and I installed the radio with the GPS and APRS TinyTrak. The officer driving was very happy to help us and we certainly appreciate it. I monitored via the Blackberry and through my new Virgin Mobile pre-paid wireless broadband account. As the race started fear set it as I realized I'd stopped getting updates. Fortunately I had the mindset to stop the tail car before he went through the finish line. It's a good thing I did. Somehow the power had become disconnected and the TinyTrak was off.

With that catastrophe averted I jogged back to the side to head back to the command post when I heard APRS bursts on the net frequency. That's when more panic set it. The side of the 8800 I had the APRS on is normally set to the repeater we used for the net. Off I went running after the JSO patrol car to stop him again. I was pleased that it wasn't me. :-)

All in all the device worked well. Unfortunately I did have very large gaps in coverage. It was configured to transmit every 60 seconds. Sometimes it wouldn't update for 60 minutes. Just when I'd give up I'd get a good update. I need to go through the raw data but I don't know if it'll tell me much. I did hear that a couple of other operators also had gaps in their APRS updates so maybe it was just the area and not me. We weren't too far from the nearest digipeater so I wouldn't have expected spotty coverage but you never know.

If nothing else I at least have some other ideas now for planning the APRS usage for the Tour de Cure in May. Namely I think we'll need to provide our own digipeater AND igate. Time to do some more research.

Had a great time and after the initial chill of the morning we had a beautiful day. For the record, Mr. Buddy is a great little heater. ;-)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Marathon Preps and APRS

Tomorrow is the 3rd annual 26.2 with Donna Breast Cancer Marathon. Our ARES group has supported it since it began and it's really an enjoyable event for us. It also kicks off our busy season as things really roll into high gear after March 1.

This year we wanted to try a couple of new things. First is the Depiction software. I'd really hoped to use it to have a consolidated view of the event. I had the full course loaded on the street map when I hit a snag. I hadn't considered the possibility of activation problems and for whatever reason I have been unable to get it activated on my laptop. Since I waited until today to try there wasn't any chance of getting tech support to help me manually activate it. I guess we'll chalk this up as a lesson learned.

The second area we wanted to explore was APRS. Typically when we want to find where the end of the race is we have to call around trying to find the tail car and it's not always a timely affair. This year I decided to install an APRS tracker in the tail car. Much to my delight the Sheriff's Office was happy to let us do so.

Unfortunately, now that we had permission up the chain of command, things went south in a hurry. Not only had my TinyTrak stopped working with the Motorola Radius, now it isn't even working with my FT-8800. I'm not sure what was going on. I'd tried so many changes of the configuration, output levels, etc. that I gave up.

Well, a miracle happened and I finally got it working. I still don't know what the problem was (which I hate) but I was able to drive around town a bit and had patchy coverage. It wasn't perfect but hopefully it'll be good for tomorrow.

Since I was having so much trouble with the APRS stuff I decided to give my mind a break before I went postal. At the Orlando Hamcation last weekend I picked up a new vertical antenna for emergency deployment. It's the Eagle One Vertical Antenna. I set it up the first time in about 10 minutes (had some hardware to deal with) and was pleased at least with its receive capabilities. It seemed to be picking up a lot of stations across the bands very clearly. Unfortunately I did want to get back to the APRS issue since it was fairly critical so I didn't have it on the air long but I did get a good signal report from a NC station.
I chalked it up as a success. Can't wait to put it on the air again soon.




Tuesday, February 2, 2010


A couple of us have been talking about depiction and how we might use it in our ARES group as well as some of the special events our local radio club participates in. If you're not familiar with depiction it allows you to bring together various data sources into a single, integrated environment. You can also share your information with other users so that everybody stays on the same page.

Depiction is a .NET application and, of course, I'm running Linux. My mission at the moment is to get the software running under Linux without having to resort to installing inside a virtual machine. Sure, I have several VMs running with various Windows versions but if I can get something running outside the VM I will. And so I've embarked on the journey...

I ran into my first stumbling block with the .NET 3.5 Framework. I didn't really expect much and got just that. .NET only appears to have worked successfully on Linux using tools like winetricks up to version 2.0. I have yet to find any good stories with later versions. I decided to give DotGNU a try and that's where I am at the moment.

So far I've successfully made and installed the following modules: treecc, pnet and pnetlib. I even have proof that it worked:

x:/DotGNU/pnet-0.8.0/samples$ ../engine/ilrun hello.exe
Hello World!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

More Linux Fun

Yeah, I know, this isn't really radio-related but it all plays into my ultimate goal. If I can't run my radio apps I can't fully make the switch. Granted, I'm playing with VMs so I guess that's cheating but I'm not having much luck with WINE. Now that that's out of the way I just got my 3rd Windows VM running on the desktop. I now have VMs for XP, Vista, and Windows 7.

For some reason the XP VM on my laptop quit working and now I can't get it to read the CD. I'm going to try again tonight since I trust XP more than the others. We'll see. Hopefully I'll get back to work on the TinyTrak and Motorola combo tomorrow.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Perhaps I Spoke Too Soon

It turns out the fact that I got a successful update was, perhaps, a fluke. Something is amiss with the TT3 now and it keeps losing its mind. I'm thinking it's not stray RF since it still works fine when connected to the FT-8800. Perhaps something came loose in the cable, though, and that is throwing it off. Regardless, I'm back off the air until I can figure out the problem and come up with a solution. What a rollercoaster. :-/

Sunday, January 3, 2010

M120...It's aliiiiiiiiive!

Thanks to Gary, WD0BIA, I realized that the Motorola RJ-45 is wired different from a regular network jack. Turns out I had my wiring reversed. I put a new connector on and it works like a champ!!

2010-01-03 21:27:07 UTC: N4CDB-9>APT311,WIDE1-1,WIDE2-1,qAS,K4GDX:>TinyTrak3 v1.1
2010-01-03 21:27:10 UTC: N4CDB-9>APT311,WIDE1-1,WIDE2-1,qAS,K4GDX:!3017.66N/08129.97Wk000/000/
2010-01-03 21:27:13 UTC: N4CDB-9>APT311,WIDE1-1,WIDE2-1,qAS,K4GDX:!3017.65N/08129.96Wk337/000 [Rate limited (< 5 sec)]
2010-01-03 21:27:43 UTC: N4CDB-9>APT311,WIDE1-1,WIDE2-1,qAS,K4GDX:!3017.65N/08129.96Wk198/000
2010-01-03 21:28:14 UTC: N4CDB-9>APT311,WIDE1-1,WIDE2-1,qAS,K4GDX:>TinyTrak3 v1.1

I now have a dedicated APRS radio. I still need to run power for a permanent installation in the truck so until then I'll be working off some 12V batteries but I'm moving forward now. I couldn't be happier!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Whole Hog Linux

Well, I bit the bullet and started jumping the Microsoft ship. I picked up a new hard drive after dinner and I'm now running Ubuntu 9.10 64-bit on my desktop. I also installed Vista to a VM like I did with the laptop. So far things are running pretty well.

It looks like the network issue I experienced with the laptop isn't just affecting the wireless. I don't have network access from the wired adapter in the desktop either. I need to do some more research.

I will have to say that I was very pleased with the seamless migration of the Firefox profile. In a matter of seconds all of my bookmarks, extensions, and customizations were in place on the new install. That's where I'm posting this from now. I'm looking forward to some increased stability.

I'm sure I'll have more later.

More Linux News

Ok, so this isn't technically radio-related but since it involves the laptop I'll be using for my radio stuff I figure I can include the Linux stuff here. Besides, it's my blog and I'll do what I want. :-)

I actually do have some radio news. Last night I built a cable for what will hopefully soon by my new, dedicated APRS setup for the truck. I have a Motorola M120 that's programmed for 144.39 and hopefully it'll be mounted in the truck before long. Unfortunately something is amiss. I tried it last night but I don't appear to be keying the radio with the TinyTrak. The cable rings out ok. Not sure if it's a configuration issue with the TT3 or the radio itself. I'm hoping the latter since I don't have the software to look at the radio.

I'd hoped to spend some time troubleshooting it today but it's been raining all day. I have a feeling that trend is going to continue. Since it's put a damper on my ham activities I figured I'd try something new on the Linux front.

I spent this morning working on Linux virtualization. Last night I installed VirtualBox. I tried doing a quick install of straight Ubuntu but for some reason it crapped out. I don't think I set the initial virtual hard drive size to be large enough and it probably couldn't resize during the install. I also ran into another issue. I tried creating a VM for Windows XP but the laptop wouldn't recognize either the SP1 or SP3 CDs that I tried installing. This morning I finally had some success as it recognized my Vista CD. It took a while to install (enough for two cups of coffee and some breakfast at least) but it's now installed.

Vista VM

The install isn't 100% but it's a start. I can't seem to get the wireless adapter working (or even find it as a network option) through the VM. I'm sure it's something I've missed. I'm going to try to spend a little time with the manual. I'm sure I'll figure it out shortly. At least something seems to be going right for me today. :-P

Hello 2010

Well, here we are. It's a new year. Doesn't seem much different. :-)

Last night I set about trying to put together my dedicated APRS setup. I have a Motorola M120 that I plan on mounting to the back of the truck cab behind the rear seat. Right now I'll be using battery power until I can re-run power to a distribution panel (probably a WMR Rigrunner). I whipped up an interface cable to go from the M120 mic jack and the TinyTrak serial connector. Everything rings out ok but I can't get the PTT to work. The TT3 shows the Tx indicator but the radio doesn't transmit.

We had somebody coming into town so unfortunately I didn't get to spend any time troubleshooting. I'm not sure if it's something with the Moto or possibly an issue with the settings I have for the TT3 config. I'm going to fiddle with it later today. That's my New Year's Day goal: get it working!

So that's it. Not a very exciting post to kick off the new year but at least it's something.