Saturday, February 26, 2005

Streetfinder III

The other day the mailman dropped by a Rand McNally Navman Streetfinder III. Another cool eBay find. The software is kinda old (2000) and you can only export maps to the palm of a small size. Maps over 10k sq. mi. won't work. And, it locked up a couple times under Windows XP. But, if I'm ever out in the field needing directions / distances, etc. and away from, this will be good in a pinch.

The there was the GPS unit itself. It took a while to acquire the first time, (but that was to be expected) and when it looked like it would nearly work, it threw a fatal exception and needed to be reset. I let this happen twice before I wrote this off to some kind of incompatibility between the Palm app and the Palm OS 3.5, which I can substantiate. Again, this was software that I assume was written in the late '90s or 2000, in the heyday of the Palm III series.

So it was looking like I paied $30-ish bucks for something that *might* be hacked into a robot or balloon, but a quick look at showed other software possibilities. Like PathAway III. I'm on my trial now, and i rather like it. A lot like UI-View where you bring your own maps, etc. It is shareware. It's about $50 after the trial is up. But, it had a status screen on it and saw my GPS receiver come up after a few minutes....

Another look at palmgear showed some freebies that just printed out status screens from the decoded NMEA data. That is probably all I am going to need. And below was what I needed to find out how to get it ready as a balloon payload or for attachment to a laptop.

Definately go get one of these eBay to play with.

I also saw some Palm III modems (33.6k) for about a buck each. These come with email, and other network software. Might be the beginnings of a TNC.


Friday, February 25, 2005

Friday Night Hamming

After some work I got UI-View set up on what can be a full-time radio, antenna and computer.

Made a couple test messages and a lot of beacons. I'm pretty happy now. I learned to make a scratch map by looking for Oklahoma bit-maps on the Internet. Maybe I'll try my hand at scanning my own road maps later. It's not easily to know the positions of the edges of your map, and how the "any 2 points" function worked wasn't immediately obvious.

I got cables and rig blaster setup to the point I realized I only had one serial port on this computer, and it was being used by the TNC. So, I'll have to investigate USB-serial adapters.

I tried AGWPE and while it installed okay and detected my PK-12 on COM1, it didn't go into KISS mode correctly. But I was able to put in into KISS mode manually from Hyperterminal, so it's not the TNC. I'll have to use the AGWPE in its soundcard mode I guess. I hear Winlink 2000 supports it. I wanted to set up the necessary software to accept email from any Ham in the coverage of the BA digi and direct it into the Internet via cable modem.

Now, who wants to meet up on the TARC UHF linked system and chat while experimenting with an APRS net on 144.390 ? Remember, the BAARC net meets Mondays 2000 on 146.91.


Mac Mini Arrived

Yes it did.

I put in the living room and paired with a 17" Samsung LCD panel, Apple wireless KYBD, wireless mouse, 15GB iPod, and I'll dig out my JBL Creature speakers and HP printer / scanner combo. I'll pick up a powered USB hub tonite.

One thing I want to check on is Mac support for my APC UPS.

I had everything going (including Itunes and the Airport card) running in just minutes. Never touched a CD or book yet.

Now for something called Konfabulator. And in the ham shack, to finish getting packet gear working.


Tuesday, February 22, 2005

My Birthday

I turned 29 Sunday. Enough of that.

Tiff and I topped off the tank in the truck, bought two large sodas and hit the road Sunday for places unknown in my Dakota. It was a sunny day and I am gonna have to add Sequoyah State Park near Wagoner to my to-do list. The Whispering Pines trails look peaceful, as does the lake. There is lodging there and there used to be an airstrip (sorry, Pentafive) but it is closed now.

Mailman came today with a package. Yes, my latest eBay score, a Rand McNally Streetfinder GPS snap-on for my dusty old Palm III came today with all the goodies. May as well get that Palm whipped into shape again as satellite passing predictor. Or, as a mobile terminal for packet (done that before too) or as a in-car navigation system... this would be a new undertaking.

I have some new ideas too, but I need to tune the shortwave bands to see if I can find enough activity to justify a new Grundig Satellit 900.



Saturday, February 19, 2005

Windows Ham Shack Computer Taking Shape

Well, with the Mini Mac on order I can retire my P4 WinXP pro-based machine to the shack and the Mini Mac can get its spot in the living room. The P4 machine is mini-ITX mobo in a small Hornet-looking case. I'll probably add a USB and maybe Firewire card into it to use up the remaining slots.

I got UI-View 32 running on it Thursday night. It was really easy to set it using my AEA PK-12 (PK-232 compatible) TNC. I sent and received message from it to Kenwood TH-D7A. I'm using my FT-290R all-mode 2m rig (2W / 20W) I had at Field Day. Next up will be to find a good Oklahoma map (and maybe some Tulsa area ones). Maybe I'll check the NWS page or scan some telephone directory maps. Anyway, I noticed plenty of tracker users and quite a few digipeaters (even one ID'ing as Stillwater) But not a lot of home or fixed users.

I wonder if there are enough users to hold a net ? Any takers ? I just need to set the machine up in the shack where I can connect to my attic antenna. It can ht the ETULSA digi, and Tulsa and BA digis.

I'll like to get the software installed to run the Telpac software. That would allow folks with small computer gear and 2m capability to access Internet mail. Messages from field stations would traverse the Broken Arrow digi over to this station and into my cable modem connection. Since my TNC would be on 144.390 for APRS service, I suppose I would use sound card software (AGWPE) and my RigBlaster to connect over to my IC-910 VHF base station. I've run Slow Scan with the '910, RB and MMSSTV, and it works great.

Anyone who whould like to give me a hand with any project or set up a sked, let me know.



Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Balloon Payload Idea: HF beacon

I know that since ASTRO-1 and ASTRO-2 have proven we can find what we launch, people have suggested wnd speed meters, Geiger counters, ATV systems, gliders, rovers, wireless access points, etc. be deployed on the balloons.

How about something simple like an HF beacon? This can operate at milliwatt levels (part 15) and can be received by many many many old-time hams. A suggested frequency - 10m because there are a lot of 10m Yagi beams in the world.

This would be an excercise in propagation and QRP operation. The antenna could be a half-wave of magnet wire, or an end-fed Zep.

I talked it over with Dan (KD5NJS) at lunch and he though Maxim had some one-wire or dip-switch programmable oscillators that could drive a buffer chain of NOT gates, then out to the antenna.

Proof of concept: I'll start looking for HF Air Traffic Control transmissions (likely Houston or Miami) at my QTH. That will give us an idea of how much power, etc. will be needed as well as a baseline for equipment. I have a pocket SW reciever (Grundig Mini200) a couple portables (DX-440s) an Icom IC-706MKIIg and perhaps a Grundig Satellite 900 down the road.

Just an idea.


Ada Hamfest Afternath

Well, Saturday was the Ada Hamfest and Tiffany and I were "wheels up" at 0645 (a little later than planned) to head down the turnpike to Stroud then it was 2 lane on in.

Pretty small Hamfest. Rad-com was there from Lubbock and was the only major vendor I saw. But it's always nice to see them there. They brought along some of the new low-end handheld rigs that have been in QST of late, and of course a couple Yaesu FT-847 Satellite Rigs for those looking for a full-on rig. I grabbed a couple cables, some official ARRL logbooks (one for the nets, one for Field Day) and a small rubber duck for one of my rigs.

Picked up a sack of small parts and connectors from a guy outta the Houston area. No minimum order, no sales tax, no hassles. Took credit cards. That's great. Turned around and saw Kevin, KD5RHF. He's back from out west (western OK) now, and is in living in OKC.

Something caught my eye. It was an Icom IC-2AT. This might be the most famous (and just about first) synthesized 2m HT. My dad had one in the early the 80s. With the understanding that I get it promptly in the hams of a new ham (someone from W5YJ came to mind) I took it home (and two battery packs, a drop-in charger and a roll-up J pole) for $20. Thumbwheel switches set the frequency. Dip switches on the back handle the split and power level. No tone board. But it should work for .715 on campus. I think I might donate another rig to that cause and keep this one for packet work. 1W would hit Tiger Hill fine. I thought I got screwed Sunday, but now I see the radio is showing signs of life. The batteries are severly flat. Will have to rebuild the packs. No biggie for a piece of history.

I picked up a pair of Sennheiser headphones for the iPod. Turns out the guy made a few bucks on me, but I didn't pay tax or shipping per se, so lesson learned. Beware what things really cost before Hamfest. Example, go to Green Country Hamfest Friday night, make shopping list, hit the web overnight (Amazon, HRO, eBay, etc) then go back Saturday and deal.

Here is a case in point. This guy had a Grundig Satellite 800 SWL rig (I had my eye on this for a while) for sale. Rig was 6 mo. old, and allegedly he paid Universal Radio $550. That would make his offer of $399 attractive, right? I skipped the deal and when I got home I see that Amazon has new rigs for $400. And it's important to get the newest rigs because of better quality control and some mods. I might get one with the tax return ;)

All for now.


Thursday, February 10, 2005

Experiment on Heat Reflection

After seeing all the different payload boxes on the ASTRO-2 flight, I though to myself, "what is the best way to do this" and how I determine that in a way that
1) would involve simple tools found in the kitchen, hobby room and Radio Shack
2) would be easily verifiable and repeatable
3) would stimulate some thought, discussion, and maybe some lightweight math and physics.
4) eventually a computer model could be established to simulate the cabin and outside environments on a future balloon payload.

S0, I picked two "automotive" indoor / outdoor thermometers from Radio Shack for not a lot of change. These make nifty low DC voltmeters too. So I had 4 channels of thermometer.
1) CH1 (a remote probe) for in the test chamber (a.k.a. balloon payload)
2) CH2 (another remote probe) for the area between the test chamber and the desk lamp (a.k.a. "the atmosphere")
3) CH3 (built in) was in the back of the bench and was to measure ambient temp away from the lamp.
4) CH4 (built in) was the same thing, but on the other thermometer. There might be a way to remove some experimental error taking these readings into account.

The next thing was to find a sample balloon payload enclosure. I didn't care what it was made of at first, because I wanted to just test out the theories and equipment. I did know I wanted something of a uniform contruction. I had on-hand:
1) some plastic cups without lids
2) a ceramic coffee mug
3) a plastic tumbler
4) a styrofoam cup
5) a stainless steel insulated mug (a freebie from work)
but either these didn't have a lid, or the lid was made of a different material. I thought that would undermine the integrity of the experiment. So I settled on a glass jar with glass lid. (I'll photograph and weight it out later)

I needed someting inside the "capsule" to heat up. So I filled it up with styrofoam packing peanuts leftover, by this point, from Christmas. This project got delayed a number of times.

So first, I thought I would investigate coatings, then move on to the actual structural material later. I thought if my readings of the instruments were good and the instruments and procedure was good, that I could determine which materials would be desirable for reflecting and absorbing heat. It's good to absorb some heat to keep transmitters on frequency (namely, its the crystal that needs to be kept at temp) but it's also good to reflect away heat that would otherwise kill a biological sample, or trouble other electronics.

I decided to start simple and work with black construction paper, some Hewlett-Packard photo paper intended for an inkjet printer, and some aluminum foil from the kitchen.

I expected to see the black construction paper absorb heat, raising the internal temp quickly while slowly releasing it when the lamp was shut off. This would be handy for parts of the payload in indirect sunlight. I expected to see the aluminum foil reflect heat and keep the inside very cool. I assumed this would be a good coating for parts of the payload in direct sunlight and it would serve as a ground plane for monopole "whip" antennas. The photo paper should have been a happy medium on the reflectivity scale. If I was really crafty, I think this could be folded (orgami ?) into ribs and spars. Then a coating of aluminum foil could be applied.

Someone could fashion a greenhouse by lining a box-shape with aluminum foil, then covering the top with Saran wrap to let in the light... The heat absorbed during the initial ascent could be saved for later (colder ) parts of the flight.

Anyway, over time I found a few spare hours to sit with clip board and stop watch. I keyed the figures into Excel. How I need to learn to publish graphs on the blog.


Trip to Stillwater

Saturday morning Tiffany and I made a quick road trip to Stillwater for some cheese fries and a Fowl Thing at Eskimo Joes. What was interesting was that we felt like walking around some in the park, so we did the trail from East of 14th Perkins and got just chilly enough to require something warm to drink at Aspen Coffee on 7th and Main.

Boy was I suprised when I got to that corner. Now in downtown is a low power TV station UHF-31, and the studios for 2 AM and 1 FM station. I noticed on the way home the FM station (105.3 or 105.1, "the Bee") was full quieting until the Hallett gate for the turnpike and then on the hilltops I could hear it east of Lake Keystone.

I wonder if the W5YJ guys could scam some summer employment at a radio station...

Also, there is A LOT of of those anodized Yagis around. And BBQ-grill reflectors on small towers... smells like Wi-Fi. I should have been carrying NetStumber with me...

More ideas to follow.


Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Mac Mini Ordered

Okay, I mentioned last post I was gonna get a Mac Mini...

It is done. I did it. I crossed the line now.

I heard Macs were over-priced. This one, arguably underpowered (1.4G G4) was priced right where I could take that chance. For a bit under a kilobuck ($ 1k) I got the fast(er) processor, the big(er) hard disk, DVD burner upgrade, 802.11? "Airport" networking, integrated Bluetooth (for KYBD and Internet access via cell phone) oh, yes, and some extra memory. More memory, more better.

Macs are for artists. Too bad. I'm an engineer. What I was interested in was another cool tech toy and I can scrounge around for some old keyboards, mice and a screen. (the DVI to VGA adapter ships gratis with the Mac.) If I am half as happy with this Mac as I am with the iPod I bought from a friend last summer, I'll consider it money well spent.

Its a closed system. Maybe that's what hurt their market share in the past. But from what I can tell (see engineering remark above) Darwin strongly resembles BSD. Panther understands X11. The GUI is compatible with Javascript, Java and the terminal is compatible with Applescript. I'm expecting to be writing small code pronto. And in the next rev of the OS (codename: Tiger), there will be further support "widgets" for small programs. For a preview, do a Google search for Konfabulator. I think writing nice looking apps like a QSO manager for Field Day will be straightforward.

There isn't any software. I've found software for ham rig control. Software for satellite pass prediction. OpenOffice is there. iLife probably isn't too bad either. Oh, yeah, Mozilla Firefox.

It ships early March. We'll see.

Back to running laundry and cleaning house. Girlfriend's at work.


February Broken Arrow Amateur Radio Club meeting

Last year, after some arm twisting, I accepted a change in position from secretary to president in the BAAARC. One concern was "quality programs." So I asked Harry (KC5TRB) to come out and talk to us last night about his informal (anyone can join) Oklahoma Research Balloons group. Rich (KD5JXU) came to help. They showed off the various ways (easy, hard, simple, powerful) to deploy a APRS station and access the "Ham internet."

The also talked about the history of their club (about 15 launches), and the balloon internals. Very interesting use of small computer (Palm III class gear and pencams) and Ham rigs.

I had starting playing around with graphing temperatures in and around chambers of different construction methods and colors. I'll wrap the experiment up, graph the points and write about it soon. I'd like to fly my own payload at some point.

I bought a Mac Mini today. Hoping to have a "QRP" computer.

Also in the hopper at radio station KD5NJR, a Telpac station to provide Broken Arrow with low speed Internet email via the Winlink 2000 suite.

W5GGW is writing tiny clients for Winlink, Echolink and APRS in Java. In theory that would port to almost any device.

Nikropht asked me some crazy thing about magnetic fields while I was freezing in the parking garage. Wonder what that is all about.

More later.


Monday, February 07, 2005

Test Post

This is my first post to my newly created blog. I needed an account to reply back to Nikropht, and since I have a lot of crazy stray ideas in my head anyway, I though I might try to put some of them to paper... so to speak. At work, so back to work. Until later.


Scott, KD5NJR.