New Software

I have posted some new software in the ‘Downloads’ area. Be aware though that the ‘sound’ portion may or may not work for you. Worked fine on my desktop but squat on my laptop. No idea. At any rate, what this program does is poll the Environment Canada website looking for “Special Weather”, “Watches” and “Warnings” in selected areas. When an event is found, it automagically emails (or texts) various people who you have added to a list. Currently, only Ontario is listed but you can add your area with some copy and pasting.

Be aware though that since we haven’t had any alerts (in my area at least) it isn’t fully tested. I did add a couple of areas (in BC and SK I think) that did have alerts and it does seem to work adequately.

WIN7 / XP

 

Driving in Chatham-Kent

I have driven many hundreds of thousands of miles/kilometers in my day through good weather and bad. Snow, hail, fog – you name it. And I know there are crappy -and good – drivers everywhere.  Since I moved to Chatham-Kent however, I’ve noticed a driving trend here like no other place I’ve ever been. TAILGATING. This area has long stretches of flat straight roads – ideal for passing. For some reason though, drivers here must drive no further from your rear bumper than 1 car length – and often less. A particular piece of highway 40 – between Chatham and Wallaceburg – holds the record. Often it is rather busy and even though there is no point in tailgating (you can’t pass anyway) it’s a regular occurrence. Then, when it’s NOT busy and passing can easily be done, there is still tailgating.  The speed limit is 80km/h but no matter how fast one drives (even 90km/h) there are the tailgaters.

What to do? Well there are times when these tailgaters get a lesson from me. What I used to do, is slow down and MAKE them pass me then I would tailgate THEM. After some thought though I decided that two wrongs don’t make a right. What I do now is this: if I’m travelling at 85+ km/h and someone starts tailgating me with no intention of passing, I turn off the cruise and slow down. When the tailgater has had enough, I speed up. Sometimes this takes two or three tries but the offender usually gets the idea. Then I go back to 85km/h and press cruise. If the tailgater now wants to pass me they are free to do so. This tactic is usually quite effective.

And the funny thing is that once I get to Chatham (it’s about a 15 minute drive) I end up right beside them at the first red light. Gotta wonder.

The New CANWARN

We recently had a CANWARN “event” here in Chatham-Kent. Yep, high winds and hail. Luckily very little damage. The unfortunate thing was that very few hams in the area knew there was an alert on. One of our local hams sent out an email after the fact, asking how we could be better informed of these alerts. Pagers? An automated message on the repeater? Hmmm.

This set off a chain of events – a “flurry of activity” if you will with several hams independently arriving at basically the same idea. Some way to let the members know what is happening. Some hams took the hardware route trying to tap into the power of a cheap(ish) dedicated weather radio with built in SAME weather alerts and routing that to the repeater. I had a similar thought but of course using software. Realistically, both approaches will probably be needed.

So, after firing up Visual Basic and searching for various solutions, this is what my effort produced: I poll the Environment Canada website looking for an area alert. If I find one, my software alerts various members via email and/or text messaging to the CANWARN event. Next step is to send a specific .wav file to the repeater based on the type of alert. My system does depend on the internet true, but my theory is that this infrastructure will be in place before an actual disaster hits and now everyone will be prepared if the ‘net goes down.

We’re hoping that by using all of these hardware and software alert methods and using our soon to be wide area repeater system, we will have a world class CANWARN system with few rivals.

CANWARN

Here in Canada, our amateur weather spotters are primarily members of CANWARN (more or less the equivalent to SKYWARN in the U.S.) and I would say most – but not all – are amateur radio operators. CANWARN alerts are issued by Environment Canada (EC) when extreme weather conditions are heading (or more normally, already here) into Canada.

EC will send a message to a local CANWARN coordinator (although I’m not quite sure how) who declares a CANWARN alert via amateur radio – usually through a local repeater. At this point, other members will report conditions where they are and the coordinator forwards this on to EC. Although on the surface this sounds great, there are some problems with this method.

  • A. If the coordinator isn’t in the area (on vacation, etc) nobody knows there is an alert.
  • B. If no one is listening to the repeater, nobody knows there’s an alert!

At some point in the past, CANWARN volunteers were issued a pager. But due to the inevitable budget cuts, that is no longer the case. I don’t think the local coordinator even has a pager anymore. And, since most hams don’t have smartphones or texting (go figure!) or regularly check their email (if they even have email!) this system breaks down very quickly. For me, an email or text message would alert me within minutes – if not seconds – of a CANWARN alert. But that’s just me. And the whole thing depends on Environment Canada even issuing an alert – something they are very slow to do in my opinion.

Another issue where I live is that geographically, most of our extreme weather comes from Michigan and there doesn’t seem to be very good coordination between SkyWarn and CANWARN. I’m certainly not faulting the Americans as they do an excellent job “over there” and once the weather has passed, it’s no longer anywhere near U.S. soil.

So, how to resolve this.

  • A. First off, most coordinators are very good. But, as with anything, they can’t be “on call” 24/7/365 now can they? Two or three assistant coordinators would be a great start. Each with a pager (or a TXT capable phone) and a list of telephone contacts.
  • B. Either we as hams need to make our own paging system (and we certainly could) or EC must start issuing pagers to more than just the coordinating members. Or, as some of the younger members would prefer, get sent a TXT message as we’re never very far from our, ahem, devices. How hard could that be?

So if anyone has any great ideas on this, let’s hear from ya!

 

 

New Store!

If you are in the Chilliwack, BC area, I implore you to visit a “new” store there beginning May 1, 2014. It is a new thrift store (UGG and IBQ love thrift stores) run by my sister Marianne. Yes, this is a blatant plea to unload some of your hard earned cash at a place of business – for regular readers here you know that’s something I rarely endorse. I’m sure you will be well and fairly treated there and I can personally vouch for the owners integrity. 🙂

Penny Wise Thrift Shop

Facebook Page

That should get you started – enjoy!

 

Front Brakes

We had the UGG mobile in the shop for front struts and the mechanic said that the front brake pads needed replacement. I kind of figured that already but the garage was getting enough of my hard earned money so I told him I was going to do them myself. Fine. I’ve never done front (or rear) brakes before but decided “how hard could it be?”. So off I went to youtube. After watching a couple of them I had the basics. See? Not so hard after all.

Saturday morning 11:10 AM I started getting all the tools I thought I’d require. Half inch drive electric gun. Check. Socket for wheel nuts. Check. 3/8’s drive ratchet with socket. Check. Big C-clamp. Check. Assorted other crap. Check. I jack up the car and take the wheel off. Then I take off the caliper. With a little nudging, out comes the old pads. No problems at all. I used the C-clamp to push the piston back in (could have used a prehensile tail there)  and I got VE3IBQ to hold it whilst I pushed in the piston. Easy. Put the new pads in, bolt everything back together and put the wheel back on. I take it for a spin down by the local church (just in case) and zero issues. I do the other side in prolly half the time. Take her for a spin. Perfect. All that in less than 1 hour.

What did I learn? I’ll never take my car in for brakes again. It was way easier than it looks on youtube – and it looks pretty simple there.  Next time will require rotors (no big deal) but I’m pretty sure I saved myself around $100 so I ended up with the new car jack for free and roughly $60 in my pocket. Now, if only changing my dome light was that easy… but that’s a story for another day.

VHF/UHF Antenna

Recently, VE3IBQ and myself added 10 feet of mast post to the tri-band VHF/UHF antenna setup. We’re now at 32 feet as opposed to 22 feet. I know, it doesn’t sound like much but boy, did it ever make a difference. It’s probably the fact that we’re now just over the surrounding buildings. Repeaters we could barely get into before (like VE3WIN in Windsor, VE3WHO in Sarnia) we get in to full quieting now. UHF performance increased even more. In fact, I spoke to another mobile in Chatham (roughly 26km – way over line-of-site which is 18km and at 50 watts to be sure) on VHF whereas before that was impossible.

Can’t wait for conditions to change to try some VHF/UHF DX on simplex. I have tried this in the past with limited success so I’m really hoping this will go better now. Wasn’t sure how much of a difference the 10 feet would make. I did do a SPLAT! that said it would make a difference but who knows how accurate that really is. Turns out it was pretty accurate. My main goal was to be able to cross-band from base to a walkie at the trailer site (about 6km away) but I’ve yet to try that. It does cross-band right across Wallaceburg now though.

Catch you on VHF simplex!

 


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