APRS For Free!

Well almost free anyway. Do you have an Android phone? Do you have a Baofeng UV5R? Sure you do. So now you can do amazing things with those two tools! APRS is a great way to locate other hams (optional of course) and even send them SMS messages via the APRS system.

baofeng_trrsAnd this is how you wire it up to the best of my knowledge. You’ll also need some software running on your Android phone called “APRSdroid” which is readily available in the Play Store. There might be a small fee – I don’t remember – but it isn’t much and is well worth it if you’re a ham. If this interface works, you could probably even send SSTV (yes, there’s an app for that), PSK31, etc, between walkies or even via any voice repeater in range.

Text AND picture messaging! Oh MAN!

This is how we may get new hams into the hobby. There has to be something younger people can use much like they use their current technology. They need to know how they can mix an old technology (radio) with a “new” technology (computers). To find out that with a $35 accessory (a UV5R), a cable and a ham radio license, their phone becomes a communication tool that will work WITHOUT the cell network if need be, would be inspiring to most <30’s people. Now if only someone provided a ready-made cable…

And even if their cell phone battery dies or they aren’t in range of the cell network, a nearby EchoIRLP repeater would keep them in voice contact to most parts of the entire globe just using that $35 “accessory”!


A glorious day for ham radio™


Raspberry Pi

Sounds yummy eh? I finally got the proper GPIO gear (basically, a breakout box) for my Pi B+ and wow. I satrted out like everyone flashing an LED. Had some issues getting that to work out of the hop but eventually realized the header wasn’t pressed in firmly enough. Doh!

After getting the LED to flash, I of course, had to elaborate on that right away. Started with flashing TWO LED’s then decided, “hey, why not flash FOUR LED’s in a binary counter fashion. Before I even pressed RUN I’d added 4 more LED’s and made an 8 bit binary counter. How fun is that eh?

There you have it. An 8 bit binary counter 🙂


The latest craze in Amateur Radio is digital voice. This has come about due to various governmental mandates to reduce bandwidth requirements in the “crowded” VHF and UHF spectrum. Commercial systems must comply to a new 12.5 kHz “narrow band FM” down from the normal 25 kHz channel spacing. This effectively squeezes twice the number of users into the same band. Unfortunately, this reduces sound quality and range. When range is reduced, power levels are increased which causes more interference. The “work-around” is digital voice. Some manufacturers brag of even fitting TWO digital voice channels in this one – already smaller – channel making a voice channel now 6.25 kHz! Fantastic eh? Um, no. Even though the number of voice channels is now effectively quadrupled over that of “standard” wideband FM voice, sound quality and range both suffer.

As a ham, we don’t have the same restrictions on bandwidth and are not required to go “narrow band”. In fact in Canada, a ham can use 30 kHz of bandwidth on VHF and up to 12 MHZ on the UHF (70cm) band! So why have hams embraced this cramming of voice channels into our bands? Some claim the ham bands are crowded. Really? I’ve driven from Windsor to Toronto and passed by over a dozen repeaters and couldn’t raise a SINGLE ham anywhere. Not that busy. There are so many repeaters that rarely if ever get used it’s kind of ridiculous. Are commercial digital radios cheaper maybe? Commercial radios cost MORE than amateur gear. Does digital voice sound better. Certainly not to my ears but I guess if you like the sound of people talking with a mouth full of marbles then it’s excellent. I prefer smooth audio thanks. There is only one digital mode that makes any kind of financial sense and that is DMR (MotoTrbo). MotoTrbo crams those 2 voice channels onto ONE repeater so in effect, you get two for the price of one! Considering repeater sites are few and far between, this does make some sense. But to my ears, the sound quality is horrendous.

So what is the answer? It turns out that hams have always had a “narrow band” ANALOG mode available to them for a long time. That mode is single sideband (SSB)! In the same channel space of 25kHz that the digital guys brag of cramming in 4 voice channels, SSB can cram in TEN! The perceived issue with that is repeating a SSB signal. One cannot use a standard FM repeater setup that depends on detecting a carrier wave because SSB doesn’t HAVE a carrier. But, many amateur (and commercial) satellites contain a “linear transponder” which essentially passes every signal – FM, SSB, CW, PSK, … in a “raw” fashion. Eg. CW in CW out. SSB in, SSB out.

There’s no reason whatsoever that terrestrial linear transponders can’t replace or at least augment current standard FM ham repeaters thus blowing any commercial system right out of the water! Excellent range and sound quality and a 2.5 kHz (or so) bandwidth signal. That’s TEN for the price of one!

So let’s all write to our favourite amateur radio manufacturers and tell them we DEMAND an FM/SSB mobile rig. They might even listen. Let’s face it, CB manufacturers have SSB rigs out there for $150 (or less) so I’m sure it’s technically (and financially) possible for “the big three” to make even a single band FM/SSB rig.


Raspberry Pi

I finally broke down and purchased a Pi. Yep, the whole thing. Pi, case, PSU, HDMI cable, WiFi and pre-loaded SD card. Assembled it, hooked it up to the little TV, turned it on – presto, a Linux computer. Up and running in like 10 minutes. I’ll say this though, it’s no speed demon. I tried “surfing the web” but unless you are VERY patient, it isn’t going to be a blazing fast experience. But I didn’t really buy it to provide media services or anything like that. No, I bought it to experiment with ham radio applications.

I’m still not “exactly” sure what I’ll use it for. And, I’ll probably still need a GPIO cable to do anything useful. Still, it’s an extremely powerful little box. One can program it in Ruby or Python (preferred) or really any language you want to load in. It does include a GUI in the Raspbian operating system. And it does work pretty slick. The GUI however takes a LOT of horse power – it’s more designed as a controller in text mode. Which is fine.

For $67 CDN you can’t really go wrong. I’d use it in a pinch if all my other computers, tablets, phones somehow stopped working. Being able to hook it up to any modern TV is a large bonus. I’m going to try the 42″ TV – man, that will be a big monitor!


Deck Addition

Last year we built a 12×12(ish) deck behind our house. This deck took the place of a falling down “room”  and the whole project took quite some time as the time and effort to demolish the “room” was a lot more than we planned. At any rate, it was my first deck building project and it turned out very well. Also last year myself and my brother-in-law built a deck at the in-laws trailer site. It was complete with railings, stairs and a wheelchair ramp.

This last week – after building a very decent fence – I decided to extend our deck another 80 square feet. This deck turned out as good as the first! I use bolts in the corners and screws everywhere. The first deck did not have railings and the extension needed railings as it is a bit higher. So, after approx. 3 days of work – largely on my own – I am done. We now have over 200 sq feet of amazing deck space. I will admit that I did sacrifice accuracy for safety but having said that, its accurate to +/- 2 inches so I’m ok with that. It’s more or less level and it matched up with the “old” deck quite well. It’s extremely robust and I’m sure would “hold an elephant”. Plenty safe for a few hams anyway 🙂

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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.

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