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™

 

Kenwood TM-V71

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The Kenwood TM-V71 Mobile Radio

At my QTH I can barely make it to the local APRS digipeater from my Yaesu FT1DR walkie using 144.390Mhz. The local iGate shut down so that left me with no APRS coverage (other than my phone) while taking the dog for a walk 🙁 What to do? Well, I haven’t been very active on FM voice lately. My  walkie can use APRS on any frequency – even UHF – so I thought I thought I’d press an old TM-732 into service as a cross band repeater (5 watts). Low and behold, this worked!

Sort of. It digipeats about 50% of the packets. Oh well, there’s lots of packets right? It works pretty good. Today I thought, “hmm. I wonder if my TM-V71 would work better?”. So I tried it. Yes, it works better. Much better. About 90%+ are passed now. And an extra bonus, my TM-732 was kind of bonky on UHF receive anyway and my walkie’s squawk range is 30% more! Need to send a text or email? Forgot your phone? No problem, APRS is there!

I discovered that 440.390Mhz is the UHF APRS frequency so I’m using that and ID’ing every 10 minutes on the UHF frequency using Morse at 20 WPM. I use a computer to squawk my ID (a STATUS really) over the APRS channel to be legal.

If you’re looking for a low cost solution to an APRS “extender”, this might be the way to go for you. The only issue is squawking on UHF. But, if you’re using a TinyTracker and an external radio, just swap out the VHF radio for a UHF radio – or use BOTH 🙂 – and Bob’s yer Uncle.

 

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 🙂

ProjectPSK

Due to the sudden interest in PSK 31/63 (and not just me) I embarked on a mission to make a PSK31 program that was powerful, flexible, easy to maintain, easy to use and included macros. After trying several methods, I hit upon a simple idea. Leveraging the power of windows forms and Visual Basic 6, I developed a multi-window PSK client that fits my design criteria.

Features:

  • full macro scripting (including nesting one or more macros inside other macros). Several “built-in” macros are available (<TIME>, <DATE>, <FREQUENCY>, <SIGNAL_LEV> etc)
  • up to 20 (not sure how many *can* be used actually – 50?) user defined auto-tracking “channels”. You can use 1 channel or 20 channels or anything in between. It’s all up to you.
  • each channel has it’s own “window” – not just a line of text – complete with a “compose” area allowing several simultaneous QSO’s. It has more the feel of a multi channel internet chat client rather than a “ham radio” program.
  • double clicking a macro name puts the fully expanded macro text into the clipboard ready to be pasted into any open channel.
  • macros are written in Notepad – very simple with low resource overhead.
  • very few menus and buttons. The mouse and toolbar buttons do most of the work.
  • any – or all – channels can be PSK31 or PSK63. Mix and match. PSK63 is TWICE as fast as PSK31 – very nice if you’re the “compose and send” type person rather than the “transmit and peck at the keyboard” style of operator.

If anyone is interested, I will be posting the software in the download section of this website. As I’m a complete idiot when it comes to installation routines, I’ll include step-by-step instructions on what needs to be done. No worries though, it won’t be that difficult. Probably. I hope. 🙂

Stuff yet to add: (in no particular order)

  • drag and drop macros
  • adding QPSK
  • signal seek mode
  • context sensitive help
  • more robust error checking
  • configuration file (start where you left off sort of thing)
  • speech to text
  • text to speech (who needs digital voice modes eh?)
  • some small windowing details to fix up

Be patient – I’m only one guy…

 

VHF/UHF SSB

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.

GO ANALOG!

DMR Bitchin’

On the DMR Facebook page a member asks this: “Can anyone tell me if the DR3000 can act as a dual mode repeater?”. In essence, can the repeater be set up to pass digital as well as analog? Another member answers: “Yes it can but i think dmr-marc frown on dual mode and deny access to their network.”. Yep. It’s true! The DMR-MARC network does not allow hams (who are by nature experimenters) to access the system with anything but Moto protocols. Ridiculous.

My comment:

One of the biggest drawbacks to DMR-MARC network is this one issue. In the analog world (or most ham environments), if we want to exchange data/voice to other repeaters by fairy princesses (as long as they are licensed amateurs of course) it’s allowed. Where does the DMR-MARC network get off not allowing hams to experiment? In fact, if dual mode WAS allowed, DMR-MARC would be our clubs system of choice and would allow clubs everywhere to adopt it.

This “no analog on the system” would/should certainly be the case in the commercial world (which DMR was designed for) but I see no reason to disallow it in the ham environment.

Oh well.

‘Nuff said.

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!

 


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