Starting the new year with some new gear!

The last few weeks have almost been like a second Christmas for me. I’ve picked up a bunch of new radio gear and I’m now on my way to being on a new band and back on another.

Thanks to a generous club member, I’ve been given a Ten-Tec 1209 2m to 6m transverter. I am super excited to be able to work the magic band! This is a great acquisition since one of the other rigs I’ve picked up recently is a Yaesu FT-726R V/UHF all mode transceiver. The Yaesu is on loan but that is fine with me. It only has the 2m module in it right now but I’m keeping my eye out for others. This rig works quite well but does need a bit of tuning as it is a few Hz off frequency.

The third rig I’ve recently acquired is a commercial Motorola Phoenix SX UHF radio. This one did cost me about $30 but that’s still a great price. There’s not a huge amount of UHF activity around here but we do have a couple of repeaters locally that I use, so it’s nice to be back on.

The unfortunate part is having to wait for better weather to get some more antennas up. I’ve got two antennas waiting to go up along with the final section of my 32ft tower. A new V/UHF dual bander is the first one to go up. Then I will be tuning a Cushcraft Ringo Ranger for 6m. After those are up and working, I will need to sort out what I want to do for 2m and 6m SSB. I’m thinking of mounting a couple of beams, if I can sort out where to put them.

Anyway that’s about all that’s new from here. It’s been quiet around the shack lately. I’ve included some pics of the new gear below.

73 for now!
VE1XT

Bonus Link: An awesome VHF propagation map with live updates

Ten-Tec Model 1209 2m to 6m Transverter

Ten-Tec Model 1209 2m to 6m Transverter

Yaesu FT-726R

Yaesu FT-726R

Motorola Phoenix SX

Motorola Phoenix SX

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Packet: Using Outpost Packet Message Manager with a PK-88 TNC

Ever since I got back into packet radio, I’ve been looking for a suitable software application that would work with my PK-88 and Windows 7. After trying to figure out a way to get WinPack to work in Windows 7 (which it does not) and then settling on Tera Term, I found Outpost Packet Message Manager.

What I like the most about Outpost is that it works a lot like email. It’s a familiar interface and is easy to learn. Some of the terminology is a bit different but that’s minor. For example, the Inbox is called In Tray and the folder that stores messages waiting to be sent is called Out Tray. See below for a picture of the main screen. I’ve included a message that I archived so you can see the how it looks.

Main Interface Screen

Main Interface Screen

Although the software is not technically made to work with a PK-88 TNC, I found that you could easily get it going by using the build in settings for the Kantronics KPC3. Luckily it uses the same command set and works pretty much identical.

One thing to note, is that this software is mainly used to connect to, and send messages through, a local BBS system. We currently have one local BBS that is accessible through our club’s digipeater (or direct for some). As you’ll see later on, this is VE1RB.

It wasn’t difficult to configure the application I decided to provide step by step instructions in case it may benefit others.

 

  1. Download Outpost from here.
  2. Install the software
  3. Open the program: All Programs > Outpost > Outpost PMM. It also installs other applications but this is the one we want for now.
  4. Once the main screen is open (see above). Click the Setup menu and select TNC.
  5. Now we need to define the settings to connect to the TNC. In the choose a device name, click the drop down, then select KPC-3 and ensure that the device type is set to TNC.
    Outpost Interface Config 1

    Select and Interface Type / Interface Type tap

     

  6. Next, click on the TNC Comm Port tab. Here we need to select the correct Comm Port that your TNC is connected to. Generally you will always see COM1 (which is probably not the one we want). On my PC, the USB-to-Serial adapter shows a COM7, so that is the one I’ve selected. I’ve seen some PCs use COM4, COM5, or COM6 so choose the correct one for you. The rest of the settings can remain the defailt. Max Speed = 9600 baud, Data Bits = 8, Parity = None, and Stop Bits = 1.
Outpost Interface Config 2

Select and Interface Type / TNC Comm Port Tab

7. Now we have to configure a BBS to connect to. This is so Outpost knows where to fetch new messages from, and where to go to send messages. Click on the Setup menu again but this time select BBS. You’ll want to click the New button on the right hand side to created a new profile for this BBS (or you can edit one of the existing ones. The only real field on this tab that matters is the Connect Name filed. This needs to be populated with the name of whatever BBS you want to connect to. In my case, this is VE1RB.

Outpost BBS Config 1

Select a BBS / BBS Name

8. In my case, I also needed to configure the BBS Path as I cannot connect directly to the local BBS. All you need to define here is the list under Via digipeaters(s). In my case I can access the BBS through our club’s digipeater (VE1YAR). If you can connect directly you can skip this step.

Outpost BBS Config 2

Define a new BBS / BBS Path

9. Once you have clicked Apply so the settings take effect, you are ready to connect. On the main screen, click the Send/Receive button. This will tell the TNC to connect to the BBS and retrieve any messages you may have waiting for you. You will see a small pop-up window showing the output of the connection to the BBS. This is handy in case you have problems with the configuration.

Packet Session Manager

Packet Session Manager

10. That’s it. You should be on your way to sending and receiving messages with Outpost.

 

73 for now,
VE1XT

 

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My First Broadband Hamnet Mesh Node – VE1XT-N01

I’ve always hated the wait between the time I order something on eBay and when it is received. I’m quite impatient. None-the-less, today I received my Linksys WRT54G v2 router that I ordered last week on eBay.

These evening I have been busy setting up the mesh node and playing around with the configuration. I am hoping this is going to be the first of a few nodes locally. I have another friend (and operator) who is interested and happens to have a compatible router. My next step is to get that from him and set up the firmware on it. I’ve also mentioned this little project to the folks at the radio club and a couple others have also expressed interest.

I was surprised at how easy the installation process was. Since the router already had dd-wrt installed, I was able to simply download and apply the BBHN firmware just as if I was updating the existing OS. After that it was as simple as logging in, changing the password, and setting a node name.

After I am able to get a couple of nodes running locally, in my house, I will likely be looking for a couple of 2.4 GHz Yagi antennas to install on my new tower when it goes up. This way I should be able to get much great distance by going over the treeline. I’m no RF expert but from what I am told 2.4 Ghz is very fussy when it comes to obstructions. I guess that is was a lot of corporate wireless broadband providers will use frequencies in the 900 MHz range.

Anyway, I’ll post further updates when I have more nodes up and running. If you are interested in running a node check out the Broadband Hamnet website. There you can also find a printable hardware compatibility list that you can use when you are out shopping.

 

73 de VE1XT

 

PS> Obligatory screenie!

VE1XT-N01 Node Status

VE1XT-N01 Node Status

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Arial Flyby of K3LR

The K3LR contesting station is an amazing place! If only we all the means to create such and awesome station!

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New callsign

As of about noon local time (Atlantic) I have been assigned a new callsign from Industry Canada. The new call is VE1XT.

Being a computer geek, and not being able to find a call that represented my initials in some way that I liked, I decided to pay homage to the IBM Personal Computer XT.

Because I want to keep my old call in use, and I am a bit lazy, I will let my packet and APRS nodes continue using my original VE1DCD call.

73
VE1XT

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Back in the IT business

Yes, you read the title correctly. I have recently switches careers again and am now back in to the IT game.

For a while I had been talking about how it would feel good to get back into the IT industry. When I left my previous IT position, I did so because of circumstances not related to the actual industry. I always loved what I was doing but at that time I was in need of a change to get out of the situation I was in. The time I spent at my last job (the non-IT one) was great and they were a great company to work for. But, the more I thought of it the more I really wanted to put my skills back to use.

Luckily for me, I was recently contacted by a former co-worker who had a possible opportunity for me. I talked it over with my wife and sent along my resume. A few days later I was signing my contract. This was probably the quickest I’ve ever been from thinking about a new job and accepting one. This all happened in the span of 3 or 4 days.

Also, I will hopefully have a new call sign on the next few days :). I will let you know what that is when I am officially allowed to use it.

Cheers for now!

73 de ve1dcd

 

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AEA PK-88 Packet Controller Manual

The manual for the PK-88 is a great help when trying to figure the thing out, but the problem is that I have yet to find a searchable version. The manual I’ve been referencing has been a PDF that was never passed through an OCR program to convert it to text that can be searched.

I ran the PDF file through FreeOCR, hoping that it would help. Unfortunately the output was quite garbled and is difficult, at times, to read. None the less, I now have a copy that I can search and possibly find things. This should still be helpful when looking for command references and setting parameters.

In case anyone is interested, I have posted the converted copy below in both txt and rtf formats, as well as the original PDF. If you find this helpful please let me know.

 

73 de VE1DCD

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A “Go Bag” for my Baofeng UV-5RA HT

Since my purchase of a Baofeng UV-5RA a few months back, I have acquired more than a few accessories to go with it. It was getting to the point that I had stuff laying around all over the place and could never find things. I decided to go check out the local Dollarama store today to see if I could find a bag to put it all in. I was quite happy when I found this CD carry case for $2. It even has a shoulder strap.

CD carry case for uv5r packed

All of the following fits in it:

  1. Baofeng UV-5RA HT
  2. Original rubber duck antenna
  3. After market Nagoya (aka Diamond) antenna
  4. Drop-in battery charger
  5. Battery Eliminator
  6. Speaker MIC
  7. Programming cable
  8. Pen
  9. Printed log paper

 

This should come in handy this week when we are gone camping. I don’t know how much I will use it, but just having the ability to throw it over my shoulder and carry it around with me is worth it.

 

CD carry case for uv5r

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Standby Power (aka Phantom Load or Vampire Draw) – It may not really be off when you think it is!

You may not realize this, but many of the electrical devices in your home can draw power even when they are “turned off”. This is sometimes called Phantom Load, Vampire Draw, or Standby Power.

From Wikipedia “Standby power, also called vampire power, vampire draw, phantom load, or leaking electricity, refers to the electric power consumed by electronic and electrical appliances while they are switched off (but are designed to draw some power) or in a standby mode.”

Many devices have this “feature” that when they are switched off, using the power button, they are in a standby mode rather than truly being off. This means that the device will still draw power. According to Wikipedia most developed countries had regulations in place by 2010 that restricted this power consumption to around 1 watt. You will have to look up the specifics for your country / location to be certain what the regulations are.

The reason I mention this is that such devices can contribute to higher electric / hydro costs as they are consuming electricity while unused.

This problem is quite easy to solve. When you aren’t using something, unplug it. But if you are like me, that could be a problem as I am forgetful and absent minded sometimes but there are products out there that can help with this. Power bars are the most common I have seen so here are a few types:

  1. Basic power bar with a switch – You can simply plug all of your devices into one of these and turn off the switch on the bar when you want to turn everything off.
  2. Power bar with a timer – You can get power bars that have timers on them so they can be set to turn off (and / or on) whenever you want. Here is an example by Globe Electric.
  3. Load sensing power bar – These are probably the most expensive but are more convenient. Basically they have one plug that controls all others. So if you plug the TV into the master, the other plugs will turn off and on only when the master senses a load. This is perfect for a TV / Media center as you generally only need the other devices (stereo, cable box, dish receiver, etc) when the TV is on.  Here is an example of one by Smart Strip.

The links provided above are just examples that I found quickly on Amazon. Click here for a quick search of power bar on Amazon.

Hopefully this can help you further reduce your energy costs and usage.

 

Thanks for reading! Please share if this was helpful!
Dennis

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5 Tips For Saving Energy and Reducing Your Energy Costs

For this post, I am going to step away from my amateur radio hobby and talk about things related to my day job.

During the week, when I am not playing radio, I am working full-time for an organization that promotes environmental / energy conservation. While I am on the job, I am visiting homes providing products that both conserve energy and save our clients money. During these visits I also provide some consultation on changing behaviors to reduce consumption.

Along my travels, I have seen all sorts of behaviors when it comes to how people use energy (electric or other). Some are good, some are very bad. As a result of this, I have put together some tips that you can use to help reduce the amount of energy you consume in your home and help save you a little money at the same time.

Some of these tips are free to implement, others may cost a little bit, but the return should be greater than the initial cost (given enough time). Also, for the purpose of this article we will assume that ENERGY USAGE = COST, as that is typically the case, unless you are using solar or wind power to generate your own electricity.

Tip # 1: TURN IT OFF – The old saying “It costs more to turn it off and on than it does to leave it on” is a myth. It costs much more to leave your lights, appliances, and even your car on than it does to shut it off and turn it back on again when you need it.

Tip #2: Reduce your shower time – I would recommend that showers be reduced to ten minutes or less. The less hot water you use, the less the heater has to work to heat the cold water coming in. Also, if you are on a well, it will cost less to run the pump to fill the tank. If you are on a city or municipal system, where the incoming and outgoing water is measured, then it should also help reduce your water bill.

Tip # 3: Install low flow water measures – The most popular of these that I’ve seen are low flow shower heads and aerators. A really efficient shower head should only use about 1.5 to 1.75 gpm (or approx 5.7 lpm). A good example of a very efficient shower head is the Bi-Max which can switch between 1.0 gpm and 1.5 gpm. Another efficient one I’ve found is this 1.75 gpm from Toto. Don’t be scared, low flow does not necessarily mean low pressure. Most manufacturers have overcome this problem and actually provide great water pressure. You should be able to easily find some low flow aerators at your local hardware store. Try to purchase the most efficient ones possible.

Tip # 4: Wrap your hot water heater in an insulated blanket – For what it’s worth, a hot water heater is highly inefficient (as is most anything with an element). Although the newer ones are better insulated, they will still lose heat over time and need to turn on to reheat the water in the tank. Naturally, if we can reduce the heat loss, we can reduce the energy needed to heat the water. A typical tank blanket / cover should add an R value of around 5 to your tank, thus improving the efficiency and reducing the cost to run it. Most hardware stores will carry these blankets. I’ve included a couple of pictures so you know what to look for.

Water Heater Wrap Water Heater Wrap

Tip # 5: Install energy efficient light bulbs – This one can be costly if done all at once but can be a huge saver. I currently recommend Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs (CFLs) as they are the most affordable and provide great energy savings. A typical CFL that replaces a 60w incandescent bulb uses only 13w and a typical 100w replacement uses 23w. Do the math and you can figure out how quickly the savings will add up. If you have a bit extra to spend, you can look into getting some LED bulbs as they do reduce consumption even further and have a much longer life span.

I’ve got a bunch more that I could add but I will save those for a future post. This should be enough to get you thinking about reducing your consumption and cost! If you have any specific questions or comments feel free to add them in the comments section.

Cheers!
DD

 

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