Another Successful Event!

And more APRS goodness to boot!

Today Duval County ARES supported the 2010 Gate River Run. This is an ever-growing 15K race that draws runners from around the country in search of $85K in prize money. I was happy to have every mile marker covered this year (though I did decide to skip mile 1). We also had a few additional positions along the route for extra coverage.

Myself and another operator serves as net control. He handled most of the radio traffic and I monitored the tail car. Once again we used APRS in the patrol car that was serving as the tail car at the end of the race. I think it’s safe to say that we considerably reduced phone and radio chatter since nobody had to try to get in touch with the office to find his location, they just had to ask us and wait for us to check the map. Our APRS updates were set to broadcast every 180 seconds at a fixed rate. This worked very well for us and we always knew where the last runners were within a block or two.

In addition to the LEO and Fire personnel in the communications tent with us, other LEO got a sneak peak at what we were doing. One of our operators used his iPhone to show the position of the tail car to two motorcycle officers. “They were very impressed and wanted to understand how the heck that was working….!” is the report I received.

Unfortunately next weekend’s event, the St. Johns River Celebration Cleanup, won’t really provide us any opportunity to use APRS. While we do have several boat ramps in areas that are being cleaned we won’t have any maritime mobile stations at these locations.

River Run APRS Track

I was quite pleased that I finally had what I would call a successful round with Depiction. I had my doubts as it didn’t seem to want to work for me but during the net I spent some time working on it again. Fortunately this was a very small area we were working in and I only had a few stations to add. I fired up the openaprs.net Quickstart and was pleasantly surprised to see our tail car (JSOTL-9) appear on the map. I think I still have a number of kinks to work out but at least it would appear that I’m making some progress.

On Monday I meet with the Tour de Cure team again. I’m looking forward to sharing with the event director the results of our test last weekend. Now we just need to start scrounging up some radios that we can use as well as some inexpensive GPS units to go with the TinyTraks. I know we won’t have enough this year to put one in every vehicle but if we can cover even half of the vehicles and cover the others with actual radio operators that would make me happy. We can spend the rest of the year coming up with more self-contained units that we can deploy as needed.

Our APRS testing has also caught the eye of our Red Cross liaison. He’s very interested in putting these soon-to-be kits to use with vehicles that are deployed as part of disaster assessment.

We’re making headway with our goals to really implement some good technologies in the county. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.

Tour Trial Run

Well, a number of us from a couple of counties did a trial run of the 100-mile route for May’s Tour de Cure. We started at 2pm with stations located at key mile markers along the route. I then drove the route from start to finish to see how well my APRS packets were received.

Several of the guys had Kenwood 710s running and the hope was that they’d be able to digipeat for me. Unfortunately this didn’t quite happen as planned and I went off the grid for over an hour. We had one station positioned at a rest stop in the middle of our “dead” zone and he was running UI-View on his laptop. We made a great discovery. He could see all of us and his packets were being seen online. So as long as we can work out the technical kinks so that the digipeating actually works then we should have full coverage. Another point about this critical location is that we have some former ARES members that moved and now live 15 miles south of his location along another portion of the route. Hopefully we can stage a digipeater at their QTH and see the same results.

While I was driving I also used today as on opportunity to test my new Virgin Mobile Wireless Broadband adapter. It worked great the whole way with covering ranging from 1 to 4 bars. I only briefly lost the signal in one area and it was back quickly. I also noticed that I have very little bandwidth usage when just trying to get APRS updates and not browsing, emailing, etc.

I left the course about 6:00 with good feelings about what the future holds. Overall I think it was a great learning exercise for everyone involved. Now my critical need is to figure out a way/place to download individual APRS tracks so I can overlay every station’s track in Google Earth. So far the only KML options I’ve found (through aprs.fi and openaprs.net) are only real-time options and don’t let you download the resulting track. The latter says you can save tracks but it hasn’t seemed to have worked for me yet.

Well that’s all so far. I’m sure I’ll have more to report back later.

APRS Coverage Testing

Well, tomorrow is our first attempt at multi-county APRS tracking in preparation for the 2010 Tour de Cure. Much of the course route is in very rural country and the current coverage is slim to none. We’ve got four operators from Duval and Clay counties capable of digipeating and tracking via UI-View. I’ll be driving the 100-mile route from start to finish to see if having multiple digipeaters along the route will improve our odds of getting accurate updates.

After talking to the event director we have a better idea of what we need communications-wise. I don’t know that we’ll be able to track every vehicle with APRS since we just won’t have enough trackers but we’ll do what we can. We’ll have 8-10 SAG vehicles along with a sweep vehicle for both routes. I at least want to have the sweeps tracked so we always know where the end is. I’m also keeping my fingers crossed that we’ll be able to get more tracking systems setup.

There’s a lot to do between now and May. I’m very excited that we’ve got some new people involved and that we’re planning well in advance of the ride. It’s a huge undertaking but I really think it’ll blow some minds when we pull it off.

Some Linux Success!

One of the issues I’ve been battling since making the switch to Linux is getting my radio programming software to work. The apps run under Wine but I couldn’t get my USB/serial adapter to be recognized by the software.

I finally had success tonight. It was so simple I’m kicking myself. All I needed to do was create a symbolic link from the device to the COM port I wanted it assigned to. So the syntax is:

ln -s /dev/ttyUSB0 ~/.wine/dosdevices/comx

where ‘x’ is the port number. Works like a dream!

New Position

Well, it’s with mixed emotions but I was appointed as the ARES Emergency Coordinator at tonight’s meeting. Our District EC made the announcement and it was approved later in the evening when our Section Manager arrived. I truly wish my predecessor hadn’t needed to step down but I’ll do my best.

We had a great meeting. Our guest speaker had to be pleased with the more than 50 people in attendance. He gave a great 2-hr talk on D-Star and his vision for the East Coast of Florida. Hopefully we’ll be another D-Star hub in the state in the next few weeks. Looking forward to learning and exploring some new technology.

Marathon APRS Success…Mostly

It was an early start to the day. The alarm went off at 5:20 and my fellow net control operator arrived in time for us to leave by 6. We picked up our NCS student at 6:08 and then got stuck in traffic. It’s usually not a problem but road construction and fewer lanes killed us. We arrived later than expected but didn’t have to rush too terribly much to get on the air for a 7am roll call.

About 7:30 the JSO tail car arrived and I installed the radio with the GPS and APRS TinyTrak. The officer driving was very happy to help us and we certainly appreciate it. I monitored via the Blackberry and through my new Virgin Mobile pre-paid wireless broadband account. As the race started fear set it as I realized I’d stopped getting updates. Fortunately I had the mindset to stop the tail car before he went through the finish line. It’s a good thing I did. Somehow the power had become disconnected and the TinyTrak was off.

With that catastrophe averted I jogged back to the side to head back to the command post when I heard APRS bursts on the net frequency. That’s when more panic set it. The side of the 8800 I had the APRS on is normally set to the repeater we used for the net. Off I went running after the JSO patrol car to stop him again. I was pleased that it wasn’t me. :-)

All in all the device worked well. Unfortunately I did have very large gaps in coverage. It was configured to transmit every 60 seconds. Sometimes it wouldn’t update for 60 minutes. Just when I’d give up I’d get a good update. I need to go through the raw data but I don’t know if it’ll tell me much. I did hear that a couple of other operators also had gaps in their APRS updates so maybe it was just the area and not me. We weren’t too far from the nearest digipeater so I wouldn’t have expected spotty coverage but you never know.

If nothing else I at least have some other ideas now for planning the APRS usage for the Tour de Cure in May. Namely I think we’ll need to provide our own digipeater AND igate. Time to do some more research.

Had a great time and after the initial chill of the morning we had a beautiful day. For the record, Mr. Buddy is a great little heater. ;-)

Marathon Preps and APRS

Tomorrow is the 3rd annual 26.2 with Donna Breast Cancer Marathon. Our ARES group has supported it since it began and it’s really an enjoyable event for us. It also kicks off our busy season as things really roll into high gear after March 1.

This year we wanted to try a couple of new things. First is the Depiction software. I’d really hoped to use it to have a consolidated view of the event. I had the full course loaded on the street map when I hit a snag. I hadn’t considered the possibility of activation problems and for whatever reason I have been unable to get it activated on my laptop. Since I waited until today to try there wasn’t any chance of getting tech support to help me manually activate it. I guess we’ll chalk this up as a lesson learned.

The second area we wanted to explore was APRS. Typically when we want to find where the end of the race is we have to call around trying to find the tail car and it’s not always a timely affair. This year I decided to install an APRS tracker in the tail car. Much to my delight the Sheriff’s Office was happy to let us do so.

Unfortunately, now that we had permission up the chain of command, things went south in a hurry. Not only had my TinyTrak stopped working with the Motorola Radius, now it isn’t even working with my FT-8800. I’m not sure what was going on. I’d tried so many changes of the configuration, output levels, etc. that I gave up.

Well, a miracle happened and I finally got it working. I still don’t know what the problem was (which I hate) but I was able to drive around town a bit and had patchy coverage. It wasn’t perfect but hopefully it’ll be good for tomorrow.

Since I was having so much trouble with the APRS stuff I decided to give my mind a break before I went postal. At the Orlando Hamcation last weekend I picked up a new vertical antenna for emergency deployment. It’s the Eagle One Vertical Antenna. I set it up the first time in about 10 minutes (had some hardware to deal with) and was pleased at least with its receive capabilities. It seemed to be picking up a lot of stations across the bands very clearly. Unfortunately I did want to get back to the APRS issue since it was fairly critical so I didn’t have it on the air long but I did get a good signal report from a NC station.
I chalked it up as a success. Can’t wait to put it on the air again soon.

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Depiction

A couple of us have been talking about depiction and how we might use it in our ARES group as well as some of the special events our local radio club participates in. If you’re not familiar with depiction it allows you to bring together various data sources into a single, integrated environment. You can also share your information with other users so that everybody stays on the same page.

Depiction is a .NET application and, of course, I’m running Linux. My mission at the moment is to get the software running under Linux without having to resort to installing inside a virtual machine. Sure, I have several VMs running with various Windows versions but if I can get something running outside the VM I will. And so I’ve embarked on the journey…

I ran into my first stumbling block with the .NET 3.5 Framework. I didn’t really expect much and got just that. .NET only appears to have worked successfully on Linux using tools like winetricks up to version 2.0. I have yet to find any good stories with later versions. I decided to give DotGNU a try and that’s where I am at the moment.

So far I’ve successfully made and installed the following modules: treecc, pnet and pnetlib. I even have proof that it worked:

x:/DotGNU/pnet-0.8.0/samples$ ../engine/ilrun hello.exe
Hello World!

More Linux Fun

Yeah, I know, this isn’t really radio-related but it all plays into my ultimate goal. If I can’t run my radio apps I can’t fully make the switch. Granted, I’m playing with VMs so I guess that’s cheating but I’m not having much luck with WINE. Now that that’s out of the way I just got my 3rd Windows VM running on the desktop. I now have VMs for XP, Vista, and Windows 7.

For some reason the XP VM on my laptop quit working and now I can’t get it to read the CD. I’m going to try again tonight since I trust XP more than the others. We’ll see. Hopefully I’ll get back to work on the TinyTrak and Motorola combo tomorrow.

Perhaps I Spoke Too Soon

It turns out the fact that I got a successful update was, perhaps, a fluke. Something is amiss with the TT3 now and it keeps losing its mind. I’m thinking it’s not stray RF since it still works fine when connected to the FT-8800. Perhaps something came loose in the cable, though, and that is throwing it off. Regardless, I’m back off the air until I can figure out the problem and come up with a solution. What a rollercoaster. :-/