EchoLink Node #496698

I have not played around with EchoLink for a while. Reviewing my manual for the Kenwood TM-D710A that I have running my APRS traffic for my home weather station, I saw how the D710A can also simultaneously run an EchoLink node (with the additional PG-5H cables). Configuring the EchoLink software to work with the D710A is pretty simple and is covered in one of the Kenwood manuals for the rig that focuses on both APRS and EchoLink operation. I established my EchoLink station as a simplex “link”. That allows me to have the EchoLink node operational on a simplex VHF/UHF frequency and accessible by either HT from the house or from my mobile rig while I am driving in and around town. By using DTMF commands over the simplex link, I can bring the node up and down as well as connect to different EchoLink enabled repeaters and conferences. It is interesting to note that since I was last playing around with EchoLink, it seems there are a lot less nodes around. I’m guessing this can be attributed to the growing popularity of IRLP over EchoLink. If you are near an EchoLink repeater or have the software installed – give me a call at EchoLink Node #496698.

Hoop-Dee-Doo and Disney Too!

We had a great time at Disney World! My hats off to the XYL for a ton of research and planning that went into the trip. One resource that really paid off was the PassPorter’s Walt Disney World 2009: The Unique Travel Guide, Planner, Organizer, Journal, and Keepsake! by Jennifer and Dave Marx. While I had a few other Disney books on my Kindle, the PassPorter was a veritable pirate’s treasure trove of advice and tips that did the most for making our trip and absolute, unqualified success.

We opted to take a direct flight for Kansas City to Orlando on Southwest. I don’t think it was the cheapest flight and Southwest has their quirky seating policy. However, with the kids (a 4 year old and a 8 month old) a direct flight was the best option. Fortunately, those traveling with small children get to board first, so even with Southwest’s cattle call seating we were able to keep the family intact.

Transportation from Orlando International to Disney World was via Disney’s own bus service. When staying at a Disney resort, this is a great service. Again, the XYL doing the research ahead time was able to get special tags for our checked luggage so we were able to bypass the baggage carousel and head straight for the Disney Express. Our baggage would then be retrieved by Disney and taken directly to our room at the resort.

The ride to our resort, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, was quick. The bus was equipped with overhead TVs playing an introduction video explaining check in at the resorts and other information. We arrived at the Animal Kingdom Lodge around 1pm and were able to quickly check in and head to our room. The room had two queen beds and overlooked the animal reserve that surrounded the resort. Giraffes, zebras, and other animals were grazing in the savanna like area a mere 50 yards away.

The XYL had also done some research on the meal plan that Disney offers. It is a bit complicated, but worth understanding. With a little bit of planning, opting for the meal plan can save quite a bit of money. We went down to the resort’s food court to grab a quick lunch and make sure our meal plans were working correctly. Then it was off to the resort’s bus stops to head to the Magic Kingdom.

Disney World has a massive transportation system that is primarily made up of buses, but there are also water taxis and of course the monorail. From resorts, you can travel to any of the parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom). From each park, you can travel to any of the resorts. Things get tricky if you want to travel from one resort to another (like to go to one of their restaurants or just look around). It requires you to first go to a park and then catch another mode of transportation to that specific resort. Things become complicated towards nighttime when parks start closing as transportation usually only runs to the parks for only one hour after closing. There are several iPhone/iPod Touch apps that track park opening and closing times which we used several time to make sure we didn’t end up going to a park in order to catch a bus that was no longer running. Some resorts are right on the monorail which makes life a breeze to get to both the Magic Kingdom and Epcot. Despite the complexity of the transportation system, you rarely wait longer than 20 minutes and the bus drivers (boat drivers, etc.) are all extremely helpful to help you get where you want to go.

And with that point I need to stress that every Disney employee (or as Disney calls them: Cast Members) is extremely helpful. From the bus drivers, hotel clerks, maids, restaurant waiters, store clerks, park security, ticket takers, and the staff members in the park. They all have an excellent attitude and do their best to make sure you are happy. An this is really what makes Disney World a top notch vacation destination. What makes the difference for Disney is the quality of their employees. All are dedicated to making your experience the best it can possibly be.

During our stay we traveled to all the parks. I most enjoyed the Magic Kingdom. Hollywood Studios would probably be my next favorite – although we didn’t get to spend as much time there as we wanted. All the parks were quite busy during the pre-Christmas days. Going early or staying late helped avoid the crowds. Also one park a day will have an early opening or late closing just for resort guests – which really helps.

Disney has many excellent restaurants that can get quite fancy but are also kid friendly. We enjoyed several of the finer restaurants like the Artist’s Point at the Wilderness Lodge and the restaurant on the 15th floor of the Contemporary resort (the California Grill) were we were able to enjoy the Magic Kingdom’s firework show from the comfort of our window-view table. There are also dining events specifically geared to allow the kids meet the many Disney characters. Our 4 year old daughter loved these, as she was able to meet just about everyone from Mary Poppins to June from Little Einsteins. Her highlight was the princess breakfast at the Cinderella Castle. She got to meet Cinderella downstairs and then most of all the rest of the princesses during breakfast (Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Jasmine, and Ariel). While costs can be steep, effective use of the meal plan can really make it affordable.

Disney also affords the opportunity for the kids (and sometimes the adults) to get made-up in a certain Disney theme. We first took advantage of this with the Pirate’s League where individuals are able to get made-up as pirates like you’d find on the Pirate’s of the Caribbean (my favorite ride). The four year old was made up to look like Captain Hook, to include the red coat, eye patch, and sword. She had a blast. The Disney folks involved in the process “stay in character” and act like they are recruiting you to become a pirate, give you a pirate name, educate you in pirate lore and vocabulary, and then outfit you with a bit of pirate treasure. Again, the Disney employees are amazing in this process and really help to create the illusion. Towards the end of our stay, the four year old went to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique (aka from the Cinderella story) were Fairy Godmothers make-over girls into one of the many Disney princesses. My daughter chose Aurora (aka Sleeping Beauty) and got to spend the remainder of the day in her princess dress and crown.

The whole Disney experience was excellent. Although it was expensive at times, I always felt I was getting great value and with the XYL’s research we saved money were we could. What really helped out on the finance side was the incredible deal Disney offers to the military members. My park ticket was free for 5 days. In addition, I was able to buy my family members 5 day tickets for half the normal price. A big thank you to Disney for that!

Would I take the family back? An absolute YES! Perhaps when the eight month old is four, we’ll head back. Next time I’d like to stay a little longer and probably we will try to go in the off-season to take advantage of smaller crowds.

Did I use amateur radio? Yes – a little bit. There is an excellent 2M repeater that gave great coverage across the parks. When the XYL and I had to split up, we were easily able to use our HTs to keep in touch.

We’re Going To Disney World!

It has been a tough few weeks with multiple papers and writing assignments falling within a very small period of time. I kept my nose to the grind stone and with the hep of the XYL running interference to keep me away from distractions (amateur radio being one), I successfully finished all my work!
Now we’re off to Disney World. The kids and I have never been before, so we are all really looking forward to the trip. We’ll be staying at one of the Disney World resorts and intend to have a complete blast. The XYL and I will have our HTs to stay in contact (I believe there is actually a 2M repeater at Disney) and I may even throw my Elecraft KX1 to see if I can scare up some HF QSOs.

News & Notes

Last night I went out to the seawall at Fort Monroe to see if I could see the Space Shuttle Discovery as it headed away from the Kennedy Space Center towards it’s link up with the International Space Station. I was out on the fishing pier, scanning across the Chesapeake from Norfolk to Virginia Beach just before the launch time (2047 Eastern). I had my PRO-548 monitoring the 2M repeater up in Gloucester where WB7URZ, Randy, was giving out a running commentary of the launch to those of us trying to catch a glimpse “Main engine start, she’s on the way”. I was quite cold and the wind was strong, biting my ears and exposed fingers. Word was passed – Discovery was on her way. I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking for…. a streak of light? Crackling over the scanner was Randy saying he didn’t see anything and another ham also saying he wasn’t see anything either. The wind was consistently sapping my internal heat… I saw lights from a helicopter, lights from aircraft… the stars… the constellation Orion was above Virginia Beach. I turned and started walking back towards the truck. Then I saw it…. a bright dot of light, moving from south to north about 10 degrees above the horizon…. moving fast! The scanner crackled, “I see, do you see it?!”… “Cool”… the bright dot continued it’s movement, flickered, and diminished in brightness. “She just dropped her external engines….” And across the horizon, getting fainter, the dot continued.

Other news… I tried my first bottle of beer from my first attempt at brewing. I had four bottles in the fridge that have been cooling, one I had added brown sugar, two I had added white sugar, and the last was half and half. I forgot to label what was what. I pulled out a bottle and brought it over near the sink. Wasn’t sure what would happen… would it explode with too much carbonation? I popped of the lid slowly… I could hear the carbonation being released. That was a good sign. It didn’t explode. I poured the bottle’s contents into a glass… it looked like beer. Light golden in color, slightly cloudy (like the book said). Not much carbonation. A little bit of bubbles on top, but not much. I tasted it. Cool, beer-like. But not quite right. I took the glass and sat down. I looked at the color… the color was good. I smelled it. Slight vinegar smell (which the book said meant that something got dirty during the process). It kind of had more of a hard cider taste. My guess is that this bottle had all brown sugar. I’m going to try another beer today and see if the experience is different. I also want to mix another batch of a different flavor and get it going.

Happy Thanksgiving!

(1) Home Brew: not talking about building an amateur radio project… talking about beer! I am the recipient of a Mr. Beer Deluxe Edition Home Brewery kit. Last week I completed the initial steps; mixed the wort with water and yeast. So now the batch has been fermenting for a week. I’m now waiting for my shipment of bottles so I can bottle this batch to complete the fermentation. I’ll probably experiment with the sugar types to see what that does with the flavor. I hope to be bottling by mid-week and then it should be about two more weeks before I get to start tasting the results.

(2) PRO-528: picked up the Radio Shack PRO-528 scanner. I got a USB programming cable and the Scancat Lite Plus software to program the scanner. I’ve loaded Hampton’s city frequencies for the police and fire, freqs for Langley Air Force Base, some 2m repeater freqs, and the FRS/GMRS freqs. So far, the scanner is working great.

(3) I got a QSL card from Hawaii! Just need my Alaska card for QSL for Worked All States.

(4) Model Rocket: fired off a model rocket on Saturday. Three times – all successful. The first launch with a B engine went pretty high, but the last two really took off using a C engine. The parachute worked well and the this is the first time I think I’ve ever returned home with a rocket (my other rockets being lost over fences, behind backyards, etc.). Of course that was all about 25 years ago. What I think would be fun is to build a rocket with a big enough payload that would carry a GPS and 2M transmitter to do APRS.

(5) Haven’t been on the air lately – I’ll try tonight.

Blue Ridge Mountains DXpedition

The Thursday before Labor Day Weekend I was able to get off work an hour early and headed up to Fort Eustis through a light drizzle (the early beginnings of Tropical Storm Ernesto) to pick up the RV. The beast was 29′ long and about 11′ high. A young gentlemen gave me a orientation of the vehicle which lasted about 45 minutes. First an initial walk around, then an explanation of how to flush the black and gray water holding tanks, how to connect city water, how to connect electricity, how to operate the generator, and how to operate the propane supply. All of this and we hadn’t even made it inside the RV yet. When we did make it inside, I was briefed up on how to operate the test panel, how to turn on the water heater, and a assortment of additional tips for easy operation of all the RV’s features. For instance…. don’t run the A/C while also running the microwave and the water heater takes 20 minutes to provide enough hot water for a shower. There was also a TV with an external antenna that cranks up into position. Nothing super complex, just lots and lots of stuff.

It was a slow ride on I-64 back to Hampton. Not because of heavy traffic, but because I was trying to get a feel for piloting the beast. The wheel was a little loose and it took a while to slow down. The rain didn’t help much. I arrived home and parked out in the street in front of the house. When untethered to an electrical hook up, the RV uses propane to keep the refrigerator going. To avoid depleting the propane, I ran a heavy duty extension cord out to the RV to give it a steady supply of juice.

We decided to watch the progress of Ernesto and wait to see if we’d leave Friday or postpone until Saturday. As the night progressed the winds picked up and the rain continued on.

Friday morning showed that the rain and wind were still continuing. My weather station indicated the rain had picked up around 2am and was maintaining a consistent heavy downpour. The radar showed the southern edge of Ernesto nearing the North Carolina border to the south. Even though the storm would clear our location by about 2pm reports from the roadways indicated things were a mess for motorists and we decided to move our departure to Saturday morning. It was at this time that I noticed the water out front was rising significantly. I could see the water level approaching the storage compartments underneath the RV. After shuffling the cars in the driveway, I splashed out to the RV parked on the street/canal, started it and did a loop around the block to position it to allow me to pull into the driveway. The short loop showed that a few other streets had flooded and small tree limbs and other debris was accumulating in the road – but nothing severe.

Ernesto passed by about 3pm and the standing water drained quickly. We did a quick clean up of all the fallen leaves and small branches in the yard and then repositioned the RV in the driveway for easy loading. From all reports, we were wise to delay our departure as fallen trees and the rain had closed down section of I-64.

Saturday morning arrived and we finished packing the RV and got on the road. Traffic was light and moved well. I kept the speed at about 55-60mph, still getting a feel for how the RV handled. After one break at a rest stop west of Richmond for lunch, we pressed on towards the Misty Mountain Campground in Crozet, VA. Enjoyed a nice QSO on a repeater in Charlottesville with Harry, W2HD. I later found out (according to that Harry was a former president of ARRL! He chatted a little about being in the Navy but never mentioned the fact of his involvement with The League.

After checking in to the Misty Mountain Campgrounds HQ we arrived at our camp site. The hookups were pretty straight forward and soon enough we had the RV humming.

On Sunday we took the truck to explore the first fifty miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway. What a beautiful area! I was able to hit one of the repeaters back in Hampton from the first overlook along the Parkway. Pretty good for a 150 mile path using 50 watts on FM.

Sunday night I set up the ARSIB and tried to work both S9SS (Western Africa) and P43W (Aruba) but failed to break the pile ups.

Monday morning I had a nice QSO on 40M with Jim, W2SY up in Syracuse, NY. After enlisting in 1940, Jim served in the Army during WWII and participated in the Africa, Italy, and European campaigns. Jim gave me a nice 59 report and am glad I was able to get at least one HF contact before it was time to pack up shop .

The trip home encountered a little bit of rain, but traffic was also light and the trip was uneventful. Average speed on I-64 was probably about 65mph as I was feeling a little more comfortable driving by now.

All in all, I enjoyed the RV DXpedition. Next time I will set up the rig earlier and try to do more operating.

What has KD7PJQ been up to…..

I haven’t been posting as often as I’d like – my Alienware laptop is down for the count and won’t be operational anytime soon.

…. so…. what has been going here?

In the early part of February I activated the Old Point Comfort Lighthouse at Fort Monroe – had a lot of fun, it was my first experience operating HF outside of the house. Learned a lot and will probably do another activation soon.

I made it up to FrostFest in Richmond, VA last Sunday. It’s the premier hamfest in Virginia. Lots of hams, lots of stuff. Overall – a good time was had. I also took a chance and attended the VE test session there and passed the Extra exam. Now I’m thinking about getting a vanity callsign.

I’ve been enjoying participating in an informal morning net on one of the local 2M repeaters… lots of good folks and I’m able to learn a lot by all the chat.

Hope to get the laptop situation fixed soon and get back to regular posting.

Battery died again

I tried running PocketAPRS from the office without any luck. I’m in the middle of a second floor, not close to a window – and my building is surrounded by other brick buildings… so no real good line of sight. But all the fiddling around took its toll on the battery. After work I set the up the antenna, GPS, and radio – and after about five minutes I was out of juice.

RxPlus is now the software of choice for my TenTec RX-320. I’ve used probably a good half dozen different software programs, but RxPlus appears to top them all. It has a built in database function that allows you to pull up shortwave broadcasting schedules. Just one click and your listening to the BBC or Radio Havana. I was then tooling around the 20m SSB amateur radio band and ran across a SATERN net for Hurricane Rita. I could hear the net control very clearly… I wonder if he was in Chicago?

9pm… and time for the Hampton Roads Public Service Net on 146.97 MHz. Bruce, WB7OTQ, was net control and I got one of the two quiz questions correct. I usually cheat and look the answers up on the internet, but these two were tough… so it took some guessing.

Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee

Dodge City, KS – Memphis, TN
Daily Mileage: 749
Total Mileage: 7219
Total Number of States Traveled: 29

Nendels Inn
2523 E Wyatt Earp Bl
Dodge City, KS 67801

I got out of Dodge Friday morning and continued east, dropping down to US54 passing through Greensburg, Brenham, and Wellsford. I got on a local repeater and talked to Larry, a retired teacher who taught High School in Cunningham and now works for the Department of Agriculture as an inspector. He had the day off and was running some errands in Pratt, located at the crossroads of US 281 and US 40. We talked a little about the war in Iraq, Larry had former students who’d served over in Iraq and was dubious of the press coverage and concerned about what was happening over there. Larry also recommended filling up in Goddard, as opposed to waiting until I got to Wichita to get a cheaper price.

While approaching Wichita, I realized I had forgot (again) to load my required maps onto my Pocket PC. I found a Starbucks on the western side of Wichita where I refilled my coffee mug and pulled out the laptop and Pocket PC to get my maps squared away. But something went terribly wrong… the map loading program just kept going, and going without completing. I tried a few times, but I was loosing daylight and knew I still had many miles before Memphis.

I kind of panicked – I’d been relying on my Pocket PC/GPS combo the entire trip… giving me turn by turn instructions and almost always getting me exactly where I needed to go. I’d purchased a US road atlas way back in North Adams, MA before I’d developed full confidence in my Pocket PC/GPS system. Now I had to use a paper map. I had to actually know where I was going, instead of blindly relying on a computer.

After a little confusion on the I-35 Kansas toll road (entering the toll road and heading north rather than south – having to get off, pay 25 cents and get back on the other direction) – there was a lot of cursing on my part during this process. Heading south on the Interstate, I picked up my speed quite a bit, down into Oklahoma, getting on another toll road (US 412) towards Tulsa. It seemed like it took forever to pass through Tulsa and make my way south east on the toll road heading for I-40.

Meeting I-40 and continuing east, I crossed into Arkansas, through the down of Fort Smith as dusk approached. While Kansas was as flat as everyone says, Oklahoma started into some rolling hills, becoming much more pronounced traveling through western Arkansas. Up, down, turn and twist as I made steady progress through Little Rock and on to Memphis. I had a nice conversation with a ham that had been traveling from Wichita Falls, TX to Little Rock, AR – Steve is an instructor at Sheppard Air Force Base and was formerly a crew member for both EC-130s and AC-130s, spending some time in Tucson previously.

I was really missing my Pocket PC/GPS when I rolled across the Mississippi into Memphis. It was around 11:30pm and the motel I’d booked was on the east side of Memphis in an area called Cordova. My paper map provided little detail and I had to pull over, break out my laptop and fire up the Microsoft Streets & Trips software. After an hour, I finally found the day’s destination.

California & Nevada

Sunnyvale, CA – Ely, NV
Daily Mileage: 571
Total Mileage: 5483
Total Number of States Traveled: 23

Great day and wonderful weather. Topped off the gas tank ($2.54 a gallon…. what kind of craziness is that?) and headed towards Tahoe. I picked up US 50 on the outskirts of Sacramento and continued east, climbing into the mountains. Stopped by In-N-Out Burger in Placerville for my Double-Double fix. I found a plateau just outside of Placerville where I was able to talk to KD6EUG back into the valley. The drive into the Sierras was gorgeous – the roads were great, some snow. Pulling in to South Lake Tahoe I realized I hadn’t loaded the Nevada map into my Pocket PC… which would prevent my GPS from talking me through Nevada to Ely. Seeing a Starbucks, I parked and hauled in my laptop along with my coffee mug and loaded up the maps.

I’d only been to Lake Tahoe once before (when I was in the 5th grade) – what a beautiful place.

After circling counterclockwise around the southern part of Lake Tahoe, I crossed into Nevada… with all the casinos. Heading east, I approached Spooner Summit and the downhill ride into Carson City. On a local repeater I had a great conversation with Jo Anne who was down in Carson City. I told her I was planning on taking US 50 out to Ely and she gave me a few tips – watch out for wild horses on the highway! She also described how her local ham club provides communication support to the annual reenactment of the Pony Express that spans the length of Nevada. I passed the Nevada State Capitol and headed east out of town.

I made it to Fallon by sunset, refueled and continued east. It’s hard to say what Nevada looks like after Fallon, because once the sun set – it was pitch black. There were about a billion stars out – but only three trucks passed during the next five hours. Austin, Eureka… and finally Ely. For some reason I imagined Nevada would be flat – but I was up at 7,000 feet, rolling up and down a zillion summits.

Ramada Inn & Copper Queen Casino
805 Great Basin Blvd
Ely, NV 89301