2016 Summer Trip – Day 44

yellowstone_canyonvillageCanyon Village, Grant Village, Yellowstone National Park

Monday, July 11th – I have been regularly using my VX-8GR handheld to listen to the local NOAA weather radio station. The weather forecast last night was pretty grim. Temperatures dropping. Snow. Snow? In July? Yes. I decided to spend Sunday night packing up. Sarah helped me put the bikes on the station wagon. We put away the folding chairs and rolled up the awning. I had really been enjoying our campsite at Canyon (J200). The Canyon campground is huge. The camping sites are nice – lots of trees and separated at a good distance. Quiet. Canyon also has laundry facilities and showers. Both worked out well. They even have over sized washers and dryers for sleeping bags and comforters. But it was time to move. We’d been here over a week.

We woke up to light snow. It wasn’t really sticking to the ground but the temps were way down. We broke down the remainder of camp and head out. We made use of the campground’s dump station and then made the short drive out down to Grant Village. They have a full-service gas station were I was able to fill up my propane canister. After it was filled, I kept smelling gas. I didn’t know if the canister was leaking or I had some type of line leak. Eventually the smell dissipated.

While I enjoyed Canyon campground, Canyon Village is too busy. Lots of people, lots of craziness. Grant Village is the opposite. The campground is not as nice. Less trees. Sites are a bit closer together. But the village part is low key. Much less people. The visitors center at Grant is not as fancy as the one at Canyon. But the ranger programs at Grant Village were a lot more personal. There is a book shop at the visitors center. A daily ranger program on the back deck, one down near the water, and one at their amphitheater.

Grant also has a very large general store (just a bit smaller than the one at Fishing Bridge). Attached the store is a counter-service eatery with your standard fare (although they make an effort to have healthy choices). The eatery includes ice cream, served by the scoop. My favorite was called Moose Tracks. There are also two restaurants. One is somewhat fancy and requires reservations. The other is right on the lake and serves an Asian fusion menu. Emily acquired a liking for potstickers. Both the girls became intrigued with chopsticks.

Did I mention the ranger programs? We attended a few on the back porch of the visitors center. There were others that took place down by the lake that where meant for young families. Always great topics. Then we would go to the evening programs at the amphitheater. Fairly quickly, all the rangers at Grant Village began to get to know Sarah and Emily. Both really enjoyed participating in the programs – raising their hands to answer questions. My favorite evening program was about the history of the US Army running Yellowstone.

Backporch ranger program with Ranger Miles about bison.
Movie in the visitors center on the Yellowstone forest fire.
Ranger program near the lake was about bears and bear cubs.
Evening program with Ranger Miles about the history of wolves in Yellowstone.

We got to know the rangers so well, we knew all of them by name:

Thank you Rangers!

HF Email From The Mobile?

Last summer when we were camping in the national parks, there were many campsites where we had no cell phone service. I am not complaining about that, but our work around to communicate back home to the XYL often required a trip to the pay phone (sometimes hard to find). I thought about perhaps using APRS’s capability of relaying short pieces of text as emails. Part of the problem is that there are many areas of the parks that don’t have any APRS digipeater coverage (Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks for example). How to get a message through?

Then I remembered my MARS station (AEN5AC) in Iraq. I was using an ICOM IC-7000 and an SCS PTC-IIusb modem to pass MARSGRAMS from my location north of Baghdad to another station at the US embassy in Qatar. The pairing worked quite well and I was consistently able to connect and pass traffic using PACTOR 3 at the 1400 baud rate. Could I use a similar setup to provide an HF email option while camping this summer?

September 2007, Taji, Iraq - MARS Station AEN5AC
September 2007, Taji, Iraq – MARS Station AEN5AC

I dug out my SCS PTC-IIusb modem. I had not used it since shutting down the MARS station in June of 2008. Everything was still in the box. To include the cables necessary to interface the modem with an ICOM IC-706MKIIG… the same rig I use for HF mobile.

I pulled out my spare IC-706MKIIG. Coming back to Kansas from Field Day in California back in 2009, my IC-706MKIIG quit on me. I ended up buying a second at the HRO in Denver and sent the broke one to ICOM. ICOM fixed it and returned it. I kept it in the box and it went back on the shelf. I did order a 6 pin Molex connector with powerpoles to allow for an easy power connection (#9). I connected the two cables from the modem to the rig. Once cable is for the data and plugs into the 706’s 13 pin accessory connection (#4). The other cable connects to the 706’s CI-V interface (#6) to have the radio change frequencies based on what station is being contacted.

Rear of IC-706MKIIG
Rear of IC-706MKIIG

I had the basic hardware of a HF email station, except for a computer. I would need one that would function out of the vehicle. This would probably require a laptop. I also decided for the ease of simplicity that the computer should be Windows driven (instead of Linux). Gasp! The bottom line is that the software and drivers required to send email via HF and use the SCS PTC-IIusb modem is Windows based. The answer ended up being an Dell XPS 15.

Using a Windows based computer helped me with a number of summer travel tasks that could not be accomplished by my small Linux laptop:
(1) Run the software required for HF email (more on Winlink and Airmail later)
(2) Run ARRL’s TravelPlus for Repeaters
(3) Run RT Systems radio programming software for my TM-D710A
(4) Run RT Systems radio programming software for my VX-8RGs
(5) Read the SD card from my Canon digital camera

Interestingly enough, the new laptop does not have a CD/DVD drive nor an RJ-45 connection for a LAN cable. Neither of these have been a show stopper yet.

ARRL’s TravelPlus for Repeaters

travelplus_repeatersI had purchased TravelPlus for Repeaters with the intent of installing it on my existing Linux laptop and running it under a VirtualBox Windows session (similar to how I run iTunes on my Linux laptop). However the software failed to install. I tried troubleshooting and looking at suggested fixes found on the forum sites but still had no luck. I tried installing TravelPlus using WINE. It installed but would not run as well.

Dell XPS 15 to the rescue. As the laptop does not have a CD/DVD drive, I copied the drive onto network storage. I then was able to install TravelPlus over the network and it is working without issue.

RT Systems Programming Software
The RT Systems programming software works fine under a VirtualBox Windows session. As I was moving all my vehicle related radio/computer tasks to the new Windows laptop, I attempted to install the programming software for the TM-D710A (used for beaconing the location of my vehicle and talking on VHF/UHF). Following a similar procedure that worked for TravelPlus, I copied the programming software from the install disks to a network drive. The software installation for the TM-D710A worked without a hitch. The software for the VX-8RGs (HTs we use for around camp and hiking) failed to load. The error said that I must use the original disk to install. A big challenge when the laptop doesn’t have a CD/DVD drive. The work around is that you find another Windows computer with a CD drive, load the software CD, then back on the driveless laptop, map the CD drive (like you would map a network drive). That worked and I was able to install the programing software for the VX-8GR.

HF Email Software
There are two main choices for software to allow for HF email: RMS Express and Airmail. I installed both. Airmail was the same program I used in Iraq and it offered easy configuration with the IC-706MKIIG and the SCS PTC-IIusb.

I now had all my equipment for a test run setup in my basement hamshack: spare IC-706MKIIG, SCS PTC-IIusb, and the Dell XPS 15 with Airmail. I connected the IC-706MKIIG to my Elecraft tuner and used my existing G5RV antenna. Airmail configures easily. The software has a list of stations offering mailbox services that can be viewed on a propagation chart by frequency and distance. Based on time of day, I selected a station in Texas that offered a 40M PACTOR 3 connection. Airmail allows me to click on the frequency in the propagation chart which then changes the dial frequency of the radio. After listening to see if there were any ongoing connections, I initiated contact. The modem lights flashed and the rig clicked between transmit and receive. The connection was made and I was able to send a test email as well as a position report.

Propagation Prediction & Frequency Selection
Propagation Prediction & Frequency Selection

Success! The position reports that go into the Winlink system are copied over into APRS. Now, even if I am not able to reach a digipeater with my VHF APRS beacon, I can send a position report over HF to let the XYL know where we are.

APRS.fi showing Position Report  from WINLINK
APRS.fi showing Position Report from WINLINK

I then thought about the steps I would have to take of transitioning my IC-706MKIIG configured for HF mobile to be ready to work with the PTC-IIusb to send email. As the remote head is located up near the drivers seat, this would present problems with being able to observe the modem, laptop, and radio control head all at the same time.

Remote control heads for the IC-706MKIIG and TM-D710A to the right of the center console. APRS Avmap GPS to the left of steering wheel.
Remote control heads for the IC-706MKIIG and TM-D710A to the right of the center console. APRS Avmap GPS to the left of steering wheel.

What if I just dedicated the spare IC-706MKIIG rig to the task of HF email? It would save me time and bother in pulling and plugging cables. It would also give the camping option of being able to operate HF from outside the vehicle.

VHF/UHF antenna is forward, above driver's door. Tarheel antenna is mounted on a swing out jerry can holder.
VHF/UHF antenna is forward, above driver’s door. Tarheel antenna is mounted on a swing out jerry can holder.

Using an additional iPortable box, I rack mounted the spare IC-706MKIIG and the SCS PTC-IIusb. Now I will have a spare HF rig with me, so if one goes out I will still be operational. I also attached the Tarheel screwdriver antenna’s rocker switch to raise and lower the antenna on the side of the box. During normal HF mobile operations, the TurboTuner (connected to the other IC-706’s tuner connection and CI-V connection) manages achieving a correct match between the operating frequency and the screwdriver antenna.

I only have the one TurboTuner. The TurboTuner requires a connection to the CI-V. So does the SCS PTC-IIusb. My solution was to leave the TurboTuner alone. Instead, using the rocker switch, I can manually tune the antenna while visually observing the 706’s SWR meter.

HF Email Ready: SCS PTC-IIusb, IC-706MKIIG
HF Email Ready: SCS PTC-IIusb, IC-706MKIIG

To transition between using the 706 dedicated to HF mobile to the 706 now dedicated to HF email, I have to do the following:
(1) disconnect the antenna feedline from the TurboTuner
(2) disconnect the control line that goes from the TurboTuner to the Tarheel screwdriver antenna
(3) connect the antenna feedline directly to the HF email 706
(4) connect the control line to the rocker switch
(5) connect the laptop to the SCS PTC-IIusb via a USB cable
(6) connect the iPortable’s powerpole connection to the junction box in the back of the vehicle

… then I am ready to go. The iPortable box rests nicely on the vehicle’s tailgate, next to the laptop. All at about lawn chair height. Not only can I use this setup to send email via HF, but I can also use it for causal National Parks On The Air contacts as well.

What’s left to do:
(1) Constant cooling fan modification for both IC-706s (see AD5X’s article)
(2) An extended control cable for the Tarheel screwdriver antenna. This will allow me to further remote away from the vehicle, but still use the antenna.
(3) A length of antenna feedline for remoting.
(4) A length of powerpole-ready powerline to attach to either the travel trailer battery or directly to the spare vehicle battery… again for remoting away from the vehicle.
(5) I have a set of Heil headsets that worked with my IC-7000. I think if I get the AD-1ICM, I should be able to use them with the 706.
(6) A Heil HS-2 hand PTT switch to use with the headset.

Notes From The Shack

Friday, November 27th

Had a good day in shack. Was able to get a good portion of it cleaned up. Filled up a trash bag and a big box of “stuff” I just do not need.

Fired up the HF rig and ran it through it’s paces. Had a Phone QSO with a station down in Costa Rica and worked a few stations around the US on PSK-31. Enough to let me know the rig is still working. Listened to my favorite bunch of old timers who meet weekday mornings (8AM) around 7.140 MHz. I’ve never joined in, but used to listen to them all the time from my mobile when my work hours were a bit different. Nowadays I don’t get the opportunity to hear them.

For the last few weeks I have been trying to square away my VHF/UHF setup. My embedded EchoIRLP node has consistently suffered from pulsing. I have tweaked about every software setting and radio setting possible but was unable to fix the issue. It looks like the pulsing generally correlates with my APRS signal. I use a Kenwood TM-D710A in the shack. A computer with UI-View32 is driving the left half of the TM-D710A, sending and receiving APRS data. The right side I usually dedicate to the EchoIRLP node which is normally set to a simplex UHF frequency. I started to notice that everytime UI-View32 sends out my position or weather report, my EchoIRLP node would pulse. I honestly think the rig is the issue.

What I like best about the TM-D710A is that I can use my one antenna that I have mounted off my chimney. The TM-D710A allows me to use both the APRS and EchoIRLP at the same time. But I think that pulsing issue will keep me off IRLP reflectors or Echolink conferences unless I disable UI-View32 and the TM-D710A’s TNC while I am using the reflector/conference.

I upgraded my version of fldigi. I made sure my log and settings were backed up and the upgrade went without significant issue. I was able to setup the WX macro function, which I have been meaning to do. The macro pulls the latest WX from Kansas City International Airport (MCI) and allows me to slide that into a PSK-31 QSO via macro. I wish it could pull the data right from my WX station. Not sure how to do that.

I setup my D-Star DV Access Point Dongle – hadn’t done that in a while. I am consistently unimpressed with the audio quality that I get listening to the D-Star reflector on my ICOM IC-92AD. The audio is very metallic and tinny.

APRS has taken up a bit of my time lately. I enjoy playing around with my Yaesu VX-8GR. I am amazed at the different ways you can send a message from the APRS system to an email address. I have improved my ability to work the VX-8GR to input text for a message.

I figured out how to get my UI-View32/TM-D-710A setup to only digipeat APRS packets from either my callsign or the XYLs. That comes in handy when I have the HT. One thing I have not been able to figure out is how to get my UI-View32/TM-D710A setup to digipeat packets destined for my HT’s SSID. For example, if I send a message from my HT, it is digipeated out through my UI-View32/TM-D710A setup and picked up by a nearby real digipeater. But when the “Ack” packet comes back, my HT won’t hear it and I am not sure how to get my UI-View32/TM-D710A to recognize that packet and digipeat it.

Did I mention the humidity sensor on the Davis Vantage Pro2 is not working properly?

I checked into a net tonight! We have an awesome daily email called Larry’s List that contains all kinds of interesting information about the amateur radio goings on in the greater Kansas City area. From swap and shop, to license testing, and opportunities to volunteer in support of public events to various club activities and nets…. Larry’s List is one stop shopping for anything you would want to know about what is happening. The list mentioned a net conducted from a repeater setup on top of the VA hospital in Kansas City (KC0VA). I decided to check in and was privileged to partake in a very interesting discussion about how to handle an emergency if it occurred during a net. I also learned about the Q-signal “QRRR”… which I had never heard or read of before.

Hamshack Hula

I have been steadily working at getting the hamshack into some sense of functionality. Back in June, everything was looking good. I’d moved everything from the old house to the new house and adjusted for the more “constrained” space that my shack now occupies. I was just about there… and then my household goods from Korea arrived. Lacking time to adequately put everything in its place, boxes ended up getting dumped in the hamshack.

The basement gameroom has been my primary focus for the last two months. We got the new couch, the arcade cabinet is working, the pinball machine needs a bit of work, and the cocktail arcade cabinet is doing great. Now that the gameroom is just about where I want it, I’ve turned my attention back to the hamshack.

Before I moved my workbench to the new house, I should have taken a photo of how I had the pegboard setup. Being gone for year and not using the bench, I had no idea of what I had hanging where. Today I was able to get the workbench in order after spending a few hours sorting through the boxes that had come from Korea.

I’ve also started parting with equipment I don’t need or will probably not doing anything with. The Kenwood TS-930S is now sold. Hopefully the Heathkit SB-220 will soon be sold. Also the Radio Shack HTX-242 that was in the XYL’s car until I upgraded her to a TM-D710A is sold. It is time to get rid of the FT-1500Ms as well. Being a proud ownder of the Yaesu VX-8GR, I can now part with my trusty Kenwood TH-D7A(G). I am continuing to rumage through the shack pulling out what I really don’t need. So far, Craigslist has been working well. I’ll use eBay as a last resort.

So with my efforts, I can actually reach my operating desk, turn on the computer, sit down.

…. now I need to get an antenna up, something more permanent than a Buddipole.