Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Radio box and Mesh Network

So its been awhile since posting to the site, has been really busy doing things and have not had time to post here.

Here is the latest go box I have made, it serves as my primary box for most things.

This box has a Yaesu 857D with a LDG 200 auto tuner, Yaesu 7900RE, Alinco 220 mobile, Kantronics 1200+ TNC, Signalink Tigertronics TNC and a small Netbook to run packet and digital software such as Echolink and FLDIGI.

There is a battery box (not pictured) that compliments the radio box. In the battery box is the AC to DC power supply, Power gate and a 75AH gel cell battery.

In the setup above I setup this up as a demonstration for the Boyscout Jamboree on the Air, October 2015. FLDIGI was running PSK31 on a Panasonic toughbook (alternate radio stuff laptop). To the left is setup a cellular broadband modem connected to WiFi router. Should have had more space between that and the radios but for what I was doing it wasn't an issue as signals on PSK31 were coming in strong.

The next big project I have been working on is setting up a Mesh-Network that can be accessed about 20 miles from my location. So far a couple of nodes are setup and working on setting up others in remote locations. Those nodes will require a lot more parts as they will not have conventional electrics to hook up too.

No picture yet on the node setup but will get some soon!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Upgrading vehicle

I've always had a concern that running the truck, radio and everything else on a single battery would eventually catch up with me and leave me stranded somewhere. So this spring I finally went ahead and updated the 4runner to a dual battery system.

While that may not seem like a big deal, 4runners are not designed to have dual batteries so it took a little bit of creative engineering to make things happen. I had a lot of help putting this together from various people.

Here are some photos of the engine compartment:

I went with a dual Optima battery setup because the battery sizes made it easier to fit two batteries with minor modification to the existing battery area. A new tray was welded from angle iron made to exactly the width of the batteries. A flat piece of iron with an L bend at one end that sticks up under the fender edge was made to secure the batteries to the tray. They are very secured.

This however meant the coolant reservoir had to find a new home. Right now it is wedged between the air filter box and the washer fluid reservoir, with an additional piece of hose added.

What runs the whole setup is the Luna Intelligent Solenoid, it allows both batteries to charge at the same time and isolates the auxiliary battery from the engine battery when the vehicle is not running. The really nice feature of the Intelligent Solenoid is the ability to override the isolation and jump start the vehicle if the main battery should be dead.

From the auxiliary battery to the back of the truck I ran 1 gauge wielding wire to a auxiliary fuse panel. From the fuse panel I have several plugs and a very super bright dual LED light that can turn on or off a single side at a time or run both at the same time. For the variety of plugs I went with 2 standard 12V socket plugs with covers and 2 sets of 30A Anderson Power Poles. All of my radio gear is setup to use Anderson Power Poles, so this gives a super nice and easy way to hook up a radio and operate from the back of the 4runner.

At some point in the future I will run the red wire behind the panel and have it come out at the top and reposition the black wire so that the installation is neater. I put this in literally hours before deploying for the weekend.

With a tarp draped out from the back it makes for a good sun shelter or light rain. For more inclement weather I have a 12 x 12 shelter with side walls that can be completely closed off or with the use of the tarp and the side wall the back of the 4runner can be placed in the shelter.

Over all I am pleased with the setup, it was not cheap to do. At about $460 for both batteries, $120 for wire, $400 for the Intelligent Solenoid kit, and about another $200 for connectors, fuse box and other things the grand total for this upgrade was  $1180. I could have done this cheaper with different batteries, a Chinese solenoid that may or may not work when you need it too and not put in any of the accessories in the cargo area. But I wanted it done right and I wanted something that would work every time you need it too, so when possible I used the best parts I could afford.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Busy season with more to come!

It has been awhile since I posted anything here. While it is not that I didn't want to ... it was a time management issue. As you will see it has been a busy season for me.

I've participated in several exercises this year:

  • Meals on Wheels Bike Race
  • NC State Emergency Drill - Part I
  • Carrier Park Demostration
  • Hot Doggett Bike Race
  • Blue Ridge Breakaway Bike Race
  • NC Special Event Station
  • Asheville Citizen-Times Marathon
 Coming up:
  • Shut-in Trail run
  • NC State Emergency Drill - Part II
And there is always potential for other events that will come up that I have not listed. This year has also been a busy year training wise. I have completed the necessary ICS courses that are required to participate / operate in an emergency situation. These course are required by NC for all ARES members. However in addition to getting just the basic courses that are required I am over halfway done with getting the ICS-300 course and have on the schedule for sometime in early December for the ICS-400 course.

Both of those courses will then allow me to advance my radio training spanning the Amateur realm to the semi-professional realm with the ComT (Communications Technician) and ComL (Communications Leader) courses.

During the summer I've helped in getting a Skywarn group that is based in Buncombe County started. In the past Skywarn while it had a presence in Buncombe County it was not based here and as a result had several issues in its practicality and functionality. However since forming the new local group there has been a distinct lack of weather to report. While not entirely bad in itself ... it has allowed a slower approach to getting some training done within the membership and getting the membership comfortable with what it is we are requested to do. The Carolina Mountain Area Skywarn - WX4CMA group will have some big responsibilities if certain agreements / arrangements come to be.

Winter of 2013 - 2014 will also be busy, I've developed some exercises and training I would like to see done with ARES, there are some holes in the information that exists and that needs to be fixed. Before we can assist any one agency we need to know what we are able to do. Part of this training will be tied to the Mission Winlink System as it should be coming on line over the winter.

I am thinking that winter will be a good growth period for the ARES group and hopefully it will be educational and fun.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Go-Cart / Radio Cart

I've gotten some pictures of the Go-Cart / Radio Cart; not a whole lot done to it yet. Work has been busy so have not had a lot of time to make many modifications. But here is what I've gotten so far:

Front of cart

 On the front of the cart so far I have my solar battery box, heavy duty power cord, tool bag and a mulch-container tool box that has different types of connectors for electrical and coax. In the solar battery box are 4 -12 volt 7.5 amp hour batteries wired up together to give a total of 30 amp hours. The batteries used are sealed AGM batteries so there is no possibility of leaking. There is also a 10 watt - 12 volt solar panel with a charge controller, and a Anderson power pole plug to hook into a radio or a reserve 109 amp hour deep cycle marine battery. The tool bag has various tools, wire, guide ropes and stakes for the antenna mast tripod.

Back of cart

Here you can see the solar panel through the box and an additional shorter heavy duty power cord. The tool box is mounted semi-permanently to the cart. The cart itself will fold some what flat bringing it to the height of the tool box.

The wheels lock in place which is handy when you don't want the cart moving all around, especially useful during transport.

Have not put the radio box on it yet or the gel cell battery that powers it, both will fit but it will require some rearranging of things to make it work. The cart makes hauling the gear so much easier and quicker.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Deployment kit

With the recent meteorite impact in Chelyabinsk, Russia it has to many people shown how vulnerable our societies are to natural events. While this meteorite did a lot of damage there was no loss of life to the best of my knowledge.

You never knew when you might just have to pick up grab your gear and go. When I moved to NC, I left all my gear behind because it wasn't practical for me to ship it or drag it with me.

Over the course of the last few years I've been slowing rebuilding my gear to have it ready to go should I need to pick up and go. This is not about some overwhelming sense of doom that a Mad Max scenario will play out or that the world is going to implode. It is about being responsible and being ready to take care of your own needs without taxing a system that is already in crisis during an event. Being a member in ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Services), adds some additional gear to the kit that the average person would not need. ARES, you could be activated to assist local, state or federal government agencies in time of need. It is for this reason it is important to have your kit together and ready to go should you need it.

I use a multi-bag system, depending on what I am going to be doing and the expected duration of that event. For a deployment that would be more than 48 hours I use a full size modern day Molle II US army rucksack to carry what I would need for a deployment of 48 hours to several weeks. There are still several items that need to be added to complete this pack. The second pack I use is an older US Army Alice pack from the Vietnam war era. I have updated the load bearing straps and belts to the modern Molle II system as well I've added the current sleep gear carrying system to the bottom of the pack. This is the pack I would use if deployed for 24 - 48 hours, or a short trip to a wilderness area doing search and rescue or other such tasks.

Molle II US Army Rucksack - more than 48 hour deployment

1960's US Army Alice Pack upgraded - 24 - 48 hours deployment

In addition to these two packs I have a load bearing vest that can be used for rapid deployment for 1 to 12 hours. The vest has several pouches that can contain pretty much everything you could need on a short deployment. The vest also doubles up the storage capacity as it can be draped over the back of the rucksack or Alice pack carried to the deployment location and then worn to do short operations from a base camp or while on duty.

Open Style Load Bearing Vest (LBV)

I will be changing from an open style LBV to a closed style which will allow better configuration of the vest. This vest also uses the Molle II carrier system, there are two medium sized pouches, 2 - 1 quart canteens opposite of each other to balance the load and a large pouch on the back. What is not seen on the above view is another large pouch attached to the upper portion of the LBV. The upper pouch can be switched out for a camel back pouch during hot weather when more water is needed, giving a total of 4 quarts of water.

That is essentially the different carrier systems that I use. The rucksack still needs to have a sleep carrier added to it. I am still working on developing a light weight shelter system that would form its own module that can be moved from either carrier system in under a minute. I've got the concept figured out it is just a matter of obtaining the items.

Next is what goes into the various carrier systems. None of my setup is 100% complete, it is getting closer but it takes time and the only way I can afford to rebuild my kit is by piece-meal. So lets break down the three systems starting with the LBV.

A LBV is a 1 to 12 hour deployment system so you are not going to have a lot of gear with you. But there are always 4 basic areas you want to cover regardless of the system.

1) Shelter
2)Water & Food
3) Fire
3) Navigation

On the LBV shelter is easy to do with a x-large poncho with a liner or a medium sized tarp (take your height and add 4 feet), both items will fold up small enough to be placed in the large pouch or strapped to the top of the pouch. On a 12 hour deployment you may never need that shelter, and you may think that it is a waste of space. I know from experience 12 hours can easily become 24 hours, or that nice warm sunny day can turn into a nasty rain storm making travel on foot dangerous. Having a shelter is like having insurance, sure you hope to never need it but when you do it is nice to have.

Having the poncho with the lining or a tarp with some rope or parachute cord allows quick setup and tear down in minutes.

Water and Food are big items, it is important to have high energy snacks and some protein stored away in a pouch. It is better to have items that don't need to be cooked on the LBV because most times you are not going to carry a stove or a pot. Things like trail mix that contain nuts, dried fruit and some chocolate are filling and provide a energy boost. Meat jerky is also really good to have in the LBV. You don't need to go overboard with carrying food, however carry enough to get through at least 24 hours. What I do is carry a small quart sized zip lock that contains trail mix and jerky. I also carry a sealed bag of tuna. It is small and light weight. For an added boost you can get some restaurant table servings of honey or small tubes of honey which will give a great energy boost. None of this food needs to be cooked and can be snacked on at any point. It is important to note that most people are not going to die if they don't eat for 24 hours. Another important note is try getting snacks with low salt content especially if you use jerky to supplement your food. By having low salt or no salt nuts and trail mix your water demands are greatly reduced. Jerky contains a lot of salt so eat it sparingly. Water however is a different story, we all need water and going without water for more than 48 hours puts you in serious danger of dehydration.  On my LBV I always have 2 canteens that carry 1 quart of water, I have the option to carry an additional 2 quarts in a water bladder if the weather is really hot. The hotter the weather the more water you will need.

Katadyn ceramic water filter

Fire while should not be needed is a nice option to have if your deployment becomes extended, it provides warmth if you are in a remote field position, can boil water to purify it, can cook some food (though on the LBV should not have food that requires cooking), and it provides light after dark. It really doesn't take much to satisfy this need. A simple fire striking stick and a striker is really all you need. It is a good idea to practice lighting a fire with the striking stick, its not that hard to do. Being small it easily fits into a pouch.

Navigation this should go without saying, if you are going to a deployment area you should know where you are going. While this is not so much an issue in urban deployment provided landmarks are still standing and the signs have not been blown down. It is a good idea to have maps be it street maps and a road atlas for urban deployment or topographical maps for field deployment and a good compass. Do not rely on GPS or what you think you know of a urban area. GPS can be wrong and in a urban disaster it may not be able to adapt to a change from a primary or secondary route to a 3rd, 4th or 5th route to reach the destination. I know first hand that you can not rely on landmarks and street signs, in the event of a urban disaster one or both may be gone. When navigating at night in a urban environment that has been hit by disaster (not recommended as there is usually a curfew being enforced) urban areas without electricity tend to be a lot darker than open countryside, making seeing obstacles and routes hard to see. I've encountered this problem in 2011 while assisting in Ringgold, GA. While I had permission to travel at night it was extremely difficult to do so.

Know how to use the compass and map together and how to take bearings with the compass. The over reliance on GPS will get you into trouble especially in a field deployment.

A simple Etrex Garmin GPS and Brunton Type 15 compass
 Other items carried on the LBV:

- flashlight with 1 set of extra batteries
- basic first aid kit
- folding knife
- waterproof notebook (can write in the rain)
- hand held radio
- extra battery for hand held radio
- manual for hand held radio in ziplock bag
- 20 feet of paracord
- hand held anemometer
- 1 pair of leather and 1 pair of cotton gloves 
- trash bag

Why an anemometer you may ask?

The anemometer allows me to get a fairly accurate reading on wind speed, it also will give me a temperature and windchill reading by switching to a different mode. This is important information if in a field deployment. It is often difficult to estimate wind speed by simply watching the trees sway as well as guessing what the temperature is because it "feels" to be a certain temperature. Having this handy little tool allows me to see how high that wind really is and determine if it is safe to raise a temporary pole or not. For search and rescue it is useful to know wind speed and temperatures to gauge the dangers of hypothermia. Hypothermia is just as dangerous to the searchers as it is to the person being searched for.

Multifunction anemometer

The Alice pack is used for the 24 - 48 hour deployment where you know you are going to be gone a couple of days and need to bring just a bit more gear with you than what the LBV can comfortably carry. In this scenario I would strap the LBV to the Alice pack, giving me everything in the LBV as well as a light weight carrier system to be used while on duty or for out going quick deployments from the base / field post.

Additional items in the Alice pack include:

- 1 complete change of cloths, 2 extra shirts (in summer 3 extra t-shirts)
- small alcohol stove for cooking meals
- mess kit
- 2 freeze dried MRE style meals, 1 quart bag of instant oatmeal, 1 quart bag of instant rice
- 4" fixed blade knife with fire steel and sharpening stone
- 50 feet of paracord
- modular shelter system (when completed)
- wool blend blanket, pillow and / or 3 season sleeping bag
- expanded first aid kit (more bandages and tools)
- collapsible saw
- 19" axe
- towel and washcloths
- personal hygiene items including alcohol hand sanitizer
- 1 roll of toilet paper (you just never know when you get deployed if basic items will be available it is better to pack and not need than to not pack and need)
- flash light with extra batteries
- battery / chemical glow sticks
- small sewing kit
- small fishing kit
- ceramic water filter
- insect repellient
- sunscreen
- 2 empty 1 quart ziplock bags and 1 gallon zip lock bag
- 2 trash bags
- small radio tool box with wire, adapters and tools
- seasonal appropriate outdoor clothing including wide brim hat
- 1 pair of leather and 1 pair of cotton gloves
- clipboard with needed radio message or ICS forms to used
- waterproof notebooks and several pens / pencils
- non-waterproof notebook in ziplock bag

Swedish Military Trangia alcohol stove and wind screen

Stove, fuel, fire starting and French military knife, fork and spoon set inside stove

At the moment I have only one stove so I would need to transfer it to which ever deployment bag I would take. I will be getting another Trangia stove, the Trangia 25-2 UL in the near future so that the rucksack will have a stove and the Alice pack will have a stove.

I mentioned packing an axe and saw; this would seem like unnecessary items, however given a true disaster scenario where an operator could start out in a urban command post and be transferred to a wilderness or field post a saw or axe is not an unreasonable item to pack.

Gränsfors Bruks hunting axe for field / wilderness deployment
The main compartment of the Alice pack will have clothing, towel and washcloths in a dry bag, while the stove and mess kit will be stored in a smaller dry bag. Other items are stored in ziplock bags. 

Ultra light weight and compressed Australian / British military sleeping bag

The sleeping bag I got is pretty amazing the thing barely weighs a pound, yet is super warm in cool temperatures and cool in warm temperatures (space age stuff), and keeps it warmth when wet. I also have a wool blend military blanket that can be used in addition to this should it get really cold or if attending to a causality.
Should a long term deployment be needed I have the full size US Army rucksack that takes the place of the Alice pack. Just as before the LBV would get strapped to the rucksack. The contents in the rucksack would be similar to the Alice pack but expanded.

Contents of rucksack:

- 4 complete change of cloths, 4 extra shirts (in summer 6 extra t-shirts)
- small alcohol stove for cooking meals
- mess kit
- 10 freeze dried MRE style meals, 2 quart bag of instant oatmeal, 2 quart bag of instant rice
- 4" fixed blade knife with fire steel and sharpening stone
- 100 feet of paracord
- modular shelter system (when completed)
- wool blend blanket, pillow and / or 3 season sleeping bag
- extensive first aid kit (more bandages, antiseptic, ointments, wound kit, quick reference trauma guide)
- collapsible saw
- 19" axe
- 2 towels and 4 washcloths
- personal hygiene items including alcohol hand sanitizer
- 1 roll of toilet paper (you just never know when you get deployed if basic items will be available it is better to pack and not need than to not pack and need)
- flash light with extra batteries
- battery / chemical glow sticks
- sewing kit
- fishing kit
- ceramic water filter
- insect repellient
- sunscreen
- 4 empty 1 quart ziplock bags and 2 - 1 gallon zip lock bag
- 4 trash bags
- small radio tool box with wire, adapters and tools
- extra batteries for hand held
- seasonal appropriate outdoor clothing including wide brim hat
- additional shoes / boots
- camel back with additional 2 quarts of water
- binoculars
- 2 pair of leather and 2 pair of cotton gloves
- clipboard with needed radio message or ICS forms to used
- waterproof notebooks and several pens / pencils
- non-waterproof notebook in ziplock bag

So far that is what I have in my kit. I did not get this kit over night a lot of it I have been getting over the years since moving to NC. I still have some key items to deal with, such as shelter. But that will come soon. For the immediate future the truck provides shelter for sleeping and hanging out while not needed.

What I didn't get into is the "off duty" aspects of any kit. It is important to have something you can do while resting. Even though in my experience resting periods are few and far between, in a long duration deployment 4+ days there will be some down time the further out time wise you get from the initial time of the event.

I intend to use the radio box as the primary VHF deployment radio with the radio cart I built, I can load the gear in the truck and go, so long as I can get there this will work. However I am looking at also getting a Yaesu FT-817ND radio for times when I can not get to where I need to be by truck but still need the ability to get out. While the hand held will work good in most cases it would be nice to have the option to go beyond 2 meters; and in a real disaster it is not realistic to believe a repeater will not have suffered damage as well. With the FT-817ND the operator has the option to go to HF and reach outside the affected area, and still have a setup that is small and portable.

For public service events that last only a couple of hours the LBV with a safety vest is generally all that is needed. If I am going to be close to the truck the LBV will often sit in the truck. Being able to adapt yourself, needs and gear is the key.

Packet Radio

In addition to the EMP Radio Box, I've been trying to setup a Packet Radio system. There are several operators in Buncombe County ARES that are attempting to bring packet back to life in the county for emergency communications and for communication alternatives and redundancy.

I've been able to communicate a little bit with the existing packet setup that I have, old Dell laptop running XP, a Signalink USB soundcard TNC and the Yaesu 857D. This has proved to be less than idea as it ties up my radio for other things and as such the packet station is not on 24 hours a day. Also with the Signalink USB there is no mailbox options, so unless you are there in front of the computer there is no real way to leave a message. Which is not practical for me as I am working as much as 12 hours a day or off doing something else.

Having seen Carl's - N4AA Packet setup I decided that if I am going to do Packet seriously it needs to be its own independent unit that can function with or without an operator. That meant some serious upgrading. While I don't regret buying the Signalink USB, it will still be used for HF, I think that initially it probably would have been less frustrating to have started with a hardware TNC.

So over the summer I've pieced together a better packet station, getting one piece at a time as I could afford it. I was lucky to find a Kantronics 1200+ used on ebay for $100. I got that it powers on and that is as far as I could test it for now. Early September 2012, I was able to get an amazing deal on a Panasonic Toughbook CF-29 (touchscreen, back light keyboard, in near mint condition) for $173. I know some will say that I should have just used the Dell, well the Dell has some issues and the big advantage to the Toughbook is that it has a dedicated DB9 serial port on the back of it which makes connecting to the TNC simple. And I do like simple when things are in a state of chaos. Also have gotten the TNC to radio cable and will have the TNC to computer cable sometime in the next week. That only left the radio. Remember that liking things to be simply when dealing with high stress? I spent a lot of time deciding on a radio that would fit the bill of making things simple, is reliable, and easy to use. Ultimately I kept coming back to the same radio over and over which is the Yaseu 7900R. It has a dedicated data port on the back for packet which is awesome because it works independent of the volume knob and it is plug and go with 1 connection. The radio also has a huge energy saving feature which is a bonus if you find yourself running on battery power. I have this same radio in my 4 Runner and have used it at various races this past year with zero issues with battery drain. And because I am familiar with the radio I know first hand it is easy to program in the field and easy to use. So today I bought another Yaseu 7900R for $301 including shipping.

Overall I think that it will prove to be a good decision and investment to finally have the packet independent freeing up the Yaesu 857D for other uses. One use is for HF digital modes with the Signalink and Dell. The next stage of the packet system will be setting up backup power. My ultimate goal will be to have a 1000 amp hour emergency power reserve, in which I can run both the packet station and the all band radio from in the event of an extend power outage. The recharging will be done via one or more solar panels. This will provide a charging means without the need of commercial power. Another Powergate PF40S like the one used in the EMP radio will be added into the the power system, allowing the use of commercial power and battery power in reserve.

Once the packet station is setup and working properly I'll get some photos of it and as the the power system is being built I will get some photos of that as well.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Update on Case and other projects

Work has been very busy lately and has not allowed a lot of time to work upon the case much. I've gotten the RF gasket on the case but it has not worked as anticipated. The gasket did block radio signals in the lower bands (HF/VHF/UHF) it did not block cell phone frequencies. I do not fault the gasket on that as the cell phone frequency is likely outside the RF range of the gasket.
So will it work? I honestly do not know. From what I understand with EMP pulses, is that it is a low frequency high intensity pulse. 

Over all I am not disappointed with the case, I use it in my workshop to monitor the local repeaters and it works great with just a small magnetic 2m antenna. The next "field test" will be later in the spring for the Meals on Wheels race. I have little doubt in the ability of the radio box to perform well during this event. It will be the first event in which the radio box will be the primary radio rather than the secondary backup.

The other day while in the hardware store I found an adjustable switch to control the fan speed; I plan on adding this small switch soon. Currently the fans run at full speed and can be annoying sound after awhile.

I've gotten  several pieces of gear now, my goal is to make deployment gear quick and easy to load, unload and setup. In this objective I've gotten a folding garden cart with a metal grate bottom and upright handle, it essentially looks like a hand cart / dolly. This design should work well as a Go-Cart it is not much bigger than a large hand cart like the ones used by UPS. Thus access to buildings and elevators shouldn't be an issue.

This cart has a folding tray higher up on the cart; on this tray I've bolted a locking tool box that contains various coaxial and wire connectors. No big tools keeping the weight reasonable. On the bottom platform I plan on putting the radio box, battery box, and a tool bag containing the tools often needed. Setting the cart up should help speed up the overall process. The radio can run from the cart, all that needs to be setup is the antenna and if a very long deployment the portable solar charging system.

A similar box is planned for a portable packet station that could be placed on the Go-Cart, providing a dual station setup.

Currently my packet station is up and running, it consists of a Kantronics 1200+, Yaesu 7900R and a Panasonic Toughbook CF29 running XP Pro. It took a little while to get the cables setup properly but with stubbornness and persistance the cables were made and work great. I also have a Signalink USB TNC with a Dell 1540 running XP Pro, that is hooked up to the Yaesu 857D. This provides a backup and a way to do HF digital modes.

In Buncombe County, there has been a revival of the VHF Packet system; there are two nodes on Spivey Mountain 146.630 {Bunc1 / Bunc2} Bunc2 provides a link to the Henderson County Packet system on 146.710. There is also a Winlink CMS node on 146.630 N4AA-10 located in Leicester and the Digipeater NN4BC-1 on Spivey Mountain (part of the nodes).
I'll get some pictures of the Go-Cart soon.