Thursday, December 17, 2015

goTenna™ A Magic Wand Enabling Smartphone Texting

Had the pleasure to check out some new technology that enables you to send & receive text messages on a smartphone, without need of cell towers or a wifi hotspot. I used a magic wand... a goTenna. In the race to develop additional communication capability for smartphones, goTenna has taken a simple approach, and has crossed the finish line with a winner.

Here's the problem... smartphones turn to dumb bricks when cell & wifi service is gone.  While a bunch of products have attempted to marry alternative communication like two-way radio to the smartphone platform, trying to add an additional layer of technology is problematic. We've seen prototypes of handheld radios glommed onto backs of smartphones, only to see them fall victim to ever changing smartphone technology, falling short in keeping up with the endless parade of new models & new hardware.
Magic Wand?

But goTenna took a different tack... make a simple device to establish an independent peer to peer communication mode. Instead of adding something new to smartphones, goTenna simply enables smartphones to do what does already... send & receive text...and enables it to do so when it can't be done through normal means.

goTenna is a cognitive digital radio combined with an app that generates its own signal and automatically coordinates with other units within range. It does all the heavy-lifting, so you can chat 1-to-1, with a group, or even broadcast openly to anyone nearby. Distance is it's only limitation. The goTenna has a VHF signal in the unlicensed portion of the MURS band, transmitting 2 watts, so location, elevation, & surroundings are the only unknown variables where range is concerned. Still, you may count on 1 to 3 miles as typical. In my case, out on the bike trail I got just over 2 miles away before I lost connectivity to my other goTenna, although it was more due to terrain than distance. If I was on flat ground I would have likely got further.
Couldn't be any simpler...

Being a text only device, goTenna is not hamstrung by bandwidth & power needs that voice and imagery require.  And since the link between goTenna & smartphone is via bluetooth, any bluetooth equipped smartphone can use a goTenna. You install the free goTenna app available for Android or iOS, pair with the goTenna device, and you're sending & receiving text with other goTenna equipped smartphones.

The goTenna is packaged in pairs, so you have an alternative text communication method for you and one other right out of the box. You're not limited to just that pair of goTennas, you can broadcast to any goTenna within range. There's future potential with the technology to establish a mesh network, and goTenna maintains the capability lies in further development. In the meantime, this magic wand device offers you a way to stay in contact using your smartphone, when everyone else is carrying bricks seeking a cell signal or wifi hotspot.

goTenna is making a big push this holiday season. MSRP for 2 goTenna units is $199, but now till Sunday Dec. 20, take $15 off with using code: APNHOLIDAY
Order before 9:30 EST Wednesday for pre-Christmas delivery with FREE GROUND DELIVERY
If you use the coupon code and order before Wednesday morning you SAVE $25
Order Direct Here

Thursday, November 26, 2015

BLACK FRIDAY SALE!!! Baofeng F8HP on sale for $47 For THREE HOURS ONLY!

Amazon Black Friday Special
November 27, 2015 11:40AM to 2:40PM EST
               (8:40AM to 11:40AM PST)
Baofeng F8HP on sale for $47.

Normally $62.89  Here's the link

  • High / Med / Low Power Settings (8W/4W/1W); Frequency Range: 65-108 MHz(Only commercial FM radio reception) VHF: 136-174 MHz(Rx/Tx). UHF: 400-520 MHz(Rx/Tx); Broad (Wide) / Narrowband (Narrow) Selectable

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Hurricanes vs Ham Radio: Katrina's Case Story

While the Hurricane season so far has been light, there's always the possibility of one, so stay prepared. If you need encouragement, watch this video. The Untold story of Ham Radio during Hurricane Katrina.

Monday, July 13, 2015

High Power Review: UV-82HP / UV-5R Radio Comparison

Can a measly few watts of power make much difference? 

When folks at Baofeng Tech asked me if I’d review the new 8 Watt UV-82HP UHF/VHF ham radio, the FIRST thing I thought of was comparing two different models against each other at their max power setting, and see how great a difference there was in range. A totally unscientific comparison, but doable, since I already own two Baofeng’s, two Baofeng UV-5R’s. I figured it would settle, (at least in my mind), the range question from a practical standpoint, plus give a reference point radio to compare. 

Let’s start with a first impression…

UV-82HP: you can play the FM radio for three full days at work on a full battery charge. 
For some, (like me), that’s important. It’s also a practical test of current drain, like turned on scanning memory banks all day. Figure perhaps 18 to 24 hours service between charges & light duty cycles.   Audio volume & clarity is VERY impressive. I'm also impressed with the radio's fit & feel. There's substance to the radio, but because of it’s slim form factor, there's no problem with it clipped to a pants pocket all day. It’s not a bulky brick. 
If ever I hear some blow-hard spout off about "cheap Chinese Radios" I'd hit them with this one... it'd leave a dent.  
The LED flashlight has a enclosed lens & reflector, a great improvement too. I've always loved the handy flashlight on both of my UV-5R's... this one's a lot brighter

UV-5R: (First this Crevat: I LOVE my UV5-R's The radio resembles a handheld radio version of a Sherman Tank, a small Sherman Tank. The '82 is slim & curvy, the '5R, like a leading edge of a bowling ball. While part of it's appeal has been it's utilitarian chunkiness, I always found the '5R to be a bit top heavy clipped to my belt, the antenna trying to upend the radio, so I seldom kept the radio clipped to my side for long. I usually just carried it. As for volume, compared to the ''s no comparison, the 5R's speaker sounds thin & tinny, the female voice commands a mumble most of the time, except when saying "Low Voltage" after a long day turned on.  

Please understand, I know I'm comparing Apples to Oranges here, the UV-82HP is a different radio model from a feature standpoint... as I soon found out, testing how both worked from a level playing field.

Rubber meets Road...RF meets Ozone
Testing for typical performance, I used both of my stock UV-5R HT’s & the '82HP at the same power output, to compare signal reports through a local repeater about 5 miles away.
I discovered the UV-82HP receiver had some signal fading due to antenna orientation, vertical being distinctly stronger than horizontal. So did the UV-5R's, only not as much.
Yippie Ki... Huh? What?
Holding the radio upright, the received signal clears up fine. It’s not a big problem, it just means I can’t look cool holding the radio sideways like they do on TV or in the movies.

All things the same, only different...
It turns out under identical power levels & operating conditions, the UV-82HP’s transmitted audio signal into the repeater was louder than both UV-5R’s. This was confirmed through signal reports from my contact, who didn’t know which radio I was using. Perhaps carrier deviation is just hotter in this particular HT, but over all, the UV-82HP had a better quality signal than both of my UV5-R’s. Actually, I’m more lead to think it's the battery capacity of the different radio models making the difference, the UV-5R’s using stock 1500 mAh. batteries, vs the UV-82HP, with 1800 mAh. (That’s a little radio tech secret… you get a cleaner signal with greater battery capacity.) 
The batteries and supplied chargers are not interchangeable between the UV-82HP & the UV-5R.  
This may also explain the longer times between charges, just listening to the FM radio.

The Main Event
On testing range, I tried all three... the two UV-5R's, and the UV-82HP, to get into a distant repeater, each using their highest transmit power.
It ended up being no contest...
For this test, I worked into the 1500' blowtorch of the Pee Dee region, the W4PDE 2 meter repeater outside of Dillion SC, 57 miles away, it covers a 125 mile radius. 

With several attempts, both UV-5R’s couldn't raise the repeater, no response at all. 
I expected that, it was quite a stretch for 4 watt UV-5R’s to get that far, with me standing at street level. But surprisingly, the UV-82HP hit the repeater first time with ease.  My contact, Tim W2SOC, reported my signal clear & readable with some white noise. Still, a VERY respectable report. Later on that evening, back home, The UV-82HP reached the Dillion repeater again, this time at 50 miles. Sadly again, both UV-5R’s couldn’t cut the mustard. In the past, I had got into the Dillion repeater from my front porch with one of my UV-5R's ...on a good day. It wasn't one of those days for a UV-5R, but another day in paradise for the UV-82HP.


All things being the same, the UV-82HP has better signal quality overall than my UV-5R's. As for it’s greater power settings, it’s obvious the radio’s range is significantly greater.

Showing Off...
At this years local field day, the UV-82HP was the belle of the ball because it was NEW! 

I got the radio in the hands of as many Hams as I could for their feedback.  Owners of UV-5R’s liked it's fit & finish, and everyone liked it's greater power output. Those who own older UV-82’s were envious, but knew it was the logical next step in the model line. 
The two-button PTT feature, used to select between two banks of memory, was initially confusing for UV-5R owners, but they quickly caught on to how it eliminates need to manually select between memory banks, and allows you to work two separate stations, just by pressing one or the other key button. If you don’t like the feature, you can turn it off in the settings using programming software. 
One noted the '82 seemed more geared for using preset memories, which it is, arriving out of the box set up in channel mode. You hold down the menu button when turning on, to switch the radio to frequency mode. I also showed both radios to Hams who don't own neither radio, asked them to pick which one they like. Most chose the UV-82HP over the UV-5R because it felt "more like a radio”, (One even called the '5R "a toy radio")

Assessing UV-82HP's set up & ease of use. 
Right off the bat I noticed manual programming is more refined than with the UV-5R series, however, a practiced hand is still needed to set up & load memories manually. It’s obvious the radio begs to be programmed plugged into a computer, using programming software like CHIRP.  Incidentally, the ’82 doesn't come with programming software or a USB programming cable. Not a problem with those who already have a earlier model Baofeng, but if you’re new to the brand, you should consider getting the programming cable too. Trust me, you’ll want one, even with this radio. The included manual is thick, informative, and written by someone here in the US.
Using the most recent daily build of CHIRP software, (it’s very good free software BTW), & accessing for the local repeater list, I had the radio on the air, 5 minutes out of the box.

Summing Up
I’m impressed with the UV-82HP, it's a big step up from the UV-5R, with a more refined design. Overall, the radio is easy to set up using programming software & a USB cable, (which most Baofeng radio owners already own), and it has plenty of transmit power. It’s a perfect alternative to the popular high power variant of the UV-5R, the Baofeng BF-F8HP. It appears cross-compatibility of batteries & chargers between same model series radios would be a factor. If your comfortable with how a UV-5R operates, and seek greater power, then go with the BF-F8HP. However if you seek a more refined design in functions & form, along with very respectable range, you should take a serious look at the UV-82HP, I think you’ll be very glad you did.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Hatch Battening... Prepping for Spring & Summer Weather

The sweet early days of spring is time to make ready for a new season of storms. How prepared are you for lightning, rain, wind & hail to come visit you and your homestead? As seasons change, the number of storm events across the country increase in intensity & frequency. Strong winds & heavy rains often blow up in minutes with flooding, power outages, & wind damage the result. In preparing for a season of storms, it is power outages & wind damage the most common threats, so consider what you need to counter both.
For electrical outages, your prep list may include back-up power from a generator or battery bank.
A back-up converter to run household appliances is a smart idea 
In most instances power is usually restored within hours, but plan on at least a days worth of back-up just to be safe.  You don't need a huge back-up system, but is is nice to have something that can power some lights, a fan, or your comm gear.

Speaking of Comm Gear, as Ham Operators, we are usually more prepared than most to monitor weather events around the shack, with radios, computers & other gadgets that can alert us of storms & such. But for those new to Prepping, a great item to acquire is a weather radio, specifically made to monitor the National Weather Service radio frequencies which sends out automatic Severe Weather Alerts & Bulletins.
Some weather radios are feature packed
Most are simple desktop battery powered units, but some are available with built-in flashlights & able to charge cellphones & other devices. While all the whistles & bells are nice, the most important feature is the weather alarm function which goes off when the NWS spots dangerous weather in the area, giving precious minutes for everyone to take cover. In parts of the country where tornadoes are frequent, owing a weather alarm radio can be the difference between life & death.

Often the aftermath can be worse than the storm itself. Storms packing high winds often cause wind damage, torn up homes, roof damage from fallen tree limbs or smashed windows. A mess in itself, but what really makes things worse is in the damage which occurs to household things with exposure to the outside.
A "Blue Roof" Solution after a bad storm 
It's often necessary to have a way to cover things up. A smart idea is to always keep handy a heavy duty plastic tarp. Not only can a tarp offer temporary cover for roof damaged homes, it has many other handy uses as canopies or an outdoor primitive shelter.

Wherever you live, count on the occasional storm to come & however you prepare, count on prepping to weather a storms fury. Most often, if you prep for nature, you will have prepped for most dramatic events that may ever come your way.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Silent rooftop wind turbines could generate half of a household's energy needs.

Small wind turbines scaled to the right size for residential and urban areas have so far lived in the shadows of their larger wind-farm-sized counterparts. The power output has been too low for a reasonable return on investment through energy savings and the noise they produce is louder than most homeowners can deal with. READ MORE

Thursday, February 26, 2015

If in Doubt, Go to the Source

There's a steep learning curve for folk new to Ham Radio, brought on primarily by the plethora of terminology, jargon & idioms unique to the Hobby. While normal conversational speech is stressed when speaking on the air. Too often the content of the conversation is anything but normal. What's a new Ham to do in gaining a foothold in the rich tapestry of abbreviations, Q-codes, numbers, and assorted electromagnetic keywords? You consult a glossary of terms unique to Ham radio.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Field Ops is in the Bag

Operating into the night...
Being ready for the unexpected can be daunting, and in prepping a "Bug-Out-Bag" for excursions into the wild, acquiring proper communication hardware may just be one of several steps on a long list of provisions. It's not just a radio that's needed, but an operational plan, and a laundry list of support gear.
But ask any Ham who's worked a Ham Radio Field Day or two, operating a radio under field conditions is a far-ranging topic as well. Much depends on what your comm needs will be, from simple tactical communication in a remote setting, or an extensive communication base of operations, each has it's own. However, there are some items common to most settings, which often get overlooked. Let's run through a grocery list of items to make room for in your BOB, just as important as your radio, in maintaining proper communications.

Most field communications is the spoken word, but what's being spoken needs to be written down, hard to do when you haven't packed writing material. A Radio Log Book is an invaluable way to put "message traffic" on paper, all the better when it's waterproof.

Luci Inflatable Solar Lantern
You can operate a radio any time of day out in the field, but it gets a bit difficult in the dark. A handy flashlight helps, but even better is a couple of these inflatable solar powered lanterns.

ALPS Mountaineering Weekender Seat 
Sure you can do radio standing up, leaning, or in a crouch, but it's just more comfortable to have a place to rest your weary bones. Take along portable seating.

Throw Weight & Line Combo
A simple wire antenna can be a godsend in getting a good signal out as well as in, but getting it up in yonder tree can be a totally unattainable task. You're smart to have a way to toss a line over a branch.  Carrying a Throw Weight & Line Combo makes that task a snap.

3800mAh 7.4V Li ion Battery

You wouldn't think of packing for a few days in the field without packing enough food & drink to sustain you, it's the same thing to have on hand enough batteries to keep your gear juiced up. While you can consider packing additional recharging equipment, it's often not feasible to tote a generator, solar panel, or a very long extension cord. Pack fully charged batteries, ideally, one for each day of field ops.

Military Tactical Shoulder/Waist Bag
Mobility means portability. Meaning, you're packing in what you use. You need a bag made to pack it all, so you can carry it all. This Military Tactical Shoulder/Waist Bag can hold it all & more.

Me. 3 field days ago.
Packing for field ops will come down to how you need to communicate. Whatever you pack, will make your communications happen, one way or the other.
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