APRS AND ME...

Updated 8/2/08, if anybody gives a s**t...
 

Disclaimer:  This page is about my own experiences with APRS.  Your own results may
vary.  Laboratory tests conducted with APRS have shown side effects to be similar to those experienced by taking a sugar pill.  Some users have reported headaches and anxiety when using APRS.  These are common symptoms of advanced packet use, and are normal. Do not use APRS if you have trouble soldering or an anger control problem.
If you have questions about whether or not to use APRS, call your Elmer.
APRS has not yet been approved by the American Medical Association or the FDA.

Here are my experiences with APRS, with apologies to Bob Bruninga, the Sproul brothers,
and all others who have put in long hours making it work.  This is not meant to be just a
complaint, although it's hopefully enough of a flame to light someone's butane powered
soldering iron.  Hey, it's really a good mode,  and although it's not nearly "plug and play"
(it's more like "plug and pray!") I always enjoy a good technical challenge...


                    Hey, maybe THIS is what I need to help build a tracker!

My first up-close experiences with APRS were at the Winter  Northwest APRS gathering
held at Longview in early 1999. Until then, my experiences with APRS involved plenty of
four-letter words and eventually two smashed DOS APRS disks.  At the meeting, I found
APRS to be more of a technical challenge than the usual three-aspirin headache.  As a
technician, I always love a good technical challenge - so, I downloaded DOS APRS and
tried to run it on my old 386. After more aspirin (no, I didn't smash the hard drive this time!)
I downloaded WinAPRS. Now there's something that is more useable out of the box!  I
hooked up the old PK-80, and after figuring out how to initialize and THEN connect the
serial port, I was monitoring.
What a wacky collection of icons!  There were stars (no, not the ones I saw after hours of
trying to use DOS APRS), houses, cars, trucks, buses, and even what looked like a puppy
next to what looked like a fire hydrant.  Now this is fun!!!  I set up the beacon text, and
there I was.


                                Just what I need to go with my portable tracker...

GPS???  What do I need a GPS for?  I know where I'm going, and wherever I go, there
I am!!!  What would I do with a GPS?
Well, next thing you know, I'm trading a small UHF repeater for a GPS.  Yeah, the GPS
here is a Varmint, and the antenna is a Tribble...excuse me, a Garmin and a Trimble!!!
Yes, I would sit there trying to figure out how to acquire satellites, and yell in my worst
Yosemite Sam voice, "OOOOH, YA NO-GOOD VARMINT!!!"  Guess I just didn't know
the rules of acquisition...

Well, enough Looney Tunes and Star Trek references!  After figuring out the GPS (translated:
downloading the manuals) I connected the the serial cable to the TNC and then the radio, and
had a ten-minute tracker!  Here's where the REAL fun started.  You know how SETI has this
distributed computing project going?  Well, APRS could best be described as having a
distributed documentation project.  One website has parameters, another has a FAQ,
another has the program...the icon/GPSxx list was NOT in the WinAPRS docs, and after being
told they were in the DOS APRS docs, I downloaded it, and STILL couldn't find them!
I tried the HSP route, and after finding it didn't fit my needs (and searching for documentation on
that too!) I bought a KPC-3+ and used the second serial port.  I now have a tracker with an
added bonus of  vehicle voltage and temperature telemetry .  Who knows - maybe some day
I'll use the outputs to honk the horn and flash the lights - or even start the van from my radio
room and warm it up on a cold day. The next project was making my Precision Mapping
Quick Finder CD work with APRS.  Now I can watch someone driving around town,
and find out which parking lot he parked in at the mall!

02/03/00 - Update:  Precision Mapping Streets is now available for about $16 including
shipping and handling.  This is a great "optional" accessory for WinAPRS, considering it only
bumps the total registered cost of it up to $76 (which is still less than it would be if Bill Gates
was marketing it!*)

02/07/00 - Update:  Anything later than WinAPRS 2.2.8 is NOT working out of the box.
All of the later versions are having memory (out of resource) problems on BOTH of my
computers - one with 64 megs of memory!  The suggested fix, a "memory.txt" file, only
makes the problem worse, and nobody seems to have a solution which is working on my
computers.  This is certainly no incentive to pay a registration fee at this time.
03/30/00 - Update:  WinAPRS 2.4.4 has fixed the leak on my laptop, and reduced it to a trickle
on the home computer (proportional to the number of open windows!)  I've now registered
my copy.
By the way, this is a RESOURCE leak (not a memory leak - memory.txt does NOT affect this)
and can be confirmed by watching Resource Monitor (start menu - programs - accessories -
system tools - resource monitor), double clicking the toolbar icon, and watching it count down
to zero (slowly, I hope!)

04/08/00 - Update:  I modified a weather  station on the W7DG APRS station that
was installed by KB7ADO and WA7ROB.  The W7DG station sits across a field from an AM
broadcast station, and there was RF into everything (including the alternate 911 dispatch point!)
After modifying the 911 equipment, I opened the Radio Shack WX station junction box and
found where 3 bypass capacitors were needed (one went into a blank space on the board
marked "C2" !) Toroids did NOT help! Another fun Saturday project...

04/21/00 - Update:  I've found out how to change the Mapocx.cfg file to give  black and white
maps  in WinAPRS with Precision Mapping.

07/22/00 - Update:  I still have not used APRS in any sort of public service capacity.
Since day one, I've volunteered for a few events, but either APRS was not needed, there were
more than enough volunteers, or the event was published too late to volunteer for.
The most recent experience involved being given a list of assignments with my name not on it
at 8:15pm on the night before the event!  At this point, I can say my interest in APRS has
peaked and declined, having removed my digipeater which I couldn't find a WIDEn-n location
for last month, as well as having dismantled my work QTH station and turned off my location
transmissions.  I tried unsubscribing from the "aprs netweenie" email list, but it has disappeared.

09/--/00 - Update:  Maybe FINDU is the answer.  I am putting my stations back on the map and
telling everyone about APRS and the internet.  Maybe it will get a few computer nerds into the
hobby in the same way that RC airplane pilots would get Tech tickets to avoid the QRM on 27
and 72 MHz.  I also diagnosed two vehicle electrical problems with my KPC3+ telemetry!

12/09/00 - Update:  More fun with WinAPRS!  I just put detailed maps into my cheapo
laptops (one free, one $50) which would barely run Windows 95.  Precision Mapping?
Tried it, wouldn't load - not enough RAM or hard drive.  These maps that I cut and pasted
take up less than 40k each!

"Remember, if we don't use APRS in the real world,  then it's just a toy..." (WB4APR, Bob)

At this point, I'm still waiting to put APRS to a good use.  No, I'm not going to sneak a tracker
into the car when my wife's driving.  Maybe I'll find a use for it in the next flood or other major
disaster.  In the meantime, it's a lot of good clean technical fun for a radio maniac whose hobby
is the same as his job and who describes block diagrams of transmitters in his sleep!

2/9/03 - Update:  I have a  weather station being reassembled, as well as telemetry on a 3400
foot hill!  Now it's starting to get interesting.

3/15/03 - Update:  Tried UI-VIEW.  It looks interesting, but has no direct weather station
support like other APRS programs and requires a third party program to work with my
weather station.  It also only works with Precision Mapping 5.0 or
the ridiculously expensive MapPoint, leaving older versions out.  Looks like I'll be waiting
on that before going further, since the "cheap" UI-View works out to be an expensive
upgrade, just like a Microsoft upgrade.*

3/15/04 - Update:  Upgraded to WxSolution software for the weather station.  WinAPRS has a bug
(or two, or ten) that won't read rain data from the wxnow.txt file, and a bug that won't send avg/gust
data when on the serial port.  It's always something.  UI-View is a hack project when it comes to
available maps - you either make your own, or you make your own.
Also trying XASTIR (aka Xasperation!) on Cygwin (aka Cygwon't) and it's not bad for a GPL
(aka freebie) project, but it's map-heavy and feature-light. Also, it brings you into the Linux world
where even the most helpful people expect you speak THEIR language.  A Windows person's directions
to Wal-Mart:  "Go to Longview on I-5.  Take exit 39.  Go west.  Turn left at Washington Way and right
on Ocean Beach Highway.  Turn left at 38th, and it's right there."  A Linux person's directions:
"Go to Longview.  Turn at 38th.  The shortcut is to take Industrial Way to 38th."

12/20/04 - Update:  My SIGNAL node is now not transmitting PHG.  Why?  Because Bob Bruninga
has it on his list for "covering" 300 stations.  Has he monitored packets relayed by SIGNAL that use
it as an entry point?  No.  He's just using generic data to generate a list.  So, rather than transmit "false
and deceptive signals" contrary to FCC rules, since it certainly fooled WB4APR, I deleted it.

1/1/05 - Update:  They're going to have PmapServer7 available for a dead APRS program (UI-View)
and still no action from the Sprouls in the last year to fix the rain data/WXNOW.TXT problem.
I sure hope that the Sprouls can fix their program during their lifetimes.

8/6/06 - Update:  I give up.  It's not worth it.  My trackers are still on, but everything else is off.
SIGNAL is now a telemetry-only station with no position data and no digipeat (except for my
trackers.)  Weather and posits are no longer being transmitted on RF from home, and the work station is
receive only.  My -15 (work van) times out all posits after 30 minutes, and the -9 personal vehicle
is now just telemetry and position data.  Yes, my van is nothing more than a Lo-Jack, Dave.  That's all
APRS is worth to me any more.

Why?  Years of whining by everyone from K3JZ to Bruninga about high level digis is what killed SIGNAL,
or "SINGAL" as JZ referred to it in a bad "it's just you that's the problem" military psy-ops sorta jab.
When the site is rebuilt later this year it'll be off the air for good, since I'm tired of the gripes and all
the whining about "smart digis" and "all KPC TNCs should be out of the system."  AC7YY has a new whiz-bang
digi-nerd system that covers a small part of SIGNAL's area, so it won't be missed, right?  I'm sure other options
will cover Bruninga's estimated 300 users from Portland to Everett in his ridiculous PHG "R" calculation.

So if you want APRS info, help, or your WIDE1-1 to go farther - try nwaprs.info and don't ask me.
It says a lot that Dave no longer considers NWAPRS an organization or ".org" any more.

11/18/06 - Update:  It's still on and the antenna has been moved to a fence post.  The work station is completely
off the air, having been replaced with a county mobile data terminal for testing...in other words, something more worthwhile.

12/25/06 - Update:  And it it gets worse.  I'm having to IGATE my own stuff to see my telemetry.  After catching
a "delayed last packet" problem FINDU had (and K4HG, one of the few good guys left, fixed it on
Christmas Eve - excellent job!)  I found
loads of missing packets from the past week.  The local (15 miles away, behind the hills) digi had failed, and
things weren't too good before that.  N3EG-10 wasn't even reaching an IGATE regularly.  So, I looked for
info on the internet, and it's amazing how much hasn't changed in 7 years.  I finally had to find a list of IGATEs
and figure it out myself.  Find the right one to connect to.  Edit the list.  Use the right port.  Cut my path back
from WIDE1-1,WIDE3-3 which still wasn't working.  Leave WINAPRS running with position reports set
to 0 minutes.  Sheesh...at least now, my telemetry will get to FINDU no matter what gets screwed up
elsewhere in the "notwork."

7/24/07 - Update:  Extremely more worser even?  Every time the APRS sig lags in activity at the end of a month,
someone starts a gripefest.  This month it's about CWOP/Tier 2 internet servers/Core internet servers.
The way I saw it unfold, the Core guys told the T2 guys that they could handle all the activity without them.  The T2 guys
got miffed and turned theirs off.  Users who were hard coded to T2 got miffed and called NOAA.  Everyone
blamed it on each other.  This isn't just unique to ham radio (frequency wars, repeater fights, etc.) - this is how
people work.  How else can a politician call a 54% vote a "decisive majority" ?  Believe it or not, before they
hit on a real topic worthy of a fight on the APRS sig, they were arguing about T/R relays on digipeaters.
Come on guys - FOX News doesn't need the competition.  And by the way, I rotate between Core and T2
servers, check my connection quality with time, and drop the ones that don't like me.

7/12/08 - Update:  February saw...guess what?  Another T2 vs. Core battle.  Not only that, but in February my wife
fell and broke her leg.  She's been in a nursing home, and has also had kidney cancer surgery.  I've been raising our 17
year old special needs granddaughter and working when I can.  This means no time for ham radio, and even less time
for APRS.  N3EG-10 locked up all winter, and now the outside temperature sensor has died for the second time.
Next trip up to the site, our service manager will be cutting cables and throwing an under-appreciated node
into the back of his pickup.

APRS has worn out its welcome with me.  From now on, it's only a one-way vehicle tracker in the van and a safety
locator in the work van.  The home station helps feed the vehicle packets to the internet.  That's it.  APRS has gone
the way of the regular node network which peaked in the late 1990s.  All we need is a networked D-STAR system
that's affordable - then Bruninga can retire, the Sprouls can let their website name expire,  UI-View can get a
decent funeral, and the Xastir project can Xpire.

See you in another year or ten...

8/2/08 - Update, and probably the last:  SIGNAL, or N3EG-10, or Bruninga's #1 "ALOHA" coverage problem,
has said ALOHA.  Goodbye and good riddance.  Maybe I'll mount it on my riding mower and send telemetry
from that, as soon as I can come up with $400 and get it fixed.  Maybe I'll just Ebay all my unnecessary TNCs
to come up with the money.  The KPC9612 is already gone, being the second 9612 to wind up expendable due
to the uselessness of 9600 baud APRS in the last 5 years.  I have two MFJs in the attic due to the uselessness of
30 meter APRS.  I have a KPC3 minus  with two GPSs in a box marked "APRS CRAP."  Now I have a once
useful but much maligned digi with full 5-parameter telemetry in the back of a co-workers pickup.

Yes, I will be renewing my license in October, but I admit I had to think about it a little.

73 to my friends, and QFU to everyone else...

.6/30/09 - Update:  I see that today Bob Bruninga complained that, out of 25,000 APRS stations, only 4 were seen
on the "CQ Server" during Field Day.  Unexpected?  Naaaah.  APRS has peaked, or "jumped the shark."  I've sold
my last KPC3 minus with its matching radio.  My shop van KPC3+ sits across the room sending telemetry from a
battery on a trickle charger, slowly ramping up from 10 volts for over a month.  One of the MFJ TNCs is next, as
soon as I can dig it out of a pile that's 3 years old.  Nothing is new in APRS, no matter how many small trackers or
USB dongles or GPS poker chips we see.  Gone are the days when we showed off our APRS hacker trackers, each
one assembled to circumvent some limitation.WinAPRS hasn't been updated in...let me check the last file date...oh,
over 3 years.  Cellphones with a GPS are half of the size of a new GPS, and can be tracked.  What more can I say?
Not a whole hell of a lot.

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