Sunday, September 18, 2016

Baofeng 888 node radio

This is incredible. I found a guy online who provides a "modification service" for Baofeng 888 handheld radios. This modification allows the use of these cheap radios as a node radio for ham operators such as myself who want to run a local VoIP node. I have two VoIP nodes (one Allstar and one IRLP). And I had them setup using an Alinco node radio.

That Alinco radio is about $165 and it needs a $100 power supply to run it. It also can't be run very long without using some kind of fan against the heat sink. The fan is noisy and it's annoying to have to turn it on every time I want to operate.

The modified Baofeng I bought replaces that $265 worth of gear for $37. And it will operate all day long without any kind of a fan. No noise!

I am a happy camper.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Another chance

Ok, I'm going to back pedal a bit from my recent post "The Apple Experiment". One thing that prompted me to originally move to Google Drive from Apple's iCloud was because I was having trouble with my only Mac and started using my Chromebox instead. That's when it became evident that Apple's iCloud was never really suitable to be a truly platform-independent cloud service.

However, I have since ditched my Chromebox and am now back using Apple hardware again (I actually forked out for another iMac). So... yes that's right, I moved my stuff back to Apple's iCloud. It really does mostly work ok. And there is one advantage. Because all my iCloud data also sits on my local machine, I can easily back it up to external hard drives (something you can't really do with Google Drive).

I am still relatively unhappy with the stability of MacOS. Since my last post there has been at least one instance where I had to hold down my power button to reset again. This sort of thing normally happens when I'm doing something fairly intense.

Originally my big problem with it was happening when I was encrypting 5-6 large external hard drives. More recently it happened when I was syncing a very large amount of data via iCloud. Under normal usage I don't have a problem. However that is no excuse. An OS that buckles under pressure is still highly annoying.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Ham radio VoIP stuff

I have sort of ditched local ham radio in favor of a couple different VoIP setups. I have two VoIP nodes... one is IRLP and one is AllStar. They both run on the raspberry Pi 2.

I only have one node radio. It's connected up to a dummy load instead of a regular antenna. Since it's only intended for my use at home, that works just fine. I have a DB9 A/B switch where I can switch my node radio from one VoIP system to the other.

I was originally running just an AllStar node. But I decided after awhile to add the IRLP node to my setup. While IRLP is not as nice as AllStar for a number of reasons, IRLP has far more of a history and established user base. At least that is my perception.

For those who have no idea what I'm talking about, let me explain.

I have a local ham radio that I talk on with an antenna in the attic. Then I have another radio (we'll call this a node radio) that I have connected to an A/B switch which in turn connects the radio to one of two raspberry Pi systems that are connected to the internet. So I talk on my local radio which is received by my node radio. That audio then goes out over the net via my VoIP nodes. And of course I listen the same way. I control the nodes by using DTMF (touch tones) to "dial up" other nodes all over the world that are also connected to radios (usually high-powered repeaters that are located on hill tops).

So on all these nodes, there is a radio component that facilitates local communication. The VoIP aspect simply allows those radios to connect to each other over long distances via the net.

This is all sort of fun. But it reminds me of the last days in the life of the whole BBS scene. This was where BBS's were fighting to stay alive by offering internet connectivity and such. That only delayed their death for a short time. In reality the vast majority of ham radio repeaters sit idle and are rarely used. In the Eugene area alone there are well over a dozen repeaters. But only one or two that actually have any activity to speak of.

The Apple experiment

I just moved my domains to Google Domains. As a side-benefit, they now integrate well with Blogger. So the new URL of this blog is w7ldn.com. My other blog is at one of my other domains (moondog.org). And my third domain (eldenf.com) forwards to my Google+ page.

The reason for the domain move? My old domain registrar (NameCheap) had spam filtering on their free email forwarding that I could not turn off. There were some email that I was mysteriously not receiving. It doesn't seem to me that an email forwarding service should do any spam filtering at all. After all, the email box that eventually receives the mail will have it's own spam filter, no?

I made the choice last Christmas to switch back over to Apple gear after years away. So virtually all my gear is Apple now.

While I am an Apple fan, I'm not a fan of their cloud services or their email service. I have a number of beefs:
  • With their email service, I can't send using my own domains. Since that's the main reason I have my own domains... that's a problem. However, Google lets me do that.
  • With their iCloud document service (Pages and Numbers) not all of the important features are available on the web or on my mobile devices. Only on a Mac does one have full functionality. Google Docs are entirely web-centered. So I have every feature available to me via the browser regardless of what operating system I am on.
  • With their iCloud file storage service I have to have all my files stored on my local hard drive. The iCloud storage is less of a cloud storage and more of a cloud backup and synchronization facility. Google lets me store everything in the cloud. I don't have to have it on my machine at all. Again, all I need is a browser and I have access to all my documents, regardless of what computer I'm on.
  • Apple iCloud seriously hosed my photo library on multiple occasions by duplicating photos and making an entire mess of things. It took hours and hours to clean up. I'm guessing it was simply a cloud synchronization issue. Google Drive has no such issues because you have one and only one copy of your files (if you do it right).

When I initially went back to the Mac a few months ago, I migrated all my documents to iCloud. Figured I'd give it all a fair try. After coming to the above realizations, I moved everything back to Google Drive. Now I'm back to using Google Calendar, gmail, etc. Luckily the Google stuff for the most part is operating system independent so it works fine with MacOS.

Still there are a lot of things to like about Apple stuff. But I'm not entirely sold on any particular platform. Last Christmas when I made the decision to go with Apple, I was initially shopping for a Chrome Book. And honestly, that would have worked just fine (and saved me a ton of money).

While I'm on the subject of Apple vs the competition... I will say something about my Macs. I am experiencing a level of operating system instability on both of my Macs that I have never experienced on modern Windows installations. Anyone who tells you that MacOS is more stable than Windows is seriously mistaken. And I say this after having resorted to all the normal trouble shooting measures like doing a fresh install of the operating system (multiple times). Seriously I cannot count how many times I've had to hold the power button down and kill my machines because they quit responding.

There may have been a time where MacOS was more stable than Windows. But that time is not now.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Back to the Mac


My wife and I have an annual tradition of buying ourselves something around Christmas each year. Not only is it Christmas, it’s bonus time at the company where I work. These things frequently take the form of electronic gadgets.

This year, my plan was to buy a Chromebook. These are pretty inexpensive laptops that run Chrome OS. I ordered one online at Best Buy, and arranged to pick it up in the store.

However, when we arrived to pick it up, it wasn’t ready. So we started browsing. That’s where the trouble started. They sell Apple gear.

To make a very long story short, between then and now, I’ve managed to replace most of our gear with Apple stuff. We traded our Android phones for iPhones. We replaced our Android tablets with iPads. And I ended up replacing my PC with an iMac. (my wife will still be using a Windows PC)

I was fortunate to be able to sell my old desktop PC for a reasonable price. So that helped. But my allowance will take awhile to recover from this.

So far, I’m enjoying being an Apple user again. I originally became a Mac user back in 2002, shortly after they introduced their new operating system based on FreeBSD (OS X). I think I sold my last Mac somewhere around 2009.

So Macs aren't new to me. I had a bunch of old software licenses for stuff that I used to use back then. I've renewed and updated the licenses for a number of those things. Of course some of them are now defunct.

Before this, I was pretty deep into the whole Google ecosystem. All my stuff was on Google Drive. I have used Gmail for many years. But I figured if I was going to do the Apple thing, I would go the full route.

So I am now using the Apple iCloud stuff. It's not perfect, but it seems to work pretty well. I have cloud storage, plus a lot of the Mac and iOS software use iCloud to sync data. I'm also using iCloud email. There was once a time where I had higher-end needs. But now for the most part, any reasonably capable service will fit my needs just fine.

And of course we're using the Apple Music service for our tunes. When we switched our phones, we also dumped Verizon in favor of T-Mobile. One nice thing about T-Mobile is, they have free music streaming. So that's what I end up listening to in my car most of the time.