Sunday, March 22, 2009

Cyber Space

Where the moose are loose

I had been on the road for close to a hour when I spotted this moose grazing near the road south of Millarville. I pulled over and shot a series of photographs, all the while listening to the sound of packets being downloaded to my new VHF/UHF radio. A glance at the radio display told me that my friend Brian VE6BCA in Edmonton had just beaconed and that information was now being decoded by my Kenwood TM-D710A.
I have been quite busy as of late, due to the fact that I acquired a new radio for my truck that replaced my old VHF/UHF radio. After 8 years, I decided it was time for a new radio with features that would serve my needs better. I wanted a radio that could do more for me including APRS. What is APRS you ask? The APRS system was invented and introduced by Bob Bruninga, an amateur radio operator (WB4APR). Officially, APRS is the abbreviation for Automatic Packet Reporting System. The system evolved from packet radio in the 1990's to provide a one-to-everyone distribution of local information and communications so that everyone in the net could see the same live, relevant information. When GPS became plentiful, Position data and maps were added to complete the tactical picture. These maps and stations and objects are the most visible aspect that most people see when they see APRS. These maps are used for reporting weather, locations of objects like starting locations for races, check points for those races, and to support text-messaging and email between operators over great distances. Basically, an APRS system requires a location sensor and in my case that is a GPS receiver by 'Green light Labs' mounted on the control head and linked to my radio as shown in this photo. This Packet radio transmission system on my end and a packet radio receiver and a computer on the other end, completes the system. The first system (my radio) collects its current location and encodes it in a standardized format as a string of text and transmits that information as a beacon. The transmission is NOT directed at any one station but rather beaconed out for all listening stations to hear and interpret. A second system receives the information using APRS software and then decodes the packet and, typically, places an icon on a map showing the transmitting station's location and in my case, that would be my truck. It may also interest you to know that the teenager in your house did not invent text messaging, even if it seems that way as they text message one another a hundred times a day. Amateur Radio Operators have been sending text messages back and forth to one another on their radios for years that are read on the radio display. Recently everyone is encouraged to put their voice operating frequency in their position data as well so they can be contacted. Now this is where this ham radio stuff gets interesting. With the radio in my truck beconing my location and plotting a track as to where I am travelling,you will be able to follow me on your computer screen as I travel the backroads of Southern Alberta. I have installed a "WHERE IS VE6AB" button here on my blog that will take you to a page on my website that includes a map running in real-time as to where I am located. The first time you check it out, be patient as the page loads. I proofed the system today with a stop in High River, where I had coffee with my Ham buddies before heading back to Calgary, all the while laying track on a map located in cyber space. See you on the road.

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