Thursday, July 9, 2015

How-to Create a Dog Patch (Backyard Dog Pee Area) - The Refresh

In one my previous posts How-to Create a Dog Patch (Dog Pee Patch) I showed how I created an area for out two Labrador Retrievers to do their business. After a while it may develop an odor that even vinegar or other concoctions will not handle. Here I'll show how easy it is to refresh the area for many more years of use.

First, you have the existing patch. If you are looking to create one for the first time take a look at my post on How-to Create a Dog Patch (Dog Pee Patch).

On top of the rocks and under the pea gravel I had laid mesh screen so begin by using a shovel to pull back the pea gravel around the edges exposing the mesh. The mesh can be pulled up to bring the gravel into a pile that is easier to shovel.
You will want to remove the old pea gravel and you have two options, clean and reuse or dispose of and use new gravel. For this refresh I use all new pea gravel. After removing the pea gravel and mesh you end up with the original base. Other than cleaning with vinegar or something to help with any odor the base stays untouched.
Our patch has a PVC drain so while I had it uncovered I made sure that we did not have any blockages by running a snake through the pipe and I ensured that there were not rocks blocking water entry into the pipe. It all appeared in great shape so I covered it back up. and moved onto the deodorizing of the patch.

In my dog patch, the odor was mainly coming from the pea gravel in the areas of the darker black spots. I cleaned this area (I opted for a light solution of bleach and water). I poured the solution over the rocks and then let it air dry in the sun while I did some weeding elsewhere. After a hour or so I then sprayed the rocks down with a hose to wash out any solution and excess dirt and voila a clean patch!

At this point all you will need to do is put new or cleaned mesh on the patch and add cleaned or new pea gravel. For the size of this patch, I needed at least 3 bags of pea gravel from Home Depot. I initially tried 2 bags but it really didn't cover all of the mesh and left some blank spots.

And there we have it, the refreshed and no odor patch. The dogs immediately took to it so it meets their standards.

It it easy and ignoring the wait time for it to dry, it took about a 1 to 1.5 hours to complete. It is really simple and extends the life of the patch with little expense and effort.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Using APRS along the Ohio and Pennsylvania Turnpikes

On a trip from Maryland to northern Ohio I wanted to give relatives an idea where I was along my travels. For this I fired up my Argent Data Systems Tracker2 and Kenwood TM-V71A. For the entire drive, I ran the Kenwood at 10W and transmitted on the Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) frequency of 144.390 MHz as K8ESR-9. The outcome was much improved over past trips do to better coverage by digis and I-Gates. In previous trips, I could drive an hour and a half without a packet being received at an I-Gate. As can be seen in the plot, this is no longer the case. I'd like to thank the amateur radio community for improving the coverage by adding digis along this heavily traveled route. plot of received APRS packets on Ohio and Pennsylvania Turnpikes.
As a side finding, I discovered that I do need to look at my setup. Unless I unknowingly have a car-airplane hybrid then I think there could be an issue with the GPS. At least one transmitted packet shows the speed to be 219 MPH. The elevation at that point checks out but the speed... uhmmmmm, suspect.

As always, your results may vary depending on radio and antenna setup but when traveling on this part of the turnpike you'll have decent coverage for most of the drive. Happy travels!

73's K8ESR

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Yaesu VX-8GR APRS Backpack Portable Performance

At the 2013 Hamvention I picked up a Yaesu VX-8GR which unfortunately Yaesu discontinued when they released the FT-1DR for their System Fusion concept. In 2015 I still own the VX-8GR and I decided to use it for my Saturday trip. My primary HT is a Kenwood TH-F6A and to keeps things simple I decided to make my APRS backpack portable. This was a simple build consisting of a backpack, a 3 foot extension cable SMA male to BNC male, BNC female to SMA female adaptor, and tie wraps.
Yaesu VX8-GR backpack portable
I attached the stock antenna to the backpack and ran the extension cable to the side pocket. A nice quick "build" so to speak. With all of the APRS traffic at Hamvention I was not entirely sure how well this was going to work. I set the HT to transmit at 3 minute intervals and let it go for the day. From 9 AM until about 2 PM 39 packets were picked up and available to map in APRS-IS. map of VX-8gr at Hamvention 2015
Yet again, I am impressed with how well this little radio performs in a crowded environment. The GPS has sufficient sensitivity to provide some position packets from within Hara Arena. As you can see, we did a decent job making our way through the flea market on Saturday.

So, if you are looking for a good HT with great APRS battery performance (blows the Kenwood TH-D72A away on battery life) I still highly recommend the VX-8GR. These radios are no longer in production so you'd have to pick it up on Ebay or in a flea market. If you do buy one I don't think you will be disappointed.

73's K8ESR

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Hamvention 2015 - The Event

Arena Floor of Hara Arena
This year marked another great year at Hamvention 2015. Due to the traveling I am usually only able to make one day out of the three day event in Dayton Ohio. As I noted in my past post Hamvention 2015 - Trip to Ohio I was lucky again this year to be able to travel to Dayton with my father, K8RSU. Hara Arena is a great venue for Hamvention so hopefully Hara can resolve its financial problems and continue to be around.

As always, there was a lot of walking involved especially out in the flea market. With the exception of some tie wraps and heat shrink, I didn't find much this year to purchase outside. I did however, capture some different pictures from the Flea Market.

The pneumatic line launcher kit. You could purchase N8PRK's kit for $199.00 (minus the wheels). It has a max PSI of 80 so it probably doesn't have a lot of other uses but this should would be a fun "toy" to own.
Pneumatic Line Launcher
With my count, this car had 13 antennas. I am not sure how this person gets into their trunk or where they put their radio equipment but the number of antennas is impressive.
Antennas Galore

People were selling everything this year from radios and test equipment to the kitchen sink ($5). I was also able to locate a boat anchor - a real one!

Finally, I found this. It reminds me of my yellow lab. This is a cute little puppy taking a nap.

Hopefully my schedule will work out making it possible for me to attend again in 2016. 73's K8ESR.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Hamvention 2015 - Trip to Ohio

I've lost count but is probably my 14th trip to Hamvention. To be honest, I lived in Dayton for 6 years and attended Hamvention three of the years so those where easy trips. Living in Dayton, Hamvention spoiled me on hamfests. Take Hara Arena and pack in equipment manufacturers, retailers, groups, demonstrations, exams, 25,000 (give or take) attendees and you have one large group of great people and equipment - and that doesn't include the flea market in Hara's parking lot! If you look at the map, you can see that it is an extensive layout. After moving away from Dayton I have made an effort to make it back on as many occasions as possible.  This year I am lucky to be able to attend again with my father and so far the trip has started out fairly routine. Leave the house in Maryland between 4AM and 5AM, drive 435 miles, and suffer through Ohio Turnpike construction. Unfortunately, I tried to make it to Ohio in time for the 9 AM trivia net outside of Cleveland, Ohio but by the time I made it in range of the repeater the net was about over. Maybe next year.

On my drive I always enjoy stopping at the Somerset Plaza on the PA Turnpike. Other than it is a good point to take a break, I like spending a few minutes watching the wind generators. For some reason I just find these peaceful to watch. From the plaza you can see a few of them and they have a description of the wind power generation.

Before I hit the rain in Ohio I did encounter an interesting cloud formation. I don't recall ever seeing one that looked like it has 90 degree or near 90 degree angles. 
Tomorrow we leave early for Dayton. I'm excited to go but more excited that once again my father and I can do this together.


Monday, January 26, 2015

Using AdWords to Max Out Dropbox Referral Bonus

Dropbox is an excellent cloud storage service and it is available on all popular platforms. The catch is that new users only receive 2 GB of storage. Compared to other cloud services, this is low side for storage. The positive side is that Dropbox pays users with bonus space to perform certain activities such as reading the Get Started Guide, using the app to upload photos, and linking to Mailbox and social media accounts. After performing those activities and receiving 1GB after OnCloud was purchased by Dropbox I had 7.88 GB of space. Not bad, but I needed a bit more room for growth. My remaining untapped bonus area was referrals. For every friend that is referred and installs the app you will receive 500 MB in additional space up to 16 GB. To max out at 16 GB you need 32 friends who A) are not users of Dropbox and B) will sign up and install the desktop app. I'd likely need many more than 32 friends to achieve this goal. What to do....
AdWords Ad Keywords for Dropbox Referrals
AdWords Ad Keywords for Dropbox Referrals 

I found a Life Hacker article Use Google Adwords to Quickly Max Out Your Dropbox Referrals from 2011 and I was curious if it still applied in 2015. Using the instructions from the Life Hacker article I decided to try to replicate the results. I opened a Google AdWords account and set the keywords up similar to those in the article.

As in the article, I maxed out the Cost-Per-Click (CPC) at $0.05 which maximize the number of ads over the day without quickly killing the daily budget. I did deviate and set the max daily budget to $13.00 instead of $20.00 as used in the article. 

 Same as in the article, the keyword that drew the most impressions and clicks was "Dropbox".  
AdWords Dropbox Campaign
AdWords Dropbox Campaign

To achieve the same results of having 32 people sign up for Dropbox, I needed 4.7 times the number of clicks but only half of the impressions. The Click-Through-Rate (CTR) was higher than in the article and that resulted in a 4 times greater cost compared to 2011. 

Dropbox Referral Results
Dropbox Referral Results
Out of 1,029 add clicks I had 77 first time users sign up for Dropbox accounts with only 37 of the 77 users installing the client. To max out the referral bonus space, it only required 32 users to install the client so the campaign brought in 5 additional users without a bonus. The proof, with email addresses hidden, shows that referrals using the link in the ad were received. 

Replicating the Google AdWords campaign was successful but it did cost 4 times more than in 2011. The goal of 32 signups with desktop installation was achieved in 2.5 days. Dropbox does have more subscribers than in 2011 and my theory is that it took more to reach people who do not currently use Dropbox and are not tied to a different cloud storage service. Each user that signs up using the referral link also receives a 500 MB bonus so their accounts all started out at 2.5 GB instead of 2.0 GB. If you are willing to pay $40 for 16GB of Dropbox storage then this avenue may be for you. I now have plenty of space on Dropbox and I don't need to pay $99 a year for 1 terabyte of Dropbox space which is much more than I require.

If you try this out for yourself, leave a comment and let us know how it worked for you.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Van Der Hagen Safety Razor

Target carries a double edge safety razor with a branding of Van Der Hagen. Up to this point, the only methods that I have found for purchasing a safety razor are through one of the on-line speciality stores or Amazon. This is the first safety razor that I have encountered that any person can easily purchase. The razor costs $19.99 at Target so I decided to purchase one for a test drive and review.

As some background the razors that I own are:
1957 Flare Tip Super Speed
1960 Fatboy
Edwin Jagger DE89
Feather AS-D2

The Van Der Hagen is a twist-to-open (TTO) razor allowing for easy blade replacement. I was not sure what to expect from a $19 razor but the TTO works flawlessly. It is easy to use; however, when it is closed the end cap at the bottom of the TTO mechanism rattles. This doesn't affect the shave but I'd prefer to not hear a rattle with every shave stroke.

Left to Right: Van Der Hagen,
Flare Tip Super Speed
Left to Right: Van Der Hagen,
Flare Tip Super Speed
The look, as evident in the pictures, is similar to the Gillette Flare Tip Super Speed. The head of both razors when open and closed have a striking resemblance. I don't know if this is to pay homage to the great Gillette razors of yesteryear or for a different reason but either way the appearance is similar. The Van Der Hagen's handle measures at 3 inches which is slightly longer than the Super Speed's 2 and 7/8's inch handle. Both are shorter than the Edwin Jagger's 3 1/4 inch handle. The handle is in the ballpark for what I usually use so I didn't notice a difference. Also, the overall weight and balance of the razor feels fine in the hand. The head weighs less than both the Edwin Jagger and the Feather but it is on par, if not slightly lighter than the Flare Tip. The weight didn't affect my shave but it did feel a tad light in the hand.

I performed a WTG, XTG, and ATG shave using a Feather blade and I didn't not notice any irritation; however, the shave is not all that aggressive. I did not have as close of a shave as I get from the Edwin Jagger. Comparing the shave to my commercially available razors, the Van Der Hagen is less aggressive than the Edwin Jagger, and more aggressive than the Feather (which is known as a mild razor).

I'm glad to have tried this razor and it can compete with other DE razors.

  • Available to anyone through Target brick and mortar stores
  • Low price ($19.99)
  • Good starter razor - mild to Medium aggressiveness shave
  • Rattle from the handle when shaving
  • Weight is on the light side

Overall, I feel that this razor falls into the category of a starting razor and would benefit someone new into the world of DE wet shaving. Instead of purchasing a $35-$60 razor off Amazon someone new to shaving could begin with tis razor. Once he (or she) gets used to DE shaving they can upgrade continue with this razor or upgrade to a more aggressive razor. Personally, I plan to hold on to this razor. For me this would make a great travel razor. I get a good shave, it doesn't weight a lot, and if I were to forget it at a hotel it I'd be out $19 and could always pickup another.

I do want to thank Target for offering a low cost DE razor in their stores as DE shaving is more cost effective than disposables and is easier on the environment.