Saturday, September 21, 2013

Flying in a genuine 1929 Ford Tri-Motor

1928 Ford Tri-Motor at the Frederick Municipal Airport
Today my son and I had the opportunity to fly in a 1929 Ford Tri-Motor aircraft. The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) is performing a tour with two of these beautiful aircraft. The aircraft that came to the Frederick Municipal Airport was from the Kalamazoo Air Zoo.
My son and I went to the airport to look at the aircraft and ended up paying for two seats on the aircraft. The cost for an adult is $75 and for children under 17 it is $50. It is free to fly with a child under 2 years of age. Yes, it is pricy, but how often do you get this opportunity to share this type of experience with your children.

We were the first to enter the aircraft so we sat in front. The aisle is very narrow but passable. We were
Inside of the 1929 Ford Tri-Motor
in the aircraft for a very short time before the engines started and we were on our way. Keep in mind that when they start the engines there is a guy outside of the aircraft with a fire extinguisher. Practical, but not something I generally see with modern aircraft. Alas, it was not needed!

After the short taxi to runway 23 up into the air we went. The total time for taxing, takeoff, flight, landing, and taxing is about 20 minutes. The cruising speed is 90 mph which in modern terms may seem slow but this was fast for 1929. For an added enjoyment it just so happens that the flight path took us over our house. This added just one more fine touch to the experience.  We landed and made it back to the loading / unloading area, deplaned, and took some pictures.
The cockpit of the 1929 Ford Tri-Motor

If you are interested in either seeing the plane and its history or taking a ride please take a look at the website for the upcoming tour locations and dates. If you are looking for possibly a once in a lifetime activity for the family or just yourself then the EAA tour is something it check out. It will be visiting the following cities through the middle of November 2013 (but please check the website in case there are changes):
Manassas, VA
Wichita, KS
Newton, KS
Oklahoma City, OK
Myrtle Beach, SC
Fort Worth, TX
Monroe, NC
Columbia, SC
St. Simons Island, GA
Georgetown, TX
Savannah, GA
Jacksonville, FL

Note to self: As I learned after the flight I had asked my 3 year old son "Do you want to go for a ride?" And of course he said yes. At the age of 3 he has logged a number of hours flying commercial; however, I should have asked if he wanted to go fly. I think he took "ride" to mean driving around the airport. After we landed he said he didn't understand why we left the ground. I laughed to myself and this experience and his comment is one that I won't soon forget.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Yaesu VX-8GR APRS use while sailing

Recently we went on a bareboat sailing charter and along with my other sailing essentials I packed the Yaesu VX-8GR that I received as an early birthday gift from my family while at
Yaesu VX-8GR along side my Garmin GPS
Hamvention in 2013. I have used the APRS capabilities a few times on his HT but I was not sure how it would function while sailing. I forgot the battery charger but as I learned with this experiment that wasn't an issue.

Radio setup:
Call sign: k8esr-8
Single frequency receive
Transmit an APRS packet every 10 minutes
Battery : FNB-102LI (extended battery)
Transmit power: 5 watts

Over the course of the week I ran the radio for 10 hours:
Monday: 1 hour
Tuesday: 2 hours
Wednesday: 3.5 hours
Thursday: 1.5 hours
Friday: 2.5 hours

I was very impressed with how well the radio worked while sailing. After the week of use I was only down to half of the bars of battery remaining. To get an idea of the battery usage running APRS I chose to not use the radio for voice communications.

Map of the received packets from 
After sailing on Wednesday I pulled up the data on and took a screen shot. In areas of the bay there were fewer points plotted but packets in other area were still well received. That said, the performance is not totally based on the transmitter but also on the location and height of the receiving digipeter or I-gate.

Overall I was very happy with the performance of the HT considering it is transmitting at 5 watts. The antenna was attached to the radio but had I mounted the antenna higher I probably would have had even better results. The VX-8GR has been discontinued by Yaesu but the performance characteristics may be similar on the other Yaesu radios like the FT1DR.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Chesapeake Bay Sailing Charter - The Final Day

Our final day on the Chesapeake Bay charter was not rushed and we spent the morning at the Rock Hall Landing Marina. To amuse the kids we lunched the dinghy from the back of the boat and gave them a water tour around the marina. The act of bringing the dinghy back onto the boat took 4 guys. During the checkout process they neglected one critical piece of information - how to telescope the boom to lift the dinghy. This is one of those situations best left to pictures but unfortunately I have none. We will leave it at this: it was more difficult than it should have been and required 4 guys again to get it back on the boat.

After giving the kids a break on land we departed at 11:30 AM to
return to the marina in Back Creek. A cold front was moving through so we had 10 kt winds with waves of 1.5 to 2 feet. At this point we motor sailed with just the jib which gave us an extra knot of speed. At this time I fell asleep with my youngest child (I hear that there are good pictures of us sleeping) so we will just fast forward...

We made it back to the marina, waited in line a bit for fuel /
pump out, and proceeded back to the slip for Dream Cat. We transferred our belongings to our cars, said our goodbyes, and drove back to reality.

While I didn't exactly like the configuration of parts of the boat it was the first we have chartered with an electric winch to raise the mainsail (a plus!). The winch was also very helpful to have for raising the dingy onto the boat.

Everything considered it was a great charter and we had a lot of fun and stories to reminisce on our next charter.

Happy sailing!

Chesapeake Bay Sailing Charter - Rock Hall

Today was a mix bag of land and sea activities. We spent the morning on land to give the kids some non boating playtime. In the morning there was some decent wind so we decided to head out of the marina to do some sailing. Poof, there went the wind. After putting the sails up we achieved a whopping 1 to 2 kts of speed. We were able to get some slow sailing in today but after the wind decreased to the point that we were making half a knot of speed we dropped the sails. The decision was also prompted by the storm building on the west side of the bay. Back to the marina!

The main adventure of the afternoon was many of us being
caught by a rapidly building and fast approaching storm. My child and I were trapped in on the main street of the town. After trying to stay dry and failing next to someone's garbage cans I made the run to the other side in hopes for a dryer location. After about 30 minutes of standing on a porch we headed back to the boat only to find that we were not the only members of our crew trapped by the storm.

It wouldn't follow the tone of the these posts if I failed to say that our sewage tanks were full from the start - Oh yeah, stinky. The current theory is that the cleaning crew may have filled the sewage tanks with water thinking it was the fresh water tank. I do wonder what they put in our fresh water tanks.

Tomorrow is our last day on the bay. Hopefully we will find some wind and no other issues.

I do want to give a shout out to Rock Hall Landing Marina. They have great facilities (bathroom and pool), helpful staff, and excellent wireless even at the end of the dock.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Chesapeake Bay Charter - New Acquaintance

On Wednesday we packed and transferred our possessions and
provisions to the sailing vessel Dream Cat. She is a 44' catamaran and also a beautiful sailing vessel. After the transfer we were away! Rock Hall here we come!

We motored from the Severn River to past the bay bridge and then brought to the sails - we finally had wind! We sailed for a bit making 5 to 7 knots. It was a beautiful day and guess what? We made it to Rock Hall. We are at a marina for the night and plan to see the town tomorrow.

Chesapeake Bay Sailing Charter - The Fire

On Tuesday morning we started the engines only to discover that the starboard engine wouldn't turnover. We called the charter company and they sent over Mr. Mechanic to see what was up with the engine. He determined that the starter's relay was bad. To get us moving on our charter due got us going by shorting the starter relay with a wrench. We would get the starter replaced in Rock Hall.

Pull up anchor and off we go. Next stop, Rock Hall! Um, no...
Towing our broke ass boat. 

We motored out the Severn River and we almost made it to the bay bridge when the port engine cut out. The engine compartment was opened only to discover a burning smell and a very small fire. Fire extinguishers to the rescue! First a call to the charter company and then a call to a water towing service (think AAA but on water).

Let's take an inventory - the starboard engine won't restart if stopped and the port engine was dead.

We aimed for our port of origin and the towing service met us and helped to get us back into our slip.

It turned out wires shorted out to - guess what? The port starter. Two engines, two bad starters. The charter company could not locate two starters so they offered us a different boat.

We took it.

Chesapeake Bay Sailing Charter - Getting Acquainted

Every so often we do sailing charters with friends of ours. We have sailed in the British Virgin Islands, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the Adriatic off the coast of Croatia, and of course in the Chesapeake Bay.

On Monday started off on our next bare boat charter in the Chesapeake Bay. Our general plan was to sail / motor from the Severn River to Rock Hall, Maryland. We took possession of our charter the sailing vessel Lux. She was a beautiful 40' catamaran and in this case we learned that beauty was only skin deep. After stowing our possessions and loading our provisions we set sail. Well, actually there was little to no wind so we motored up the Severn River to Little Round Bay and anchored there for the night. We had a great meal of grilled burgers and hotdogs.

... now the real fun begins!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Raspberry PI APRS using Xastir

I had such great success with my Raspberry PI NAS that I decided to take a stab at running an APRS application with maps on a Raspberry PI. After searching the web I was not surprised to find that others have done something similar. Because I dedicated my original Raspberry PI as a NAS I obtained a second Raspberry PI model B along with some accessories from Adafruit Industries. Adafruit tests the accessories with the Raspberry PI so it eliminates the hunting for compatible accessories.

My intent for the APRS-PI was to read the APRS-IS and display those stations near my location.  My setup is:
Raspberry PI APRS
There are many websites that already exist for setting up a Raspberry PI NAS so I will not duplicate the steps here; however, these are some very helpful links.
The setup is fairly straight forward for Xastir on the Raspberry PI. Depending on what your intent is for using it the filter from the APRS database may need to be updated. I am using a filter of m/25 to retrieve stations within 25 miles of my location.

Xastir via VNC

A monitor could be added to the Raspberry PI via HDMI or the AV video output but while one of the 3.5" or 4.3" displays may sound good the resolution is too low to be able to fully use the Xastir. It can be done and the map with the stations can be viewed but the pop-up boxes for making changes are mostly larger than the small screen's real estate and the dialog boxes will be off the screen.

As always YMMV but for a small, low cost, always on APRS device the Raspberry PI fills the need.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Raspberry PI NAS

I have been excited about playing around with a Raspberry PI and I had some free time so I purchased a unit. I bought a Raspberry PI model B along with some accessories from Adafruit Industries. Adafruit tests the accessories with the Raspberry PI so it eliminates the hunting for compatible accessories.

My intent for the NAS was to create a low cost / low power device to store a backup of digital pictures. My setup is:
Raspberry PI NAS

There are many websites that already exist for setting up a Raspberry PI NAS so I will not duplicate the steps here; however, these are some very helpful links.
After combing through all of the information out on the web I first formatted the two USB drives as NTFS. This was so the drives could be easily plugged into a Windows (or Mac) should the Raspberry PI fail. After some initial tests I was not thrilled with the throughput writing to the USB drive. I did notice that the ntfs-3g driver was CPU intensive (~40%). After reformatting the USB drive as ext3 I reran the test at 900 MHz and was pleasantly surprised at the write time performance increase.

RPI w/ NTFS @ 900 MHz - 2.35 MB/s (18.8 Mb/s)
RPI w/ NTFS @ 900 MHz - 2.63 MB/s (21.04 Mb/s)
RPI w/ ext3    @ 900 MHz - 6.26 MB/s (50.08 Mb/s)

Due to the limitations of the USB bus on the Raspberry PI you will not see anything near the theoritical maximum throughput but I was more than happy to achieve 6.26 MB/s (50.08 Mb/s) throughput writing to the USB drive.

A cronjob can be used to rsync the contents of the first USB drive to the second drive (instructions in Setting up the USB drives and Samba). The second frive provides some added reliability for the data storage. You could also use a third USB drive and manually mount it, rsync, un0mount and store the drive in off-site or on-site fire / water safe storage.

To move the files from a Windows machine to the RPI NAS rsync for Windows can be used. Mac has rsync packaged with OSX which will make easier to copy data to the PI without the need for a third party application. 

As always YMMV but for a small, low cost, low power consumption NAS the Raspberry PI with two USB drives suits my backup needs.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

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

Eight years ago after we brought home our first Labrador Retriever we wanted to have a place for her to do her business with out brown spots or land mines in our back yard. We created a area for her to use and trained her to go in only that location. We have two labs and this patch is just the right size for 2 large breed dogs. The patch has has evolved over the years we are on the 4th version.

  • Version 1.0 
    • Let her do her business in one location on grass. Kills the grass and starts to smell quickly.
  • Version 2.0 
    • Doug out a 6' x 4' x 0.5' (l by w by d). 
    • Filled in the hole with 3-4 inches of pea gravel.
  • Version 3.0
    • Version 2.0 had issed with flooding in during hard rain
    • The grade in our yard allowed for the addition of a PVC "pluming" line to drain the patch
  • Version 4.0 (Described below)
The problem with using 3-4 inches of pea gravel is that it tightly packs and after enough runoff from the surrounding ground dirt enters the patch and it begins to hold more water and bacteria (smelly).

The patch before attacking this project looked a bit worn and used. The pea gravel is fairly well packed together.
Original patch in use for 3 years

The patched needed to be taken down to the bare bones. You can see that on the ground is weed block to keep the pea gravel from mixing into the floor of the patch. There was also some rock to allow drainage to the back of the patch to facilitate the travel of the water to the PVC pipe. 

The dig.
The basic building blocks of the version 4.0 patch are:
  1. Dig a hole - depth depends on the grade of your yard and the ability for it to drain on its own or with the help of pluming.
  2. Line it with something to hold back the dirt. We chose 6 inch deep by 8 inch long solid rock from a home improvement store.
  3. Grade the bottom of the hole so water and pee flows to the drainage point. In our case it is to the back of the patch.
  4. Line the bottom of the hole with weed block or a similar material. I don't know if I would use plastic but you could experiment with it.
  5. Add in 2 to 3 inches of river rock for ponds. This can be purchased in bags at your local home improvement store. Our patch is ~16 sq feet so it required 7 bags.
  6. Add a mesh screen on top of the river rock. You can use mesh screen that is used to replace the screen in windows.
  7. Add 1-2 inches of pea gravel on the mesh screen. This allows for water to drain but keeps the pea gravel from filing in the cracks of the river rock. It also allows for easy removal of the gravel should it need to be replaced at a future date after a few years of use.

Pea Gravel with mesh coving river rock
To help maintain the health of the patch I recommend flushing it periodically with a vinegar solution. Vinegar has antibacterial properties and it can be used to keep any bacteria that may grow in the patch in check - Your pets are using this as a bathroom and from experience bacteria will begin to grow if not kept in check.

... and here is the completed patch. I added a garden border to keep excess runoff with dirt from entering the patch.
Completed patch
If you have everything you need this project can be completed in a day. 

The updated patch has been tested and dog approved!

Check out my post How-to Create a Dog Patch (Dog Pee Patch) - The Refresh on refreshing the dog patch after 2 years of use by the dogs.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Organic Insect Killer - Not!

We believe we have a tick problem so I thought I would try an Organic lawn insect killer (EcoSMART Lawn Insect Killer). The product manufacturer alleges that the product KILLS AND REPELS: Ants, Aphids, Caterpillars, ticks, and many other lawn and landscape insects. It also alleges that it kills on contact. The manufacturer states that the product is a octopamine blocker which insects have but not mammals or other animals. It blocks the octopamine and "results in a total breakdown of the insect’s central nervous system."

Keeping and open mind I thought I would try this natural products (as I have 2 dogs and two youngsters). After spraying the lawn I thought this may actually work. As a test  sprayed a collection of ants, gnats, beetles, and various other winged and non winged insects that were on some vegetable matter. They continued to scurry around. After dousing them with this insect killer they just continued about their business. The repellent aspect did not appear to work. The product is natural so I figured that maybe "kills on contact" is not immediate and takes some time to affect the insects. I checked the insects at 5, 15, and 30 minutes - they were just laughing at me and not one of them appeared to have been repelled or killed by this product.

Maybe at a higher concentration this product works but I sprayed a 1 foot square area of bugs with enough spray for a 10x10 area of lawn. I am not holding my breath that this product killed any ticks in my lawn. A friend has had success with EcoSMART lawn weed and grass killer so some of their products may yield better results.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Yaesu VX-8GR

At the 2013 Hamvention in Dayton I picked up a Yaesu VX-8GR for the APRS capabilities. According to the Yaesu representatives at Dayton the VX-8GR along with the submersible VX-7R are both soon to be discontinued (neither radio was on their HT display but still in their brochures). The VX-8GR will be replaced by FT-1DR which includes 12.5 kHz C4FM FDMA for about $210 more. This made my decision to purchase the VX-8GR critical as I do not wish to pay $200+ more for capabilities I don't need. So while at Dayton I played with the FT-1DR and the APRS capability has not appeared to have changed much from the VX-8GR. The FT-1DR doesn't allow appear to allow automatic decay, no shortcut to turn the GPS or TNC on/off, etc. I changed the Internet Key shortcut to the GPS Power setting and it makes it easier to toggle the GPS on and off.

I have read a few reports saying the VX-8GR doesn't pick up the GPS signal while inside of a house - well, neither does my Garmin eTrex Legend HCx, Garmin 60Cx, or my cell phone. It doesn't work as a full featured TNC, does not support QSY in beacons, etc. What it does to is APRS and it does it fairly well. As an example, on my trip from Ohio to Maryland I had both a OT2m tracker running with my Kenwood FT-V71a running 25 watts and the VX-8GR running 5 watts sitting on the dash. The results were about what I expected:

k8esr-7 (vx-8gr): 31 packets received

k8esr-9 (OT2m with TM-v71a): 62 packets received

I had low expectations for the handheld and I didn't think I would even get half of the received packets using the VX-8GR without and outside antenna and more power.

If you are looking for a good HT for APRS check out the Yaesu VX-8GR especially if you do not wish to pay $200+ more for the newer Yaesu FT-1DR.

This was not meant to be a review of the VX-8GR because there are already many reviews that you can google as well as a few un-boxings and reviews on YouTube.

If you are looking for a comparison of APRS HTs take a look one of these links
Review: Amateur Radio Handhelds (HTs), APRS, and Battery Tuning Tips
APRS Handies head to head

Both sites do a fairly good head to head comparison of the Yaesu VX-8GR and the Kenwood TH-72A.

Erik, K8ESR

Mystic Rain Water Collection System Review for my Rain Barrel

I have had a rain barrel for 4 years now from the Interstate Commission on the Potomic River Basin (or ICPRB). They modify 60 gal. food grade barrels (mine was a pickle barrel in its former life) and sell them locally rain barrels can be found at your local home improvement stores and online. They build it out as an open system which allows you to divert water into the container from a downspout and have water enter through a screen on the top of the barrel. This requires a runoff hose but during downpours I have found that it overflows over the top and lands near the foundation. You can fill a rain barrel in a light rain in a matter of minutes.

After researching various diverters I selected the Oatey Mystic Rainwater Collection System. It is easy to install in 4 steps and the only difficult (and LOUD) part is having to hacksaw out a 6 inch section of the downspout. Be sure to put cardboard or a similar item to protect your siding from the hacksaw. You can also use a rotary tool to make the cut. You will find that most, if not all, systems require you to cut into your downspout to insert the collection system. The Mystic system fits snug in your downspout so no screws are required to attach the collection unit to your downspout. 

My only complaint is the hose needs to be warmed to take out the bends. Don't expect to take the hose out of the box and immediately use it. It has been a cool spring here so I put it in the oven for about 15 minutes on warm and then stuck a PVC pice into it to remove the kinks. The instructions say to put it in a warm place for a few hours. 

Because this system works best with a closed rain barrel system I had to convert my open system rain barrel to a closed one. That was not all that difficult and we are back up and running. 

The completed system is as shown below.
ICPRB Rain Barrel with Mystic Rainwater Collection System
I recommend the Mystic Rain Water collection system for its ease of installation and the collection system.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Organic Lawn Fertilizers

If I could bypass fertilizer all together I would but I have found that two 50lb-60lb dogs damage and stress out the lawn with all of their running around, especially in the rainy months. In my endeavor to strive to be more environmentally friendly I began using low nitrogen organic fertilizers four years ago. 

I have had mixed results with organic products. One of these organic products caused six inch mushrooms to grow every night for a couple of weeks giving the dogs a potentially poisonous treat. Picking mushrooms at 5 am so the dogs do not eat them is not a treat for the humans!

Two years ago I decided to switch to a liquid organic hydrolyzed fish solubles fertilizer and kelp. Due to the fish oil in the fertilizer the yard has a bit of a fish odor. Fortunately the odor is slowly diminishing. Though I am not sure what the neighbors think about the smell the day after the spraying.

After the first year I can say that the liquid organic hydrolyzed fish solubles fertilizer and kelp does work well. I also have been using a similar product on my garden and outside plants with great results. Until it stops raining the grass stayed green without growing at a horrendous rate. 

It it not for everyone but I do recommend composting, organic fertilizer, rain barrels, etc. It does take more time but I believe it is less taxing on the environment.