EchoLink Node #496698

I have not played around with EchoLink for a while. Reviewing my manual for the Kenwood TM-D710A that I have running my APRS traffic for my home weather station, I saw how the D710A can also simultaneously run an EchoLink node (with the additional PG-5H cables). Configuring the EchoLink software to work with the D710A is pretty simple and is covered in one of the Kenwood manuals for the rig that focuses on both APRS and EchoLink operation. I established my EchoLink station as a simplex “link”. That allows me to have the EchoLink node operational on a simplex VHF/UHF frequency and accessible by either HT from the house or from my mobile rig while I am driving in and around town. By using DTMF commands over the simplex link, I can bring the node up and down as well as connect to different EchoLink enabled repeaters and conferences. It is interesting to note that since I was last playing around with EchoLink, it seems there are a lot less nodes around. I’m guessing this can be attributed to the growing popularity of IRLP over EchoLink. If you are near an EchoLink repeater or have the software installed – give me a call at EchoLink Node #496698.

Hoop-Dee-Doo and Disney Too!

We had a great time at Disney World! My hats off to the XYL for a ton of research and planning that went into the trip. One resource that really paid off was the PassPorter’s Walt Disney World 2009: The Unique Travel Guide, Planner, Organizer, Journal, and Keepsake! by Jennifer and Dave Marx. While I had a few other Disney books on my Kindle, the PassPorter was a veritable pirate’s treasure trove of advice and tips that did the most for making our trip and absolute, unqualified success.

We opted to take a direct flight for Kansas City to Orlando on Southwest. I don’t think it was the cheapest flight and Southwest has their quirky seating policy. However, with the kids (a 4 year old and a 8 month old) a direct flight was the best option. Fortunately, those traveling with small children get to board first, so even with Southwest’s cattle call seating we were able to keep the family intact.

Transportation from Orlando International to Disney World was via Disney’s own bus service. When staying at a Disney resort, this is a great service. Again, the XYL doing the research ahead time was able to get special tags for our checked luggage so we were able to bypass the baggage carousel and head straight for the Disney Express. Our baggage would then be retrieved by Disney and taken directly to our room at the resort.

The ride to our resort, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, was quick. The bus was equipped with overhead TVs playing an introduction video explaining check in at the resorts and other information. We arrived at the Animal Kingdom Lodge around 1pm and were able to quickly check in and head to our room. The room had two queen beds and overlooked the animal reserve that surrounded the resort. Giraffes, zebras, and other animals were grazing in the savanna like area a mere 50 yards away.

The XYL had also done some research on the meal plan that Disney offers. It is a bit complicated, but worth understanding. With a little bit of planning, opting for the meal plan can save quite a bit of money. We went down to the resort’s food court to grab a quick lunch and make sure our meal plans were working correctly. Then it was off to the resort’s bus stops to head to the Magic Kingdom.

Disney World has a massive transportation system that is primarily made up of buses, but there are also water taxis and of course the monorail. From resorts, you can travel to any of the parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom). From each park, you can travel to any of the resorts. Things get tricky if you want to travel from one resort to another (like to go to one of their restaurants or just look around). It requires you to first go to a park and then catch another mode of transportation to that specific resort. Things become complicated towards nighttime when parks start closing as transportation usually only runs to the parks for only one hour after closing. There are several iPhone/iPod Touch apps that track park opening and closing times which we used several time to make sure we didn’t end up going to a park in order to catch a bus that was no longer running. Some resorts are right on the monorail which makes life a breeze to get to both the Magic Kingdom and Epcot. Despite the complexity of the transportation system, you rarely wait longer than 20 minutes and the bus drivers (boat drivers, etc.) are all extremely helpful to help you get where you want to go.

And with that point I need to stress that every Disney employee (or as Disney calls them: Cast Members) is extremely helpful. From the bus drivers, hotel clerks, maids, restaurant waiters, store clerks, park security, ticket takers, and the staff members in the park. They all have an excellent attitude and do their best to make sure you are happy. An this is really what makes Disney World a top notch vacation destination. What makes the difference for Disney is the quality of their employees. All are dedicated to making your experience the best it can possibly be.

During our stay we traveled to all the parks. I most enjoyed the Magic Kingdom. Hollywood Studios would probably be my next favorite – although we didn’t get to spend as much time there as we wanted. All the parks were quite busy during the pre-Christmas days. Going early or staying late helped avoid the crowds. Also one park a day will have an early opening or late closing just for resort guests – which really helps.

Disney has many excellent restaurants that can get quite fancy but are also kid friendly. We enjoyed several of the finer restaurants like the Artist’s Point at the Wilderness Lodge and the restaurant on the 15th floor of the Contemporary resort (the California Grill) were we were able to enjoy the Magic Kingdom’s firework show from the comfort of our window-view table. There are also dining events specifically geared to allow the kids meet the many Disney characters. Our 4 year old daughter loved these, as she was able to meet just about everyone from Mary Poppins to June from Little Einsteins. Her highlight was the princess breakfast at the Cinderella Castle. She got to meet Cinderella downstairs and then most of all the rest of the princesses during breakfast (Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Jasmine, and Ariel). While costs can be steep, effective use of the meal plan can really make it affordable.

Disney also affords the opportunity for the kids (and sometimes the adults) to get made-up in a certain Disney theme. We first took advantage of this with the Pirate’s League where individuals are able to get made-up as pirates like you’d find on the Pirate’s of the Caribbean (my favorite ride). The four year old was made up to look like Captain Hook, to include the red coat, eye patch, and sword. She had a blast. The Disney folks involved in the process “stay in character” and act like they are recruiting you to become a pirate, give you a pirate name, educate you in pirate lore and vocabulary, and then outfit you with a bit of pirate treasure. Again, the Disney employees are amazing in this process and really help to create the illusion. Towards the end of our stay, the four year old went to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique (aka from the Cinderella story) were Fairy Godmothers make-over girls into one of the many Disney princesses. My daughter chose Aurora (aka Sleeping Beauty) and got to spend the remainder of the day in her princess dress and crown.

The whole Disney experience was excellent. Although it was expensive at times, I always felt I was getting great value and with the XYL’s research we saved money were we could. What really helped out on the finance side was the incredible deal Disney offers to the military members. My park ticket was free for 5 days. In addition, I was able to buy my family members 5 day tickets for half the normal price. A big thank you to Disney for that!

Would I take the family back? An absolute YES! Perhaps when the eight month old is four, we’ll head back. Next time I’d like to stay a little longer and probably we will try to go in the off-season to take advantage of smaller crowds.

Did I use amateur radio? Yes – a little bit. There is an excellent 2M repeater that gave great coverage across the parks. When the XYL and I had to split up, we were easily able to use our HTs to keep in touch.

We’re Going To Disney World!

It has been a tough few weeks with multiple papers and writing assignments falling within a very small period of time. I kept my nose to the grind stone and with the hep of the XYL running interference to keep me away from distractions (amateur radio being one), I successfully finished all my work!
Now we’re off to Disney World. The kids and I have never been before, so we are all really looking forward to the trip. We’ll be staying at one of the Disney World resorts and intend to have a complete blast. The XYL and I will have our HTs to stay in contact (I believe there is actually a 2M repeater at Disney) and I may even throw my Elecraft KX1 to see if I can scare up some HF QSOs.

APRS in the Toyota Tundra

I’ve played around with APRS in the Toyota Tundra before. Now I’m upgrading the setup a bit. Instead of using the ICOM IC-T81A I switched to the Kenwood TH-D7A(G). To bump up the 5 watt output, I tossed in a Mirage 30 watt amp that I’ve had sitting on the shelf for the last five years. I’m still using my Garmin’s eTrex Vista, but now have the combo data/power cable. No longer do I need to worry about swapping out the 2x AA batteries.

Tomorrow I’m going to try to integrate one of my old Palm Pilots (Palm m125) to run Pocket APRS.

I also have to do some massaging with all the cables.

Go here to track me while mobile.

Road Trip Wrap Up: APRS – from California to Virginia

Here’s a snapshot of my APRS track across the US – the track is shown in blue – the gaps indicate areas where my radio dedicated to emitting failed to make contact with another radio acting as an APRS relay.

My APRS setup consisted of the following equipment:

This is a quad band radio (6m, 2m, 440 MHz, and 1.2 GHz), discontinued a due to the absolute hate folks had for that round “Multi” switch located to the bottom left of the LCD window. Admittedly, the radio takes a little to get used to, but overall, I’ve been very satisfied with it’s performance. The primary handicap of using this radio for APRS operation is that like most HTs, at high power it only transmits 5 Watts. I powered the radio with the optional CP-12L cigarette lighter cable with noise filter OPC-245L DC power cable.
IC-T81A manual

Byonic’s TinyTrak3
The heart of the whole operation. It connects with both the GPS and radio. TinyTrak3 takes the position data from the GPS, formats the data for use with APRS, and then passes the data to the radio for transmission. My TinyTrak3 worked flawlessly on the entire trip. It’s powered by a fused cigarette lighter plug connected with a fabricated cable that provides a serial connection to TinyTrak3 and TX/RX to the radio.
Download the configuration software and documentation.

And the final piece of my APRS triad is the GPS:

Garmin’s eTrex Vista
I purchased this GPS in 2001 when I was in Korea after I monitored a fellow lieutenant get humiliated when he got lost near the DMZ while trying to deliver hot chow to some of our soldiers. I vowed never to be “that lieutenant” and have not been lost since (as long as I had my GPS with me). The GPS got me through Korea and my subsequent assignment to Germany, but it really performed in Kuwait and Iraq. With only 2x AA batteries, the eTrex Vista usually operates for 12-14 hours.
Owner’s Manual (Software Version 3.00 and above) Rev. B, Aug, 2004

So with all the above items, I was able to traverse the continent allowing friends and family to “keep an eye” on me.