New CMS on

One of my many excuses for not updated this site often is I have too many sites to update. It’s not that I spend all my time updating the other sites (I don’t), it’s just that when I want to put something on one of my sites, it usually leads to entire days being used up messing around with that site. This is the case with “”: , which is the site for my Amateur Radio related postings. I decided to post some information about some scripts I’ve recently written for APRS, and I ended up setting up an entirely new CMS (Content Management System) for the site, which had none previously. I like to experiment with different ways of maintaining a web site, rather than just editing the web pages. It gives me a chance to play with some of the technology out there and helps me provide more useful input when someone asks which one I recommend.
This time around, I decided to try out Joomla: , and so far, I like it. I may post more opinions of it on “”: as time goes on. If you’re interested in Amateur Radio, especially APRS, (or you don’t know what any of these things mean) be sure to check out the site.

Pleasantly Surprised

I’ve been putting off getting the hard wire cable for my GPS for a while. I have a Garmin StreetPilot 2650, which is the last GPS to have both voice navigation and an NMEA data interface. The former is a necessity when driving in unfamiliar places, the later lets me interface it with other equipment, like an APRS tracker. Newer units have one or the other, depending on whether they are marine or automotive units. The only way to get at the NMEA interface is with the hard wire cable, which has the added benefit of not taking up a cigarette lighter socket, and can be connected to a switched circuit so it turns on and off with the truck.
! (Garmin 2650 Cable)!
The reason I put it off for so long is the description on Garmin’s site (and all of the reseller web sites) didn’t say which wires were what, or even what wires were available, and the image on Garmin’s site (and all of the reseller web sites) only showed four wires in addition to the serial cable connector. The reason this concerned me is I was afraid that the four wires were power, ground, speedometer, and backup lights (for dead reckoning). This doesn’t leave any wires for a speaker, which is part of the original cigarette lighter cable. I didn’t really want to lose voice navigation capabilities to get NMEA capabilities.

I finally ordered it, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover six wires, not four, meaning all of the functions are available (though one of the colors was different from the label). I did a quick and dirty job of running it to use at Wildflower, and I still haven’t actually connected a speaker to get back voice navigation, and my APRS tracker still doesn’t work, but it’s progress.

Garmin Nuvi 260

I’ve gone through several Garmin GPS receivers over the years. Always old models, usually discontinued, and each one has been better than the previous. I currently use a “StreetPilot® 2650”: in the truck, and we have been switching it back and forth into the Subaru when we drive it. I like it a lot, the voice navigation is key and it has all the features I need, but the maps are a little out of date and it is large compared to newer units. The size isn’t much of an issue in the truck, but the Subaru doesn’t have much in the way of extra space. I’ve been thinking of getting something a little smaller for the Subaru, and when Circuit City decided to give up, I figured now was my chance.
Since we live in the boonies, I can’t exactly pop around the corner and look, but there is (was) one in Redding, so we stopped on the way to wherever we were going. The first time I went in, there was a folding table completely full of nuvi 260 and nuvi 255W receivers, but the prices hadn’t really dropped yet. I did a little research, and decided that either of these would work great, and I got some ideas of the pricing at “GPS City” so I would know what to expect. The next time I went in, they had discounted prices again, and still had the table full, but the prices were still about what I would pay from GPS City, and they would still be in business later (no wonder Circuit City is gone), so I waited. When went in the next time, it was probably a month later and they had finally dropped their prices low enough for people to buy things. Of course, all the people that live in Redding got there first, so there wasn’t much left. The entire table was gone (probably the table itself, too), and they only had a few display models left. Of the display models, there was one “nüvi® 260”: and I was able to power it up and make sure it worked, so I bought it. It is the best GPS ever. (Of course, it is also now discontinued, so I’m sure there are better ones out there.)
We used it on our trip to my parent’s house in February, and it worked great. It didn’t tell us we were off route when we were on the new sections of the highway and it new where just about everything was, but the absolute best thing about it is the spoken street names. No longer is it just “turn right in 500 feet.” It’s now “turn right in 500 feet on Main street.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve missed a turn because there were two streets close together and I didn’t know which one it wanted me to turn on. It’s also much smaller, though the display is about the same size, it’s only about .8″ deep, and it weighs almost nothing. It includes a rechargeable battery that lasts for several hours so it doesn’t have to be plugged in all the time if you’re short on lighter sockets, and charges via a standard USB connection, so it can share chargers with some other devices. If the cord is plugged into a lighter socket that switches with the ignition, it powers down 30 seconds after it looses power, unless you tell it otherwise, then powers on when the key is turned back on.
Overall, it’s great, and highly recommended. I’m even tempted to get another one for the truck (but I won’t yet because it lacks some of the advanced technical features that I like to play with.)

Look Ma, No Hands

Starting next year in California, you can get a ticket for driving and using a cell phone, unless you use a hands-free device. (“CVC 23123”: I’ve done a little research, and found a few products that I like and recommend to do the job. All of the devices listed here are “Bluetooth”: devices, since all of my phones are Bluetooth capable. If you have a phone that isn’t Bluetooth capable, there are adapters that let you use Bluetooth devices, or you can get a new phone. 😉

The simplest to get started with, and the cheapest, option is a headset. I’ve tried lots, and most of them suck, especially the ones the cell phone companies like to sell. I recently discovered the “Plantronics Voyagerâ„¢ 510 Bluetooth® Headset”: and it is the first one I’ve found that is comfortable, easy to use, and sounds good. It can also be used with the “Plantronics Voyagerâ„¢ 500A Deskphone Adapter”: to connect it to your desk phone. This allows you to use a single wireless headset with both your phones. I try not to be on the phone that much, but I know people who are. The headset will run you between $50 and $80.

The biggest problem I find with headsets is if you aren’t wearing one already, they are distracting and difficult to put on before it’s too late. (That sounds dirtier than it is.) If you are driving and your phone rings, the call goes to voice mail (or you hit a tree) before you can get the headset on. For these situations, I find car kits to be a much better solution. My favorite car kit was the Nokia CARK-91H, because it was a drop in cradle that charged the phone, had an external antenna connection, tied directly to my truck’s speakers, and it had a separate handset for those private moments. (Of course use of the handset while driving is contrary to the purpose.) When I was forced to get a new phone, there were no longer any phones available that were compatible with it, but I started to really miss the convenience.

I finally found a line of Bluetooth car kits that work well made by a company called “Parrot”: and installed one in my truck. I chose the “CK3100”: because I wanted a display for caller information, but I was too cheap to spring for a color display model. They have models to fit every needs, from a simple one that plugs into a lighter socket, to full color with GPS receivers for those of you with PDA-phones. They even sell devices to allow the use of your steering wheel controls to place calls. Most of their hands-free devices support voice recognition, so you can do voice dialing, even if your phone doesn’t, and some even voice announce calls, so you don’t have to look at the display to see who’s calling. If you don’t like to cut into your vehicles wires (who does?), there are custom wiring harnesses made by “Quick Connect Products”: to connect Parrot car kits to just about any vehicle with little or no cutting and splicing. The car kits range in price from $50-$300, depending on features, and the wiring harnesses are $50-$150 depending on your vehicle.

Wildflower 2007

I just got back from the 25th annual “Wildflower Triathlons Festival”: at Lake San Antonio, CA. Now, before you start to think I’m some super athletic triathlete, I’m not. I wasn’t a participant in the event[1], I was working for Tri-California, the production company that produces it. (And by working, I mean volunteering.) I’ve been volunteering at various levels for Wildflower and other events since 1999. Some events, like the San Luis Obispo Triathlon, I just show up and hand out water, then go home. Others, I take a day or two off work, travel to the Bay Area, and help set up and tear down the event. Wildflower is the big one, though. With 8,000 athletes and an estimated 40,000 people in attendance, it is one of the largest in the world.
While the event is produced by Tri-California for the Monterey County Parks Department, the race planning and volunteer coordination are handled by a committee of Cal Poly students. This student committee is responsible for all aspects of the race, from marking the course and setting up the aid stations, to recruiting and coordinating the 1500 Cal Poly students who show up to volunteer. This committee is how I became involved. They are guided by binders compiled by previous committees and assisted by Tri-California staff and the support team. The support team is made up of dedicated former committee members who continue to support the committee after they leave[2] Cal Poly. This is how I continue to be involved. The committee begins planning in January for the event in May, and I keep in touch to offer support and answer questions throughout this process. While I started out on the swim course, these days I mostly support the communications team and the transportation team.
When it’s event time, I usually take a few days of vacation and go up to the lake early, to help with logistics and setup. When I lived in San Luis Obispo, this usually meant two or three days before the event, and the Monday after to recover. This year, since the drive time is a little more, I took the entire week before the event, and two days after (one to recover, one to drive). It was great.
What do I actually do at the event? Lots of different things, mostly _not_ having to do with computers. This is my vacation after all. Logistics is a big part of my job. Getting people and things to different places when they need to be there. This means I spend a lot of time driving. I can drive just about anything on wheels. I am one of a handful of people that drive the fork-lifts, from small warehouse models, to the big, blue Gradall extending boom truck we had this year. I drive 24′ box trucks and stakeside trucks. I drive pickups with varying size trailers. I drive motorcycles. I drive it all. All of this with 8,000 athletes and 35,000 spectators to worry about. All of this with one road in and out of the park, and that road is the race course.
That brings up another large part of my job. I am the Safety Coordinator for the event. This means anyone that needs to drive on the course during the event needs to talk to me. (Notice I didn’t say “wants?” The people who don’t need to drive on the course don’t event talk to me, because I’ll just say “No,” anyway.) I also coordinate motorcycle riders for the race officials and photographers that are on the course. This year, I didn’t have to recruit them (Thank you Meredith), which is great because I don’t do a very good job at recruiting. We use motorcycles because they are similar to bicycles in size and maneuverability, and they are a lot smaller than a car. On a two lane road course, this is key, they don’t need to cross the center line to pass athletes.
All of us on the support team also help everyone else do their jobs, take care of things that aren’t really part of anyone’s job, and fill in where we are needed. This means anything from building a projection screen for the slide show to helping check in volunteers.
This year’s event went very well. The weather was great, it didn’t rain and we didn’t run out of water. Everything seemed to go smoothly. I think we found the perfect forklift for the event, the “Terex/Genie 5519 (or 6622?)”: (we just need to add lights to it for night work). I made one exhausted dog (and her people) very happy by giving her a ride up the hill to the campsites. I got to be there when my brother came charging out of the water after his swim. The only downside was Monday. Several of us picked up a bug of some sort and spent the better part of Monday feeling horrible. I didn’t make it out of my trailer for the entire duration of Monday. It wasn’t until Monday night that the whole body pain subsided enough for me to identify individual areas of my body (mostly my back and diaphragm, oh, and my head) that hurt. It wasn’t until around noon on Tuesday that I was able to begin re-hydrating. I’ll spare you any more gory details. Before you get any ideas, this wasn’t just the cocktail flu, this was much, much worse. Several of the affected did not drink at all. Despite the sickness, this was still a great event. It seemed to go smoother than some years, and we all managed to have a good time.
I can’t wait for the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon next month!

fn1. My brother did compete this year. He has been a swimmer his whole live, but this was his first triathlon. Congratulations Scott!

fn2. Notice I didn’t say graduate? I didn’t want to exclude some of the most dedicated members of the support team. 😉

RV Mattresses Suck!

The mattresses that come with RVs are horrible. They are thin, soft, spring mattresses. The first thing we did was pull ours out and put it in storage (I need to put it back in if we ever sell it). We initially replaced it with an AeroBed, but we had to be plugged in, or use my crappy inverter, to inflate it, which is less than optimal. While we were living in it, we put our real memory foam mattress in it, but it’s in the house now. We tried sleeping on a memory foam mattress topper Molly’s parents weren’t using, but it wasn’t thick enough to keep us from bottoming out, and it was only a twin. I was planning on finding some higher density foam to put underneath a memory foam mattress topper, and had talked with Menzo about it, since he was working on the same thing for his van, but never got around to it. While we were at Camping World, we looked at RV mattresses with memory foam toppers, but they were expensive, and you couldn’t try them out. They had a Sleep Number display you could try, but it was even more expensive, and loud, and I’m still not sure we wouldn’t have to be plugged in.

While we were at Ikea, not looking for mattresses, we discovered they sold mattresses, and they had them all out to try. They had all ranges, from futon style to full inner spring, with a full range of prices to match. We were looking for something with a memory foam layer, higher density foam underneath, not full thickness (headroom is an issue), and affordable, and they had a couple of models that fit the bill. We finally decided on the “Sultan Forestad”: because at only $250 it was a good compromise between price and quality and it gives us an extra couple of inches of headroom over the next model up. We can now sit on the edge of the bed without our heads hitting the ceiling. With memory foam mattress toppers going for $150 for a queen, it’s not a bad deal, and it should last long enough with the use it gets. We now sleep much better in the RV.

It’s been a while

We’ve been a little busy lately, so we haven’t been updating the site much, plus nobody reads it anyway. We’re settling in to our new jobs and lives. We found a house to rent in Weaverville, so our commute is now fifteen minutes (if we walk). There is a spare bedroom, so come on up and visit, just give us some warning so we can turn the heat on. We had the first snow on Monday, and it didn’t completely melt until Tuesday, but it’s been dry since then. We’re supposed to get more rain/snow later this week. It’s been dropping to just about freezing overnight for a few weeks now, but warming up in the afternoons.

In other news, the Treasure Island Triathlon was a week or so ago and it went great. I drove down after work on Friday and came back Sunday night, just like the old days. I miss being able to take a day off on either side, but the drive time is about the same as it was from SLO. Molly couldn’t make this one, she was in Santa Rosa Thursday and Friday. We were going to pass each other on Friday night, and so we stopped in Williams for hugs and kisses on the way. The event went smooth, and I even had time to take a nap on Sunday. This was the last event of a busy TriCal season, so my weekends are a little less busy, just in time for holiday travelling. It’s nice to hang out with friends from my preivous life.

“Me and Coach at Treasure Island”:

I also had a chance to talk on the air with Rob, who “just got his Amateur Radio license.”: Contratulations, Rob! I’m working on getting an outside antenna so I can hit some repeaters around here. If I can hit one that supports EchoLink or IRLP, I can connect to some Bay Area and SLO repeaters and keep in touch with friends. I might even look in to setting up a local IRLP node, since the school has decent connectivity.

BTW, you might notice the timestamp indicates I posted this from work. Unlike some people I know, I didn’t change the timestamp to make it appear that I bent the laws of physics and posted it in the future. I just took a break and posted it during work. I don’t currently have internet access at home, anyway, and I might not for some time.

Trinity County Amateur Radio Repeaters

For those of you that are Hams, there are a couple of repeaters in the area. I’ll try to figure out which one has the best coverage at the ranch and I’ll monitor it for talking people in. I’ll probably scan all of them when I’m near a radio. This page lists them all:

So I have an RV now.

I’ve been thinking about getting an RV for a while. I actually started looking for one a couple of months ago and I finally found one I like that fit my budget (well, almost). I was looking for a used fifth-wheel trailer on the smaller side that Molly and I could use when we went to visit family and friends and take with us on our honeymoon. The one I found was a little bigger and a little more expensive than I was looking for (I’m not saying how much), but it fits the bill.

It’s a 2000 Tahoe (by Thor) 25SDS. It’s 27′ long and has a single slide out[1] (the dinette). I originally wasn’t looking for a slide out, since that tends to raise the price, but they do provide more room. I was originally looking for something about 5 years old, so it’s about right from that standpoint, but I didn’t look at it on my initial visit to the dealer because of the price. I saw it later while looking at the dealers site and what caught my eye was the word “solar” and the price was lower, too. Most of the units I had been looking at were closer to 10 years old, and smaller, with no slide. Between the extra room of the slide, the age, the solar, and the price reduction, it looked much better, so I went for it.

I bought it last Thursday, and last Friday night I took it to Yosemite for the weekend. Some pictures from the trip are on “flickr”: though I don’t have any of the RV yet. I’ll post again when I have some up. The trip went well, and it was really nice to have a heater, a flush toilet, and a kitchen, especially since it was snowing, hailing, raining, etc. for much of the weekend. The RV sleeps six (as long as four are under 5’8″), but we squeezed ten in for dinner Saturday night. and slept four comfotably. I stole the following picture of it from Molly’s sister’s flickr:
!/images/3.jpg (RV in Yosemite)!

Having a pair of solar panels is also a plus. They are large enough to recharge the two large batteries during the day after using lights, water pump, fans, etc. the night before. There is also a charger that can be plugged in to normal utility power or “shore power”[2], but I haven’t had to plug it in yet, since the solar keeps the batteries up. There is no inverter, so if I want to use the microwave, or any of the outlets, I’ll have to plug in. There are a couple of automotive style power outlets, so I can plug in a small inverter to run a laptop or something, and I may permenantly install one at some point.

fn1. For those of you who don’t know what I mean by slide out, it means a section of the RV can be extended to give more interior space when camping, then retracted for towing so the RV will be under the legal vehicle width. This also means it takes up the same amount of room inside the RV when it is not extended. In my RV, the section with the dinette slides out so there is more floorspace between the kitchen counter and the table. If it didn’t slide out, it would probably only fit two at the table instead of four, and/or the kitchen counter would be much smaller. It makes it a little cumbersome to get around when not at a campsite, but much more comfortable when camping.

fn2. Yes, I said “shore power”. Since camping in a self contained RV is a bit like being in a boat, with a limited supply of fresh water and power, and much of the technology was developed for marine use, several of the terms have also been adopted by the RV world. Don’t worry, you wont have to ask for “permission to come aboard” my RV, just wipe your feet so I don’t have to vacuum!