More APRSdroid on RPi 3 B…

Got the neat little case for the RPi “official” touchscreen and put that all together yesterday.  So I now have a nice little desktop APRS tracker.
Pretty nice, right?

Now I just need to figure out a way for APRSdroid to start at boot time instead of having to open an adb session and start it manually, and how to hook up a GPS to it, and the best way to hook it up to a radio so it’s not “crippled” by having to use APRS-IS.

The first may be fixable by writing a small “wrapper” program with the appropriate default activity to run at boot time.  The wrapper would then start APRSdroid.

The second may or may not already be fixed; I have a USB GPS puck hooked up, but since it won’t get a signal indoors, I’ll have to test that outside.

The third may be tricky, since either the Pi or the touchscreen is really sensitive to RF.  It may be something that can be solved by using a remote antenna, or I may have to find a better way to shield the assembly.

Optionally, I also need to add the open source maps that are supposed to work with this version of APRSdroid.

Anyway it’s been fun messing with this.  And yes, eventually I’ll take the protective wrap off the screen 🙂

LATER:  Added the open source map for Indiana.  Works fine.

That said, it’s a little frightening that you can get superuser in adb by simply typing “su”.  Boom, you’re root, no questions asked.  No wonder people are starting to look askance at the whole IoT thing.

APRSDroid on Raspberry Pi 3 — yeah, not under Raspian.

So last night I was fiddling about and my Raspberry Pi 3, which has been sitting on the desk unused for awhile, caught my eye.  And I started thinking, hmm, what to do with the Pi.  And then I started thinking, I wonder if I could run Android on it.

Sure enough.

So then I started thinking, “OK, can I run APRSDroid on that?”

And the answer is, yes:

And it works, too:

I have to get dressed, gear up, and head out to WD9BSA shortly, so I’ll post how I did it later.  However, the trickiest part is figuring out how to start it (Android Things doesn’t act like a phone, so you don’t get icons on the main display).  Basically you have to do a

pm dump

and then you find that the android.intent.action.MAIN is mapped to the activity “.APRSdroid”, so that’s what you want to start it with:

rpi3:/ $ am start -n
Starting: Intent { }

See here for more complete instructions on how to install an APK under Android Things.

I thought I saw something somewhere about how to make an app start when you boot, but I can’t find it right now.  Again, later.


Yeah, this is a great idea…except that I need to figure out how to force audio away from the HDMI port and to the headphone port, so I can hook the stupid thing up to a radio and use AFSK.  Apparently when you have the HDMI cable hooked up, the OS forces audio to HDMI, and there seems to be no simple way to fix that.  Perhaps the addition of the RPi “official” touchscreen will work around that; I don’t know yet.

Anyway, if you don’t mind using TCP to send your packets, this setup makes a nice static position beacon, without going through the effort to make a TNC out of the RPi — which, from what I’ve read, is a daunting task.

I may correspond with the APRSdroid author and see if he’s interested in tweaking the program a bit to make it more Android Things friendly — although it doesn’t seem like it could be much more friendly; it works, after all, it just doesn’t work the way I want it to, and that’s not his fault.  And it’s early days for me with Android Thing anyway; I never heard of it before yesterday so I guess I have a bit of research to do 🙂


The official RPi touchscreen solves the HDMI audio problem.  I have successfully connected the RPi to my Baofeng BF-F8HP.

Last position: 2017-06-13 17:05:12 EDT (3m24s ago)
2017-06-13 17:05:12 EDT local time at Meridian Hills, United States [?]
Device: Open Source: APRSdroid (app, Android)
Last path: KC9YTJ-5>APDR13 via W9ICE-10,WIDE1*,qAR,W9SMJ-1 (good)

Two problems:

  1. The touchscreen (or the PI itself; not sure which) is VERY SENSITIVE to RF, at least at 144.390MHz.  The screen goes kinda nuts when the Baofeng transmits.  Admittedly I’m using high power, so I could cut that back for testing.
  2. I’m seeing the radio receive inbound packets, but they are not showing up in APRSdroid.

Problem one is simple enough, use a remote antenna or shield the Pi and display better.  Although even on low power, man, the screen is not happy.

Problem two is going to take some thought, as I don’t think there’s anything preventing APRSdroid from receiving the packets from the radio, unless maybe I need to enable a driver for the microphone or something.  I may simply try a USB audio dongle.  However, I’m looking at the verbose log and it’s clear the packets are being received; they’re just not being displayed.  So that may be related to why the touch screen suddenly stopped accepting touch input after the first transmission, and I’m using the physical mouse now 🙂

So I’ve turned VOX off on the radio so it doesn’t transmit, and now I’m just trying to see if the thing will receive and display packets.

Aha — the 3.5mm jack on the Pi is audio output only.  Well, $#!7.  Now I know what to do about that problem.

And I thought the Florida repeater situation was bad.

So here we are in Indiana, on the cusp of having a seamless DMR repeater network that would let you talk on 70cm throughout the state and around the world.

And now there’s a spat because one group of repeater trustees are championing the Brandmeister DMR system and another group is championing the older cBridge-dependent system.  And then there’s Crossroads, but who cares; I don’t.  I was perfectly happy with the Hoosier DMR setup.  Not that I get on much, but that’s another story; I don’t really like to talk.

Anyway, each group apparently has their reasons, each group is stubborn, and each group is now locking the other group out — even from Facebook discussion groups.  At least so far as I can tell; I’ve got likes and follows on both sides of the equation and all I know is that one side snorted that the other side locked them out, and now the other side is saying the same thing about the first side, and in point of fact, the Brandmeister Indiana Statewide group has been locked out of the cBridge — so from the DMR point of view, the state is now fragmented.

The section manager was just on Facebook asking if the Brandmeister group might consider adding TG 31189, which would have the effect of knitting things back together again on the statewide side.  31189 is apparently the Crossroads statewide TG, and it’s not being blocked by the cBridge.  The Brandmeister folks are against it for a couple of different reasons — one, why ask a thousand DMR users to reprogram their radios when 3118 would be perfectly fine if the Brandmeister repeaters weren’t being blocked from the cBridge, and two, “we hate Crossroads” (essentially what one of the trustees responded to the section manager).

The section manager is at least trying to deal with the situation where there is no longer a common DMR talkgroup for the ARES statewide net.  I appreciate that he’s trying to be proactive and at least provide a workaround for the current stalemate.  But I think (and I said this earlier today in a comment to a post that has (the post I mean) apparently been taken down) that the section manager has a role to play here that only someone who represents the entire Hoosier ham community can do.  He needs to call the warring sides to the table and they need to hammer out a working agreement that benefits all hams in the state.  And I admit that this isn’t a League problem, and it’s not technically his job, but what other ham radio organization has a statewide team and leader within the Hoosier ham community?  Who else will people listen to?  (And if people hate the League, as some people do for no particular reason that they can articulate, then fine, piss off and go play in your corners, and let the adults sort this out.)

Anyway…I have only about $300 invested in DMR handhelds (one VHF, one UHF), so I’m not terribly affected at this point.  I can always sell the handhelds or repurpose them for analog.  I’m not a big repeater guy anyway.

I’ll also acknowledge that a repeater owner can do pretty much anything he damn well pleases with his repeater — leave it open, lock it down to members only, or just shut it off and sow the wind (and probably get his repeater pair repo’ed by the Repeater Council, eventually).  But with great power also comes great responsibility.  If nobody is using the repeaters, what the hell good are they?  And in this case, if I could talk to someone in Fort Wayne the other day on a DMR handheld and I can’t today, where is my value in caring whether the DMR system continues to build or falls by the wayside?

While I’m not sanguine about the chances of the DMR network staying up in a real, balls-to-the-wall emergency — particularly given that a lot of DMR repeaters seem to get their Internet bandwidth via cellular wifi modems, and certainly not via hardened copper or fiber optic lines — the fact is that a DMR statewide talkgroup was a boon to the ARES organization, which prior to the rollout was pretty much stuck with an HF net on 80 meters.  DMR had the promise of bringing a lot more people onto the net, and was doing so, until this little dustup happened a week or so ago.  And that’s why I think the section manager has a dog in this fight — a pretty important dog, too, if we are all the public servants we claim to be when we sling slogans like “When all else fails, amateur radio works.”  The radios might work, but the humans behind them may not all be on the same page.

To top it all off, damn few people are using the repeaters anymore, analog, digital, name your favorite flavor.  Do you want people to use the repeaters?  Because this isn’t how you encourage them to do that.

Review: PSKer – an app with issues

While hanging out at the WD9BSA station the other weekend, we were playing with NBEMS via handheld tranceivers…well, OK, we were using Baofengs.  Tom had a copy of a program called PSKer on his iPad and said he’d been playing with that off and on.  So I downloaded it to my iPad for $2.99 to give it a whirl.  We both had our HTs directly connected to our iPads with appropriate 4-wire headphone/microphone jack cables, for what it’s worth (Tom’s is a semi-homebrew, mine is the “official” Baofeng APRS-K2 TRRS cable that BaofengTech has been selling lately; I bought mine on Amazon).

Bottom line, this app ain’t that great.

It seems to decode OK, but it’s supposed to be a transmitting app, too.  Which is fine, you can tell the Baofeng to transmit on VOX, and it does work — sort of.  Generally it cuts off the first few letters of the message, because it starts pumping text out immediately instead of waiting for the VOX to pick up.  And since it has no VOX delay feature, there’s very little you can do about that, short of padding the transmission with a bunch of leading spaces.

Before you blame this problem on the Baofeng, I’ll make the point that I have APRSDroid on my Android phone, and it works just fine with the same Baofeng.  But that’s because the guy who wrote APRSDroid actually knows what he’s doing, and took the time to include a “Frame Sync Prefix” feature in the connection preferences.  With that feature, you can add a “No-Op Preamble” that’s set in milliseconds (the recommendation is 3000, or three seconds), so that the software basically sends nulls to the speaker for three seconds to open up the VOX.  With the Baofeng’s VOX set to 1, that works perfectly.

I would guess that PSKer is really designed for the ham who doesn’t have an interface cable and is simply keying his HT and holding it up to the iPad’s speaker.  But it seems like a major shortcoming not to acknowledge that someone might want to use it with a cable hookup.

The other shortcoming, of course, is that the app doesn’t have a clue about NBEMS — no standard forms or anything are available for use with ARES or any other emergency services group.  But it’s cute if you want to send text back and forth across a big room on a simplex VHF channel.

There also appears to be no way to clear the screen short of stopping and restarting the app.  Come on.  Black Cat Software’s PSK31 Pad lets you do this by shaking the tablet.  It can’t be that difficult.  (Too bad Black Cat’s offering doesn’t support transmission, because they’d probably get the VOX delay thing right.)

If I were reviewing this on the Apple Store, I’d give it 2 stars; it’s a reasonable start, but it needs a lot of work if it’s to be considered anything other than a toy.  And at this stage of the game, it isn’t worth paying money for.

(I’m not reviewing it on the Apple Store, FWIW, because to do that I would have to install iTunes on my computer, and I categorically refuse to do so.)

Here’s one for the guy on eHam

who was bitching about Universal Radio’s cat haven.

2015-10-04-21-52-39This is Frankie (so called because of his blue eyes).  He was sitting in his buddy Tiggr’s usual spot while I worked the local weekly Scout net on UHF the night we took Tiggr to the vet for his trip across the Rainbow Bridge.

Opinions are like assholes.  Everybody’s got one.  If you don’t like the fact that UR has a gazillion cats wandering around, don’t go into their store.  I’ve been in there three times myself, and I’ve only ever seen one or two cats, and the store is cleaner than a lot of shops (of all types) I’ve visited.

At 11:04AM: “The time is now 11 AM.”

One of the local repeaters reports the time on the hour.  Which is a cute feature.

Problem is, it’s 4 minutes behind.

You’d think the repeater owner would fix that.

QRZ doesn’t get it.

While I applaud QRZ for recognizing that their Ragchew Central (RCC) forums caused a lot of trouble, their latest attempt to calm things down by getting rid of RCC (some months back) and RCCII (which was created to soothe the wild beast of the vocal minority after RCC was killed) and creating a new “Just Talking (Subscribers Only)” forum that can only be posted to by people who pay QRZ for some level of subscription strikes me as marketing by wishful thinking.

For one thing, nobody is going to subscribe to QRZ who doesn’t see value in doing so.  Being able to post in a ragchew forum when there are so many free places online to vent about politics and general bullshit isn’t going to inspire anyone to pay good money for a subscription.

For another thing, most of the troublemakers in the RCC forums were subscribers.  So what’s the point?

So now, someone (a non-subscriber) has created a “Filter Out Subscriber Only Forum ??” thread in the Community Help Center forum to ask if those forums could simply disappear from view for non-subscribers instead of remaining visible but non-writable.  The responses from QRZ staff are hilarious; they amount to “Go away kid, you’re bugging me.”

The trick is this.  I run Xenforo myself, on a (non-radio) site.  They could, in fact, “disappear” the new forum from non-subscribers, and from anyone else who didn’t want to see it.  I’ve done this myself, primarily to create space for mods to discuss things without the general membership being aware that space exists.  (Because, yes, people complained about forums they could see but couldn’t access.)

QRZ could do it the same way I did, by changing user permissions and creating privilege groups, then setting the forums to be visible only the the appropriate privilege groups.  That’s essentially what they’ve already done to block posts from non-subscribers; there’s no other way to do it, so bottom line, all they have to do is go through one more time and set those fora so they can’t be [i]seen[/i] by non-subscribers.  That they won’t do it suggests that they think gaining the ability to post there will drive subscriptions.  I rather doubt that, but I’m cynical about that kind of marketing.

For me, as an XML subscriber (a service I find useful, or I wouldn’t pay for it), I’d be happy not to see the ragchewing fora at all when I go over there and hit “New Posts”.  QRZ’s biggest Achilles’ heels are its off-topic fora.  And until Fred understands and addresses that, preferably by nuking them and making them stay nuked regardless of the pissing and moaning from the vocal minority, alternative and competing sites like eHam and RadioReference are going to get more attention from dissatisfied hams.

Not sure who to blame…probably me.

Because I didn’t want to spend a lot of time explaining to TSA what ham radio is, and because we already had a surfeit of carry-on luggage to begin with, I decided to ship my rig and other equipment to a friend in Naples, and then ship it back from the hotel where we ended up later in the week.  To do this, I looked at comparative prices from UPS and FedEx for a box of a particular size, weighing 29 pounds, shipped ground freight.  UPS was going to take 3 days, FedEx 2.  And Fed Ex wanted $10 less for the privilege, even with $1K of insurance.  So I went with FedEx.

There was absolutely no problem on the outbound receiving end; the friend was home and signed for the box.  I got to play radio for several days as noted below.

When we went up to Punta Rassa, I didn’t operate because I had to work two days of the four we were there, but also at least partly because I didn’t want to do something that might set off alarms.  (We have that problem at Belzer sometimes if we put out too much RF on 40 meters — because the alarm wiring in the building wasn’t done right, and there’s a pull station fairly close to our riser going up and out of the basement, and that pull station is always the culprit when we set off the fire alarm.)  So I slipped the Nanuk case holding my gear back into the cardboard box it came in, and created the FedEx shipment on Friday.  Once that was all done, I took the box down to the desk and the hotel put it with their outgoing stuff.  Perfectly normal; I’ve done that before with other things.


I missed the pickup on Friday.  Well, figures, it was well after noon before I took it downstairs.  So it sat there over the weekend, during which time FedEx tracking kept insisting they had no record of the tracking number.  Which is annoying, because most shipping companies will tell you that the shipment has been created but not yet picked up.  I figured that would change on Monday.

It didn’t.

I was just about ready to call the hotel and ask, “WTF, over?”  But I thought I’d give them another day, just in case the package got picked up and somehow didn’t get scanned.

Yesterday morning it finally showed up, with a delivery date of June 30 (tomorrow).  So I’m happy now.

The lesson learned is that I should have held onto the package and dropped it off at a FedEx Ship office on Saturday (there were three of them on the way to the airport) instead of leaving it at the hotel.  But no real harm done, except perhaps to my state of mind 🙂

FWIW, I bought this Nanuk case from DX Engineering and everything I took (except the Buddipole, of course, which went into checked baggage, and the computer, which I tote in my backpack) fit nicely into it.  When it gets home, I’ll take a few pictures and post them.

End results

So my Florida QSOing ended at 53 contacts in just about 73 hours.  (Again, I wasn’t trying hard; it was true “holiday style” operating.  I’d operate for a while, then go do something else, then operate for a while, go do something with my wife, etc., wash rinse repeat.)  I had one 6M JT65 contact but that was nothing to write home about; it was a Florida ham who was only a few miles away.  I also had one complete 15M JT65 contact with a ham in Brazil, but I had to stop using 15M after that because the antenna was too close to the rig and even at 15W it was interfering with the USB link between the SignaLink and the computer.  (I was lucky that the other ham was patient.)  But I was ready to stop then anyway; it was my last QSO of the trip.

All QSOs were JT9 and on 20M except for those two, which were the last two; I stayed on 20M because it was easiest to leave the Buddipole configured for that band, and I was only playing around at the last.  According to the log, I worked hams in Brazil, Spain, Italy, Poland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Canada, Portugal, France, and European Russia — all entities I’ve worked before, but who cares about that.  The other 42 contacts were all US, at least one from each call district.  Sadly I didn’t work anyone from Alaska — or from Hawaii or West by God Virginia, either, the two of which I NEED for JT65 and JT9 both.  (Not that I can count any of these toward WAS — I was too far away from home.)

The Buddipole worked splendidly.  I really liked the ease of setup and it was pretty simple to work it with a tuner, but I think I wouldn’t have had any trouble getting the SWR down even without the tuner.  I’ll probably try that now that I’m home and can set it up outdoors.

All in all a fun trip; I hate going outdoors in Florida in the summer, so this worked out quite well for me.  We also ate well.  Too well.  And got to see some friends we hadn’t seen for a while.  One thing we did that we had never done was visit the Naples-Baker Museum of Art, which had some interesting exhibits on display.

I’m looking forward to our next Florida vacation 🙂

Another picture

Still working it holiday style for about another 24 hours.  Don’t know if I will be able to set up when we go to Sanibel on Tuesday or not.  Anyway, here is a shot of the Buddipole and my operating position together.  (I moved the Buddipole to get it out of traffic.)

KC9YTJ/W4 portable station in Naples, FL

KC9YTJ/W4 portable station in Naples, FL

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