PDA Evolution: iPod Touch

It’s been a while since I last commented on the iPhone 3GS. So long that I actually no longer have the 3GS.

Due to an unfortunate circumstance involving my cat, my old faithful iPod video, and insufficient cleanup work I found myself needing a new iPod. I thought about the direct replacement, the iPod classic, but then the shiny new iPod touch 4G caught my attention. Since 64GB is enough to hold my entire library (with about 30GB left for the future) it seemed just about perfect. I recycled the 3GS via CraigsList, added a bit too much extra, and presto it morphed into a great new iPod Touch 4.

Read on for more ramblings about the iPod Touch 4…

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2010 Mitchellville Corn Maze

I’m horrible about updating my blog…

We once again went to the Mitchellville Corn Maze and as usual we had a great time. This year’s weather was exceptional, and although the corn crop isn’t considered the best much of the maze was over 11′ tall. The maze seemed a lot shorter this year, but was still great fun. I think the perception of it being shorter was caused by the much nicer weather.

Last year I made mention that I wanted to try a UV light to easily identify the chads from punches made at the various stations in the maze. I did try that this year, but it turned out to be a waste of time. Any UV light powerful enough to make them noticeable at a distance would be, imo, too dangerous to use without eye protection.

We went hardware lite this year, mostly using Quark “warm” LED lights from 4Sevens.com. Warm LEDs are still difficult to find, but 4Sevens does limited production runs of his lights with them from time to time. They really make the corn maze jump to life. Typical LED lights are heavily weighted towards the blue end of the spectrum and there is not much blue in a corn maze, or in nature in general. The yellow-weighted Warm LEDs really make the browns and reds pop and provide what I feel is a much more pleasing rendition of nature.

I recently traded my 2 GPSMap 60cs’ for Garmin’s latest GPSMap 62s model. I skipped the interm 60CSx model due to lack of useful new features but that was certainly fixed with the 62.

The 62 brings some great things to the table, map layering, multiple map support, aerial imagery and of course, improved accuracy. Unfortunately it also brings with it several 1.0ish build quality issues. It makes horrible creaking noises when you grasp it as the sides “cave” inward under the slightest pressure, and my power button is unreliable due to what I believe is the same flex issue. This is the first Garmin anything I have ever owned that disappoints me in the build quality. It’s my plan to return it to Garmin for repair in the next couple months; Garmin’s service has never disappointed me, so lets hope that continues to be the case. Electronically the 62s works great and it’s software is an upgrade to the 60cs in every way. It made a great drawing of the maze for us. Next year we’ve decided to mark way points for each located punch.

Garmin MapSource’s new exporting features support Google Earth for that added visual WOW factor. I have to admit the track log looks pretty nice superimposed on Google’s satellite imagery.

As you can see from the tracklog, it is much less of a Maze and much more of a scavenger hunt. One of the reasons we go only after dark is to make it more fun on both counts. We missed 2 punches this year, and after spending some time searching eventually went and looked up their locations. We had walked past both of them and just missed seeing them. We’d still like to try a larger maze, but even this one took us two sessions to finish due to our desire to only do it after dark. The walking distance was about 8 miles over the two evenings we spent there.

iPhone 3GS

I’ve always had a PDA. My first PDA was a credit-card sized “databank” made by Rolodex with a 1 line segmented LCD. Since then I’ve had Newtons, Zoomers, HP 200’s, and more varieties of “Windows” powered devices than I can count. Oh yeah, did I mention I had a few Palms too? Just a few (hundred).

Even though I resisted, eventually I migrated from a separate PDA to a SmartPhone, of course a Treo running PalmOS. I was never blind, PalmOS was old. It wasn’t pretty or sexy but it’s breadth of applications combined with the openness of the platform brought unheard of power to an extremely mature platform. Currently I use a Pre, which from my point of view followed Apple down all the wrong roads. It’s a very nice device, but in creating that device they lost the power that made the Palm platform great: Developers.

I just wrote 4 paragraphs on the history of why the iPhone deserved to die but didn’t. That’s not what this post is about so I deleted them. I’ll just sum it up really quickly:

  • AT&T’s network is a joke.
  • Apple has draconian, unevenly applied, and poorly understood application store submission policies.
  • Apple has destroyed the market for truly high quality supported apps by encouraging $2 apps that contain mostly pretty fluff, but some how adjusted user’s expectations to be happy with the fluff.
  • The iApps DRM is restrictive and really accomplishes nothing other than locking you to Apple’s monopolistic distribution channel.

I bought an iPhone last week.

A local Ham was getting a iPhone4 and I picked up his “old” 3GS. There are a few Ham radio applications on the platform that I wanted to run and this was a great opportunity to check it out. I have no plans to ever activate it, I’ll be using it as a WiFi only device. I wanted the GPS though, and the iPod Touch doesn’t have that feature. The camera is pretty nice as well.

Everything I stated above is still true. Finding a decent quality app in the store is difficult, but I was surprised to see that after a few years there are more than a few decent applications to be found.

The 3GS is FAST. Seriously fast. There is no waiting. I thought my Pre was fast, and it was about equal to the 3G iPhone, but the S does make a huge difference.

I never did truly replace my Centro with my Pre. There were too many applications for PalmOS that just have no WebOS equivalent. I’m seriously considering going back to a 2 device model for a while where I have a phone, and a PDA. If I can just separate the decent applications from the crap in Apple’s app store a deactivated iPhone might work quite well.

Field Day 2010

2010 ARRL Field Day Logo

Field Day 2010 is now over and our little 3 man /2 dog station not only made an impressive showing, but we also had a lot of fun.

The homebrew solar panel was completed late Friday night, we had planned for 2 identical panels but time only allowed for 1 to be completed. The panel provided enough current to operate our complete station as well as charge our 200AH battery bank during the day so we could operate well into the night. We measured our consumption as well as the output from the panel, we were 100% solar powered for most of the daylight hours. The homebrew panel was measured putting out over 100W (intermittently) after cabling losses from the panel into the operating area. Our entire operation (2 radios, 2 logging PCs) was based on the solar system, and although I did bring the generator as a backup plan we never even had to consider using it.

The Elecraft K3 performed wonderfully on crowded bands racking up just shy of 100 SSB contacts on various bands. The TS-2000 was used for Digital (PSK31) and also did quite well with just at 100 contacts attributed to it.

When the SSB operator got tired, we would fire up the digital station and work for a while, and then back forth throughout the contest. We remained 1A at all times. It’s strange running Field Day with no SSB stations in the background. When we worked PSK31 an eerie silence descended on the station. No audio output from the radio was required and no one was calling CQ into the mic. It was almost as if we weren’t operating at all.

Severe storms were building north all day and finally ran through our area at about 2am Sunday morning. The poor band conditions (we’re attributing them to the storm) saw to it that that we went to bed at about 1:30am. We woke up praying our antennas were still erect, and they were. We resumed operation at about 6:30am Sunday.

Our antennas were a multi-band windom orientated N-S and a G5RV orientated E-W. We used guyed military surplus 5′ fiberglass poles to get them up about 40 and 30′ respectively. Next time we’re thinking of adding a vertical of some form into the mix. Sometimes they can pick out signals better in bad band conditions. We’re even considering moving to 2A and to add a full time digital station.

The dogs provided the critical service of cleanup of accidentally dropped consumable.

It looks like all said and done with our bonuses and multipliers we will have scored just about 1000 points during our 24 hour run. Not too bad at all.

Continue on for some pictures of our station…

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Field Day Preperations

2010 ARRL Field Day Logo

So Field Day is almost upon us so preparations have begun in earnest. We have at least 3 “affiliated” Field Day operations going on in the Des Moines area this year (DRMAA/ARCS, Polk County ARES, W0IW) in addition to several others north of us in Ames area.

Field Day is supposed to be an exercise in emergency communications preparedness but for most it’s a great excuse to get together with local hams and have a 28 hour long party. Amateur Radio is one of the last bastion’s of true geekdom remaining, so you can be assured it’s a geek party.

Preparations is kind of a misnomer for this event. The “hard core” operators all know what equipment they have and what they need to bring to make things work. The extent of preparation for that part of the event is typically a simple “Joe, you have power covered?” “Yes.” “Bob, Steve You guys bringing the towers?” “Yep.” “Ok lets move onto more important business. How many meals do we need how much charcoal, how much and what kind of meat?” There can be surprising debate over this last issue, especially living in Iowa.

A few years ago back in ’07 some friends and I did our own mini Field Day. It was just 4 of us but we had a great time and we decided to do it again this year. We’re using it as an excuse to get our gear out and sharpen some skills. Our goal this year is to run 1A, and run it entirely solar powered. It’s getting down to the wire but our 300W homebuilt solar panel should be finished in time and it will feed 200Ah of battery capacity. It’s our plan to run completely from the battery bank, including radios, logging PCs and lighting.

We have a varied selection of radios to use as desired although we’re planning on the main rig being the shiny new Elecraft K3. Backup will be my Kenwood TS-2000 and I’m sure at least 1 or 2 other rigs will make an appearance. We’ll be attaching to some wire antennas that we’ve amassed over the years. I believe the plan is to erect a multi-band windom in 1 direction and a G5RV perpendicular to it.

I have 2 Acer Aspire One d250 netbooks that have direct DC-DC power adapters. They draw just under 2A @13.8V each under worst case circumstances, and generally hover around 1A during use. These are great computers for ham radio. They’re small, self contained, low power consumption and they run Windows XP. If they had a built in RS-232 serial port they’d be perfect but USB->Serial converters have gotten much more reliable in the last few years so it’s only a minor inconvenience. One will be for logging, and the other will be used for PSK-31 and satellite tracking if I get ambitious and try to make some satellite QSOs.

Oh, and we’re having steaks, burgers and brawts. Lost of them. Our grill is propane.