Sunday, September 29, 2013

NBEMS using a Baofeng UV-5R on the cheap

Interface notes are a little way down the page - this first part is just me rambling about WHY I did this.

Why run NBEMS on an LCR (Little Chinese Radio)?

I participated in the Lindon City Drill Down for Safety preparedness exercise earlier this month. We had one ham radio operator in the EOC (Emergency Operations Center) and 3 area operators. Each area had neighborhoods reporting with scenarios that we were required to relay to the city EOC as they came in from runners or over the neighborhood radio nets (some of which were using FRS radios). This was accomplished admirably in the time allotted for the exercise (just over 60 minutes). I think we relayed close to 30 scenarios and a few other things as well. Had there been more scenarios, or other traffic (health & welfare, etc.) that needed to be passed over the net from the areas to the EOC, there would not have been enough time to get it done. As it was, the radio operator in the EOC was fully engaged in receiving, transcribing, and disseminating the scenario information to the participants at the city.

At the debriefing, the 4 of us who participated in the net talked about what could make things better and we decided that transferring the scenarios digitally would help in many ways (accuracy, speed, etc.). The next day Dave N7BAN sent out a link to the ARRL's page on NBEMS (Narrow Band Emergency Messaging Software). I started reading and was hooked. I setup the software and with the SignaLink USB interface I already had, I was able to make everything work. A couple days later Dave and I were successful communicating on the air with fldigi.

We talked about having this capability for our the exercise next year and how the police department had recently given us a hand-me-down laptop and printer for use in the city EOC. I really liked the fact that you can be successful using NBEMS in many modes (MT63-2KL is especially good) without any interface at all - just computer's speaker/mic next to the radio's speaker/mic and by holding the PTT on the radio at the appropriate times, it all works. In an emergency knowing how to operate like this could be very beneficial as equipment may not function correctly or even be available.

The city might be willing to get us a radio interface to the nice Icom radio they purchased a while back, but it seems to me that we need to also have systems in the field (at least 3, right?). Even though the computer speaker next to the radio mic would work, it would be somewhat cumbersome and would also introduce extra noise into the signal (not to mention the area where the radio operator will be located). Having an interface there would allow us to use two modes at once. We still need to work out the issue of having only one antenna. I'm not sure if the Icom radio will allow us to use 70cm for digital on one side and 2m voice on the other, or if we will need a separate radio and a duplexer.

Anyway, for use at a mobile station, I thought about purchasing another SignaLink. But then after more reading (this internet is a big place :) I realized that my new standard radio has VOX (voice operated transmit) that could be used in place of a switched PTT line and that it should work with a very simple isolation circuit. Well, I tested it and it does. Now, to the meat of this article, how to make the interface:

Creating the Interface

This interface works great on my UV-5Rs. It may work on Kenwood and other radios that use a similar interface. You would probably have to modify it for use with anything else.

I took a ground loop isolator and added a 10K ohm resistor and a 10uf capacitor then hacked a cable from the headset that came with the radio (this would also work) and soldered it to the circuit board in place of the original cable. I chopped the ends off the other side of the isolator and put on stereo 3.5mm plugs stereo 3.5mm plugs with the ground on the sleeve and the other lines connected to the tips (the rings were left unconnected). I ended up with a circuit like this:

Notice that there is nothing for managing PTT. That is because I'm using the VOX feature in the radio to key the transmitter when it detects input from the computer. This has worked very well in my testing. As you can see from the links to the parts above, I love Amazon and their Prime shipping program. I have 98 capacitors and 498 resistors left that I would be happy to share with anyone local who'd like to build an interface. :)

I took advantage of a couple of existing solder pads for the resistor and tried to put the capacitor in a place where it would not contact other stuff. The wires from the cable were very tiny, but soldered just fine without doing anything special.
A view of the isolation transformers on the other side of the PCB.

The finished unit from the bottom
Top view
Because my Macbook Pro only has a single connector for audio, I use a little USB sound card little USB sound card instead. This has the additional advantage of leaving the built-in audio device to handle regular sounds while this one can be dedicated to its purpose.

Although work and home are only 4 miles apart, there are some good sized hills in between. Also, work is in a building that is really good at blocking radio waves. At home I have a Comet GP-6 clone hooked to a Kenwood G-707A and the SignaLink interface I mentioned earlier. From inside my building at work, I can't hear the home radio consistently on 2 meters even at 50 watts especially from where my desk is located (bottom floor on the opposite side from my home). From outside in the parking lot, my truck's radio (a Yaesu FT-8900R and a Comet SSB-5) can talk to home with both ends running just 5 watts. If I set the rig in the truck to cross-band mode, I can use the HT inside the building on 70cm at low power to reach the truck and from there on 2 meters to the house. This works great so far.

All in all, I'm excited about the possibilities for using NBEMS along with normal voice operations for emergency situations. I believe it has more immediate value than HSMM or BBHN, which I have also been playing with, so I am shifting my focus for a time to learn and do more with digital over VHF/UHF. As always, there's plenty more to do (setting up NBEMS on my Raspberry Pi in my trailer for example).

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Standardizing on the Baofeng UV-5R

Why I want to standardize

I currently have several different radios that I use on a regular basis. None of them are the same. It frustrates me that when I want to use a radio, I have to find the special accessories for that particular radio because many of the others aren't compatible (batteries, charging cables, headphones, antennas, etc.). It's not as bad, but, the difference in operating and programming methods is sometimes annoying having to remember each radio's idiosyncrasies.

I have decided that rather than continue down this path, that I want to standardize. I love standards but, there are so many to choose from that it really hasn't been feasible until now. I wouldn't mind standardizing on the VX-7R (it's a great radio), but the cost is prohibitive. The low cost of the Baofeng UV-5R has made it possible for me to have several radios that all use the same programming and operating methods, and the same accessories. I want one for everyday use. I want one that stays at work. I want one dedicated to a Go Bag at home. Etcetera.

What I have now (handheld radios)

  • My oldest son and I have both had the VX-7R (after trading up from the 5R) since they were first released almost 10 years ago.
  • HTX-202 to do some APRS and later Echolink activity
  • Several HTX-420 HTs that I bought for my wife and children
  • Kenwood D7-AG that I have used for packet and APRS
  • I won an Icom V80 at a ham picnic

Compromises required

I decided that while I will have to make some trade-offs, it will be worth it to me in the end. In my research so far, I have read nearly all of the 10,000 messages on the UV-5R Group and scoured the net for reviews and comments. Based on what I knew, I ordered the radio from an outlet based in the U.S. It took over a week, but I finally received my radio in the mail. These are my thoughts on the pros and cons of following through with my plan of purchasing more of these radios and parting ways with my older ones. It is as much for me, to justify my plan, as it is to share with everyone else. There are many other reviews of the UV-5R available online and I'm not going to try to link to all of them here.

The UV-5R I'm using

The Baofeng radio I received is labeled as a "UV-5R+Plus" and has firmware version BFB281. As I write this, I am aware of two newer versions on the market (291, and 293).

Differences that matter to me

Most of these items are things that are different between the UV-5R and the other radios I use. Most often, I am making the comparison to my VX-7R since that is the radio I use the most. Some of these items may not be important to anyone else. I may come up with others as I gain more experience with this radio and I'll try to either make comments below or if there is a lot of stuff to talk about, I may update the article itself so the information stays in one place.
  1. Display.
    1. Signal strength indicator.
      1. In receive mode, the little cell phone like indicator on the display is completely redundant since it only tells you if the squelch is open or not (just like the audio from the radio along with the backlight and the light on the front of the radio both tell you). If the number of bars changed with the strength of the signal, that might make it useful, but they don't.
      2. When transmitting, the indicator does show the transmit power level (2 bars for low, 4 bars for high).
    2. Can't see both Frequency and Name at the same time - even when operating with dual watch turned off. The other side still shows in the display even though it is inactive.
      1. What I do to get around this:
        1. In menu 21, set [A] to display the name.
        2. In menu 22, set [B] to display the frequency.
        3. Change to the same channel in both [A] and [B].
      2. My other radios (except the VX-7R) make it difficult to see both the Name and Frequency also.
    3. No battery voltage display.
      1. This is handy to know how your power source is doing.
    4. No barometric pressure display.
      1. I never use this function, but it is available.
      2. I doubt it is very accurate, since my VX-7R had the tendency to get pressurized during use. I sometimes have to pop the battery off to get it to sound right again.
    5. No clock display.
      1. Handy when I keep the time set correctly, but I rarely do.
      2. Have to turn the radio off to see it.
    6. Offset direction not evident.
      1. "+-" shows for any frequency that has an offset, it doesn't tell you which direction.
      2. Being in the frequency display mode and pressing "* scn" to activate the Reverse function will show the other frequency.
    7. Backlight.
      1. Screen is easily readable with the backlight on (my Kenwood is difficult for me to read with the backlight at night).
      2. Backlight timeout delay is 5 seconds max.
        1. Would be nice if it stayed on constantly when using the radio as a base station with external power.
        2. A 30-60 seconds delay would be nice when using the radio at night.
      3. Backlight acts a bit strange when monitoring.
        1. If the frequency is quiet for longer than the backlight timeout period, the backlight turns off (normal).
        2. When a transmission is received, the backlight does not turn on. (strange)
        3. When a transmission ends, the backlight comes on (normal).
        4. I'd love it if a firmware update made it so the backlight comes on whenever the state changes (in both 2 & 3 above).
  2. Controls.
    1. Channel control.
      1. Buttons only - no knob.
      2. Can't scroll through channels as easily as I'm accustomed to doing on the VX-7R.
      3. I won't bump the channel accidentally as I often have because I forgot to lock it before putting it back on my belt (or in my chest pack, etc.).
    2. Volume control.
      1. I don't like that the volume knob is so easily rotated. I'm likely to accidentally turn it down to where I will miss stuff.
      2. The clicking knob on the VX-7R is much better. My other radios (except the V80) also suffer from this problem, so it's not really that much of a difference, but I wish it had more resistance.
    3. Lock function.
      1. I can still turn the volume down when locked.
      2. Most buttons will stop a scan when locked.
      3. The Call button will still switch to FM radio mode when locked.
      4. It does come back on in lock mode after cycling the power.
      5. Autolock seems like a great thing to have for events. We'll see.
    4. FM radio/Alarm button.
      1. Why'd they put it there and call it a "Call" button?
      2. Why is it orange?
    5. Squelch.
      1. The VHF side is separate from the UHF side.
      2. Levels go from 0-9 on both sides, but the VHF side ignores any settings above 1 making the 2-9 options useless.
        1. From what I've read, this is a bug in the radio.
        2. At work around my computers, this is a hassle because there are several frequencies where the radio picks up a small amount of noise. If I could set the squelch up just a little bit higher, I think it would be fine. 
        3. Fixing this particular bug would make it worth it to me to upgrade to a new firmware version.
      3. The monitor button is slow to open squelch (so you can use the flashlight). It'll just take some getting used to I imagine.
  3. Memory channels.
    1. I find 128 channels somewhat limiting. I don't have room to store my most needed amateur and public service frequencies along with FRS, GMRS, MURS, CAP, repeaters from neighboring counties, places I visit frequently, etc.
    2. No banks for scanning or other separation ([A], [B], etc.).
  4. Transmit/Receive.
    1. Can't hear two channels at once.
      1. Not true dual receive. You can listen to [A] or to [B], but not both at once.
      2. Probably helps with battery life.
    2. Switching between Transmit/Receive seems slow.
      1. This is just a feeling, not anything I've measured.
      2. I've read about others having trouble with APRS (might need a longer TX Delay than other radios).
    3. Reverse function.
      1. Changes both [A] and [B] banks at the same time.
      2. In Name display mode, it's not evident what frequency you are actually using (see previous item) even when transmitting.
      3. Turns off after a power cycle (even if radio is in lock mode).
  5. Programming.
    1. Fiddly, but not too bad once you get the idea. A cheat sheet helps me.
    2. Decent software available for free that is being actively developed.
    3. My other radios were confusing at first as well. This will only get easier as I only have to remember one process.
  6. Firmware.
    1. Firmware is not updateable. Whatever you get, you have to live with it.
    2. My radio was sold as "Latest version 2013" but what I received was a new looking radio (different face plate) with a slightly older firmware version. Since these radios are sold exclusively online (according to the label on the radio itself), it seems like it can be hard to know what you will get. Maybe this will improve as more domestic sellers start carrying these radios.
    3. I sent my D7A back to Kenwood to be upgraded to the 'G' version, but I've never heard of a Firmware update for any of my other radios.
    4. I like that things are improving with this radio. I'm sure there would be no problem selling (or donating!) radios with older versions.
  7. Scan mode.
    1. In comparison to my other radios, the scan mode is extremely slow.
    2. It's got a weird quirk of skipping over channels using tones under 141.3 Hz, but I don't have any channels that need to tone squelch (TSQL, R-CTCSS, or whatever your radio calls it).
    3. Does not resume after a power cycle (even in locked mode).
    4. Can't program channel skip (channel lockout) in the radio.
      1. You can do it in the programming software, but that doesn't help you in the field when you run across a problem frequency and need to take it out of the mix. This is something I really hope they remedy in a future firmware update!
  8. Power.
    1. Can't charge without drop-in charger (through the radio).
    2. Extra chargers are cheap.
    3. Battery eliminators are cheap also. They may be nicer than having a big plug sticking out of the radio with the possibility of it falling out and getting no indication (been there). I haven't used one before, so I'll have to report on this later.
    4. As long as the drop-in charger is reasonably smart, I think the batteries will be better taken care of than my other radios. They won't likely be too hot when charging due to being used at the same time, or being charged through the radio while sitting in a hot/cold car, etc.
    5. Can get multiple rechargeable batteries relatively inexpensively (read: "way cheap"). I can get several (or more) instead of always trying to charge the one or two I have whenever possible (like in the car, etc.).
    6. Extended size battery packs are available.
    7. Long reported battery life relative to most other radios. I'll need to report back on this.
    8. Low battery warning sounds nice. Again, I'll have to report back since I haven't even run it down once yet.
    9. No AA pack available.
      1. A "AAA" pack only partially makes up for this as I try to only carry one type of battery.
      2. Maybe someone can make one out of an extended battery shell? Extra size/weight is not important to me - I want the flexibility a AA pack offers in the field.
  9. Light.
    1. Turning it on while scanning requires two presses, one to stop scan mode, then one to turn the light on.
    2. I wish I could turn the light off with a single press of the button instead of having to hit it twice (it cycles through On, Blink, Off).
    3. My EDC flashlight is much brighter, but the radio's light would certainly let you see up close in a pinch (finding a keyhole, etc.).
  10. Accessories.
    1. Antenna
      1. The stock dummy load is OK, but not much more than that.
      2. The connector is backwards from all of my other SMA antennas and I'll be checking out the $4 antennas online that people have been raving about.
    2. Some of my old Radio Shack/Kenwood accessories don't fit
      1. The newer earphones I have fit fine. A couple of older ones do not.
      2. An older Realistic speaker mic doesn't fit.
    3. The new programming cable I got with the radio also fits (and works with) my D7AG.
  11. Misc.
    1. Multiple colors available.
      1. I haven't decided yet if I think I might want something other than black (for the radio, or the battery pack). I can always label the radios to tell them apart, but when using two radios simultaneously (a strong possibility for me), different colors might be kinda cool. I'll probably start with camo - I just can't see myself carrying a bright red radio.
    2. Size/weight.
      1. With the standard battery, the UV-5R is the smallest and lightest radio I have.
      2. Slightly narrower than the VX-7R, but about the same height.
      3. I don't have the extended battery yet.
    3. Water.
      1. I haven't really read much about it's resistance to water. It doesn't appear to be sealed very well to me. I'll try to keep it dry, but if I fail, I don't lose much - and I get another antenna, battery, belt-clip, and charger with the new unit.
    4. The A/B button on my UV-5R feels different when I press it. It doesn't activate in the same way with the same amount of pressure as do the other buttons. It feels sort of sluggish. It still works, it just feels odd.
I have not had much actual operating experience with this radio yet (only 2 conversations so far just to tell me that it does actually work). I only received it yesterday.

My bottom line

I'm not ready to give up my D7AG with it's APRS and packet capabilities quite yet (at least some of the accessories are interchangeable . I told my oldest son that his wife gets my VX-7R the day she gets her ticket. My daughter has her HTX-420 already as do middle sons 2 & 3. Daughter in law #2 will probably end up with the V80. Youngest son hasn't been interested yet, but I'll talk his future wife into being prepared and then he will be. :)

Programming Function Quick Reference

For now, this helps me.

21 - A-Display Channel/Name/Frequency 22 - B-Display Channel/Name/Frequency 24 - Autolock 27 - Create a memory channel (use [A])    2 - Transmit power    5 - Wide / Narrow band  10 - Receive DCS  11 - Receive CTCSS  12 - Transmit DCS  13 - Transmit CTCSS 23 - Busy Channel Lockout   Save twice (RX then TX) or use 25 & 26   25 - Shift +/-   26 - Frequency Shift 28 - Delete memory channel 34 - Dual watch display priority

Friday, January 06, 2012

MyPcBackup and "unlimited" storage

[click on the screenshots in this post to make them readable]

I began using MyPcBackup several months ago because it looked like a good alternative to (which I have used for a few years now). They advertised unlimited backup space and went to great lengths on their web site to claim that they had no limitations based on file numbers or sizes or total storage space. 
"Unlimited" storage page from MyPcBackup web site
My current account status on the MyPcBackup web site
After several weeks of sending data their product stopped working on my system. After several email messages involving log files, and ultimately a bug fix to the program, it started working again, for a while, but then stopped again for no apparent reason.
After another round of emails (see below), it was determined that I am being cut-off because I have used more than my limit of data storage. It appears to me that MyPcBackup intends to use their Fair Use policy to weasel their way out of providing what they promise. Apparently, my “usage greatly exceeds the average level of monthly usage of MPCB's customers, generally.”
If you have more than what I'm using (250 GB), you might end up in the same category I'm in and be out of commission. You can purchase a laptop at Costco for $500 that has double that amount of space. A backup copy of a movie can easily run 2 GB and in full HD, even more. With all of my data (50K+ images, lots of music, some videos), I have about 700 GB of stuff on my 2 TB drive that needs to be backed up.
So, anyway, I just wanted to share what I've learned about this company/service and help others make good decisions about where to spend their time and money.

The following is the email conversation I had with MyPcBackup in chronological order with the final message pointing me to section 14 of their terms:

Subject: [#8270] Missing files - from help center

On Mon, Nov 28, 2011 at 10:51, [] wrote:


Thank you for contacting MyPC Backup Support

We have received your email and will reply to it within 24 hours.

**Please do not submit multiple tickets! Submitting multiple will delay the response of your ticket, as it will put your previous email back to the bottom of the queue**

If you think of anything which you would like to add to your email to support please reply to this email, and it will update your current message.

Kind regards,

MyPC Backup Support Team

On Mon, Nov 28, 2011 at 12:06, [] wrote:

Hi Doug,

Thank you for your email. Due to the total size of the files that you are trying to back up you may wish to consider a business solution to your backup needs. Unfortunately at this time we do not offer such a package and so our product may not be suitable for you. This may be why you are experiencing difficulties with the software.

I’m sorry for the inconvenience this may cause, please let us know how you wish to proceed

Kind regards,
Gabriel Bernardez
Sales Supervisor

On Mon, Nov 28, 2011 at 15:21, Douglas B. McKay wrote:

Your advertising says "Unlimited Storage" as one of the features of your software. Does that mean something different than what it sounds like? I chose your service specifically because of this. I currently have an "unlimited" account with Mozy. Unfortunately, it is going to expire (they don't offer "unlimited" anymore) and I was hoping to use your service as their replacement.


On Tue, Nov 29, 2011 at 01:02, [] wrote:

Hi Douglas,

Thank you for writing back to us.

I have escalated your concern to the relevant department for further solution. You will receive an email from them at the earliest.

Please let me know if there is anything else I can help with.

Kind Regards,
Lucas Donald

On Tue, Nov 29, 2011 at 02:14, [] wrote:

Hi Douglas,

Thank you for your email.

Currently MyPC Backup does not allow the backup of any Servers. LAN or NAS drives, due to their capability.

If you are looking for a service to backup Servers. LAN or NAS drives, we would advise contacting a company who offers a more business driven option.

You can backup stand alone hard drives or standard external/USB Drives here.

Due to the total size of the files that you are trying to back up you may wish to consider a business solution to your backup needs. Unfortunately at this time we do not offer such a package and so our product may not be suitable for you. This may be why you are experiencing difficulties with the software.

Please let me know if there is anything else I can help with.

Kind Regards,
Will Baker

On Tue, Nov 29, 2011 at 22:47, Douglas B. McKay wrote:

Hello Will,

I am not attempting to backup any Servers, LAN, or NAS drives. I just have one drive in my system (well, two - a 64 GB boot drive, and a 2 TB data drive). I set it to only backup the files in the important directories instead of the whole drive. It did all of the document files, but stopped part way through the music files, and didn't do any of my picture files. This is just my personal system - not for business purposes or anything. I realize that I do have a lot of files, but that is exactly what led me to your solution...unlimited storage. I'd like to get it working as it seems to be a very good way to keep my files safe. I have used Mozy for a few years, but as you know, they don't offer unlimited storage any longer and I need to find a replacement provider before my subscription with them expires next year.


On Tue, Nov 29, 2011 at 23:50, [] wrote:

Hi Baker,

Thank you for your email.

Due to the total size of the files that you are trying to back up you may wish to consider a business solution to your backup needs. Unfortunately at this time we do not offer such a package and so our product may not be suitable for you.

I’m sorry for the inconvenience this may cause, please let us know how you wish to proceed.”

Kind regards,
Will Baker

On Tue, Nov 29, 2011 at 23:52, [] wrote:

Hi Douglas,

Thank you for your email.

I apologize that I addressed you wrongly in the previous email.

Kind Regards,
Will Baker

On Wed, Nov 30, 2011 at 00:34, Douglas B. McKay wrote:


So, this is the second time I have received a response like this. Are you saying that MyPCBackup IS NOT suitable for me because of the total size of my files? Or is there a chance that it MAY work if I can change a setting or whatever? I would like to get your software to work to backup all of my files.


On Wed, Nov 30, 2011 at 07:07, [] wrote:

Hi Doug,

Thank you for your reply. Unfortunately it will not be possible to back up the increased number of files on our server. The reason for this is that such a large amount will affect the processing time for the additional files to the point that it will take an increasingly long amount of time to complete your backup.

I'm sorry about this, we are happy to fully refund any payments you have made to us.

Please let us know how you wish to proceed.

Kind regards,
Gabriel Bernardez
Sales Supervisor

On Fri, Dec 2, 2011 at 10:12, Douglas B. McKay wrote:


I am not very concerned about the speed of the backup, just that it happens. I don't mind that it takes a long time for the initial backup - it is to be expected that it takes a long time. My files are mostly static and relatively small. There are a few exceptions of course (e.g. my image catalog database), but mostly, I create new files by scanning my family's old slides, or by adding digital images from my camera.

If we can get it to work, I'm happy to continue my account with you. Is there a fixed number of files that I should not exceed? I may be able to exclude some files, or perhaps Zip some of them up.


On Fri, Dec 9, 2011 at 20:36, Douglas B. McKay wrote:

I did a small test and removed some of my files from the backup list, but it didn't seem to help. Surely other users have more/larger files than I'm working with that they want to backup.

Your web site says:

Unlimited Storage
Unlike other online backup providers we don't limit the amount of files you can backup, enjoy the freedom of unlimited online backup.

The answer you provided below seems to indicate that there is a limit. Please let me know which is actually true. I'd still like to resolve this problem and get the software working for me.


On Thu, Jan 5, 2012 at 06:36, [] wrote:
Hi Douglas,

Thank you for your email.

Here at MyPCBackup we do operate with a fair usage policy, our products or services are designed to serve the needs of particular types of users, such as individual consumers or small businesses.

If the service is inappropriate for your actual usage, we may require you to switch to an appropriate product or service which may result in your having to pay additional fees for use of the appropriate product or to terminate your services with us and issue a full refund.

From time to time, we may establish or amend general operating practices to maximize the operation and availability of our products or services and to prevent abuses. We reserve the right to monitor our system to identify excessive consumption of network resources and to take such technical and other remedies as we deem appropriate. Your consumption of our products or services may be deemed excessive if, within any month, your usage greatly exceeds the average level of monthly usage of our customers, generally.

In the event you are deemed to have violated these policies, we reserve the right to limit your backups or terminate your services or account.

For full clarification on this issue please refer to , Section 14. Termination and Fair Use Policy.

However we appreciate this can be frustrating and would fully understand if you wish to terminate your services and receive a full refund.

Thank you for your understanding.

Kind regards,
Matt Curd
Troubleshooting & Support team

It’s likely that because they are based in the UK, they aren’t subject to US laws or the possibility of a class-action lawsuit for false or misleading advertising. I don’t know the rules on that stuff anyway, but at the very least, I hope to make more people aware of how they are operating. Here are some places where you can read/submit reviews of MyPcBackup:
Feel free to chime in and add your comments here.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Notes on UPS units from UCARES picnic give-away

Since so many UPS units (~30) found new homes at the recent UCARES picnic, and because I didn't get a chance to modify this batch to add Anderson Connectors or put labels on them, I thought it would be good to compile a short list of notes that may help anyone who ended up with one make good use of it.

  • All of them are used. They all used to work. I don't know if they work now or not. If you ended up with one that doesn't work, let me know - I think I can get a few more and can trade you.
  • I have used them to charge and maintain 12 volt SLA batteries that were rated from 7 to 100 amps.
  • Multiple batteries can be floated from a single UPS.
  • They will NOT power a radio bigger than an HT for an extended period.
  • You can use batteries (while connected) with higher drain radios without problems as long as the batteries themselves can handle the load.
  • They provide about 0.75 A of charging current. A large battery will take a LONG time to charge at this rate.
  • They float at about 14.0 Volts. A little on the high side (at the expense of battery longevity), but keeps the batteries fully charged and ready for use should there be a call-out, etc.
  • SLA batteries can be left connected to the UPS indefinitely. I would expect about 3-5 years of life (a guess, not a formula) from a brand new battery if left connected and never used.
  • They will work as normal UPS units and can provide backup power to a computer, etc. Just be sure to use large enough leads to the battery(ies) (at least 12 ga for full rated capacity).
  • To turn the units on when 120 Volt power is not available, press and hold the power button until the unit beeps, then release the button while it's beeping.
Some of my other posts that may be helpful:
Last, here's a close up picture of the way I have modified these UPS units to put connectors on them for convenient use with my batteries:

I drilled a 1/2" exit hole for the wires (which are just barely long enough if you cut the original connectors off right at the end). I used hot glue on this one, but that wasn't the best idea I've ever had. You can see that it is loose now (3 years later) and doesn't keep the wires from moving in the hole. A grommet would have been better, but they are a bit of a pain to install and thread the wires through. I have had better success with using kneadable epoxy putty and just pressing it into place into the hole and around the wires. You may also choose to leave the original internal wiring intact and simply tap into the lines to bring a longer connection out the back. This would allow you to use an internal battery if you want as well as an external one if needed. Keep the wires as short as possible. At its full rated load, this UPS can draw over 30 Amps.

    Thursday, April 02, 2009

    Is Sprint misinformed about Lithium batteries?

    An article I just received from Sprint in an e-mail claims that the Lithium batteries in their phones degrade after only 80 charge cycles and that I should "only charge it when the battery is almost empty."

    That goes against everything I've ever heard/read about Lithium based rechargeable batteries. Here are two sources I grabbed quickly:


    The battery prefers a partial rather than a full discharge. Frequent full discharges should be avoided when possible.
    From the Laptop Battery blog:
    it is better to recharge more often; avoid frequent full discharges.
    Perhaps their marketing folks were reading from old spec sheets on Nickel-Cadmium based batteries which would actually benefit from this advice.

    If anyone sees other resources to substantiate or refute this claim from Sprint, please post a comment.

    4-3-2009: I found another couple of references to good discussions:

    Tuesday, March 10, 2009

    Fun with dogs

    There's almost always a good story to be had if you keep animals (or children :) and today's version goes like this...

    About 11pm after watching an episode of Stargate SG-1, our 120 pound Alaskan Malamute, Itok (short for Maniitok) starts barking strangly. We always know when something is going on because we are used to his normal "talk" (he chats with his friends and howls a little each night) and this was not normal. We looked out and discovered a new white dog in our yard. It was not a small one either; he looked like a large Husky or maybe even a small Malamute and probably weighed 70-90 pounds. One we've never seen before. Not knowing what to think, I watched for a minute and it looked like the two of them were getting along ok (at least they were not fighting), so I went out and try to see if it had a collar, etc. It didn't want me anywhere near it, so I decided not to persist.

    It looked like it was trying to climb over the fence in the upper corner of our yard. Since we live in a hilly area, our neighbor's yards in that back corner are at widely different levels. On our side, we have a 6 foot fence. In the neighbor's yard to the North, our fence looks only about 1 foot high because the ground slopes off really fast. In the house diagonally across from us, the bottom of their fence is visible to us above the top of our fence. I figure the dog got in our North neighbor's yard (I don't think it's completely fenced - or if it is, I know they have a 4 ft section in the front) and jumped into our yard at that corner.

    (Here's a shot of Itok standing by the tree where he treed a Racoon last summer. It shows the fences near the corner where most animals seem to come into our yard.)

    Anyway, since this dog had a collar and looked well cared for, rather than letting it out to roam the neighborhood, we called to see if an Animal Control Officer was available. One wasn't, but they sent a couple of Lindon's finest out anyway. They brought the department's animal trailer, but neither of them had any experience as dog catchers. They tried valiantly for about 15 minutes to catch the very smart, but uncooperative beast before giving up and just letting him go out the gate into the street. I asked them to let me know how things turned out as they drive off after it. I never heard...

    Friday, November 21, 2008

    Battery testing and a good inexpensive charger

    I have been testing a good number of batteries lately that have been coming out of UPS units where I work. I had 2 dozen sitting in my area last week. I am down now to half of that, but I have quite a few at home still that I need to check out (and a large pile that needs to be taken to the recyclers too).

    In order to do this, I needed to be able to charge the batteries up in order to run them down with my tester (a CBA II). I found a really nice charger for a really good price - a Tempest BC-1250. I ordered 2 of them and so far, I really like them. They are well built (metal cases, sturdy cords) and the voltages they use are just right for the SLA batteries I use. If you have batteries sitting around going dead, don't wait - this charger is worth the $32.50 - you need to charge them up periodically so they don't sulfate and kill themselves. If you charge them up separately first, one of these chargers should be able to maintain several small/medium batteries connected in parallel.

    Since I go through at least 2 charge/discharge cycles on most batteries, it has been nice to have a couple of extra chargers (I can drain them a lot faster than I can charge them). They have been perfect for the relatively small batteries I've been working with (mostly 7 & 12 Ah, but a few 18's also). For larger ones, I still have my other bigger charger.

    For something that can maintain (or very slowly charge) a battery at the proper voltage, get one (or several) of these Float Chargers from Harbor Freight.

    Tuesday, November 18, 2008

    Getting APRS running again

    I'm going to try to get my digipeater running again. I swapped the dual port TNC I was using for a single port that has APRS capable firmware. I won't be running an I-gate anymore, but there seem to be enough around here already. I just want it to provide extra coverage for the area.

    This site in Finland is doing some really cool things with APRS. It's best to use your callsign as your username, but make something up if you don't have one, or don't want to give it.

    So, the first thing I've got to do is get a USB to serial adapter to connect to the computer so I can program the settings in the TNC. Once I set it up, it can be disconnected from the computer (a major source of problems in the past) and run on its own.

    The radio is a Phoenix SX 16 channel and puts out somewhere around 30 watts. The antenna is an 8 foot Diamond X200 clone installed on my roof about 30 feet up. Power is supplied by a home built power supply that float charges a 75 AH battery.

    Wednesday, July 09, 2008

    MPG in my RAV4

    This past weekend, we took a trip to Idaho. It was about 250 miles in each direction and for the whole trip, I was able to average right about 23 miles per gallon while doing 80 MPH on the freeway. We were late leaving, so I may have even been pressing the speed limit a little further at times on the way up there. We had 5 people (4 adults and a 14 year-old in the 3rd row seat) and a bit of gear. I had fully inflated the tires to their maximum pressure (not the pressure listed on the car's sticker) of 44 PSI. I left my roof rack on top because it supports my ham radio antenna. I did not use any fuel saving methods (like pulse & glide or drafting a truck) or anything other than the tire pressure. Since this is our first really long trip in the RAV4, I wanted to get a baseline for the future. The 23 MPG number isn't that great (the EPA estimates on this vehicle are 19 city & 26 highway), but it's not bad considering the speed and load.

    I do have some history with a trip we used to make quite often. It is a 30 mile drive with about 5 on city streets and the rest a single stretch of 65 MPH 4 lane freeway where people usually drive about 75 MPH. We mostly made the drive with just my wife and I in the car. I would usually get about 25 MPG on the way up, and 22 MPG on the way back (uphill vs. downhill + prevailing winds make the difference).

    The other day, after filling the tires full and using some pulse & glide, some 3-car-length drafting for 10 miles of the trip, and keeping the speed down to around 70 MPH, I was able to get 34.4 MPG on the way up. Keeping the speed to 70, but without any other methods gave me 25 MPG on the trip home that day. I'd like to play more with Pulse and Glide, but it requires that I pay a lot more attention to driving (I guess that's good) and not to my wife (that's definately bad :(

    Anyway, I thought it was interesting that there is such a difference in fuel economy just by changing a couple small things (additional tire pressure, and a 5 MPH speed reduction) gave me 13% improvement.

    I'm glad I have my ScanGauge to use because I'm hardly ever able to tell by looking at the whole tank of gas what I kind of economy I got for a particular style of driving. There are many times when someone will sit in a parking lot with the engine running to keep the air conditioner running. While I still check the overall mileage, it's always disappointing that it is so much lower than what we get on these 30+ mile trips that I like to test with.

    Tuesday, June 17, 2008

    Getting the most out of the gas you have to buy

    I've read lot's of stuff about saving gas (Hypermiling, etc.), but this article is one of the best I read yet. It has common sense and gives sound reasons and advice for most of the suggested items. One part that lacked some details (like why it works) was the pulse and glide section, but since they referred to it as an advanced technique, I'll forgive them. You can find more info about pulse and glide all over the net. Here's an article from Consumer Reports with a new way of looking at fuel economy.

    It has been a goal of mine for the past 15 years or so to own an electric vehicle. I haven't managed it yet (practicality and economy have had to come first), but the day is getting closer...