Sunday, July 11, 2010

SAR training with Amigo SAR dogs

That was a pleasant event, a round robin of problems, enough to make you and your dog happy. We were lucky weather-wise as the hear spell got broken the day before and the heavy rains made way to a really nice day.

Training is also where I test my gear, in conjunction with working my dog. This time it was my new Droid Incredible and its topo mapping capabilities as well as track saving.

One thing I learned is to put the darn thing in airplane mode in areas with no reception. This will help the batteries last longer. This is the main problem with cell phones in general, they die due of lack of power in wilderness settings. I already have a power pack on order, one that can not only recharge the cell phone but be recharged itself by AC/12v and/or SOLAR! Now solar panels are not so efficient when moving, as most of us will try to stay in the shade, but when stationary, it can be directed towards the sun to be as efficient as possible.

The Droid Incredible has apps that can save your GPS track to the unit and can also share them by email (and other means) with friends or yourself, so you can then open the email attachment you sent yourself and import the track in your mapping software. While this app, MyTracks, is Google based, meaning road map and aerial, Gaia GPS beta gives you a nice USGS map, but it is quite a dated one. Looks terrific though till I looked at my Garmin Oregon 400i with its 24K maps on a memory card and the picture there was by far better, crisper, as long as the light was right, as the Oregon's display is not the best (acceptable but not great). Gaia GPS beta allows you to download map segments ahead of time, quite useful when going in no reception areas. My Tracks left me with a blank screen.

PICTURES: you can click on each picture to see an enlarged version.

Here is a screen view from Gaia GPS Beta on the Droid Incredible, as it has a share option, so I emailed it to myself:

Below is a computer screen dump from MyTracks, this time I send the track to My Maps on Google Maps, so there is a way to share the tracks from the field, without a physical connection to the computer, if there is cell service.

I can make the Droid Incredible do most things My Oregon can do, but battery life and waterproofness are concerns. They can be overcomed but still, I prefer using a dedicated navigation GPS in the wilderness and save my battery on the Droid foir phone and pictures. OTOH, the ability to send tracks and photos is something to consider sometimes.

Below are two out of four photos taken of a "crime scene". 8-megapixels pictures that can be sent over the cell network and that ate geotagged, meaning the GPS location is encoded in the file and they can be placed on Google Earth for exact location!

As you can see from the shadow, I'm standing and yet you can count every shell casing! From a phone camera!

And below is my Google Earth screen dump and you can see the geotagging information encoded in the picture.

Road navigation:
The Droid Incredible and my Garmin Nuvi 765T did well, but when I missed a turn, the Nuvi recovered and the Droid got stuck (maybe because of lack of phone reception, I don't know, as I was close to my destination and driving on a dirt road that needed my full attention. I was using the Droid on car power to conserve battery.

We also had a M+C course. After 18 years in SAR, my compass does not even have a scratch on it! Am I an armchair SAR searcher? Heck no, but simply my Brunton Eclipse developed a huge bubble so I sent it back to Brunton and a few days later, a brand new compass appeared at my doorstep. Hey, I sent an old, beat up compass and got a brand spanking new one in return. And now I know it works just fine in the woods! One leg was a GPS exercise (like Geocaching) and while I found a glitch in my GPS, I cannot reproduce it, yet, glitch or not, I used my unit and found the cache.

During one of the breaks from K9 work I took, waiting for an area to become available, I put my low power ham radio station together, radio, battery, antenna and counterpoise wire, in less than five minutes I was on the air, hearing a lot of European stations (there was a contest going on) and managing to make a contact with a Florida station, working 5 watts, just like a portable radio! SAR, K9-SAR and my ham radio hobby all at once! Life is good!

With all this going on, Stryder, my dog, found his live subject as well as his "dead" and hanging one. I was particularly happy to see him work out a nice scent pool, get out of scent, then back in solving the problem by following the fringe to the source and indicating up the tree. He is an experienced dog, but beautiful dog work still gets to me. The day I tire of it may be the day I need to retire from K9 SAR!

Field Day 2010

This year I decided to check out on my club's Field Day location. I came early and helped a bit in erecting their yagi. We finished just in time to have some lunch and we beat the rain. Erecting said antenna in the rain would have been unpleasant to say the least.

I then discovered that I was in a no-cellphone zone, and as CNY does not have many K9 resources, I felt I could not spend more time there, totally off the grid. Next year, I may just pass the local landline number to my wife and teammates etc... That premonition was well founded as I did get a call on Sunday!

I decide to operate in minimalistic mode, using just what was in my my fanny pack (a small one from and an 7A SLA that was on my screen porch and that I had used previously. Amount of power left in it unknown. I also had a 5A Li-Po battery that had been recently recharged as well as the internal 2.7A pack, also recently recharged. My old used SLA battery lasted me the entire field day! And yes, the poor think needs to be recharged now!

For next year, I want to be able to use a folding solar panel for recharging my battery (5-10 watts).

Well I used what was in the fanny pack the ATX and my Miracle MMD 20m antenna. No ATU, nothing else. I used the ATX on bands other than 20m, but just for a short while. Most of my work was done on 20m with the Miracle MMD antenna. I just threw the antenna from my deck to a tree, some of the antenna was horizontal, but did not go in a straight line to my rig (physical constraints of the house) and some was hanging vertically from the branches of my tree. Definitely not ideal but to me it simulated well a situation where I would be asked to get communications going in the shortest amount of time, no help, just get it done!

It got done! I had two contacts on Saturday. Competing with stronger stations was hard. I did better Sunday morning, four QSOs and I was hoping to achieve ten when a search call came to interrupt my Field Day. Since I started setting up well after the start of Field Day, regulations allowed me to operate an extra 3 hours. That's when I got most of my contacts for a total of 17. Those last few hours were good, as competition was much smaller and any station was ready to deal with a weaker signal just to get the points.

Next year, I might try operating later at night or in the wee hours of the morning, when competition is not as fierce.

Conditions were bad on 20 meters. I could hear a station loud and clear, nice and high on the S-meter just to have it fade within a few seconds.

I enjoyed working QRP. Life is not too short for it. Those who shun it don't know what fun it can be! Using 100w into a beam now seems like shooting fish in a barrel!

I think I'll continue using QRP next year. I would like to see batteries charged with a solar panel, work later at night or in the wee hours of the morning, and this time use my best portable antenna, the TransWorld Backpacker. The latter is also very easy to set up in a few minutes. But this year, I wanted to just use my fanny pack.

Now in real emergencies, I think that I still would like to be able to Tx with 100w. That means using my Icom 706MKIIG. But what I could do is use the FT-817 for listening and then turn on the IC-706MKIIG and using it to make the contact, once done, power it down till I'm ready for the next one. One of these Field Days, I may try this configuration and see whether I can conserve power while listening and still use 100w for Tx.

I kept a paper log. With 17 QSOs this is not a problem. I don't even know if N1MM will do the (IMO excessive) paperwork ARRL wants us to do. I've never so far submitted my logs for FD, just for that reason. Maybe I'll do it this year. Who knows, 17 QRP/battery QSOs might just be enough to get a mention? I don't know if I want to use my laptop for logging, as while it may make things easier to log, it means a much more complicated and less portable station.

Well I just got a Droid Incredible and hopefully soon I'll be able to log from there and send the ADIF file to my email address and import it into HRD without too many problems.