Monday, December 14, 2015

goTenna™ A Magic Wand Enabling Smartphone Texting

Had the pleasure to check out some new technology that enables you to send & receive text messages on a smartphone, without need of cell towers or a wifi hotspot. I used a magic wand... a goTenna. In the race to develop additional communication capability for smartphones, goTenna has taken a simple approach, and has crossed the finish line with a winner.

Here's the problem... smartphones turn to dumb bricks when cell & wifi service is gone.  While a bunch of products have attempted to marry alternative communication like two-way radio to the smartphone platform, trying to add an additional layer of technology is problematic. We've seen prototypes of handheld radios glommed onto backs of smartphones, only to see them fall victim to ever changing smartphone technology, falling short in keeping up with the endless parade of new models & new hardware.
Magic Wand?

But goTenna took a different tack... make a simple device to establish an independent peer to peer communication mode. Instead of adding something new to smartphones, goTenna simply enables smartphones to do what does already... send & receive text...and enables it to do so when it can't be done through normal means.

A goTenna is a cognitive digital radio combined with an app that generates its own signal and automatically coordinates with other units within range. It does all the heavy-lifting, so you can chat 1-to-1, with a group, or even broadcast openly to anyone nearby. Distance is it's only limitation. The goTenna has a VHF signal in the unlicensed portion of the MURS band, transmitting 2 watts, so location, elevation, & surroundings are the only unknown variables where range is concerned. Still, you may count on 1 to 3 miles as typical. In my case, out on the bike trail I got just over 2 miles away before I lost connectivity to my other goTenna, although it was more due to terrain than distance. If I was on flat ground I would have likely got further.
Couldn't be any simpler...

Being a text only device, goTenna is not hamstrung by bandwidth & power needs that voice and imagery require.  And since the link between goTenna & smartphone is via bluetooth, any bluetooth equipped smartphone can use a goTenna. You install the free goTenna app available for Android or iOS, pair with the goTenna device, and you're sending & receiving text with other goTenna equipped smartphones.

The goTenna is packaged in pairs, so you have an alternative text communication method for you and one other right out of the box. You're not limited to just that pair of goTennas, you can broadcast to any goTenna within range. There's future potential with the technology to establish a mesh network, and goTenna maintains the capability lies in further development. In the meantime, this magic wand device offers you a way to stay in contact using your smartphone, when everyone else is carrying bricks seeking a cell signal or wifi hotspot.

goTenna is making a big push this holiday season. MSRP for 2 goTenna units is $199, but now till Sunday Dec. 20, take $15 off with using code: APNHOLIDAY
Order before 9:30 EST Wednesday for pre-Christmas delivery with FREE GROUND DELIVERY
If you use the coupon code and order before Wednesday morning you SAVE $25
Order Direct Here

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Baofeng UV-82HP UHF/VHF Handheld Amateur Radio vs Baofeng UV-5R

The folks at Baofeng Tech asked me if I'd review this radio. Given the chance to review the new UV-82HP, the FIRST thing I thought of was to pit two different models against each other, at their max power settings, and see how great a difference there was in range. A totally unscientific comparison, but doable, since I own two Baofeng's already, two Baofeng UV-5R's. I figured it would settle,(at least in my mind), the range question from a practical standpoint, and give me a reference point radio to compare. 

Let’s start with a practical assessment...

UV-82HP: you can play the FM radio for three full days at work on a full battery charge. 
For some, (like me), that’s important. It’s also a practical test of current drain, like turned on scanning memory banks all day. Figure perhaps 18 to 24 hours service between charges & light duty cycles.   Audio volume & clarity is VERY impressive. I'm also impressed with the radio's fit & feel. There's substance to the radio, but because of it’s slim form factor, there's no problem with it clipped to a pants pocket all day. It’s not a bulky brick. 
If ever I hear some blow-hard spout off about "cheap Chinese Radios" I'd hit them with this one... it'd leave a dent.  
The LED flashlight has a enclosed lens & reflector, a great improvement too. I've always loved the handy flashlight on both of my UV-5R's... this one's a lot brighter

UV-5R: (First this Crevat: I LOVE my UV5-R's) The radio resembles a handheld radio version of a Sherman Tank, a small Sherman Tank. The '82 is slim & curvy, the '5R, like a leading edge of a bowling ball. While part of it's appeal has been it's utilitarian chunkiness, I always found the '5R to be a bit top heavy clipped to my belt, the antenna trying to upend the radio, so I seldom kept the radio clipped to my side for long. I usually just carried it. As for volume, compared to the ''s no comparison, the 5R's speaker sounds thin & tinny, the female voice commands a mumble most of the time, except when saying "Low Voltage" after a long day turned on. 

Please understand, I know I'm comparing Apples to Oranges here, the UV-82HP is a different radio model from a feature standpoint... as I soon found out, testing first how both worked, from a level playing field.

Rubber meets Road...RF meets Ozone
Testing for typical performance, I used both of my stock UV-5R HT’s & the '82HP at the same power levels, to compare their signal reports through a local repeater about 5 miles away. 
I discovered the UV-82HP receiver had some signal fading due to antenna orientation, vertical being distinctly stronger than horizontal. So did the UV-5R's, only not as much.
Yippie Ki... Huh? What?
Holding the radio upright, the received signal clears up fine. It’s not a big problem, it just means I can’t look cool holding the radio sideways like they do on TV or in the movies.

All things the same, only different...
It turns out under identical power levels & operating conditions, the UV-82HP’s transmitted audio signal into the repeater was louder than both UV-5R’s. This was confirmed through signal reports from my contact, who didn’t know which radio I was using. Perhaps carrier deviation is just hotter in this particular HT, but over all, the UV-82HP had a better quality signal than both of my UV5-R’s. Actually, I’m more lead to think it's the battery capacity of the different radio models making the difference, the UV-5R’s using stock 1500 mAh. batteries, vs the UV-82HP, with 1800 mAh. (That’s a little radio tech secret… you get a cleaner signal with greater battery capacity.) 
The batteries and supplied chargers are not interchangeable between the UV-82HP & the UV-5R.  
This may also explain the longer times between charges, just listening to the FM radio.

The Main Event
On testing range, I tried all three... the two UV-5R's, and the UV-82HP, to get into a distant repeater, each using their highest transmit power.
It ended up being no contest...
For this test, I worked into the 1500' blowtorch of the Pee Dee region, the W4PDE 2 meter repeater outside of Dillion SC, 57 miles away, it covers a 125 mile radius. 

With several attempts, both UV-5R’s couldn't raise the repeater, no response at all. 
I expected that, it was quite a stretch for 4 watt UV-5R’s to get that far, with me standing at street level. But surprisingly, the UV-82HP hit the repeater first time with ease.  My contact, Tim W2SOC, reported my signal clear & readable with some white noise. Still, a VERY respectable report. Later on that evening, back home, The UV-82HP reached the Dillion repeater again, this time at 50 miles. Sadly again, both UV-5R’s couldn’t cut the mustard. In the past, I had got into the Dillion repeater from my front porch with one of my UV-5R's ...on a good day. It wasn't one of those days for a UV-5R, but another day in paradise for the UV-82HP.


All things being the same, the UV-82HP has better signal quality overall than my UV-5R's. As for it’s greater power settings, it’s obvious the radio’s range is significantly greater.

Showing Off...
At this years local field day, the UV-82HP was the belle of the ball because it was NEW! 

I got the radio in the hands of as many Hams as I could for their feedback.  Owners of UV-5R’s liked it's fit & finish, and everyone liked it's greater power output. Those who own older UV-82’s were envious, but knew it was the logical next step in the model line. 
The two-button PTT feature, used to select between two banks of memory, was initially confusing for UV-5R owners, but they quickly caught on to how it eliminates need to manually select between memory banks, and allows you to work two separate stations, just by pressing one or the other key button. If you don’t like the feature, you can turn it off in the settings using programming software. 
One noted the '82 seemed more geared for using preset memories, which it is, arriving out of the box set up in channel mode. You hold down the menu button when turning on, to switch the radio to frequency mode. I also showed both radios to Hams who don't own neither radio, asked them to pick which one they like. Most chose the UV-82HP over the UV-5R because it felt "more like a radio”, (One even called the '5R "a toy radio")

Assessing UV-82HP's set up & ease of use. 
Right off the bat I noticed manual programming is more refined than with the UV-5R series, however, a practiced hand is still needed to set up & load memories manually. It’s obvious the radio begs to be programmed plugged into a computer, using programming software like CHIRP.  Incidentally, the ’82 doesn't come with programming software or a USB programming cable. Not a problem with those who already have a earlier model Baofeng, but if you’re new to the brand, you should consider getting the programming cable too. Trust me, you’ll want one, even with this radio. The included manual is thick, informative, and written by someone here in the US.
Using the most recent daily build of CHIRP software, (it’s very good free software BTW), & accessing for the local repeater list, I had the radio on the air, 5 minutes out of the box.

Summing Up
I’m impressed with the UV-82HP, it's a big step up from the UV-5R, with a more refined design. Overall, the radio is easy to set up using programming software & a USB cable, (which most Baofeng radio owners already own), and it has plenty of transmit power. It’s a perfect alternative to the popular high power variant of the UV-5R, the Baofeng BF-F8HP. It appears cross-compatibility of batteries & chargers between same model series radios would be a factor. If your comfortable with how a UV-5R operates, and seek greater power, then go with the BF-F8HP. However if you seek a more refined design in functions & form, along with very respectable range, you should take a serious look at the UV-82HP, I think you’ll be very glad you did.

Friday, May 22, 2015

VP Small Engine Fuel in for the Long Haul

We all want gas powered equipment to last as long as possible, but with any mower, weed trimmer, generator, or the like, the fuel you use can take a toll, especially ethanol-blended street gas that sat in storage during the off-season. Despite your best intentions, you'll likely use last years gas because the stuff is too expensive to waste otherwise. 

But the cost of discarding old gas pales in comparison with the cost of the damage it can do.  Because of the ethanol in it, gasoline from the pump can break down in just a matter of weeks and do a number on small engines.  The ethanol attracts moisture so you get water in your gas, not to mention varnish and gums.  This leads to clogged up carburetors, or worse, worn out cylinder valves, & exhaust systems. Then you get to deal with the grief  of equipment that won’t start and the cost of repairs.

But what if you can count on fuel you used last August, to run just as clean & clear the following May? How about a stockpile of fuel to be perfectly usable FIVE YEARS down the road? Too fantastic? Well, that's EXACTLY what you can count on in VP Small Engine Fuels. They are indeed, in for the long haul.

The professional racing community knows VP Racing Fuel is top notch quality fuel... pure, powerful fuel. Now they offer a line of consumer grade gas products, including a line of fuels specifically made for small engines.
A Bad Sign

Gas at most convenience stores contains ethanol to reduce the cost of gas at the pump, but that's bad news from a Prepping standpoint, especially in relying on gas engines in the event of an interruption of gas supplies. The relatively short shelf life of ethanol mixed fuel is significant enough to consider alternatives to gas combustion engines in most long term Prepping plans.

That's where VP Small Engine Fuel offers the advantage of pure, high octane fuel, and in doing so, offers a great benefit for those seeking to stockpile gas for far longer than normal... for years, without need of  conditioning.
VP Racing introduces it's Small Engine Fuel products.

VP Racing Fuels sent a sampler of their Small Engine Fuel to try out. Very fortunate too, since I'm nursing along a 30 year old garden tractor, and anything that keeps it in service has got my full attention. It's a perfect test bed to try out their fuel too. While I can't attest to shelf life claims yet, I've stowed away one can of 4-stroke fuel & in five years I'll give it a try to see how well (or how little) it's aged.  From first glance though, I see it ready for use even longer because it's about as pure a fuel as you can buy. No additives, no ethanol, & with a 94 octane rating, it's premium gas.  

Getting the tired motor on the tractor running for another season is always a hit or miss affair... literally. The engine coughs & sputters at first. Even with fresh gas, it blows out deposits that's accumulated over winter. But this time, I ran it with a can of VP Small Engine Fix-It Fuel. Designed as a single use treatment, Fix-It Fuel is an ETHANOL-FREE 89 Octane gas + oil blend. Fix-it fuel cleans and repairs the fuel system, without having to remove the carburetor or injectors.
Other than needing to adjust low speed & high speed idle, the engine roared to life just fine. I only needed half a can as directed, so I'll have a second treatment if necessary.

I'm not a EOTW type, but I fully understand the desire to stockpile supplies for any eventuality. While I have gas powered generators on hand "just in case", I've always feared they're not a long term solution, due to fuel aging over time. So it's obvious, stocking up on VP Small Engine Fuel is not just smart, it's CRITICAL if you want to see the life of your small engines and their use extended for a long, LONG time.
One can dream...

You can find VP Small Engine Fuel products in stores nationwide. Can't find it near you? Just order it on Amazon, or direct from their website.

Count on VP Small Engine Fuel products to see you through... in the long haul. VPRacing Fuels: