All posts by Luis

Transitioning to WordPress

After several years using the Joomla Content Mangement System to run Integrated Overland, we have made the decision to switch to WordPress.  While there is much work to be done with this transition, we feel that Joomla as a platform has been on a decline and has limited our ability to keep the website updated.  WordPress appears to have a healthy user base and more continuous support.

Bear with us as we transition all of our content to WP from Joomla.  We have completed a full database migration of the core content, but some of the CMS features and structure are different and we have to go back and address to differences within existing content.  In addition, we previously used the Flickr system as a content deliver for photos so that they would load faster and also allow us to add a more significant amount of photos to our content without having to deal with bandwidth and space limitations.  The software we used for delivering this data is not compatible with WordPress, and we are trying to find a suitable alternative.  In the meantime, a good portion of those photo sets will not be functional until we settle on a final plug-in or software to fetch and deliver the content from Flickr.

It is our hope that this transition will make creating and maintaining content easier.

Compact Rugged Stroller

With space being a significant consideration when taking off on an Overland Adventure, compact and functional baby essentials are key to bringing along the comforts of home in a Overland friendly sized package.

A stroller can be an indispensable tool when traveling with your little ones.  Any time you leave your vehicle in an unknown area, you have to be prepared for whatever can come at you.  This often means loading up some emergency rations, clothing for changes in weather, and plenty of supplies to help take care of any baby needs.  A stroller frees you to carry some of this gear, and also provides a means for transporting some of it. Continue reading Compact Rugged Stroller

Track Your Adventures for Free – Part IV – The Software

This article is Part IV of a series called Track Your Adventures for Free where I outline how to use Ham Radio and your Smartphone as an affordable APRS tracking system.  For reference, here are links to the first 3 parts:

In part III we modified a smartphone headset and our Baofeng UV-5R headset to create an interface between the speaker and microphone of the two devices.  As a refresher, in part I we discussed how APRS works using digital packets that are encoded in analog signals.  The ham radio will receive these analog signals, which are audible to the human ear, and we must get these analog signals to our smartphone so it can decode the digital packets of information that are encoded in the signal.  These packets will contain the APRS position and identification data from transmitting stations.  On the other side of things, our smartphone will also use its internal GPS to determine your current position, and then use this data to create an AX.25 encoded analog signal that it will send to the ham radio to broadcast your position. Great, but how do we accomplish this?

The answer, for Android based smartphones, is to use a piece of software called APRSDroid.  It is available on the Google Play store for $4.99, lifetime updates included via the play store.  However, the developer also provides the software for free on the APRSDroid Website.  You can download the APK to your Android phone and install it outside of the market at no cost to evaluate it.  Just keep in mind that because it was installed manually, updates will not come via the Google Play store like other apps.  You will have to keep track of new releases as they come out and manually install them.  I recommend purchasing the app once you have evaluated it and made sure it works out for you simply to support the developer in his great work and also to ensure you always have the latest version.

After you install the application either manually or purchasing it on the Play Store, open the application and you will be greeted with the following:

APRSdroid Start

For many of you, this will probably be the first time you hear about APRS-IS.  APRS-IS (Automatic Packet Reporting System-Internet Service) is the common name given to the Internet-based network which inter-connects various APRS radio networks throughout the world (and space). APRS-IS is maintained and operated by volunteer Amateur Radio operators to provide world-wide capabilities to the Amateur Radio APRS RF networks and to promote the Amateur Radio service as a whole.  Because you will be injecting information into the APRS-IS system, which is designed for licensed amateur radio operators (Hams), you must be properly identified to obtain the privilege.  Assuming you do not already have an APRS-IS passcode, you should click on the “Request Passcode” link to continue.

Continue reading Track Your Adventures for Free – Part IV – The Software

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park has been a destination that always came up on our list of places to go but never quite materialized.  It just so happened that a friend of ours and a small group planned a trip to Death Valley and the dates landed perfectly between all of our other commitments.  Before we knew it, we were all packed up and ready to go for 3 days of excellent exploration.

Day 1 & 2:

We headed out after a busy day of work to camp for the night at our meeting point for the next day, the Wildrose Campground.  Wildrose is a great place to stay if you are looking for a developed area.  It has 23 sites available, with running water, tables, fire pits, and pit toilets; there is no fee to stay.  It is open all year, and accessible by any type of vehicle.   We rolled in pretty late that night, greeted our friends Tim and Molly, popped open our tent and went to bed.

The next morning, the rest of the group arrived and after a quick drivers meeting and route discussion, some of us headed over to see the Charcoal Kilns at the nearby Wildrose Canyon.  The Charcoal Kilns were said to be built in 1877 by the Modock Consolidated Mining Company to produce charcoal to fuel a nearby lead-silver mine’s smelters.  Charcoal burns slower and hotter than wood, and is made from wood in kilns such as these to convert it to a roughly 96% carbon content.  The particular kilns are about 25 feet high, and are very well preserved.

Death Valley Charcoal Kilns

After the Kilns we headed towards the Stovepipe Wells Ranger station stopping at Aguereberry Point (Elevation 6433 ft) along the way.  We were excited to spot wild Desert Bighorn Sheep roaming along the trail.  Riley was certainly excited to encounter wild life, so we stopped and admired their behavior.

Death Valley Wildlife

It was a hot day and we’d finally made it to Stovepipe Wells ranger station where we picked up a few supplies and purchased our permits.  They also had National Park Passport stamps available, so we added Death Valley to our stamp collection.  We stopped for lunch a few miles down from the Ranger Station at the dunes, the elevation was Sea Level, and the mid-day heat was on.  We pulled to the pull-through spots in order to park the Jeep and trailer and ended up being quite the show for the tourists.  Because of the heat and lack of shade, I deployed the ARB awning from the side of the trailer and we setup tables and chair underneath to have lunch.  We had Japanese tourists actually stop and take pictures and we realized what glampers we were at the moment.  Here we were having an elaborate community lunch, with ice cold drinks out of our refrigerators amidst such harsh environment.  Creature comforts make all the difference in how you experience travel. Continue reading Death Valley National Park

Track Your Adventures for Free – Part III – Making the Connection

This article is Part III of a series called Track Your Adventures for Free where I outline how to use Ham Radio and your Smartphone as an affordable APRS tracking system.  For reference, here are links to the first 2 parts:

In part II I closed on the mention of modifying the BaoFeng headset and a smartphone headset such that the speaker output of the BaoFeng radio is connected to the microphone input of the Smartphone, and also have the Smartphone speaker output connect to the BaoFeng radio’s microphone input.  This is, for the most part, simple, but at Integrated Overland we like to build things that are technically sound and designed to remain functional.  Yes, you could simply cut the wires off the ends of the cables and connect the Speaker + and – to the microphone + and -, but this will result in problems down the road that have the potential to damage either your radio or smartphone, or both.  I am going to explain the technical details behind this, but I want to start off by ensuring you that doing it right is still a simple process and only requires adding 4 resistors.  Don’t be discouraged by the tech talk, this is still very simple, and you can feel free to skip ahead if you just want to implement the solution.  You can also skip the solution altogether and just pair the wires together, at the very end of the article I will discuss how to do this in a way that will minimize the risk, but given how simple the solution is, you may want to give it a shot.

So what’s the problem? The problem is that for both the radio and Smartphone, the speaker signals are designed to drive earphone speakers and produce audible noise.  This means that the speaker outputs are higher power outputs.  However, the microphone input for both and for most devices in general is designed to operate with low power signals that are generated by the microphone.  This means that you are trying to put higher power signals from the speaker into a port that is designed for lower power signals.  The speaker output levels for typical devices can range anywhere from 2V to 20V in amplitude (partially depending on the volume level).  A microphone input level is typically on the lowest end of this spectrum at around 0.2V to up to around 2V.  On an even more technical side note, the speaker and microphone ports have different impedance levels, but this is less important as we aren’t trying to achieve maximum signal transfer in either case.

So our basic problem is simple, we have a voltage level problem, we need to reduce the voltage, which is much easier than needing to amplify the voltage.  We have to shift a 2V-20V signal into a 0.2V-2V signal.  Incidentally, this is a 10 to 1 reduction, and because we all love technical details, we’ll mention this is a 20dB reduction.

The basic solution to a basic problem then becomes a basic voltage divider circuit (and the cessation of usage of the word basic).  We need a 10:1 voltage divider, which can be achieved with 2 resistors.  The resistors have to have a 10 to 1 difference to meet the criteria, so you can use a 1kΩ resistor, and a 100Ω resistor, or different combinations of 10 to 1 ratio values.  However, I recommend that you use a 10kΩ resistor and a 1kΩ resistor.  Why? Because this would put roughly a 10kΩ impedance on the speaker side (high side), and a 1kΩ impedance on the microphone side.  This is more suitable for the application.  Now, to properly cover the basics, below are 2 images of what this voltage divider circuit looks like.

 Voltage Divider Example 1   Voltage Divider Example 2

These two circuits above are exactly the same.  I simply wanted to illustrate that the way these are shown in the schematic is not relevant to its operation in case we have readers who are unfamiliar with schematics.  What matters is the order, meaning that the input side has to enter into the higher value 10kΩ resistor, and then at the other side of the 10kΩ resistor, you tap your output, but this same point is connected to ground via the 1kΩ resistor.  How you lay it out in application does not matter as long as the connections are made at the correct point.

So we have solved the problem of reducing our signal levels, now how do we apply the solution to our particular problem? The answer is as follows:

Continue reading Track Your Adventures for Free – Part III – Making the Connection

Track Your Adventures for Free – Part II – The Hardware

In Part I of Track Your Adventures for Free, I made mention of using APRS as a tracking system at a much lower cost than APRS ready radios such as the Yaesu FTM-400DR and the popular Kenwood TM-D710A that are upwards of $500 for the radio alone.  These radios are exceptional, a beautiful rendition of hardware, but unnecessary.  What makes them uniquely suited for APRS is that they have GPS capability to determine your position, and they also have a built in TNC (Terminal Node Controller), which is essentially in charge of converting your digital data into an analog audio tone representation of that data using the AX.25 protocol.  It serves as a modem allowing you to transmit your digital position data obtained from the GPS, and also decodes the AX.25 coded tones that arrive from other users and converts them to digital data on receive.  Other functions are supported, such as messaging, but we can discuss those features as we progress.

While a TNC might seem complicated, it is a rather simple and primitive device in comparison to today’s technology.  Our smartphones are millions of times more capable, and this is what we will be taking advantage of.  With the Yaesu and Kenwood radios, you still have to connect to an external device if you want to see the position data on a map.  This is usually done by connecting it to an expensive GPS unit for mapping (only a limited set are supported), or to a smartphone/computer running mapping software.  Using a smartphone or computer to also perform the TNC function therefore seems logical.

To summarize, what you need for APRS is:

  1. A radio capable of transmitting and receiving in the 2 meter (144MHz) ham band (highly recommend one that supports VOX [voice activated transmission]).
  2. A GPS receiver.
  3. A device that can serve as a TNC to convert your GPS data into an audio signal
  4. A way to connect your TNC device to your radio
  5. Ideally, a device that can put position data on a map to help you visualize where APRS users are relative to you, and also display messages and allow you to compose messages if you choose to use that feature.

That’s it.  If you get these 5 items, you are ready for APRS.  What most people don’t realize is that a smartphone is capable of doing 2, 3, and 5.  So what’s left? A radio, and a way to connect your smartphone to your radio. So lets look at the simplest solution:

Continue reading Track Your Adventures for Free – Part II – The Hardware

Track Your Adventures for Free

Adventures are meant to be shared! But for those of us in the Overland community, our adventures often take us to places where there is no voice or data reception.  While smartphones have the ability to beacon your position to share with friends and family back home, they are only as effective as your carrier’s coverage area.  Most people make the switch to a satellite based tracking device such as the SPOT Connect or InReach to fill this void.  However, these devices require that you pay a subscription for both their emergency beaconing features, and an additional fee if you want to track your travels.  This isn’t always cost effective, and comes with several limitations.

A trend we see among the Overland community is that most are licensed ham radio operators or have plans to become licensed.  Those who are licensed can take advantage of the Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) that is deployed all over the world through a network of volunteer ham radio operators and organizations.  APRS is a digital communication system designed to support several tactical communication objects, one of which is Global Position System (GPS) data.  The network is formed by a collaborative deployment of digital repeaters (digipeaters) that listen for packet data on the designated local APRS frequency.  In North America, that frequency is 143.390 MHz, and if you tune your radio to that frequency you will hear the AX.25 protocol frames being transmitted much like an old modem or fax machine sound.  The digipeters listen for local signals and re-transmit them at a higher power to propagate them over long distances much like a traditional voice repeater works.  However, APRS packets can go through a specified number of hops through various digipeters, and this is selectable via the “PATH” instruction in your digital packet.  Using PATH, you decide how far your actual transmitted signal is physically repeated on the network. This gives you some control over how your position beacon packets propagate.  Most importantly, your packet will usually hit an APRS Internet Gate (known as an iGate) that will connect to the APRS Internet System (APRS-IS).  APRS-IS is the reason why you are able to share your data with others, because your position packet data is then available on the website and that information can be accessed accross the world by anyone with an internet connection and who knows your call sign.  It is important to note that APRS does not require the internet, that is just a bonus. It can work from radio-to-radio, allowing groups to track each other real-time.  This again, highlights the use of PATH because of the geographical location of your group members.  If you are all within 50 miles of each other, then a single digipeter transmission should cover your group, but if one is 100 miles away you would want to increase your PATH to ensure that your radio waves reach their particular radio.

Continue reading Track Your Adventures for Free

A Quick Smartphone GPS Backup Plan

Paper maps are a last resort for us when trying to get anywhere off pavement.  We rely on our GPS system to rapidly pinpoint our location and mark us on the map in real time.  It means the difference between having to take 5 minutes to plan out a route, versus twice as long to flip through paper maps.  But, what happens if you primary GPS system fails? Chances are that you are going to have a less than enjoyable time if you have to spend the rest of a long trip meticulously tracking yourself on a paper map.

Since most of us have a smartphone with GPS, it is a good idea to set them up as a backup system in case this happens.  We’ve tried several options for offline and off-road navigation on our Android based smartphones, but the fastest, easiest, and ultimately best solution as a backup has been Google Maps.  As of Google Maps version 5.0, you can download pretty large sections of maps for offline use.  The sections do have a size limit (though fairly large), but you can download multiple sections to cover entire states.  Most importantly, the downloads are fast and the map file sizes are the most reasonable! An entire state can download in a matter of minutes, and only take about 400MB of space.

Here is a walk-through of how easy it is to setup an offline map in Google Maps:

Continue reading A Quick Smartphone GPS Backup Plan

Baby First Aid

Before heading out on any adventure, you should have a comprehensive first aid kit appropriate for everyone in your group.  This is particularly important for babies, as they have special needs and considerations.  Your baby first aid items should be kept separate but next to the rest of your first aid gear.  This is important because in an emergency, you do not want to have to search for the items you need or figure out what is safe to use on baby.  Our approach was to use a Ziploc bag of baby specific items, this is a good practice in general, and we have created several different scenario based Ziploc bags for adults as well.  With a clearly labeled set of baby items, you will be able to get to what you need quickly.

Here are some important considerations for your Overland Baby First Aid Kit:

Continue reading Baby First Aid

Protecting Baby from the Sun

Baby’s sensitive skin requires special consideration when exposed to the sun.  A baby’s skin is thinner and more fragile and therefore quicker to experience negative effects from exposure to the sun without adequate protection.  Any time you anticipate being out of the vehicle, you should preemptively apply sun protection to your baby (it is advisable to apply sun screen 30 minutes before expected exposure).  Unlike adults, even five minutes of sun exposure can lead to irritation of the skin and in some cases a sun burn on a baby. A sun burn can affect your baby’s core temperature, temperament, and can lead to having to terminate a trip early.  Luckily, there are many choices for protecting your baby from the sun and keeping baby comfortable.

We recommend some of the following methods:

Continue reading Protecting Baby from the Sun