VK3ARR's SOTA Blog

Ego loqui ad viros super montes

Month: September, 2014

Introducing Parks n Peaks for Android

In conjunction with Allen VK3HRA, who runs the great Parks n Peaks website, I’ve been writing an app for Android to view PnP spots and alerts. It is now ready for a preliminary beta release. Comments and feedback on the app are welcome. It is available at http://parksnpeaks.org/app/parksnpeaks.apk

I tested it myself while on Mt Alexander, before handing it over to Andrew VK1NAM to assist with the testing. Andrew is a big user of Radio Rucksack Tool, the Android equivalent of SOTA Goat. It also turns out Andrew has great experience with QAing releases of software and he found every bug I was aware of, and quite a few I wasn’t. So, if the app has any quality, it is Andrew’s work, not mine. I put the bugs in, he took them out – thank you! One of his suggestions was a user manual, a version of which I will now impart:

The app itself is fairly straight forward. You can swipe left and right, or select the individual tabs to choose either All Spots, just the Parks, just the Peaks, or the Alerts:

The Peaks

The Peaks

Just the Parks

Just the Parks

Alerts

Alerts

Configuration for the app is via the menu (press the menu option on your phone) and then the Setting selection:

Settings

Settings

You have settings for

  • Update Frequency. You can select how often the app updates the spot lists. By default, it should be set to 5 minutes.
  • Spot list length. With this option, you can choose how far back you display spots from. By default, it should be set to 6 hours.
  • Filter VK spots. With this option, you can only show VK spots or choose to display spots from around the world. This is only applicable to SOTA
  • Username. By default, this is empty, and you must enter your Parks n Peaks username here if you want to be able to post spots.
  • Password. Also empty, ready for your Parks n Peaks password.

Finally, to post a spot, select “Post Spot” from the menu. Before you can post a spot, you must enter your username and password in the settings menu. If you don’t, your spot won’t post.

Post spot dialog

Post spot dialog

The Post Spot menu allows you to enter all the relevant details you’d expect, as per the Parks n Peaks website itself. When you choose the spot type (WWFF/SANPCPA/KRMNPA), the dropdown menu for location will change to allow you to select a relevant option. SOTA spotting still requires going to the SOTA website.

Hopefully the tool is useful to all of those who use Android. A simple API exists for someone wanting to write up an iPhone app. If this is you, let me know.

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Mt Alexander VK3/VN-016 and Mt Tarrengower VK3/VN-023

My wife’s desire to head up to Daylesford would normally be tied in with a visit to VK3/VC-032, the nearby unnamed summit in the Wombat State Forest. But, I’d activated that already, and my wife only wanted to spend a small amount of time in Daylesford. She had bigger plans – Clunes, Maldon, The World! – and that meant I cast my net a little wider. I found Mt Alexander (VK3/VN-016) past Castlemaine, and the plan was to have lunch around there, and then I’d tackle Mt Tarrengower (VK3/VN-023) while leaving the family in Maldon.

As it happened, the market in Daylesford was easily dealt with, as were the op shops, and the kids were hungry, so we had lunch ahead of schedule in Daylesford. While waiting for my wife to finalise a commercial transaction, I loaded the children in the car and pulled out a map, noting that we had to drive through Castlemaine. This is another favourite haunt of my wife, so I hatched a plan to have a child-free activation on Mt Alexander. She got to explore Castlemaine, I got to play radio. Perfect, and she jumped at it.

I dropped them off and headed the twenty odd minutes to Mt Alexander, setting up near the old trig point cairn (similar to the one on Mt Macedon). I worked 40m first, qualifying the summit in two minutes, with Andrew VK1NAM, Peter VK3PF, Allen VK3HRA and Amanda VK3FQSO. Allen was curious to find out how much longer I’d be on the summit, as he was going to activate it later that day too. I, of course, had an appointment to keep. S2S’ were had with Adam VK2YK on VK2/HU-054, Matt VK1MA on VK2/SW-026 and, on 20m, Andrew VK1MBE/2 on VK2/NR-044. I tried 15m for all of 5 minutes, before deciding I’d better head back.

The Mt Alexander trig point

The Mt Alexander trig point. I need to take more photos

Back in Castlemaine, I picked up the family, and then we headed off to Maldon, at the foot of Mt Tarrengower. This time, the children wanted to spend the time with me, so I dragged them to the top of the mountain, sat them on a picnic table in plain sight, and headed off down the hill to clear the activation zone. The summit area is a fairly busy place, particularly on a weekend. I set up on a bench seat looking towards Maldon. During the process, I managed to pull the linked dipole down when tying off one of the ends, which result in the whole get-up dropping to the ground. The case surrounding the 1:1 balun I use ended up cracking, but superglue at home dealt with that.

I qualified the summit quickly again, and worked S2S with Andrew VK1DA on VK2/ST-001, John VK2YW on VK2/RI-016 and Bernard VK2IB on VK2/RI-001. The kids amused themselves sorting out piles of quartz from the carpark while I worked 25 QSOs in total. I was then rudely interrupted by Main Child who informed me that as Number 1 child, she needed to do Number 2s. Rather urgently. I went QRT, dropped the squid pole and shoved everything into the boot of the car, and drove back to Maldon. (And not one joke about laying cable…) Needless to say, I got no photos of the set up in the rush to pack up, and to rub salt into the wounds, she lasted the whole way home – 2 hours worth. Hardly urgent.

Brisbane Ranges NP – VKFF-055 – 31 AUG 2014

With my chores done on Sunday, I looked at the glorious weather, looked at the radio equipment, looked at the wife, and asked for a quick hour or two to activate Brisbane Ranges NP. The answer was in the affirmative, if, and only if, I brought back some nice chocolate. This could certainly be arranged.

Brisbane Ranges are the closest National Park to Geelong. I know this because it was one of only 4 questions I got wrong at school when doing a Australian General Knowledge test in Grade 6 for some local competition. I got 56 out of 60, despite being South African and the next person got 38 out of 60, despite being Sri Lankan. The closest Aussie was a very intelligent girl called Alana who got 27 or 28 or thereabouts. She came third by a country mile, which is a sad indictment of the level of Australian General Knowledge amongst Australians in the Geelong Region in 1992 😦

The answer I gave was the You Yangs – location of SOTA peak Flinders Peak. Turns out it’s just a Regional Park or something. No, the Brisbane Ranges are the closest national park, only 25 minutes up the road. It’s an area I know fairly well, because I spent a lot of time either as a child in Anakie Gorge (the main picnic area), as a teenaged Air Force Cadet doing bivouacs and fieldcraft exercises, and as a Air Force Cadet instructor, chasing officers around that had no idea of which end of a compass points north.

Indeed, many hilarious anecdotes stem from this time: the 87 degree NAVEX failure (a group of officers took a wrong bearing – 87 degrees wrong – despite me trying to tell them they were wrong, and spent the next hour wondering why they missed every checkpoint), the time I lost a group of cadets when I turned away quickly to make a SITREP call, turned back and they were gone (camouflage works, alright, and the little bast delights had run off in a different direction) and many instances of bogging a 22-seater bus because someone figured 4WD meant it was a bus with 4 wheels and you could drive it. (We bogged on private property adjoining the park, I’ll add – we never offroaded in the park proper). Turns out unbogging a bus is a great, if somewhat unplanned, leadership exercise.

Brisbane Ranges NP - VKFF-055

Brisbane Ranges NP – VKFF-055

But anyway, I digress. This time I drove up Switch Road, off the Geelong-Ballan Road north of Anakie, and parked the vehicle at the intersection of Nelson’s Track. From here is an easy walk to Nelson’s Lookout, about 30 minutes in total. I intend to try that as an operating area sometime – there’d be pretty good takeoff from there.

I was running out of time, so I just set up at the track intersection and strung out the dipole for 40m. I started with Amanda VK3FQSO who was competing in the ALARA contest, and then wife-and-husband pair Julie VK3FOWL and Joe VK3YSP. Julie was also competing in the ALARA contest, and Joe had never worked Brisbane Ranges before. Another six chasers followed on 40m, less than I was expecting, but a good haul nonetheless.

I switched to 20m, hoping to grab some European DX, but I struggled, even with 60W, to break through European contest QRM. 21 minutes after my last 40m contact, an OE station, Bert OE5WHN managed to pull my signal out at 5 and 5. 11 minutes after that, Ian VK6PXF called in, and we chatted for a bit about Keith Roget and the WWFF scheme: hopefully we have another VK6 convert.

I could hear Andrew VK1NAM knee deep in chasers on Spring Hill VK2/ST-036, but couldn’t hear him. He had 101 chasers in total. I texted him, somewhat in hope, in case he wanted the VKFF reference on 40m, but he didn’t receive it until he had cleared the backlog and I was long gone. I finished with Amanda again for another ALARA contact for her. Hopefully she does well in the contest.

As I was packing up, I was startled by some kangaroos powering their way through the bush – they make a lot of noise. I couldn’t get the camera out in time, unfortunately. I know the Brisbane Ranges have a large Kangaroo population – they had many times tried to grab food out of our packs on exercises while we slept.

Switch Rd - Nelsons Tk intersection.  The kangaroos came bounding across that road at the top right edge of photo about two minutes later

Switch Rd – Nelsons Tk intersection. The kangaroos came bounding across that road at the top right edge of photo about two minutes later

I headed home, stopping only to pick up the promised chocolate. It was even on special, saving me a few dollars; an unexpected bonus. I will go back to Brisbane Ranges sometime this year or early next – it’s too close and too easy to set up for.

Switch Road with plenty of wattle in flower

Switch Road with plenty of wattle in flower

ILLW 2014

I was looking forward to the ILLW weekend this year. Last year, fresh off calling my first SOTA activator, I was keen to keep calling, and ILLW stations added a nice novelty. I had quite a few contacts. This year, I decided to chase with a bit more intent, even though the Saturday was lost to tennis finals (we lost), leaving the Sunday as my main chasing day.

In addition, I was hoping to catch either the Point Hicks lighthouse or the Cape Schanck Lighthouse, as they were located in national parks. I only needed one more NP to reach the 25 NP chasing level for the Keith Roget Memorial National Parks Award.

As it turned out, the Remembrance Day contest seemed to keep a lot of the lighthouse stations off air until the Sunday, so I didn’t miss much, although I never heard either Point Hicks or Cape Schanck (activated on the Saturday).

On the Saturday, I did managed to bag a few long distance lighthouses, Cape Capricorn (AU-0059) in VK4, and Warden Head (AU-0035) in VK2, despite contest QRM.

Sunday I worked Tony VK3VTH/7 early on King Island (Cubby Lighthouse AU-0016), before working the two close lighthouses, Otway Lightstation (AU-0011) and Queenscliff (AU-0051). Joe VK3YSP at Queenscliff was a very strong signal, and we had a good chat with Peter VK3YE as well, pedestrian mobile across the bay on the beach.

After lunch and the contest finished, I worked the Upper Lady Bay lighthouse (AU-0049) and the Williamstown Time Ball Tower (AU-0036). At this point, the Tasmanians came into their own, with Scott VK7NWT, running a lighthouse net on 7100.

I worked Scott first at Rocky Cape lighthouse (AU-0066), and then VK3BEZ at Citadel Island lighthouse (AU-0110) at the Port Albert Maritime Museum (it’s located in the museum grounds, not its original location). Finally, Kevin VK7HKN at Freycinet Island lighthouse (AU-0119), both of us QRP. I added the Table Cape Lighthouse (AU-0039) and Devonport Maritime Museum (AU-0040) to round out the VK7 contingent.

I also worked VK5CJ at Cape Jarvis lighthouse (AU-0094), one of the first lighthouses I worked last year. Andrew dug the contact out of his log as we chatted. I had heard Andrew VK1NAM calling repeatedly, but Andrew was struggling to hear him and largely just calling in the last person, so I let David know there was a VK1 low down, also called Andrew, and I listened to them complete another Andrew-to-Andrew contact.

All up, 13 lighthouses contacted across the weekend, but neither of the two I was hoping for. This proves my adage that if you go out hunting for a particular call, it’ll never happen 😉