”New” Laptop Computers

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    The Burlingame office of the American Red Cross has given our club 8 older, laptop computers to further our goals of providing communication during times of need. At least 6 of these have passed their Power On Self Test and three are complete including hard drives (which have been wiped.) We’d need to find some spare parts but the first 3 could probably be fielded for perhaps $75 total and the next 3 for about $225 total. If there’s interest we could set up a separate fund for this and ask for donations or???

    I’d like to hear your suggestions.

    Here’s my idea to get discussion rolling: How about assembling standard, digital communication stations with software for WinLink (email) and FLDigi (HF, digital communications) pre-installed, ready to use? We could deploy these with the Emergency Coordinators or someone whom they designate. It could be on a rotating basis.

    My idea is that these stations be used to check into a regular net so that users are familiar with their operation when we need them. Since all of the computers will have the same configuration, anyone familiar with one of them could use any other. I’d suggest holding 1 (perhaps 2?) computers in reserve so that we have a hot spare that can be swapped in if there’s a problem or when we have to make software updates.

    Having standard stations wouldn’t preclude anyone building their own station if they want one, but it would ensure that we have a working station in place where and when we need it, and it would serve as an easy introduction to the technology to someone just starting out.

    Bob, W6RES

    Wow! Great news, Peter!

    And a great proposal as well: I like both the recommended use of the laptops as well as the notion of a standing digital net, an extension of our weekly chats in another format.

    Given the many different ways different radios want to be talked to by a digital system, would you anticipate that these be configured with a standard TNC in mind? Would each user own the interface from the serial port of the computer to their radio, or… ?


    Fantastic news, Peter! Love your idea. Thanks.


    Pat; Thank you, but credit goes to our generous donors and to the club members who will take the time to learn to use this new equipment. Hardware doesn’t get the job done by itself.

    Bob; Excellent question! Right now, I think that most (maybe all) of our ECs have similar mobile radios for packet like FT-8800 or FT-8900. If that’s the case and if the club approves, we could buy/use a standard TNC that travels with the computer. On the other hand, if the hardware is too disparate, we might have to have radio specific TNCs. I know that you and Neil have been testing out the Byonics TinyTrak4 and I recently had a chance to play with one and I’m quite impressed by its performance. After helping Neil interface his with an FT-8800, I saved the configuration file so we can easily clone it if we get more of these in the club. I’ve also been testing some of the new, sound card modems and there have been some significant improvements, recently.

    One other thing that we’ve been working on: It looks like the club will be getting the hardware for a packet digipeater which will extend the range of our existing WinLink station that lives up on Skyline. If we put the new digipeater above Butano, it would provide redundant coverage for much of our primary service area, that is from Tunitas Creek south to the county line, and it would add instant coverage for Half Moon Bay so that they can start using the system. I’m advocating, to the powers that be, adding a second WinLink station up on Mt. Montara which would give almost all of San Mateo County, Coastside and Bayside, access to at least one WinLink node. The implementation is beyond the scope of our club’s resources (and, frankly, our interests) but I think that the right groups are interested.

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