WAPR News November 2004

by Andy Nemec, KB9ALN


On behalf of everyone who has a hand in WAPR, I'd like to take this opportunity to say Happy Holidays and Thanks to everyone who has kept packet radio alive and kicking in Wisconsin.  

And alive it is! As regular readers may know, last September my busy schedule left me no room to get anything together for the Badger State Smoke Signals' October edition. A lot has happened since then, and it's good news, too.

I had tossed around the idea in the August issue of making this feature quarterly, as we had not much activity to report. That has changed this month, and I may think some more on this. So without further adieu, let's talk about the latest news.

A Packet Resurgence?

Earlier this year, you recall that I told you about Al, K9ALS (ex KB9BYQ) and his decision to shut down his BBS and gateway, WIGATE. After a few months' worth of rest, Al has surprised us all by getting back into packet with his old setup. Of course, his callsign has changed, but the complete setup he used to have - including the important backbone node joining the east and west networks - is in place. Yes, his Internet E-Mail and message forwarding gateway is also there.

Al's re-entrance into packet seems to have stirred people up - in a good way, of course. Recently, we've seen users who missed Al's system return, and it's stirred many to consider going ahead with former plans or just re-entering the packet system in some way.

Case in point: Greg, KB9SZP. He at one time had plans to add a node into the system, and put it on hold due to a lack of meaningful connectivity. He's now considering moving ahead with a modified version of those plans.  

As you may know, Greg is the owner/operator of the Ogdensburg (Waupaca) node stack. Currently, there is a backbone node and a LAN node that is (and has been for quite some time) in operation. While the LAN node sees little use, the backbone node has seen plenty. Greg has proposed keeping the backbone node in place, which will serve the network well, and converting the LAN node into an APRS digipeater. It will see more use as an APRS digi than a node. While we hate to see a LAN node go away, it's hard to argue with Greg's logic - if it sees no use, why keep it up there? And he has graciously agreed to keep the backbone node in place, and add another where we are having network connectivity problems. What a guy!  

That's not all happening in the state. Greg's brother Jeff (N9WBR) was also getting discouraged by the lack of activity and is encouraged by the new interest. Jeff operates a node near Steven's Point that also provides essential network connectivity.

And what of the east-central area of the state? Green Lake may well have a node stack again in the near future. Dave, KB9VLH has been doing testing for Green Lake to see how packet can be an asset to Green Lake County's ARES operation. His tests so far have been encouraging.

Recently, Aaron, KB9QWC sent me a note updating me on what he's been up to lately. Some of you may recall that Aaron has been past Vice-President of WAPR and quit to devote his time to school in Oshkosh. He, too has been encouraged by the upswing in activity and is digging his old equipment out of the closet and resurrecting his BBS. He did manage to connect up to my BBS in Green Bay, so he is "back on the air".

He's not the only one who likes the new packet activity. Bob, KA9JAC used to operate a BBS in Neenah. He is relocating to the Medina area and is considering reviving his BBS as well. No firm decision has been made as of this writing.

There have been other mentions of longtime packet operators returning to the air, and all I can say is "Welcome Back".

Why the sudden rekindling of interest? Perhaps a couple of reasons. First is the renewed emphasis on Emergency Communications within the Amateur Radio ranks. Some organizations are finding that packet can be a helpful addition to their communications system.

Along the same lines, the ARRL has designated Winlink 2000 as a standard E-Mail Traffic Handling system intended for relaying Emergency traffic in conjunction with the Internet, AMTOR and conventional Packet radio. There's a lot more to it than that, but suffice to say that packet can be a valuable extension to the Winlink 2000 system and many are realizing it. (On a side note, we'll have an article on Winlink 2000 in a future issue).

Another possible reason is that some of us who have been doing this for years got a little tired of the whole endeavor, and needed a break. They saw nodes and BBSs disappearing and figured there was no need to do it any more. After a pause and further reflection, they reconsidered.

No matter the reason, let's embrace it and enjoy it. This is an opportunity to correct past mistakes and enhance our packet capability. Best of all, we get to try and remember how to use software that hasn't been started in months!

Algoma Nodes Still Off-Air

You might remember that the Algoma node stack was swamped and hit by a power surge last summer and knocked off the air. I have retrieved it and it is currently being repaired. It will be back in operation by the time you read this. 

On a related subject, packet will again be in a supporting role for our December 7th Nuclear power plant drill involving Kewaunee and Manitowoc counties. If you see unusual packet traffic on that day, remember that it is all drill traffic.

New "Packet Map" in the Works

It's been quite a while since we had a working node map of the State of Wisconsin. The last one was done perhaps 4 years ago by Aaron, KB9QWC. A lot has changed, and a lot of people don't have the foggiest notion of what is out there these days.

This has led me to spearhead a unique effort. I am currently assembling a list of local-to-me nodes and BBSs and sending it off to people through the state via E-Mail. It's hoped that each recipient will add nodes that they know about to this list, and return it to me. I'll then edit, sort out any entries that may conflict, and then distribute the complete list. This is an "Open-Source" approach to assembling a packet list. While it may not be an exhaustive list, it will certainly give us the best results for the amount of effort involved. 

You may have already received a notice through one of the mailing lists. If you are in a position to do so (meaning that you have sufficient knowledge of your local nodes and you have the time), please reply and send me information that we'll find helpful. Here's what we have been collecting:

Location - Nearest City or Town
Alias of the Node or BBS
Call-Sign of the Node or BBS
Node type, BBS type, or other info.
(Such as weather BBS or Emergency Management/ ARES BBS. Node versions can be obtained by issuing the "U" command).
Baud Rate and if the node is a LAN,
Backbone, DX or other type of node.
Any notes on special operation.

When the completed list is compiled and checked, I will distribute text versions via the packet network and E-Mail, and place a graphic version here (space permitting) and on the Internet.

Thanks for your help, your fellow packet operators will appreciate it.

The Importance of "Packet Play"

We've touched on one important aspect of packet radio - Emergency Communications. As rewarding and useful of an activity that can be, there is a bunch of other stuff that can be done with packet radio. Best of all, it's fun stuff.

Yes, we are allowed to and do encourage having fun with packet radio. Did you ever realize that "strictly fun" activities have value in the packet world?

Child-rearing experts tell us that children learn a great deal from play. So do we, both as individuals and a packet community. We learn things about communications, software, hardware, operating and of course, people. But we also learn more than that.

We learn how our network performs, where its weak and strong points are. If the only time we use a packet network is for emergency operating, we may never know if a portion of the system has failed, or is ready to fail. "Packet Playtime" puts the system through its paces and may show us shortcomings that could cause problems when we are called to operate during an emergency situation.

Here's one important note on emergency operating facilities, however. Some are dedicated to ARES and RACES work, and access is limited for that reason. As a general rule, avoid using the ARES nodes for 'playtime", unless you have an agreement to use them with the owners/operators of the nodes. These nodes generally appear on 145.61 MHz.

With that possible exception in mind, you're encouraged to play away! And if you do find a problem, contact the person who operates the node, BBS or other facility and let him or her know about the problem. Try and give as much detail about the situation as you can, to help the operator track the problem down. If you can't locate the owner of the packet facility, talk to your local BBS sysop or "packet guru". He or she may know how to contact the operator.

Aside from the practical value of play, I needn't remind you that it's just plain....fun!

That pretty well covers news for this time out. Until next time, 73 from Andy.

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