MCACS Annual Meeting and Election of Officers

The MCACS Annual Meeting was held on February 23. The main order of business was the election of board members.

The results of the election are as follows:

Al Taylor, KN3U, President

Tom Horne, W3TDH, Vice President

(Tom also serves as the ARES Emergency Coordinator for Montgomery County.)

Fred Bader, K3CSX, Secretary

Jennifer St. James, KC3HEC, Treasurer

Allan Platky, W3ADP, Director

Paul FitzGerald, N3RQV, Director

Joe Massi, KB3JG, Director

Bob Novas, W3DK, Director

The new directors will be seated at the Board meeting on March 8 and serve for two years.

On-Air ICS Training

As mentioned in a recent email to the members, we have embarked on a campaign to get more of our members to complete the four FEMA courses required for full membership in MCACS. For the next several weeks, on each of our weekly nets, we will be going sequentially through each of the online courses together as a group, which each participant clicking through the slides on their own computer while we discuss the material on the net. We started with The IS-100.c course on January 26, completing Lesson 1. On February 2, KC3MIX presented Lesson 2. We’ll report our progress each week on the Calendar page, so if you miss a net for some reason, you can go through the material on your own.

If you missed either of these nets, you can easily catch up. Just click on the course link and read through the first 41 slides. It will probably take you less than a minute per slide.

Eventually, when it is time to take the exam, you will need a FEMA Student ID. It is exceptionally easy to obtain your Student ID. Just click here and fill in the online registration form — which only asks for basic information. Registration is not required to access the course — only the exam.

GPS Hockey Puck Receiver for Laptop Computer

As mentioned on the December 22 net, you can buy an inexpensive hockey puck GPS receiver for about $30. It comes with a short cord and USB plug. It appears to the computer as a COM port and delivers the GPS data as an RS-232 bitstream at 4800 or 9600 baud, depending on the model. At this price point, you don’t get the 1 pulse-per-second output, but you do get reasonably accurate lat/long coordinates and GPS time accurate to a fraction of a second.

I know of two uses for these receivers. One is to pair the GPS receiver with a software program called NMEATime from VisualGPS. NMEATime runs in the background and keeps the PC’s clock synchronized to GPS time. This is very handy for running FT-8, or for operating in a contest where you want contacts to be recorded in the log at the right time. NMEATime version 2 is shareware, with a free trial download and a $20 fee for continued use. An earlier version of the program is free, and works quite well.

The second killer app for a cheap GPS receiver is a feature that is built into Winlink Express. Winlink has a tool that allows you to send a service message to the Common Message Server (CMS) containing your current GPS coordinates and a brief text message. Your position is shown on a map at the Winlink website a few seconds later, and there are various tracking features available for advanced users. Winlink also automatically forwards the message to, so you can use Winlink to drop “bread crumbs” on the APRS map even if your radio isn’t equipped with APRS.

If you have a GPS receiver, you tell Winlink Express which COM port and baud rate to use, and the software takes the lat/long coordinates directly from the GPS. If you don’t have a GPS receiver connected (or can’t “see” the sky from your operating position), you can enter the lat/long into Winlink Express manually to drop a bread crumb. Look for this feature in the Winlink Express menu under Settings .. GPS / Position Reports.

The GPS receiver I use is GlobalSat BU-353-S4. It is widely available, and there are many similar units available on Amazon, eBay, and many other fine retailers. I make no claim that this model is the best or least expensive option out there. I only know that it works with both NMEATime and Winlink Express (but not at the same time!). It works in my basement as long as I have the receiver near a window or wood wall.

I recently purchased a second BU-353 for use with my go-kit laptop. To my surprise, it didn’t work when I initially plugged it in. Click here to learn how I solved the problem.