Just for grins, try monitoring on 145.01 for half an hour or so. This is the most popular packet freq for general use. No telling, you might find something there. If there's any nodes or servers on the air, they will usually beacon thier I.D. within half an hour, or so. Some BBS stations beacon hourly, so it wouldn't hurt to monitor a little longer.
If no luck there, try 145.03 145.05 145.05 145.07 145.09
APRS allows you to look at a web site and see a little icon on a map, approximately where a particular APRS station is located. It's one of those "gee whizz" deals that is fascinating at first, but rapidly palls. Lots of unrealized potential in APRS, that has remained unrealized throughout its history. No signs of this suddenly changing. It's fun, and some people (easily amused, I suppose) are endlessly fascinated with it. Best way to see if it is for you is to check it out. I don't see much point to it myself, but a lot of Hams are having fun with it, and that's what really counts.
The Amateur TCPIP stuff is a bust, unless you happen to live in immediate proximity of Hams who are willing to spend big bucks and/or a lot of effort into special equipment for a high-speed packet network.. But even then, you would be accessing it at 1.2kb. It "will work" at 1.2kb, kinda like a P.T. Cruiser "will work" with the anemic little engine they put in those things... It looks like a hotrod, it could be a hotrod - but it ain't.
For 1.2kb packet, the best setup by far is old-fashioned AX25 "NetRom" stuff. You can do the most with it, there's tons of free software, some of it pretty good stuff. Also, there's many more AX25 packet stations, nodes, and users than APRS or TCPIP, though APRS is steadily edging up.
For general info, www.packetradio.com
is pretty good.
Steer clear of TAPR. The U.S. packet net went down on thier watch, under the effects of thier policies. To this day, they still have not figured out that thier agenda was (and is) a failure. Hang with them, and you can be sure that you won't go anywhere. 90% of TAPR is a P.R. machine. Inside, there's nothing. They are not really into packet, anymore. A lot of thier effort goes into going through the motions, if you know what I mean.
This group of Hams though, in the northeastern U.S. --http://www.northeastflexnet.org
-- have upgraded and installed over 80 new nodes in the last few years, utilizing a new (to us) AX25 system from Germany that offers significantly better performance than the NetRom style AX25 networking we used in the original U.S. packet network. These people obviously are doing something right... Nobody else in the U.S. is growing and advancing as these guys are.
TAPR's policies did not affect Europe, and during the last decade, while our packet network has died away, thiers has continued to grow, develop, and advance. 9.6kb is the standard home-station speed there, with nodes talking to each other typically at 19.2kb, full duplex. There are packet nodes in Europe that pass 10 megabytes of traffic a day. You can have a good keyboard QSO with a ham 600 km. away, all over Ham Radio, not Internet links. The network software they use (FlexNet) is also far in advance of what we have ever developed, here in the U.S.
It's no wonder... We are about 15 years behind them in both development and implementation. - Thanks to policies originating from and promoted by TAPR.
Many, many moons ago, TAPR helped get packet in the U.S. started by standardizing the TNC2 and offering it as a kit. - Then they did nothing else significant for packet for over a decade, resting on thier TNC2 laurels while involving themselves in a series highly technical projects that never returned any particular utility of note.
Then TAPR, having been instrumental in the rise of Packet Radio in the U.S., became instrumental in its demise by promoting Packet/Internat gateways as an alternative to Ham Radio - For "Ham Radio" networking??? I know it sounds like an obvious foot-shooting execise now to encourage Hams to use the Internet as a pretend substitute for Radio communication, but at the time, TAPR was actually able to convince large numbers of Hams that using radio to communicate was old frashioned, out of date.
"Radio Purists" were characterized by the TAPR folks as luddites, old-fogeys, technophobes, and rednecks... Be that as it may, it turned out they were also right.
The U.S. packet net's degradation and collapse direct correlates to the implementation of Packet/Internet gateways into key areas of the network. It took them two or three years to destroy ten years' work by thousands of Hams around the world.
The weird part of all this is that TAPR's interest and ability with P.R. grew as thier interest in packet radio networking waned. They got so good at it, in fact, that they have insinuated themselves into the ARRL's business, as the official "digital gurus".
The fact that the U.S. packet net died on thier watch, under thier policies, and the fact that they haven't produced anything PRODUCTIVE in over twenty five years is forgiven, because they put on such a great show at Dayton.
The fact is that the failed U.S. TNC manufacturers can thank TAPR for taking thier business away. The thousands of Hams who used to enjoy the packet net every day can thank TAPR, too, when they turn on thier equipment and can't find anybody.
So if you have been curious as to why packet died over here, and kept right on growing in Europe, well now you know. You also know what killed the network over here, but I forgot one detail...
Remember the European packet net, that kept right on growing, and the N.E. FlexNet group, the only ones with a growing network here in the U.S.? Niether of these networks allow Packet/Internet gateways.
Every significant packet network that DID use them is history now, including, sadly, the global digital HF messaging network that we once had.
Steer clear of TAPR, and don't let anybody talk you into getting involved with "Amateur Telephone", as it is the kiss of death for digital Ham Radio. Forget Amateur TCPIP, it's a bust. Check out APRS, you might like it, and if there are no AX25 packet nodes in your area, you might want to set one up, yourself. Lots of Hams in the U.S. miss the packet net.
It's kind of hard to imagine our country going on with no digital network, while the rest of the world leaves us behind. I don't really expect to see this situation stand.
It's also hard to imagine any leadership for this process coming from TAPR, who still pushes Packet/Internet gateways to this day.
They call that a "leadership vacuume"... It's pretty much up to individual Hams to fill that gap now. There is no other national packet radio organization, and the ARRL still thinks the TAPR guys really know what they are doing, so we can't look for any help from there.
Individual Hams will have to provide leadership in this area, at least for now.