Friday, September 19, 2014

Baofeng UV-5R with Extended Battery

It was just brought to my attention that Amazon carries the Baofeng UV-5R with a 3600 mAH battery included, instead of the 1800 mAH battery. At $38 shipped, that’s a great deal.

Don’t forget to order a better antenna than the stock rubber duck. If I were buying now, I’d order a SMA-female to BNC-female adapter and find a highly rated antenna that uses a BNC connector. By doing so, you eliminate wear on the radio’s antenna connection, and make it much faster to change out antennas.

An N9TAX roll-up slim jim antenna with a BNC connector would be a good match for the Baofeng when operating from a static location.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

FM Dipole Antenna

Out in my shop I have a CCrane CCradio-EP AM/FM radio for background noise while I work. I mostly listen to music on a few FM stations, including 102.5 WRFY out in Reading, for which reception has been iffy, so I looked into getting a better FM antenna. Not wanting to spend a lot of money, I got this simple dipole from Amazon.

The dipole appears to be made from 300 Ohm twinlead, and has plastic ends on each leg of the dipole, each of which has a small hole in it so you can tack it up to a wall. The feed leg has an F-connector, which attaches directly to the matching connector on the back of the radio.

This morning I got the chance to give it a try and so far I’m pleased with it. For about $8, it noticeably improved my reception of the Reading station, and even the closer stations come in better.

The CCrane radio has a separate, internal ferrite antenna for AM reception. The local AM news station, KYW 1060, comes in very strong in the entire Philly metro area, and beyond, so a better antenna isn’t needed in my application.

You can have the best radio but if you don’t have a good antenna it’ll be worthless. If you’re having problems with the built-in antenna of your radio, look into an aftermarket antenna.

More on Linked Repeater Systems

The other day I posted about the University of Pennsylvania’s N3KZ linked repeater system. Penn’s system is far from unique, even in PA. Going to lets you find the linked repeater systems for your state.

Incidentally, Repeaterbook has a nice app for both Android and iThingies that will let you look up nearby repeaters, even if you do not have a data connection on your phone or tablet.

As I mentioned earlier linked repeaters are not a full substitute for an HF rig and NVIS, but they may be a useful tool in the event of an emergency. Many repeaters have emergency power, and many of us live within range of multiple repeaters. For example, from my home, I can directly hit two N3KZ repeaters which are geographically dispersed. The closest one is in the Roxborough neighborhood in Philadelphia, while the other one is near Robesonia, in Lebanon County. They are about 30 miles apart. I’m also able to hit repeaters in AllStar and WAN networks. Some repeaters may be linked to more than one link network. E.g., W3WAN in Roxborough is connected to both the AllStar and WAN networks.

Linking is done largely over the Internet. If it’s full-blown  TEOTWAWKI obviously you cannot depend on the ‘net. However, in a lot of SHTF situations you can. For example, on 9/11/01 I was able to communicate with family members on Long Island via AOL Instant Messenger even when phone lines into the NYC metro area were unusable.

In an emergency a lot of communications are done by hams over VHF and UHF. If you have a VHF/UHF rig, I encourage you to program as many nearby repeaters into is as possible, especially if they are linked.

Gear Advice from a Navy Seabee

“Machinegunseabee” posted a thread on Arfcom detailing what gear has worked form him in a (now) 18 year Navy career, over several deployments. IMO, a lot of his info is valuable for preppers.

Check it out here.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Penn N3KZ Linked Repeater System

The University of Pennsylvania runs the N3KZ UHF linked repeater system (Internet-linked, AFAIK). It covers SE PA, some of NJ, and NE MD. I was scanning through the memories on my FT-7800R and caught a call on the one in Eagles Peak, Lebanon County, PA. I wound up having a nice chat with a new ham who was using the N3KZ repeater in Havre de Grace, MD. I'm about 50 miles from the Eagles Peak repeater. My rig was set to 10W connected to a Comet GP-3 on my roof, while he was on a Yaesu FT-60R HT with a roll-up J-pole.

Internet-linked repeaters are a nifty blend of old and new tech. Obviously, such a system is more vulnerable to going down in a major SHTF scenario but it's a nice option when it is up, especially for those hams who can only operate on VHF or UHF.

Here’s detailed info about the N3KZ system from

Solar Flare and Incoming X-Class CME

As reported in the news over the past couple days, the Earth was hit by a solar flare on 9/9.  An X-class coronal mass ejection is following the flare and is expected to hit us with a glancing blow early Friday morning, 9/12. When the flare hit HF radio transmissions were severely disrupted, e.g., 20M was pretty much wiped out for awhile.

Other than HF disruptions and some better than normal auroras, any other effects are likely to be minimal. That said, I’ll be unplugging my radio antennas and power cords tonight, just in case the predictions are wrong. Likeiwse, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to do things like fill the gas tanks in your vehicles and any spare gas cans, just in case.

Good sites to follow what’s going on with the Sun, solar flares, and CMEs are Solar Ham and Space Weather.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Baofeng UV-5RA Extended Battery

Up until recently one downside of getting the Baofeng UV-5RA HT was that the extra capacity batteries made for the other variants of the UV-5R did not fit it. At the start of last week I found a 3600 mAH battery to fit the UV-5RA. It’s from eBay seller radioshop8888 located in Hong Kong. This link should take you directly to the battery.

The cost was $21 shipped from HK to the US.

Here are some pictures, with a regular Bic lighter for scale. First, the UV-5RA with the stock 1800 mAH battery, then with the 3600 mAH battery, and finally the two batteries together.

Note that my radio is fitted with a Nagoya NA-701 2M/70cm antenna. It provides a little better performance than the stock rubber duck.

Aside from having double the capacity of the OEM battery, the extended battery makes the HT easier to hold, especially when you’re trying to work the buttons while holding it with only one hand.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Software Defined Radio

As explained in Wikipedia:

Software-defined radio (SDR) is a radio communication system where components that have been typically implemented in hardware (e.g. mixers, filters, amplifiers, modulators/demodulators, detectors, etc.) are instead implemented by means of software on a personal computer or embedded system.

Traditionally, SDR has been an expensive endeavor. However, some clever hackers discovered that some very cheap TV tuner USB dongles based on the RTL2832U chip can be used as wide range radio receivers.

Back on August 9th I ordered one of these RTL2832U-based USB TV tuner dongles from Amazon for $8 and change. It shipped from China and arrived today. I then downloaded and installed SDR# using this quick start guide. So far, I just have it receiving FM broadcast signals. Here’s what it looks like tuned to the local classic rock station:


As described by Sparks, this $8 dongle can be used as an RF spectrum analyzer to discover what signals are in your area. This cheap piece of hardware plus some free software, and a laptop, Raspberry Pi, or BeagleBone Black system can be used as a portable, low-cost signals intelligence gathering system.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Using Fldigi on a Mac to Control an Icom 7200

Ray, W3PRR, asked me for help on configuring Fldigi running on a Mac with OS 10.9.4 so that it can control an Icom 7200 radio. Here’s how I did it:

1. Get yourself a plain USB-A to USB-B cable, as used with most recent computer printers. This one at Amazon will work fine. The IC7200 has a built in sound card, and the USB cable will provide both rig control and audio input/output through the one cable.

2. Make sure the OS is up to date by running OS X’s Software Update.

3. You need to install the driver for the Silicon Labs CP210 USB-to-UART bridge, which is what provides the brains for the USB-B port on the back of the radio. You can download that here.

Note: Do not connect the radio to your Mac when you install the driver. Connect the radio after you install and reboot the Mac.

4. Download and install the Hamlib radio control libraries.

5. Download and install the latest version of Fldigi.

6. Connect and power on the radio to your computer using the USB cable. Make sure that the radio is in Data mode, and make sure that Data mode is set to U, so that it accepts audio and CAT commands through the USB port. See page 43 of the Icom 7200 Instruction Manual for details.

7.In Fldigi, under Configuration > Audio > Devices, select PortAudio, then USB Audio CODEC for both Capture and Playback. Click Save before you move to the next step.

Note: If the radio is not connected and powered on, the USB Audio CODEC option will not be visible.

8. Under Configuration > Rig use these settings.

Click Initialize, then Save, then Close.

At this point you should be able to see activity in the Fldigi waterfall (ASSuming there is anyone on frequency), and you should be able to transmit from within the program. The 20M PSK31 calling frequncy, 14.070 MHz, is a good frequency to use for testing because it tends to be active.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Mora Knives

The best bang for your buck in a survival knife is any one of the variations of the Swedish Mora. I have several floating around here, including two carbon steel Mora Clippers that I got from Amazon last week. One of them was bought specifically for use in the kitchen, while the other one is for garden and field use.

This pic shows one of the Mora Clippers along with my Cloudberry Market puukko that has become my primary field knife.

Both knives came with right handed sheaths. Since I’m a lefty, I made a new sheath for the puukko, and modded the Mora sheath. To do so, I used a Dremel cutoff wheel to remove the belt loop, then made a new loop on the other side of the sheath with a piece of nylon webbing, and secured it to the plastic sheath with Gorilla tape.

The two new Moras came shaving sharp. So far I’ve used one to cut up peppers in the kitchen, and the one shown above for cutting up a bunch of over ripe cauliflower that went into my compost bin. The cauliflower is responsible for the discoloration. Something in it immediately caused some oxidation, but the edge was unaffected.

It’s been my experience while camping and (back in the 80s) being involved in SAR missions that you can handle most of your cutting needs in temperate climes with a knife about this size. It’s no chopper, but if you need to chop things you’re much better off with an axe or hatchet, and a small folding saw is better yet.

Is a Mora the be-all, end-all survival knife? No. Something like my puukko is better made and has a slightly thicker, stronger blade. That said, the Mora Clippers currently sell for $13.92 on Amazon Prime. At that price you can afford to acquire multiples and stash them all over.

Aside from Amazon, another great source of the Mora knives, as well as some much nicer Nordic cutlery, is Ragnar’s Ragweed Forge. I’ve ordered other Moras and a nice puukko from Ragnar and always had a smooth transaction with quick delivery.

Near-Miss by Carrington-Class CME in 2012

You may have seen recently in the news stories about a coronal mass ejection (CME) that narrowly missed the Earth in 2012. It apparently was at least as big as the CME which caused the Carrington Event in 1859, the largest CME on record, and twice as strong as the CME that caused massive power outages in Quebec in 1989.

NASA has also provided a nice video explaining the storm:

Carrington-class CME narrowly misses Earth

According to the NASA article, there’s a 12% chance that we could experience another bit hit in the next decade. (Or if you prefer a more optimistic view, there’s an 88% chance it won’t happen.)

If we’d been hit by the 2012 Solar Storm, the damage would have been far more severe than some fires started at telegraph stations. It’s likely that extensive sections of the power grid would have been brought down and we’d still be recovering from the hit. This would be a true TEOTWAWKI event. Unfortunately, this is the kind of thing that’s really difficult to prep for, unless you’re Amish.

How to Install Anderson Powerpoles

The last time I took my Icom 7200 to the field one of the Anderson Powerpoles on the end of its power cord came off. I had a spare power cable that I swapped in after I returned home, and this afternoon I fixed the old one.

PowerWerx has a nice illustrated guide  showing you how to install them, here. Both PowerWerx and Quick Silver Radio are good sources for powerpole related items including the powerpoles themselves, cables terminated with them, and crimp tools.

APPs are pretty much the standard among ham radio operators, especially those who participate in EMCOMM. That said, I’m not a fan of them. For one, they are a bit of a PITA to assemble. Two, they are not secure when you connect one cable to another or to a plug, i.e., they don’t click into place, or even have much friction keeping them together when plugged in.  PowerWerx sells retention clips to keep two cables together, but IMHO this is a workaround for poor design.

I’ve only adopted APPs because they are the de facto standard for ham radio power connections.