Monday, March 31, 2008

Getting my new radio installed

This morning I made an appointment for Thursday morning to drop off my truck at a local auto sound and alarm place to install my second Yaesu FT-7800R radio. I could probably do this myself but for under $100, it's worthwhile to me to pay someone else to handle it in an hour or so. It would probably take me quite a bit longer and no doubt I would wind up with a skinned knuckle or two.

Currently, I'm planning to have the main body of the radio installed underneath the passenger side front seat, connected to the control head on the dash via the Yaesu separation kit. Before I go buy an external speaker I want to see if the built-in speaker will be loud and clear enough. I suspect I'll wind up with an external speaker, though.

For the time being I'll still use my Diamond MR77 mag-mount antenna. It works quite well and I like the fact that I can easily remove it if I need to park in a garage, or just want to be a bit more stealthy. At some point, I may get an antenna installed on a mount near the lip of the hood. While not as stealthy as a mag mount that's removed, it will at least avoid the height problem of a roof-mounted antenna.

Tonight I'll putz around with how I have the various repeaters programmed in and try to group them logically in the FT-7800R's memory banks. E.g., one for Eastern PA, one for Central/Western PA, one for NJ, and one to cover the area between here and the DC metropolitan area. I have family in Arlington, VA, and we go there or visit my wife's family in MD a couple times each year, so I'd like to have those repeaters programmed in and ready.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

FTB7800 Radio Programming Software

Awhile ago I'd purchased Yaesu's programming kit for their FT-7800R radio. The kit consisted of ADMS programming software and a cable. The software works but it's clunky. Recently, I tried to install it on my MacBook Pro's Windows XP Parallels virtual machine, and it would not accept the serial number.

So, I decided to spring for G4HFQ's excellent FTB7800 programming app. I downloaded it, sent in my order, and received a license within minutes.

I was able to install FTB7800 inside the XP VM, but couldn't get it to talk to the radio. I'm using a Keyspan USA-19HS USB-to-serial adapter, since the Mace doesn't have a serial port. The VM sees the adapter but I'm not getting FTB7800 to see the COM port. (In contrast, I was able to get this working fine with Yaesu's software for the VX-5.)

As an interim measure until I get this working on the Mac, I installed FTB7800 on my old Compaq Presario 710US laptop, which I keep around for one of my kids to use. I still need to use the Keyspan adapter, since it too lacks any serial ports.

Initially, installation of the Keyspan failed with an error, but it was usable after a reboot. I was then able to read my FT-7800R's memory, and import a list of PA repeaters which I had created using the ARRL Travel Plus for Repeater software, which is installed in the Mac's VM. (I transferred the FTP7800R installer, along with several repeater lists from the Mac to the Compaq using a thumb drive.)

I now have over 200 repeaters plugged into the 7800R. Tomorrow, I'll fire up the second 7800R which I bought earlier this month, program it with the repeater list (and probably some more), then hopefully get it mounted in my truck in the coming week.

Compared with Yaesu's software, FTB7800 has a better user interface. Just as important, G4HFQ's customer support is simply outstanding. I had a question about importing repeater lists in the app yesterday, sent him an email, and got back a helpful reply in about an hour or so.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Victorinox Explorer

Yesterday I received in the mail from Amazon a Victorinox Explorer Swiss Army Knife. It's a four-layer SAK with the following tools:
  • Large blade
  • Small blade
  • Bottle opener with large screwdriver tip
  • Can opener with small screwdriver tip
  • Phillips head screwdriver
  • Magnifier
  • Scissors
  • Corkscrew
  • Awl with hole for sewing
  • Multi-purpose hook
  • Tweezers
  • Toothpick
  • Keyring
It packs all this into a knife about twice as thick as a Pioneer. It isn't much heavier than a Pioneer, due to the Cellidor (plastic) scales vs. the alox scales on the Pioneer, and the fact that the Pioneer's knife blade is a bit thicker than the Explorer's. The knife feels light for its size and I find it easily pocketable. As with every other Victorinox knife I own (which is six, if you include my SwissTool RS), the knife blades came very sharp. Workmanship is up to Vic's normal high standards. Of the implements packed into the Explorer, there are two which for me are mostly superfluous. Specifically, the mult-purpose hook and the corkscrew. The hook is mostly meant to assist you in carrying a package tied with string, something I never do, and when I want to open a wine bottle I want a better corkscrew. What I will do, however, is use the corkscrew to hold the small eyeglass screwdrive which came with my CyberTool 41. (It threads onto the corkscrew.) Since I leave the CyberTool in my bag unless I'm using it, putting it on the Explorer means it'll be more likely I have it on me when I need it. I like the Explorer. It has a very useful selection of tools without being too large to easily carry around in my pocket. I'm going to let it take its turn as my EDC knife.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Ontario RAT-3 Knife

Last week I picked up an Ontario RAT-3 knife from I've posted a brief review with a couple of pictures over on The Rally Point.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Marlin 336 Spare Parts Kit

In the past I've posted about the Marlin 336 as a good addition to your toolkit. It's rugged, reliable, and is chambered for rounds suitable for self protection or hunting medium-sized game.

One of the reasons that I prefer the Marlin over the Winchester 94, its main competitor, is that the Marlin is much easier to perform maintenance upon. For example, to field strip the Marlin all you need to do is remove the finger lever screw, remove the lever, then pull the bolt out the back of the receiver (watch for the ejector falling out when you do this). In contrast, the Winchester is not easily field stripped.

A possible downside to this ease of disassembly is that because you're more likely to have the gun apart, the likelihood that you'll lose a small part is increased. And even if you never lose any small pieces, it's possible for them to wear out or break. So, keeping some spares on hand is a very good idea if a Marlin 336 is part of your serious toolkit.

Last night I ordered from Brownells several parts to put up in an ammo can with spares for other guns in my collection. I ordered items 1 through 7, below.

Marlin 336 Spare Parts List with Brownells Stock Numbers and Prices as of 3/15/08

1. Finger lever screw. #550-301-192 $2.73

2. Ejector w/spring #50-501-168 $10.18

3. Extractor. #550-301-169 $6.01

4. Firing pin, rear. #550-401-199 $6.64

5. Firing pin, front. #550-000-588. $11.33

6. Firing pin spring. #550-401-295 $2.73

7. Firing pin retaining pin. #550-420-299. $2.73.


8. Spare mag spring. #550-401-395. $6.30

9. Spare mag tube. #550-000-042. $16.53

I've listed the spare magazine spring and tube because it is possible to wear out the spring or dent the tube. Doing the latter might damage the spring as well. I regard this as less likely than losing other parts so I held off on these for now.

It is my opinion that you should have a spare parts kit for any firearm which you include as a "survival gun." Even if you're not expecting TEOTWAWKI, parts breakage may occur at the most inopportune time, rendering your gun inoperative.

Along with the spare parts, you need the proper tools to work on your guns. You don't need a complete gunsmith's toolkit, but the following items are a good start:

  • Screwdriver with interchangeable, replaceable bits which properly fit gun screws. Use hollow ground bits for flat screws. Don't forget hex and Torx bits, if you need them. I like the Lyman Mag Driver.
  • A set of gunsmith's punches and a mallet with a brass head and a non-marking nylon head. Again, Lyman makes a good set.
  • Non-making inserts for a vice, or some kind of a clamp to hold guns while you're working on them.
Brownells, MidwayUSA, and Cabelas are good sources for these items.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Mountain House Chicken & Rice

Tonight I tried out one of the freeze dried meals I bought last weekend at REI.  I picked the Mountain House Chicken and Rice.  This comes in a ziploc pouch.  To prepare, you pour in 12 oz. of boiling water, seal the bag, and wait about 8 or 9 minutes.

To make the trial a bit more interesting, I boiled the water in an Olicamp Space Saver cup on an Esbit stove (both from my possibles bag).  Based on past experience with the Esbit, I used two fuel tablets and also covered the cup with a piece of aluminum foil.

It took about 6 minutes for the water to boil.  The Esbit tabs were still burning, lasting for about 10 minutes total.

I followed the directions by pouring in the boiling water, sealing the pouch, and waiting about 8 or 9 minutes.  Then open, stir, and eat.

It was quite tasty.  There wasn't a lot of chicken, rather, it was mostly rice.  However, I found it to be pretty filling (the Newcastle I drank with it helped, I'm sure).

Freeze dried meals like this one have a few advantages: they are light, can be prepared in their containers by adding boiling water, and they have a long shelf life (at least 7 years).

On the downside, you need to be able to provide boiling water, which of course requires not only the water but a way to boil it.  They are also high in sodium, which can be bad for those on restricted diets.

For me the good points outweigh the bad, so I'll probably pick up some more.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

New Toys With My REI Dividend

REI dividends are out and this year I managed to rack up $47 worth. I also had a 20% off one item coupon. Today I went over to the local store and spent it (and then some). Anyway, I bought:

I've used the Storm Proof matches for awhile. They burn like mini-flares and will not go out even if you drop them into snow. I once tested this by dropping a lit one into about a foot of snow. It melted its way down to the ground without going out.

The Lightning Nugget fire starters appear to be pine chips that are soaked in paraffin, then formed into hemispheres. The manufacturer claims they'll burn for up to 15 minutes. To use, the instructions on the box tell you to place one on the ground, round side down. Then light it with a match and wait until its going well before placing your kindling on it. I used a bit of Coughlin's tinder (wax-impregnated cotton) ignited with a fire steel to light it. It worked well, and I plan to add two or three Nuggets to my kit, each one wrapped in some aluminum foil to protect them in storage and shield them from damp ground in use.

I've wanted to try one of the Gerber Gator folding saws for awhile now, having read many favorable reviews. (HERE is a pic I took, along with my Victorinox Pioneer for scale.) The blade is fairly thin, which when combined with the plastic handle, makes it very light weight. The teeth are pretty aggressive and designed to cut on the pull stroke. Some reviews I saw on REI's web page reported people breaking the saw. I think what may have happened was that those users tried to cut on the push stroke, bending the blade and wrecking the hinge. However, if used as designed, it looks like it should be fine.

In my brief testing, the Gator cut both hard and soft wood well, requiring less effort to do so than using a large knife would. Using a saw is also a bit safer than hacking away with a big knife. As one part of a modern "Nessmuk trio," one of these makes a lot of sense, in my opinion. Finally, at $15.95, the Gerber is cheaper than most large knives.

Another item which I've had my eye on for a little while is the Open Country folding grill (PIC). Even though it's small, it's easier to cook over an open fire by using a grill than by impaling the food on sticks or putting a vessel right in the fire. The OC Explorer Grid seems well made for the price (about $11) and strong enough to hold a kettle or small pan. It didn't come with any kind of a case, so I'm going to make something up with some scrap denim or muslin. A leg from an old pair of jeans might be big enough. That way, anything it gets packed with after being used will stay clean.

I haven't tried the Mountain House meals yet, and I got the Space Pen just because I thought it was neat.