Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Antenna Pictures

As mentioned in my last post, I constructed a short mast to support the end of my Ultimax 100 antenna so that it's not lying directly on my shingles. I got it up on the roof this morning.


As you can see, I scraped the base a little when I hoisted it up onto the roof. The Plasti Dip coating came off easily. I’m hoping that as long as it doesn’t get any more scrapes it’ll hold up to the weather.

I tied a piece of 550 cord between the insulator on the end of the antenna, and a loop of insulated copper wire wrapped around the iron pipe serving as the mast. The wire is a piece of the black conductor from some Romex I had leftover from a previous project.

The matching network at the other end of the antenna is attached with cable ties to the mast supporting my Comet GP3 2M/70cm antenna.


You can see the feed lines going over the peak of my roof. They go down to the front left corner of the house, are cable tied to a downspout, and then come into my shack on the ground flood.

As a side note, make sure you use outdoor-rated cable ties if you are exposing them to the weather. When a friend and I installed the Comet GP3 several years ago we used white cable ties, which are for indoor use only. When I put the HF antenna up there I replaced all the white ties with black ones that are UV-resistant. I didn’t need to cut the white ties – they snapped with only finger pressure.

Anyway, elevating the antenna and orienting so that it runs as close to North/South as I could get seems to have improved my reception on 20M. I had a QSO this morning with a ham in Georgia and both Tx and Rx seemed much stronger.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Been Working More HF

Since getting my Icom IC-7200 setup and my last post I've been working more HF, mostly on 20M and 40M PSK31. Aside from more contacts here in the US I've managed to bag QSOs with Greece, France, and Venezuela.

I think my antenna will perform better, though it I elevate it so it's not in contact with my roof. Wood rafters and asphalt shingles are largely transparent to RF, but they have different dielectric properties than air. So, yesterday I went to Lowe's and bought some supplied to support the end of the antenna. I'll post a pic when it's done, but essentially it's a cross-shaped based made from a pressure treated 2x4, with an upright made from a piece of 1/2" (7/8" OD) black iron pipe. I cut the 2x4 into three pieces. One is four feet long and the others two feet long. I fastened the shorter pieces to the long piece with flat mending braces and Titebond 3 glue. I then took a 10" long piece of scrap 2x4 and laid it across the joints, gluing and screwing it in place.

Before beginning  construction of the antenna support, I measured the pitch of my roof using Theodolite on my iPhone. It came to 15 degrees. Before attaching the 10" long piece of wood to the base, I put it in my vise at the same angle. This allowed me to hold my drill approximately vertical when I made the angled hole for the pipe. This way the pipe will be more or less vertical when the base sits on the roof.

I've covered the entire thing with a coat of black Plasti Dip rubber coating. I'd bought a can a while ago to use on some tool handles but never got around to doing anything with it. I figured that coating the antenna support black will make it less visible, and the coat will help to preserve it from the weather. It'll be interesting to see how well it holds up.

Tomorrow after the Plasti Dip is fully dry I plan to epoxy the pipe into the base. We got some light snow so I doubt I'll be able to get it on the roof. I don't like heights, doubly so when they are slippery.

I'll post a follow up once I have the antenna support in place.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Had my first QSO on HF last night

My Icom IC-7200 arrive last Tuesday, and the Ultimax-100 antenna came on Friday.

Yesterday afternoon I put the antenna up on my roof, fed with 50’ of LMR-400 coax. The antenna is attached to the base of the mast supporting my Comet GP-3 2m/70cm antenna, which is near the peak of the roof. The Ultimax is stretched out so it slopes down along my roof, and was secured in place by tying a piece of 550 cord to the end insulator, with the other end tied to my gutter. I do plan on making some PVC supports to hold the antenna up above my roof by a foot or two.

Being a computer geek I am largely interested in digital modes. The IC-7200’s USB port for connection to a computer without having to use an interface like a RIGrunner or Signalink USB was one of the main reasons I chose it. So, I installed a Windows 7 64-bit driver from here, and installed both fldigi and Ham Radio Deluxe.

After some tinkering I was still having difficulties getting the DM780 part of  HRD to transmit so I changed over to fldigi. I got it working and coordinated with a couple guys on Arfcom, and we got a QSO going using Olivia 16/500. Olivia is a slow mode for transferring text but is very tolerant of poor propagation conditions, and low transmitting power.

I’m looking forward to working with this more.

Monday, December 10, 2012

USMC Antenna Handbook

I ran across this today. USMC Antenna Handbook, MCRP 3-40.3C. It's a 193 page PDF, about 2.5 megs.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Book Review: A Distant Eden

As a longtime fan of the SHTF/post-apocalyptic fiction genre I decided to give the book A Distant Eden by Lloyd Tackett a try when I saw that I could get the Kindle edition for $0.99.

I wasted a buck.

The author attempted to write a survival manual in the guise of a novel, and to his credit, states this in the forward. Unfortunately for a survival manual, it is full of inaccuracies, bad advice, and warped ethics.

To begin with, the book offers poor advice about firearms, tactics, nutrition, and water purification. E.g.:

  • Some of the gun-related content sounds like ad copy from Gunz & Blammo.
  • What the author refers to as complete foodstuffs will result in a variety of deficiency diseases. E.g., pellagra
  • After a short training period by a handful of special ops soldiers, the good guys go attack a fortified encampment held by superior numbers of armed men. Did I mention that one of the uber-elite special ops types kills the Numba One Bad Guy in a planned duel? Or that the good guys take no casualties?
  • The water purification methods in the book are better than nothing but depending on the locale may not be enough to prevent infection by various parasites.

The effects of a solar electromagnetic pulse (EMP) aren't portrayed accurately. Without getting into detail here, I recommend that you start reading about EMP here. (Make sure to follow the links at the bottom of the linked page.)

The almost immediate descent into savagery as portrayed in the book doesn't mirror how people have responded to massive regional disasters such as Hurricanes Katrina or Sandy. Certainly, plenty of people will take advantage of the situation (e.g., looting during the 1977 New York City black out) but it will take a lot longer for societal breakdown on the scale described in the book. Take for example the aftermaths of the EMP-induced power failure in Quebec in 1989, the 2003 Northeast US power outage, or various ice storms through the American South in recent years.

But perhaps the worst part of the book is the ethical system embraced by the protagonists and apparently endorsed by the author. At one point in the book, the "good guys" ambush and kill a poacher because he's taken a deer on private property to feed his wife and child. The justification for this is that by killing the deer, the poacher has taken food from the protagonists' childrens' mouths. He then goes on to kill the poacher's wife and kid because they are now without a protector, and portrays killing them as a mercy.


Shortly thereafter, the same protagonist spares a different poacher, but only does so after determining that he's a Christian. Because, you know, only Christian people are worth sparing.

To repeat myself, REALLY?!?

How 13th Century.

There is some good, independently published survival fiction out there like David Crawford's Light's Out or Thomas Sherry's Deep Winter. That A Distant Eden received a bunch of 4 and 5 star reviews on Amazon is a testament to how ignorant many people are.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Ordered an Icom IC-7200

After a ton of online research, this morning I pulled the trigger on an Icom IC-7200 from Ham Radio Outlet.  HRO had an open box unit that I ordered. The discount for this on top of seasonal discounts brought the price down to about $890, the cheapest I found it anywhere.

One of the things that I find especially appealing about the IC-7200 is that it was designed from the outset for use with a computer. It has an USB port on the back, allowing you to control the radio with your PC, including the use of digital modes like PSK-31, without requiring a sound card connection.

I didn't order any other accessories as I've been able to find them cheaper elsewhere online. E.g., I need to get an external antenna tuner, an antenna, a patch cord to run between the radio and the tuner, and an antenna feed line.

Edit: Got a call from HRO that the open box unit I ordered was defective when they tested it. They're going to send me a different one, still at a discount but not as much. Should have it Monday.

All Comments Now Moderated

Due to increasing amounts of spam I am now moderating all comments.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012


After getting my No-Code Technician's amateur radio license back in 2005 I was active on 2M for a couple years, but haven't done much with it lately. The FCC finally eliminated all Morse Code requirements in 2007 but I never got around to upgrading.  Recently, I came to the conclusion after the bout of storms we've had ove the past year and a half or so that I should get back into it, and upgrade my license.

So, last Thursday I took the FCC's Element 3 exam and upgraded my license to General Class. The update hasn't shown up yet in the FCC's Universal Licensing System database, but I have my CSCE.

To prepare for the exam I used three resources:

Although and contain the same pool of questions, they present the questions differently. When you take a practice test at QRZ they are shown to you one question per page, and immediately graded. However, when you take a practice test at Hamexam all 35 questions are presented on one page, and not graded until you click a button after finishing all of them. I found Hamexam's format to render better on my iPad, but I found QRZ's format better for learning.

With my newly acquired HF privileges I need to get a new radio. The modes I'm interested in operating on HF are SSB, PSK-31, and Olivia MFSK, on 10M to 40M. 60M and 80M would be cool, too, but I don't know yet if I'll be able to setup an antenna suitable for them.

After seeking input on Arfcom and doing a lot of online research, I am leaning heavily to the Icom IC-718. It's been out for awhile and gets good reviews on Plus, compared with radios like the Yaesu FT-857 of -897, or similar Icom and Kenwood HF/VHF/UHF capable units, it's less menu driven, which should make it easier to use. The IC-718 does 160M to 10M, lacking 6M, VHF, and UHF. For the latter two I have a Yaesu FT-7800R and VX-5RS. While 6M might be nice to have I don't think I'll really miss it that much.

Along with the new radio I'll need a new antenna and an antenna tuner. Due to space constraints I'm leaning towards an Ultimax 100 strung between the roof of my house and a short mast near my back fence. (At least I don't need to deal with a homeowner's association.)

For mobile use I'll also pick up some sort of portable vertical antenna and/or a multiband dipole that I can string up between a couple of trees.

This should be fun.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Juicebox Portable Power Box

During my morning browsing I came across the Juicebox portable battery backup box. Built into a USGI surplus ammo can, the manufacturer claims that on a single charge it can:

  • Charge a typical laptop six times
  • Charge a Smart Phone 50 times
  • Charge a Cell Phone 80 times
  • Run an I-Pad® for nearly 100 hours
  • Run a portable radio for weeks
  • Run a GPS for 140 hours
  • Run a desktop fan for 20 hours
  • Light up a campsite for several nights

It's a neat solution for providing power in the field or in the event of an outage. Even if you don't want to buy one from them, it can serve as inspiration for a homebrew setup. See, for example, ChinoUSMC's emergency communications ham radio and backup power setup, here.

{Hat tip to InstaPundit.}

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Champion Generator Follow Up

I received my Champion generator about a week after I ordered it.

The generator came well packed in a heavy duty cardboard box. Luckily, I was able to work from home the day it was scheduled for delivery. I met the UPS driver and he wheeled it back to my shed and helped me lift it in. The generator weighs about 140 pounds, so this made my life a lot easier.

Champion packs them without the wheels, handle, and support leg attached. Installing them takes maybe 10 or 15 minutes, it’s just a matter of bolting them to the frame.

Most generators ship with no fluids (i.e., motor oil) in them. Champion did include a 0.6L bottle of 10W30 and a long funnel with the generator.

I had my first opportunity to test it yesterday. After connecting the battery cables and putting in the oil I moved it outside, then added about a half gallon of gas.

Before trying to start it I turned over the engine a few times using the starter cord to get some oil circulated through the system. (The unit has a recoil starter, but as long as the electric start works that’s what I plan to use. Why make life difficult?)

Next I switched the battery to On and the ignition to On, took a step back and per the instructions, briefly pressed the start button on the included remote start key fob. It clicked and started right up. I waited a bit, then tested the key fob’s off button, and finally did the same with the onboard ignition switch.

After I was done with testing the starting buttons I let it run for about a half hour. When I decided it had run enough I changed the fuel shutoff valve to off. About a minute later it conked out.

I don’t have any kind of sound meter but the noise isn’t too bad. The muffler is pretty large in relation to the 196cc engine. It makes less noise than my snow blower, and a hell of a lot less noise than the monster generator my neighbors were using after Hurricane Sandy.

Overall, I am pretty pleased with it so far. It seems well designed, came with clear instructions, and starts easily.

I have a long, heavy duty extension cord on order to use with it; one end has a twist-lock to connect to the generator, while the other has three standard three-prong outlets.

At some point I plan to build a “dog house” to cover the generator while it’s running to protect it from the elements, and hopefully muffle the noise even more.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Another Hurricane Sandy AAR

“Ar-jedi” posted a Hurricane Sandy after action report that’s worth reading, over on (The lack of capitalization is in the original. Regardless, he included a great deal of useful info.)

hurricane Sandy visited us and left behind a mess. not but a week later a Nor'easter visited and caused more issues. the result was 12 days without utility power. i thought that it would be useful to document some of the successes and failures of dealing with this short term outage.


i live with my wife in a semi-rural community approximately 15 miles inland. my immediate family members live either very near the water (mom) or just a few miles in from the shore (brother and sister). i work about 35 minutes north of home.


our house has a well, 220 feet deep with a 0.75HP submersible pump at the bottom of the hole. it requires 240Vac at 8A running current, with an inrush of about 40A. aside, everyone in my town is on well water –– but this is not the norm for the county, where municipal water is most common.

build up:

the NE (specifically, the mid-Atlantic coast) does not get frequent hurricanes; our worry is generally about Nor'easters –– which can carry a lot of rain (>8" in 24 hours) or alternatively a lot of snow (>24" in 24 hours). hurricane Irene passed over last year, leaving most folks in our area without power for 2-4 days. Sandy first appeared on our collective radar about a week before landfall, although at the time the projected tracks were all over the map. some models had the eye going north of us, some south, some showed it veering out to sea, etc. one note –– the NE area is structured primarily atop rock and clay-based soil; ergo, unlike areas with sandy soil it does not absorb water and then drain all that easily. frankly, with a storm of this size i was more worried about the quantity of rain versus the wind.

common preps:

my wife and i live fairly simply and have on-hand at all times enough for about a month of "no societal contact" living. we keep our food, water, and other staples maintained. from this perspective, if Sandy had just "shown up" i don't think we would have had much of a problem overall. for example, in the basement are 24 cases of bottled water, qty 4 NATO type 5 gal water cans, and upstairs there is plenty of stored pasta, rice, soup and other. in addition i have a modest store of freeze dried food as well. there is a shallow creek out behind the house and this non-potable water could be used for flushing toilets, for example. it is relatively high in iron and so it's not a great input to a portable water filter.

event preps:

i anticipated Irene again, and there would no power for 2-4 days. nevertheless on thursday (5 days before the storm arrived) i topped my available fuel stores to the maximum: 25 gallons of gas (5 x 5 gal NATO cans), and 16 gallons of diesel (2 x 5 gal NoSpill cans + 6 in the tractor tank itself). so i believed from the outset that we were "covered" in terms of fuel stocks, and of course these stocks could be prolonged by changing usage. fuel tanks in my truck and my wife's car were also filled.


my primary concern was the safety of my family, including my mom and siblings. at my home, my worry was structure penetration or damage from trees. while i have culled some trees away from the house over the years, there are one or two that could give the house or the detached garage a good sized headache. the other concern was of course power –– for water, heat, and comfort.

Read the full report here.

Comet CTC-50M Antenna Line Feed-Through

This week I received from Universal Radio a Comet CTC-50M antenna line feed-through. It’s a piece of coaxial cable designed to allow you to pass an antenna line through a window, but still allow you to shut the window all the way. It does this by using a special piece of flat coax, instead of the normal round cable.

The ends are terminated with SO-239 connectors, allowing you to attach a PL-259-terminated line from the antenna, and another line from the radio.

I had been using a PanelRelief Lexan pass-through panel from QuickSilver Radio. However, it wasn’t very weather tight. Not a problem in warm weather but unacceptable when it’s cold.

So far it seems to work fine on receive but I haven’t tried transmitting yet. I’ll post a follow up after I do.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Notes from the Sandy Zone

The following was originally posted by "Crowgirl" on I am copying it here so that the info is kept available to all, after it slips into the site's archives. I have cleaned up the formatting somewhat, but otherwise haven't edited the post.

1) My trip to LI (parents were in the hurricane area)

I left here Thursday AM, after loading out the car with a lot of equipment, most of it newly purchased as I was planning on leaving it there and didn't want to sacrifice my own home preps.

I brought: 2 small generators (1800 and 2000 watts), 2 inverters, 2 deep cycle batteries, a battery charger, an extension cord (from house preps), a camp stove (from house preps), 2 power strips, 8 cans of camp stove propane, firestarters, matches, solar lanterns (from house preps), a ton of batteries, a metal cot (from house preps), a shotgun (from house preps), ammo, 2 cases of water, and 10 gal empty gas cans (more on that later).

Also cell phone, chargers, laptop, groceries, clothes and the usual stuff you'd take on a trip.

The ride down from VT was fairly uneventful except for the gas situation, which started to be noticeable 60 miles north of NYC.

I stopped once on I-87 for gas for the car. Then I stopped in Newburgh NY for a cell phone charger that I had forgotten and thank God I did. When I got off the exit I noticed that lots of people with cars with New Jersey plates were huddled around the gas pumps filling up cans. I stopped and asked the guys there where the northern edge of the "no gas zone" was. One told me "you're lookin' at it, baby".

I ended up filling the cans there rather than in White Plains as I had planned. If I had waited it would have been too late.

I topped off the car one last time halfway down 684 and there was nothing left at the station but super unleaded and the line was fairly brutal.

When I got to my hometown I drove right down the main street. Most of the lights were out. Many of the stores were boarded up with plywood against looters and unsavory characters were lurking around.

Trees were down all around, and I had to take a few alternate streets to get to my parents house. Arrival there was uneventful.

I was there for 8 days. The trip home was also uneventful. At the time I left the houses across the street still had no power and gas was still very limited in supply.


2) Notes on physical issues:

- You may have to head INTO a disaster area rather than out of one, because of family members (or bad luck). This was something I had never really considered. This is a more difficult situation than bugging out or staying put as you have to both pack and assume that nothing is available at your target destination (whereas if you bug out to a safe zone it may be and if you stay put you have all your stuff right there).

- Make sure your vehicle can handle the weight of what you are carrying. My car had so much stuff in it that it steered like a shopping cart with a bad wheel. I
never weighed it but I think I was close to the gross weight the car could handle.

- You will forget things if you don't prepack it and doublecheck it all. I did pretty well considering the circumstances (on top of it all a family member was ill) but forgot my toothbrush, a prescription, my cell phone charger, and some tools.

- Whatever you forget will be the one thing you need to get everything else working. The toolkit had some screwdrivers I needed to get the generator cover off. Fortunately a neighbor had some.

- Gas, gas and more gas. You can't have too much gasoline. If you don't use it or need it someone else will.

- In bad or questionable areas, or in good areas bordering questionable ones, looting will start very quickly after the disaster. What will be looted first are luxury items, such as electronics. The "cash for gold" and the fake nails place also got hit. Food stores won't get looted until later.

- In better areas looting will take a little longer, but will still happen unless it is defended against.

- It is mostly stores that will be looted. Unoccupied houses are at risk but less likely. Occupied houses were generally left alone. The looters are lazy and are looking for a quick hit with no resistance.

- The people on the roads during a crisis will be 2 of 3 groups. The first responders will be out, responding. The normal clueful people will be home waiting it out. And the thugs/morons/lookie loos will be out driving around and getting in the first responders way.

- A crisis will make people drive like they are auditioning for The Road Warrior movie. You need to be very defensive, because if your vehicle gets damaged you may not be able to get it fixed.

- You need multiple ways of doing anything. For instance, when paying for gas some of the stations only took credit cars, some only took cash. Bring both.

- You need backups for critical items. For instance, the built-in connection cord for one of the inverters fell apart in my hands as I tried to hook it to one of the batteries, and I couldn't repair it with what I had on hand. Luckily I had a 2nd inverter. "Two is one and one is none".

- Test out your equipment ahead of time. This wasn't really possible for me because I had just bought it all, but if you have the time don't get complacent and assume it'll all work together when TSHTF. What I encountered was the inverter cord falling apart, and the newfangled gas can nozzles being a) completely cryptic and b) not working to get gas into the car. We never figured out how these "green" nozzles worked. And on the working inverter the cable loop wouldn't fit over the battery post on one of the batteries.

- You need some sort of night vision equipment, even if it's the cheapie game-spotting kind. Blacked out suburbs are DARK. And they will have bogeys in them and you're going to want to see them without them seeing you.

- Have a bicycle. In addition to it being transportation, riding it around can help you quickly acquire information from a larger area than you could get by walking.

- Don't rely on cell phones for communication. They were horrible for the first 5 days. Even texting was bad. I finally received some messages 8 days late just before I left.

- If you have VOIP phones instead of the old-time land line, make sure you have a backup power source for the home router etc. If the line are up and the regional switching gear is intact and working but you have no power in your house your phones will be out when they could be working if you had a way of powering them. Old land lines had their own power source into the phone, the newer bundled VOIP setup does not.

- You are going to need a funnel. Never leave home without a funnel.


3) Notes on mental and social issues:

- In a crisis people become more of what they already are. Thugs get thuggier, selfish people get moreso, helpful people overextend themselves. Know who you are and who your family is, and multiply it by 100 to get a sense of who you'll all turn into if TSHTF. You will have to figure out how to deal with this.

- Living in close quarters when you can't go out will have you start grating on each other. Most people aren't around others 24X7. If TSHTF you might be and it can get ... interesting. Make sure you have a way of coping, like using earplugs or bourbon or something.

- People will start hoarding even if they don't need the items. Just for grins I stood on a gas line for about a half hour one morning to try and get a gas can filled up for the neighbors generator. The guy behind me on line in his car had gotten gas twice the day before. He had close to a full tank. I still don't know why he was there. It's almost like hunting gas became a hobby for him.

- Acquiring needed supplies in a crisis requires third-world skills. When supplies are scarce everything reverts to who you know and who your friends are. The hispanics and the indians in my town who came from countries that rely on this paradigm did really well with this. Mutual backscratching and a network of friends kept food and gas flowing to them without them having to stand on lines. At one gas station they got a 12K gallon delivery at midnight and opened at 7 AM in the morning with 8K gallons. 4K gallons went *somewhere*.

- I'm convinced that when TSHTF for real the hispanic gardeners are going to be the only ones left standing LOL. They came from hardship conditions so they aren't soft, they work their butts off, and they have the skills needed to thrive in third world conditions. They somehow managed to always have gasoline and were zooming around the neighborhood with leaf blowers when everyone else was still trying to figure out how to get gas or make coffee on the barbecue.

- Expanding on the previous point: the FSA (Free Shit Army. --Dave) is too lazy to survive and will eat each other. The white collar class will still be trying to figure out what the rules are and how to cope with it all and won't do well. The blue collar people with practical skills will partner with the gardeners and will do ok, but only if they have skills in demand such as engine repair, welding, etc. Lazy blue collar workers or unskilled people won't cut it.

- Speaking of practical skills: Get some if you don't have any. Today. Of the 6 neighbors I worked with trying to get the indian people with the disabled family members down the block set up with a generator only 2 of them were of any use. One was familiar with generators. The other wasn't but knew how to hook a generator to a natural gas furnace. This cooperative effort kept those people from freezing to death but this luxury of multiple people with complimentary skillsets was pure luck and should have been able to be done by one person.
You need to understand HVAC systems, electricity, small engines, plumbing, etc. Know your home systems and that of people you will interact with.

- Most people will be appallingly unprepped. The old lady across the street didn't even have any matches. The people I loaned the generator to didn't have a working flashlight. I could go on but you get the picture. You need to either prep extra for these people or be prepared to deny them your help. And if you do the latter they may come back with reinforcements and take it anyway. It's far better to give them a box of matches, look forlorn and say "here, it's my last one, please use them carefully".

- Good neighbors will be your allies. Even ones that are unprepped may have either information or abilities that will help you all out. The guy down the block from my dad rode his bicycle all over and brought back information that was very useful. The ones up the street knew an electrician who could be brought in to help with generator hookups.

- a place that looks unarmed probably isn't. I found out from one of the neighbors that there were a lot more guns in the neighborhood than I ever suspected.

- People's slowness in getting a grip on the situation will drive you insane. For those who have been prepping for years, a crisis is much more "ho hum" and we snap into action, knowing what to do. Its very easy for us to forget that most others who we will interact with have NOT been mentally chewing on it for a decade and will come to reality much slower than we'd like.

- People slow to come to grips with the situation will look at your take-charge attitude and abilities as you being a bull in a china shop, and bossy. I had to really dial it back and gently lead them into understanding the new reality rather than barking orders at them like a Field Marshall, which is my MO in a crisis.

- Normalcy bias is a powerful thing, even in people who prep or at least somewhat get it. For instance, my mother was making tuna salad on the Friday after I got there and asked me if I wanted celery in it. She then said she was out of celery but "could run down to the store to get some". I had to remind her that the store was closed and out of power and that the traffic on the roads near the store looked like the chariot scene from "Ben Hur". This happened several times while I was there.

- Elderly people will have more trouble adapting if they haven't worked on staying flexible. My parents friends refused to come stay at our house, preferring to stay in theirs despite it being 40 degrees indoors. Their son finally forcibly removed them after coming in from another state.

- There is definitely a 'grace period" after a disaster where people are nice and cooperative with each other. It's about 72-96 hours. After that point people start getting pissy because they're cold, tired, uncomfortable, inconvenienced, etc. At that point you need to be careful how you interact with them.

- Proud parents or family members who you are helping will brag to everyone within earshot about how much you brought and how great that is. You do NOT want this to happen so warn them right at the outset to SHUT THEIR PIE HOLE. For a short term disaster this wasn't a problem but in a long term one it could have been fatal if what we had was all we were going to have for a long period of time.

- If you're female, you especially need to get a grip on practical skills. The women in the neighborhood during this were far more clueless and afraid than the men were, and the ones that had no man to rely on were especially lost. You may not always have the luxury of a guy around who knows how your furnace works. You need to be able to do it yourself.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Sandy Aftermath Gear Report

The following was posted by member "NYC-M4," who went through Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath in New York city:

This is a list of much used gear during my week with no power in NYC.
Flashlights (assorted)
Gas cans/funnels
Butane stove
Propane BBQ
G19  (Glock 19 9mm pistol. DM)
870 with SF light  (Remington 870 shotgun with SureFire weapon light. DM)
4 Bassett hounds
MREs  (Meals, Ready to Eat. DM)
Bottled water and stored water in jugs.
Oil radiator heater
Ramen soup
Pocket knife
Cordless drill
car inverter
Batteries (assorted)
Having this stuff prior to the storm made my life a hell of alot easier. So if you don't have any of this, get it. 


Sunday, November 04, 2012

Backup Power

I came to the conclusion last week that I need to improve my own backup power situation. Here in the Northeast, we've had the following weather events in the past 14 months:

  • Hurricane Irene
  • Tropical Storm Lee
  • The Halloween 2011 ice/snow storm
  • The June 2012 derecho
  • Hurricane Sandy

I have been really lucky in that my power wasn't out for more than a couple hours at a time. I've lived in the same neighborhood since 1979, and up until Sandy I can't remember any of my neighbors being out for longer than 12 hours. Well, some of them got power back just yesterday after being out for 5 days. At some point my luck is going to run out.

On Friday I ordered a Champion 3500 running watts/4000 surge watts generator from Cabela's. This will allow me to power the 'frige, some lights, and charge batteries. Fuel consumption will be more than a smaller generator but it's the right choice for my particular situation.

( also carries this generator, but it's currently out of stock. Not surprising considering that the most populated part of the country just had a major storm come through.)

Don't forget that electrical motors, as found in refrigerators, may need up to 3 times the running wattage when they startup. Your generator needs to be sized for this surge.

They have it on sale through 11/5/12 for $429.99, which is $110 off the normal price. If you have any Cabela's bucks or promo codes you can get it for less. I had a promo code for $20 off any Internet order over $150, plus $6.70 in Cabela's bucks, which brought my delivered price down to $469.

I also have on order from Amazon a Black & Decker VEC1093DBD battery charger/jump starter pack.   My main purpose for buying this is to recharge the 70 ah gel cell that I have as backup power for my ham radios, but it can be used to recharge lead acid and AGM batteries, and jump start cars. The gel cell is currently charged and maintained by a PWRgate from West Mountain Radio, but it provides only 1 amp for charging, which would take forever to recharge the battery if it gets depleted. (It looks like WMR no longer carries the specific model that I have, only the Super PWRgate.)

The next thing to get will be a source of backup heat. We have a gas fireplace in our den downstairs that does work when the power is out, but we should have something for upstairs to augment it. I'm looking at propane and kerosene heaters.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

We Lucked Out

We lucked out in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Our power went out last night but was restored after about two hours. This morning I went outside to check the house and yard for damage. Except for a torn snowblower cover, we came through unscathed.

One of my neighbors has some tree branches down.

We’re still getting 20 – 30 MPH gusts, it’s raining, and temperatures are in the mid-40s. About 1.3M people in PA are still without power, 2.3M in NJ, and who knows how many in MD, DE, NY, and New England.

Of course, many others weren’t so lucky. NJ and NY got slammed especially hard. The Jersey Shore got trashed and Manhattan looks post-apocalyptic, from some of the photos I’ve seen.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Updates

FYI, I will be posting Hurricane Sandy updates via Twitter.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Some Final Preps for Hurricane Sandy

As of the time I'm writing this (9:20 PM on Saturday 10/27/12), here in the Philadelphia area we are awaiting the arrival of Hurricane Sandy. It's been awhile since we got really slammed by a hurricane, so we're overdue. Last year when Irene came through and devastated central PA, the southeastern part of the state escaped without too much damage.

I had taken yesterday off with the intention of going shooting, but with most weather reports indicating we have a good chance of getting clobbered, decided to do some additional prepping:

  • Went to BJ's Wholesale Club and picked up some more water, canned goods, plus more AA and D batteries. We have plenty of food in the house but more doesn't hurt.
  • Topped off the gas tank in my Xterra. I put some miles on it today so I'll probably hit the gas station again tomorrow to top it off and also fill a jerrycan of gas.
  • Tidied up things in my shop, in case I need it to fix anything.
  • While I was working on stuff, I got some fresh gas and ran my snowblower for about 10 minutes, and added air to its tires. I'm not expecting any snow from Sandy (though folks further west may get some), but yesterday was as good a time as any to prep the snow blower for this winter.
  • Stopped by the state store for a bottle of 1792 Ridgemont Reserve bourbon. ;)
Today, after getting home from a practical rifle match that I shot in this morning:
  • I secured all the patio furniture and also reconnected the Comet GP-3 2M/70cm antenna on my roof to my Yaesu FT-7800R ham radio. I haven't done anything with the ham stuff in a couple years so connecting it and checking function was important to do ahead of time.
  • Charged my Motorola FRS/GMRS radios.
  • Charged my Yaesu VX-5RS 2M/70cm HT ham radio and its spare battery.
  • Filled the free space in our freezer with water bottles. I also added a bunch to the refrigerator. The more thermal mass both have, the longer they will stay cold if we lose power.
Thankfully, I don't need to worry about my gutters clogging since we got a tree removed last year.

On Monday we'll make sure the girls charge their iPods, Nintendo DSes, etc. If we're all stuck at home on Tuesday electronic diversions may prove to be handy. Likewise, I'll make sure my iPad is charged. I activated the Verizon 3G on it, so if our cable modem connection drops we may still be able to get online.

One PITA that happened today was that my wife got a flat tire on her Subaru Forester. Subaru's roadside assistance came out and changed the tire for her, but now she's running the donut spare on her left front wheel. Tomorrow we'll drop it off at the dealer for them to replace the tire, which is covered under warranty.

We're following Sandy closely at work, too. We have a 3100 square foot lab in our HQ in downtown Philly. If there's a good chance the building will lose power we may recommend to our users that they proactively shutdown their equipment. This is a hassle when scheduled in advance, but even more so when it comes on short notice. What makes it especially annoying this time is that once a year, the building's owners have a planned power outage for electrical maintenance, which requires a full lab shutdown. It turns out that was last weekend.

I'm responsible for three VMware vSphere server virtualization environments at work. Depending on what the forecasts say Monday, I may at least shutdown the VMs, even if I leave my primary VMware environment running. I have a secondary environment which uses an EMC VNX5300. I'm tempted to shutdown the few VMs currently running on it, but leave the VNX itself running, just to test out how it responds to a non-graceful shutdown.

The third VMware environment I'm responsible for is located in Newcastle, DE, which is also in Sandy's crosshairs. That one is in a production datacenter with backup power. So, we may just leave it running.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

Heads-up for residents of the mid-Atlantic states: We may be in for a bit of fun with Hurricane Sandy next week.  It's certainly no cause for panic but it would be prudent to pay attention to the forecasts, and prepare accordingly.

Ruger 22/45 Lite

Over on Blog O'Stuff, I have a few posts up here, here, and here about my latest acquisition, a Ruger 22/45 Lite. In my opinion, a .22 pistol is a very worthwhile addition to any prepper's toolbox, and Ruger's autoloaders are amongst the best available.

A .22 allows you to shoot a lot for little money, is good for new shooters due to the minimal recoil and noise, and where legal for hunting, is ideally suited for bagging small game.

Several years ago, I bought a Ruger 22/45 with a 4.5" barrel and fixed sights for my wife to learn how to shoot. It's proven to be very reliable, even with bulk pack ammo. The Lite's aluminum upper with a stainless steel barrel liner weighs only 22.8 ounces unloaded (without an optic), and most interestingly, is threaded 1/2x28 at the muzzle for a suppressor.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Cold Steel Brave Heart and SOG Pentagon Knives

Yesterday I shot in the Contagion 2012 zombie-themed 3-gun match at the New Holland (PA) Rifle & Pistol Club. I placed in the top third and came home with these two knives as a door prize. :D
IIRC, they were donated by event sponsor Sayoc Tactical Group.

Each knife came with a custom Kydex sheath, in addition to the factory sheath. They are very nicely made.  (EDIT: I just confirmed that the sheaths are from

If it's not clear from the pics, the Brave Heart is a single edged knife with some jimping on the back edge. The Pentagon is double-edged -- one plain and one serrated. The choil on both sides is ridged.

Here's Cold Steel's page with full specs for the Brave Heart and here's SOG's for the Pentagon. The CS is made from AUS-8A while SOG lists their steel as AUS-8. I don't know the difference between the two. Each knife has a molded-on Kraton rubber handle. They are soft and grippy. The SOG's is larger and more comfortable but the smaller handle on the Cold Steel knife is more easily concealable.

The factory Cold Steel sheath is made from hard nylon with a belt or boot clip, and included a beaded chain so you can wear it as a neck knife. The SOG sheath is MOLLE-compatible and has a pocket which will fit a multitool or small survival kit. The Kydex custom concealment sheaths are very nicely made but unmarked.
Both knives came sharp out of the box, especially the Brave Heart. Both are sharp enough to cut paper. I tested them out against a pizza box. The Pentagon has an edge (pardon the pun) when it comes to slashing, due to its greater mass, while the Brave Heart did better for slicing due to the sharper edge and thinner blade.

For most folks the Brave Heart may be the more practical of the two. It's easier to conceal where legal, but still big enough to be useful. Having read several threads online mentioning the need by US servicemen and -women for a small fixed-blade defensive knife while inside the wire while overseas, I can't but help think it would serve well in that role.

With its double edge, I'm pretty sure that the Pentagon would meet PA's definition of a prohibited offensive weapon, so it's going to spend virtually all its time stored away safely. The Brave Heart may see some time strapped to my daypack when I go on hikes, as long as I'm not in Philly, which has a very restrictive knife ordinance.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Potential for Urban Violence

A post on the Western Rifle Shooters blog by Matt Bracken, author of the Enemies, Foreign and Domestic trilogy, has been generating a lot of interest in the right side of the blogosphere, as well as various Internet gun boards.

Bracken begins:

In response to recent articles in mainstream military journals discussing the use of the U.S. Army to quell insurrections on American soil, I offer an alternate vision of the future. Instead of a small town in the South as the flash point, picture instead a score of U.S. cities in the thrall of riots greater than those experienced in Los Angeles in 1965 (Watts), multiple cities in 1968 (MLK assassination), and Los Angeles again in 1992 (Rodney King). New Yorkers can imagine the 1977 blackout looting or the 1991 Crown Heights disturbance. In fact, the proximate spark of the next round of major riots in America could be any from a long list cribbed from our history.

Read the rest here.

Some of the responses I’ve read to dismiss his concerns as a SHTF masturbatory fantasy, while others take him very seriously. Personally, while I don’t think it would play out as described, his concerns are very valid.

It was recently announced that the Federal government debt stands at $16 trillion dollars. The only way this is being sustained is by the Fed printing money. Further, we now have about half of all Americans who don’t pay income taxes, i.e., aren’t contributing but rather taking from the productive class. Eventually, this has to end.

Despite the bread (EBT cards) and circuses (TV, movies, and sports), a large part of the American population is aware that something is wrong.

For about a year and a half I was on the board of a gun club in rural Chester County, PA (not to be confused with Chester, PA). We noticed a huge uptick in memberships starting shortly before the 2008 election. After Obama won, the surge increased. We went from maybe 10 new members per month up to as many as 50 or 60 per month. It got to the point where our membership director was overwhelmed, so we instituted a monthly new member cap of 30.

Even that wasn't enough to deal with the influx of new members. Earlier this year we instituted a sponsorship requirement. Finally, we accepted our last new members for the year in August. We are not planning to accept any new members until January.

Over this time, membership went from about 800 up to ~1300. Note that a membership may be a family, so this represents more than 1400 people.

Along with the near doubling of our membership we noticed a difference in the types of guns we'd see on the ranges. Over the past few years it's gone from predominantly sporting rifles to mostly AR-15s and AKs. The pistol range is generally packed on weekends.

Some of this is due to the economy. Some of it's due to the Obama administration's policies and lack of leadership. People are gearing up. There is great unease and I fear that the right spark could light off a powderkeg.

If there is unrest you’ll need to be prepared for it ahead of time. The best way to deal with a fight, whether it involves two people or a mob, is to avoid it in the first place. That’s not always possible.

Pay attention to the news and social media as ways to pick up on potentially dangerous situations, and avoid them if at all possible.

Many of the same things you’ll need to survive a natural disaster would be needed to survive a period of unrest when it’s unsafe to leave your home: food, water, batteries for flashlights and lanterns, etc.

To deal with unrest, I’d add fire extinguishers, first aid kits, and for home defense a good shotgun or rifle and plenty of ammunition. For those times when you must venture out, you’ll want a concealable handgun, a good belt and holster, a bright flashlight, and portable med kit.

Communications will be vital, e.g.,

  • Landline, cell phone, and Internet all have their place.
  • FRS/GMRS/MURS radios for a neighborhood watch will be valuable. Ham is even better.

Along with tools, you need mindset, organization, and plans. Work out ahead of time with your family members what they should do and where they should go in the event of unrest. If your neighbors seem amenable, you may also wish to discuss things with them. You should also get training on practical marksmanship, the law regarding the use of deadly force, and first aid.

Unfortunately, I don’t think either political party is willing to tackle our country’s problems in a way which will avert eventual unrest. I do think that if Obama is reelected, the timeline will be accelerated due to his demonstrated hostility to capitalism and the productive class. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

West Virginia 10 Day Power Outage AAR

Over on Arfcom’s Survival Forum, “Johnnyutah” posted an AAR about his experience after dealing with nearly 11 days without power caused by the mid-Atlantic derecho of June 29, 2012. It’s worth reading.

Rossi 92 Range Report

Today I got out to the range and shot the Rossi 92 I bought last Thursday for the first time. I ran 150 rounds through it: 100 Sellier & Bellot .357 Magnum 158 grain JSP and 50 Winchester white box .38 Special +P 125 grain JHP.

When cycling the gun empty at home  the action felt pretty smooth. However, once I loaded it up it became evident that there were some burrs in the action. In particular, the S&B .357s were hanging up when trying to load them into the chamber. There were a couple burs on the breech face, alongside the ejector slot. After about 20 shots I took a needle file and knocked them down a bit. I worked through 50 rounds of .357 plus 10 rounds of .38 (which fed smoothly). After about 60 rounds the gun was noticeably smoother and I was able to do rapid mag dumps.

The S&B .357s were loaded with a truncated cone bullet, while the Winchester .38s had bullets with more of a curve to the ogive, basically a RNFP with a hole in the tip. The gun seems to feed better with a more rounded bullet profile so I'll try to use that sort of ammo in the future.

I am going to have to tweak the ejector a bit. Ejection of .357 brass was positive but when trying to eject the last .38 in the gun, the empty case stayed in the receiver every time.

When shooting .38s I also experienced one time when the cartridge on the carrier ejected from the gun along with the empty.

After about 60 or 70 rounds I noticed the bolt pin stop screw on the left of the reciever was loose. It will get some Loctite.

AIUI, it's not uncommon for the Rossi .357s (or Marlin 1894s in .357, for that matter) to experience issues with the shorter .38 rounds. As long as it works 100% with .357s I don't mind the occasional bobble with .38s.

The trigger is good. Probably about 5 or 6 pounds and crisp, with very little creep.

I shot the gun at 50 yards, mostly with my arms rested on a shooting bench. The gun will group into about 3" with the loads I shot today. With the rear sight set on the lowest position it shot a few inches high and about 2" left. Since it was pretty close I didn't adjust the sights today, concentrating more on functioning.

Aside from making sure the ejector is not binding on anything and is properly shaped, I plan to strip the gun and polish the wear points to slick it up (but I will NOT be touching the locking bolts, which set headspace). I will also probably replace the plastic magazine follower with one made from steel, and replace the ridiculous bolt-mounted safety. Finally, I'll be giving the stock some attention to make it look nicer. Whatever finish Rossi uses on their wood comes out really dull.

Overall I'm pleased with the Rossi. It's a light, quick handling rifle in a useful caliber at a reasonable price. With a little "fluff and buff" it'll have a really slick action.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Rossi M92 .357 Carbine

I recently joined Langhorne Rod and Gun Club. It looks like this going to be hazardous to my wallet because it's very close to the shop, Surplus City, where I get most of my guns. I stopped there yesterday after going shooting and he had a couple Rossi 92s on the shelf. One blued .357 and one stainless .44 Magnum. Continuing the cowboy gun kick that I've been on, the .357 came home with me. $459.95 OTD.

Back in the days of the Old West, having a rifle and pistol both chambered for the same cartridge simplified logistics for people out on the frontier. The most famous pairing was a Winchester M-1873 and a Colt Single Action Army sharing the .44-40 WCF cartridge. Winchester continued the trend when they introduced the Model 1892 in .44-40, .38-40, and .32-20. The concept fell out of favor for a few decades but regained popularity in the 1960s and nowadays, the most common pairs are in .357 or .44 Magnum. The .45 Colt has been made available in leverguns in the past 15 years or so, and even the .44-40 has become popular again with the growth of cowboy action shooting.

Aside from logistics, lever action rifles chambering what we now consider pistol rounds make a lot of sense for many modern shooters, especially the carbines in .357 Magnum which can also shoot .38 Special.

.38 Special and .357 Magnum are widely available and relatively inexpensive. They are very easy to handload for and have mild recoil. Many indoor ranges will allow you to shoot rifles chambered in them, but not rifles in “real” rifle cartridges. This is important in our increasingly urban society.

Out of a rifle barrel the magnum handgun rounds pick up a lot of steam. E.g., the bullet fired from a 20” .357 carbine will gain several hundred FPS in MV, compared with a revolver, and will have approximately as much energy at 100 yards as one fired from a revolver will at the muzzle. (See the tables near the bottom of the page, here, for example.)

In the late 19th/early 20th Century, the lever action rifle was one of the premier choices for a defensive weapon. Even today, with AR-15s and AK clones easily available, leverguns fill this role well.

A .357, .44 Mag., or .45 Colt lever action carbine is light, handy, and can be stored with a full magazine and empty chamber, but is very fast to get into action. As noted above, the magnum rounds especially get a real boost from the rifle length barrel.

For several decades the Brazilian gunmaker Rossi has offered a copy of the Winchester Model 1892. Several years ago I had one imported by EMF, an 1892 Hartford Model Short Rifle with a 20” octagon barrel in .357. It was a nice shooter and I’ve been kicking myself for trading it off.

The Rossi I got yesterday is the basic carbine model (R92-56001), with a 20" barrel, 10 + 1 capacity, and weighs in at a whopping 5 pounds.

The wood is nondescript but is fitted well.  My dad owned a Browning B92 .357 when I was a teen, and it sure doesn't look as good as that, though.

This is a view of the safety that Rossi came up with. You can also see the Taurus integral gun lock on the back of the hammer. The two silver colored pieces are the locking bolts.

I find the safety ugly and obnoxious. With proper gun handling it is unnecessary.

After I confirm that the rifle works properly, I'll order a plug that's made to replace the safety so that the gun is closer to the way that John Moses Browning designed it. An alternative is an elevation-adjustable peep sight that takes its place; windage is adjusted by drifting the front sight in its dovetail. Steve's Gunz sells both items.

The peep sight paired with either a fiber optic or a large bead front sight should make a good combination for fast sight picture acquisition.

The action is already pretty smooth. As long as the Rossi functions OK I don't think I'll do any tuning on it, except by working the action and shooting it.

Two or three years ago Rossi was bought by their fellow Brazilian gunmaker, Taurus. Since then, the Rossi 92s have incorporated a gun lock built into the hammer, originally designed for Taurus’s revolvers. As with the safety, I'd rather not have the gun lock, but IMO the Taurus design is one of the better ones. It's unobtrusive and I haven't read of any cases where it's been accidentally activated. That said, I'm going to put a drop or two of boiled linseed oil on it to make sure (BLO is nature's Loctite).

I plan to pick up some Watco Danish Oil in medium walnut color. I saw the before and after pics of what a single coat did to a similar Rossi stock, and it was incredible. The wood went from very "meh" to really nice looking.

The only other addition I plan to make is a set of sling swivel studs so I can attach a quick detachable sling when needed.

After I shoot the Rossi I'll post a range report.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Mid-Atlantic Derecho

The derecho which swept through the American Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states on June 29, 2012 should serve as a reminder to those of us in areas where such violent weather is rare, the we should still be prepared for it.  This storm was massive, and caught virtually everyone by surprise.

My family was fortunate in that we didn’t suffer any damage or power outages. Many folks not too far from us weren’t so lucky.

Five days after the storm, millions remain without power. In the aftermath, Newt Gingrich tweeted that this would be a small taste of what an EMP could do. Based on my own research, the likelihood of an EMP attack taking out the infrastructure in a large part of the country is low. However, a Carrington Event-type EMP would cause widespread, long lasting damage.

Here are ten things you can do to prep for violent weather:

  1. Keep on hand at least 72 hours worth of food and water for each individual in your household. The food you stock for this should not require refrigeration and should be able to be consumed right from the packaging, if necessary.
  2. Don’t let your vehicle’s gas tank go below half full. If there’s no power, you won’t be able to fill it back up. Fill it ahead of time if you have warning. Also consider storing fuel if you have a safe way to do so.
  3. ATMs and credit card machines won’t work without power. Keep some cash on hand. Make sure that you have some small bills; you don’t want to end up spending $20 for a loaf of bread because the seller can’t make change.
  4. Have a battery powered radio for getting news, and plenty of spare batteries.
  5. Consider getting rechargeable batteries, a charger, and a solar panel to power them. I recently picked up a Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus system, a Goal Zero Luna LED light, and some spare rechargeable AAs. I’ll be testing it on a camping trip next weekend.
  6. Have battery powered lighting on hand, again along with a good supply of spare batteries. For a handheld flashlight I like my Fenix LD20, as it puts out a ton of light and uses common AAs, but even a Mini Maglite will do. I also recommend having a headlamp so you can use both hands, and lanterns for area lighting.  One lantern that I have is the Rayovac SE3DLN Sportsman Xtreme LED Lantern, which is excellent.
  7. Old fashioned hurricane lanterns can also burn citronella oil when used outside, to help keep away bugs. The cheapies at WalMart have a bad reputation for leaking.  Get Dietz lanterns from Lehman’s or W.T. Kirkman. They can also be used inside as long as you have good ventilation and use lamp oil.
  8. If you have large trees on your property, have them trimmed to reduce the likelihood of branches or an entire tree falling on something like your car, house, or worse, you.
  9. If you have trees, have a chainsaw, fuel, and oil, to cut up fallen trees for removal. Learn how to use the chainsaw beforehand, don’t use it alone, and be careful.
  10. Fill unused space in your freezer with water bottles (leaving room for expansion). The frozen bottles will help keep the freezer cold longer, and when they do melt you have some more water available for drinking or washing.

Obviously, there’s a lot more you can do but this list is a good starting point.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Cartridge Reloading

One of the things you can do to improve your self reliance is to reload your ammunition. Reloading enables you to recycle the most expensive part of a cartridge - the case - many times. It also allows you to tailor loads to your gun for best accuracy, or to load cartridges that are not commercially available.

The general process of reloading involves these basic steps:

1. Resize and deprime the used cartrdge case.
2. Reprime the case with a new primer.
3. Charge the case with a measured amount of the correct type of gunpowder.
4. Seat a bullet and crimp it in place.

Obviously, it's a bit more involved than that but boiled down to the basics, that's what you are doing.

Reloading tools can range from very basic to very complicated and expensive. At the low end is the Lee Loader. The Lee Loader has been around for five decades and the cartridge-specific kits can be used to handload ammo ranging from pistol (9mm is the current smallest caliber for which the Loader is available) on up to .45-70.

However, the lowest end loading tool I'd recommend would be Lee's Hand Press. I have one of these and while it works OK for pistol cartridges, it's slow. If you have the space go for a workbench-mounted press.

In order of ascending complexity, the different types of loading tools are:

1. Lee Loader
2. Single stage bench press, e.g., the RCBS Rockchucker.
3. Turret press, e.g., the Lee Classic Turret or Lyman T-Mag.
4. Progressive press, e.g, any model from Dillon Precision.

When I lived with my folks I used my father's RCBS Rockchucker single stage press to load .38 Special for my S&W Model 15 and .30-06 for a Garand. Until recently, however, I didn't have space for a bench-mounted press here at Casa Dave, so all I had was a Lee Hand Press. Now that I have my shed/workshop with an 8' long workbench, I ordered a Lee Classic Turret press, along with a spare die plate and other reloading accessories. Although I've reloaded ammo in the past it's been awhile since I've done it regularly. I did not want to deal with the complexity of a progressive, nor did I want to spend the money for one.

I'll initially be setting up the Lee press for .38 Special and .44 Magnum. The .38s will be used in my assortment of .38 and .357 revolvers, while the .44 Magnum is for the Marlin 1894 that I traded for a couple of weeks ago. The next caliber I'll tool up for probably will be .45 Colt, to use in the Remington 1858 which I fitted with a Kirst Konverter earlier this month.

Getting into handloading/reloading your own cartridges does require and initial outlay of money to acquire equipment and components, but if you shoot a lot you'll bring your price per cartridge down dramatically, allowing you to shoot more. Lyman has great introductory piece, "Getting Started In Reloading" (3 MB PDF file) if you want further info.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Rayovac Sportsman Xtreme LED Lantern

Today I received a Rayovac SE3DLN Sportsman Xtreme 300-Lumen LED Lantern from Amazon. I ordered it earlier in the week when they were running a sale, so between the discounted price and a gift certificate that I had, I paid only $5 and change.

My first impressions are very positive. With an output of 4W, it's very bright on high while on the lower setting it's still plenty bright for lighting a campsite or a room during a power outage. It also has a strobe mode which could possibly be useful in an emergency.

The lantern is powered by 3 D cells. The battery life is supposed to be 72 hours on high and 150 hours on low.

A nifty feature is that the diffuser can be removed and the lantern hung upside from a hook as overhead lighting.

The lantern is compact, ~4" square by ~7" high. It’s made from plastic with rubber bumpers around the top and bottom edges, as shown in the pic below.



(Image copied from Amazon.)

Currently Amazon shows 578 customer reviews with an average rating of 4.7/5 stars.

I will probably get some use out of it in my new shed workshop, until I get the shed electrified and permanent lighting installed. It’s also going to find a place in my camping gear. Being battery powered it might have problems in very cold weather but for Spring, Summer, or Fall trips it should be ideal.

Being compact, reasonably priced, and using common batteries, it should make a good addition to your home’s emergency kit as well.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Century Arms NDS-2 AK-74 Rifle

Back in November I picked up a Century Arms NDS-2 AK-74 rifle. This is a typical semiauto-only Kalashnikov made from a mix of surplus and newly made parts.

The NDS-2 is built on an American made NoDak Spud stamped receiver with a scope rail and a new barrel. It also has a Tapco G2 fire control group (trigger, hammer, and disconnector), American made black plastic furniture, and an American made barrel. The remainder of the parts a Bulgarian surplus. The rifle is finished with a nicely done, even parkerizing.

I finally got to shoot the rifle this past weekend. As expected it ran like a top. I put 120 rounds of Russian surplus 5.45x39mm 7N6 ball through it with no malfunctions, feeding from a couple Bulgarian surplus magazines. Whenever I shoot a new rifle for the first time I try to do so at 25 yards to ensure that it’s on paper, and then move back to 100 yards to fine tune the zero. Since I didn’t feel like picking up an moving my stuff I stayed at 25 yards for this outing. I’ll finish zeroing it the next time I get it to the range.

Shooting the rifle is a pleasure. The G2 FCG has a nice, consistent, light pull. The 5.45mm round has minimal recoil, which is made even less by the very effective muzzle brake. The brake does result in a rather pronounced muzzle blast, however. I have a Bulgarian flash hider which fits the 24mm front sight base of this rifle and may give it a try.

The American made furniture is craptacular. Since Century or their contractor had to setup a mold to make the furniture anyway, I don’t understand why they didn’t just use a set of surplus furniture as the model and copy it. Instead, the butt has insufficient drop for use with iron sights, while the handguards lack a heat shield. I’ve read of other people melting them in sustained fire. So, I ordered a set of olive drab K-Var furniture that will not only look a lot better, is of much higher quality.

Unlike some Century Tantals, I saw no evidence of keyholing due to an oversized bore.

The barrel is plain carbon steel, not chrome lined. Since I’m not taking this rifle into battle with the potential of not being able to clean it regularly, it’s not a problem for me. Even though military surplus 5.45x39mm cartridges are corrosively primed, as long as I clean the gun the same day I won’t see corrosion.

I did run a few patches wet with Hoppe’s No.9 through the barrel, and also wiped the bolt face down before I left the range. Despite Internet myths about cleaning up after corrosive primers, all you need is either Hoppe’s No.9, MPro-7, or USGI Rifle Bore Cleaner. Hoppe’s No.9 was introduced in the early part of the last century and has always been rated for cleaning up after corrosive ammunition. Back in the late 1980s/early 1990s, the only ammo I shot in my SKS was Chicom 7.62x39 with corrosive primers. Hoppe’s was all I used for cleaning and I never had any rust.

Despite the lack of a chromed bore this rifle with better furniture is a good choice for a defensive carbine. New production non-corrosive 5.45mm ammo is available, but even in most SHTF scenarios it’s not an issue. If you can stock up on ammo you can lay in a decent supply of solvent and a cleaning kit.

Aside from the light recoil, the 5.45x39 round has the reputation for better accuracy in AKs than the more common 7.62x39 cartridge. Also, it’s currently the cheapest centerfire round available, if you buy military surplus ammo. For example, AIM Surplus currently lists a 1080 spam can of 7N6 for $139.95 + shipping, or $10 less if you buy more than one can. At that price you can afford to stock up.

AK-74 magazines are a bit harder to find than AK-47 mags. At one time they were very common and as cheap as dirt but that’s no longer the case. That being said, some time spent searching online will find magazines available for sale. I would stick with military surplus magazines for serious use, however.

Overall, I am quite pleased with the NDS-2.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Ruger LCP .380 Pistol

In a few of my recent posts on Blog O’Stuff I have discussed why it is important for Americans (especially Jews) to keep and bear arms. I also posted a link to a thread on Arfcom, "Street Robberies and You." Last week I picked up a new pistol which will help me follow my own advice, a Ruger LCP.

Ruger's LCP (Light Carry Pistol) is one of several recent micro-sized semiauto pistol designs to reach the market. It's in many ways a copy of the Kel-Tec P3AT. The Taurus TCP, Smith & Wesson Bodyguard .380, and Diamondback DB380 are all in the same class. The specs for the Ruger are:

  • Caliber: .380 ACP
  • Capacity: 6 in the magazine plus 1 in the chamber
  • Length: 5.16"
  • Width: 0.82"
  • Height: 3.6"
  • Weight: 9.4 oz for the standard model, 9.9 oz for the model with a LaserMax LASER* sight.
  • Sights: Fixed, machined integral with the slide.
  • Finish: Blued

I bought the LCP-LM, which is the one with the LaserMax sight.  MSRP is $443 but I was able to get it for $399 including tax. Here’s a quick picture of my pistol:

The LCP comes in a cardboard box with one magazine, an extended magazine floorplate, a gun lock, pistol rug, fired case, LaserMax flyer and adjustment wrench, and an owner's manual.

As can be seen in this picture, the Ruger is tiny. The silver object is a standard Zippo lighter which I included for scale. I have small hands and can get only two fingers on the grip. I installed the extended floorplate even before I took the gun to the range, because at under 10 oz. unloaded I want the extra purchase that it provides. Even so, I can get only two fingers onto the grip.

I went with the LASER for a couple reasons. First, even though this is a belly gun the need to use aimed fire could arise. The LCP's sights are tiny and won't be very visible in poor lighting. Second, statistically, most defensive gun usages are resolved without shots fired. Once a bad guy knows his intended victim is ready to resist with a gun, he usually finds that he needs to be elsewhere post-haste. The LASER can enhance the deterrent effect of a gun, and if shots do need to be fired, will help in putting them on target.

The placement of the LASER's ambidextrous switch works very well for me. When holding the gun with my index finger off the trigger, indexed on the frame, the tip is right on the switch. I can immediately press it to turn on the LASER, without shifting my firing grip.

I do wish Ruger included a second magazine with the gun. A leading cause of malfunctions with semiauto pistols is defective or dirty magazines. So, the same night I brought the LCP home I ordered another mag with the extended floorplate from MidwayUSA, along with a couple of boxes of CCI Blazer .380 ACP Full Metal Jacket ammunition.

A word about defensive ammo choice for the LCP: The .380 ACP cartridge is on the low end of acceptable defensive cartridges. Bullets are generally light and if hollow points are used, you may not get enough penetration to reach an assailant's vitals and incapacitate him. So, I plan to carry it with FMJ ammo, which will reliably penetrate at least 12" in ballistic gelatin.

Many folks will just chuck a gun like the LCP in their pocket and go on their way. Although I'm currently packing the Ruger that way, I've ordered a DeSantis Superfly pocket holster to keep the gun consistently oriented, and to keep the LASER from being switched on accidentally. If you choose to pocket carry without a holster, be sure to not put anything else in the same pocket as the gun. You don't want anything getting into the trigger guard that might cause the gun to discharge, or prevent you from firing it, e.g., something getting lodged behind the trigger.

Yesterday I took the Ruger to the range and put a box of Federal American Eagle .380 ACP FMJ through it. I had one failure to go into battery in the first magazine but after that it ran perfectly. Putting only 50 rounds through a semiauto gun to "prove" it is generally deemed to be insufficient, but the light weight of these micro-.380s comes with a price: brutal recoil. You don't shoot one of these for fun, unless you're a masochist. Not only does it whack your hand, there's some trigger slap and sometimes the recoil drives the inside of the bottom of the triggerguard into your finger.

Anyway, using the the minimalist iron sights the Ruger LCP is surprisingly accurate. It will pretty easily hold the center ring of an IDPA target at 15 yards until your hand starts getting beat up. I turned on the LASER and was able to see it on the white target from 15 yards, but in this outing didn't shoot with it on.

Up until fairly recently, if you wanted a posket pistol this size you were limited to guns chambered for .22 Short, .22 Long Rifle, or .25 ACP. With the advent of the micro-.380s starting with Kel-Tec's P3AT you can now get a similarly sized pistol that chambers are much more effective cartridge. This makes it easier for more Americans to be armed for self-defense, which is a win in my book.


* I capitalize "LASER" because properly, it is an acronym meaning Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Street Robberies and You's General Discussion frequently is a big pool of stupidity, but every so often someone there posts a thread which is pure gold. Last night one such thread was started by "BurnedOutLEO," titled, "Street Robberies and You - The Basics." It is truly one of the best pieces I've read anywhere about personal defense. I copied the post into an MS Word document for my files.

Some introduction:

First, my info. I worked in the street of one of America's most violent, dangerous cities for 15 years. I usually worked in the worst part of that city. I spent 15 years in patrol. I liked patrol. It was wild. Most of the time I worked in areas covered in ghetto. By that I mean large housing projects combined with run down slum housing. I have worked all shifts. Later I became an investigator including a robbery investigator. I have spent countless hours in interrogation rooms talking to hold up men. I know them. I am still an investigator but have quit playing the Robbery game because my family was starting to forget what I looked like.

The Enemy

Some may object to me calling hold up men "the enemy". You can call them whatever you like. I can assure you however they are as deadly an enemy as you will find anywhere but the battlefield. Even many soldiers probably lack the viciousness and utter disregard for life most hold up men possess.

No one wakes up in the morning one day and decides to become an armed robber. It is a gradual process that requires some experience and desensitizing. Before a man will pick up a gun and threaten to kill people who have done him no harm in order to get their usually meager possessions he has to get comfortable with some things.

He has to get used to seeing others as objects for him to exploit. He has to accept he may be killed while robbing. He has to accept the felony conviction for Robbery will haunt him all his life. He has to accept he may need to kill a completely innocent person to get away with his crime.

This is a process that starts with stealing candy at the corner store as a child. It progresses through bigger property crimes that may also involve violence. But one day G gets tired of selling his stolen property for nothing and decides it would be better to steal cash. Cut out all that tiresome sales stuff.

Keep in mind many petty thieves, auto burglars, residential and commercial burglars, paper thieves, and hustlers will get to that point and decide not to become armed robbers. Most will. It is a special group of outliers who decide threatening to kill people for a few dollars is the way to go. 

And one of the highlights:

When to draw

Despite warnings I often see on the Net I have yet to encounter an instance in which a hold up man called the police to report his intended victim threatened to shoot him. Thugs do not want to come into contact with the police. They may already be wanted or realize chances are good they have been identified in a recent robbery. Or what ever. They are not going to call the police if you draw on them.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Rethinking Gun Control

Over on Blog O’Stuff, I have a couple of posts which were prompted by an article which recently appeared in a NJ Jewish paper titled, “Rethinking Gun Control.”

My posts are here and here.