Thursday, December 25, 2014

Portable Vertical HF Antenna Proof of Concept

Yesterday was the first day of my Winter vacation, and I took a ride down to the Delaware Ham Radio Outlet. My goal was to get some parts needed to construct a portable vertical antenna for 20M to 6M, based on the “FXTenna” by KD5FX.

KD5FX’s design centers around the MFJ-1979 telescoping stainless steel whip, which extends to 16.9 feet. I also wanted to try a 20M Hamstick-type antenna, so I picked up an MFJ-1620T HF Stick. Both are commonly used for portable ops, and have a 3/8”x24 threaded male stud at the base end. This is the same thread as most CB antennas.

Along with the MFJ-1979 and –1620T, I bought three 3/8”x24-to-SO-239 studs, an Anderson Powerpole-to-alligator clip with a fused negative cable, and a package of Bongo Ties for cable organization. I also went to the Radio Shack a few doors down and picked up a couple crimp-on PL-259s.

After getting home and grabbing something for lunch, I fabricated a mount for the antenna elements, mostly using stuff I already had in my shop. The 3/8”-24-to-SO-239 stud was attached to a couple pieces of steel strap that I salvaged from the trash at work. These were held to a 19” long piece of 1/4” drill rod.

Since the radiating element of a vertical antenna needs something to work against, I made six 17’ long radials from 18 gauge speaker wire, which had ring terminal added to the ends. Some heat shrink tubing was then placed over the terminals and a couple inches down the wire, to reinforce the connection.

The radials attach to the steel strap with a machine screw and a couple nuts.

Since pictures are worth a thousand words, take a look below.

Mount next to collapsed MFJ-1979 and a yardstick for scale.

As you can see, once the kinks (described below) are worked out, this will make a nice, portable antenna.

One thing I learned the hard way was that in order to prevent creation of a Gordian knot, it’s important to wind up each radial individually, hence the multiple Bongo Ties.


Detail of top of mount:


Detail of mount bottom:


It turned out that the steel straps weren’t rigid enough to support the weight of the MFJ-1979, so I swapped on the MFJ-1620T. The provided marginal support, and the wind today didn’t help:

The ends of the radials were secured in place with large nails driven into the ground.

Unfortunately, the mount wound up being too flimsy. It would probably work if I guyed the antenna, but I want something more rigid so that guys are not necessary. Also, the hose clamp connection between the straps and the drill rod stake are not very secure. I accidentally pulled the mount right off the stake at one point.

So, design defects aside, how’d it work as an antenna?

With my Yaesu FT-817ND powered by a 12V battery and pumping out a whopping 5 watts, my PSK-31 signal reached northern Indiana, Columbus, OH, and Lexington, KY, according to I only saw a few other signals on the waterfall, but the 20M band wasn’t doing very well, per comments I saw in PSKer.

Still, not bad. In fact, it’s a downright promising proof of concept.

Things to do:

  • Make the base more robust by using a CB antenna mirror mount attached to the stake. I may replace the steel drill rod with a lighter weight aluminum rod.
  • Grind a point on the end of the stake, to make it easier to drive into the Earth.
  • Replace the nut securing the radials to the mount with a wingnut so they can be removed without tools. I didn’t have one of the correct size handy.

Incidentally, the ring terminals, shrink wrap, and hose clamps all came from Harbor Freight variety packs. These are cheap and handy to keep around for when you need a miscellaneous part.

Another experiment for the future is to get a second 20M hamstick and an MFJ-347 mount, then construct a hamstick dipole that can be hoisted from a tree in a vertical orientation, or raised on a painter’s pole for horizontal polarization. Yet another idea is to cut a length of wire, put an alligator clip on one end, then connect it to the top of the MFJ-1979 and run it horizontally as an inverted-L antenna. I might be able to get it to work on 30M and 40M this way.

This kind of experimentation is part of the fun of ham radio, and builds your knowledge base so that you can provide communications under less than optimal conditions, or using improvised equipment.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

FT-817ND CD Jewel Case Stand

When researching the Yaesu FT-817ND before I bought one, I ran across this neat little stand design by KR1ST, which uses a jewel case from a CD or DVD as the raw material. The only tools needed to make one are a sharp knife and a straight edge. Check out his site for instructions.

Since I had the case it didn't cost anything, and it took about five minutes to make.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


I had my first QSO using my Yaesu FT-817ND QRP rig and the Ultimax-100 antenna on my roof. Transmitting on 5 watts using the PSK-31 mode, I was able to complete a QSO with W0TY in St. Charles, MO. That's 823 miles from me.

Before W0TY replied to my CQ, a couple other hams did but when I replied to them directly they didn't come back. Such is the nature of radio communication, especially at low power.

To control the rig I used my Apple iPad 2 running PSKER, connected using an Easy Digi interface from KF5INZ.

Clifford Wareham, KF5INZ makes the Easy Digi interface for more than just Apple iThingies, and will supply the correct cables to connect your device to your rig. Highly recommended. The interface I bought will also work with my iPhone. Using either my iPad or iPhone, Clifford's little box in combination with my FT-817ND makes for a very portable digital communications setup.

Friday, December 05, 2014

LiPo Battery Setup

This morning I took a picture of the LiPo battery for the FT-817ND, along with the charger and low-voltage checker. The charger weighs only a few ounces while the checker's weight is negligible.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Extra Capacity Battery for the FT-817ND

After getting some recommendations from the Arfcom Ham Forum, I ordered a 5,000 mAh battery for the FT-817ND, a battery tester/low voltage alarm, and a battery charger from, who sells it in for use in radio controlled cars.
In contrast, the Yaesu FNB-85 NiMH battery pack has a capacity of only 1,400 mAh.
Lithium-polymer batteries have been adopted by many hams for portable use because they pack a lot more amp hours into a smaller, lighter package than AGM or SLA batteries.
I’m really looking forward to getting the FT-817ND into the field.

Edit 12/3/14:

I ordered the battery, charger, and voltage tester on Sunday 11/30, and received it from Hobbyking today, Wednesday, 12/3. When I got it I was confused at first because the Molex-type connector doesn't match the one on the radio. It turns out that it is the connector for charging the battery. The large red and black wires with bullet connectors are for powering other devices. I'm planning to cut off the bullet plugs and replace them with Anderson Power Poles.

Edit 12/4/14:

Here it is, with Power Poles installed.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Yaesu FT-817ND

For awhile I’ve been looking for a small ham HF transceiver that I can bring with me on hikes or while camping. Some features I was looking for include:

  • Good battery life
  • Light weight/small size
  • Can transmit and receive on both 80M and 40M, for NVIS use.
  • SSB capability, since I don’t know code (maybe someday).
  • Reasonable cost.

I really wanted the Youkits TJ5A to meet my needs, but unfortunately it doesn’t do 80M. There are a lot of QRP rigs for under $1,000 but most of them are for CW. MFJ makes the 94xx series (9417 for 17M, 9420 for 20M, and the 9440 for 40M, etc.) but from what I’ve read they aren’t suitable for digital modes due to too much drift.

So, the two leading contenders for my use were the Yaesu FT-817ND and FT-857D. Both of them not only support HF ops, but also 2M and 70cm, and are all-mode. E.g, I’ll be able to try out 2M SSB, whereas most VHF radios are FM-only.

I would up getting an FT-817ND at the Delaware Ham Radio Outlet. I chose it over the 857D because it is tiny and has less current draw. Along with the radio I got an LDG Z-817H tuner, which is rated for up to 50W, in case I ever get an amp for the rig.


In the picture above I put my Victorinox Farmer Swiss Army Knife on top of the rig for scale. It’s 3.5” long.

The rig can be powered via 8 AA cells in an internal bay, a rechargeable battery pack that goes in the same bay, or an external DC power source.

The DC power cord that ships with the FT-817ND has a plug that connects into the radio and bares wires on the other end. I’m currently using one of these adapters from Powerwerx to connect the rig to my power supply. Quicksilver Radio sells a replacement cord with Power Poles already installed on the ends, which I’ll get if I can’t install the APPs to my satisfaction.

Since the FT-817ND is all-mode capable on all bands, that means you can use SSB on 2M or 70cm. The vast majority of 2M/70cm rigs are FM-only, but the 817 opens up the possibility of not just SSB but digital modes like PSK-31 and MT63, for which you normally have the rig set to SSB. In a SHTF/WROL situation, this has the potential for increasing COMSEC, since most folks won’t be looking for it, nor be capable of decyphering your signals.

After I’ve had the chance to use the rig for awhile I’ll post a more in-depth article about it.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Winter Tarp Shelter

I just ran across this video by IA Woodsman on how to construct a winter tarp shelter. It’s well worth watching.

Winter Tarp Shelter by IA Woodsman

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Building a Bucket Ham Repeater

As found at

The “Bucket Repeater” is a battery powered cross-band VHF/UHF repeater in a weather proof enclosure that can operate unattended for a week or more, and be remotely activated or deactivated from miles away as needed.


I will say that he's probably get better performance by substituting a 1/4 ground plane or copper J-pole for the magnet mount antenna. The latter has the advantage of easy mounting, not to mention the fact that you can buy a decent one from Amazon for around $20, already assembled.

A cross-band repeater like this is valuable for groups who want to communicate over distances or terrain which would normally block an FM signal. For example, you might have two people who need to communicate via UHF or VHF, but one's home is located in a hollow, the sides of which block the radio signal. A cross-band repeater like the one described in the linked article could be placed up in a tree on an intervening hill, allowing two-way communication.

An alternative if you do not have a radio capable of cross band repeat is a simplex repeater like the MFJ-662 or Argent Data Systems ADS-SR1, which use the store-and-forward technique. A simplex repeater might be easier to setup, but cross band repeaters provide better realtime commo.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Hausbell Cree and Harbor Freight Flashlights

One of the most important items in a survival kit is a good light. Sometimes, you don’t need the blinding power of modern LED tactical lights, just a handy flashlight to help you navigate in the dark, find the keys you dropped, or light up a noise in the yard.

For around the house use I have picked up a bunch of the small, AAA-powered 9-LED flashlights from Harbor Freight. I always get HF coupons in the mail, paper, or the American Rifleman, and there’s usually one for a free light with any purchase. I don’t think I’ve paid for any of the at least six HF flashlights that I have.

That said, the HF lights are cheap, as in chintzy. They use three AAA cells rather than AAs, which I’ve tried to standardize on. The size is very handy, though, so I decided to try the similar AA-powered Cree LED lights from China available from places like Deal Extreme or Amazon.

Also, one of my friends who uses flashlights more than I do gave up on the HF lights after several of them failed, and switched over to the little Cree single AA cell lights.

The first order I placed was for 4 of the lights from an Amazon seller shipping from China. I waited a week past the expected delivery date without them showing, then got a refund from Amazon. I then ordered a pair from a supplier based in the US, Hausbell. They came in two days via Amazon Prime Sunday delivery. In the first picture I have one of the HF lights, one of the Hausbells, and my Victorinox Pioneer Farmer SAK for scale (it is 3.5” long).


(The small blue light attached to the knife is by eGear. I bought it at REI for about ten bucks. It’s come in handy on numerous occasions and I hardly notice carrying it.)

The specs provided by the importer are 7W, 300 Lumen output. It’s supposed to be waterproof. Powered is provided by a single AA cell.

The Hausbell light feels more substantial in the hand than the HF light. The HF light has a small loop attached to it, while the Hausbell has a pocket clip. I wanted to see if the Hausbell would work as a headlamp, so I attache it to the brim of my cap, but it’s too heavy. If it was a little lighter I’d reattach the clip pointing the other way (after drilling and tapping two hole) but I’m not going to bother.

Both lights have tailcap switches but the Hausbell’s is recessed to prevent it from being activated by accident. This also allows the Hausbell to stand on end, while the HF light has to lean on something.


This shows the one Cree  LED emitter of the Hausbell and the nine of the HF light. I don’t have a good pic but the light color of the Hausbell is a bit nicer, with less of a blue tint than the HF’s.


You can change the focus of the Cree LED by moving the bezel in or out. When in, the light is more of a flood. Extended, it’s a narrower beam and when shone on a surface you actually see the outline of the emitter. The HF beam is not adjustable.

The Hausbell is much brighter than the HF light. The latter is good for use up close, but doesn’t throw very far. In flood mode the Hausbell will light up most of my suburban backyard, and when focused down it will cast a beam at least 75 yards.

A few different versions of the Cree-based lights are available. E.g., different case colors, multi-mode units, and some come packaged with # 14500 cells and a recharger. There are also mounts that will clamp the Cree lights to a bicycle handlebar, making it into an inexpensive but reasonably powerful headlight.

As part of my effort to lose weight and get in better shape, I’ve been walking laps of my neighborhood after dinner. I’ve been carrying either a Rayovac, HF, or Fenix light. The Rayovac and the Fenix are both longer and heavier than the Hausbell. I’m switching to the new light. It’s more than bright enough and easier to carry in my pocket.

Both lights are useful. The Hausbell is more substantial and better made. The HF light weighs a little less, and can be picked up for free with a coupon if you’re buying something at Harbor Freight. The HF lights are good for around the house and for giving to kids or other people who tend to lose things. They are almost disposable. In contrast, the Hausbell feels like a solid unit that will give years of service, and comes at low cost.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Improvements on the USGI Poncho Liner

One of the most popular pieces of gear issued to American troops is the poncho liner, or “woobie.” Developed in the 1960s or 70s, it’s basically a lightweight quilt with ties around the perimeter, allowing you to tie it into a poncho and use them together as a warm weather sleeping bag. It can be used to add a bit more warmth to a sleeping bag, and you can also use the ties to secure the woobie as a sunshade.

I’ve used an old ERDL camo VietNam-vintage woobie for camping off and on since the late 1980s. Lately, I’ve been sleeping in a recliner at home because of back issues, and dug it out of my camping gear to serve as a blanket.

Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Brigade Quartermaster offered a poncho liner with Thinsulate instead of the old fashioned polyester batting insulation. They are long out of production, but other vendors now sell poncho liners/woobies that are both warmer and more compressible than the GI poncho liner.  Among them are:

All of them are quality pieces of gear.  The Woobie Express and Mountain Serape are designed so that can wear them as a great coat. Of these newer designs, I decided to try out the Jungle Blanket.

I chose the JB for its reasonable price, the good reputation of the manufacturer, and it’s feature set. Specifically, I wanted a blanket, I don’t mind the lack of ties, it’s very compressible and comes with a stuff sack, and one side is wind proof and water resistant.

Snugpak gives it a comfort rating of 45 degrees with a low of 36 degrees.

Even using it in the house, the increased warmth of the Jungle Blanket over my four decade old GI poncho liner is noticeable.

I also took it out on my back patio while it was in the upper 30s, and wrapped myself up, using it like a matchcoat over just a T-shirt and dress shirt. There wasn’t much of a breeze and after a few minutes it warmed up nicely.

Due to the texture of the material, I had to hold the JB in place.  With a belt or cord to hold it in place around your waist, and maybe a safety pin to keep it up around your chest, it would make a pretty decent survival blanket/coat down into the upper 30s.

I remain a fan of the GI poncho liner for warm weather or for adding a little bit of warmth to a sleeping bag, and doing it at a low price. However, the Snugpak Jungle Blanket is a definite improvement offering more warmth with less bulk, and at a price point just a little north of the old woobie.

CCI Quiet .22 LR

I got the chance to fire off a few rounds of CCI Quiet .22 LR yesterday. It's a 40 grain lead round nose bullet at 710 FPS. Last month I got 2 bricks of it from Midway.

From my daughter's Savage Rascal with a 16.25" barrel, it makes less noise than a high powered spring piston air rifle. Remington CBee loads are louder.

From my Beretta 71 pistol it's a lot louder and sounds like a gun. It did not have enough oomph to cycle the action. I'm looking forward to trying it in my Ruger 22/45 with suppressor. I'm hoping the can will add enough back pressure to allow the gun to cycle.

I didn't test for accuracy as we were in a friend's yard plinking.

If you can find some and you have a gun that shoots it well, the CCI Quiet should make a good load for discrete pest control or small game hunting.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Survivor Library

This site has a ton of old books on everything from farming to Boy Scout manuals, engineering, chemistry, education, and radio. They can be downloaded as PDFs or ePub files.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Kovea LPG Adapter

About a month or so ago I got a Kovea LPG adapter to use with my Kovea Spider stove. The little butane canisters that the Spider is intended to run on are handy, but sometimes they aren't available locally. In contrast, 1 lb. propane bottles are available pretty much everywhere, including stores like Target, Walmart, and local supermarkets. This weekend, I had the chance to test the LPG adapter for the first time.

Friends and I went on a camping/hunting trip in Tioga County, PA. The temperatures ranged from the upper 30s to the 60s. Most of our stove use was probably when it was in the 40s. I used the Spider with the LPG adapter to make coffee in my percolator and warm water for dish washing.

When using butane or butane/propane mix canisters, the stove makes a noise a bit like a jet engine. When using the 1 lb. propane bottles through the adapter, it sounds like an jet with the afterburner kicked in. When using the adapter the stove's flame needs more attention to prevent flare ups. I may need to tweak the pressure adjustment, which is done with a very small flat bladed screwdriver.

I didn't do any scientific testing to see if the stove boils water with one fuel or the other. My reason for getting the LPG adapter was to improve the stove's versatility, and in that it succeeded quite well. For that purpose I recommend it, even though I expect that going forward, I'll probably use the butane or butane/propane mix canisters for convenience, and keep the LPG adapter in reserve.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

ARRL Web Server Breach


Late last month, a security breach occurred, involving a web server at ARRL Headquarters. ARRL IT Manager Mike Keane, K1MK, said that League members have no reason to be concerned about sensitive personal information being leaked.


If you have a login at, I suggest you go change your password.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Free Book: Radio Monitoring A How To Guide

N2EI has made his book, Radio Monitoring A How To Guide, freely available under the Creative Commons License. Go download it here.

{Hat tip to Sparks.}

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.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Baofeng UV5R 2M/70cm Ham Radio

The Baofeng UV5R and variants like the UV5RA have become popular with preppers because they are a very low cost way to get into ham radio. Back in June a friend who is a new ham and I both picked up UV5RAs, and for the money, we’re both impressed with them.

As handy talkies (HTs), the Baofengs allow you to have a small, light, and inexpensive two-way radio for communication on the 2 meter (144 MHz) and 70 centimeter (440 MHz) ham bands. They can be used in simplex mode or with repeaters, allowing you to communicate over longer distances.

The Baofengs will also receive FM broadcast band stations, NOAA Weather broadcasts, and can be programmed to operate on FRS, GMRS, and MURS frequencies.

Note that the Baofengs are not FCC type-accepted for FRS, GMRS, or MURS, so it is illegal to transmit on these freqs with them unless it’s an emergency.

There are a few accessories you should get with one of these little HTs in order to maximize their usefulness:

  • The stock antenna sucks. The Nagoya NA-701 offers improved reception and transmission without being too long.
  • For use in a vehicle you want an external antenna. The Tram 1185 is an inexpensive mag mount antenna that works well. You’ll also need this jumper to go between the HT’s antenna connection and the Tram’s SO-239 plug.
  • This Baofeng speaker-mic will improve audio for both transmission and reception. (I originally got a Pofung speaker-mic but it was DOA. I returned it to Amazon on their dime and got the Baofeng branded speaker-mic in its place.)
  • When I’m using the UV5RA in my truck I use this battery eliminator to power the radio. Note that this is not a charger, despite the Amazon product description. Rather, it replaces the battery with a regulator that powers the radio from your vehicle’s 12V outlet.
  • Finally, programming the Baofeng by hand is a tedious, frustrating job. Save yourself a lot of aggravation and use your computer and this USB cable. If you already have a programming cable for Icom radios it will be compatible. Check out for troubleshooting any issues related to driver installation. Don’t use Baofeng’s software, which sucks. Rather, use the open source, free software CHIRP, which supports both the UV5R and many other radios. CHIRP is available for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, and FreeBSD.

Everything linked above, including a radio, can be bought from Amazon for under $100.

Although my friend and I both got the UV5RA, were I purchasing again I’d probably go with the plain UV5R. The insides of the two radios are the same but there are extra capacity batteries that fit the UV5R that don’t fit the UV5RA.

This thread on Arfcom is a gold mine of information on how to get up and running with a Baofeng UV5R radio:

Despite their popularity, the Baofeng’s are low end radios. HTs from any of the Big Three – Icom, Kenwood, or Yaesu – will be sturdier and have better performance. But, they are a lot more expensive. E.g., even the relatively simple Yaesu FT-60R will run you more than three times the cost of a Baofeng UV5R. The Chinese radio is good if you’re on a tight budget or if you need to use a radio in an environment where it’s susceptible to loss or damage, and it’s cheap enough to keep extras on hand. If you have at least your Technician license or are looking to get it, the Baofeng UV5R is not a bad choice for an entry level radio.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

How to Make "Mountain Man MREs"

Over on Survival Sherpa, Todd Walker has a nice article on how to make jerky, pemmican, and parched corn. These were traditional foods used on the trail up through the 19th Century.

Check it out here.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Inexpensive Travel Case for Icom 7200

Many ham radio operators like to build "go boxes" which allows them to transport their rig(s) and operate right from the box. Some of these are very elaborate, incorporating power supplies, batteries, various meters, and antenna tuners. For example, the Arfcom Ham Radio forum has a long thread with links to many of these builds

I didn't want to create such an elaborate or heavy setup for my own portable ops, but I did need something better than the old Yuengling beer case that I've been using.

On the IC7200 Yahoo group someone mentioned that the radio will fit into a Harbor Freight #69318 18" x 6" x 13" aluminum toolbox. Today I took a ride to the nearest HF store to look at them in person and bought one. Note that HF sells two very similar toolboxes. The #69318 is the one that comes with pluck-to-fit open cell foam and dividers. The #69315 appears to be identical but does not come with the foam.

Here is the one I bought:

As shown in the sticker on the box, it also comes with an insert for holding tools. I removed this because I needed the interior height.

It took only a few minutes to pluck out the foam pieces so that my radio is nicely cradled in the box:

An oblique view shows the depth relative to the radio and LDG IT100 tuner:

(The tuner is secured to the radio with Gorilla tape.)

The box closes with a bit of pressure on the lid and keeps the rig from moving around. I have copies of my ham and GMRS licenses tucked behind the egg crate foam in the lid, along with a print out of the ARRL band plan.

Many go boxes are watertight. This one is not, but my use for it is transport to and from a campsite in my truck. Likewise, it's only one part of my portable setup: I still need to bring a separate power source, netbook, and of course, the antenna and mast. But, this will be easier to transport in my truck, easier to carry, and it was cheap. With a 20% off coupon the toolbox was about $25 out the door. I might pick up another one for the laptop and assorted other gear.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Going Mobile

Last weekend I was back up in Tioga County and managed to get some ham radio in.

That's my Icom 7200 radio, LDG IT100 tuner, Hawaii EARC end fed antenna attached to a 31' Jackite kite pole, which is slipped over a 4' piece of rebar pounded into the ground, and a Harbor Freight Cen-Tech 12V portable power source. The Icom's power cord is terminated with Anderson Power Poles, so I got a Powerwerx Cigbuddy adapter so that it can connect to the 12VDC outlet on the Cen-Tech battery.

The laptop is my old MSI Wind U100 netbook running 32-bit Windows 7 Ultimate. At some point I want to replace the hard disk with an SSD for a slight performance boost, but mainly for improved battery life.

I'm running FLDGI on the laptop for digital modes (PSK31, Olivia). After I replace the HDD I'll probably set it up as a dual boot system with Windows 7 and openSUSE 13.1 using the LXDE desktop environment.

Before the trip I'd received a KF5INZ Easy Digi interface to let me use my iPad 2 or iPhone 5 and PSKER instead of the laptop for PSK31. (Reviews on eHam here.) The interface itself is a nice little unit but I've been having trouble getting VOX setup correctly on the IC7200, so I wound up using the netbook this trip.

Aside from playing on HF I also got to try my new Baofeng UV5RA HT. One of my friends who just got his ham ticket (0 to General in one setting) got one for his first radio and I found it too cheap to pass up, as a backup to my Yaesu VX5RS. A follow up post on the Baofeng is planned.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Cen-Tech 3-In-1 Portable Power Pack

On my trip to Tioga County on Field Day, I wanted to try operating my Icom 7200 from battery power. As mentioned in my AAR, this didn’t happen because I had issues with my battery. So, shortly after getting back home I swung by Harbor Freight and bought a Cen-Tech 3-In-1 portable 12V power pack, item number 38391. I had a coupon so I was able to get it for $39.99 plus sales tax.

Cen-Tech 38391 3-in-1 Portable Power Pack with Jump Starter
Photo borrowed from HF.

The Cen-Tech power pack has three functions:
  • It’s a jump starter for vehicles with 360 cold cranking amps.
  • It has a small work light. It’s a 3.6 watt incandescent bulb and probably will get little to no use by me.
  • It has a 12V cigarette lighter-style outlet on the side for powering electronics.
All this is powered by a 17 amp hour sealed lead acid battery. Since it’s SLA, you must keep the battery charged or it will be damage. There’s a voltmeter on the front that allows you to check on the state of the battery.

The unit weighs about 14 pounds, so it’s easily portable.

Upon getting it home I removed the back cover of the power pack to verify that all of the connections were secure. That taken care of, I proceeded to charge it for 48 hours per the quick-start guide. Recharges should take 34 hours. Aside from a wall plug it also comes with a charger that allows you to plug it into a vehicle’s 12V outlet, but the manual warns you that it won’t charge the battery as well as mains power.

To go with the Cen-Tech unit I bought a Powerwerx Cigbuddy from Ham Radio Outlet.
Powerwerx CIGBUDDY
Photo borrowed from HRO.

As you can see, it’s a 12V cigarette lighter outlet to Andersen Power Pole adapter. This allows me to plug my Icom 7200 into the HF box.

As I write this I have the Icom 7200 monitoring 14.070 MHz and viewing PSK31 signals on the FLDIGI waterfall, on battery power.

Harbor Freight has a deserved reputation for varying quality when it comes to its products. This model was recommended by Sparks for use as portable 12V power supply* and so far it seems OK, but of course, only time will tell. At $40 it was worth a try.

We’re heading upstate again at the end of July and plan to bring the Cen-Tech battery pack with me for powering my radio.

*He posted a picture here and I asked him about it on Facebook.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Multi-Family Camping Trip AAR

From Jun 27 - 29, 2014 three of my friends and I took our respective kids up to Tioga County, PA for a camping trip. We had a total of 10 kids ranging in age from 8 to 11.

We are experienced campers, and have taken our kids on local overnighters, but this adventure was a lot more involved due to the distance involved and the fact that this time we were staying out for two nights. Along the way, we learned some lessons that are applicable to both recreational camping and a buyout situation.


We first met at the Cabela’s in Hamburg, PA. On other trips we’ve used FRS/GMRS radios for inter-vehicle commo. This time we ran into some difficulties with the privacy codes that were enabled on a couple of the radios, preventing us from hearing one of the other units. The privacy codes also caused inter-operability problems between Motorola and Midland units. Unfortunately, none of us had our radio manuals with us and we couldn’t figure out how to disable the codes. The codes just prevent you from hearing other FRS/GMRS users not sending the correct sub-audible tone. They don’t prevent other people listening in on you. IMO, they are more trouble than they are worth.

I’ve been working on my friends to get at least a Technician level ham radio license (I have my General and I’m studying for Amateur Extra). If we all then got the same model of radio programming them would be simpler, and of course we could just pick a simplex frequency on 2 meters to use without any privacy codes to worry about. Even HTs would work, especially with an external antenna.

CB would also be a viable option.

From Cabela’s we convoyed upstate with a planned break for lunch at a rest stop on I-80. We had packed our lunches ahead of time but the rest stop does have some of the park-style BBQ grills available for use, which could be handy. One of my friends used his canister stove and a French press to make coffee at the rest stop.

Our next stop was at Walmart in Mansfield. We had decided that rather than buying food ahead of time and having it sit in the hot vehicles for most of a day, we’d just get it in Mansfield, about a half hour from our destination. IMO, this was a mistake. As soon as we got out of our vehicles it was like unleashing a swarm of locusts. As we shopped we had to corral 10 kids running this way and that. It would have been better to just get the food and paper goods ahead of time, or to send one or two guys into town to shop, while the remaining vehicles continued on to our campsite, about a half hour away.

On the way up my girls were able to keep themselves occupied in the back of the car with their iPhones. One of them has an app that is teaching her French that she played with that for a couple hours. My wife and I aren’t into electronic parenting at home, but smartphones or tablets are great for keeping children occupied on a long road trip.

Our vehicles consisted of two minivans and two SUVs: a Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey, Honda Pilot, and a Nissan Xterra. The minivans are great for hauling a lot of gear, get decent gas mileage, and have a lot of amenities. The Pilot is a nice ride with a good amount of storage space, and handles the rough driveway of my friend’s land better than the minivans. My Xterra is the only true offroad capable vehicle in the group, but it lacks cargo space compared with the others. I had to use a roof top cargo bag to augment the inside space, since I couldn’t lower the rear seats as I normally do on camping trips.


Once at camp we setup three tents (one of which is huge and handled one adult plus 7 girls). The large tent is a Walmart Ozark Trail 10-person tent and has been used during all seasons, even though it’s a three-season tent. The design is well thought-out but now that it’s a few years old, the fiberglass poles are starting to break. During our Spring trip one split and we repaired it with duct tape. This time, two more split and had to be repaired by wrapping them with bailing wire and then covering the wire with duct tape. (I keep both in my truck toolbox.) The lesson here is that if you’re going to rely on China-Mart quality control you must be prepared to fix it when it fails.

The other tent was a Coleman (not sure what model) and didn’t give us any problems.

The third tent was my REI Basecamp 6, which I’ve used numerous times and never had a problem with. The other tents had plain blue tarps underneath but I sprung for the REI footprint when I bought mine. For warm weather like we had I wouldn’t mind a little more ventilation, but for cold weather use you can really button up and keep out the wind. Since we pitch camp on top of about a foot of gravel, this time I brought along 4 landscaping spikes that I had laying around for use as stakes. They worked well but I couldn’t remove two of them. Two were stuck fast so I just pounded them in flush with the ground when I struck the tent, so they wouldn’t be tripping hazards.

Finally, the property has a 16’ x 24’ steel-roofed pavilion that we use to get out of the sun or rain. At some point my friend is probably going to wall it in, have a cement floor poured, and then we’ll have a cabin to use.

We used a mix of cots, foam pads, and air mattresses for beds. I used my Big Agnes air mattress and while it’s well-made and doesn’t leak, unless I’m sleeping under a tarp, from now on I’m going to squeeze my cot into the truck no matter what. At 46, cots are easier to lay down and get off of, and give you storage space underneath.

Most everyone used a sleeping bag but I used my old, GI-issue, woodland camo poncho liner. Nighttime temps got down into the 50s. I was comfortable in my woobie, a t-shirt, and shorts, but my daughters were a little cold even in the 40* rated sleeping bags, so they put on hoodies inside their bags. This demonstrates how small kids often don’t handle cooler temps as well as adults.


During our time there we realized that children raised in a modern American middle class household have no concept of water discipline or a limited supply of things like paper plates, bottled water, or paper towels. For example, we setup a 7 gallon jug and unless we watched it like hawks, the kids were prone to using it just like a faucet, i.e., turn it on and leave it open while washing hands. None of the adults remembered to bring a big container of hand sanitizer, which would have conserved a lot of water.

Likewise, some of the kids were prone to grabbing a bottle of water, taking a few sips, forgetting where it was, then going and getting another bottle when they got thirsty again. We took to marking their initials on a water bottle and then locking the cases in a vehicle. We experienced the same thing with paper plates and bowls.

One of the guys didn’t bring enough spoons and forks for his kids so we ran short. We were also short on cups. I suggested to him that he get a Rubbermaid Action Packer box and put all his camping gear in it so that it’s always ready to go. Going forward, each kid will be issued a cup and a spork and be held responsible for it.

Checklists are a good way to prevent you from forgetting things.

In the past we’ve done a lot of cooking on the campfire but last year a park style grill was put in at the site. This is easier to use because it’s at a convenient height. Hot dogs, hamburgers, sausage, and steak was cooked on it using Kingsford briquettes. We use a couple chimney starters to get the briquettes going. Saturday night we made chili (win a cast iron Dutch oven, using briquettes for heat.

Breakfast on Saturday and Sunday was oatmeal. We used my Kovea Spider butane canister stove to boil water in both a Walmart grease pot and a Kelly kettle. I also used the Kovea stove for making coffee in a stainless percolator. (I know it’s a figment of my imagination but coffee tastes best when made in the perc over a campfire, but this time I didn’t have to clean soot off of it.)

My water jug will leak a little when laid down so you can use the spigot. I’ve taken to keeping a roll of Teflon plumber’s tape wire tied to the handle, and use it to seal the cap threads.


I use the first aid kit in my truck on pretty much every camping trip for scrapes and cuts. This trip was no exception. On the second day my youngest stubbed her toe on a tent stake and peeled back some skin from the tip of her right pinky toe. I was able to patch her up but had to bum some triple antibiotic ointment from one of the other guys. This was a reminder that I needed to do the annual inventory and replenishment of my first aid kit.

As I mentioned in the section about shelter, I had to break out my toolkit for some onsite tent repairs. I keep a small bag with basic hand tools, duct tape, bailing wire, electrical tape, and WD40 in my truck at all times. I’ve also used the kit to fix air mattresses. One time we had to wire a valve shut, while this time another guy’s mattress had a pinhole leak that I was able to patch with duct tape. Make sure you bring good duct tape. "Duck” brand is good, as is Gorilla tape. The 3M brand duct tape that I’ve bought recently at Lowe’s is not up to snuff, in my experience

One of my buddies brought a Thermacell and damn, it works great. He set it on the table where we do food prep and it kept all the bugs away. I did pick up a few black fly bites when I was away from the area covered by the Thermacell. I need to add some After-Bite to my first aid kit.



All the kids had the chance to catch bluegills and one got a small catfish. We like the Zebco Dock Demon fishing rod sets with spin cast reels you can buy at Walmart.(I’d avoid the Dock Demons with spinning reels if you’re buying it for a kid, unless you want to spend a lot time untangling fishing line.) They are a good size for smaller kids and are cheap. They also seem better made than the rod sets sold specifically to kids, e.g., the Spiderman or whatever themed sets.

When dealing with 10 kids it’s only a matter of time before someone gets hooked. We used only barbless hooks, made by squashing the hooks’ barbs with a pair of pliers. This also makes it more like that the fish we release will survive. I have a small multi-tool that I got at Cabela’s for about $10 that I keep in my tackle box and used for this. I also used it to remove hooks from the mouths of fish.


My friends and I also got to get a little shooting in on Saturday afternoon. I helped one guy zero the red dot on his new AR-15 and he also tested out the CMMG .22 LR conversion that he bought for it at Cabela’s. We were pleasantly surprised to see that it ran OK with CCI Standard Velocity ammo. He noticed that even after less than a full box of ammo his receiver was filthy inside, so keep in mind the need to clean it before switching back to 5.56 if using one,

I got some plinking in with my 1948-vintage Remington 550-1 semiauto .22. I tried two kinds of .22 LR in it: Remington .22 CBees and Aguila .22 LR Subsonics. It functioned just fine with either. Both rounds were pretty quiet out of the 24” barrel. The Aguila ammo shoots OK but seems to be on the dirty side, even for .22.


This turned out to be a total total SNAFU on my part. Our trip coincided with ARRL Field Day, when amateur radio operators practice under field conditions.

First, I had a problem trying to get my Hawaii EARC end fed antenna up in a tree. My slingshot didn't have enough oomph to launch a 1 oz. sinker tied to some 550 cord high enough, and then it broke. I should have used fishing line or maybe mason’s twine for the leader rope, since they are lighter. I may want to use a heavier sinker, as well, so it can drag the leader line down through left branches. Another option would be to use a plastic water bottle with the line tied to it, and just toss it up. I wound up finding a downed sapling and used that as a mast, with the end of the wire duct taped to to the top. It wasn't quite as along as I would have liked but it would have worked OK, I think, had the radio worked.

After I got the antenna up, my Icom 7200 radio wouldn't power up from my battery. {Insert string of profanities here.} I just got a clicking sound when I hit the power button. The battery had been on a trickle charger but it may just well be shot.

I'll be using a different option for power next year and an alternative means of hoisting my antenna. For power, last weekend I picked up a Centech 3-In-1 Jump Starter and 12V Power Supply at Harbor Freight for $39.99 + tax using a coupon. It has a 17ah SLA battery inside. I decided to get this particular one because (1) it’s cheap, and (2) it was recommended by Sparks. Before plugging it in for its initial charge I removed the back panel and verified that all the connections were snug. The downside to the SLA battery is that I need to top it off every month or so, or the battery will go bad.

Next time I may just bring my Jackite 31’ telescoping fiberglass pole instead of relying on a wood pole cut onsite. It’s one more thing to bring but being much lighter, will be easier to erect.


Our kids all had a great time and I don’t think any of the dads picked up too many new gray hairs. It reinforced the necessity of trying out your gear and testing your plans before you rely on them in earnest. It was a lot of fun and good practice if we ever find ourselves in a bugout situation.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Backyard Small Pistol Penetration Tests

Over on The High Road, “marb4” posted a thread in which he tested the penetration and expansion of several different loads from small handguns.

The loads tested were:

  • 9mm Speer Gold Dot 115 grain JHP
  • Federal .380 ACP Hydrashock 90 grain JHP low-recoil
  • Winchester .380 95 grain FMJ flat nose
  • Remington .38 Special 148 grain wadcutter
  • CCI .22 LR 40 grain Mini Mag lead round nose.

The penetration of the two .380 loads and the CCI .22 LR Mini Mags is especially impressive. I load Federal 95 grain FMJ-RN in my Ruger LCP .380 because I’ve been concerned that .380 lacks penetration. It looks like some of the modern .380 JHPs may actually penetrate deeply enough.

I've always suggested Mini Mag solids for someone who must use a .22 for defense, because (1) solids penetrate better than hollowpoints, especially from a .22 rifle, (2) CCI rimfire ammunition has the most reliable priming in my experience, and (3) Mini Mags work reliably in every .22 autoloader that I’ve tried them in, something I cannot say for any other type of ammunition.

My Springfield XD9 is loaded with 9mm 124 grain Gold Dots.

With the popularity of the Kel-Tec P32, I’d like to see similar testing done with a few different .32 ACP loads. Many people, including myself, recommend a European-spec .32 FMJ load to get adequate penetration. It would be nice to see if any of the modern JHPs can penetrate at least 12”.

Kudos to marb4 for providing us with some additional data on with which to choose carry loads.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Observations from a guy with one hand all bandaged up

This morning I had surgery to fix "trigger finger” on my right thumb. It was done under a local anesthetic and only took about a half hour. It went well and I really didn’t start having any pain until after almost eight hours, but my hand is wrapped with a bulky bandage that I have to keep it dry and clean for a week.

The trigger finger started last October and was temporarily resolved with a steroid shot into the base of my thumb. That was fun. Not. It started recurring about midway through April and I finally got the surgery to permanently fix it today.

Thankfully, it’s my right hand and I’m a lefty. But the experience is making me more appreciative of having two properly functioning hands.

One tool I’m currently unable to use is a regular slip joint pocketknife, like my favorite Victorinox Pioneer. Because of the side that the nail slots are on the blades, I find them very awkward to open with my left hand. I use the blade everyday, and frequently use the bottle opener for a beer after dinner. (I won’t be drinking anything as long as I’m taking Tylenol 3, though.) So, until I regain use of my right thumb I’ll be relying on my Kershaw Leek assisted opener.

Prior to the procedure it was quite difficult to rack the slide on a semi auto pistol. Right now it would be very, very difficult if not impossible. Loading mags would be hard without something like a LULA. A revolver will be easier to use. I could probably run a rifle or shotgun without too much problem, however.

Doing any work in my home shop is a no-go, since getting cutting oil and metal ships embedded in the bandage wouldn’t be good.

My biggest worry if TSHTF now would be avoiding infection for the next few days. I’d have to take extra steps to protect the incision and keeping it dry. I’m thinking that plastic wrap and/or tape would serve to keep it from getting contaminated. (I’m on the antibiotic Clindamycin as a prophylactic for a few days.)

Taking a shower tomorrow morning will be interesting.

Compared to the medical issues some other forum members have experienced this is a small potatoes, and I should be returning to work tomorrow, but it’s a hassle nonetheless. I expect my hand to heal rapidly but this could be more than a hassle under the wrong circumstances.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Hawaii EARC 6-40M End-Fed Antenna

A little while ago I picked up a 6 – 40M end-fed matchbox antenna from the Hawaii Emergency Amateur Radio Club, for field use. It operates using similar principals to the Ultimax 100 that I use at my QTH.

Both units consist of a single wire antenna with a matching unit at the feed point, however, the Ultimax is advertised as being usable from 6 to 80M. I haven’t had much luck with Tx on bands lower than 40M.

The matching unit on the HI EARC is much smaller than the one on the Ultimax, so it’s better suited for portable operations.

Today I got the chance to try out the HI EARC antenna and while this is hardly a comprehensive test, my first impressions are good. Rx during my daytime 20M test seems comparable to the Ultimax 100 as does my Tx propagation, according to

My quick and dirty test setup looked like this:


I used some electral tape to attach the end of the antenna wire to the tip of a Jackite 31-foot telescoping kite pole, then propped up the pole with the magnolia in my front yard. The pole wasn’t long enough to fully extend the wire so I put the matching unit with feed point on the plastic lawn chair to the left.

For a feed line I used a 25-foot piece of RG-8X coaxial cable coming from my LDG IT-100 tuner. With my Icom 7200 and this antenna setup I was able to get a QSO with a station in Windsor, Ontario, using 50W on 20M PSK-31. I can’t leave it up for long because the XYL threw a fit about me having this in the front yard. Future tests will be in the field.

I’ll post a follow up after I get the chance to use the antenna some more.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Hill People Gear Kit Bag Review

In my ongoing search to find a comfortable way to carry a gun while hiking, including when wearing a pack, I bought a Hill People Gear Kit Bag. I ordered it last Thursday and received it on Monday.

HPG is a small, family-run business located in Colorado. The Kit Bag is a chest pack with three compartments. Overall dimensions are 11.5” wide by 7.5” tall by 2” thick.

The outer zippered pocket is the smallest. I replaced the Slick Clips that come attached to the sewn-in loops with mini carabiners, which I find easier to use. One biner has a Fox whistle and an REI compass on it. The other has a Nitecore T0 flashlight on it, and I also use it to secure my keys. Other items I put in this pocket include some tarred bankline and some 550 cord, a ziploc bag with mixed nuts, and a Benchmade Griptilian folding knife.

The middle compartment opens up and has two pockets on the far side. The third and furthest from your body is a slash pocket again with two pockets, this time on the side closest to you. This pocket also has nylon webbing loops for dummy cording items.

In this compartment I keep a Cliff Bar, small first aid kit, an SOL Survival Blanket (space blanket), water purification tablets, an empty 0.5 liter Platypus water bottle, and a fire making kit with strike anywhere matches, Mini Bic, and three Esbit tablets, and a GI triangular bandage for use as a bandanna.

The pocket closest to your body is meant for the gun, and has a strip of the loop half of Velcro running vertically down the middle, so you can secure something like a Maxpedition universal holster to it. Here I have it packed with my Beretta M9 with a spare mag secured with just such a holster.

The gun compartment is plenty big to handle almost any full size pistol you’d want to carry.  E.g., I tried my S&W Model 625 N-Frame with a 5” barrel and it fits (But I don’t think a 6” N-Frame will fit.)

The Kit Bag comes with straps and fittings to enable you to “dock” the pack to your backpack straps, to better distribute the weight on your shoulders. I decided to remove these because (1) I don’t want to dock it, and (2) for me the Grimlocks attached to the bag got in my way when trying to open the gun compartment.

The suspension is a new take on chest pack design. Chest packs have been used at least since World War I, when some gas mask bags were carried in this fashion. The Kit Bag’s suspension consists of nylon shoulder straps about 1.5” wide in an H-harness arrangement. The straps attach to a mesh panel that rides on your back. The side strap that goes under your right arm has a quick-detach Fastex buckle near the bag.

It’s designed for use while wearing a backpack, but depending on how you adjust it to ride, I think you could use it in conjunction with a shoulder bag.

The Kit Bag is made for HPG in the USA by First Spear from 500 denier nylon, and the workmanship is outstanding. All seams are well done. There were no loose threads or ugly stitches. The zippers are high quality.

One should be careful not to overload the Kit Bag. It has enough space so that you could do so easily. I limit mine to what’s shown in the pictures above, but I may add a monocular, and might put my iPhone in it, depending on what else I’m wearing. Anything else will go in another bag or my pockets.

According to what I’ve read by HPG, the Kit Bag wasn’t designed as “tactical” gear. Rather, it’s for outdoorsman. That said, I’ve read of at least one US Army officer using one while deployed in Afghanistan.

Today I took the Kit Bag out for a hike in French Creek State Park. My walk covered only a few miles but it was over rough terrain, with a vertical rise of about 300 feet in the first half mile or so. I wore the Kit Bag for about 2.5 to 3 hours, in conjunction with my Maxpedition Baby Condor day pack, and I’m very pleased.

For me, the HPG Kit Bag is the most comfortable way I’ve ever worn a pistol. The H-harness with wide shoulder straps carries the load very well, and when adjusted properly the bag doesn’t move around. The temperature was in the 60s but due to exertion I was sweating, but my chest didn’t feel uncomfortably clammy under the bag. The back panel was very comfortable.

If you’re into hiking and have been searching for a way to comfortably carry a sidearm and a few other supplies, while wearing a backpack with a waistbelt, the Hill People Gear Kit Bag is an excellent solution. Based on the quality and utility of the Kit Bag, I’m looking at making further purchases from Hill People Gear.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

DIY FLIR Camoflauge

An interesting article with discussion and stills from the video, here.

Full video:

Beretta M9 Pistol

One pistol that it’s taken me a long time to warm up to is the Beretta 92, AKA M9. Compared with more modern pistols like the Glock, Springfield XD, or S&W Military & Police, the traditional DA/SA trigger is obsolete. Further, the M9’s size is very large for the cartridge it fires. Many people with small hands have a difficult time comfortably gripping the piece due to the bulk of the grip. This last point had always soured me on the gun.

However, opinions chance over time. Back at the beginning of April I picked up a Beretta CX-4 Storm 9mm carbine which uses Beretta 92 magazines. I regard the CX-4 as a good choice for a defensive carbine and the idea of a pistol that would take the same magazines is something I find very attractive. So, I went over to my parents’ and took another look at my father’s M9. I wound up buying my own about a week later.

The pistol came in a blue plastic hard case with a manual, warranty card, lock, two 15 round magazines, and a Jello mold or shot glass.

(Actually, it’s there to help keep the case from getting crushed in transit.)

I’m a bit surprised that it doesn’t come with a basic magazine loader. Double column/single feed pistol mags are a bitch to fill to capacity without a loading tool. In any event, I highly recommend the Butler Creek LULA magazine loader. It makes loading double column pistol magazines a breeze.

Note that in the pics of the gun above, it has a Mec-Gar 20 round magazine in place. Mec-Gar has made mags for Beretta in the past and currently make a flush-fit 18 rounder. Their 20 rounder is the bod of an 18 round mag with a +2 extension on it. Were I carrying the gun in the military or as a police officer, the Mec-Gar 20 would be my preferred magazine, with the 18 rounder as my second choice.

I bought the M9 at Surplus City in Feasterville, PA for $599 + tax. I immediately took it to the range, field stripped, cleaned and lubed it, and fired it alongside my Springfield XD9.

On the initial outing I put 111 rounds through the M9, including some Brown Bear with lacquered steel cases, PMC, and Federal American Eagle. The Brown Bear and PMC were 115 grain FMJ, while the FAE was 147 grain FMJ-FP.

One of the things that impressed me was how easy it is to shoot the Beretta accurately in SA. In the picture below, the left hand target is 50 rounds through the M9 while the right target is 30 rounds through the XD9. Distance was 10 yards.

On the target I shot with the Beretta all the fliers were my fault.

The other thing that made a favorable impression upon me is how pleasant to shoot the M9 is. It’s not an especially heavy gun because the frame is made from aluminum, but it’s bulky and the grip spreads out the already mild 9mm recoil across your hand, rather than concentrating it in one spot.

The following weekend I brought it with me on a camping trip to Tioga County, PA, where my friends and I ran a couple hundred more rounds of CCI Blazer Brass 115 grain FMJ through it, shooting at steel plates.

As an aside, on this trip I also got the chance to do night firing for the first time. I used a Fenix LD20 flashlight held in my right hand while shooting the M9 with my left. The only ambient light was from a campfire. The hardest part about getting hits was acquiring the front sight, but when I was able to do so hitting a 10” gong at ~15 – 20 yards wasn’t too hard.

One of the valid criticisms (IMNSHO) of the M9 is the trigger pull. It’s flat-out heavy and long in DA. Combined with the weapon’s girth, this makes it hard for those of us with small hands to get off accurate DA shots. I’m not normally one to tinker with a gun until it’s got through a 500 round break-in period, but in this case there is an easy, cheap fix.

The factory hammer spring is rated for 20 lbs. This was specified so that the gun doesn’t have any problems firing ammo with even the hardest of primers, e.g., some SMG ammo. I don’t have to worry about that, so I replaced the OEM spring with a a Wolff hammer spring rated for 16 lbs. This drops the DA pull down several pounds and the SA pull a pound or two. The gun is now much easier to shoot, especially for the first shot in DA.

Last night I put another 110 rounds of CCI Blazer Brass through the gun. I’m now up to ~400 rounds down the pipe and it hasn’t had a single malfunction. My father shot his M9 last night, bringing the total in his gun up to 1100 rounds, and he has yet to experience any malfunctions.

Unfortunately, the M9 doesn’t have a rail under the dust cover, so for me to mount a light it will require an add-on. (If this is critical to you, the 92A1 or M9A1 come from the factory with a rail.) Brownell’s sells a rail section that can be affixed to the dust cover which I’m considering getting. Surefire also makes a no-gunsmithing rail that secures to the trigger guard.

The Beretta’s safety/decocker is mounted up on the slide and unless you have gorilla hands, it’s difficult to reach with your thumb, without radically changing your grip. There’s a simple solution to this: don’t use the safety. IMHO it’s superfluous on a DA autoloader anyway. If the gun is being carried in a proper holster the chances of an AD are pretty much zero. I use it strictly as a decocker.

I’ve done a total 180 on the Beretta M9. It’s a big, old fashioned DA/SA autoloader, but it’s accurate, pleasant to shoot, and reliable. If you’re in the market for a 9mm pistol it’s worth a serious look.