Sunday, November 22, 2020

Converting .38 Special Brass to Accept Large Pistol Primers, Part 2

I modified another 5 cases today in my lathe. I loaded those and the 5 I modified yesterday with 4.4 grains of Unique, a CCI LPP, and a .358 160 grain LSWC from Matt's Bullets. I also loaded another 50 in unmodified brass using Sellier & Bellot SPPs.

The round on the left is an unmodifed case. The 2 on the right are modified.

You'll note that there is still plenty of brass around the large primer.

I should be able to try them next weekend.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Don't Forget to Test Your Generator

Today I wanted to fire up the DuroMax XP4850EH dual-fuel generator I bought in September. I ran it on propane after I bought it, and it started immediately on that try. My intention has been to mainly rely on propane, so I left the host and regulator connected to it and coiled up.

When I pulled it out of storage today and connected a full propane tank, it would turn over but not start. Much cussing ensued.

I tried another battery, in case the one that came with it had drained too much to start the engine. No dice.

I pulled the spark plug. It had a very little bit of dirt on it. I replaced the spark plug (setting the gap first). No dice.

I then decided to try it with gasoline. I used a battery-powered transfer pump to put some gas from a jerrycan into the tank.

And guess what, it started right up. I ran it for about 10 minutes. I then turned it off and used the pump to put most of the gas back in the jerrycan. Then I started it again and ran it dry, which took about an hour.

My theory is that there's something wrong with the propane regulator. It might be clogged. I'm going to see if I can blow it out, or get a replacement. I should have covered the regulator with a plastic bag and sealed it, but failed to do so. Learn from my mistake.

I'm just glad that I discovered this before I needed it.

Converting .38 Special Brass to Accept Large Pistol Primers

One of the things I've preached on this blog is that when times are good, you should stock up on items that will be hard to get during a panic. One of those things is a good supply of primers if you're a reloader.

Last Fall, I bought a case of 5,000 CCI Large Pistol Primers. I use LPPs for loading .38-40, .44-40, and Magtech brass shotgun shells. If I ever get around to loading .45 Colt I'll use LPPs for them as well.

For loading .38 Special, .357 Magnum, 9mm, and .32 S&W and .32 S&W Long, and .32 H&R Magnum, I need Small Pistol Primers.

Guess who forgot to stock up on SPPs before the panic hit? Guess what is virtually impossible to find now?


Before the COVID-19/race riots/election year panic set in, I thought I had around 5K SPPs. In reality, I have about half that.


So, a few weeks ago I wondered if it would be possible to convert .38 Special brass to accept LPPs. I did some research online and found that in fact, there used to be factory loaded .38 and .357 ammo which used LPPs.

Since LPPs may contain a bit more priming compound than SPPs, if you do this, reduce any maximum or near-max loads by 10% and work on up.

This page has a chart listing the minimum and maximum dimensions of both primers and primer pockets.

To modify the primer pockets I used a .210" chucking reamer with a stop collar on it to set the depth. The stop collar was made from 1/2" 6061 aluminum rod. It's held in place with an M4 screw I had in one of my miscellaneous parts bins.

To use it, I chucked deprimed a .38 Special case in the lathe and held the reamer in a drill chuck in the lathe's tailstock.

Note that because in a lathe the workpiece rotates, not the cutting tool, I don't need to be concerned about the stop collar being unbalanced due to the set screw sticking out.

I found that because of the small clearances, brass chips built up between the head of the case and the collar. I had to withdraw in several times per case to clear the chips with a brush and pick. It was slow going.

But eventually, I converted five cases to accept large pistol primers. To test, I seated CCI LPPs. They seated easily, maybe a little too easily. It might be better to use a .209" diameter reamer because .210" is the maximum for large primers.

I plan to do another 5 cases tomorrow and then load them will mild charges so I can test them on my next trip to the range.

During the Obama-era panic, some of the primer shortfall was made up by imported primers. I'm hoping that the same will happen this time around.

And you can be damn sure I won't be caught short again.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Loaded Some Black Powder Shotgun Shells

 Last weekend I primed 25 Magtech brass 12 gauge shotgun shells and on my lunch break today I finished loading them. The details:

  • Magtech 2.5" all brass hull
  • CCI Large Pistol Primer
  • 80 grains of 2Fg Goex black powder
  • 11 gauge nitro card (over powder card)
  • 11 gauge fiber cushion wad
  • Lubricated felt wad
  • 1 1/8 oz. of mixed No.7.5 shot
  • 10 gauge overshot card
  • Sealed with Duco cement

Magtech hulls require the use of oversized components because the case walls are thinner than 12 gauge plastic or paper hulls.

The felt wads were punched out of 1/8" thick wool felt with a .75" punch, then soaked in a mixture of 50/50 beeswax/mutton tallow. This is to help keep powder fouling soft.

The shot is a mix of plated that I bought from Rotometals, along with some unplated shot scavenged from miscellaneous promo loads. No. 7.5 shot is primarily for clay busting but it will work on doves, as well. Otherwise I'd load No. 5s for small game hunting.

I'll let the Duco cement cure overnight before boxing them up.

These will be good for informal clay target shooting. They shoot well in my Russian-made Baikal MP-310 over/under. Cleanup in a chrome-lined smoothbore isn't bad.

Monday, September 14, 2020

New Generator and Excellent Customer Service Experience with Amazon

The week before Labor Day, my electrician finally completed installation of a generator transfer switch in my house. Afterwards, he saw the Champion generator that I'd bought on sale at Cabela's several years ago and pointed out that I needed one that outputs 240V, so that I can power both legs of my home's wiring. The Champion puts out 120V only.


I will be donating the Champion to a friend's Civil Air Patrol squadron, which can use it for a mobile communications center they are building.

So, last week I ordered a DuroMax XP4850EH dual fuel (gasoline/propane) generator from Amazon. A friend has this model, has used it during power failures, and recommended it. It was about $707 on Prime and came on Saturday.

For anyone in CA, it's CARB-compliant, BTW.

It arrived damaged. One corner of the box had been smashed in then taped up. Upon inspecting the generator, a sheet metal cover was dented and the frame was scuffed. Nothing major appeared to be broken, so I went ahead and installed the wheels and feet.

Yesterday I added 20 oz. of 10W30 motor oil, connected the battery, and connected a propane tank for a test run. It fired right up. At least on propane, it seems a little quieter than my old Champion, which is nice.

Afterwards, I was able to get ahold of a human at Amazon, explained the situation, and asked for a credit since it was a scratch and dent. I did not ask for a specific amount. After waiting a few minutes on hold, the CSR came back and offered me a credit of $262.55, with the option of an Amazon gift card or putting it back on VISA. Heck yeah! I told her to put it back on my VISA.

My plan is to primarily rely on propane to fuel the generator. I can keep a few propane tanks around easily. Propane has an indefinite storage life and isn't as messy as gas. It doesn't pack as many BTUs as an equivalent amount of gasoline and the generator's output is lower with it, but if I know a hurricane is coming I can also go out and fill a couple of five gallon jerrycans with gas. The longest power outage that we've had that I can recall was about two days. <knock wood>

But I have an even better story from a friend. About 5 or 6 years ago, he bought a generator from Amazon. When it arrived, it did not work. This was during the holiday shopping season. He contacted Amazon to do an exchange and they told him to just keep it, and then they sent him a replacement.

He did some googling, figured out what part he needed to fix the bad generator, and got it up and running for $12.

He wound up with two generators for the price of one + $12.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Keeping my Nissan Xterra on the Road

 Last Saturday when I got up to our campsite in Tioga County my two friends who I met onsite smelled antifreeze from my 2007 Nissan Xterra after I pulled into camp. My sense of smell sucks, to put it mildly, and I didn't smell anything. We popped the hood and after the engine cooled down, checked the antifreeze level. Sure enough it was low. One of my friends had a gallon of premix so we topped it off. (Given the age of the vehicle I should have been carrying some.)

We also noticed that a hose going from air cleaner to the engine was cracked. I'm now carrying some Rescue Tape (self-fusing silicone tape) in my truck toolkit in case any other hoses crack.

The joys of owning an older vehicle. 😐

Yesterday, I brought the truck to a local mechanic who confirmed that it has a leak, so I had him replace the radiator. It must have been a very small leak since the truck didn't overheat either way on the trip (about 240 miles each way).

I've actually been thinking of getting this done to prevent the Xterra Strawberry Milkshake of Death from happening, anyway. The Xterras were designed with an automatic transmission fluid cooler integrated with the radiator. Unfortunately, sometimes there's a failure which allow cross-contamination between antifreeze and ATF fluid, causing the SMOD, which kills the transmission. It's both a clever and dumb design.

Although my truck is 13 years old it only has 110,000 miles on it, so I'd like to keep it for several more years, therefore replacing the radiator is worth it to me.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Video: Ken Hackathorn on M1 Carbine Reliability

Lately I've recently been paying more attention to my M1 Carbines and so watched this nice video on the Forgotten Weapons YouTube channel with Ken Hackathorn discussing the M1 Carbine:

I have NOWHERE near as much as experience as Mr. Hackathorn, but I’ve owned several M1 Carbines since the 1980s and my experience matches his when it comes to ensuring reliability.

My first Carbine was a commercial copy by Iver Johnson, purchased new. It had a problem with an improperly hardened bolt. The locking lugs peened and it had to go back to the factory for repair. I got rid of it a little while after I got it back from IJ.

Since then, I've owned a few USGI Carbines: 1943 Underwood, a 1944 Underwood, and a 1944 Rock Ola. I still have the '43 Underwood and the Rock Ola. On all of them I replaced the recoil springs with new springs from Wolff.

In my experience, the USGI Carbines have been very reliable as long as they were kept clean, lubed, and fed good ammo. The only time I had significant reliability issues was when shooting steel cased Wolf (Tula). The steel cases don't obturate as well as brass and the chamber got filthy. After shooting a box of that stuff I changed over to some RA 52 Ball and got extraction problems. Cleaning the chamber fixed that.

Good .30 Carbine ammo that I've shot includes RA 52 Ball (Remington from 1952), Winchester FMJ, Remington FMJ and JSP, Prvi Partizan FMJ, and Federal FMJ and JSP. I recently got a 1080 round can of mid-1980s vintage Korean milsurp ball made by PMC, and I'm sure that will be perfectly fine.

Finally, if you're interested in keeping an M1 Carbine around for more than just casual use, get ahold of Jerry Kuhnhausen's The U.S. 30 Caliber Gas Operated Carbines: A Shop Manual. It's the definitive work on gunsmithing M1 Carbines.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Black Powder 20 Gauge Shells with Patched Round Balls

  Today I loaded up 25 rounds of 20 gauge shells for potential use as short range deer hunting loads. They consist of:

  • Magtech brass cases
  • Federal large pistol primers
  • 80 grains of Goex 2Fg black powder
  • Ballistic Products nitro card
  • Ballistic Products fiber cushion wad
  • 2 x 0.010” patches prelubed with Wonder Lube
  • .575 round ball
  • Ballistic Products over shot card sealed with Duco cement
Before I settled on the patch/ball combination I check it for fit in my H&R Topper’s modified choke. With only one patch I could push it through with hand pressure. With two patches I needed to tap it through using a mallet, but it required less pressure than a typical tight fitting PRB in a muzzle loading rifle.

Waiting for the Duco cement to dry:

Monday, July 27, 2020

Black Powder Shotgun Go Boom!

A few years ago I loaded up some black powder 12 gauge shotshells in Magtech all-brass hulls, that I bought from Ballistic Products. This exercise was inspired by a video on the Survival Russia YouTube channel, which has since been taken down in accordance with their rule prohibiting videos that show how to load ammunition.

(The picture is a frame grab from an iPhone video.)

I did a few variants:

1-1/4 oz. of #7.5 shot on top of a compressed column of sawdust (in lieu of a cushion wad)
1-1/4 oz. of #5 shot on top of sawdust.

Also, some of the same payloads on top of lubricated wool felt wads. (I have a supply of such homemade wads for use in my Euroarms Magnum Cape Gun percussion 12 bore.)

And a patched .690 round ball on top a couple lubricated felt wads. All were loaded on top of 80 grains of 3Fg.

I tested one each of the #7.5 and #5s, and 3 of the PRB loads.

From 10 yards the #7.5 penetrated one wall of an empty soup can. The #5s went through both sides. Patterning seemed OK for a cylinder bore gun.

Accuracy with the PRB would be good enough to take a deer out to 40 - 50 yards or so.

Because these shells were loaded with black powder, I ran a couple patches wet with a Ballistol/water emulsion through the bore when we finished shooting. I repeated this at home and left the bore with a good coat of Ballistol.

The empty shells got put into a soapy water bath overnight. I found that a 12 gauge tornado brush was perfect for brushing out the inside of the cases to remove residue left from the glue I used to hold the over-shot cards in place.

Tomorrow I'll punch the primers out of the spent shells and clean the primer pockets. I'll also use some acetone to remove the load info I'd written on the side of the shells with a Sharpie marker.

Shooting these BP shells was a lot of fun and the cases should be reusable more or less indefinitely.

One thing I like about the Magtech brass shells is that they use large pistol primers rather than 209 shotshell primers. I use LPPs for .38 WCF and .44 WCF, so that's one less component I need to stock. Also, in normal times, pistol primers are less expensive than 209 primers. (All bets are off in this election/pandemic/civil unrest year, however.)

Saturday, July 18, 2020

NanoVNA Vector Network Analyzer

The NanoVNA vector network analyzer is a handheld device that came out a few years ago. It's based on open source software and among other things, can be used to measure the standing wave ration (SWR) on antennas. There are several versions of the NanoVNA, this is the one I bought (Amazon affiliate link.)

Wikipedia has a good explanation of SWR and why it's important.

I finally got around to trying it out today. I used it to take SWR measurements of the Ultimax 100 end-fed antenna that's on my roof.

On 80 meters, SWR hovered around 2.5:1.

On 40M, SWR was around 1.7 - 1.8:1.

On 20M, SWR was around 2.5:1.

And finally, on 6M, it ranged from about 1.25 to 1.28:1.

The NanoVNA was connected as the antenna presents to my LDG IT-100 tuner: antenna-feedline-passthrough panel-patch cord.

When I checked the Radiowaz 40M dipole that I strung recently, SWR was much higher on 40M. It should be better when I get it elevated more.

The NanoVNA is a very cool and potentially useful device. However, like a lot of things that rely on open source, documentation can be spotty. The unit came with some calibration info, but nothing on how to use it. Some documentation sources to check out:

The NanoVNA is a good addition to your toolbox if you're a ham radio operator who builds antennas. If your "the commo guy" for a group of preppers, you should give it a hard look.

Monday, July 13, 2020

RTL-SDR Blog Dongle v3

Today I received the RTL-SDR Blog v3 dongle that I ordered last week from Amazon. It came in a kit with a couple different antennas, a cable, a suction cup mount for the antennas, and a small, flexible tripod for them.

This is a replacement for an older SDR dongle that I've had for several years. The thing that attracted me to this one is that you can use it to monitor HF in direct sampling mode, without an upconverter. My older dongle could only do VHF and UHF.

One nice feature of this dongle is an aluminum case. These things get hot and the metal case acts as a heatsink. That said, I may fab something to increase the surface area to improve heat dissipation. (I have a mini-mill that may come in handy for this project.)

I installed the SDR# Community Package on my HP laptop running Windows 10, and started playing with it.

This screenshot shows it tuned to KYW 1060 AM, the Philadelphia AM news station. For this I connected it to an Ultimax 100 40M - 6M end fed antenna that's on my roof.

The second screenshot shows the dongle monitoring the 2M ham band, tuned to the W3OI repeater in Allentown, PA during their Monday night net. I am located outside Philadephia in SE PA, about 42 miles away from the Allentown repeater. The terrain isn't flat between here and there, plenty of rolling hills between my home at the repeater.

The antenna for this exercise was my Comet GP-3, which is attached to a five foot mast strapped to my chimney. The tip is probably around 30' to 35' up. It's been up there for about 15 years and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Future plans for this SDR include trying DSDPlus to try decoding digital modes, and possibly connecting it to a Raspberry Pi and accessing it over my LAN.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Jungle Antenna from CAT5 and Cardboard

Brett from the SurvivalComms YouTube channel has a nice series going on building field-expedient antennas. This one is a 2M ground plane antenna built from CAT5, a length of coax for the feed line, and some cardboard to spread the radials apart. The basic idea is the same as the "jungle antenna."

Check it out.

BTW, the link to the jungle antenna will take you to Brushbeater's blog, which has a ton of good info and links.

Friday, July 10, 2020

How to Use a Digital Multimeter

A digital multimeter (DMM) is a handy tool to have around the house for troubleshooting circuits. Sparkfun put out this nice video on how to use a DMM to measure voltage, current, resistance, and test for continuity.

RT Systems Programming Software for the Icom 7200

With my getting back into ham radio I wanted to update the memory settings on my Icom 7200. You can do so via the front panel, and it's good to know how, but it's tedious.

The popular open source program CHIRP will talk to the IC7200. However, functionality is pretty minimal with this radio. For example, it works with the rig in live mode with changes you make in the application immediately written to the radio. It also misconfigured some fields in the memories, as I discovered later.

Years ago, shortly after buying the rig, I'd purchased  RT Systems' WCS-7200 programming software on CD from the New Castle, DE Ham Radio Outlet store. That CD disappeared, along with the product registration info. So, I decided to drop $25 for a new digital download of the program. (What the heck, it's good to support small businesses anyway.)

Unlike CHIRP, it runs only on Windows, but it can use the same USB A-B cable used for digital mode operations.

The WCS-7200 software is more mature and full-featured than CHIRP. For example, I entered in a bunch of frequencies into the spreadsheet-like UI, and it then allowed me to select a group of them and move them up or down for organization. It also has a Comment field, which I used to identify which frequency is for, for example "20M PSK31" or "WWV."

Unlike CHIRP, it doesn't operate in live mode, so I could tinker with memory organization, save the file locally, and then upload it to the rig.

Before closing the app I exported the memory to a .csv file in the Ham Radio folder I keep on Dropbox, opened it in Numbers on my Mac, and printed out a copy for reference.

I still like CHIRP for programming my Baofengs and it seems to work fine with my Yaesu FT-7800R, but in this case, it was worth $25 for the commercial software.

Incidentally, a good source of frequencies to input into your radio for making contacts or just monitoring is Also check out and

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Radiowavz 40M Dipole Antenna

Today's vacation day activity was to put up a Radiowavz 40M dipole. I got it in trade several years ago for an AR15 lower receiver. :)

Hams know that antennas offer better performance when erected in crappy weather, ideally a New England winter day. Not having one of those handy, hopefully a hot-as-balls SE Pennsylvania day will suffice.

It's currently supported on both end but not the middle, which as you can see, sags a bit. The end supports are 5 foot lengths of schedule 40 PVC pipe with an eye bolt on the end. Braided dacron cord is strung through each eye bolt and then secured to the end insulators of the antenna with a bowline knot. The halyards are then attached to a large plastic landscaping stake in the ground.

The feedline is a 25 foot piece of RG-8X coaxial cable running to an MFJ-4602 window pass-through panel.

After it was up and connected I texted a couple friends and we tried it on 80M phone using NVIS propagation. I was able to hear them but they could not hear me, which wasn't surprising.

I'd like to get the middle up higher so I'm going to look into a military surplus fiberglass mast. If I get the center elevated the resulting antenna will be an inverted-V, which will give me better performance.

I haven't made any QSOs on this antenna yet, but this screenshot from shows the results of calling CQ with 50W on JS8.

And this one from shows the results of transmitting 50W on WSPR.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) Resources

I ran across this first link yesterday and thought it's worth sharing with the current State of the Union.

Bellingcat's Online Investigation Toolkit - Links to a variety of OSINT tools. If you have a Google account, you can go to File > Make a Copy and save it to your own Google Drive.

And this video is interesting:

Using Skiptracer to Gather License Plate OSINT Data.

(That channel, Null Byte, has a number of interesting videos.)

Scanner stuff:

Radio Reference - Site with information on frequencies, licenses, and discussion.

Broadcastify - Site to stream scanner feeds on your computer or mobile device.

Police Scanner and Radio on Apple App Store.

Police Scanner and Radio on Google Play.

Freescan - Free software to program and control many police scanners. Can also be used to record. I use this with my Uniden Trunktracker IV.

ProScan - Another piece of scanner software.

Chirp - Free software for programming primarily ham radios, but you can use it to easily add other common frequencies like FRS, GMRS, MURS, and NOAA weather to hand held radios like the ever-popular Baofengs.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Useful Info: Making Use of the MOLLE Bandoleer

I ran across this piece from Defensive Concepts North Carolina, and feel it's worth passing on.

Making Use of the MOLLE Bandoleer

In the current widespread unrest, in which AntiFa is threatening to come out from the cities to the 'burbs, it behooves you to have a defensive rifle and supporting accoutrements. A bandoleer is an inexpensive means of having a grab-and-go supply of reloads at low cost. Even if you're setup with a full plate carrier, a bandoleer would be useful to go along with hand-outs, if that's something you maintain.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Powerwerx Inline DC Power Analyzer

Last week before heading upstate for a camping trip and off-grid ham radio work, I picked up a Powerwerx inline DC power analyzer. When operating off battery power, it's good to know how many volts your battery is actually putting out so that you don't drain it too much.

From the Amazon description:

  • Measuring capacity up to 60V and 100A.
  • 12 gauge wire with Powerpole connectors.
  • Bright blue backlit LCD display.
  • Measures 8 electrical parameters: Amps, Volts, Watts, Amp-hours, Watt-hours, Peak Amps, Minimum Volts (Sag), Peak Watts.
  • No configuration, works automatically!

It's in this picture between my Icom 7200 and laptop.

Unless you dedicated battery pack with an integrated meter, this is a worthwhile addition to a portable ham radio kit.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Chance the RF-Enabled Coyote Hunting Dog and the Off-Grid Butterknife Dipole

This weekend I went camping with friends Nick and Ed at Nick's property in Tioga County, PA for some good food, conversation, shooting, and off grid ham radio in the woods. Nick and I hold General class amateur radio licenses, whiled Ed got his Amateur Extra ticket.

Ed got upstate on Friday and so was able to setup early Saturday morning to check in with a CAP net. Unfortunately NVIS propagation on 80M wasn't good and he wasn't able to hear anyone.

Ed's rig: a UK-surplus PRC-320 manpack HF radio. He likes the rugged nature and simple operation.

Meanwhile, Nick and I drove up separately on Saturday morning, arriving around 1530.

Saturday night was spent socializing with the locals and sitting around the fire with some bourbon and Baccarat Rothschild cigars.

Sunday morning we got a visitor: Chance the RF-Enabled Coyote Hunting Dog. He belongs to one of the locals and was out hunting with some pack mates when he caught wind of the sausages we were frying for breakfast. He was very friendly but as a pup, didn't want to return to his master when he got the return buzz through his collar, so we spoke to him when he came to retrieve the dog.

(The antenna is for a GPS-enabled tracker that also allows the owner to transmit a signal to the dog for him to return. The range is several miles.)

On Sunday we hoisted an 80M dipole antenna. But this wasn't an off the shelf antenna, or even a conventional homebrew dipole. Behold the Off-Grid Butterknife Dipole:

We constructed it from aluminum MIG welding wire with plastic butterknives as the center insulator and spaces for the open wire ladder line we fed it with from the antenna tuner.

Prepping the knives:

To elevate the antenna we needed to get suspension lines over trees. To get the suspension lines up we attached fishing line running from a Zebco Dock Demon spincasting rod to an arrow and shot it over the trees on both ends.

Ed has NanoVNA vector network analyzer so he was able to determine at what the antenna was resonant. Before it was hoisted it was resonant at 3560 KHz on the 80M band, very close to what we wanted.

We tried the antenna with Nick's Icom 718 using an Icom AH-4 antenna tuner, as well as with my Icom 7200 with LDG IT-100 tuner feeding a 25 foot piece of coax connected to an LDG 4:1 balun.

Nick called CQ a few times and although we didn't get any replies we were able to confirm he was getting out to the surrounding several hundred miles via monitoring on WebSDR.

(My laptop got Internet access via the hotspot on my iPhone. Not something to be expected in a grid-down scenario, but we were experimenting.)

We switched over to my rig and got these results on WSPR:

(From the WSPR Watch app on my iPhone.)

Monday morning we hooked up Nick's SDRplay receiver to the antenna. 80M was hopping:

This isn't the first field expedient antenna we've setup at the camp. A couple years ago we did a large, random-length loop made from welding wire that at best was about 5 feet off the ground. We were able to check into a North PA/South NY 160M net. We also had a similar 80M welding wire dipole but it was only about 4 feet off the ground. It still worked great as a receiving antenna.

We left the antenna up when we left but realize that due to the weak nature of the construction it may not be intact the next time we go upstate. However, we also discussed raising more durable antennas and running them to an antenna pass-though in the cabin. E.g., 40M and 80M dipoles, and a 160M loop.

Homebrew wire antennas are pretty cheap, so it's not like doing so will be a major investment.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

HP Laptop for Emcomm, First Impressions

I've been getting back into ham radio lately and have a trip upstate planned for Memorial Day weekend. The two friends I am going with are also hams, so one of the activities we like to do in the evening is off-grid communication practice.

My specific interest is in digital mode communications, which requires either a mobile device or a computer to connect to the radio and run various applications. For field ops in the past I've used an iPad and an MSI Wind netbook. I traded in the iPad a year or two ago and the netbook is ancient at this point (plus has a small 10" screen) so I wanted something better.

My normal computer is an Apple MacBook Pro. However, I am not enthused about bringing a $3,000 laptop into the field, plus it seems like a lot of ham apps are better supported on Windows or Linux.

So, Friday after work I went down to Microcenter and picked up an HP 15-ef1072nr 15.6" laptop running Windows 10 Home for $400. The specs are decent for the price, IMO:

  • Dual-core AMD Ryzen 2.6 GHz CPU
  • 8 GB RAM
  • 256 GB SSD
  • AMD Radeon 3 graphics

As expected, the hardware feels a lot cheaper than my MacBook Pro. The Mac's case is machined from billets of aluminum. The HP's case is plastic. The keyboard is mushy but usable. The screen is nowhere near that of the MacBook Pro. Overall, the HP is much lighter than the MBP, which is nice.

Battery life seems good. It was partially charged when I brought it home. I plugged it in while setting everything up but then rant it down to around 10% over the course of several hours with web browsing, YouTube, and email. I repeated that on Saturday and probably got a good 7 hours before it went into battery saver mode.

The huge trackpad on the current MacBook Pros really spoils you and it is missed on the HP.

The HP's space bar is annoying. Pressing it towards the right end doesn't do anything. I tend to press the space bar with my right hand so this is a PITA and hinders typing.

Of course, one of the things I had to do was get Windows updated. Compared with Apple's macOS updates, Windows Updates remains a major PITA with multiple reboots required. Overall, it takes a lot more time.

It has been quite awhile since I used a Windows PC for desktop computing although I ocassionally have to login to a Windows server at work so the UI isn't totally unfamiliar.

Anyway, after cleaning up some of the factory-installed bloatware I loaded a number of utilites to make life easier:

  • Notepad++ (In which I wrote most of this. On Mac, I use BBEdit.)
  • Piriform CCleaner
  • Piriform Speccy
  • Replaced the pre-loaded Office 365 with Office 2019 Pro Plus
  • Visio 2019
  • Google Chrome
  • iCloud for Windows so I can sync bookmarks with my Mac and iPhone
  • nmap
  • Wireshark
  • Windows Subsystem for Linux with Kali Linux installed
  • Signal
  • ZOC terminal

And these ham radio apps:

  • Fldigi
  • JS8Call
  • WSJT-X
  • Chirp (For programming my Icom 7200, Yaesu FT-817ND, and Baofeng HTs)

The two Apple applications I'll miss most when using the HP are Messages and Facetime, neither of which are supported on Windows.

Incidentally, Microcenter limited the number of people in the store at a time, you had to wear a mask, and before going inside you had your hands sprayed with sanitized by an employee. Also, they are not taking cash, only credit or debit cards.

Testing a New Laptop for Ham Radio and WSPR

I picked up a cheap HP laptop at Microcenter on Friday to run ham radio apps on in the field. I'd rather not take my $3,000 MacBook Pro camping, plus it's a fact that a lot of ham radio apps are better supported in Windows. Should something bad happen, it'll be a lot easier to swallow with a $400 laptop.

Anyway, today I was configuring the HP to work with my Icom 7200 using Fldigi, JS8Call, and WSJT-X, and tried out transmitting using the latter in WSPR mode. The antenna was my Hawaii EARCH 40-6M end-fed, strung approximately horizontally out to my back fence. This is far from optimal.

I transmitted on WSPR at 50W a few times and checked propagation using WSPR Watch on my iPhone. Not bad.

Along with a couple friends I'm heaing up to Tioga Country next weekend. We're all hams and off-grid operations are on the list of activities. One thing I want to try is a random-length loop antenna using welding wire, connected to my antenna tuner using an LDG 4:1 balun. My friend did this a couple years ago and it worked great, allowing him to check in on a north PA/south NY 160M net.

Saturday, May 02, 2020

NOCO Jump Pack

This afternoon I got to meet a new neighbor and try out a piece of equipment I bought a couple years ago.

My daughter was at the neighbor's playing outside with their daughter. She called and asked if I knew how to jump start a car, because her friend's older brother's car wouldn't start. It's been a long time since I've had to jump a car, but heck, I'm Gen-X and we know these things.

I went down the block to meet them. His car was an older Toyota RAV4 and when asked, he didn't know how old the battery was. It had died without the lights or accessories being left on, so I told him it's time for a new battery but we would try to start it.

Back in 2018 I bought a NOCO Boost Plus GB40 1000 Amp jump starter pack on sale from Amazon. Since then I have kept it in the back of my truck, taking it inside a few times a year to top off the charge. This was the first time I've had to use it.

I connected up the unit and let it charge the dead battery for about 30 seconds then had him start the car. It fired right up, whereupon I disconnected the jump pack and told him to keep the car running for about 20 minutes.

The jump pack worked like a champ and I'm glad to have it. The only thing I didn't care for is that it doesn't come with a decent storage case, so I bought one of these separately.

As far as I'm concerned everyone should keep a jump pack in their vehicle. They are a lot more convenient than jumper cables, not to mention you don't need another vehicle. The lithium battery powered units don't take up much space and retain their charge for months.

This is where I get to make fun of Millenials: The guy who's car I jumped is obviously one, in his 20s, and asked me how long his battery would be good for after I charged it. He didn't know that as long as the engine is running there's a part called an "alternator" that charges the battery.

I'll give the kid a break, because he was wearing a volunteer firefight shirt, which means he's no wimp.

However, with a lot of kids growing up in fatherless households not learning how to work on cars, coupled with the complexity of modern cars that discourages a self-repair work, a lot of Millenials and Zoomers never learn how cars function. To them, it's just an appliance.

Driver's education courses really should include a basic education on how cars work and emergency procedures like how to jump start one and change a tire.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Thoughts on Picking a .22 Handgun for the Lady of the House

Over on Bushcraft USA, the topic of picking a .22 LR handgun for a member's wife came up. The member's wife is adamant that she doesn't want anything larger than a .22. He was asking for input so I offered these thoughts:

First off, if at all possible get her to a gun store and let her handle a few different guns, to see which one is most comfortable for her. If you can rent some and shoot them, all the better.

Secondly, compact rimfire double action revolvers have hard trigger pulls which makes shooting them accurately much more difficult. This includes S&W J-Frames and Ruger LCRs in .22. (The one LCR I handled in .38 Special had a nice trigger.)
Thirdly, compact DA revolvers in general are tough to shoot well without proper training and a lot of practice. They are often recommended for women because they are small. But between the heavy triggers on the .22s and their general difficulty to shoot accurately -- which is doubly important with a .22 -- they are most often a very poor choice for the ladies, unless they have greater than normal hand strength and are willing to practice a lot.

Compact .22 autoloaders tend to have better triggers and are in general easier to shoot than .22 snubbies. They usually hold more rounds, as well. A good example is the Ruger SR22. I picked one up a couple years ago. My now-15 y/o daughter took to it immediately and shoots it well. It is a DA/SA semiautomatic pistol that uses 10 round magazines. It's very light and has a rail under the dust cover that allows easy mounting of a weapon light or a laser. Mine has been very reliable.

If relying on a .22 for defense ammo is critical for reliability. In my experience, CCI .22 LR is the most reliable. Bulk pack .22s give the most ignition problems. My choice for .22 LR defensive use would be CCI Mini Mag solids, for best reliability and penetration.
Keep the gun clean and properly lubed with particular attention to the firing pin channel, and feed it high quality ammo, and it will serve well for defense.

He also noted that she might consider a Ruger PCC Charger in 9mm, to which I replied:

If for some reason she won't go for the Charger version of the 9mm carbine, Ruger makes the 10/22 Charger. Setup as you suggested and with a Ruger BX-25, 25-round mag, that would make a formidable defensive weapon.

.22 LR is far from ideal as a defensive round but it beats harsh language and provides people who for whatever reason cannot handle a larger cartridge a means of self defense.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Paul Harrel: Tips for Pandemic Gun Buyers

This video is a good list of tips for people new to gun ownership.

His first tip in particular is especially valuable: Be skeptical of anyone promoting themself as an authority and giving you advice.

NOTE: The video title says that it's a list of 10 tips. It's really 5 plus a bonus. He acknowledged this in a pinned comment.

For what it's worth, I've recently started watching Paul's videos. He is not tacticool but served 20 years in the USMC and US Army as a marksmanship instructor and light infantryman, and was involved in a defensive gun usage in which he survived and the other guy didn't.

Sunday, April 05, 2020

Simple No-Sew Pleated Facemask

I made one of these and used it yesterday when I ran out to Lowe's. I added a paper shop towel in it, since it provides much better filtration than the cotton bandana I used. I also used a couple paper clips to help keep the ends folded in.

Revisiting SDR

Six years ago, I did some experimenting with an RTL-2132U USB dongle as a software defined radio on a Mac. Being stuck at home due to the coronavirus quarantine, I decided to dig it out and try setting it up.

After banging my head on the wall for a few hours trying to get various software packages to work, I downloaded CubicSDR onto my MacBook Pro running Catalina, and it pretty much just worked.

Here's a screenshot with the thing tuned to 102.9 WMGK:

I'm able to receive 92.5, 94.1, and 102.9 easily. 93.3 WMMR comes in poorly, but I'm in a little bit of a hole and my antenna is far from optimal. I'm using the little thing that came with the dongle.

I think I have an adapter cable that will allow me to connect the dongle to an SO-239 connector, which will be good because then I can use a 2M/70cm mag mount antenna and monitor local repeaters.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Thoughts on the Mexican Beer Flu

Well, the whole COVID-19 coronavirus thing has really come to a head, with POTUS declaring a national emergency.

On the one hand, it's been clear that the MSM has been trying to gin up a panic in yet another effort to hurt President Trump. On the other hand, the reaction of all levels of government, who presumably are privy to info us great unwashed cannot see does raise concern. Also, some analysis I've seen on a private forum has me leaning in the direction of, "This is not a drill!"

Local to me, all schools are closed here in Pennsylvania for the next two weeks. It's my understanding that after the three snow days are used up, my kids will be getting homework assignments until Spring break in early April.

My wife teaches in Philadelphia, so she'll be home.

Large public gatherings are prohibited.

Many large corporations are having people who can work remotely do so.

I took off today, but this afternoon after I got back from the range I checked my work email. I saw that I'd missed a couple last minute, mandatory all-hands meetings, so I pinged my director. Starting on Monday, those of us who do not need to be onsite will be working from home until mid-April. I fall into that category. Also for this time, meetings will be held using Cisco Webex or Microsoft Teams and enabling the webcams on our laptops will be mandatory.

This will be an interesting test of my employer's VPN. I hope it can handle the load. There's a fair amount of work I can do without being connected to the VPN because we use public cloud services, but there will be times I need to connect via the VPN to login to various hosts.

As a prepper, I had already ensured that we had provisions laid in. A couple of weeks ago, seeing the possibility of quarantines, I'd added to them with a couple of runs to BJ's (yes, including TP). So, we're in good shape.

I might go out tomorrow and pick up a handle of Wild Turkey, though. ;)

I am a bit concerned about my parent and my MIL, all of whom are in their 70s. My brother and I "grounded" our parents. They are generally homebodies anyway but my MIL is a social butterfly, so hopefully she can find it in herself to stay home.

Stay safe out there.

7.62x39 AR-15 Range Report

Over on Blog O'Stuff.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

COVID-19 Coronavirus Heat Map

Johns Hopkins put out this heat map dashboard tracking the global outbreak. It's worth a look.


Saturday, February 22, 2020

7.62x39 AR-15

Today I finished building my first AR-15 that isn't chambered for 5.56x45mm. It was time for something different.

While I find the 6.5 Grendel to be very interesting, I didn't want to get into a new caliber at this time, so this one is in 7.62x39. I've maintained a good stash of that caliber since before I got into ARs, starting when I bought a Chinese SKS in 1988.

I used the following parts:

The enhanced firing pin is to improve reliability with foreign ammo with hard primers, while the bolt from BRA is supposedly higher quality. One thing 7.62x39 ARs have the reputation for is breaking bolts. I'm hoping to avoid that but in case it happens, I'll have a spare ready to go.

First impressions of the AR-STONER kit were good, except for the poor staking of the carrier key to the bolt carrier, so I restaked the screws.

Here's the assembled carbine on my messy workbench:

And a close up of the receiver. It's my first AR with a graphic on it:

I would have finished it last weekend but managed to shoot a detent spring into the unknown. To complete the rifle I had to wait for an order containing spare detents and springs to arrive from Brownells.

It will be interesting to see what the recoil impulse of an AR-15 in 7.62x39 feels like compared with an SKS, AK, or VZ-2008.

I really hope that eventually Pennsylvania will legalize semiauto rifles for big game hunting. We got semiautos legalized for small game and varmints so hopefully after another year or two the PA Game Commission will realize that it hasn't caused the sky to fall and they'll let us use them for deer. This would make a fine rifle for the ranges encountered in most of PA.

I should be able to put a few rounds through it tomorrow, after which I'll post a follow up report.

Video: Gun Rights Supporters Must Speak Up