Friday, 20 February 2015

10:18 – Yesterday, I received the Baofeng UV-82 dual-band HT that I ordered Monday from Amazon. Even ignoring the $37 price, it’s an impressive looking piece of equipment. It’s not a Yaesu or an Icom, but you can get five or ten of these for the price of one Yaesu or Icom. The Baofeng feels solid, and the case is commercial-grade, much less flimsy feeling than the cheap blister-packed FRS/GMRS radios. This UV-82 feels like a radio that was designed and engineered for heavy daily use. Coincidentally, about half an hour after it arrived I came across this article by my friend Jeff Duntemann, a long-time ham operator who also has nice things to say about it.

I haven’t even put it on the charger yet. Before I do, I need to renew my ham license, which expired in about 1971. All I need is a Technician Class license, which requires only taking a simple test on radio theory and FCC regulations. I’ll read through the ARRL materials on the Technician test and then drive up to Wilkesboro in April, which is the nearest place to take the test, both in terms of date and distance. I’m not concerned about the theory part. That hasn’t changed much since I was last licensed. What has changed is the FCC regulations. In fact, there are whole new bands available since I last operated a ham rig, with odd-sounding designations like 30, 17, and 12 meters. I understand these are the WARC bands, which were created in 1979. Since I have no intention of operating on anything longer than 2 meters, this stuff is immaterial to me other than for test taking.

As Jeff points out in his post, a lot of hams dislike these Baofeng HTs, not because there’s anything wrong with them in terms of quality or performance, but because, being software-progammable, they can be operated on any frequency they support. That’s a pretty broad range, 136-174 MHz and 400-520 MHz for the UV-82. That range covers not just the FMS, GMRS, MURS, and VHF/UHF business band frequencies, but a whole lot of others, including aircraft, marine, and public safety bands.

But the UV-82 is not type-accepted by the FCC for any of these bands, which means the only legal way to operate it is with a ham license on frequencies allocated to amateur radio. Given the popularity of these HTs on Amazon and elsewhere, I’d guess that probably 1% of them are purchased by people who are legally entitled to operate them, with 99% of them being operated illegally on FRS/GMRS, MURS, and other frequencies. I would never do that, of course.

Probably no small percentage of those operators are preppers, attracted by the low price, high quality, and extreme flexibility of these little transceivers. I have advice for anyone in that category. First, don’t get caught using it unless you have a ham license and are running on authorized amateur frequencies. The FCC will come down on you like the proverbial ton of bricks. Of course, that’s not likely to happen if you’re operating on FRS, GMRS, or MURS frequencies, or even marine-band frequencies, because it’ll be hard to pick you out of the crowd unless you’re using marine band frequencies inland. But don’t even think about operating outside those common frequencies, and particularly don’t use sensitive frequencies like the public safety band. You’ll probably be caught and end up paying a large fine.

Also, remember that these are software radios, which need to be programmed before they’ll do anything. You can program most features using the buttons on the radio, but it’s a pretty complex and time-consuming procedure. Better to download the OSS software CHIRP and program the radio from your computer. To do that, you’ll also need a special USB cable. Those are available for $5 and up, but I recommend avoiding the cheap ones. Those use firmware that requires specific drivers that are a nightmare to get installed and configured. Worse, if you’re running Windows, when you connect to the Internet Windows will update those drivers, breaking them. It’s better to use a plug-and-play cable like this one, which costs $20 but Just Works.

If you plan to buy multiple units, also buy a clone cable, which allows you to copy the programming from one transceiver to others easily. While you’re at it, you might also want to buy spare batteries, a battery eliminator with cigarette lighter plug, and a AAA battery adapter. That last is interesting. It includes a dummy AAA battery. If you’re running NiMH rechargeable AAA cells, you use six in the adapter, which provides 7.2V. If you’re running AAA alkalines, you use five in the adapter plus the dummy, for a total 7.5V. If you use six alkalines (9V), the receiver operates but the transmitter doesn’t.


14:49 – Barbara and I started watching series two of Vikings last night on Amazon streaming. Between episodes I mentioned that I’d just had an ironic thought. Here I am an honest-to-god Viking-American, and yet I hardly ever leave the house.

I will admit that from time to time I do feel an urge to head out to do some looting and pillaging, perhaps burning down a monastery or two and slaughtering some monks and sacking a convent and raping a bunch of nuns. Or, being a Viking, I suppose I could slaughter the nuns and rape the monks. But it always seems to be more trouble than it’s worth, and the urge soon passes.

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29 Responses to Friday, 20 February 2015

  1. Bob Fegert says:

    Nice write up.
    Now go get that license 🙂

  2. Denis says:

    Many thanks for the write-up. I have – strictly for emergency use only – a set of the similar (though perhaps somewhat older) Baofeng UV-5R units, with the corresponding accessories, all of which I obtained at reasonable prices from http://www.dx.com

    I used CHIRP under Linux to program them – for me, a one-time set and forget operation, once suitable channels etc. were uploaded. CHIRP is well documented, and fairly self explanatory. It’s easy to clone settings to multiple handsets with CHIRP too, even without a cloning cable; just read-out settings from one unit and write the same settings to another – just be sure both handsets have the same firmware revision.

    I can highly recommend the Baofengs – they are compact, rugged and reliable, with decent battery life. I have two minor reservations: (a) the supplied “rubber duck” antennae are nice and compact, but perform rather poorly – reception improves markedly with suitable substitutes, available from the same source; (b) there is no provision for sending “silent messages” – something along the lines of SMS on a cellphone – which is a great pity, as it rather precludes noiseless/discreet use of the units. Additionally, it is possible to inadvertently trigger the light and/or alarm functions, either of which is practically guaranteed to alert any game or goblins within sight or earshot, as the case may be!

  3. Robert Bruce Thompson says:

    Welcome to the site.

    From looking at the Baofeng US website (https://baofengtech.com/radios) it appears that the UV-5 series were discontinued in 2014. The UV-82 series is their current mainstream model, with the BF-F8+ an upgraded UV-5 model.

    I almost ordered one of the replacement antennas listed on the Baofengtech site (which takes you to their Amazon.com store to buy), but there were enough bad reviews that I decided not to. What I may do is cut some tuned lengths of wire and just use a tiger-tail antenna.

  4. MrAtoz says:

    Wow, great post on ham Dr. Bob. I assume all of this will be in the book.

    Will you also cover other ham radios for those with a few more bucks? Or stick to what you personally try. I have the Yaesu VX-8DR on my Amazon wish list, but added your recommendation.

  5. Robert Bruce Thompson says:

    I’m trying to make budget a very high priority. I have no experience with high-end HTs, and I don’t want to talk too much about items I haven’t used. It’s certainly hard to go wrong with a Yaesu or Icom unit, but I’ll leave talking about them to the folks who actually use them.

    Yes, it’ll all be in the Ultimate Family Prepping Guide.

  6. Lynn McGuire says:

    “Fundamental Forces”
    http://xkcd.com/1489/

    Yup.

  7. Jack Smith says:

    Re wire antennas … it’s possible to make a nice antenna from old speedometer cable – solder one end to the connector (would be a male SMA in this case to mate with the transceiver’s female SMA) and cut to appropriate length. Put heat shrink tubing on it and it looks like a genuine Motorola ‘rat tail’ antenna. This is for the 450 MHz range, such as the 420-450 MHz ham band.

    For VHF (including the two meter ham band) a slightly different approach is needed. The speedometer cable should hang down from the top of the transceiver and will be around 18 or 19 inches long total. Apply heat shrink and away you go.

    With electronic speedometers, I’m not sure ye olde cable is all that easy to come by.

    Also, in my personal opinion, an SMA is on the fragile side for a hand held device. Even a BNC is marginal. The professional radios from Motorola and its competition used to use s a screw thread mount, roughly 0.25 inch diameter with fine thread. But that meant a custom adapter for external antennas, or else the vehicular charger which picked up the RF from pins on the radio case.

    As far a sturdiness goes, my understanding is that one of the reasons Motorola hand held gear was popular in police departments in ye olde days was that it had metal backs and weighed a couple pounds … makes a very nice substitute for a nightstick if applied properly. Of course, radios got smaller and lighter but look at a Motorola MX300 to see what I mean, particularly the extended length version.

    Welcome back to the world of amateur radio. I was first licensed in 1961 at 14 years old have been active to some degree or other ever since. Mostly the technical side of the hobby in the last decades.

  8. Robert Bruce Thompson says:

    Thanks, and welcome to the site.

    It’s actually kind of ironic. Back in the 60’s I never worked anything higher than 10 meters because I was using home-brew gear and couldn’t afford a 2-meter rig. I suppose my first mistake was trying to build a UHF rig, but that was beyond my soldering skills and I figured a VHF rig wouldn’t be all that much easier. Now, UHF/VHF gear is cheap, and I really don’t have any interest any more in DX.

  9. MrAtoz says:

    I remember early in my military career, I got a ham technician’s license by just paying a fee. I’d started taking lessons to get a single engine land private license. The flying club was run by military pilots and due to my having a commercial rotary wing instrument license they could get you the ham license for just a fee. Back then anyway.

  10. MrAtoz says:

    Just downloaded the ARRL Ham Radio License Manual (Third Edition) from the internet library. lol

  11. MrAtoz says:

    After paging through the “test pool” of questions at the back of the ARRL, I assume the real reason for requiring a license is to keep Tom*Dick*Harry off the net by the threat of the might Federal FCC crushing you with fines. I answered every “electronics” question thanks to my electronics lobbying. Do you really need to know about Ohm’s Law and diodes, etc. to talk on a radio? They could just cut that section out. I’m not going to build a transmitter. Even if I was, the test doesn’t ensure I’m not going to build a megawatt tower.

  12. OFD says:

    I have the “Ham Radio for Dummies” book but have not had the time to get much further with it for a while. This is all great info; thanx also to Dr. Bob for that and the links, and to Mr. Denis and Mr. Jack.

    On the hw front; I forget; was there a preferred brand for external hard drives here amongst y’all? I gotta do a large backup this week off this Winblows 8 machine and may also be ordering an internal SSD. May also have to replace or clean out the fan and mobo case area. This has been one of those weeks when I REALLY wish I could dump Winblows for good and I’m not kidding. I may just tell Mrs. OFD to use her work laptop for all her Windoze needs and turn this machine over to Linux.

  13. SteveF says:

    Before buying a hard drive, take a look at http://arstechnica.com/security/2015/02/how-omnipotent-hackers-tied-to-the-nsa-hid-for-14-years-and-were-found-at-last/

    Hard drives uncleanably infected, either by tricking you into running something or by intercepting them in the mail before they get to you. Or infected right at the manufacturer — not mentioned in this article but it’s not a stretch, especially for those manufactured in or near the PRC.

    Paranoid yet? But it’s not paranoia if people really are watching you.

  14. Ray Thompson says:

    may also be ordering an internal SSD

    INTEL. Let me say it again, INTEL. You cannot go wrong. Performance, price and reliability (not necessarily in that order).

    You will be amazed at how much improvement you will get in the operation of a system. Boot times that are amazing, applications (such as Photoshop) that load in three or four seconds. Once you.ve had SSD, you won’t go back.

  15. OFD says:

    “But it’s not paranoia if people really are watching you.”

    Indeed. Thanx for dat link, Mr. SteveF; very interesting article. We’re probably all “made” at this point, and all our data is in the hands of various gummint and corporate criminal scum, one way or the other. They’re drumming up a police surveillance regime that would be the absolute envy of the Red Chinese, old Soviets, Stasi, or Nazis.

    “Once you’ve had SSD, you won’t go back.”

    Now are folks here running the o.s. AND the data on the same drive, or splitting it up so only the o.s. is on the SSD?

  16. Miles_Teg says:

    SteveF wrote:

    “Paranoid yet? But it’s not paranoia if people really are watching you.”

    Everybody’s jealous of me now that I’m no longer paranoid.

  17. Miles_Teg says:

    People tell me that SSDs make all the difference.

    The PC I’m on now has a SSD and it’s great, but I don’t really notice much difference from HDDs.

  18. Lynn McGuire says:

    If you can wait a couple of years, the new 10 TB SSD drives using the stacked ram chips will be out.
    http://www.extremetech.com/computing/194911-intel-announces-32-layer-3d-nand-chips-plans-for-larger-than-10tb-ssds

    It is very true, once you go SSD, you will never go back. Unless you need a TB or four.

  19. Miles_Teg says:

    When I went from a HDD to SSD a few years back I didn’t notice any difference on my favourite game, City of Heroes. Others claimed it was better. I didn’t notice. I’ve had two SSDs (2010 vintage) die on me, so I’m skeptical.

  20. Ray Thompson says:

    When I went from a HDD to SSD a few years back I didn’t notice any difference on my favourite game

    And I would certainly not disagree. Once an application is loaded I don’t notice much difference in speed. My boot drive is SSD, the data files are on spinning platters. I have 4 1TB drives in the system along with the SSD. Once PS is loaded there is very little activity on the SSD as all my PS temporary files are relegated to spinning platters.

    Boot times and load times are the real difference. Once an application has loaded there is not nearly as much disk activity needed thus not as much need for an SSD.

    I have an older HP netbook that came with a spinning platter. I replaced that with and SSD and that made the laptop perform much better. Since there is only one drive, the SSD, all disk activity is relegated to the SSD. I also run PS on that laptop and once PS is loaded I don’t notice much speed difference from when it was a spinning drive. Again, not much disk activity once an app is loaded.

  21. Miles_Teg says:

    I installed the game and all its files to the SSD so it should have performed better. It may have, but I didn’t notice.

  22. Lynn McGuire says:

    Here is my review of the Intel 520 SSD on Amazon: “All I need to say is that my new 180 GB Intel 520 boots Windows 7 x64 in 11 seconds. All disk operations are speeded up significantly.”

  23. Ray Thompson says:

    I installed the game and all its files to the SSD so it should have performed better. It may have, but I didn’t notice.

    Once the files are loaded into memory there is very little disk activity after the load thus the difference would be negligible. And if the game requires an internet connection you would probably notice even less difference as much of the wait time would involve your internet connection and the game servers.

    I can say from experience that converting a laptop with a 5400 rpm disk drive to SSD turned the machine from what was barely usable machine to a quite usable machine. The installation of an SSD into my desktop put my actual boot times to under a minute (I load a lot of stuff including monitor color profiles and some add-on programs), PS (64 bit) loads in under 5 seconds, MSWord and MSExcel load in under 2 seconds. None of these load times could have been achieved with spinning platters.

  24. nick says:

    Robert, here’s what I wrote on another forum on ham licensing for preppers. It has some repetition for you, but the key is how to get your General class. You will want this to use NVIS and HF for regional (2-300 miles) comms without repeaters. HF will also get you OUT of the affected area in case of a regional disaster. Both are ‘next level’ considerations, but given the small additional costs of getting the General class license
    you really should get one. Antennas like wire dipoles are cheap and easy, and used HF capable radios are available (and cost about the same as a good handgun and accessories.)

    Very interested in reading the book when done,

    nick

    —-quote
    From a prepper POV, here is a straightforward recommendation. This is not the BEST or ONLY way, but it will get you some knowledge, gear, time on the air, and practice.

    ——————————–

    Take the free online practice test until you can reliably pass it. I did it in a few hours of practice while doing other work on the pc, but I’m familiar with electronics (don’t worry, it’s basic and you can just learn what the correct answers are.)

    When you can pass the Technician class test every time, do the same for the General class. Once you can pass the General, go online and find a test time and location in your area. If you are near a city, you shouldn’t have to wait more than a month. Tell the volunteer examiner that you would like to take both the Tech and General tests. Take the Technician test. Once you have passed it, you can take the General test, in the same sitting for the same nominal fee (about $14.)

    When you get the offer in the mail to join ARRL and get their magazine QST DO SO! They will probably offer a couple of books as incentive so pick some that interest you (one of the antenna books or the license prep books makes sense.)

    Buy a cheap hand held radio (called a HT in the lingo) like a BaoFang UV-5R +Plus, get a replacement antenna like the nagoya NA626, and either a car charger or an extended battery pack. That should all be doable for less than $75-100 on ebay, amazon, or a ham radio retailer site.

    Do a search for ‘ham repeater [your location]’ on google and you should get links to local repeaters. Program a couple in your radio and spend some time listening. You can announce your call sign and say “listening” or ask if anyone can give you a signal report “since you are a new ham and are checking out your new radio.” You will likely get some congratulations and good feedback.

    Spend some time listening at different times of day and you will probably find there are some ‘nets’ on your local repeater, which is just a way of saying there is an organized discussion at a specific time. Nets are a great time to listen and practice making contacts. Search for “world friendship net” “worldwide friendship net” “alaska morning net” “insomniacs net” to see if they are carried by any of your locals.

    Thru out this process, KEEP READING AND RESEARCHING! Your goal now is to actually LEARN the material you just memorized to pass the test. The ARRL prep books are VERY good for this. The QST magazine has articles about radios, projects, antennas, etc and is well worth reading every month. (If it isn’t an ‘overshare’, these are great ‘bathroom’ books as the sections are short and easy to read.)

    Once you are comfortable with your radio and talking on the air, and a little more familiar with the terms and practices of the hobby, you can look at HF. You have already passed your General class, so you have privileges on HF! You just need a radio and antenna, and practice. This is where a club comes in handy. Buying a good radio can cost a lot, and your club can help find a suitable used radio for much less. They can also help with antennas, etc. DO NOT BUY A “PROJECT” RADIO. At this point in your journey, having to troubleshoot and fix a radio will just discourage and slow you down. Make sure you are buying a radio that works!

    That will get you to the same point I’m at, so perhaps someone else can chime in with recommendation for a specific model of all band all mode transceiver.

    Some other things to keep in mind.

    NEVER transmit on a band you are not licensed for unless it is a legitimate emergency (there is an exception for emergencies.) Hams and the FCC jealously and zealously police the airwaves. They will know you are not licensed and they will find you or remember you when you do get legal. There can be very large fines and the FCC can and will fine you simply for not “respecting their authority.”

    The other thing to remember is you don’t need a license to LISTEN! You can buy your radio (or a shortwave receiver that includes ham bands, or a scanner) and listen to what’s out there. This will still get you some of the benefits (knowing what others are talking about, how nets are run, etc) while you learn towards your license. I actually have a scanner in the garage that covers our main local repeater, and in my office, so I spend most of my time on the air just listening.

    —-end quote

  25. MrAtoz says:

    Nice post Mr. nick. I’m going to read through the ARRL manual, practice the online tests, etc. then take the test. There is one or two every month around Las Vegas. After 20 years in the mil, talking on the HT won’t be a problem. Ham’s can probably tell ex-mil right off the bat.

  26. Robert Bruce Thompson says:

    Thanks. I actually plan to take all three tests in one session. The Technician Class test I could almost certainly pass without even reading any prep materials. A few minutes ago I was on a pay-for ham test prep site that offered a free 50-question sample. I went 50 for 50 on the sample questions. I’m not sure what the pass/fail cutoff percentage is, but I suspect I could pass easily. I might even be able to pass the General Class exam without doing much or any prep. I’m sure the Extra Class is harder, but it doesn’t cost anything extra to take it during the same exam session so I might as well do it. If I fail it, no big deal. It doesn’t actually buy you much in terms of extra privs, although the shorter callsign would be nice.

  27. nick says:

    Many people don’t know that you can take then in sequence on the same day, for the same money…. It’s a great bargain.

    The biggest increase in privileges is Tech > General, and it’s not that much harder. Tuning around the bands, there are a couple of places where the extra gives you some additional spectrum, where you can only talk with other extras (which may be a bonus or not….) It seems like some of the bands get pretty crowded and the additional freqs might be nice.

    From a prepper standpoint, the Extra doesn’t really give you much for the marginal effort. That said, I’ll probably try for mine at the next local hamfest, since I’m going anyway 🙂 Someone on another forum pointed out that you can miss ALL the math questions and still pass, which takes some of the pressure off.

    Couple of final thoughts, don’t feel like you need to read the study books before taking the test. That is a great way to procrastinate. Take the practice tests and look at the correct answers until you can pass. Real hams think this is cheating, but it will accomplish the goal of getting started on the air. Second, DON’T pay for online testing. There are a couple of free sites and the test questions all come from the same pool. Learn the pool, and you WILL pass.

    nick

    NB- of course it is better to take the traditional route. Learn the material, join a club, find an ‘elmer’, take the test, get experience, rinse and repeat for the next class up. That works well for anyone interested in ham radio as a hobby, but takes a long time for a prepper who is mainly interested in EMCOMM.

  28. Robert Bruce Thompson says:

    Thanks. Yes, my primary interest is from a prepping point of view. I’d love to get back into ham radio as a hobby, but I just don’t have time for it.

    Incidentally, I just did a PDF of a 23-page chapter I just finished the first draft of. It’s the one in section I (the first month) that covers electricity, lighting, and comms. I’m going to post an updated entry on my page, but anyone who wants a copy can email me at thompson (at) thehomescientist (dot) com.

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