Fri. Jan. 26th, 2018 Finally Friday

It has been a long week. Busy weekend of work and family ahead too, but at least the weather should be a bit better.

53F and mostly clear in Houston today. I took a look at my citrus trees and they don’t look good. Between the cold and being covered, all the leaves are pretty much shrunken and dried. I guess I’ll see if they recover in a few more weeks. I certainly hope so. The grapefruit I got this year is delicious.

It feels like we’re wrapping up winter, and getting ready for spring. I got the last of the Christmas stuff down and put away (didn’t want to do it wet). It’s unlikely we’ll have more sub-freezing temperatures. The yard and garden are brown and a mess, but we’ll soon see what we can get started on. I might just throw down some native wildflowers in the front yard flower beds.

This definitely feels like a time of transition… both in the natural world, in society, and personally. Transitional times are tricky. They are a time when the smallest influences can lead to big changes. I think they call for conservatism, balance, a ‘centeredness’, and being prepared to move in any direction either defensively or to take advantage of opportunity.

This is a good time to take a step back from daily strife, and re-evaluate where you are, where you want to be, and your plan for getting there. If there ever was a time to position yourself to move freely in any direction, this is certainly it.

nick

Saturday, 14 October 2017

09:06 – It was 54.5F (12.5C) when I took Colin out at 0625, mostly cloudy. Cooler weather is starting to move in. Our low temperature on Monday is forecast to be just above freezing.

I’m trying to get my application for ARRL Volunteer Examiner (VE) status completed and submitted. A VE functions basically as an exam proctor, keeping an eye out to avoid cheating, scoring the tests completed by license candidates, and submitting the results to the FCC. SPARC, the Sparta Amateur Radio Club, is currently running a training class for people who want to get their Technician Class license. There are a dozen students, which surprised me.

Administering the exam requires at least three VE’s be present. At this point, I believe SPARC has four VE’s. Unfortunately, two of them are related to some of the people who are taking the exam, which means they can’t be VE’s for that exam session. So I offered to become a VE.

At first, I thought it’d be easy. One of the current VE’s sent me the application form to become a VE with the Western Carolina VEC. I filled that out. All it required was my license and contact information and the names of three references. With their permission, I used the three VE’s who’d been examiners at my own exam. I submitted the form by email, and heard nothing. A week or so ago, one of the current VE’s sent me the VE application form to become a VE with the ARRL VEC (rather than the Western Carolina VEC).

That one requires a lot more work, including studying a 96-page VE manual and then completing a test. They say it’s not actually a test, but it sure looks like one. Then I have to submit all the paperwork and wait to be approved. I’ll try to get that complete and submitted in the next couple of days.

Of course, since I have only a General Class license, I’ll be qualified as a VE only for Tech Class exams. At some point, I’ll get my Extra Class license, which will qualify me as a VE for all three license classes.


Sunday, 25 June 2017

09:56 – It was 59.1F (15C) when I took Colin out around 0630 this morning, overcast and breezy. Barbara is cleaning house this morning. This afternoon, more science kit stuff.

We spent yesterday afternoon and evening at the local amateur radio club’s Field Day event. First time in more than 40 years I’d pressed the transmit button on a ham radio. It worked.

We had a hard time finding the park where the event was held. That’s not the first time that’s happened to me. For a small town of about 1,800 population, it can be hard to find things around here. When we first moved up here, I went off in search of the local LDS Church. I knew its street address. I found it on a town map. We drove around in circles looking for it. We could actually see it. I know it sounds stupid, but we couldn’t find any way to actually get to it. We even drove through the parking lot and loading dock area of a nearby factory. We spotted a driveway that was a secondary entrance but it had a steel gate lowered to block it. I still haven’t been to visit the place.

Yesterday, we knew that the park we were looking for was at the end of Trojan Drive, which is where the high school is. We drove around for 10 minutes or so looking for a park. No luck. Finally, we were sitting at the entrance to the high school driveway. We’d agreed that no way could it be up there, but with no other choice we drove up the driveway. Sure enough, there was an small access road leading off to the left, up past the athletic fields, tennis courts, and so on. So we headed up that road and eventually spotted a small drive branching off to the right. We took that, and found ourselves in a gravel parking lot, but with no obvious park facilities. So we retraced our route and continued up the access road. Finally, we spotted a shelter with a couple cars parked near it. If this wasn’t the place, I was thinking we should just give up and head home. But it ended up being the right place.

There were only three or four people there, but over the next hour or so more people showed up, until we had 20 or so adults total. Of those, probably a dozen or so were hams, with the rest being non-ham spouses. The average age was probably about Barbara’s and my age, although there was one 18-year-old guy and his 15-yo girlfriend.

There were six or eight rigs set up on the picnic tables. Everything from a home-made QRP rig that dated back to the 70’s to recent Icom and Yaesu base stations. Over the course of the day, different people were operating on 10-, 20-, and 40-meters, talking to other hams all over the US. One guy even ran CW for a while. And, of course, lots of us were active on the local 2-meter repeater.

The email said kids were welcome, so we took Colin along. He had the time of his life. Lots of new friends to pet him and share scraps with him. We kept him on a roller leash all day, just on general principles, but he was so well-behaved that we didn’t really need to.

I was pleased with the performance of the BaoFeng UV-82. It’s a PITA to program, but once I got it set to hit the repeater (with a lot of help from another ham), signal strength was excellent, even using just the stock rubber-duck antenna. The battery also did well. I’d charged it fully before we left the house. It ran for about six hours, at maybe 90/8/2 standby/receive/transmit, and at the end of the evening it was still showing a full charge.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

09:31 – It was 65.4F (18.5C) when I took Colin out around 0645 this morning, bright and sunny. When I looked a few minutes ago, we were up to 81.7F (27+C). Barbara is washing her car and doing other outside stuff this morning. This afternoon we do still more science kit stuff.

My Amazon order arrived yesterday morning, with a name-brand programming cable and a Nagoya NA-771 whip antenna for the UV-82. I plugged the cable into a USB port, connected and turned on the radio, and fired up CHIRP to program it. CHIRP didn’t see the UV-82. Ruh-Roh.

So I brought up a terminal and typed:

dmesg | grep FTDI

That returned the following, which told me the driver was installed and working.

[4329131.762676] usb 1-3.1.7.4: Manufacturer: FTDI
[4329131.765293] ftdi_sio 1-3.1.7.4:1.0: FTDI USB Serial Device converter detected
[4329131.765800] usb 1-3.1.7.4: FTDI USB Serial Device converter now attached to ttyUSB0

As it turned out, the problem was that my account wasn’t in the dialout group, so I had no access to ttyUSB0. That was easy enough to fix. I just added my account to the dialout group, logged out and back in, and everything worked as expected. CHIRP recognized that the UV-82 was connected, so I downloaded and saved a copy of the default channel programming. That was kind of weird, incidentally. It looked pretty much random.

I then attempted to upload to the radio that CHIRP template that had 99 emergency frequencies pre-defined. It blew up with ERROR in every field. Hmmmm. Now that I think about it, it did the same thing two or three years ago when I first tried to program one of my UV-82 radios. IIRC, the problem then was that that template wasn’t formatted correctly. It was in CSV format, which CHIRP expects, but there were errors in the way the fields were laid out.

So I next uploaded one of the default templates that’s supplied with the CHIRP package, which included FRS/GMRS frequencies. That one uploaded fine to the radio. When I disconnected it, turned it off and then back on, the FRS/GMRS frequencies displayed as expected. So now I need to bring up the emergency frequencies template in a text editor and figure out again what the problem is.

Friday, 23 June 2017

09:10 – It was 67.9F (20C) when I took Colin out around 0645 this morning, damp and overcast. Barbara is off to the gym and supermarket this morning. This afternoon we do science kit stuff.

I forgot to mention that our purple-top white globe turnips failed miserably. We knew they were best planted in autumn, but decided to try planting a row of them this spring. They apparently flourished, but last weekend when Barbara and Al were working in the garden they decided to dig one up. It looked fine, but when they cut it open it was full of worms. So were all the others.

So we’ll plant another row of them in September and see how they do. One of the local gardeners Barbara knows recommended applying borax to keep the worms away from them. We’ll try that.

Email from Brittany about my post yesterday. She and her husband started studying for their Technician Class ham licenses a month or so ago. They’re taking it slow and easy since the next exam session anywhere close to them isn’t until August. One of their neighbors is a serious ham, and got them started by giving them a tour of his shack and demonstrating how everything worked.

They were intimidated by the room full of gear, and figured that it’d cost them thousands to get into ham radio. When he told them that they could get on the air with a radio each for less than $100 total, they thought he was kidding. He showed them one of his throwaway BaoFeng UV-5R transceivers that was set up to hit the local repeater, and told them that it was a $25 radio.

After reading my post yesterday, Brittany and her husband decided to order a UV-82 for each of them, each radio with a spare battery, whip antenna, and speaker/mic. They also got a name-brand programming cable, and downloaded/installed CHIRP. They plan to have the radios ready to go on-the-air the moment they get their licenses.

 

Thursday, 22 June 2017

08:37 – It was 64.5F (18C) when I took Colin out around 0630 this morning, mostly cloudy. Barbara is off to Winston today to get a haircut, make a Costco run, have lunch with friends, and do some miscellaneous errands.


Ruh-roh. Lisa has hooked up with Jen and Brittany. These women are going to take over the world, I tell you.

I got email overnight from Lisa, CC’d to Jen and Brittany, congratulating me on getting my ham radio ticket. Lisa had been thinking about ham radio for a while, and asked me what she needed to do, on a budget, to get started. What to do, how to get licensed, what to buy, etc. As happens so often, she wanted to know exactly what I did because she intends to copy me. So, with the usual provisos that she is not me and what’s right for me isn’t necessarily right for her, here’s what I told her:

How to Get Started

First, go to http://www.arrl.org/find-a-club and locate the nearest ham radio club. Contact them and attend the next club meeting. Take your family along and let them know you’re interested in getting licensed. I’ve never met a ham who wasn’t friendly and eager to get others involved in the hobby. You’ll find the club very welcoming.

Find out if they offer classes for getting your license, and when and where the license exams occur. The exam for the entry-level Technician Class license and the second-level General Class license each comprises 35 questions from a published pool of 400+ questions. You don’t absolutely have to attend classes to pass your exam. Many people do so just by using on-line ham resources like hamexam.org, which has the question pool (with correct answers), flash cards, and sample tests.

If you’re interested only in local two-way communications–say within a 20-or 30-mile radius or within your county–all you need is your Technician Class license, and that exam is pretty easy to pass. If you’re interested in talking with other hams around the country or around the world, you’ll also want to take the General Class exam, which offers almost complete ham privileges. The General Class exam is harder than the Technician Class, but is still pretty easy.

Once you decide which license class each of you wants to get, start preparing for the exam. If you wish, you can buy the official ARRL study manuals for Technician and General Class, but chances are you’ll do fine just drilling on hamexam.org.

The tests are administered by a group of three Volunteer Examiners. There is usually a $10 per person charge for an exam session. During that session, you can take only the Technician Class exam if you wish, but if you pass that you can go on to take the General Class exam without paying any more. In fact, you can take all three, including the top-level Amateur Extra exam, at one session for the one $10 charge. You have to pass each lower level before you’re allowed to take the next level up.

What to Buy

Again, I’ll emphasize that what I recommend here isn’t best for everyone, but it’ll certainly get you started well.

⊕ Transceivers are available in hand-held versions (called HT’s for handy-talkies), mobile versions designed to install in the dashboard of your vehicle, and base station versions that are designed to sit on a desk or table at home. Nowadays, most hams start with an HT, and many never use anything else.

HT’s are available in a wide range of prices. Name-brand units (Icom, Yaesu, Kenwood, etc.) are generally quite expensive ($150 to several times that), and are limited to transmitting only on amateur radio frequencies. No-name Chinese models (BaoFeng/Pofung, etc.) are much, much less expensive (typically $20 to maybe $70), and can transmit across a broad range of frequencies, typically 136 to 174 MHz and 400 to 520 MHz). That range includes the amateur 2-meter and 70-cm (440 MHz) bands, but also includes many other services, such as FRS/GMRS, MURS, Marine Band, Business Band, etc. Many experienced hams dislike these programmable HTs for just that reason, while most preppers love them, for just that reason.

You might think you couldn’t possibly get much of a radio for a quarter to a tenth or less the price of a name-brand model, but you’d be wrong. A $30 BaoFeng HT has specifications (power output, sensitivity, selectivity, etc.) very similar to a $300 Icom or Yaesu.

There’s not much difference in terms of construction quality, either. One guy on Youtube torture-tested a $30 Chinese HT. He froze it, baked it, drenched it with a hose, and ran over it with his truck. Each time, it kept on working. Finally, he drenched it with gasoline and set it on fire. When the fire finally burned out, the case was charred and melted and the rubber-duck antenna was just a naked coil of wire. And it still worked. Note that he tested the UV-5R, which “feels” like a consumer-grade radio. The UV-82 “feels” a lot more like a commercial/industrial-grade model.

In fact, the commercial model of the UV-82, the UV-82C, is widely used by government and NGO emergency services agencies and volunteer groups that work with them. The only difference between the C model and the regular UV-82 is that the former costs about $60 rather than $30 and is a Type Accepted Part 90 device. It has had keypad access to VFO disabled, so new frequencies can’t be input from the keypad. These units have to be programmed with a computer and cable.

So I have no hesitation in recommending these radios for new ham operators, particularly those on a budget. You can buy a $30 model and use it as-is. If you want to accessorize it, you can spend another $10 or $20 each on things like a spare battery, a battery eliminator that let’s you plug into the cigarette lighter socket in your car, a AAA battery adapter that lets you use AAA alkalines or NiMH rechargeable, a good whip antenna, a speaker/mic, and so on.

So, what specific items do I recommend for getting started on a budget?

BaoFeng UV-82 HT – buy one or more of these. They run about $30 each. Assuming all of your group are getting their ham licenses, buy one for each of them. You can use them legally on the 2-meter and 70-cm ham bands to communicate directly between units (simplex mode) or with local repeaters (duplex mode) to extend your comm range over probably a 50- to 100-mile radius.

BaoFeng programming cable – The UV-82 has 99 programmable channels. You can program it manually, from the keypad on the radio, but it’s much easier to use a programming cable connected to your computer. This genuine BaoFeng Tech cable costs about $20, but it Just Works. Don’t make the mistake of buying one of the cheaper clone cables for $6 or whatever. They use an obsolete chipset that requires old drivers that screw up your computer. The cheap cables are nothing but headaches. You only need one programming cable no matter how many units you need to program, unless you just want a second one as a spare. (two is one …)

Download a free copy of the CHIRP software (available for Linux, MAC OS, or Windows) and use it to program your radios. You can also download various templates for CHIRP that include groups of 99 useful frequencies. Here’s one example, which includes a useful set of frequencies for preppers.

CHIRP templates are stored as simple CSV files, which you can edit with any text editor. You might want to edit the template mentioned above to remove some of the less useful frequencies (like the PMR446 group, which are kind of the European equivalent of the US FRS/GMRS frequencies). You can then use those free channels for 2-meter and 70-cm ham frequencies that are popular in your area for either simplex (direct unit-to-unit) or duplex (repeater). Programming frequencies, mode, etc. is very easy once you look at the CSV file. Pretty much self-explanatory.

The UV-82 itself comes with a charging base, battery, and rubber-duck antenna, which is all you really NEED to get on the air. I consider the programming cable and CHIRP almost a necessity, so I also included it above. There are also several optional items you might WANT. Here are the most popular ones:

Nagoya NA-771 replacement antenna – this 15.6″ dual-band whip antenna costs about $17 and is a direct screw-in replacement for the rubber duck antenna included with the radio. It is much, much more efficient and effective than the standard antenna. Using it can easily double the effective range of your UV-82.

⊕ BaoFeng BL-8 7.4V 1800 mAh battery – you’ll probably want a spare battery for each of your UV-82 HT’s. Battery life is good on the UV-82, but if you ever need to run your HT’s 24×7, spare batteries for each are critical.

Buy the Nagoya-branded antenna and BaoFeng-branded battery, and buy them on Amazon from BaoFeng Tech or BTech (same vendor), which is the authorized US distributor for BaoFeng. Do NOT buy them if Amazon is listed as the vendor. Amazon and its third-party vendors are both notorious for shipping counterfeit products. The branded units from BTech/BaoFeng Tech cost about the same price Amazon charges if they’re selling them, and BTech doesn’t charge sales tax to most locations. Amazon ships it, but BaoFeng Tech is the seller.

BaoFeng battery eliminator – this $16 item has a cigarette lighter plug on one end. The other end looks just like the UV-82 battery, and slides onto the HT in place of the real battery. You’ll probably want at least one or two of these, and maybe one for each radio or at least each vehicle, if you plan to use them a lot in vehicles. Once again, buy these from BTech or BaoFeng Tech as the vendor.

BL-8 AAA battery – another $16 item that’s basically just an empty battery housing for the UV-82. It lets you use AAA alkaline or rechargeables. Interestingly, this adapter requires only five alkaline AAA’s but SIX NiMH rechargeable AAA’s. That’s because the real battery is 7.4V. Five alkalines is 7.5V, which is close enough; six NiMH’s is 7.2V, which again is close enough. But if you put six alkalines in this adapter, it’s delivering 9V, which is too much. The UV-82 apparently continues to work, but it won’t transmit. That’s why this adapter includes a dummy/spacer battery, for when you use alkalines. Again, buy these only from BaoFeng Tech or BTech as the vendor.

⊕ Finally, if you can find it, you might want a clone-and-copy cable. I bought one of these from Amazon back in 2013 or so but they’re now listed as no longer available. Like the programming cable, they have a two-prong connector on one end, but instead of having a USB connector on the other, they have a second two-prong connector. That allows you to connect two UV-82 HT’s directly together and transfer the programming from one unit to the other. The only reason you’d use this is if you don’t have access to a working computer to program units directly. And, if absolutely necessary, you can program units directly from their keypads. So this is definitely an optional item.

So this is what I recommend, in the sense that this is what I actually did and bought.

 

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

09:56 – It was 62.6F (17C) when I took Colin out around 0700 this morning, mostly cloudy. Barbara is off to the gym. We’re working on kit stuff this afternoon.

Barbara brought home a “Herd Starter Kit” from the golf tournament yesterday. It’s a small plastic bag that contains what looks like four Lima bean seeds with black spots on them. But the label assures us that if we plant them properly and keep them watered they’ll produce four heifers to get our herd started. No instructions, alas, on when and how to pick them or how to save seeds to ensure an ongoing supply of cows.

As I was looking up my own ham radio license in the FCC database yesterday, I had a thought. I started checking to see if various PA novelists were in the database. Franklin Horton is, although the FCC thinks he lives in Huntington Beach, CA. Chris Weatherman (AKA Angery American) is, under his real address in Umatilla, FL. Steven Bird is, also under his real address. I was surprised that Konkoly isn’t in the database. Nor is Forstchen, Akart, Craven, Mann, nor numerous other PA novelists.

Then I started looking up people who have prepping websites. Lisa Bedford (Survival Mom) is in there, as is Pat Henry. There are ten Creekmore listings, but none of them for M. D., nor is Rawles in there, nor several others that I’d have expected to find.

Being a good boy, I’ve played by the rules. I haven’t keyed the transmitter on any of my 2-meter/440 handhelds because I wasn’t yet licensed. So now the next step is to get these things programmed and working. The BaoFeng programming cables are a PITA. Supposedly, the name-brand ones just work, with Windows or Linux, because they have a current chipset. The cheap ones, including the ones supplied by most BaoFeng vendors, use an older chipset. If you try to use the cable under Linux, it just doesn’t work. If you try to use it under Windows, it downloads an old driver that screws up your Windows installation even worse than Microsoft screws it up to start with.

I do have one of the official BaoFeng cables that does work, but it’s buried downstairs behind stacks of furniture and other stuff. So my choices at this point are to wait until I can get to it or to program this UV-82 manually with the local 2M repeater frequencies.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

07:52 – It was 59.0F (15C) when I took Colin out around 0620 this morning, damp and overcast. Barbara had to leave at 0630. She’s volunteering all day at the charity golf tournament that benefits the Wellness Center.

Well, it’s official, or will be when it shows up in the FCC database, probably later today. I’m again a licensed amateur radio operator, after a gap of 40 years. And, for the first time in my 64 years, I failed a test.

Since the FCC had completely forgotten about me, I had to start by taking the Technician Class exam. I blew through that in about eight minutes, at which point the examiners handed me the General Class exam. I blew through that one pretty quickly as well.

After she graded the General Class exam, one of the examiners said I’d passed it as well, congratulated me on doing so, and asked since I’d aced both Technician and General if I wanted to try taking the Amateur Extra Class exam. At first, I demurred. The other two guys who were taking their GC exams had already finished, it was already 2030, and I said I didn’t want to hold them up. She and her husband, the second examiner, assured me that they weren’t in any hurry, as did Sam, the third examiner and the guy who’d taught the class. So they talked me into it. I hadn’t even glanced at the Amateur Extra material or test questions, so I knew going in that there was a very small chance I’d pass. But what the hell, why not try it? So I did. And failed it. Oh well.

As I’ve mentioned, the only one I cared about was the Tech exam. I don’t intend to use anything other than 2 meters and 440, so that’s all I needed. The only reason to get Amateur Extra was if I wanted to qualify as a Volunteer Examiner who could administer tests for all three classes. And I may still do that at some point, but I’m happy for now with what I have.


I started seeing this message a week or two ago on the conservative sites Hotair and Townhall. The message is identical on both sites.

You are seeing this page because ads cannot be shown

Ads allow us to pay the content creators of this site.
Why is this happening?

One of your browser extensions is blocking ads or scripts
How to fix this:

Which ad block extension do you have installed?

Adblock Plus

Click the red octagon with “ABP” on the upper-right hand corner of the screen.
Select Disable on to allow ads.
Refresh the page.

AdBlock

Click the red octagon with the hand on the upper right-hand corner of the screen.
Select Don’t run on pages on this domain to allow ads.
In the “Don’t run AdBlock on“ dialog box, select Exclude. The AdBlock icon changes to a “thumbs up” image.
Refresh the page.

I’ve unbookmarked both sites because they don’t follow my acceptable site policy, which simply stated is:

o It is unacceptable for any site to run any type of ads whatsoever under any circumstances whatsoever.

o It is unacceptable for any site to interfere in any way with the functions of any ad-blocker, popup blocker, or script blocker.

o It is unacceptable for any site to use a paywall to limit access to some or all of its content.

o It is unacceptable for any site to require any form of registration, including even an email address, and whether that registration is free or paid, to access the content on that site.

o The only acceptable form of monetization is for a site to implement a micro-payments system that allows users of that site to pay a clearly-defined and readily-visible amount for each article or page that user views. Breaking articles into multiple pages to increase the cost to users of viewing an article is unacceptable.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

09:21 – It was 64.5F (18C) when I took Colin out around 0640 this morning, clear, bright, and calm. It’s already up to 82.3F (28C).

Barbara has to run down to Elkin this morning to pick up the beer for the charity golf event. She’ll make a supermarket run on her way back, since she’s booked solid tomorrow. Then we’ll spend some time this afternoon building more science kit subassemblies.

I’m taking the Technician and General Class amateur radio exams next week, so I need to get serious about preparing for them. So far, I’ve been coasting on my memories from being a ham radio operator 50 years ago. Obviously, some stuff has changed since then.

So yesterday I decided to visit HamExam.org and take the practice tests. I started with the Techician Exam, for which I have the official ARRL manual but haven’t read it yet. I took the test three times and averaged 33 of 35 questions correct. Passing is 26 correct. Then I decided to give the General Exam a try. I ran through it three times as well, and averaged 30 of 35 correct, with 26 again the passing score. That’s just not good enough. So I intend to spend some time over the coming weekend reading the ARRL books and studying the exam questions, for which the correct answers are provided. I’ve never failed a test in my life, and it would be embarrassing for this to be the first.

More email from Lisa overnight. She’d mentioned earlier that she intended to continue building their deep pantry until they reached at least a one-year supply of food and asked what she should focus on next. She has a Sawyer PointZeroTwo water filter on order as well as a supply of HTH. They have a wood stove, for which she just ordered another two cords of firewood, which is to be delivered in the next few days. They have a couple portable radios and several flashlights and lanterns, with a decent supply of batteries. They have a reasonably good first-aid kit, and none of them are on any critical medications.

About the only thing they’re really short on is defensive weapons. They own two .22 rifles and an old 12-gauge shotgun, but not much ammo for them. None of them other than her sons has shot at all for at least 10 or 15 years, and only her husband and father-in-law have ever so much as fired the shotgun. They bought the .22 rifles for her sons when they did an Appleseed course or similar a couple of years ago.

I suggested to Lisa that she should first find a local gun club or range and get all six of them signed up for a beginner class in gun safety. Then head for Walmart or whatever and buy a hundred rounds of buckshot for their shotgun and six bricks of .22 ammo, one for each of them. Then get each of them out to the range for several sessions and shoot 500 rounds each at targets. Then we can talk more about what defensive firearms they should buy.

Guest post, some thoughts on radios, and why it’s hard to get a straight answer from a ham…

In response to this question-

“@nick

You seem well-informed on the subject, so what are YOUR recommendations for someone looking to just get a few radios?”

I’ve consolidated some of yesterday’s discussion in one place.

 

—————————————————————————————

The important question to start with is ‘what do you want to do?’ With that info, you can narrow the list.

 

The first separation is listen vs talk. No license required to listen. To listen, get a scanner. Most transceivers will scan, but they are much slower. To talk, see below.

If you want to monitor your local area, (and it’s fun but you aren’t necessarily gonna get the inside scoop), you need a couple of scanners. I like analog because they’re cheap. They work well for scanning ham bands, or the analog FEMA interop freqs.  Analog scanners will also cover the GMRS and FRS bands, weather bands, marine (almost everyone in the US is near a coast or navigable waterway), air, etc.  If you are rural, you may have more traffic on analog than other areas. If your area has gone digital, you need a digital capable trunk tracker scanner. The Uniden Home Patrol II is a bit long in the tooth, but is widely recommended. I like mine, but it needs a bunch of tweaking to the internal channel list. Setting up scanners takes a bit of thinking about what you want to monitor too. I shut off all the dispatch channels because they run constantly here.  You may be in a slower area, and want to hear the dispatches, but even in a rural area, I think you’ll be surprised how much work your cops and EMS people do.  For other sources of good intel, your highway motorist aid guys probably still use analog and they’re a good source for high water and road debris info. Same for the ‘talkback’ channel for your local news teams to talk to their ‘in the field’ guys. There is a lot of interesting stuff even during normal times.  Radio Reference is the definitive web site for frequency info.

The other type pure listening radio for preppers is Shortwave. After trying dozens of radios and listening at least a couple of nights a week for the last year, I’ve concluded that there’s not a lot of info actually on SW. By definition, the state broadcasters are running propaganda stations. Most of the other stations are religious.  The airwaves are NOT awash in alternative news stations.  But even so there are things to listen to, and post SHTF, there might be other broadcasters or other content. It’s definitely overblown in the prepping world though.  Other than music, I listen to a ham focused show out of Havana, a ham focused show on one of the religious broadcasters in Tennessee, and everyone’s favorite conspiracy guy broadcast by a station in Florida.  Shortwave is also a fun, quick way to check band conditions without firing up your HF ham rig.

For SW, I like older “communications receivers” like the Kenwood R-1000 or the Yaesu FRG-7700. They have continuous coverage from the low lows to their highs at 50mhz. They are usually used on AC power but also may have battery inputs. For off grid, I love my Panasonic RF-2200. Over a year of checking thru the dial a couple of times a week, on one set of D batteries.  Like the AC models, it is a larger model.  Larger models will generally give you much more sensitive tuning and bigger dials, which is GOOD.  For pocket or on the go, I’m really liking the little Sony ICF 7600 I took to the Virgin Islands. It’s got digital tuning but you can comfortably just tune thru the bands. LOTS of other radios with digital tuning will “chuff” or take a second to tune every single time you push the UP or Down button. For scanning around that is REALLY tedious. The Sony is very smooth tuning up and down.

You’ll notice that this stuff is all older. Yup, it is, but the designs stood the test of time.  And it’s non-critical or covered by spares, and is cheap compared to current gear with the same capability.

I’ve decided the little pocket analogs are almost completely useless and the pocket digitals are pretty useless for just tuning around.  Also, don’t worry about single side band or having a Beat Frequency Oscillator on your SW radio so you can listen to hams. They are almost impossible to tune in given the smaller dials, and across a dozen portable radios, I couldn’t consistently hear SSB conversations. If you want to listen to hams, get a ham radio.  [there are other factors too, like where the band pass filters start and stop that can make SW listening on a ham radio, or ham listening on a SW radio problematic.]

 

When it comes to talking on the radio:

If you are thinking about getting a ham license, and want to get started cheaply, the baofengs are a great entry point for a tech or general license. DON’T buy a used radio unless you can get some guarantee that it works. You want to get on the air, not work on radios. If you want something better than the chinese radios, any of the big three, Icom, Kenwood, or Yaesu, that have the features you want, will be great. ALWAYS check the reviews at eHam.com before buying. They will address any reliability or useability issues, esp for something that’s been out for a while. I’d buy cheaper, and fewer features unless you’ve decided you like ham radio as a hobby or decided that you need a digital mode. Buy a dual band radio that has 2 meter (144mhz or VHF) and 70cm (440mhz or UHF). Don’t buy a single band radio unless it’s very cheap or you are planning for a dedicated use like data or APRS.

For HF (getting more than a mile or two away, or for HF data modes) I’m gonna say, there are great values in 20-25 year old gear. My Yaesu FT 847 works great.  There are many classic models from the time period that are well regarded, still run well, and are cheaper than comparable new models.  Any voice work on HF requires a General or Amateur Extra License.

There are multiband mobile radios that include HF but due to power and antenna limitations, they aren’t the best choice if you are gonna do a lot of HF.

Mobile radios make decent home stations too, if the power limits are ok for you.

Antennas are critical to your success talking on the air.  Some of the radios (like FRS) are intentionally crippled by requiring attached (and crappy) antennas.  There are lots of books about antennas, making your own, or buying, and the classics are available used for very low prices.  The web is full of antenna projects too.

Some people recommend tube radios for EMP survivability but they are harder to use, need more power, and are physically bigger. Probably better to get another modern radio and put it in a metal box if that worries you.

Moving to radios that don’t require a license, the most common are the ‘blister pack’ small form factor walkie talkies.

I have buckets full of FRS/GMRS radios (blister pack) that I buy when I see them cheap ($1-3). I don’t trust them for anything critical though. I use them when I’d rather not yell but don’t trust them for anything farther than that.

I’ve also bought motorola business radios when I see them cheap. They are bulletproof unless the batteries leaked, but anything will be destroyed by leaking batteries. After years of using moto radios in the field, I may be biased, but they just keep working.  A blister pack Motorola business radio is a good compromise between a $10 FRS and a $1000 ham or commercial high end walkie.

There are real differences between a $1200 moto walkie and a $30 one. Those differences might not be important to you, but don’t discount them. Sure, you can easily replace your $30 radio with a spare if you are where the spare is. It’s NOT so easy to replace if you are out USING it and the spares are at home. If it’s critical gear, buy quality.

I’ve mentioned before that I think CBs are worth having. There is still a lot of CB use in more rural areas, and among the Off Road crowd. There are also some people in the prep/liberty/militia/patriot movements that advocate a super set of CB known as “freebanding.” They use modified radios or ‘export only’ models that include access to freqs outside the Citizen’s Bands. They are illegal for most people, are NOT obscure, ARE easily monitored, and get you very little for the additional cost/risk/complication and learning curve.

A side note on licensing. Many of the freqs and radios are restricted to various licensed individuals/businesses/or classes of people. Some are enforced, some are not. FRS doesn’t need a license, but is supposed to be restricted to non-business use. GMRS requires a license, which covers your whole family for a number of years, and is a ‘fee only’ license. CB dropped the individual license requirement, but there are still restrictions on power output, antenna heights, and even attempting to reach beyond certain distances. Ham frequencies and modes and power output are all subject to different license requirements. Technician and General ham licenses are not difficult to get with study, and will give you almost all the privileges that the very hard Amateur Extra license does. MURS describes frequencies for business use and does not require individual licenses. Most of the blister pack ‘business’ radios use MURS freqs. There are some other freqs and modes available (baby monitors, dakota alert, Moto 900mhz walkies, that don’t require individual licensing).  Some preppers advocate one of the more obscure frequencies and modes but you won’t be hiding when you press the transmit button, and there are ways for anyone motivated to eavesdrop.  BTW, it’s illegal to encrypt or otherwise attempt to hide the content of your communication on the ham bands, and also illegal to use them for business (with one specific exception for used ham gear) or to be compensated for your use of the bands.

Some online preppers have recommended getting marine radios and using them on land. This is a really bad idea, with very little upside.  It’s specifically prohibited by law. The Coast Guard takes a very dim view of this abuse, and they are set up to direction find transmissions. Just don’t do it.

Every month, the magazine of the ARRL (QST) lists enforcement actions the FCC has taken. The vast majority are for CB violations, followed by willful interference violations on ham bands. Hams will report you if you are on their bands without a license. Just don’t do it. There are guys that LIVE to direction find you, record you, challenge you, and they will remember you if you later get a license. Given that, there are WAY more violators than there are people prosecuted. But if you do get prosecuted the fines are not small, and the FCC tacks on “respect my authority!” fees too.  Get properly licensed and get on the air to practice.  It’s no different than the recommendation to gun owners to get training and practice.  You’ll learn to use the gear you have, be able to judge its usefulness and appropriateness for YOU, and to make changes if needed.

One of the biggest frustrations for new hams is getting a definitive gear recommendation. Experienced hams will almost always say “it depends” and “what do you want to do?” For preppers, it’s a lot easier. Start with the baofengs. Add a dual band mobile (in the car or on your desk) from the big 3. A good basic walkie or HT as hams say, is the Yaesu FT-60r.  Most will consider that an upgrade from the baofeng HTs.  Stay away from re-purposed public safety commercial radios until you’ve gotten farther along in the hobby, or unless someone local can set it up for you (and keep it up.)

In general, look for radios that can be programmed by pc with a cable. That will be WAY easier than doing it by hand. That said, I’ve got about 4 freqs programmed in my HT. How many more can you keep track of?

I hope that helped some, I’ve written 10’s of thousands of words on the subject here and in other blog comments.

n

 

(opinions are my own, correct me if I’m wrong, ask any questions you might have.)