12.29.20

Nashville

I’m going to start by saying I don’t give a fuck about who the guy was, or why he chose to park his VBIED in front of an AT&T Switching Center. I am glad he at least had the decency to warn people that he was about to blow himself up, and while I have no love for the phone company, there are, if the reviews have any credence, a lot of decent restaurants that were caught in the blast zone who now have yet more bullshit to deal with besides COVID-19. So, in my opinion “Anthony Quinn Warner” was an asshole just for the fact that he fucked with the livelihoods of a bunch of people who provide folks with good food and good times when they take their family or significant other out for a nice evening. He might have been an asshole with some morals, but he was still an asshole.

The one piece of truth that did come out of this incident is the necessity for having some back-up communications capability on hand for when your phones and Internet stop working. We recently had some typical winter weather in New England, and Nashville just had someone set off a bomb in front of the phone company. Both incidents had the same effect.

Have your family members get their Technician class ham license. Put a 2 meter (or 2 meter/440) base in your house with a decent antenna. Install a mobile rig in your cars. Toss an HT in your day bag with extra batteries. Figure out what repeaters you can hit from both home and work, and if you can communicate along your commute on simplex. Now when your phone stops working you have a way to let your spouse know that 1. You’re OK, and 2. You’re on your way home and should be expected within NN minutes.

The next thing your should do is get a police scanner and program in whatever local public safety communications systems are monitorable in your locale. Now you are set to know what’s going on whether it’s a blizzard or a bombing without having to deal with the establishment mass media talking heads.

You don’t have to believe in Civil War 2, TEOTWAWKI, QAnon conspiracies, or any other nonsense like that, because anyone with a whit of common sense is able to easily observe first hand that things break, and that it’s a good idea to have a few things in place for when they do. As far as the nonsense goes, if you’ve read, practiced, and applied the material in those intelligence manuals I shared earlier, you should be on your way to building up a rather nice bullshit filter.

In the meantime, here are some sites to help you out:

http://www.arrl.org/exam-practice

http://www.arrl.org/find-an-amateur-radio-license-exam-session

12.24.20

Applied Critical Thinking

This is “officer grade” material from TRADOC G2 Intelligence Support Activity (TRISA) in Ft Leavenworth, KS. As such, your average prepper bloggers would not be aware of its existence, until now. I present it for your personal education and edification.

https://fas.org/irp/doddir/army/critthink.pdf

When you have asshole pundits and bloggers posting fake news stories about Chinese invasions, and throwing out dire warnings of events they make up in their head, the ability to perform critical thinking is necessary these days.

In 1990 when Consumertronics published my first book, I had estimated that the country would have at most six years before a total collapse. Thirty years later the status quo remains. So when some Johnny-come-lately who has only been blogging for five years says there is going to be a civil war tomorrow, I’m skeptical because Johnny has not been around long enough to make that prediction. Especially when Johnny was barely out of kindergarten when I wrote my first book. If he, however, uses the methodology in ATP 2-33-4 and shows his work, I might lend some credence to the claim.

Want to learn more? Check out https://fas.org/irp/doddir/army/.

11.28.20

So you want to get on Two Meters…

You are a newly minted Technician class Amateur Radio operator, and as usual you want to get on the 2 Meter (144-148 MHz.) band. You go and buy one of those sub $100 Chinese HTs and you are all set, right? Wrong. Without getting into the well-established fact that the Chinese HTs, especially the Baofeng, are junk (see http://www.nf9k.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/ARRL-Lab-HT-Testing.pdf), you are doing yourself a disservice by starting out with an HT, regardless of which company made it.

You take your HT, program in a repeater that’s 10 miles away, throw out your callsign, and someone 10 miles in the opposite direction comes back to you saying you’re “full quieting” into the machine. All with a 5 watt handheld and rubber duck antenna? Great, right? The only thing that’s great about that is the effort the repeater owner went into getting the machine on the air. The repeater is at a much higher elevation than you, is running 50-100+ watts (versus your 5) into an antenna system with some pretty high gain, and perhaps even a has preamp on the input to help the receiver hear better. In short, the repeater is doing all the heavy lifting so you can use that HT.

Get a friend of yours who also has an HT, and go on a hike to see how far away you can hear each other on simplex with 5 watts and a rubber duck antenna. I guarantee you that under normal circumstances you won’t get more than a mile or two range. Now HTs are nice in that they are portable and you can carry them around, but unless you and your local ham buddies you like to ragchew with are all within a mile or two of each other, you will be out of luck if the repeater goes down, and repeaters do go down. Sometimes it’s because of a natural disaster. Other times it’s because the repeater owner is unable to maintain the machine any longer, and takes it off the air. Either way, being able to properly operate simplex and be self-sufficient on the air is a wise idea. The solution is to get a mobile/base 2 Meter transceiver in the 25-50 Watt output power range, and install an external antenna. Now your 1-2 mile simplex range becomes a 20-50 simplex range, and you won’t have to worry if the local repeater goes down because you will be able to reach out further to hit a more distant repeater, or work simplex. Here is what you will need.


Oops. When heavy weather takes down a repeater like this, HT users will be screwed.
  • Two Meter Transceiver. Since I like Icom, I went with the IC-2300H.
  • Antenna. The best antenna out there in my opinion is the Spectral Isopole (https://www.isopole.com/).
  • A 12V power supply with enough current capacity to run the radio at full power. The IC-2300H, according to the manual needs 11 Amps. The old-skool trusty Astron RS-20A (16 Amps continuous, 20 Amps intermittent) is a good choice.
  • Some coaxial cable to connect your radio to the antenna. Most of you probably wouldn’t need any more than 50 feet or so, and you can get a preassembled 50 foot length of decent VHF-rated coax, say LMR-240, with PL-259 connectors on each end.

Looking at the “buy it new” route, setting up a station via Gigaparts, Ham Radio Outlet, or one of the other mail order outlets will cost the following:

Icom IC-2300H – $150.00
Spectral Isopole- $180.00
Astron RS-20A- $149.00
50 feet LMR-240 with PL-259 connectors – $50.00
Total – $529.00

If you go the brand-new mail order route it would cost you $529.00 to get on two meters. That’s actually less than the new cost of just an entry-level HF rig. There is a better and less expensive way to get on 2 meters.

You can save a lot of money if you buy used, and build your own antenna. You can buy a used two meter mobile rig off Ebay for less than $100. A good used Icom, such as the 1980’s vintage Icom IC-27H shown to the left, runs about $70 or so. That almost halves the cost of your radio. I have seen older 2 meter mobile rigs for sale for even less at hamfests, around $25-$50. That knocks down your radio cost anywhere from half to a third. You can build an antenna out of $10 worth of parts with information from an old copy of the ARRL Antenna book you find at a hamfest for $5, or from data you find online (https://www.hamuniverse.com/2metergp.html). Used Astron power supplies cost about half their new price at hamfests, but for now you can get away with buying a suitable deep cycle battery from Wal-Mart or your local auto parts store for about $60. The charger for it will be about $20. Finally, if you measure out your actual coax length from your radio to your antenna, you will save some money there. At under 50 feet, you’ll be able to get away with a higher-loss coax than LMR-240 because the differences between it and say RG-8X will be minimal at short distances. A 20 foot RG-8X coax jumper will set you back about $18 at a local truckstop like Flying J or Pilot. Let’s take a look at how much a station will cost.

Used 2 meter mobile rig (average) – $70.00
Used copy of ARRL Antenna Book and parts – $15.00
Deep-cycle battery – $60.00
Battery charger – $20.00
RG-8X coax jumper – $18.00
Total Cost: $183.00

By going the used equipment route, and engaging in a little DIY, you can get on the air for about a third of the cost than if you went and bought everything new.

The two meter band goes from 144-148 MHz., and most of that is unoccupied these days. There are, however, a few places where FM simplex operation is commonplace. Stay above 144.300 MHz, because below that is where the weak signal (SSB/CW) hams operate. Repeater inputs and outputs should also be avoided, for obvious reasons. Preferred FM simplex frequency ranges are 144.300-144.500,144.900-145.100, 145.500-146.000, 146.400-146.580, and 147.420-147.570 MHz.

09.27.20

Just do it.

Get a receiver. Spin the dial. Tune in. Find alternate sources of news and information. Or just listen to some tunes and relax a bit.

Just do it.

09.16.20

Build It

From a fellow hobbyist we are reminded that BIY (Build It Yourself) is not dead.

https://swling.com/blog/2020/09/ron-reminds-us-that-mfj-still-offers-a-shortwave-radio-kit/

https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0289/7782/3843/files/MFJ-8100K_Manual.pdf

MFJ has been around forever, and has helped get many a ham radio operator get on the air.

09.14.20

Eton Grundig FR200 Emergency Radio (Shortwave Receiver)

This radio came out in 2002, and was marketed for use in blackouts and other disasters. It covers AM, FM, and shortwave broadcast bands. They were about $40 back in the day. It’s been discontinued, but you can find one on Ebay for $25-$30.

The main useful feature of this radio is a hand-crank battery charger for the radio’s replaceable NiMh battery pack. Turn the crank for a couple minutes, and you’ll get about an hour’s worth of listening. You can also run it off regular AA batteries or an AC adapter. This is a cheap portable with very good sensitivity that is simple to use, and has longer battery life than many other portables.

Before you buy that Baofeng that everyone except the guy who’s been writing about radio and self-reliance for 30+ years (me) says you should get, you should buy an FR200 or something similar. Scratch that. Go on Ebay and buy an FR200. When you as a beginner buy a Baofeng, or any other ham rig for that matter, unless you have a ham license and a local segment of the community to talk with, the thing will get placed on a shelf and never used. Unless there’s some ARES, RACES, or Skywarn activity going on, Amateur Radio conversations on FM VHF and UHF are pretty boring, and nothing most people will want to hear. You might have a local police or fire department that still uses an analog VHF-high band or UHF communications system, and can use that Baofeng as a scanner, but otherwise it’ll just sit there unused. The FR200 is something that you will be able to use every day to get broadcasts from around the globe, and expand the variety of your information collection (intelligence) activities to get a more accurate picture of what’s going on out there.

I recommend the FR200 over other receivers in its class for a couple reasons. It’s simple to operate. Turn it on, adjust the volume, select the band, and start spinning the dial until you hear something. Anyone, not just a radio communications hobbyist, can use the thing. Other radios are more complicated. It also can be just left on a shelf until needed, and still be operational. If the AA batteries in the unit are dead, turn the hand crank for a couple minutes and you’ll be up and running. Not that you should just leave it on a shelf in the first place. You should spend a little time each evening cruising the bands and getting information regardless of what’s going on outside.

08.9.20

Sunday Dispatch For August 9th, 2020 – 0x6715A74

Good morning. On this day in 1892, Thomas Edison received a patent for a two-way telegraph, and in 1944 the United States Forest Service and the Wartime Advertising Council released posters featuring Smokey Bear for the first time.

Our Youtube Recommendation for the week is here:

Tropical Storm Isaiah breezed through here last Tuesday, leaving a heck of a lot of damage, and a four-day grid outage in the neighborhood. The biggest take-aways from this one are:

  1. You can never have enough water, and really should have a generator big enough to run your well pump or a gravity-fed cistern as back-up water source.
  2. You can never have enough batteries.
  3. You need to be able to navigate around multiple obstacles to get home.

COMINT collection was successful overall, as many rural town public works/highway departments in the area are still running analog conventional radio systems on VHF and occasionally UHF. Surprisingly enough, the local electrical utility still uses VHF low-band, although a conventional UHF repeater system was also discovered.

One of the better sources of local information was on Facebook “town talks” group pages. Our town pages had all sorts of OSINT on road and business closures, item availability, and grid conditions.

The local power company’s website was totally useless, as the sheer number outage reports broke it. Many people reported that their neighborhood was still being listed as “evaluating outage” after power was restored.

Internet connectivity was and always will be dependent on electrical power availability. Reports showed Telco-provided ADSL lasted longer after the power outage than CATV Internet. Wireless common carrier Internet stayed up, but became overwhelmed as hardwired systems started failing. Complicating matters were issues from a network merger between Sprint and T-Mobile.

We have always said that if you want reliable comms, never trust someone else’s infrastructure. While Amateur Radio SKYWARN and ARES operations were active, disaster radio comms still remain a niche thing, especially in short term disasters where people have enough wireless common carrier connectivity to reach Facebook and make phone calls. It is what it is.

There is a saying, “If the map doesn’t match the terrain, change the map.” We can wax poetic about grid-down communications using Amateur Radio, CB, FRS, et al, but the reality showed that the future is going to be Part 15-based wireless data infrastructure since that’s what everyone has.

04.15.20

Wildflower’s Favorite Crystal Radio Book

https://www.americanradiohistory.com/BOOKSHELF-ARH/Technology/Boys-Book-Of-Crystal-Sets.pdf

This one was his favorite, and the one he would usually reference when building sets. He liked it so much, he used to print out copies and give them to his techie friends.

04.5.20

Second-Order Effects Of COVID-19 On Part 97 Infrastructure, or Why HF Is A Good Idea

I did a little work on my HF station this weekend. What, do you ask, has this to do with COVID-19?

  • Back during the Sparks31 experiment, I had always stressed “never trust anyone else’s infrastructure.”
  • Those 2m/440 Baofengs all the preppers like to use work best when there is a nearby repeater to extend their communications range. Those repeaters are someone else’s infrastructure.
  • Most repeater owners are in their 60s (or older), or work in in the field at an essential job and thus are in the high risk category for COVID-19.
  • Many repeaters are in locations that are likely to get locked-down, making access to them impossible for the moment.
  • Amateur radio repeaters are usually put together with older/surplused parts, and often require regular maintenance for peak performance.

Do you see where this is going?

A good HF station will give you the same talk range (or better) as a VHF handheld going through a repeater, sans the vulnerable infrastructure.

This is not something you’re going to do now that we are past the 11th hour. None of the senior citizens who run the ham tests want to go out in public and risk getting something that’ll kill them. If you need some comms now, I previously posted information on what to do. However, once this mess is over, you now know what you need to work on.

04.5.20

A Connecticut Yankee Talks About COVID-19 – #3 – Guns and Police Scanners

Guns

It comes as no surprise that gun and ammunition sales are up. Here in Connecticut, potential first-time owners are stymied because of a combination of shutdowns and the requirement to first possess a permit in order to exercise a fundamental civil right. So, for those of you who up until now didn’t think you needed a gun, and can’t get one because the process to get a Certificate of Eligibility is on hold, remember that come Election Day.

For the rest of you, I’m going to assume you have not owned a firearm before, and just want to get something for a little piece of mind. Congratulations, you have made a step towards self-reliance, preparedness, and self-determination. Now under normal circumstances, I’d tell you to start with a handgun, and get some training in how to use it for self-defense. However, in many places, handguns are more difficult to rapidly acquire compared to long guns (ie. rifles and shotguns), and require time to become proficient in their use. Long guns, especially in the Northeast, have less restrictions on purchase and/or ownership, and are easier to learn how to safely handle and shoot well.

https://www.stoegerindustries.com/side-by-side-shotguns

My recommendation is to get a shotgun, specifically a short, double-barrel side-by-side known as a Coach Gun. If you are of smaller stature, get a 20 gauge, otherwise go with 12 gauge. For ammunition, get a few boxes of buckshot. You are set. In most states, you can simply walk in, buy a shotgun, and leave with it that day assuming your background check goes through OK.

This is probably the safest, most effective home defense firearm for a beginner. It is very easy to check its status (loaded/unloaded) and make safe. Open it up, and look at the chambers. You will either see two shells in them, or not. Since you are a novice, you will want to keep it unloaded until you need to use it, in which case, it only takes a second to insert two shells when the need arises. If you maintain proper situational awareness and security at home, you will have plenty of time to make your shotgun ready if you need to. Finally, those two large diameter barrels are often intimidating enough to fix most problems without firing a shot.

There’s my 11th+ hour gun advice. As always you should check your local/state laws regarding self-defense, castle doctrine, reasonable force, duty to retreat, et al and consult a proper lawyer (not some Internet expert) if you have any serious legal questions.

REFERENCES
https://www.outdoorlife.com/blogs/gun-shots/2013/08/twenty-plenty/

Police Scanners

There has been a fair amount of discussion, mostly private, regarding an earlier post on National Guard communications monitoring. Based upon the information received, National Guard units are using dedicated talkgroups on their state’s trunked radio system, old-fashioned analog FM the VHF-Low band frequency ranges of 40-42 & 46.6-47.0 MHz, and P25 on 380-400 MHz. So, lacking any other open source information to supplement this data, those are the frequency ranges I would concentrate on.

Now, being that solitary outside activity such as hiking is still considered an acceptable activity in most states during the Coronapocalypse . If I knew of a temporary installation set up somewhere, and there was an open space with hiking trails and few to no people within a 1/4-1/2 mile of said installation, I might go for a hike with a Spectrum Sweeper to see what I could hear. Google Maps is your friend.

Whistler TRX-2

Since states are getting on the trunked P25 bandwagon, it makes sense to get a scanner that has that capability as your first receiver acquisition. My recommendation would be either the Whistler TRX-1 or TRX-2. They are a handheld and desktop scanner, respectively, with P25 and trunking capability. Other than their different form factors, they are the same radio. Which one to get would depend on how you’re going to use it. The desktop has better ergonomics and audio, and if it was going to stay on a desk and never leave home I would go with the desktop version. If you are going to run it in your vehicle, go hiking with it, listen to it in the back yard while working on stuff, et al then get the portable.

Whistler TRX-1