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Topics - gil

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316
Morse Code / Starting the Morse Code Board.
« on: September 03, 2012, 02:10:26 AM »
Hello,

I am creating this board based on my opinion that Morse Code might be the ultimate communication mode when it comes to prepping. Sure, Morse Code is hard to learn (for me anyway) and somewhat slow compared to other modes (though that can be argued..), but it has many advantages...

- Morse code can be used not only with radio but with visual signals such as light, laser, sound, touch, the detailed list would be long.
- Morse doesn't need a lot of power to cut through the ether.
- A telegraph system is easy to set-up using new or existing wire infrastructures and insures privacy.
- Is is inherently more private than voice modes.
- CW-only radios are cheap and small, with low current drain.
- With an appropriate key and earphones, it allows to transmit messages silently.

Feel free to add more...

I use two training tools to learn Morse Code: The ham Morse iOS application, and http://lcwo.net. There are many more.

In my opinion, Morse Code should not only be preserved but promoted in the prepping community at large as a great emergency communication mode.

Gil.

317
Technical Corner / I Built an Elecraft K2.
« on: August 30, 2012, 03:00:18 PM »
Hello,

My K1 worked so well, I built a K2! It took me thirty hours over three days. Everything works, but I am now battling a lack of sensitivity, especially on 20m. I do have full output power on all bands however. The kit wasn't harder than the K1, it just took longer. Right now it is the basic version, but I plan on adding the auto tuner, SSB card, audio filter board and internal battery kit.

Control board and front panel, end of day 1:


RF board, end of day 2, receiver subsection.


My happy Elecraft family:


Hopefully the sensitivity problem will be easy to fix, I just have to find the problem. I did have a bad solder joint on TR7 (the one missing on the RF board photo). Maybe the problem is related to it. I just don't have the time right now to troubleshoot. I will have to, because I want everything to work perfectly. As it is, my K1 receives much better than the K2, not cool.

I might yet build a KX1... That however, with the 40m SSB kit I am expecting from ozqrp.com will be, for quite some time, the end of my radio building career. Then I'll start really using them! The more I am listening to HF and CW, the less I am interested in VHF...

I am not going to do a full review, there are plenty of sites that do, including eham.net. Here are my impressions however:

As far a building goes, it was the same fun level as the K1. Everything fits, the manual is exemplary, the only thing missing was the rotary encoder nut and washer. I did use one from a discarded Gonset Communicator potentiometer, so that K2 has some historical parts!

The K2, while small, is still quite a bit bigger than the K1. For field use, especially backpacking, the K1 is king. The controls are very similar, so a K1 user will feel right at home with the K2. The alignment procedure for the K2 filters though is a pain. That said, once done, you won't have to do it again. People complain about the S-meter, I think it works great. You can lock your frequency, a feature I wish was available on the K1. I haven't played with the memory, scanning and other more complex functions.. That's why I do not want a KX3 or K3, too complicated. Even the K2 could be a bit simpler in my opinion. One thing I didn't like is how later modifications were added to the board without a redesign. Truth be told, the availability of through-hole components is becoming a problem. The K2 is probably on it's last leg. It came out in January 1999, almost 14 years ago! Incredibly, it still holds it's ground with modern rigs. The other problem I see for a QRP, emergency radio, is that the K2 is everything but waterproof. I would even dare to say "water inviting!" It would be totally unusable with the lightest of rain. That's when a good Pelican case is a must.

For a prepping radio, I would rather suggest a K1 or KX1, if you are willing to learn Morse code. The K2 however would be great for anyone wanting to bug-in. Add a solar panel with charge controller, and you're good to go. Always consider that you might have to relocate, and will have more important things to carry than a radio and the associated gear.

Have a great day  :)

Gil.

318
General Discussion / Radio Preppers on Mobile Devices.
« on: August 27, 2012, 10:14:04 PM »
Hello,

Now you can view the Radio Preppers forums on your mobile devices using the Tapatalk application!
I would also like your feedback on the new logo, thanks!

Gil.

319
Tactical Corner / Ham Radio Fitness.
« on: August 21, 2012, 05:02:48 PM »
What do Ham Radio and fitness have in common? Nothing. That sometimes is a problem, especially if we are talking about prepping, which is the ?other half? of this site. Let's face it, the Ham population is rather large, and I don't mean in numbers... All those hours calling CQ eating doughnuts does take it's toll. I know, I know, there is SOTA and all, but I feel that we need to address the problem, or at least, mention it, at the risk of being chastised.

Let's not forget that the goal of emergency preparedness, the way I like to promote it, is about survival. Sure, playing with radios is fun, so is building them. But we are talking about ?radio prepping,? not just Ham Radio. There are other excellent forums that do that such as Eham or QRZ. They have ?emcomm? boards too, but those are more about you helping various agencies in dealing with emergencies. It works too, but I prefer a more direct approach, namely, getting information to save your own ass as well as family and friends. Which brings me to the question: ?How far and how fast can you move the former??

Prepping is not a selective activity. You work on the whole spectrum or nothing. I have seen videos of Preppers/Hams with all the equipment and food you could dream of but unable to run a hundred yards without busting a major blood vessel near the heart. We all have our medical problems and limitations, but there is always something to be done.

After I broke my femur in a motorcycle accident in 2004, I needed rehabilitation but could not afford it. So, I signed myself up for a Russian Martial Art class taught by an ex Russian Spetsnaz soldier. Yes, I do things a bit to the extreme sometimes.. I could barely come up the stairs to the classroom. I asked the guy ?Is my leg going to be a problem?? He looked back at me straight in the eyes and replied ?I don't give a shit.? There's Russian martial art for you.. To make a long story short, I worked around my injury. It was hard and painful, but now, I occasionally teach the class. I can do a one-legged squat on that side. I have other problems, my back in particular, but I don't force anything. Back hurts? Fine, I'll work on my legs or arms.

Getting older I noticed one thing: I move less, and I put on weight really fast. For me, that means no bread, no pasta, no sugar, and as little processed foods as possible. Sometimes, I break down and eat a whole can of ice cream. But all in all, I try to stay at a healthy weight, 190Lbs for 6'2''. I don't quit because I strayed a few times. It's not easy. Things that really matter usually aren't.

Why going through all this? For one, health. I don't have the greatest heart, and I want it to keep ticking as long as possible. Second, an emergency might mean relocating to a safer area. More often than not, that means on foot. I have a pretty heavy bug-out bag, carrying first-aid gear, water, emergency food rations, and a bunch of other stuff. It isn't very big, but it is packed full. Now I am adding radio to the mix, more weight. I want to be able to carry that bag for miles without excessive strain.

Like me, you probably tried dieting multiple times, or had bouts of frantic exercising, then gave up. When I decided to do the Beach Body P90X program, I almost gave up after a month. Though I felt better, I looked just the same, didn't lose much weight. But I kept on going. Two months later, what a change! I had never seen my abs before. I went from 205Lbs to 186Lbs, and added muscles. But boy, did the whole thing suck. The reason I was able to do it was because I used an exercise program, kept track of my food intake on fitday.com, and stuck to it long enough to see results. I try to keep my food  proportions at 20% fat, 30-40% carbs and 40-50% proteins. It's much easier to do by having a protein shake once a day. Eat small portions five times a day, drink a lot of water. Stay far away from sugary drinks! Drink wine, not beer.

Like I said, I do things to the extreme sometimes. You don't have to do P90X! If you can, great, I recommend it. Diet and walking might just be enough for you. Just know that your body is not set in stone, and that no matter your age or current injuries, you can change it. Make sure you see your doctor and ask for advise on any medical conditions you might have. You don't want to make things worse. I also very highly recommend Yoga. No, it's not for girls only, and you don't have to dress like Ghandi. Yoga will give you strength and mobility you thought was a thing of the past.

There are many aspects to living a healthy and long life. We don't have the space here to elaborate. What matters is that your family should be able to count on you in a crisis. You might have to carry equipment, even an injured family member to safety without putting yourself at risk of a heart attack. Unless you are a paraplegic, I can guarantee you that there are ways for you to exercise. Ask a professional if you don't know what to do, or shop online for a program you might like. Remember that easy won't cut it. I hate exercising, but I force myself and I feel better for it. I know it will keep me alive longer than otherwise. That is why I don't plan of having a shack. I'll take my little K1 outside in the woods.
The human body is amazing. It can go from couch potato to mean-lean-killing-machine in months. The key is to keep at it, and not expect quick visible results. However, when a friend sees you after six months you might get a ?Woah!? or not even be immediately recognized. The grin on your face when the SHTF, priceless!

Gil.

320
Tactical Corner / Sending Encrypted Messages in Morse Code.
« on: August 15, 2012, 10:54:01 AM »
In this article I will show you how to send an encrypted message that can not be broken. All you need is paper and pencil. With our privacy disappearing faster than the Mountain Gorilla, I thought that such knowledge might one day become more than a coffee shop conversation topic. I am referring to the One-Time-Pad described by Neal Stephenson in his novel, "Cryptonomicon." Highly recommended by the way. So, learn it and have fun with your kids. It's kind of like showing them how to start a fire without matches or lighter. It's fun, and who knows, they might have to use it some day..

By the way, this is one more reason to learn Morse code. You can't encrypt your voice, at least not without exotic hardware and software. After a natural or man-made disaster, our country could be a prime target for invasion. I know, extremely unlikely.. So thought many Europeans in 1939. Sending a coded message with a simple and small CW radio might one day be a life saver.

DO NOT send encrypted messages over the airwaves, it is illegal!

I have always been interested in encryption theory. Surprising, since I never liked puzzles or crosswords. Not to mention my poor math skills. For some reason I have always been driven to learn obscure, odd or outdated skills. Even though I am a programmer by trade, the level of complexity in encryption software is way over my head. I've had a PGP key for about fifteen years, but to my dismay, nobody ever sends encrypted messages but for the occasional server password; and that may have been two or three emails in ten years. Had I not insisted on it, I would have received none. You would think this feature would be built in every email program, but it isn't. You must add a plugin to your mail client, if one is even available. I know Evolution on Ubuntu has it built in, and Pegasus Mail on Windows has a plugin, my Mac does too. But computer encryption is not the subject today.

Let's see how it is done. It is pretty easy:

You need a way to produce random letters. These random letters will be the key used to code and decode the message. Do not rely on yourself or a computer to produce true randomness. Typing random keys on your keyboard doesn't work, it won't be truly random. Good for practice, but not for real messages. I would suggest putting letters from a Scrabble game in a bag and shake it vigorously. Pick one letter (without looking!), write it down. Put it back, repeat. Write down your pad in groups of five letters, like so:

GEXOJ AXYEN LOWHD AWQJD UBRWJ

You need as many letters as your intended message. Here is a one-time-pad generator, for practice (set group length and key length to 5).

Encoding:

Now, let's say your message is HELLO. Our first key group is GEXOJ.

HELLO is the message.
GEXOJ is the key, called a one-time-pad because it can be used for only one message.

We are going to count to the position of the letter H, but starting at zero, not one.
A B C D E F G H
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7........ Etc...

Here is the whole alphabet to help you:

ABCDEFGHI JKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ
012345678910111213141516171819202122232425

H=7.
Our first key letter is G, and G = 6.
Add the two: 7+6=13 = N.
We keep going: E=4 + E=4 = 8 which gives I.
L=11 + X=23 = 34 ! Ha, problem! The alphabet has only 26 letters.
No problem, when we hit 26, we go back to A. 27=B, 28=C, etc. So, 34=I.
L=11 + O=14 = 25 = Z.
O=14 + J=9 = 23 = X.

Here is another way to look at it:

Position74111114
MessageHELLO
Position6423149
KeyGEXOJ
Position138342523
EncryptedNIIZX

Our secret message is NIIZX.

Now, let's decode it:
We do the same thing in reverse...
(If a number is negative then add 26 to make the number positive.)

EncryptedNIIZX
Position138342523
Minus (key)6423149
Equals74111114
MessageHELLO

The encrypted message is as random as the key is. Therefore, as far as I know, there is no code breaking method available that could possibly crack it. Your message is of course only as safe as the key. If the key is truly random, has not been seen by anyone except you and the recipient and was used only once then destroyed, then your message is safe!

Gil.


321
Hello, I know this is a bit specific, but I am sure some new K1 builders might find it useful.

I heard about Spectrogram on the Elecraft email reflector, the PC version. Problem is, I wouldn't touch a Microsoft product with a ten foot pole. To my surprise though, there is an iPod application for $9.99. Bingo!

First I needed to set my transmit offset correctly. I first did it by ear, but it turns out that I was 50Hz off. Pretty good, but I like things to be "just so." I removed both top and bottom covers and flipped the tone switch to "Tune." I could hear the faint tone. I placed my iPod running Spectrogram near one earbud and could see the tone on the screen appearing and disappearing as I removed or replaced the earbud. I slowly turned C13 until the line perfectly aligned with the 600Hz mark. Next, I made sure my sidetone was also set to 600Hz under the Stp menu. Don't forget to flip the switch back to "Oper." Et voila!

To make sure your display shows the correct frequency, You can listen to either W1AW broadcasts on 7,047.5 or 14,047.5 kHz. See the ARRL web site for schedules. With Spectrogram on, you move the tune pot until you align their 750Hz tone with the same frequency on the screen. Then you go to the Cal menu and use the up/down buttons to set the displayed frequency to end in 47.5.

With WWV on 10mHz (30m), you move the tune pot until their tone matches your sidetone frequency on the screen, meaning, if you did set your tone to 600Hz, you move the tuning pot until their "main" tone (thicker line) shows on the 600Hz mark on the screen. If your display shows 10,000.6, you're right on.

I used W1AW first, then verified my setting with WWV. I was spot on. For $9.99, you get the assurance of being right on frequency. You can also use your app for zero-beating any station you hear. Priceless  ;)

322
Tactical Corner / Why QRP?
« on: August 12, 2012, 12:09:58 AM »
QRP means "low power operations." Usually, 5W CW (Morse Code), or 10W SSB (voice). Think of a 10W light bulb and how far it lights up your back yard at night... Not very far. A 5W CW signal though can cut through the ether like a divorce through your bank account. If 5W works fine, then wouldn't 100W work better? Sure, but there is no free lunch. Many preppers think that they will be able to stay home and ride TEOTWAWKI until the cows come home. If you live in a heavily guarded compound with lots of armed defenders, food and ammo, you might. But who does? There is a good chance that you may have to relocate a few times, or have to travel some distance to get food or other goods, reunite with family members (from whom you heard on the radio of course) and so on. Is that old 40Lbs tube-powered boat anchor going to help you?

Most QRP rigs can run forever on batteries so small, you can carry them in your pocket. They can be recharged from a flexible solar panel hung on your backpack. Sure, you might only run 5-10W, or even 1W, but after a few miles of walking, I can guarantee you that you will be throwing things away right and left, including that car battery you hoped to use to power your big Yaesu. Even mobile transceivers producing more than a few watts will require quite a power supply. Some allow to set their output power much lower, and that is great. You still need to look at receiver current draw. My Elecraft K1 draws 55mA on receive! A K2 draws 150mA, a Yaesu FT-817ND draws 450mA... Some radios draw much more. How heavy a battery are you willing to carry? I use the 2.9Ah model shown below, which is the maximum weight I am willing to carry for that purpose.

Then you have the matter of the antenna. You can't carry a disassembled vertical with you. For HF, you will need a substantial antenna, especially with low power. I find the end-fed dipole to be perfect. You can find the impedance matching boxes here: http://earchi.org/proj_homebrew.html. I made one, and it works great with a 35.5ft wire for 40 to 15m. Some models are single-band, without requiring a tuner. I plan on making more, you guys let me know if you want one. I get copper-cald steel wire (#532) from http://thewireman.com/antennap.html.

I really don't want to carry any more than necessary. A trip started in decent conditions, given the circumstances, can quickly turn into hell in a New York minute. Even if you have a car, that might not last the whole way. Without rule of law, anything is possible. If you end-up on foot, make sure you can carry your gear at a fast pace for a while. Which brings me to another subject to explore in a future article: Are you in decent shape physically? Do you spend too much time on your favorite chair enjoying QSOs in you Ham shack, eating blueberry muffins? (I'm dying for one right now!). You can't prepare selectively. It might upset you to hear this, but unless you have valid medical reasons not to diet and exercise (one doesn't work without the other), you are fooling yourself.

Here is my first attempt at a "go-kit." I have a bug-out bag mind you, which is always a work in progress, that is another story. You are looking at an Elecraft K1, the above battery, a paddle mounted on a Rock-Mite 40 mini transceiver, and a wire antenna. Yes, there are two radios in that Pelican 1400 waterproof case. Even that I think is a tad too big. I plan on making a second kit with an SSB radio. Note that I always keep them in a grounded metal box for EMP protection.

I believe that when things really go bad, QRP is the way to go, for mobility reasons. It is also easier to hide a QRP transmitter. Take the Rock-Mite for instance, you could keep one in your jeans back pocket. Small 2m handhelds take little space. They are also in essence QRP rigs. Remember that you might be carrying your bug-out bag.. I have thought of buying a cart, just in case, but that would draw a lot of unwanted attention. "When All Else Fails," right? You need to prepare for that. Most hams or preppers do not.

Cost is also a major consideration, for me at least. There are quite a few other items I need to acquired before considering myself "ready." I am pretty far from it right now. In the meantime, the world seems to be going in the wrong direction at a rapid pace. So, the least I spend, still maintaining some standards, the faster I get ready. Buying small and light equipment is often more expensive (i.e. camping gear!), but fortunately that does not apply to radios. Look at the MFJ-94xx series for instance, they sell new for around $250, and you can occasionally find them for much less on Ebay. Much of the other stuff on Ebay is too heavy, but sometimes you stumble on a gem. I often search for "QRP," just in case. CW radios are the cheapest. A Rock-Mite mounted in an Altoids box might set you back $40, and will give you a nice minty breath! A Webber Tri-Bander kit costs $200 and outputs 5W. Ten-Tec sells a Chinese made CW transceiver for $249 (40/20m). A K1, the Ferrari of CW rigs, will set you back $300 to $530 (4-bands & auto tuner), and 30 hours of work. A Yaesu FT-817ND: $670. There is something for everyone.
As far as bands go, I am strongly leaning towards 40m, for CW and SSB. Why 40? Because it works most of the time, even during low solar activity. It works for long distance contacts as well as regional ones. A basic Technician license holder can use some of the CW portion of the band. The General license doesn't seem hard to get. I am already passing most of my practice tests on http://qrz.com, and I read the book once. I'll go for both tests once I get my Morse Code up to speed. I know it isn't required, but since I want to operate mostly HF and CW, I am in no hurry. Honestly, the stuff I hear on 2m is pretty boring. My Yaesu Ft-270R handheld lives in a tin box in my closet somewhere, and I never take it out. I think the first Radio Preppers Net might end-up being on 40m... More on that in the near future. I thought about CB, but a Ham license is too cheap and easy not to get. Also, CB contacts are supposed to be with 250km, which isn't much. Nobody pays attention to that it seems, but why not respect regulations if there is no emergency..

Go QRP! If you can do it with 5-10W, then you can do anything.

323
Technical Corner / Looks like I found a base for my DCP paddle!
« on: August 11, 2012, 01:40:34 AM »


You need a good base for your paddle, right? Well, I bought the DCP paddle kit from American Morse (http://americanmorse.com/dcp.htm). it is a neat little paddle, works really well, doesn't cost much, and is easy to build. I needed to put it on something solid, and what could be better than my Rock-Mite 40? A marriage made in heaven. The Rock-Mite 40 is mounted in a Mity Box, also from American Morse. It is held in place by one screw through the lid, and I used little rubber feet from Radio Shack on the box. The paddle itself has some, so it doesn't move at all. Wherever I take my K1, I will have a CW transceiver backup! I am up to half the alphabet in my code learning endeavor...

Have a great Week-end  :)

Gil.

324
General Discussion / Elitism in Ham Radio and Further Thoughts.
« on: August 07, 2012, 12:59:24 AM »
New preppers should be aware that, besides Ham Radio being a great hobby and potentially life-saving in an emergency situation, they might come across an elitist mentality that does a great disservice to the Ham community. I am new to Ham Radio, though not new to radio or electronics. I will have my license soon enough, with Morse code. I am taking my time, it might be two months, it might be a year. I respect regulations. I've built my own radio from a pile of components and circuit boards. Yet, I have been refused access to a couple Yahoo groups because I was not a Ham yet. From reading many Ham forums, I also get the clear impression that some Hams feel like having passed a test most ten-year-olds can pass is something to feel special about. You know the type.. A-personality, middle-aged, out of shape, who craves attention and thinks a call sign pin, orange vest and walkie talkie will bring them status and better self-esteem. Unfortunately, these people are an active group in Ham events. I just hope they don't teach their values and attitude along with their radio knowledge.

This forum will not be like that. I will make sure of it. Everyone with a good attitude is welcome here, and we'll help you out.

Hopefully we will set-up a communications network for large-area disaster preparedness and information sharing. You won't need an orange vest or strobe lights on your car, and there will be no reporting to any three or four-letter-word organizations. You won't have to pay for classes to be able to help your community if you want to. It isn't that I don't think these organizations won't try to help in a disaster, but I have doubts. When it hits the fan, we have to think of our families and friends. I couldn't be a first responder and leave the people I love most to go help some strangers. My hat is off to those who can do that, but it isn't for me.

Have you guys seen the movie or read David Brin's novel "The Postman?" Kevin Costner plays the postman. He isn't really a postman, but in a post-apocalyptic America, he finds a postman's jacket and uses it to his advantage to gain access to communities along his way. He does however start to carry mail and his work ends up being pivotal in the rebuilding of the country. Good book by the way, and the movie is pretty well done. I think radio would fill that role after a nationwide disaster. That is why it is important that every prepper community has the means to communicate.

Take care,

Gil.

325
Technical Corner / The Retro-75 AM 75m Transceiver Kit.
« on: July 24, 2012, 09:17:55 PM »
Hello,

Another success! I got a Retro-75 from Small Wonder Labs and a nice blue case from TenTec, put the whole thing together in a couple days. It works. 75m AM is good for regional communications, but requires a very long antenna... I haven't built one yet. That's around 120ft of wire, if I am not mistaking. The quality of AM voice is great.



The Retro-75 is crystal controlled, with two crystals of your choice on the board. That's what the A/B switch is. Transmit is keyed by switch or press-button. It is extremely simple to operate. Output power is 3W.

That's what I love about kits, they will give you a working transceiver for often less than $100, capable of long distance contacts. That way you're not eating into your other prepping supplies budget.

Gil.

326

The one question that comes to my mind regularly is: What bands and radios should I have to cover all possible emergency situations? The answer would be easy assuming a ?bug-in? situation. Taking mobility into consideration turns it into a whole new ball game. Not to mention cost. So, let's see what needs to be covered in terms of range and how it affects transceiver and antenna choices. I divide communication needs in three ranges:

  • Local: Within the family, group, or neighborhood.
  • Regional: Within a 250 mile radius.
  • Long distance: State, country and worldwide.

Local and regional ranges need to be absolutely reliable. Long distance, well, that's another story..

Local: A couple pairs of FRS radios will do fine. Your neighbors might have some too. Reliable range is limited to a couple miles (don't believe the ads), but they are light and small. It is more likely that someone could be listening in on your conversations, so you would have to keep that in mind. When splitting a group, even for short times and distances, you need to remain in contact. Anything can happen, and you do not want to lose anyone, especially family members!
A couple 2m handhelds could be very useful as well, to extend your range. Look at the Slim Jim antenna article I wrote in the antenna forum. You can hoist it up a tree, and it is portable.. You could count on a reliable 30 mile range. This would allow you to pick-up chatter from other groups, and learn about the situation around your position. Emergency Ham organizations would be using that band. Valuable information could be gained by scanning those frequencies.

You might also consider marine and aviation band handhelds. They cost about $200, and are pretty small. This adds gear to carry however, so plan wisely. You don't need a marine radio in Kansas..

We are up to already two or three handhelds, and we need to keep things light and small..

Regional: Two possibilities here, HF using NVIS (Near Vertical Incidence Skywave), or VHF using troposcatter propagation. For HF, you would need an 80m or 40m radio, with a pretty long dipole close to the ground. While a wire antenna packs easily, it takes a lot of space to install, and requires some kind of support, trees or poles. In a vehicle, you can have a base-loaded antenna up front, bent backwards and attached with a string to the rear bumper. The short antenna requires more power to get out, but you have a car battery for that. On foot, the antenna issue is more of a problem, especially on the move. See hfpack.com for information on portable HF.
One band that is probably under-appreciated is 2m SSB. Ranges of up to 250 miles can be obtained using beam antennas such as the Yagi-Uda type, which remain small and portable. I bought myself the MFJ-9406 6m SSB transceiver, but I might trade it for a 9402 model on 2m. That way, I can use the same antenna (assuming a wide enough tuning range) as my 2m FM one. Arrow Antennas (http://www.arrowantennas.com) has foldable Yagis at good prices..

Some thoughts about 6m... It is a great band that can use almost all modes of propagation, sometimes behaving like HF or VHF. If I could have only one radio for everything, that would be it. Like a seaplane is a bad boat and a bad plane, 6m has it's quirks, especially for long distances. Without solar activity, it is a local/regional band only. A 6m beam antenna is much bigger than a 2m one.. If everyone used it, it would be great, but it isn't the most popular band. 20m and 2m SSB radios will do everything 6m does, only better. Sure, that's two instead of one, but reliability is increased a great deal, especially on 20m.

Finding someone to talk to on HF is easy. On 2m SSB, it is another story. If you have relatives or friends within 250 miles, I would suggest setting them up with 2m SSB. That band only requires a simple Technician license, which anyone can easily get.

Long Distance: This means HF, and bouncing signals off the ionosphere. A CB radio can do that, using SSB, but only during the high part of the sun cycle (we are in it right now). If that's all you have, great. For more reliability, I am thinking of 20 and 40m. HF radios, but for a few exceptions, tend to get heavier and bulkier. Antennas get much longer, especially under 7mHz. There is however one mode that offers very small radios, low power consumption, and the best reliability, that is CW (Morse code) transceivers. My Elecraft K1 is the perfect example, with 20 and 40m bands. It uses only 55mA of current on receive, and packs in a small box. You can go extra small with a Rock-Mite from smallwonderlabs.com. I have one in my bug-out bag, with an end-fed wire antenna. You can transmit on 40m CW with a Technician license. Though a license would mean little in a real life-threatening emergency, practice makes perfect.
A small SSB single-band transceiver would work fine, if you don't want to learn Morse code. I like the MFJ-9420 and 9440 models. Be careful with MFJ products though, some are quite junky, but their transceivers work great. The BitX20 would be great too. It comes in kit form. See qrpkits.com.

There are radios that cover all the bands I mentioned. The best example would be the Yaesu FT-817ND, which amazingly covers from 160 to 2m I believe. It is very small for what it does. I am sure I will eventually get one. One reserve however: If your radio goes dead, you lose all means of communication. Buy two or have other radios as backups.

Short Wave reception: You might want to have a good Short Wave receiver for information gathering purposes. With the capability to receive both amateur lower bands and commercial broadcasts, you can be sure to know what is going on. I have my eyes on the MFJ-8100K, which seems like an affordable nice week-end kit project.

We now have two or three handhelds, two small transceivers, a Yagi-Uda or Slim Jim antenna, and an end-fed 20/40m (I have a PAR end-fed) wire antenna. Not bad, and not too heavy.. What else do we need?

Power of course. All these radios run on 12vdc. I use a 2.9Ah gel-cell battery to power everything (not at the same time). My next purchase is a flexible 10W solar panel (http://www.powerfilmsolar.com) and small charge controller (http://www.buddipole.com/sobaco.html). Don't forget EMP protection, get Faraday bags for each of your radios. I am also planning on getting a Pelican 1400 case for my K1.

Thanks to the recent trend of ?QRP? Ham Radio, it is now possible to cover most useful bands with small and light radios. My Rock-Mite, one FRS and a 2m handheld live in my bug-out bag, along with an end-fed wire antenna for 20/40m and a power cable with alligator clips. The rest of my radio equipment goes into another bag, meant to be carried in a vehicle or on a cart. Right now, my HF radio is the Elecraft K1. My 2m is a Yaesu FT-270R. I have a pair of FRS radios. My SSB CB radio would go in my vehicle bag as well, with another wire antenna. This makes for a heavy bag, with the other stuff I plan on putting in it, camping gear, some clothes, and other useful items. This second bag should be light enough to be carried on foot for short distances. The bug-out bag would never leave my back, wherever I go..

Your thoughts and comments would be appreciated... Thank you.

Gil.


327
Tactical Corner / The Ever Useful Good Old Morse Code.
« on: July 05, 2012, 09:58:12 PM »
I never thought of learning Morse code for emergency preparedness. Spending untold hours learning an archaic mode of communication wasn't on my list. I started looking for a small, portable SSB (voice) radio that would fit in my bug-out bag. The FT-817ND and MFJ-9420 caught my attention. The price of the Yaesu put it temporarily out of reach, and the MFJ was still around $300 shipped. Both radios are small, but not quite small enough for my bag. Maybe I would use one of them as my main radio, but I still needed a BOR (Bug-Out-Radio. I coined that one.. ;-)

After a few hours of web browsing, I somehow stumbled on the Rock-Mite kit, a CW ('Continuous Wave,' i.e. Morse code only) tiny transceiver from Dave Benson at Small Wonder Labs. Here was a very small radio with a 'sporadic range' of thousands of miles, for a mere $29! ($70 with MityBox and connectors). Many people mount them in a mint tin can. It took me a few hours to build the kit, which worked the first time, with no tuning required. My 20m version transmits on 14,059kHz. I just finished a 40m model as well. By the way, if you visit http://smallwonderlabs.com, see how Dave Benson built his own house in the woods! Pretty inspiring.

As I was pondering about learning Morse code, which I mistakenly considered a small detail, it hit me..  Morse archaic, when? Aren't many of the skills we like to learn archaic? Trapping, hunting, food preservation, living off the land, field medical procedures, camping, building shelters, etc. The kind of skills that can save your bacon when everything else fails. Morse is one of them! It can be used without a radio. You can tap your fingers, blink your eyes in Morse, and nobody but the intended recipient across the room would know.. You can bang on a pipe with a wrench, hit a drum, squeeze someone's hand, use a flashlight or a laser pointer to send a message in Morse. If regular means of communications were down, because of an electromagnetic pulse for instance, a simple telegraph could easily be built without using semi-conductors. The wires are already all around us.

With that epiphany in mind, I bought an Elecraft K1 kit. It is a 2-band version, 20 and 40m, covering 175kHz at the bottom of each band. I added the internal automatic tuner to be able to use random long wires as an antenna if needed.

Now I really have to finish learning Morse code!

Communications within your group would be via VHF or UHF, maybe 2m or FRS, even CB. For HF long distance, CW simply gets you more bang for your buck, especially in very small packages. It will punch through the ether with less power and more reliability than voice. My K1 uses very little current on receive (60mA), and runs for many hours on a small 2.9Ah battery. I will be getting a 10W solar panel soon to complete my kit. The Rock-Mite lives in my bag. The K1 will get a waterproof Pelican case (1200 model). Both will get Faraday bags for EMP protection. My antenna is a PAR 40/20/10 end-fed dipole. It packs into a small pouch. I also have a SOTA tuner from http://qrpkits.com, and wire for a 20m antenna. I really like the tuning bridge and SWR LED on the tuner. Perfect for the Rock-Mite 20.

Morse code is not archaic, far from it. It is an excellent mode of communication usable in many different ways, not just radio. The more I think about it, the more I find possible uses for it. Prepper families and groups should learn it. You never know when the need may arise.

Gil.

328
Antennas / The Solarcon I-Max2000 CB Antenna.
« on: June 26, 2012, 09:02:29 PM »
Hello,

I thought I'd drop a note here about my Solarcon I-Max2000 CB antenna.. I was initially going to buy the A-99, but some bad reviews made me choose the longer (24'), better built model. The I-Max2000 mind you is not much more than a wire in a fiberglass pole. You can actually hear the wire rattle inside the tube. The magic is in the matching unit at the base. Although it can be used without a counterpoise, it does work better with one. I suspect the antenna to be sort of an end-fed dipole, though it is a 0.64 wavelength.. I am no expert.. I also suspect that the coax shield works as a counterpoise when a suitable one isn't present. That is why I use it with ferrite chokes on the coax at the antenna.. But enough techno-babble..

I've had very good results with this antenna. "NVIS." NVIS is when a signal is directed straight up and bounces on the ionosphere back down, covering a few hundred-mile radius. This is different from the usual low angle, long-skip pattern desired in multi-thousand-mile contacts. The radiation pattern of the I-Max is pretty vertical.. However, I do not think NVIS is possible on the 11m CB band.

My first two contacts were, unbeknownst to me, Jamaica and Western Utah. I thought these guys were local until they told me their location! They sounded that good, and they heard me just fine. I was using legal power on LSB. Even with the high angle of radiation of the I-Max, the signal was skipping off the ionosphere.

I like the light weight of the antenna and it's fiberglass construction. It is made of three 8ft. sections bolted together. It is very flexible and holds up fine in windy conditions. I did paint it dark green, and with the trees around the house, it is nearly invisible. It is also pretty cheap, which is the cherry on top of the cake.

I do highly recommend it. I have heard it can also be used on 10 to 17m with a tuner.. See the Eham reviews. Users rate it 4.5/5.


329
Technical Corner / I Built an Elecraft K1!
« on: June 12, 2012, 07:08:03 PM »
It's alive! After three hair-pulling days, the radio finally works. I received the box on Thursday night; no time then to start, but I got to it after my daily work session on Friday. Late that night, I had completed the filter board, one of the three circuit boards.

I must here explain what an Elecraft K1 is.. Though it sounds like some fighter plane name, it is a receiver/transmitter (a "transceiver") which transmits, and receives CW (Continuous Wave) Aka "Morse Code." It is very small, and covers up to four Ham radio bands. Mine has two, 40 (7Mhz) and 20 meter (14Mhz). The power output is fairly low (7 Watts), but that is sufficient to bounce your signal around the earth.. Imagine seeing a 7 Watts light bulb thousands of miles away! Somehow, it works. CW punches through further than "phone" (voice). The K1 is in a class of radios called "QRP," meaning low power, usually 5 to 10 Watts. It is only sold as a kit, so if you want one, you must build it, or find a used one.. I chose to build it..

I don't understand the fear about winding toroids. I find it very easy and relaxing; it hurts much less than it sounds. All you have to do is count how many times you thread a wire through a ferrite core. How easier can it be? Then, you burn the enamel off the leads with a lighter, clean them up with your snipping tool, and solder.. I was very exited that night about the project. I thought it would be a walk in the park.. Not quite..

The front panel was next. The only difficulty there was soldering the LCD display. Attaching the wires to the ten-turn potentiometer also required some dexterity. About wires.. There are very few in the K1 kit: The potentiometer lead wires, speaker wire, and one coax jumper on the back of the board, that's it. Everything else is connectors. I like that. Soldering wires is always a pain in the butt.

The RF board was the biggest and longest one to build. It took me from around 10-am on Saturday to about 2:30-am on Sunday to complete it! And it didn't work! In retrospect, I should have only completed the receiver part that day, leaving the transmitter for Sunday. When tired, your brain plays tricks on you, and you make mistakes. Everything went fine with the receiver. I heard static when I turned the K1 on, no smoke. After tuning the receiver and plugging-in a long wire, I was listening to CW on both bands. I was exhausted, but proceeded with the transmitter side. It was 9-pm already, eleven hours of looking at tiny components, placing and soldering them.. Then came the time to test voltages on the RF board. Nothing on U8! Shit! Excuse my French.. That wasn't good. I nevertheless plugged-in the filter board to test power output. Nothing.. Followed about an hour of tinkering, swearing, manual-reading, head scratching shenanigans, of which I remember almost nothing (I had been working on it for 15 hours straight). I rewound the bi-filar transformer, reheated solder pads both on the filter and RF boards, zilch! Then I gave up, and decided to complete the build for the heck of it, and call Elecraft in the morning. Yet, after putting the speaker in and closing the box, I tried again. Power on 40m! Not on 20.. Ah.. Back to it (2-am).. I think I transmitted without a dummy load and no antenna a couple times by the way, I was so tired. Anyway, I have no idea what did it, but after countless little troubleshooting steps, and more tuning of the filter board, I finally got output power on both bands. I packed it up and went to bed with a headache and slight twitching..

Comes Sunday morning, I had a working K1! The only peculiar thing left to investigate is some power fluctuation.. If I set the maximum output to 2 Watts, the watt meter shows 2W at first, but then slowly climbs to 2.8. I am guessing that the final transistor produces more gain as it warms up.. I even produced about 10W tuning the filter board before the output suddenly dropped! Weird.. After tuning the filter board on receive, things are a bit more stable, still with quite a power increase as transmit time increases.. It shouldn't occur producing CW though, as this was transmitting a continuous tone in tuning mode. We'll see..

I spent Sunday evening listening to CW outside, with a wire strung horizontally (20ft maybe) about five feet from the ground; the worst possible antenna. Still, it was easy to pick-up signals. I even heard a guy saying he was on a sailboat, and retired three years ago (I have a Morse decoder app on my iPod!).

The Elecraft K1 kit is of very high quality; much better than any other kit I have seen so far (five). Everything fits perfectly, nothing was missing. I even had much needed left-over screws (I spilled them all on the garage floor).. The box looks great, and the way the circuit boards are positioned and fastened is brilliant. I will order the automatic antenna tuner and add it in soon. For now though, I need to finish learning code, then I'll go for the General Ham license (CW is no longer required). The K1 was the right choice, at the right price. You get a lot for your money. It might not seem so when you buy the kit, but after building it, I find it very affordable.

To anyone contemplating building one, go for it! Build a couple kits first, like a Small-Wonder-Labs Rock-Mite, and a SOTA tuner from qrpkits.com, and you'll be well on your way. Moreover, you can test the Elecraft receiver with the Rock-Mite! Get 50ft. of wire from Home Depot for the SOTA tuner, and you'll be all set. Follow the manual EXACTLY. Don't skip ahead, read every line! Double-check everything. Most importantly, don't do what I did. That was stupid. Take your time. If you feel tired or stressed, stop, rest, and don't get back to it until much later. I was very lucky that I didn't fry anything. Not to mention the stress and lack of sleep.. Not a healthy way to spend a week-end..

In the mean time, like they say over there, "Everything is fine in the best of worlds." I am a happy, proud builder and owner of an Elecraft K1. The satisfaction of building something that complex with your own hands is priceless..


330
Technical Corner / Building a Rock-Mite 20m CW Transceiver kit.
« on: June 08, 2012, 04:05:51 PM »
After my semi-success with the DC20B, I decided to tackle the Rock-Mite from Small Wonder Labs. I also got the Mighty Box. The kit is very small and has no toroids to wind. It does however have a surface-mounted integrated circuit. Winding toroids is actually very easy. I don't know why people make such a big deal of it. Maybe they just haven't tried. Soldering the SMT circuit, while not that hard, was stressful. That being out of the way, the rest of the kit was a breeze. Being fairly confident of my abilities, I installed the circuit board in the box without trying it first. This way, I could use all the connectors for testing. To my satisfaction, it worked the first time!

My goal with this Rock-Mite is two folds. First, it is a stepping stone to building an Elecraft K1, which I have just started, and second, it provides me with a small emergency radio for my bug-out bag.

I can't really compare the DC20B to the RockMite as far as performance is concerned, but building the Rock-Mite is easier, and there is no tuning required. The circuit board is slightly smaller. I replaced q6 with a 2sc799. R18=2.2 ohms for a little more power. The keyer is the Pico Keyer from http://www.hamgadgets.com.

I am very exited about building the K1. More on that later...


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