Tuesday, December 20, 2011

It’s Time To Plan For Spring

Short nights and cold dreary days are with us again.  The lack of sunlight affects some folks with the loss of energy and even takes the shine off their normally positive disposition.  Is it going to be a long winter season for you too?

There is a way to mitigate this problem to a large degree.  Plan your 2012 garden.  If you haven’t already ordered seed catalogs for the coming season, go online and order them soon.

My favorite catalog is theBaker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog.  It is full of great color photos of warm weather and sometimes strange looking but exciting varieties for the garden.  Baker Creek carries the “old” seed varieties. You won’t find any highly modified tomatoes that were developed to fit square holes in a carton regardless of the taste.  Instead, you’ll find the great tasting, high producing varieties of fruit and vegetables seeds obtained from master gardeners around the world.

If you have struggled to get your children or grandchildren interested in gardening, invite them to join you in planting “Orange Fleshed Purple Smudge” tomatoes or a few bushes of “Dragon’s Egg”, “West India Burr Gerkin”or “Green Apple” cucumbers along with a few rows of “Monkey Tail” beans.  How can they resist joining in?

I’m not making these names up.  They may sound like they originated in a fantasy novel, but they are anything but fantasy producers.  When the winter blues get you down, open your seed catalog wish books and escape to summer weather in your mind.  Make a list of some new tastes and irregular forms that you want to see in your garden this year.   And remember, the seeds from these heritage plants are easy to store and regerminate for use in your 2013 gardens.


World War II Recipes

Recent financial troubles around the world have brought a bright focus on governments (including our own) and people who have long lived beyond their means.  In countries such as Greece where the financial hammer is slamming on the heads of its residents, we see articles like the series I’ve been following for a few months:

Titles like “World War II Starvation Recipes”, “Chew Longer and More Slowly” grace the column titles in pages of Greek newspapers.

Are they serious?  Unfortunately, yes.  Greek citizens are struggling to feed their families let alone pay their bills.  Unemployment is extremely high, credit is extremely tight and ready cash for things like food and rent is extremely hard to find.  “Extreme” being the common descriptive word in all of the articles.

The stories are real.  They are stating facts about a first world nation that is on the ropes.  Greece is being followed by Italy and other European nations into a morass of unsustainable debt, loss of purchasing power and liquidity.  It could happen here in the blink of an eye too.

I’m old enough to have parents and siblings who struggled to live through the Great Depression, World Wars and economic instabilities.  I grew up thinking you had to use it up, wear it out and make do because my parents knew that their current day good fortune could evaporate almost instantly just as it had several times before.

One thing has always stuck in my memory.  My mother made wonderful meals, but the ingredients always varied depending on what leftovers were in the fridge.  She couldn’t make the same cake twice in a row because the left over pancake batter, melted butter, half dried out orange or bottom of the bottle flavoring concentrate didn’t exist the next time she made cake.  They would be replaced by something else that ‘needed to be used up before it goes to waste’.

I remember all of us boys asking for the recipe of a cake that was so good we devoured it BEFORE Thanksgiving dinner.  “That was terrific Mom.”  “What did you put in it this time?”  “Can we get the recipe?”  And of course, she couldn’t give us an exact recipe because it was made from some of this and some of that and who knew what else.

We live in a world of preassembled food and mixes that contain ingredients measured almost to the grain of sugar to insure consistency.  How many of us cook most of the time from ingredients being rotated through our food storage?  How many of us make cakes like my mother did … with some of this and some of that and never a measuring device being used in the whole process?

If we don’t cook this way, now is the time to migrate to that process so we know how to make good meals or at least tasty meals from what we have on hand.  We are riding on a financial bubble in America right now whose cellular wall is of ever thinning integrity.  If bad times come, they could arrive almost instantly.  If your parents are still alive and have some old but tried and true World War II recipes, it may be a good idea to get a copy of them and whip them up a time or two just in case.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Copper J-Pole Antennas

As soon as you get your Amateur Radio license, you start thinking about a good 2-meter antenna for your home or garage.  Commercially built antennas can be expensive but there is a great solution to the problem.   Build a Copper J-Pole antenna.

Construction of the J-Poles is simple.  Careful measurements and soldering skill condenses the soldering construction time into a few brief hours.  If you haven’t soldered copper pipe fittings before, buy a few extra and practice a few times before you start construction on your antenna.  There are numerous videos on YouTube that show the best method for soldering copper pipes. 

You’ll find that you will rapidly become proficient with the skill.  Undoubtedly, you’ll be using it again before long to build more antennas either for yourself, scout troops and as an Elmer helping new Hams set up their own shacks.

I built both Super J-Poles (2-Meter, 70 CM) and single frequency 2-Meter J-Poles for use at home and for other applications.  

N7QVC has posted the plans for both of these antennas on his site.  The comments by his blog readers are equally helpful in choosing the design features of your J-Pole.  Download them and print a copy for the wall above your work bench.

I used 3/4” copper for the Super J-Poles and 1/2” copper for the J-Poles.  There is a substantial weight difference between the two antennas due to their respective lengths and the added pipe mass.

Even though I’d drilled and tapped holes for the stainless screws to attach the copper 3/8” tubing in the Super J-Poles, they didn’t offer the solid connections I’d hoped to achieve.  The connections won’t ever loosen with the stainless hose clamps I put around the copper and over the screws.  The clamps had no measurable affect to the SWR of the antennas.   Just remember to paint the schedule 40 union or threaded PVC splice that you use to separate the sections of the antenna before tightening the screws lest you strip the threading out of the tubes with multiple tightenings.

Tuning the antennas was a snap.  I used sections of split tubing combined with stainless steel hose clamps to attach the SO-239 connector and feed point.  The idea came from comments I read on several blogs and it works very well.   The sections are each 1 1/2” in length.  It was easy to bend back a 1/4” lip at the split and drill holes through it to match the mounting holes on the SO-239.  A Dremel tool quickly carved a curved notch so it could seat deeply enough to align the mounting holes with the copper sections.

Once the split sections were snapped in place about 3” above the base of the “J”, it was simple to slide them up or down slightly to find the best SWR / Antenna Analyzer reading.  Clamping them in place was accomplished using more stainless hose clamps followed by solder between the section and the antenna elements.

The SWR for the Super J-Poles is 1:1.1 and the J-Poles have a 1:1 SWR.  I used 146.500 as the ‘sweet spot’ tuning frequency because it is close to the mid-point of the frequencies used by the repeaters in my area.

I played with the radiation patterns before final mounting but found that it didn’t really matter which way I pointed the antennas because we live in a valley with mountains all around us.  The repeaters I use are all line-of-sight shots on nearby mountain ridges, so hitting them is easy. 

The Super J-Pole is mounted at 25 ft and operates flawlessly. I mounted the J-Pole at 11 ft on a post that supports a side fence by my shop.  I expected some impact due to the reduced height, but it is negligible. 

The simplex tests I ran were all over 30-miles in distance and even at 5-watts, I couldn’t conclusively prove one orientation to be better than another.  Broadcast radiation and reception worked very well with these copper hot-shots.   I suspect that the mountains here almost duct the radio waves along the valleys between them regardless of the twists and turns that I tested.   

You’ll want to look up J-Pole radiation patterns and do some testing at your location before making the final tightening turns on the antenna mount.

The whole tuning process per antenna only took 10-minutes at most.  It literally took more time dialing them in by checking readings between the radios and meters on my work bench and the antennas than it did to solder the connections in place.

In an effort to bring the younger generation into the Ham Radio world, I used Google video chat on a laptop so a grandson could engage in the construction from afar.  He will undoubtedly build ‘better’ antennas in the coming months to show his grandfather that the digital generation can build things out of copper as well as being a master of digital bits, which is just what I hoped for.

My wife likes the look of shiny copper, so rather than painting the antennas that will be used at our home a sky gray color, I polished them with steel wool and covered them with four coats of clear lacquer.  So far, none of the neighbors have spotted them through the Ponderosa pine trees at hour home.  The G5RV antennas between the same pines have never been spotted, so I have little fear of complaints about a couple of copper shafts in the air in different locations.

I used LMR-400 coax wire to the entrance box with its lightning arrestors and multiple 12” bulkheads that feed through the wall into my ham shack.  I really like LMR-400 cable due to very good experiences with it in my HF and other installations. 

If you are considering building a J-Pole but aren’t sure of your skill level, quit worrying and start building.  Even if you haven’t built anything like this before, you’ll quickly learn the minimal required skills and you’ll have fun in the process. 

There are many variations on the J-Pole and recommendations for their construction on the web.  Take a little time, read through them, focus on the folks who have actually built antennas from the plans and choose your design. 

You’ll be on the air with your new antenna sooner than you’d think possible and if you are lucky, the only part you’ll have to buy that isn’t already in bins in your garage or shop will be the SO-239 connector.  If you’ve been to any Hamfests or gatherings, you probably have a handful of them laying around too.

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Ham Exams and Field Day 2011

The number of ham operators in our area is increasing fairly significantly after we asked the Boy Scoutsham_operator2 to become involved in our emergency preparedness drills filling the function as our radio communicators.  After training, they easily passed the Technician Exam.  They implemented that knowledge in our emergency drill and subsequently met the qualifications for several Scout Merit badges.

A side benefit is that their parents, scout leaders and some family members also get licensed along with their Scouts.  Who wants to be left out of the fun?

I recently spoke to Richard, KD7BBC, who has created the extremely useful website, HamStudy.org, to help folks obtain any level ham license with some very good study and practice tests.   I consider his tests to be the best on the web.   Be sure to check them out if you are studying for your Ham license(s).

We found that our scouts increased their test scores if they took practice tests from three different sites in rotation.   The test sites are:
  • HamStudy immediately responds with “Correct” or “Incorrect” when you click on the answers.  Site users are adding response statements that explain why the answer is correct.  Additionally, you can review and reanswer all of the questions you missed in the test to help you in your licensing exam.
  • HamExam mixes the answer order around so you don’t remember the position of the answer rather than the correct verbiage of the answer
  • eHam presents the answers with radio button selection for yet another presentation of the test.
Field Day 2011

Ham Field Day 2011 just completed.  Below are some video reports from that most enjoyable event.  Life was good and DX’ing was great!

Ham Field Day 2011 – Fryeburg, Maine

Ham Field Day 2011 - Fallbrook, CA

Ham Field Day 2011 - CW - Athens, TX

Ham Field Day 2011 - Jackson, MS

Ham Field Day 2011 - Blue Canyon, CA

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Weekly Ham Radio Show on TWiT Network Update

In an earlier post, I talked about an upcoming netcast show about Ham Radio called HAM NATION.  The show has now officially been added to the TWiT Network schedule.
On 14 May 2011, Leo Laporte announced the new HAM NATION show on his TWiT network.  The host of the show is none other than the famous Ham and sound aficionado K9EID Bob Heil of Heil Sound.

The first show will be on May 24, 2011 starting at 6:00 p.m. Pacific.

UPDATE: Bob announced that the show will be broadcast live every Tuesday at 6:00 p.m. Pacific.  It will be available for download on the TWiT Network.

Bob’s first guest is Extra Class Operator WB6ACU Joe Walsh whom we also know a member of the band “the Eagles”.  Joe is bringing more than just his amateur radio knowledge to the show.  He wrote its theme song too!

Bob brings a wealth of experience both as a Ham and as an Sound Engineer as the show host.  Read my earlier posting, then scroll on it to watch Bob’s interview with Leo Laporte on his Triangulation show.  You’ll immediately see the quality of wit, experience and presence that Bob will bring to his new show. 
Tune in an listen to the show live on your computer or download the videocast / podcast.  The show time and details will soon be posted on the TWiT Network home page

I’ve sent suggestions to Leo Laporte that he take advantage of having Bob Heil on his network and get his own amateur radio license.  Perhaps you should suggest the same thing to both Leo and to Bob.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they would include a weekly installment on the show to help and encourage interested people get their amateur license!   That would be a great service to the local communities of the new hams through their radio skills to help the community in not only disasters but in regular community events.

The first show is available for download or online viewing here.

Bob Heil at Hamvention 2008

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The World Is Upside Down–Get An Emergency Kit

FEMA Acknowledges the ever increasing series of disastrous events around the world in this video telling people to assemble emergency kits for themselves and their families.

Earthquake in Calexico, CA

Monday, March 28, 2011

Weekly Ham Radio Show Coming To TWiT.tv

twit_logoLeo Leporte announced a new weekly videocast about Ham Radio with Bob Heil (K9EID)as the host.  Bob is well known in the world of sound and amateur radio through both is company, Heil Sound and through his well-known voice as K9EID on radio nets.
Bob was recently interviewed by Leo Leporte and Tom Merritt on TWiT’s “Triangulation” audio / video podcast.

Any and all will enjoy listening to Bob recall the history of sound in the music industry and his involvement in the equipment he built to make the artists sound so well.  His discussion entered the realm of amateur radio which brought a flood of enthusiastic responses from amateur’s who were listening to the livecast of the program.  Click here to listen to that show on your computer or watch it below.  You’ll enjoy the time you invest.

heil_bob_profileThe IRC Channel for the show came alive when he mentioned amateur radio, which surprised Leo, Tom and others.  They had no idea that there are so many of ham’s who are also computer geeks, the primary focus of the majority of the programs on the TWiT Network.

Within one day, Leo made the decision to create the new show with Bob as the host.  The show is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday evenings, although the time and date are still fluid.

I’ll update this post with the final time, date and address for the program as soon as it is available.  Note: Ham Nation has been announced for every Tuesday at 6:00 p.m. Pacific.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Will My Genealogy Records Survive Me?

Thanks to the Lineagekeeper for allowing the reposting of his blog post regarding genealogy records survival:

I followed the earthquake of 22 February 2011 in Christchurch, New Zealand closely because a fairly large contingent of extended cousins live there or nearby.  As far as I’ve been able to determine, all survived but many experienced damage to their homes and businesses.

One story caught my eye on the evening of the first day, when it mentioned two teenagers who were trying to find their mother, Donna Manning, a producer and presenter for Canterbury TV.  She and fifteen of her colleagues along with forty or more foreign students and teachers were in the collapsed CTV building.

The six-story building was literally flattened.  Only a couple of survivors were eventually rescued from the wreckage.

The earthquake struck at 12:45 p.m., during the lunch hour.  Earlier in the morning, Donna hosted one of her weekly shows and it was posted on YouTube during the hour of the earthquake.  I watched the video not knowing if Donna had survived or not.  I then switched to a live video stream from Christchurch that showed the CTV building  and seriously doubted that she had survived. 

Little did Donna know that in less than 120 minutes after completing her morning show, she would be dead.  The video captured some of her last minutes in mortality.  Rescue teams later confirmed that none of the trapped folks in the CTV building survived.

The story ends on a many sad notes.  Donna didn’t survive.  Her children not only lost their mother but their home was structurally destroyed too.  Thieves looted their home while they waited at the pile of debris that was the CTV building hoping to hear of Donna’s recovery.  Their records and possessions had been stolen.

Hopefully, their photos and records survived.

Stories with similar losses of lives, records, hopes and dreams are a constant in the history of our ancestors and of the world due to wars, acts of men and of nature.  We know that devastating events will happen in the lives of those now living and in those coming behind us.   From a genealogical perspective, what can we do to mitigate the effects of disaster or the eventual loss of of our own mortal life?

Several activities should be part of our regular genealogical activities:

1. Digitize our paper documents and records.

2. Regular backups of our data and digital images. What is Regular? Simply determine your threshold of pain when considering the loss of your records.  That should firmly establish a frequent backup cycle in your mind.

3. Keep a copy of our backups in two or more locations off-site, one of which should be online with a digital company like Mozy, Carbonite, etc.  The second should be housed with a relative or close friend who lives in a different part of the country. You may want to trade with them and keep a copy of their data to reciprocate.

4. Add a codicil or section to our wills and trusts that specifically instructs the transfer and hoped for survivability of your genealogical records and data.  See an example of the verbiage here in one of my earlier posts.

5. Talk to your family now so they know your wishes from you personally, to both reinforce your wishes and to make arrangement for their transfer.  You may want to enhance or encourage their involvement in your genealogical research and activities right away.  Which one(s) of them wants to take up your ancestral quest? Resolve questions and associated issues about your genealogy data and work with them now, while you can still talk to them.

6. If you have websites, blogs, etc., be sure to include their URL’s and associated user names and passwords in your package.  Detail exactly how you want to announce your passing and include an example statement that details how or if the site or your contributions to a site will continue in the future.  I was surprised to find that I own or am a significant contributor to a large number of blogs and websites.  Will my family take over in my place?  We’ll have to talk about it and decide. 

7. Keep your codicil and lists of pertinent ownership, subscription, password and other data current along with your detailed instructions up to date.  Will your spouse and children be able to understand and find all of the domain registrations, hosting agreements, settings, programming and data storage sites that you have and use?  Do they realize that you have over thirty email accounts and what online personas they represent?  Do they realize that you are an editor, moderator, or have other key roles on many sites that are owned by other persons or entities that have depended on you doing my job? 

8. Think of the ways you interact with your data and others online.  Does your family know all of your social media personas?  Does they or an eventual guardian of your data know how to claim all of your submissions to FamilySearch, Ancestry, etc?  FamilySearch and Ancestry are designed to allow others to contact you to both question your data and to ask for assistance or copies of your research.  They can’t do that if you are gone and your succession plan hasn’t transferred your account to their management.

9. Do Something.  Now.  You can put this work off, but delay will inevitably bite you and the survivability of your data.  This isn’t a question or supposition but rather is a statement of fact.  The preparation will take a few hours work and ongoing tweaks and updates, but the investment in time and effort will pay remarkable dividends.  Don’t let your extremely valuable genealogical work be lost.

No Power - No Heat - No Water

freezing_manMost of us live in a relatively civilized first world environment where the lights come on with a flick of a switch, furnaces and water heaters heat potable water that freely comes from our taps and our toilets flush … so long as we keep our utility bills paid.

All of that can change in a matter of minutes or hours.  Witness the snow and ice storms of the last week of January 2011.  One of our daughters and her family live in El Paso, Texas.  They have to come home to see snow and enjoy winter activities.  Winters are a lot warmer there.  They even plant peas in late February.  This year was different.

The routine calls to tell us how warm in it is in El Paso were replaced with, “It’s about zero here.  All of the schools are shut down, the freeways are closed with ice on the road and the store shelves are almost bare.”  

The next day the report was even more dire: “Our power went out last night for hours and will continue to be out in rolling blackouts for the foreseeable future.  There isn’t enough power generation here to meet the needs of anything out of the ordinary.  They’ve also instigated rolling cuts of natural gas because of lack of supply, so we don’t have heat many times a day.  Homes in El Paso weren’t built for extended cold weather.”

On day three, the calls exposed yet another problem. “The water pipes in many of the homes are frozen, pipes are bursting.  Our neighbors, ward members and folks all over town have lost water to their homes.  We’ve only lost one of the pipes to our swimming pool pump.” Our son-in-law spent 48-hours straight turning off the water in neighbors homes and taking care of the water destruction in the homes of the widows that he home teaches.

“Young mothers are sending their children to homes with heat, not only for warmth but for a place to use the bathroom and shower.  The water in their homes is out due to burst interior and exterior pipes.”  All of the plumbers in a hundred mile radius were booked for weeks and even though our son-in-law is qualified in plumbing skills, there were no repair parts on the shelves ….. anywhere.

Of course, the city and homes were slowly repaired and are back to ‘normal’, although the water damage is in evidence.  Many families have additional repair bills that have almost crippled them financially.  Insurance coverage was often inadequate or the coverage folks thought they had wasn’t really included in the fine print.  Their financial reserve preparedness was found wanting too.

Our kids fared well during the problems.  They had plenty of food on hand in their 12-month food storage.  They had a generator and knew how to safely use it to run a base load of electrical needs in their home.  They had propane stoves, charcoal and Dutch ovens to cook their meals.  They had wood and other fuels for their fireplaces and stoves.  When they bought their home, they added insulation around the water pipes on exterior walls that protected them from freezing.

leaking_pipeThey didn’t have enough piping parts in storage to help many people, let alone any major pipe damage that may have occurred  in their own home.  They thought they had plenty of flour, only to find that the buckets labeled ‘flour’ were mislabeled during one of  several recent moves.  The food storage rotation planned for the next week would have exposed this problem, but it was too late.

An easy to prepare meal of pancakes became a wish, not reality.  All commercial buildings and restaurants had been ordered to close during the days of the outages, so they couldn’t run to McDonald’s.  The few grocery stores that stayed open looked more like advertisements for shelving rather than purveyors of food products.

Even though our kids live with a focus on preparedness, they found weaknesses in their preparedness plan when reality struck.  The event wasn’t even a major disaster, just an exercise in discomfort.  Our daughter has the preparedness calling in their church.  The theme for her articles and lessons in the coming months has been established.  Our son-in-law will undoubtedly speak on the subject in his church assignments.  

He and two of their daughters are licensed ham radio operators.  Accurate information about the situation came from the ham operators on the ham net, not from TV and local radio stations.  A positive note was that our granddaughter gained experience as net control for SW Texas and can support the ham group in that role if needed when the ham net is activated in an emergency.

Many lessons were learned.  Weaknesses in most family preparedness plans were exposed.  People suffered but only a few died from the event.  Let’s learn from their experience and not have to learn the hard way.  Run a disaster exercise in your home for a week and find the weaknesses in your own preparedness plan.

We can do it now or find them in a real disaster. You choose.

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Secure Pictures and Furniture Before It Is Too Late

Securely Hang Pictures

If you live in earthquake country or have any heavy wall hangings, be sure to use heavy wall hangers with clips to hang them. 

The ongoing string of seismic events around the world are strong reminders that the surface of our planet is alive and frequently in motion.  The reports we have witnessed in the news and in person should reaffirm that fact in our minds.

Hangers with strong steel hooks with spring or similar keepers should be our device of choice.  They will keep hanging wires securely attached to the hanger in events with swinging and vertical movement.  The hangers are typically configured with one or more hanging nail based on the weight of the loads they will carry.

Be sure to use these hangers for any wall hanging that is above beds, in walk areas or any other location where fallen objects would harm anyone in your home or place of business.


Secure Free-standing Furniture

Secure tall furniture to the wall with “L” brackets.  They easily fall over in even small seismic events.  We typically load cabinets and book cases with heavy objects that can cause serious to fatal injuries to anyone they strike.


Use Anti-walking Mats Under Appliances

Free-standing appliances like microwave ovens, statues, snow globes and other similar items will walk off shelves or countertop surfaces in seismic events.  An easy way to inhibit that movement is to put rubberized drawer mats under them. 


Secure Window Blinds

Most people put their beds under or near windows.  Seismic events can break windows resulting in the glass falling inward onto the building.  Don’t expose yourself or family to serious to fatal cuts from falling glass. 

Installing commercial-grade Velcro ® or similar hook and loop fasters on the bottom of vertical and horizontal blinds to hold them in the place in the window frame allows the blind to act as a wall to block falling glass.  Its use in multiple straps on drapery produces the same barrier shield.


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