All posts tagged bug-out

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…

How big of a radio, and for how much money can you communicate across thousands of miles? What about something that fits inside a box of Altoids mints for $29? The best part is, nobody can ever cut you off!


Rock-Mite PCB

This is the “Rock-Mite” from Small Wonder Labs.
(Google “rock mite” for Altoids-mounted boards!)

Sure, you’ll have to learn morse code… I can’t think of anything that small however that truly can be used as a pocket emergency radio. Add a long wire antenna, a mini tuner, AA batteries, and you are in business. With the “Mity Box,” and connectors, your total cost comes to $70, still a bargain. My RockMite is on it’s way (20m version)!

Another kit I just completed is the DC20B.



You can see that it is a bit more complex than the RockMite. You need to wind transformers by wrapping a certain number of turns across small toroids with very thin wire. The kit also requires tuning. The Rockmite is pre-tuned. Performance is supposed to be better, we will see…

Assembly took a whole afternoon and evening. I had never soldered on a double-sided circuit board, but it turned out to be fairly easy. I just made sure I had a good solder joint on both sides. I started with the smallest components, resistors and diodes, then integrated circuit sockets, capacitors, and transistors, leaving out the final transistor until everything was squared away. To my delight, I heard morse code when I turned it on and attached a long wire! The volume was very faint, hopefully that will change with a tuned dipole up in the air.

There is one little problem remaining. I have also built the frequency counter kit from N3ZI. The oscillator frequency of the DC20B is supposed to be 14,060khz. I get 14,063.2 minimum.

DC20B Frequency off

DC20B Frequency off

Hopefully I will be able to fix the problem. It might be a calibration issue with the frequency counter. Since I do not have an HF Ham radio, I can’t check it. Once I build the RockMite I will have a way to verify the frequency.

[warning]DCxxB builders: C36 has a missing trace to ground. Make sure you solder a short piece of wire from the pad closest to the board edge to the ground..[/warning]

Both the DCxxB and Rock-Mite have keyer chips included. That means it can generate Morse code from an Iambic paddle you plug-in. These radios serve the same purpose. For some, there is the challenge of contacting distant stations on very little power (500mw to 1w). Others take them camping, hiking, and on all kinds of adventures. I am of the second type. The RockMite will have it’s place in my bug-out bag as well. Heck, I might build a second one as a backup.

My choice between the two? Rock-Mite; because it requires no tuning and has no toroids to wind. You can easily find help online, along with a list of possible modifications. Both kits have a Yahoo group. The Rock-Mite group though did not at first accept me! Why? Because I don’t yet have a license and call-sign! The DCxxB group had no problem with me joining. It turns out that the groups are owned by the same person.. And I was accepted at last, after complaining. These kits are a great way to get started, and while groups need to be monitored, access shouldn’t be restricted…

Learning Morse Code turns out to be pretty hard for me. Some people have no trouble and wrap it up in a couple weeks. I’ll be lucky to take only three months! My brain isn’t wired that way I guess.. I use an iPod app: AA9PW Ham Morse. It uses the Koch Method, which is supposed to be better. I had to slow down the learning speed from 15wpm to 12wpm, just to be able to write fast enough. I might just try to build the sentences in my head… I don’t think anyone can write that fast; not me anyway.

As to my HAM license(s), I am in no hurry. I read the Technician class book once and never miss more than one questions on the QRZ.com practice exams. So, I took three General class practice exams, just out of curiosity, passed two! Barely, but still… I am reviewing for that class now. I might as well pass both tests at the same time. Maybe I should get the Extra class as well, why not? If not just to see the face of the examiners, asked which license I am testing for, I’ll say “All of them!” and get close to 100%. Listening to HAM conversations, I have to say that what I have heard isn’t that interesting. It is a somewhat weird crowd. Mostly old fat guys (no offense intended). As to public service, in times of relative safety, radios are useless. You don’t need a ham radio to help with a local fund-raising marathon.. Just use cell phones! I laughed when I heard a “Net,” the controller asking “Is there any emergency traffic?” Are you kidding? We call 911 for emergencies! There is also the “contesters,” who won’t give you the time of day and just want a call-sign and “grid number” to add to their collection. How useless is that? Anyway, there are also great things in Ham radio. Groups do take their transceivers atop mountains and in all kinds of remote areas. I like the idea of it being a safety net, some kind of support apparatus. Besides, you don’t stay in shape by sitting in front of a radio all day…

I will post an article on building the RockMite, with a video, when I get the kit (I was told ten days before it ships).

Here is what comes to my mind when talking about any item: “If it can’t carry you, and you can’t carry it, don’t bother.” These two small transceivers certainly get my thumbs up!

Update (May 27th): I think I am going to ditch the DC20B. I have a box for it, and should complete the build, but after that, it’s going away. I can’t get it on frequency, and I am not the only one… The Rock-Mite kit should arrive this week. I can’t wait to build it. Look for the article!

Update (May 30th): Well, I gave it one last try.. Changed C36 to a 100pF, and C29 to 47pF. It worked! Now I get 14,059.72 on transmit. Receive goes from 14,060.16 to 14,060.32, a perfect 600Hz offset. The problem is the receiver, which has no selectivity. I receive Chinese, French and Spanish commercial radio stations, but little, faint CW signals. Maybe the problem comes from the wire I use as an antenna, which isn’t tuned. I will try a tuned dipole during the day and see if I can get clear CW (morse code). I boxed up the DC20B in a nice Hammond cast aluminum box. I made a hole in the cover to tune CT1 and glued a piece of coax outer insulation so that I can’t touch anything with my screwdriver upon insertion.. The box is a little big, but it looks good and as though it would survive being run over by a semi-truck.. I might make another hole for access to CT2 and add an RCA plug for a frequency counter (for tuning).

Update (August 1st): The tuned antenna did the trick. Good selectivity now, and the radio is on frequency. The DC20B gets the thumbs up!

DC20B Boxed

DC20B Boxed

Note the piece of insulation glued on top of CT1.
I wish that damn iPod could focus up-close.
Still waiting for the Rock-Mite.
I am starting to think about an Elecraft K1.

I clearly remember twenty years ago, or ten, even five. I did not then have any of the concerns I have today. The future was bright with no clouds on the horizon here in the United States. I don’t think the world is going to end this December twenty first, or next year for that matter. The Mayan who wrote his calendar must have been tired that night, and his wife was complaining about how much time he spent on it, so he probably just thought it went far enough and left it at that.. I am no doomsday preacher.

There is a certain unease among us however. The media is broadcasting multiple disaster and prepping shows. The economy isn’t going better. Five years ago, I had five ounces of gold, bought for less than $1500. Today, those coins would be worth close to $10,000. Only five years later! I am still hitting myself on the head for selling them before the increase. We may wonder why the value of the dollar hasn’t gone down by a factor of six or seven. The government is trampling on the constitution. One only has to watch foreign agencies news, not the dog-and-pony show we have here, to start worrying. Watching CSPAN can be more entertaining than “Doomsday Preppers,” and certainly scarier. Five years ago, there were few signs of trouble, none before September 2001.

So, you have a bit of food and water stored for rainy days, a generator with a few gallons of gas, your bug-out bag, and a .22 with a case of ammo. Will you be missing anything when disaster strikes? Yes, information. With the power down, no cell phones, land lines or Internet, you might be in total darkness has to what caused the blackout. Should you stay put? Is it safe? If you need to leave, where should you go and what route is the safest? If you happen to be away from your family, how do you get in touch with them? Where are they? Are they all right? Information in a disaster situation is crucial to you and your family’s survival.

I bought my first radio in 1980. It was a forty-channel CB. Back then, conversations were interesting and civil on the 11m band (27Mhz). You could talk to your neighbors, make new friends. People were helping each others. Truckers used them to inquire about road conditions and get directions in unfamiliar towns. Sure, we had some jerks, but the Citizen Band was self-policing. Ten years later it had changed dramatically. I worked one winter as a security guard, and wanted something to keep me awake at night on the job. So, I installed a 200+ channels CB radio in my car. There was still some good conversations going on, but mostly, CB had become pretty lame. I did manage to make a contact across the Atlantic once, using SSB (single Side Band), but usually, range was around ten miles.

A CB radio (AM) today is a poor choice of emergency communication in the U.S. Range is typically only a few miles and forty channels get crowded very fast. Radios are cheap however, and it is certainly better than nothing. “CBers” are no longer organized in clubs. Base stations are rare these days. Even truckers have replaced their CBs by cell phones and computers. The level of the conversations is rather low; you might not want your children to play with a CB radio… It is unfortunate, but the Citizen Band has become the black sheep of the radio world. One exception which could make CB a good choice is if you buy an SSB mode radio. Single Side Band is comprised of USB (upper) and LSB (lower) side bands. These modes offer more range, and even “skips” on the ionosphere, for very long range communications. Conversations on SSB are definitely more civil than on AM. Even with the legal 12W maximum power, you can reach stations thousands of miles away.

You probably own at least a pair of FRS (Family Radio Service) handheld radios. They are very limited in range, two to three miles typically. Do not believe the advertised ranges of twenty or more miles. That may work over water with perfect conditions, but don’t count on it. GMRS has slightly more range, but requires a license (no exam). They are useful to keep track of kids and family members within a small perimeter. Given their prices, you should get a couple pairs. Handhelds would be very useful for a neighborhood patrol, though anyone can listen in. There are better options, but in a pinch FRS can be a good thing to have.

There is no radio solution available to the public without a license that will provide you with enough range to contact anyone beyond line-of-sight. While receiving is important, and having a good short-wave receiver is a must, you still might need to call for help or inquire about a situation, or just contact a distant family member. The solution: HAM radio. Licenses require an exam, but it is easy to get started with a Technician license. It will only cost you a bit of study time and $15.

Now, a bit of technical information is needed. Transceivers (transmitter/receiver) are basically of two types, those that can broadcast beyond line-of-sight (thousands of miles) and those that usually can’t. It all depends on frequency. 6 meter wavelength and shorter are very good for local and medium range communications, from a few miles to around 200 miles. Longer wavelengths, up to 160 meters can bounce off the ionosphere around the earth. 6 meters is smack in the middle. Sometimes it will bounce, and sometimes not, but it does it all, hence it’s nickname, “the magic band.” The most common is the 2m band. As a “prepper,” I am mostly interested in the 2m and 10m bands, with my eyes on 6m. Longer than 10m, and you run into antenna length problems. Antennas become very long, and need to be strung horizontally between poles or trees. Not very discreet or practical in a survival situation, though possible with a bit of ingenuity. The basic technician license allows you to transmit on 10m and above 30Mhz, which includes the “magic” 6m band, 2m and 70cm.

By becoming a licensed HAM operator, you also become a valuable member of your community who can provide information when every other means are down. You would be the first to know what’s going on.

For anyone wanting to buy a do-it-all radio, I would suggest looking at the Yaesu FT-817ND. It is a small portable, multi-band transceiver which runs on batteries or external power. As far as handhelds, look into a couple 2m units like the Yaesu FT-270R for local traffic. Those are though and waterproof down to three feet for thirty minutes! At around $135, they are a bargain. I own one and I am very happy with it. You don’t need a license to buy them, but you can’t legally transmit, though anyone can legally use any radio in the United States for a life-or-death emergency. You would be missing out though by not getting a license, being it so easy and cheap, and get to know your fellow local radio operators.

As a prepper, you should have a spare and store it inside a grounded metal box for EMP protection (MUST READ article!). Make sure the radio is inside a dry cardboard box inside the metal one, and none of it’s parts touches the metal. Surplus military ammo cans are great for that purpose. I would also include a solar charger.

A radio is as important as your Coleman stove or rifle. You might not want to get into local HAM conversations, or even long distance contacts, but when you need potentially life-saving information, you will be glad you have one stored in that ammo can in the garage and that you know how to set it up and use it…

No, it’s not a purse! And I thought “Coyote Brown” would be a somewhat manly color.. We all carry a number of items in our pockets or some kind of a bag. If you had a purse, what would you carry in it? Yes, I am addressing men here, but this article does apply to both genders. What essential items should everyone carry? (Scroll down for a video!)

As a pilot, I have studied how accidents happen. They don’t. An accident is almost always a succession of small incidents leading to a life-threatening situation. Stop the chain reaction early, and you won’t even know how you could have died that day.

In selecting what items you should carry on your person, you should ask yourself what could help you turn a potential major problem into a minor annoyance. Nobody wants to carry a backpack full of survival items all day. Though you should have one in the trunk of your car, as soon as you step away from it, you are left with nothing useful. Basic human needs are water, fire, food, shelter and safety. As the size of your bag diminishes to that of a small pouch or an already overloaded purse, you must select your essential items very carefully:

Water: Obviously, you are not going to carry water in a pouch. A gallon jug in the car is a must, but carrying any on you might prove difficult. You should however have a small bottle of water purification tablets. The odds that you might have to use it in your lifetime are slim (because you have a water filter in your bug-out bag, right?), but in a hot climate, exerting yourself, water can be a life saver. It only takes your car to break down on an isolated road and a few miles of walking to become dehydrated, and that can be the first step in our accident progression sequence. I remember a show on television where a couple crashed their jeep in New Mexico, away from the road. They reached a river, but the woman refused to drink for fear of contamination. Her husband did drink and got sick. He recovered nicely. She is on dialysis with permanent kidney damage. Water purification pills or a few drops of bleach would have made a world of difference in the way she lives now.

Fire: A small Bic lighter will serve you well. I don’t care if you smoke or not, that isn’t the point. I complement it with a magnesium fire starter, which can start a fire in almost any condition and will last for years.

Food:I do not carry any food. A candy bar might be a good thing to have if you need a short boost of energy, but I choose not to have one, as I would be tempted to eat it daily! I certainly don’t want to pack a reserve around my waist, so, no candy for me. If you have the self-control to pack a protein bar and only eat it in an emergency, by all means, do so.

Shelter:We limit ourselves here to staying dry. A tiny plastic emergency poncho or space blanket will protect you from the rain. Being soaked can quickly lead to hypothermia. If you need to get somewhere on foot, you probably have enough concerns as it is without added discomfort.

Safety:Physical safety also means health. If you need medication on a daily basis, make sure you have a few pills on you at all times (Don’t forget your prescription). I also highly suggest a small first-aid kit, including a good antiseptic like Betadine or equivalent. If not for yourself, you might be able to help someone else; especially when kids are around, a few band-aids are always welcome.

Other:Get some cordage. I suggest 550 paracord, at least 25ft. A few nylon tie-wraps are great too. Another must-have item is a pocket knife, which you will carry, of course, in your pocket. I like the small Spyderco folding knives with a 2-1/2″ blades. They are very handy and super-sharp right out of the box. Don’t forget a flashlight. Prefer the LED type, with at least 100 lumens. They usually require two CR123 batteries. Mine is a Streamlight, with two power settings and a strobe mode, great for self-defense.

Depending on where you live and what you do, you might want to add specific items to your pouch. Remember that if it’s too big or too heavy, you won’t take it with you, which defeats it’s purpose. I used to carry a few of the above in my pockets, or in bigger bags I might happen to carry. I almost never had them all on me. Finally, I decided to get a Maxpedition pouch and put them all together. Have a look: