Covered Topics

Please see the list of the topics I've covered. It's located near the bottom of the page. Thanks for stopping in!!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Of Battery Terminals and Devalued Currency

A couple weeks ago, I was given the 3-year old used battery shown in the photo to use for operating my ham radio equipment. In order to make this battery safer and more convenient to store and use in the house, I'm now in the process of making a wooden rack to hold the battery box, an old 400 watt power inverter I've had around for years, a pair of binding posts, and a pair of 12 volt autmotive type cigarette lighter power receptacles. In another couple paychecks I want to throw a couple wheels and a handle on the rack so I can conveniently move it around like a "hand truck".

While I do NOT normally intend to use the inverter to anywhere near its rating, I still for safety want the terminals and wiring supplying it to be safe for the nearly 40 rated supply amps just in case it is needed, albeit breifly. I also want to be able to charge the battery without lifting the cover on the ABS battery box shown in the photo, so again the system needs to be able to handle the 25 or 30 amps my charger puts out at maximum. The threaded bolt type terminals on the battery are either 5/16" or 3/8" diameter. For all these reasons, the wimpy little crimp-on connectors sold at most stores will NOT work. Some stout copper lug type connectors are in order here.

Sticker Shock
While visiting my local auto parts store and big box "home centers" to buy parts for this project, I have been horrified at prices on basic supplies nowadays. A copper "eye" type solder lug for #10 or #12 wire costs several dollars apiece nowadays. So I thought "Hey, a guy can make his own for less than 50 cents each out of soft-drawn copper tubing. I'll buy a foot of it and do that, and have PLENTY left over for future projects." Well, not so fast. They have stopped selling soft copper tubing by the foot; you now have to buy a whole roll of it for beaucoup bucks. The guy in the plumbing aisle suggested I use one of the 2 foot joints of 1/2" HARD-drawn copper pipe they sell for small repairs on water supply plumbing. On top of those costing nearly $5 EACH now, I was not keen on the hardened copper possibly breaking when I hammered part of it flat, nor do I want to fool around with the effort and expense of annealing it. [Annealing metal involves softening metal by heating it and allowing it to cool slowly.] As I started walking away, I heard the copper pennies rattling around with the other coins in my pocket and thought - there's my solution, for literally pennies :)

The plan is to solder my #12 gauge stranded wires to the pennies; the threaded terminal post on the battery will fit through the off-center hole drilled in the penny. The terminal nut on the battery will, of course, hold the whole assembly in place and make for a solid electrical connection.
Tonight, I fired up the drill press and proceded to drill 4 pennies off center to use as terminal lugs. Imagine my surprise at what I found! See the photo below. On the left is a 1977 penny, which is solid copper - or at least an alloy mostly of copper. The one on the right is a 1986 penny; it is only plated with copper. The thin copper plating is merely a decorative covering for some cheap base metal. Another penny was dated 2001 - it too has the cheap junky metal core.

I couldn't help but see this as yet one more example of how the US dollar has been devalued by 96% since the Federal Reserve Act was passed in 1913. (Don't take my word for this - look it up, do your own research, and you will see it's true) And indeed as they pump up the supply of fiat 'funny' money, inflation will only get worse. I've read people saying on the Internet how poor people should hoard pennies because they're more affordable than gold or silver, yet are potentially valuable for their copper during an economic crash. All I have to say about that is if you are going to try that strategy, you'd best make sure the pennies you're getting really ARE copper. The ones I have here will marginally serve for my project; they're not good for much else.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

PVC Archery - Test of New Bow

Readers of this blog have seen my previous posts regarding PVC bows. Due to life circumstances in general, coupled with a shoulder injury, I have not done anything with archery in over a year and a half. Today, that changed.

Using some tips I gleaned from Backyard Bowyer's YouTube channel, I quickly constructed this bow today and tested it out.

All in all it worked pretty well; it needs some tweaks and modifications but it clearly IS possible to make a usable 35#-45# draw-weight bow out of standard schedule 40 PVC water pipe for a total materials cost of under $10.

I'm using arrows bought at Wal-Mart for $3 a piece on clearance several years ago. These are good enough but need a little help, too - as the fletching was improperly glued on. I should remove the vanes and glue them on properly. Will discuss that in more detail in a future post.

I used a 55" piece of 3/4" ID Schedule 40 PVC pipe and formed it with a heat gun using methods found on Backyard Bowyer's site and elsewhere online. Flattening the limbs of the bow as he describes definitely helps improve the curve as it is drawn, the force distribution, the overall performance, and keeps the bow from getting a permanent and unwanted bend in the middle. I left the middle 5" of the bow untouched with its original round cross section.

After the pipe cooled, I shaped the ends for attaching the string, which consists of 350 Paracord. This is smaller than the 550 Paracord one normally reads about but works perfectly well on this light a bow. While Paracord is very durable and resists fraying, one definitely wants to put a serving on the string so that the nocking point is thick enough for a standard commercial arrow nock to grip.

I strung the bow for a 6.75" brace height at the center point.

The finished product has a measured draw weight of about 35# at 28 inches of draw.

The arrows in the target shown in the above photo were shot from approximately 30'. No doubt as I build up strength and accuracy much greater distances will be possible. I also plan to use the ballistic chronometer in future tests of PVC bows. Stay tuned ...

A couple notes:
Backyard Bowyer reshapes the middle "grip" section of the bow to improve shooting accuracy. Some folks say you don't need to do this and certainly, it is far easier to leave the handle section alone. This is the configuration I tried today. I noticed some issues with the arrow being deflected somewhat unpredictably when it would sometimes hit the bow and/or my hand. Clearly tapering the handle section and creating an arrow rest should help with this.

Using the technology described above, one can get into archery for about $15-$20 - NOT including the $17 target shown in the photo.

The piece of wire on the target in the bottom photo is for the vibration sensor used with the homemade ballistic chronometer. The sensor, which is actually the piezo buzzer out of an old computer, is duct taped to the lower left-hand side of the target.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Chickens - At 1 Month Old

In a recent post I mentioned that a buddy of mine and I were raising chickens from hatchlings. We had gotten these at a day old in early to mid July. They're now approximately a month old and have joined the adult hens in the coop. You can see them in the photo above. I apologize for the slightly blurry image - they were in constant motion and the light wasn't good for photography inside the coop. In the foreground there is a banded rock on the left, a blue cochin rooster to the right of that, and 2 partridge cochins behind them (to the right in the photo). I don't remember and can't see well enough in the picture to be sure of the ones behind the patridge cochins.

All of them are still a bit shy around the adults, and will back away from the feeder and water when an adult approaches. There is definitely a "pecking order"; the adults get first dibbs on the food and water - when they're done the younger hatchlings can take what they want.

The next photo shows me holding the blue cochin rooster - the detail is better because he wasn't running around :) For chickens that have been handle gently and petted a couple times a day every day since they were hatched, they STILL can be quite difficult to corner and catch. He put up a brief struggle when I caught him.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Homegrown Basil Herb - Flowering

For nearly a decade, I have grown culinary herbs for use in my kitchen. One of the easiest herbs to grow at home is basil. Not only is basil an integral part of Italian cooking, it also plays an important role in the garden. This fragrant herb, which is a delicious complement to tomatoes sliced and served with olive oil and fresh ground black pepper, also serves to help protect tomato plants from pests when grown right beside them. Indeed, tomato and basil plants establish a symbiotic relationship when grown together. One helps condition the soil chemistry to aid the growth of the other.

After the main garden growing season, the basil may be dug up and transplanted into indoor planters and kept alive under full spectrum grow lamps all winter long. I have done this with basil, rosemary, and mint for several years. The basil and rosemary go into spaghetti and Italian soups while the mint makes for a great medicinal tea for stomach upsets or even just to relax with.

An additional benefit of herbs is most of them produce attractive flowers during their growing season. One thing to be aware of is if you let them flower, often they will stop growing or even die back - so you might want to keep the flower buds trimmed off a portion of your plants to keep them growing and producing edible leaves all season.

Clicking on the photo below will enlarge it so you can more clearly see the bloom.

Raising Chickens

A buddy of mine has raised chickens for a decade or more. Recently, he acquired 7 newly hatched chicks - including a blue cochin rooster, two partridge cochins, two black astrolorps, and two banded rocks - most of which can be seen in the photo. This was taken when they were approximately 4 days old.

In another couple or three weeks they will be big enough to go back with the adult hens. Meanwhile they are being kept under an infrared lamp for incubation, as they are unable to maintain their own body temperature. During the day the adult chickens free-range on a several acre farm, enjoying life and foraging on all sorts of natural things as God intended. This definitely makes for a superior quality egg - the factory-raised stuff in the grocery store is tasteless and "sick" by comparison to the product my friend's chickens produce. The shells on these home-raised eggs is thicker than the store-bought ones, and the yolks tend to be a dark orange to even a red color in some cases. This is due to the minerals and nutrients they get through natural forage as opposed to the artificial corn feed most factory raised chickens get. The taste and texture of these eggs is like nothing else I have ever eaten prior to moving into an area that permits people to raise chickens at home.

You can view some short video footage of the chicks I uploaded to my YouTube site - KarlsLabReport.

I plan to upload more pictures and video as these birds grow and develop. Please stay tuned!!

Meanwhile - below is a photo of an adult partridge cochin hen. My apologies for the somewhat blurry image - she would not stay still long enough to pose for a decent picture. Note her beautiful coloration and the dark 'highlighting' around the edges of the individual feathers. Also note the feathers on her feet - cochins are interesting in that unlike other breeds, they have feathers covering their feet. The blue cochin rooster in the picture above is just starting to show the beginnings of feathered feet, too. Clicking on any image on this page will enlarge it for closer inspection.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

UNIX Commands in Everyday Life

Thought this was amusing:

This was taken from

Saturday, July 19, 2014

More Shortwave Resources

Since my recent posting on shortwave listening resources online, some nice folks on Twitter directed me to more. These are as follows:

As always, please leave me feedback if you know of any more good ones or if any of these become broken. Enjoy!

Dietz Oil Lanterns

For many years I have loved oil lanterns and candles for mood lighting. I have a pair of inexpensive imported "hurricane lanterns" as well as assorted candles. The above-mentioned items double as preps for winter time power outage emergencies.

This past February, I did a post on the venerable Dietz oil lantern. In that post I linked to a YouTube video made by "Maine Prepper". You can find my post and the link to the video here Since watching his video and writing that short blog post linking to it, I acquired my very own genuine Dietz #1 "Little Wizard" model oil lamp. Thanks to Maineprepper's very informative video, I immediately recognized this as a good find when I spotted it at a swap meet for $10.

After about 30 minutes work in cleaning off the soot and general purpose grunge, it appears as shown in the photo. I got a new wick in the camping section at Wal-Mart, as well as some low odor paraffin lamp oil I found in the housewares section. It's old, but as one can see in the following "action photo", it still has life in it :)

This type of oil lantern is FAR SAFER than a candle or the older style lanterns that were made of glass. If dropped, it won't immediately shatter and spill flammable liquid all over the place. Its broad base helps give it stability, preventing a pet or a child from easily tipping it over. And unlike a candle the flame is enclosed, helping prevent the flame from blowing out in a breeze and also prevents casual contact with papers, curtains and other flammable items. And provided one runs the intended oil lamp oil in it, rather than kerosene, odor is not generally an issue.

The warm, soft light these units provide makes for great mood lighting to relax by in the evening, as well as an EMP-proof light source. Dietz lanterns may still be bought new at the following places:

This place has an amazing selection of oil lamps and also carries replacement parts:

I found parts for my "Little Wizard" at:

A GREAT source for anything OLD tech:

Whether it be for nostalgia, mood lighting, homesteading or emergency prep, a Dietz lantern is a worthwhile addition to one's home.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Shortwave Listening Resources Online

Finding up-to-date information online regarding international shortwave broadcast frequencies and schedules can be challenging. Many sites I've checked have shut down; others have tons of broken links on their webpages and obviously aren't being maintained anymore. I have found a few sites that appear to be actually making an effort to keep their listings current.

These are as follows:

If any readers have good online resources for shortwave listening they'd like to share, please contact me or post a comment here and I'll get those posted as soon as I can.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

TenTec Model 1054 Shortwave Radio Kit - The Latest Update

A couple weeks ago I posted an update about the TenTec model 1054 regenerative shortwave radio kit I had built a while back. As regular readers will recall, this radio had issues with the regeneration control not working smoothly. And after a couple unsuccessful attempts at contacting TenTec's service department, I finally got an answer. One of the techs said he'd send me some replacement components to hopefully fix the problem. Here's what happened:

I installed the two new FET transistors and trimmer potentiometer the man sent. Upon testing the radio post repair, the problem was exactly the same - perhaps slightly worse. I calibrated the bands by setting the regeneration control to full oscillation and listening for that signal using a borrowed shortwave receiver. In doing this, I made another discovery:
The sensitivity of the TenTec 1054 was grossly inferior to that of the borrowed radio.
On the borrowed radio - using ONLY a 12 inch cliplead for an antenna, I could CLEARLY hear the WWV time signals on 15 MHz and 10 MHz. On the TenTec, using a 20 FOOT longwire antenna - no sign of WWV. I have always said that if you can't hear WWV on a shortwave radio, you won't hear much else, either. Indeed this was the case. The TenTec could pick up China Radio International, some strong Spanish-speaking stations and a couple strong religious broadcasting stations, but I could not pick up ANY ham traffic. Again - the borrowed rig could get a few ham stations even with a foot long cliplead as an "antenna".

Lest anyone think that maybe something got messed up during the repair, I want to emphasize that I had NEVER been able to hear WWV, or more than one or two ham stations, on the TenTec radio. Prior to having access to a decent quality receiver to check it with, I simply chalked it up to not being able to determine where the unit was actually tuned.

One final test - I took the TenTec to my friend's house. He has a 100' longwire antenna and a good ground system. ONLY by doing this was I able to hear WWV and a few hams. But the WWV was NOT strong as it should be - in fact it was rather faint.

I have built regenerative radios in the past and while they had relatively poor selectivity compared to commercially built superheterodyne receivers, sensitivity was NEVER an issue before.

In view of the sensitivity issue, I think I will NOT invest any more time, energy, or money in this project. The return is simply not there.

What I think I WILL do is when I have the funds, find an older "classic" shortwave radio, buy it, and restore it. For that matter this would NOT be a bad way to get good ham gear, too. The new stuff is entirely too expensive. And once you have restored a radio you would know intimately how it works and how to maintain it.

And as an added benefit - older vaccuum tube gear would tend to be fairly EMP proof.

General Class Amateur (ham) Radio License

As some folks may know, a few years ago I had allowed my amateur radio (ham) license to lapse. As a result, I needed to take the exam to requalify for a license.

Today, I successfully took and passed the General CLass amateur license exam. I got 33 out of a possible 35 questions right. The volunteer examiner (V.E.) offered me the opportunity to sit for the "Extra" class license test. I took it, expecting to fail since I did NOT study that material. Indeed I did fail the "Extra" test - but only by 3 or 4 questions. But what I came away with besides a General Class license is that with some minimal preparation, I can probably pass the Extra one within a few weeks.

In a recent post, I listed some resources where one could take practice tests, find reading material, etc. to prepare for FCC exams.

Another observation I made is that the General exam I took today has been really watered down since when I took it years ago. Today, there were few, if any, electrical calculations. Back when I originally took the Technician exam - which was actually the WRITTEN portion of the General license test, there were a number of calculations dealing with reactance, resonant frequency of a parallel or series circuit using a capacitor and inductor of given values, ohm's law/power, etc. Today I think I encountered one calculation dealing with the turns ratio v.s. the voltage ratio of a transformer. The test I took years ago also had more questions relating to electronics trouble-shooting, reading schematics, etc.

Given all this, and the fact that there is no lnger any morse code requirement for ANY amateur license class, the FCC has removed some major hurtles that kept many from getting ham licenses. Many folks will argue that this had hurt amateur radio by "lowering the bar" on the quality and skills sets of applicants. Others contend it has helped amateur radio in that people who otherwise would not have made it before can now get licenses - thus helping keep the amateur radio service alive and healthy.

The good news in all this is it should be relatively easy for someone to get an amateur license if he/she wants one. And that could really save the day during any kind of civil emergency.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Amateur "Ham" Radio, Shortwave Radios, and Preparedness

On this blog, I have written about the need for having a shortwave radio for monitoring breaking news events. Good shortwave radios are expensive and hard to come by - hence my building the TenTec radio I mentioned in my last post. Hopefully with the Spring semester over I can catch up on supplying content to this blog and my video channel on YouTube.

One of the things I have wanted to do is a post on what to look for in a shortwave radio.

During civil emergencies, communications such as landline phones, Internet, and even cell phones often fail. While a cell tower may continue to operate on emergency backup batteries or fuel cells for some time after a crisis, that tower can be taken out by a tornado just as surely as phone and electric wires can be. Service may be deliberately cut off by terrorist acts or by government edict as well. Both in Egypt during the unrest in 2012-2013, as well as the incident at the Bundy Ranch in Nevada this past April (2014), government officials cut off most telephone and Internet access to the area. None of our media outlets covered the Bundy Ranch incident until Alex Jones exposed on his website the connection between a certain politician and a Chinese corporation as the main driver behind the whole fiasco. Then there was the near-mishap in 2011 at the Fort Calhoun plant in Nebraska, caused when the Missouri River flooded, which was NEVER to my knowledge covered in the American media. I think it is safe to say that this type of information blackout will be Standard Operating Procedure from here on out whenever anything controvercial happens.

In the case of the bundy Ranch episode, amateur radio (ham) operators were helpful in getting news in and out of the area and even transmitting pictures via some of the digital operating modes available nowadays.

I have several ham radios - a VHF handheld for the 2-meter band, a ham radio I inherited from my dad that will cover all the "HF" bands below 30 MHz, and some homebuilt equipment for the 7 Mhz (40 meter) band. Recently, I got the handheld out, dusted it off, and discovered it still works after 15 years of non-use. This past week, I took the HF rig of my dad's to a buddy's house and we almost immediately were able to talk to someone several hundred miles away. Imagine for a minute if your local landline and cellular communications stopped working - how valuable would it be to you to be able to flip on the ham radio and hear what is happening in the world outside, or even talk to someone who has information? One afternoon a week ago, my buddy and I talked to a guy in Slovenia on the 17 meter band (18.068-18.168 MHz) using 40 watts of transmitter power into a random-length wire antenna. The propagation conditions were favorable and his signal came in so clear he literally sounded like he was across town. Now, I'm NOT saying one would radio Slovenia to find out about a situation a few states away in the USA, but the point is amateur radio potentially gives you tremendous communications reach. The following link gives you an idea of what you can hear and, given the appropriate license, can transmit on which frequencies:

Licensing: NO license is required to LISTEN to amateur radio transmissions. In order to TRANSMIT, you MUST have a license or have a licensed amateur radio operator present when you are doing so. In recent years, the FCC has eliminated the Morse code requirement from any of the 3 license levels. For decades this was a stumbling block for many folks and while many amateurs STILL use Morse code, and thus is is a good idea to learn it, you DON'T need it to get a license anymore. The three license levels are Technician, General, and Extra class. The main difference between the levels is the amount of frequencies and operating modes you can use; also as you go higher in license level the amount of electronics and radio knowledge required goes up. Testing, which is required to get your license, is conducted by a network of "volunteer examiners", or "V.E.s". VEs are radio amateurs who volunteer their time to give the required FCC exams to new folks wanting amateur licenses. VEs can be found through local amateur radio clubs and by going online to the ARRL's (Amateur Radio Relay League) website at

The written tests for Technician and General consist of 35 multiple choice questions taken at random from a standardized FCC question pool; the Extra exam consists of 50 multiple choice questions. On the Technician and General, you are required to get at least 26 of the 35 questions right (75%) to receive a passing grade. For the Extra, you must get 37 out of the 50 (again, 75%) correct.

How to get started and Where to go for help:

Here are a couple very helpful sites for practice quizzes and more information:

This site has more practice exams and reviews of radios and equipment:

TenTec Radio Kit - Model 1054 Update #3

My longtime readers will remember I built a TenTec Model 1054 regenerative shortwave receiver kit a while back. At the time I posted to this blog about the apparent bad customer service I received from TenTec when complaining about the erratic regeneration control. Just week, there has been another development.

This past week I have been working feverishly to get all my ham and shortwave equipment up and running. After an exhaustive and *fruitless* search online, trying to find any information I could on the TenTec 1054's regeneration control issue, I decided to try once more to contact TenTec's customer service people. TenTec apparently has NO PHONE number to reach them at; apparetly one must email them as I had before. And so I did.

The following day I got an email back from one of their service technicians stating that my original email had gone into his email "spam folder". He also stated, contrary to the instruction manual, that the regeneration will start 1/4 of the way from one end of the potentiometer's travel, that regeneration will start rather suddenly, and that from my description the radio seemed to be working correctly. ANOTHER tech later wrote me and said that he thought there was a defect in either one of the two FET transistors in the regeneration circuit or that the regeneration threshold adjustment trim potentiometer was bad. He offered to send me new parts free of charge if I sent him my address. I did just so; I'll see what happens.

If they do not end up sending me the parts (I'm NOT holding my breath, under the circumstances), after studying the schematic at some length I have some ideas as to how I can modify the circuit to work better.

All this said, I still have the issue of what to do about the housing, since the box TenTec sent me is basically unusable. As mentioned in my original post I intend to do some circuit modifications such as adding a dual 9-volt regulator circuit that can be fed from an external 12 volt battery, and possibly adding a band spread control for better selectivity in crowded bands. I want to build my own improved audio section based on a decent audio chip. I would also include an active filter for CW reception and a limiter to prevent hearing damage from loud noises. Regarding the dual 9-volt regulator, the circuit currently uses separate batteries for the regenerative receiver itself and the audio section. This is no doubt to eliminate any issues from feedback and oscillation between the radio part and the audio section. But for my purposes I need the whole thing run from one 12 volt battery.

Here are the links to my prior posts regarding the TenTec Moel 1054 radio:

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Video of Hydraulic Oscillator

Just uploaded a video on hydraulic reciprocation
to my YouTube site. This video features one of the experiments my students do in the Hydraulics Lab that I teach.

This particular experiment uses a pilot control valve - a device which uses pressure applied to a control port to switch the valve's direction.

My other videos appear here:
Please bookmark and check back periodically, as I have other videos in the works.


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Latest example of Why We Need MESH networks, Amateur Radio, and Shortwave

There has been something of a news blackout in the Mainstream Media this week. The story involves a rancher in Bunkerville, Nevada; a little ways outside of Las Vegas, besieged by 200 ARMED Federal Government agents over a disagreement on land use. I'm NOT going to discuss the merits of either side's case; that's for another blog and another post. There is a far more serious issue here. And that is the nearly complete lockdown over information in this country.

During this week's crisis in Southern Nevada, cell phone and data services to the area were cut off. The mainstream media were virtually silent on this incident, which could EASILY have blown up into another "Waco" type scenario. That is, they were silent until an alternative media source exposed the apparent link between this attempt to remove a rancher from his land, a certain politician and foreign corporate interests. The report went "viral" within the last 24 hours; only then did the mainstream media see fit to cover the story at all. Prior to this exposure, amateur radio was about the only reliable connection between this scene and the outside world once cellular and data services were cut off.

Regular readers of this blog will remember what I published about MESH networks, shortwave and amateur (ham) radio and why these things are of critical imnportance to citizens wanting to stay informed of important events. I discussed all this shortly after the events in Egypt a year or so ago. More recently I have discussed amateur radio and shortwave in more detail. THIS sort of thing, folks, is WHY I built the TenTec shortwave radio I wrote about a couple years ago.

Here's the deal in a nutshell: Wherever you have secrecy, and no open communication, you have the perfect petri dish for tyranny to flourish. Wherever you have a media that's more interested in "entertaining" the masses with lurid stories of celebrities and their sordid sex lives than actually reporting news, you run the risk of NOT getting information - information YOU MAY NEED to deal with potentially life-altering events. A couple years ago, there was a NEAR "Fukushima" style mess near Omaha, Nebraska at the Fort Calhoun generating station. The Missouri River had flooded, and nearly caused a mishap at the plant. Had the waters risen more than another foot, the equipment in the control room could have been shorted out. NONE of the media in the United States covered it, that I'm aware of. I first read about it on an obscure foreign website; later some bloggers picked up the story, and confirmed it. Had that plant melted down, 1/4 of the country could well have been in the path of a large radiation plume.

For those of you who ARE interested in REAL NEWS and want to take charge of your own destiney, I invite you to read what I have written about MESH networks, then do your own research on the 'Net and on YouTube to determine what fits your needs. YouTube users such as "Commprepper" offer great advice on amateur radio and other communications systems. If I were you I'd get this information NOW while it is still available.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Book review: Patriots

Patriots is an action-packed novel by James Wesley Rawles. It poses the all-too-likely scenario of a complete collapse of the American economy. Starting with a stock market crash, followed by crippling hyperinflation, commerce and supply chains topple like proverbial dominoes. Soon thereafter, gas/electric/water/telephone utilities and all other infrastructure fails. Nationwide, rioting breaks out, causing looters and refugees to leave the cities in search of food and other resources. The story follows several foward-thinking people, who met years before in college, as they flee to a retreat they prepared in advance in Northern Idaho.

Before the story is over, the group must defend themselves against multiple attacks by hostile outsiders and negotiate with other groups for mutual security and needed resources.

Rawles also gives a chilling foretaste as to what we can expect from the United Nations and other unelected people as they jockey to fill the power vaccuum left after our current government fails.

Some online commenters have called Patriots "a survival manual in disguise". Indeed, there are TONS of practical "how-tos" packed into this story. Subjects covered include weapons (of course), communications, selecting/equipping a retreat location, OPSEC (operations security), field medicine, and much more. In the battle scenes, Rawles explains how resistance cells are organized and how military operations are properly conducted. In reading this story, the reader will gain a basic education in nearly all topics relating to surviving a social/economic collapse of these United States, and what to realistically expect during the aftermath. Rawles writes with authority on all of this, drawing from his background as a former Army Intelligence officer.

What I did NOT like about the book: Certain aspects of the story were almost formulaic. ALL of the college buddies who came together and formed the retreat had, or obtained upon graduation, great jobs that paid beaucoup bucks, allowing them to afford many of the goodies one might expect to see on the "Doomsday Preppers" TV series. They ALL ended up with ravingly hot-looking wives who did NOT argue or fight them on the money spent on survival preps or the amount of time their husbands spent at the shooting range, learning other skill sets they would need, etc. Now come on, HOW LIKELY is that, REALLY???

Personally, I would like to have seen more "normal" type folks as the protagonists in the story. People who, other than being awake to world conditions, have normal "nose at the waterline" salaries that don't allow for ANYTHING beyond the rent/mortgage, food, car, insurance, etc; normal wives who would likely balk at some of the time and money going into preps; and normal "asleep" colleagues in college and at work who would NOT be of ANY use - and who in fact could well prove to be a hinderance - in a collapse situation; etc. Also good would have been "normal", yet intelligent folks with a "normal" array of skills. People like electronic technicians, auto mechanics, accountants, nurses, store clerks, college faculty, etc. - though granted, one of the wives in the story WAS a nurse.

Despite the above-mentioned aspects I did not care for, I still found this to be an excellent read overall. The book was fast-paced and never lagged. As an amateur (ham) radio operator, I especially enjoyed the parts dealing with communications and COMSEC (communications security). And for any shortwave listeners who, like me, have ever heard those mysterious "numbers stations", the part about codes the survivors used on the radio will prove nothing short of fascinating. Certainly the story gave an insight into basic military operations I have not found in most other books. For readers unfamiliar with the true reasons for the current economic mess, or with prepping in general, this book provides a gentle and entertaining introduction to the political and economic basis for the current economy, as well as to nearly every aspect of prepping.

Not only was I entertained while reading this book, I was further educated in certain areas which may prove useful at some point. DEFINITELY a recommended book!

Here is where I got my copy:

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Book review: Strategic Relocation: North American Guide to Safe Places, 3rd edition

Have you been thinking about moving? Are you contemplating a new job in another state? Want to know what you may be getting into as far as taxes, regulatory hassles, local culture/politics, crime etc.? Are you for ANY reason fearful for your safety in your current location? Are you curious as to how your city or town stacks up against others in terms of safety?

If your answer to ANY of the above questions is yes, then you owe it to yourself to get a copy of Joel M. Skousen's book "Strategic Relocation : North American Guide to Safe Places", 3rd Edition. Unlike the local Chamber of Commerce or Visitor's Bureau, Mr. Skousen gives a no-holds barred review of all 50 united states and various towns within them. He will tell you the good, the bad, and the ugly about a place. For those folks who may need/want to leave America, he even devotes a chapter or so to foreign countries and regions.

"Strategic Relocation", though geared primarily to 'preppers' and survivalists, is a must-have guide for anyone wanting to take a rational, well-informed approach to relocation. This book covers all sort of situational and logistical parameters of all the major cities and all 50 states in the USA. Mr. Skousen tells you which cities would be likely primary strike targets in a nuclear conflict, as well as those that may come under terrorist attack. He delves into which areas are in greatest danger of floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, ... He tells you the routes to take as well as the routes to avoid when evacuating a given area. "Strategic relocation" has many pages of color maps showing fault lines, earthquake and volcanic activity, areas to avoid due to their being an "attractive nuisance" to terrorists or enemy missiles.

"Strategic Relocation" will give you the low-down on taxes, the chief industries in a place, and whether the medium or long term economic prospects for a given area are good or bad. Maps of the united states give a quick "at a glance" comparison of the regulatory environment state by state, as well as relative levels of "economic freedom". In my travels, most folks I have asked who pay state income taxes don't even know what rate they're being taxed at; Joel Skousen's book tells you the tax rates at state, and in some cases even local, levels.

As one who has experienced first hand how one's neighbors, community, and work colleagues can either "make or break" one's living experience in an area, I cannot stress enough how important it is to locate among those with whom you share similar values. Various factions within our society can trumpet the "joys of diversity" 'till the cows come home, but at the end of the day one needs a tight-knit community of people with whom one shares values, beliefs, and attitudes in common. One in which you can be yourself without worry about how what you say or do is interpreted, and if you have inadvertently offended someone. "Strategic Relocation" does touch upon these issues somewhat. Skousen comments about the level of "religiosity" of a given area - citing that strong church presence tends to cement a community closer together and provide social/emotional/spiritual and even economic support systems independent of government bureaucracies.

Strategic Relocation : North American Guide to Safe Places is well worth the hefty $35 price tag. Arguably the time. money, and effort one will otherwise have to expend to compile the data contained within would EASILY cost 100 OR MORE times the price of this book. And while there will likely be aspects of an area you will want to investigate further on your own, according to your particular needs, Mr Skousen has done 80% of the hard work for you in his book. In many cases, depending on your own needs and parameters, you can rule out an area based on the data found in this book. When buying this book - MAKE SURE to get the 3rd edition. That is the latest one as of this blog posting, and was published in 2010.

What I would hope to see in a 4th edition is even more information regarding local/county/state corruption and local cultural/social issues. As "generic" as much of America is, there is STILL considerable regional and local variation in terms of beliefs, attitudes, and culture. For example, while LA tends to have a "work hard, play hard" work culture, the Midwest generally has a definite "do the minimum you can to get by, but LOOK BUSY" attitude. This one aspect will have a strong bearing on one's experience in the workplace, or the day-to-day process of obtaining needed goods and services.

A quick word about Joel Skousen:

I have had several personal conversations with Mr. Skousen. His demeanor in my estimation was one of a caring person who genuinely wants to empower people to do what they can - morally and ethically - to take care of themselves and lead safer, more productive lives.


I sorely wish I had this book 20 years ago! The information contained therein might well have saved me considerable financial and personal set-backs created in large part by the environments I have lived in. All I had to go on until maybe the last 5 years was "Places Rated Guide" and "Best Places to Retire" type books, whatever propaganda the Chamber of Commerce or the Visitor's Bureau in a place were dispensing, or anecdotal comments of family or friends - which were often based on old information. NONE of these sources even began to give the real story. My brother-in-law, who I relied on for "insider's" information about the area in which I now live, gave me information that was probably true as of 1985, but NOT as of 2005.

In terms of regulatory environment, there are places such as Oregon which may assess fines or even arrest/JAIL you for collecting rainwater on your OWN property to water a garden! Some municipalities may literally require a building permit to put up a dog house. These are just a couple reasons for CAREFULLY checking into the regulatory environment as it may impact your particular activities.

In addition to Mr Skousen's book, I cautiously recommend websites such as ANYTHING you read there - or online in general - needs to be taken with a shaker full of salt, but I have been able to glean useful information from its discussion forums.

If you belong to a church or other organization with ties to an area you are considering, talking to a few local members there could well prove enlightening, as well as turn up vital business or social contacts.

Here is where to get it:

Hope this helps someone.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Dietz lanterns an economical alternative (+playlist)

This man, who goes by the name "Maine Prepper" on YouTube, has some good videos on homesteading, self sufficiency topics, etc. This one is a very interesting video on oil lamps.

Over the years I have used various types of oil lamps both during emergencies as well as occasionally for mood lighting. But I learned more about these "blizzard" lamps (I've always heard them referred to as hurricane lamps) during this short video than I knew from all the times I've used them.

A most enjoyable and informative few minutes spent that could end up being quite useful at some point.

A reminder - I have recently started my own YouTube channel where I plan on posting various 'how-to' and other types of videos I think my viewership might like.

Here's a couple links for getting one.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Remote Monitoring and Control With Arduino

For many years, I have wanted to have my own device for remote monitoring and control via the Internet. With the advent of inexpensive embedded microcontrollers, and Arduinos specifically, this has become relatively easy and cheap. Indeed, IT people needing an inexpensive solution for monitoring server room conditions are turning to "rolling their own" Arduino-based environmental monitoring systems.

In the aftermath of the Japanese Fukushima disaster, scores of home hobbyists built their own Arduino-based radiation monitors and connected them to the Internet so others could view the collected data. Indeed, one can buy a complete Arduino-based Geiger counter kit for under $100.

A few months ago, I bought my first Arduino board for $39 at MicroCenter. It is the "Sparkfun" kit shown in the picture below. One also needs the USB data cable (sold SEPARATELY) to get started - I was MOST annoyed that the kit that supposedly came with "all you need to get started" LACKED this most essential item! Several days later, I made a special trip to MicroCenter (that's a 70 mile round-trip!) to get the cable; the one they sold me did NOT fit the connector on the board! Fortunately I later found another cable here in my lab that fits my Hitachi USB hard drive also fits the Arduino. If you want to work with Ethernet enabled code, you'll also want the Ethernet "shield" - a plug-in board which adds this functionality.

Next, one needs some basic information on how to get started building various types of sensors and designing code to make them work. I found the following FREE resources online:

Environmental Monitoring eBook

Atmospheric Monitoring eBook

Both of these books are also available in paperback format if you want to pay for them. I found them on eBay in the 9-12 US dollar price range.

As I find time to work with my board in my VERY busy schedule between working 3 part-time jobs, I'll post updates here.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

MIPS System Calls - References

A quick word on MIPS and QtSPIM is on order. In previous posts I linked to a MIPS assembly language command reference, but neglected to provide any links to system calls. I'm helping out some students with MIPS lab this semester and they don't seem to have the information they need on this subject. So, for anyone who needs it, here are a couple links for MIPS system calls:
This link's information is taken directly from Jim Larus's book "SPIM S20: A MIPS R2000 Simulator".
Contains more detailed information regarding MIPS in QtSPIM as well as for MARS (MIPS Assembler and Runtime Simulator).

MARS is another program that serves a similar purpose as QtSPIM.

Below are a couple links I reposted from one of my previous blog entries:
A list of MIPS registers and what they are used for.
A comprehensive MIPS command reference.

Hope these help someone.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Entitled "Me" Generation

This post has nothing to do with technology in any way, shape or form. It instead deals with something far more basic - and that is the consideration and regard we as humans should have - but more often than not, don't - for one another. What I'm about to say will no doubt ruffle a few feathers, but it still bears saying.

It has been said that, without some sort of intervention, what you are as a young person is what you will be as an older person. In other words, whatever tendencies a person has will simply become more hardened and more manifest as they grow older. My experiences over the course of my life tend to bear this out, and last night was no exception.

Those who regularly read this blog may remember that I work part time as a nurse's aide in a long-term care facility. And as we know the "baby-boom" generation are reaching an age when folks start needing nursing home care.

In the facility where I work, across the hall from each nurse's station there is a sitting area with a TV and a few recliners. These areas are enclosed by a low, 3-foot high wall and have an entrance that is about 2 wheelchair widths wide. Last night, late in my shift, one man in his 60s was sitting in his wheelchair - right smack-dab in the middle of the entrance to the sitting area. Another resident who was in the sitting area, needed me to take her to the restroom. After nicely asking him several times to please move, and being told "no", I pivoted his wheelchair a quarter turn so I could get past him and take the lady to the bathroom.
"G-ddammit! Don't push my chair around!!!!!", the man bellowed.
I calmly but sternly replied "sir, you were blocking the entrance so nobody else can get by you."
He snarled at almost ear-damaging volume "I don't give a SH*T about anyone else!"
I said "That is obvious, but your rights end where you start encroaching on somebody else's."
After putting up with nearly 7 continuous hours of residents' acting-out behavior (last night was especially bad, for whatever reason), I was thoroughly annoyed and that must have been apparent in the tone of my voice because the nurse said "hey - calm down and let it go." I replied "OK" and took the lady to the restroom and then got her ready for bed.

Upon returning to the nurse's station, I noticed the man had resumed his position blocking the entrance to the sitting area. In a low voice I commented to the nurse "that guy's attitude epitomizes what is wrong with that generation, and Modern America in general" - and repeated verbatim the exact phrase he said to me about "not giving a 's' about anybody". I added "People with THAT mentality are what bred and raised the current generation ... and that is in part why America is going down the cr@pper." She gave me an uncomfortable look but didn't say anything.

We have become a selfish, narcissistic society where our own corpreal pleasures are king - and to heck with the needs AND RIGHTS of those around us. A society where too many people feel entitled to take what does not belong to them - whether it be material goods, personal space, peace and quiet, whatever. That is why on a warm day one cannot be outdoors in the city or drive one's car without being assaulted by "boom car stereos". That is why criminals and drugs rule our streets. That is why corrupt politicians and Wall Street are robbing us blind while we sit watching Monday Night Football and "Dancing With the Stars." ALL of this, because as the Bible said in 2 Timothy 3:1-6 of the times in which we live, people "are lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of righteousness."

Indeed, as Hollywood and certain other dominant forces have exported their "values", business practices, and definition of culture elsewhere, the problem is becoming world-wide.

And, yes, there was nothing about this post that is "politically correct", but "political correctness" is yet another form of lying - another way of avoiding dealing with the issues at hand.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Batteries - Potential Firebombs Lurking In Your Home And Business

Today I found this link on Twitter to a video about a man whose house caught fire due to a 9 volt battery he removed from his smoke alarm and placed in his recycle bin. Fortunately nobody - including the family pet - was hurt, but this is an object lesson for the wise.

This clearly is something to consider when storing any kind of batteries.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Book review: Radio Receiver Projects You Can Build

This is one book I heartily recommend for anyone interested in amateur (ham) radio, shortwave listening, or general electronics. I have owned this book for nearly 10 years and have actually built my own variations of a couple of the projects shown. This book covers crystal radios, tube type regenerative receivers, transistorized radios, solar powered radios, and more. This book contains good, solid, practical construction advice and tips for both newbies as well as more seasoned radio hobbyists.

For years I have wanted to try my hand at building an old-fashioned one or two tube set like old radio hobby magazines used to describe. This book contains those. If you want to build a solar-powered transistorized radio, the information is there.

Whether you are a father wanting a nice father-son (or daughter) project, or you are an aspiring ham radio operator, or a prepper wanting a simple EMP-proof tube radio that you can build and repair yourself, this book is for you. I bought mine at a brick-and-mortar store almost 10 years ago; they are available online at Amazon.

Monday, January 13, 2014

A Definitive Video on Building and Testing Faraday Cages

Anyone familiar with EMP (electromagnetic pulse) has no doubt heard about using a Faraday Cage to contain and protect electronic gear. And anyone who has done this sort of research online can attest to all the different opinions on how to do this and how effective each variety is.

For anyone who is not familiar, a faraday cage is simply a conductive metal enclosure in which you place items to be protected from EMP. This enclosure must NOT have large holes or cracks if it is to be effective. The metal simply conducts the energy AROUND the items, rather than allowing the RF energy to go inside and damage or destroy the items you have stored. The more conductive the metal, the more effective the enclosure in keeping out RF energy; thus Faraday shields for laboratory use are often made of copper sheeting or screen.

What an EMP IS: An EMP is an electromagnetic pulse. It has been loosly described as an "RF tsunami"; it is simply a very powerful radio frequency (RF) wave that, like any other radio wave, can be picked up by wiring and other metal objects which act like an antenna and thus conducted into electrical circuitry. These radio waves may be generated by natural events such as a solar Coronal Mass Ejection (CME), or they may be man-made via a high altitude nuclear blast or other weapon specifically designed to produce an EMP.

What an EMP is NOT: An EMP is NOT a "lightening bolt". Why people continue to say it is a lightening bolt, I don't know. That said, a person MIGHT be shocked or electrocuted if he was touching a large enough metal object when the EMP struck. ANY radio wave induces an electrical current in a wire or other conductive objects; this is where the destructive potential comes from. Because of the strength of the electromagnetic field created in the EMP, the currents generated in conductive materials are also large, and that is why electronic equipment is damaged by EMP.

While EMP may well damage or destroy cardiac pacemakers or insulin pumps, most people would NOT be biologically affected by an EMP. People would only figure out there had been an EMP when they discovered that most electronics had simply stopped working.

While looking at some other related youtube videos, I found one that appears to have been created by someone with some actual knowledge of electrical engineering. In this fairly short video, he shows various construction methods for shielding equipment, performs various tests and explains the results that he and others obtain when doing such tests - especially the test using 2-way radios.

Without further adieu, here is the link:

I thought he did an exceptional job of clearing up some of the myths and misunderstandings about this important topic.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A Superb Article About EMP

Today while on twitter, I found one of the best articles I've seen written about EMP. Readers of my blog will remember my recent book review of "One Second After", which deals with a fictional EMP related disaster scenario.

Here is the link to the EMP article:

Follow mw on Twitter @Karl_2014 .

"Where There Is No Doctor", and Other Must-Have Medical Information

Concerned people have, for many years, referred to the book "Where There Is No Doctor", published by Hesperian. This book is, and has for a couple decades that I am aware of, been widely sold in paperback form at gun shows. For those of us who cannot currently afford a Patriot Nurse seminar (see my previous blog post at, this is a very good place to start.

For those of us who are cash-strapped and trying to live within meager resources, the following page is a godsend. Go here to get "Where There Is No doctor" and several other valuable guides, also published by Hesperian:

Please do NOT violate the terms of their copyright; download it and use it for your own educational needs.

Hesperian got their start in the early 1970s in ther efforts to help the people of Ajoya, Mexico. Their first edition of the "Where There Is No Doctor" book, written in Spanish, was released in 1973. Since then they have widened out their efforts to empower people worldwide to improve their health and living conditions.

Stay safe and good health to all my readership!

Must-Have Emergency Medical Information

Many of us have taken one or more first aid classes either through our workplace, military service, being in a state CERT program, or as a nurse's aide. As a CERT team volunteer, and a part-time nurse's aide, I have been through a couple formal first aid training programs. All of these traditional first aid programs have one fatal flaw: They assume paramedics or other trained medical help is soon forthcoming - and thus focus merely on keeping someone alive and "together" for at most a few hours until that help arrives. But what if that help isn't coming anytime soon, of at all? What then?

This situation is addressed by a Registered Nurse, who goes by an online identity of "The Patriot Nurse". The Patriot Nurse has a youtube channel as well as a regular website This lady has travelled all over the world and has worked in very primitive conditions where hospitals and other modern, high-tech medical support like we are used to in America simply don't exist. THAT is the kind of experience you need from your instructor to prepare for a scenario such as described in "One Second After" or any other widespread disaster where medical help may be a long time coming, if at all. (Please see my book review at

The Patriot Nurse offers 1 and 2 day educational seminars which attempt to address this type of situation. The class schedule is available on her website; just follow the link above. Meanwhile, be sure to watch some of her OLDER videos in youtube that show common sense preparations ANYONE can make - even on a limited budget. Unfortunately, her newer videos tend to wax on way too much about politics and do not provide the hard core information the older ones do. While that makes for interesting discussion material with family, friends or neighbors, it's TOTALLY irrelevent to the task at hand, which is to become more prepared for any sort of civil crisis scenario.

That said, she has much of value to offer any concerned citizen.


I am NOT in any way affiliated with "The Patriot Nurse", financially or otherwise. I do NOT get any sort of compensation, "spiff" or kickbacks from advertizing her website or products. I'm doing this to make people aware of the shortcomings of traditional first aid and even many so-called "wilderness medicine" classes and to point out an alternative that I have become aware of. As a CERT team volunteer and a nurse's aide, I am painfully aware of this particular gap in my training, and as soon as I have the money and time I plan on availaing myself of this potentially life-saving knowledge.