January 23, 2017


New year, new president, but the same routine.

Natural disasters and cyber attacks are still going to happen, regardless of who is living in the White House.

Make sure you can ride out whatever mother nature is going to toss at you where you live, and don't rely on common carrier communications.  What I mean by "common carrier" are systems such as the Internet and wireless phone networks that have been proven vulnerable to disruption.  Make sure you have alternative means to get in touch with friends and family when regular communications systems aren't working.

Spring is going to come sooner than you realize, and with that various projects that the prepared and self-reliant need to get their homesteads up and running.

Have your tools ready and in working order.

Remember to have a back-up coffee making apparatus.
Something that doesn't require electricity.

And don't forget your towel.

Recent Protests During and After Trump Inauguration

If a protest occurred in your AO, and you were watching it from a safe distance, kudos for going out and doing something.  Hopefully you had your video recorders going for later analysis.  (Remember: Collect first, then analyze.) If you had a Close Call scanner running, bonus points. If you up-channeled information to an ACE, even more bonus points.

Assuming you were operational over the inauguration and protest weekend, you should have collected some solid intelligence information on your local OPFOR elements.

Practice, folks. 

January 18, 2017

A Reader Sends - Mesh Networking Off The Grid

h/t Brian

Via Z-Man - Off-Grid Communications For Smartphones

Z-Man recently sent me an email asking about this device:

This is basically a 33cm license-free transceiver that uses Bluetooth to link with your Android or Iphone, and enables you to communicate off the common carrier networks among a group of people equipped with the device.  Has some interesting features, especially for blue force tracking.  I am, however, skeptical of the range claims.  Operating 33cm spread under Part 15 will give you an honest 2 mile range over most conditions, however when I tested similar technology in the Berkshires that range went down to 1/4 mile.  The cost is $180/pair.

There are also other companies making similar devices.  The go-Tenna http://www.gotenna.com/ - operates on VHF MURS channels, but only allows text messaging.  However, in more rural and wilderness type environments, MURS will work better than 900 MHz.  A pair of goTennas is $140.

My advice is that if you are interested in the features these devices offer, that you are best implementing the features using non-proprietary systems with common off-the-shelf hardware, this way you are not locked into a particular vendor, and are not orphaned when a product is discontinued.

To put things into perspective, a Yaesu FTM-3200DR is $180 and that's a C4FM/FM 65 watt VHF transceiver. 

Yaesu - What is System Fusion?

This Weekend - ARRL VHF/UHF Conference

 This weekend (Jan 21-23) is the ARRL January VHF Contest.  The objective: "For amateurs in the US and Canada (and their possessions) to work as many amateur stations in as many different 2 degrees x 1 degree Maidenhead grid squares as possible using authorized frequencies above 50 MHz."

This is noteworthy because:
  • All the ham bands involved are VHF+, which makes them available to Technician class licenses.
  • It gives you an opportunity to test your station to see how far you can communicate.
  • You can participate even if all you have is a 2M/440 FM HT.
Contests are a good time to check your station because you know other hams will be active on the bands, and all you have to do is exchange callsigns and the grid-square identifier that you are operating on (http://www.arrl.org/grid-squares).  No political discussions, no disclosure of just why you got your ham ticket, none of that BS.  Just a quick QSO involving the exchange of location data.  And you get to confirm that your station actually works, and how far out it can reach on the respective band(s).

Find a decent location above average terrain, take your HT and maybe a portable yagi antenna, and try to make a few contacts.  The ARRL removed the rule against contest operations on 146.52, although most contesters still steer clear of it as a courtesy.  Try 146.55 MHz. Tune around the simplex frequencies. The ARRL 2 meter band plan is available at http://www.arrl.org/band-plan and http://w2pe.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/2-Meter-BandPlan.pdf.

Get on the air this weekend.

For more info see http://www.k0nr.com/wordpress/my-articles/how-to-work-a-vhf-contest/ and http://www.fcarc.org/contest_vhf.htm.

January 11, 2017

Signal-3 Issue #6 released.

Issue #6 has been released.  Everyone who subscribed should have the link messages in their inbox.  If you don't, please email me - sparks31commo@gmail.com - so I can get you squared away.

Thank you to everyone who has supported Signal-3 and the Sparks31 blog over the years.

Let's hope this New Year is better than the last.


January 5, 2017

Slinky Antenna Links




A Reader Asks: Curious About an Antenna

Via email:

I received notice of this and, being a complete newbie to comms, wasn't certain if one or both were investing in to store away till I am able to use properly. I recall a story that soldiers used to toss Slinkies into trees for use as antennae but that may be a myth. This did remind me of that, though. Your thoughts much appreciated.

CountyComm makes good stuff, and the antenna is a good piece of kit, especially if you're at the stage where you're not yet confident to roll your own.

January 1, 2017

A Reader Sends: Arrow Antenna / Fire Story THANK YOU

Via email:

When I took your SC class you mentioned the Arrow Antennas.  You talked and demonstrated the loop and attenuator but I don’t remember a directional antenna suggestion.  I have seen the 146-3 suggested.

That is just VHF.  Do you agree or have a better selection for directional communications.

I want the best backpack solution.  I live in hills/mountains.

I checked in the signal-3 drive to see if you had discussed this antenna and checked your books but did not find anything.  I don’t want to bother you but I don’t want to waste money.



We here in the mountains of SC had a large fire in Table Rock state park that traveled to NC.  We had several family friends in harms way.  We went to an initial fire briefing by the park service and they gave us a web site to check for updates.  This websites was useless.  During our family fire assist operations we were running radios and I had a RS Pro-197 available to me.  I was able to use the signal stalker capability and pick up some of the air and ground frequencies.  Because of your training I was able to keep our group informed.   This was real life important and I can’t thank you enough for all you do to train us.

I had to go mobile for operations for one day and could not bring the scanner.  This led me to purchase the BCD436HP.  I am busy learning this scanner so I can get the most from it.  I made sure it had the close call capability.  I want to be ready for any storm ahead. 

THANK YOU so much sir.


  1. This is an example of why listening is >2X as important as transmitting. 
  2. Arrow Antenna makes a good product.  The one I use, and that you see in a lot of posts is the Model 146/437-10WBP.  The URL is http://www.arrowantennas.com/arrowii/146-437.html. It is the split-boom model that comes with the duplexer.  I usually store/carry mine, along with a few other antenna piece parts, in a CountyComm Maratac Sat-Com Bag. (https://countycomm.com/collections/view-all-storage-products/products/sat-com-bag-by-maratac-rev-3).

(Kinda Sorta) Happy New Year

Happy New Year. In a few weeks, President-Elect Donald Trump will be sworn into office. That may give the country a four year stay of execution, if his campaign was not a scam and if the majority of CONgress cooperates with him. The new administration is already off to a rocky start with many of the same members of the old-boy network that helped screw things up in the first place being recruited, various so-called “left wing” groups ramping up their protest and propaganda apparatus, and the usual protected minority group suspects acting up in public places. Not to mention the current lame duck POTUS pissing off the Russians and American gun owners as his first parting shots to the country who decided his party's choice was not the lesser of two evils. The reality is that a simple change in the leader of the executive branch of our government in and of itself is not going to fix this country. The legislative branch needs to get off their ass too, and 4-8 years may be enough time to get things started in the right direction if a majority decides to cooperate. For you, Joe Average, the realistic effects of this are simply and only two-fold.

The first effect is that “gun control” legislation, that is, legislation that impinges on your God-given right to arm yourself for sustainment, personal protection, and defense against a whole assortment of bad actors1, might be slowed or halted for the next 4-8 years, giving you the opportunity to get anything you might be missing, in particular stock up on parts, ammo and reloading supplies to keep your smoke-poles going. At some point in the not too distant future, I'll be giving my take on that from what I've learned and done over the years. There really are no right or wrong answers for this, and a lot of it is based on where you live and hunt. The key word however is “sustainability.” And with that word, I get to the second effect…

More important than getting your gun gear in order, is using that 4-8 year stay of execution towards getting your personal life in order. If you are reading this, and you live in what is now called the “Blue Archipelago,” you need to move your ass to someplace Red. Blue regions are bad, and will get worse, especially if you don't go along with the majority there. Most Red regions afford a better overall lifestyle, and will welcome you as long as you're not a total cock-walloping asshole. The artificial “economy” looks like it will be getting a boost for a while. That means you should be able to find a job that increases your income level, and affords you the ability to better get your act together. This country is now down-grid in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged-style, and the smart person will acknowledge that fact and proceed accordingly. Do you have a decent paying job that pays your bills and affords you a little extra to help get your shit together? Good. Now do you engage in something during your free time that enables you to learn a decent practical skill, and might be able to provide a source of part-time or post-collapse income? If not, you better get on it! It doesn't matter what it is. Just. Do. It. The country needs more hobby blacksmiths, leather-workers, basket weavers, electronic tinkers, welders, rabbit breeders, gunsmiths, etc. etc. etc. When you become really good at it, I mean approaching professional level, then you can trade the products and services from your hobbies for other products and services from your neighbors who have different hobbies. I have seen this work with my own eyes. Barter = Freedom. It will also help with your resettlement from a Blue Hellhole to God's Country.

So despite the proclamations of many, matters in this country are not “all good” now because a seemingly populist candidate was elected into office, and his nominal political party2 achieved a majority in the legislative branch. Don't go to sleep. If you are not in a sustainable location outside the Blue Archipelago, you need to get there. If you are not working your way towards self-sufficiency, self-reliance, and preparedness among other like-minded individuals, you need to start. If you do not have a hobby or two that you not only enjoy doing, but can translate into part-time income in the future, you should work on that.

1 The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution only acknowledges that right, and even then they weasel-worded it when they had to write it down. You were born with it when God and your parents brought you into this world. You exercise it by killing bad people who try to do bad things to you, by declaring “not guilty” when you're a juror in a trial for some unfortunate person being wrongly prosecuted for doing same, and by using the ballot and soap boxes to remove bad politicians from office so they don't screw things up further. The Bill of Rights by itself is really only a bunch of words on paper. Its power comes from a people who will accept nothing less, and are willing to fight for it.
2 Remember, and never forget, how the Republican establishment fought him tooth and nail before he won the Primary, and how many acted the same even after he won.