Tag Archives: Preparedness

Jeff designs an SDR “Go Kit” around the Softrock Ensemble

SoftrockGoKit1Jeffrey Fritz (WB1AAL) contacted me with details about his SDR (Software Defined Radio) “Go Kit” and has kindly allowed me to post it.

Jeff writes:

As a reader of the SWLing blog, I know that you are very interested in SDR. And you probably know that a “Go Kit” is a portable ham radio system in a case that can be moved at a moment’s notice and set up at another moment’s notice virtually anywhere.

I have a VHF Go Kit made up for emergency events. It is complete with waterproof carrying case, Aden PCS-7000H two-meter transceiver, a Kenwood VHF tuner, a Kenwood SW-100 VHF SWR bridge and two antennas (a 2-meter J-pole made out of twin lead and a two meter mag mount.) But what if there is a need to monitor the HF bands during the same event?

Now that I own a Flex-1500 SDR transceiver, the Softrock Ensemble SDR receiver that I bought a while ago has become somewhat redundant. It is still a serviceable radio and works fine, but it can’t hold a candle to the amazing Flex-1500. While I could turn it into a panadapter or sell it on eBay, eHam, etc., I had a better idea.

To monitor the HF ham bands, I could use something like my Grundig G3 shortwave radio in my Go Kit. While it is portable, battery operated and will tune LSB and USB, listening to SSB or even CW in an emergency situation with the G3 can be a bit of a chore. (Think of the old boat anchors with their main tuning and fine tuning band spread dials, but now make both dials tiny and you’ll get the idea.) Instead, why not build a 12-volt battery supply with common, easy to obtain batteries? I could connect it to the Softrock Ensemble and then via a USB audio interface to a battery powered laptop. Add a pair of headphones and we are in business.

That is just what I’ve done.

I’ve attached some photos of my most recent project–done this past weekend actually. [Check out photos above and below] It’s an SDR Go Kit. One of the attached photos shows the laptop and the Softrock Ensemble SDR receiving 40-meter band SSB while entirely being operated on battery power. There is no power switch. You simply pull the DC jack out of the Softrock Ensemble SDR radio when it isn’t in use. Simple as it gets! The other photo shows the battery pack built into a (ahem!) Preparation H Pad holder pack. (Now, I am not saying who used this!)

Ah but what will battery life be like with 8 C cells in series driving the receiver? It’s too soon to say because I just put it together an hour ago. But here’s a guess:

SoftrockGoKit2The Softrock Ensemble draws 18 mA at 12.6 volts (my measurement.) An Alkaline ‘C’ battery can supply up to 8,000 mAh, so doing some math and assuming fresh batteries, the battery pack should run the radio for roughly 400 hours. (Hopefully my math is correct!) If so, then I think that the laptop batteries will give out long before the life span of the C Cell is reached!

73,

Jeff, WB1AAL

Jeff, this is an excellent use for the Softrock Ensemble. I imagine it will run for a very long time drawing only 18 mA. I have a “Go Kit” for QRP ham radio purposes and one for SWLing during travels. You’ve inspired me to piece together a proper receiver “Go Kit” to be used in case of emergencies.

Readers: If you have a project, like Jeff, that you’d like to share on the SWLing Post, feel free to contact me with details!

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Hurricane Sandy: Getting prepared

Self-powered radios can be your link to your community and to the world in the wake of a hurricane or other natural disasters.

I don’t know of many people living in eastern North America who aren’t a little nervous about what Hurricane Sandy could bring in the next few days. Several models point to some pretty severe weather and predict power outages in the wake of storm surge, high winds and rising water levels.

Of course, it’s difficult to prepare this close to a weather event as supplies are typically low and demand is high. We radio enthusiasts are well aware of the importance of radio supplies, but there’s so much more to include to have preparedness basics in place.

Sandy may or may not pan out to be a memorable weather event, but we can take this opportunity as a reminder to be prepared.

No matter where you live, spend some time preparing for natural disasters or interruptions to public utilities. We have several helpful posts on the SWLing Post which can help you with this very thing. If you do nothing else, make sure you at least read this post and this post.

Here’s a full list of relevant posts from our archives:

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Severe Weather: Are you prepared?

As I was listening to reports of tropical storm (now hurricane) Isaac this morning on the radio and a lot of emphasis was placed on preparedness for those who lie in his path.

Of course, it’s difficult to prepare this close to a weather event as supplies are typically low and demand is high. We radio enthusiasts are well aware of the importance of radio supplies, but there’s so much more to include to have preparedness basics in place.

Isaac may or may not pan out to be a memorable weather event, but we can take this opportunity as a reminder to be prepared. Indeed, the US National Weather Service predicts that we will have an active hurricane season in here in the states. If weather in Europe follows the same course, it could be bitterly cold and snowy. Typhoons in Asia have also been active most recently.

No matter where you live, spend some time preparing for natural disasters or interruptions to public utilities. We have several helpful posts on the SWLing Post which can help you with this very thing.  Take a look at the following in our archives:

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Telegraph operations in the Great Auroral Storm of 1859

Sunspots of September 1, 1859, as sketched by Richard Carrington A and B mark the initial positions of an intensely bright event, which moved over the course of 5 minutes to C and D before disappearing. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

These days, CMEs and solar flares get a great deal of media attention. But it’s mostly speculation–for even with our advanced abilities to measure the potential impact, we can’t be sure what will happen each time this occurs. Might this solar flare be strong enough to damage our satellites and electrical infrastructure? we may wonder. Could it ‘fry’ our electrical grid?

The concerns are merely speculative. But is there actual cause for concern? Surely. A massive solar flare could damage much of our technology in space–such as our satellites–and could also certainly cause headaches for those who manage our electrical grids.

But do we know how powerful solar events can be? History may hold the answer.

In September of 1859, a solar flare was so massive that there were newspaper reports of it across the globe, and many found the strange light it created baffling. Of course, now, there’s no speculation as to what happened then–eyewitness accounts and plenty of written evidence in this pre-internet era paint a clear picture of a massive coronal ejection. This event has been referenced many times as a benchmark–one that, should it happen now, would certainly give us serious pause.  Technologically, that is.

I happened upon a fantastic article about the 1859 flare on ARS Technica called: 1859’s “Great Auroral Storm”—the week the Sun touched the earth.

The following is an excerpt:

It hit quickly. Twelve hours after Carrington’s discovery and a continent away, “We were high up on the Rocky Mountains sleeping in the open air,” wrote a correspondent to the Rocky Mountain News. “A little after midnight we were awakened by the auroral light, so bright that one could easily read common print.” As the sky brightened further, some of the party began making breakfast on the mistaken assumption that dawn had arrived.

Across the United States and Europe, telegraph operators struggled to keep service going as the electromagnetic gusts enveloped the globe. In 1859, the US telegraph system was about 20 years old, and Cyrus Field had just built his transatlantic cable from Newfoundland to Ireland, which would not succeed in transmitting messages until after the American Civil War.

“Never in my experience of fifteen years in working telegraph lines have I witnessed anything like the extraordinary effect of the Aurora Borealis between Quebec and Farther Point last night,” wrote one telegraph manager to the Rochester Union & Advertiser on August 30:

The line was in most perfect order, and well skilled operators worked incessantly from 8 o’clock last evening till one this morning to get over in an intelligible form four hundred words of the report per steamer Indian for the Associated Press, and at the latter hour so completely were the wires under the influence of the Aurora Borealis that it was found utterly impossible to communicate between the telegraph stations, and the line had to be closed.

But if the following newspaper transcript of a telegraph operator exchange between Portland and Boston is to be believed, some plucky telegraphers improvised, letting the storm do the work that their disrupted batteries couldn’t:

Boston operator, (to Portland operator) – “Please cut off your battery entirely from the line for fifteen minutes.”

Portland operator: “Will do so. It is now disconnected.”

Boston: “Mine is disconnected, and we are working with the auroral current. How do you receive my writing?”

Portland: “Better than with our batteries on. Current comes and goes gradually.”

Boston: “My current is very strong at times, and we can work better without the batteries, as the Aurora seems to neutralize and augment our batteries alternately, making current too strong at times for our relay magnets.

Suppose we work without batteries while we are affected by this trouble.”

Portland: “Very well. Shall I go ahead with business?”

Boston: “Yes. Go ahead.”

Telegraphers around the US reported similar experiences. “The wire was then worked for about two hours without the usual batteries on the auroral current, working better than with the batteries connected,” said the Washington Daily National Intelligencer. “Who now will dispute the theory that the Aurora Borealis is caused by electricity?” asked the Washington Evening Star.

Read the full and fascinating article, 1859’s “Great Auroral Storm”—the week the Sun touched the earth on arstechnica.

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My New Year’s preparedness test

Last year, we published two popular articles on preparedness. As I mention in the articles, I’m no hard-core survivalist, but I certainly believe in  being prepared.

This year, on New Year’s day, I got tested. Big time.  Here’s what happened:

Our hero on New Year's Day 2012

We had planned a New Year’s day lunch for twelve, which meant quite a bit of food preparation. I was chef for the day.  At 11:00 am, right after I had just begun searing a large pork roast with the intention of cooking it in the pressure cooker, the lights went out.  I thought perhaps a circuit breaker had tripped. One glance at the power meter, though, and I knew there was no electricity on tap.

So–although we’re not talking life and death here–I had a huge, raw (and frankly expensive) hunk of locally-raised pork to prepare, not to mention all the vegetables I intended to cook; no lights; no water (i.e., no toilet flushing); no auxiliary heat–and a herd of guests, all of whom had driven at least an hour’s distance, en route and looking forward to a delectable dinner.  I didn’t even have time to call the power company to report the power failure. What’s more, as we live in the middle of nowhere, in a best-case scenario it would take the company at least two hours to get here…and on New Year’s Day?

But I try to practice what I preach.

I have a 5550 Watt portable Genrac generator that we use in case of power failure –mainly to supply power to our water pump, lights, and a few appliances (like a microwave). It’s at least six years old, but works beautifully for those modest energy requirements. BUT:  I had never tested the generator with the stove top.  And looking at my raw dinner, and at the clock, I decided I was going to.  No way was my nice cut of pork going to be crammed into our microwave.

So I washed my hands, and zipped around the house turning off all unnecessary power loads and sensitive equipment (radios, computers, router, modem, lights, etc.). I then stepped outside, poured about two gallons of gas from the 10-15 gallons I keep on hand for emergencies into my generator, and fired her up. Though this unit doesn’t have electronic ignition, it did start almost immediately, because I test it every couple of months.

Our external generator connector box

I plugged the generator into our breaker box via an external junction and 12′, 240V  cord that we had installed by a certified electrician earlier this year.  This system included a fail-safe switch that forces us to disconnect our house from the grid, prior to permitting the generator to do its job (lest our power hurt someone working on the power lines).

I flipped the switch, walked back into the house, and saw that the generator had restored our lighting. Still, the lingering uncertainty in my mind was, “Will the generator power the stove’s burner so that I can at least cook the pork and veggies?” I listened to the generator hum as I turned the burner dial on…it barely strained. Whew!

This switch, located on our breaker box, prevents the generator from being connected to the house while the grid is connected.

Over the course of the next hour, guests started arriving; I continued to cook as if we had grid power. It was amazing. Everyone looked a little puzzled when they drove up and heard the generator running, but inside, found us enjoying lights, music, warmth, and the delightful aroma of the succulent pork and apples.  Happily, the meal went off without a hitch.

Mind you, I don’t think the generator could have handled the load of the water pump and the stove top if we didn’t have solar hot water and passive solar heating.  An electric furnace and electric hot water heating elements in a traditional water heater would have simply been too much of a load.

So what’s my point?

I know people who go through a nasty power outage and say, “never again!” They either:

  • Install an extremely expensive automatic propane or diesel backup generator
  • Buy a portable generator like mine, but fail to keep spare fuel on hand, or to test it on occasion

Obviously, neither is ideal.

Preparedness is as much about testing and understanding the limits of what you have–running a few “real-life” scenarios to flesh out anything you might overlook in an actual outage–like fuel, a non-functioning generator, power cords, etc.

And my radios?  Not only will the generator power all of my tabletop receivers and ham radio transceivers, but I keep a separate 40 aH sealed battery fully charged, and at-the-ready, at all times.

After all, every seasoned radio hobbyist who lives in a populated area knows that the best and quietest conditions for catching a little DX is when all of your neighbors’ power is out!

Always keep spare batteries and power for your radios when the grid fails. Don’t just do it for preparedness’ sake, do it for your listening ears!

Happy New Year, and 73s, friends!

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