Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Lessons learned from the New Orleans Bug Out

There's a good thread going on over at THR about lessons learned from the bug out situation down in New Orleans. I'll repost my contribution regarding emergency communications here:

I haven't seen emergency comms mentioned yet so here's my $0.02...

Charged cell phones along with car chargers, or your regular wall charger + a power inverter for the car. IF you are in an area where they work, a cell phone can let you call relatives/friends outside the danger area.

FRS/GMRS radios. FRS doesn't require a license, while GMRS does (although it's just a fee, no test required, and the license covers your immediate family). Good for short range commo, e.g., between vehicles in a bug out situation. GMRS gives you somewhat longer range, though both require line of sight. FRS/GMRS radios can be picked up cheap at any of the big box stores, from Home Depot to WalMart, to Radio Shack. If you keep an eye out you may be able to find them DIRT CHEAP. E.g., I got a pair of Midland FRS/GMRS last year from MidwayUSA for the whopping sum of $6 + S&H.

CB radio. No license required. These are still useful, although you do hear a lot of garbage, much of which is not suitable for sensitive ears. I have a portable in my truck with an external magnet-mount whip antenna. It's great for listening to truckers for real-time traffic reports and has kept me out of several jams. Also good for short-range commo. Most CBs are AM, but Single Side Band CBs will give you longer range, although you'll only be able to talk to other SSB CB users.

Ham (Amateur) radio. Here's where it gets good, IMO. I got my ticket last month. Although you need a license, the entry-level Technician class license isn't hard to get, and the info you learn while studying for the exam can be useful. You can get a good handheld (AKA "handie talkie" or "HT") for as little as $100 which will allow you to transmit and receive on the 2M FM band. These are good for commo up to several miles if you have line of sight. I can hit a 2M repeater ~10 miles away from inside my house with my Yaesu VX-5RS. Once I get my General ticket I'll be able to use the HF bands and transmit much longer distances without relying on a repeater.

Hams are currently in action down in the area affected by Katrina. Among other things, they've been able to direct rescue personnel to people stranded by floodwaters.

I don't want to encourage unlicensed use, but in an emergency FCC rules about unlicensed transmission go out the window. You're allowed to use any means of communication to secure aid to preserve human life or property against immediate threats. IMO, the most important part about getting one's ham license is getting familiar with proper operating procedures, which are critical when TSHTF.

Satellite phone is another option, although I have little knowledge of it.

A NOAA weather radio should be in your disaster kit, if one of your other radios doesn't also pick up these channels. In my case, my Midland CB already does, so I don't have a separate unit.

A portable AM/FM radio for listening to local news reports. If it picks up shortwave or the NOAA weather channels, it'll be more versatile. Some also allow you to listen to the audio portion of TV broadcasts. I'm currently shopping for a multi-band AM/FM/SW radio so if anyone has recommendations, I'm all ears.

Don't forget plenty of batteries, chargers, appropriate AC adapters, and a power inverter so you can plug them into the cigarrette lighter in your vehicle.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Free Opera Browser Registration

Opera is celebrating the 10th anniversary of their browser by making free registration codes available for a limited time. Opera is doing this from 12am August 30th to 12am August 31st PDT. Go here to get your free codes.

I'll still rely on Firefox as my main browser, but Opera is nice and I do like to use it sometimes.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

I defiled Bagend today

Long-time readers may remember that the new PC I built for myself back last Fall is named Bagend. Heretofore, it's been running SUSE Linux Professional, first v9.0, but soon upgraded to v9.2. Since I picked up my iBook back in December, it's been mostly idle, though.

Today, I defiled it. I backed up all my data to DVD-R, wiped the drive, and installed Windows XP.

{Pauses to let the screams die down.}

I have need of a Windows box, and more importantly, need to be able to print to my Samsung ML-1710 printer over the LAN. I was able to get the printer working OK locally, but never got SUSE configured right to let me print from other local hosts. Printing in Linux still sucks, IMHO, and I don't have the time to dink with it.

The Windows install went pretty smoothly. I couldn't find the driver CDs for my Asus A7N8X-X mobo or Asus/ATI Radeon 9200SE video card. Bagend has a 3Com 3C-905TX NIC in it, so the fact that XP didn't see the onboard nVidia NIC wasn't fatal, nor was XP's inability to see the onboard Realtek AC-97 audio. I downloaded the drivers from Asus' website and got them both working. I'll yank the 3Com card for my parts bin eventually.

The box is running smoothly under Windows. It's pretty fast, with an AMD AlthonXP 2200+, 512 MB of RAM, and an 80 GB hard disk (35 GB for C: with the rest for D:).

So far, I've added a bunch of my regular Windows programs:
  • AVG Free Antivirus
  • Spybot Search & Destroy
  • Lavasoft Ad-Aware PE
  • CoreFTP
  • Quicktime
  • Firefox
  • iTunes
  • Cygwin
  • Irfanview
I'll install, a PDF creation tool, and other stuff as time goes on. Since I don't anticipate burning a lot of discs, I'm probably going to use CDBurnerXP Pro for CD and DVD creation.

Excuse me, I need to go wash.

Thursday, August 25, 2005


We've been getting a lot of work done around the house this Summer. (Yay for real estate appreciation and home equity loans!)

A couple of weeks ago we had the water heater replaced. Water heaters last about 10 years around here due to the incredible amount of lime in the water. Our old one's ability to heat the water had seriously degraded, to the point where we only got lukewarm water from the tap. The other risk you run with an old heater is a flood. I experienced that once when living with my folks and don't want it here. The same day, our plumber also replaced several of the old shutoff valves in the house with new ball valves that make it a lot easier to cut off the water to a faucet.

Last week, we got a new gas fireplace to replace the old, unsafe POS that came with the house. It looks one hell of a lot nicer than the old one, and gives off a lot more heat. A part was missing from the fireplace, and we're still waiting for it. We also need to have an electrician run a 110v line to power the blowers, and I'll need to finish wooden base of our marble-topped hearth. I'm leaning towards boiled linseed oil or tung oil, since we like the natural wood color.

Yesterday and today we got new Certainteed windows all around. The house still had the original, circa 1958 windows. Aside from lacking insulating value, they leaked like sieves and we couldn't open all of them due to problems with the screens. We used a local contractor who's done a ton of work in my neighborhood, including the new gutters and soffets we got last year. What an improvement.

Our living and dining rooms are a construction zone. The original owner had installed a few huge floor-to-ceiling mirrors and decorative beams. The mirrors were both obnoxious and detrimental -- the idiot who installed them blocked air vents. The beams looked OK but the three against the front wall prevented us from installing the windowscreens in the living room (now a moot issue due to the new windows). We wanted them gone anyway, for a cleaner look. The guy doing the living and dining room wanted to wait to finish until the window guys were done, so the new paint doesn't get FUBARed, which is sensible. We're hoping he'll be finished by the end of next week.

The final project and which will probably add the most value to the house is getting our master bathroom completely gutted down to the studs, and everything from the plumbing on up replaced. We're looking at September for this to get done.

It's all costing an assload of money, but we think it'll be worth it. It's greatly improving the livibility of the house, while the windows and fireplace should help to pay for themselves in reduced utility bills. With the way real estate has been going we can't afford a new home in Montgomery County, and we're tied to the area. So, it makes more sense to fluff 'n' buff the old place. We'll be here a long time.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

MFJ1720S Antenna

After reading some of the reviews on, last week I picked up an MFJ1720S tri-band antenna for my Yaesu VX-5RS. I wanted something that offered better transmission and reception performance than the stock rubber duckie.

The MFJ1720S is 19" long, so it's quarter-wave for 2M and 6M (due to end loading, I guess), and 5/8 wave for 70cm. It can handle up to 10W transmit power; my VX-5RS will Tx at 5W max. It's pretty whippy and I may tie some orange or yellow plastic to the tip to help prevent anyone from poking out an eye.

I got to use the new antenna for the first time Sunday night, when I checked into the 2030 MARC net (I really need to send in my membership app for MARC) on 2M. I asked for a signal report, and net control told me that while there was some background noise, they were able to understand me just fine over the repeater. From my listening point, there was some background white noise, and of course it's easier to setup with this thing than my homebrewed J-Pole.

So far, it works good on 2M but I haven't been able to try it out while talking to anyone on 6M or 70cm.

Monday, August 22, 2005

.30 Carbine Defense Ammunition

The M1 Carbine is one of my favorite rifles. It is, in my opinion, and excellent choice as a defensive carbine for civilians due to its reliability (in USGI form, anyway), nearly nonexistent recoil, light weight, and excellent handling. .30 Carbine FMJ Ball is not a great choice for defense though, because it fails to take advantage of the round's ballistics and penetrates too much. (See for example, some of the testing done in the Box O' Truth.) But a good expanding load turns an M1 Carbine into the ballistic equivalent of a semiauto .357 Magnum rifle, which is nothing to sneeze at.

Yesterday at the Rally Point Shoot, I got the chance to speak with Mike Shovel, Sales Manager for Cor-Bon. I asked him if CB is working on defensive ammo for .30 Carbine. He informed me that they are.

The Cor-Bon .30 Carbine load is being developed around a Barnes X-Bullet (solid copper HP). I've seen the Internet rumors about a PowerBall .30 Carbine but apparently they're going with the Barnes. The final load will probably have a 100 grain bullet going about 1800 - 1900 FPS. What's proving difficult is getting it to feed reliably in the M1, which wasn't designed for anything but Ball. They currently have no estimated time-to-market, but are working on it.

Currently, the three most commonly available expanding loads for .30 Carbine are Remington's 110 grain jacketed soft point, Winchester's 110 grain jacketed hollow/soft point, and Federal's jacketed soft point. Of the three, the Remington performs the best in ballistic gelatin tests with Winchester placing second. The Federal JSPs apparently perform like FMJ Ball.

Jim Cirrillo, formerly of the NYPD's Stakeout Squad, has written in the past that the Winchester load performed very well in actual shootings. He's said that it puts the bad guys down about as fast as anything else.

So far the only soft points I've put through my Underwood M1 have been Magtech 110 grain JSPs. Unortunately, I had several failures to feed with it. The Magtech ammo was clean but seemed a bit underpowered, compared to the RA-52 Ball I subsequently shot.

When I had an Iver Johnson Carbine back in the 1980s, I did some handloading for it using Speer 100 grain half jacket "Plinker" bullets, doing about 1800 - 1900 FPS at the muzzle. They were reliable but less accurate than 110 grain loads, especially at 100 yards.

A correspondent has reported handloading Remington 110 grain JSPs to about 1900 FPS on top of WC820 powder (surplus H110). (I won't post specific powder charges, check a reloading manual and carefully work up to maximum loads!) He's noted that it's reliable, and of course with those number it should provide good terminal ballistics.

Perhaps less interesting, I also ran 50 rounds of Wolf .30 Carbine through my Underwood M1 yesterday. It functioned fine, although this is obviously a very limited test. I've generally had good results with Wolf in .223, 7.62x39, and .45 ACP, so I wanted to check out a potentially good practice load in .30 Carbine. I'll put another couple hundred rounds of Wolf through the M1 before I sink any money into a case, though. I did have one stovepipe with the gun later, but it was RA-52 Ball that came from a sealed can I bought from Ammonman a couple of years ago. Go figure.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

The Rally Point Shoot August 20, 2005

Yesterday I went to The Rally Point Shoot held at Water & Wings in East Greenville, PA. Total turnout was about 50 people, including several new shooters. Kudos go out to the organizers, Jamie, Geoff, and all the other folks who helped out, for putting together a well-organized, safe event.

First, a couple shots of the 50 yard range:

A few of the neat guns seen (yes, the first one is an M-60 machinegun):

And finally, the group pic. The gent in the yellow shirt on the far left is Jamie, the primary organizer. I'm all the way on the right, kneeling in a boonie hat, and holding my Lithgow Short Magazine Lee-Enfield Mk.III*, compleat with bayonet.

Feinstein, Schumer, et al. can go FOAD.

Edit: Argh! So much for using Yahoo Photos for picture hosting. I uploaded them to so they should be visible for everyone now.

Friday, August 19, 2005

SUSE 9.3 Initial Impressions

I loaded SUSE 9.3 onto my test Dell D600 this morning. This is a dual-boot box, with Windows XP Pro on one partition, and SUSE on the other half of the drive, divided roughly in half between / and /home. Rather than doing an "upgrade," which based on prior experience takes a long time, I did a clean install.

As with previous SUSE installs, YaST handled things pretty easily, although I had to tweak the video settings a bit to get anything more than 640x480. Also, sound isn't working yet, although I had the same problem with 9.2 and never got around to fixing it.

One thing I noticed almost immediately is that 9.3 is more responsive than 9.2. KDE 3.4.0 Level b is noticeably snappier than previous versions that I've worked with. Also, the Adobe Acrobat browser plugin is much, much faster inside Firefox than I've seen on any other computer.

SUSE 9.3 isn't without its faults, however. I've noticed that changes to network settings made in YaST sometimes need a reboot, when they are something that should take effect after reloading the network config. E.g., changing IP or DNS settings. And, as mentioned above, sound isn't yet working and video while acceptable, isn't yet optimal.

That said, SUSE 9.3 is definitely worth a gander if you're in need of a desktop Linux distributions.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Back in the office

I'm back from my trip to NY.

Aside from general catch-up, this afternoon I grabbed all five ISOs for SUSE 9.3 from Historically, SUSE has been available for download only as an FTP install, or as a live CD/DVD. Novell recently changed that and appears to be moving to a Red Hat/Fedora Core development model for SUSE Professional. Although the first beta of SUSE 10 is up, I'm not interested in beta software now.

I plan to upgrade the SUSE 9.2 install on my test Dell D600 at work, which is a dual boot machine also running XP Pro. A coworked is planning to setup an XP desktop box in our lab as another dual boot machine. And Bagend, my neglected-of-late homebrewed Athlon box will get updated as well.

I'm hoping that SUSE 9.3 fixes two major bugs that I encountered with 9.2, to wit:

  • On both the D600 and Bagend, I'm unable to run any of the Mozilla apps (Mozilla, Firebird, or Thunderbird) within KDE. They all segfault if launched in KDE, but work ok under Windowmaker or if I run a them from an X session exported to my iBook.
  • On the D600, K3B consistently crashes if I try to burn an ISO image to CD (which is why I'm burning the SUSE 9.3 ISOs using Nero Burning ROM on Windows XP).
I'll follow up with my impressions of the new OS after I've taken it for a spin.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Finished with the VOD testing

It looks like I've completing testing the video on demand testing after finishing testing our third transport media yesterday. Now I need to finish my formal writeup and arrange for the gear to be shipped to another department for its testing.

I am glad to no longer have this hanging over my head, that's for sure.

Side note: I'm heading up to NY to visit a terminally ill relative so I won't be posting for a couple of days.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

My first Ham contact

Last night I made my first ham contact. But first, a discussion about antennas.

As I previously posted, for my first radio I picked up a Yaesu VX-5RS handy talkie ("HT"). As with most other HTs, it came with a "rubber ducky" antenna. Rubber duckies are good for compactness but not much else. They don't work well if you don't have direct line of sight to the other party to your radio conversation.

One way to improve the situation is to use a J-Pole antenna. They can be constructed cheaply from 300 Ohm twin-lead TV antenna wire. So, over the weekend I picked up a 50 foot lenght of the stuff, along with a 10 foot RG58 coaxial cable terminated with BNC connectors on both ends.

The problem I ran into when making the J-Pole was that I kept breaking one wire or another when trying to strip off a length of it. After several tries and many cusswords, I decided to look around the house and see what other kind of wire I had that I could use. Then I remembered I had a bunch of Romex 3 conductor electrical wire, as used in AC house wiring. I had a scrap piece that was about the right length. Bingo!

The Romex conductors are solid copper, rather than the stranded conductors found in twin-lead. Also, they are a much heavier gauge. After I stripped off the outer sheath, I used the two insulated wires, setting aside the uninsulated wire used for a ground. I was then easily able to strip a couple of inches off the end of each wire. I bent about a quarter inch at each end and soldered them together after placing them in a vice.

Then I cut one BNC connector off the piece of coax, stripped it so a length of the center conductor was exposed, and twisted the braided shield into a wire. The center conductor got soldered to the white piece of Romex, while I soldered the braid to the black piece.

I cut the black piece to the same length as shown in the linked diagram, you don't need the piece above the cut. The white piece was cut to 54". To keep the two wires separated, I took some wood pegs I had on hand and used them as spacers, holding them in place with electrical tape. The soldered joints were also taped.

Finally, I made a loop with a plastic cable tie and taped it to the end of the J-Pole, so the whole thing can be hung up.

I'll admit, it looks like a Bubba job, but as I found out, it works pretty darn well.

I took my new antenna and the radio into the den and looked around for something to hang it on. Nothing, so I went back into my shop and got a 4 foot plastic level, which I jammed vertically in between the cushions on my sofa, and hung the J-Pole on it using a tie wrap. Bubba indeed!

Connecting the coax to my radio in lieu of the rubber ducky, I tuned to around 145 Mhz and started scanning. I quickly came upon the Wednesday night WB3JOE MARC net on 145.130 MHz. After RTFMing, I setup the Yaesu to connect to the repeater and join the net.

It should be noted that the repeater is located in Paoli, about 15 miles away from me in Plymouth Meeting. So, it seems to me that the antenna works pretty well considering (a) the distance I am from the repeater, (b) the fact that I was inside at ground level, and (c) the low power -- 5W -- I was transmitting. It should work even better outside with the antenna elevated more.

The net had participants from as far away as Lancaster, PA and Avalon, NJ, although I'm not sure if they were connecting via linked repeaters or directly. Net control was handled by Ian, KB3JAH. Everyone was very welcoming to this newbie and I'm looking forward to future nets.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Got my ham ticket today

Damn that was fast. I checked the FCC's ULS database online today and the "paperwork" (in quotes because it was submitted electronically) for my no-code Technician's license was processed. I now have my call letters and can start transmitting.


Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Fun with ifconfig on Mac OS-X

One of the UNIX utilities I use all the time on OS-X is ifconfig, the command line program for configuring your computer's network interfaces. Since I often have a terminal window open, I find it faster to use ifconfig to find out my IP address than to open the System Preferences > Network utility. If you run ifconfig in a terminal without any arguments, you get output that looks like this:

Dave-Markowitzs-Computer:~ davemarkowitz$ ifconfig
lo0: flags=8049 mtu 16384
inet netmask 0xff000000
inet6 ::1 prefixlen 128
inet6 fe80::1%lo0 prefixlen 64 scopeid 0x1
gif0: flags=8010 mtu 1280
stf0: flags=0<> mtu 1280
en0: flags=8863 mtu 1500
inet netmask 0xfffffc00 broadcast
ether 00:0d:93:70:ed:44
media: autoselect (100baseTX ) status: active
supported media: none autoselect 10baseT/UTP 10baseT/UTP 10baseT/UTP 100baseTX 100baseTX 100baseTX
en1: flags=8863 mtu 1500
ether 00:11:24:26:23:5f
media: autoselect () status: inactive
supported media: autoselect
fw0: flags=8863 mtu 2030
lladdr 00:0d:93:ff:fe:70:ed:44
media: autoselect status: inactive
supported media: autoselect

If you just want to find out your IP, pipe the output to grep, like so:
Dave-Markowitzs-Computer:~ davemarkowitz$ ifconfig | grep inet
inet netmask 0xff000000
inet6 ::1 prefixlen 128
inet6 fe80::1%lo0 prefixlen 64 scopeid 0x1
inet netmask 0xfffffc00 broadcast
As you can see, it's a lot easier to sort out your IP address with grep.

Something I've been using a bit lately in the lab when testing equipment on one physical network which has two logical networks running on it, is to use IP aliasing. With IP aliasing you can use ifconfig to assign your network interface a second IP, simultaneous address.

For example, as you can see from the above example, my Ethernet port currently is assigned the IP address If I need to also be on the 192.168.0.x network, I can add an address in that subnet, like so:

Dave-Markowitzs-Computer:~ davemarkowitz$ sudo ifconfig en0 alias
Dave-Markowitzs-Computer:~ davemarkowitz$ ifconfig | grep inet
inet netmask 0xff000000
inet6 ::1 prefixlen 128
inet6 fe80::1%lo0 prefixlen 64 scopeid 0x1
inet netmask 0xfffffc00 broadcast
inet netmask 0xffffff00 broadcast
Notice that you need to prefix the ifconfig command with sudo, because ifconfig needs to run with administrative privileges. When you get the password prompt, enter your user password, not the root password. (Sudo implementations on other OSes may differ. E.g., on SUSE Linux you'd need to enter the root password.)

Finally, to remove an incorrect or unneeded IP alias, do this:

Dave-Markowitzs-Computer:~ davemarkowitz$ sudo ifconfig en0 -alias
More information about how to use ifconfig can be found by reading its man page ("man ifconfig").

Incidentally, I've replaced Apple's default with iTerm. It's open source and more configurable than, and most important to me, offers tabbed console windows. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Passed the Ham test

I passed the no-code Technician's amateur radio license exam yesterday morning. ASSuming that my forms don't get lost in the mail, I should have my call letters by the end of the week.

The exam wasn't very difficult; 35 multiple choice questions. It probably took me less than 10 minutes to finish the test. I used three things for studying:

1. "Now You're Talking!" published by the American Radio Relay League.
2. "Amateur Radio No-Code Technician License Examination Study Guide and Workbook," by Bruce Spratling, W8BBS. (PDF document.)
3. The free online tests at

If you're interested in taking the Tech exam, my suggestion is to read through Now You're Talking!, and review all the questions at the end of each section. Then go through the PDF. Finally, take as many of the tests as you have time for.

I've found some good websites about ham radio, too:

1. has a very nice equipment and vendor review section, plus forums.
3. ar-jedi from has a real nice portable setup.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Amazon Associate Program

This morning I signed up for the Associate program. With how long I've been on the 'net I should've done this a long time ago. I'm good at procrastinating, though.

The first item I'll link to as a recommendation is the Keystone USA-19HS USB-DB9 serial adapter. I have an Inland USB-serial adapter but it's apparently not Mac OS-compatible. I wanted something so I could use my iBook to access the console port on network elements. So, after some googling, I found the Keyspan unit, ordered it from Amazon, and it came yesterday. It requires a driver to be installed but doing so is very simple. For a console program I'm trying ZTerm. So far, so good.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Back in the lab

Today I'm back in the lab over in Moorestown to resume my streaming video testing.

When I left here on Friday I had five MPEG-2 streams running through our Blonder-Tongue MegaPort Gateway. When I came in they were all dead. I was able to login to the MPG and everything looked OK, but when I tried to start a stream it died within a couple of minutes. So, I rebooted the MPG and tried again. This time the video stayed up for a few minutes then tanked. I'm not yet sure if the problem is with the BT or the nCube server. Either way, I don't think trying to stream video over the BTs is going to be a vialbe solution, with the low number of simultaneous streams it can handle.

Wireless site visit

Yesterday I had to swing by the golf club where I installed a wifi hotspot back in the Spring. One of the guys there was concerned about low signal levels and wanted to ensure that it would be working OK for a conference being held there this Thursday.

I got there yesterday afternoon and fired up my iBook. I saw that the signal levels were fine, just as good as when I replaced the SMC WAPs with Netgears. We simultaneously checked with another employee's Dell laptop sporting a Linksys Wireless-G card. Afterwards, I doublechecked with my Dell with its Netgear Wireless-G card.

Being able to check with three different computers eliminated the possibility that a bad NIC would skew results. It also served to demonstrate that radio reception is dependent not only upon how strong a signal is being transmitted, but by how good the receiving antenna is.

As I've previously noticed, my iBook has a very good antenna built-in for the Airport Extreme card. The Netgear and Linksys PCMCIA adapters in the two Dells, however, don't have as much gain, and therefore have inferior reception.

One can buy wireless cards with high gain antennas for PCs. If you find yourself using hotspots but handicapped with poor reception, you might look around and see what's available with a high gain antenna. (I don't have any recommendations, unfortunately.)