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Tracy
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Outside the county
ARRL Volunteer Examiner 

SJC EMCOMM Freqs
SJC1 - 147.210 + 114.8 Stockton (Stockton Pri)
SJC2 - 146.655 - 100.0 Tracy (County Pri)
SJC3 - 145.210 - 100.0 Tracy (County B/up)
SJC4 - 147.090 + 114.8 Lodi (North Pri)
SJC5 - 146.985 - 100.0 Manteca
SJC6 - 147.165 + 107.2 SDARC
SJC7 - 147.015 + 114.8 Copperopolis
SJC8 - 147.105 + 94.8 Stockton
SJC9 - 146.895 - 114.8 Mt. Oso - Disabled
SJC10 - 444.400 + 114.8 Copperopolis
SJC11 - 444.325 + 94.8 Stockton (Stockton Pri)
SJC12 - 443.825 + 107.2 Mt. Oso
SJC13 - 444.575 + 107.2 Stockton
SJC14 - 444.850 + 114.8 127.3 Tracy 
SJC15 - 444.500 + 114.8 Stockton
LLNL - 146.775 - 100.0 Livermore


TAC1 - 146.550

TAC3 - 146.535
TAC4 - 146.430
TAC6 - 156.565
TAC7 - 146.595
TAC8 - 146.445
All simplex
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N5FDL/CEVOL Repeaters

Stockton: 147.210 + N5FDL and 444.500 + K6TRK Both PL 114.8 (linked)

Copperopolis/Gopher Ridge: 147.015 + and 444.400 +  (not linked) N6GKJ 

Mt. Oso: 146.895 - N5FDL and 443.825 + PL 107.2 (not linked)

Tracy: 444.850 + KB6EMK PL 127.3

Affiliated Repeaters

Bear Mtn.: 146.090 + and 444.250 + WB6ASU Both PL 114.8 (linked)

Mt. Delux: 145.210 - PL 100.0 WA6SEK (10mi S of Tracy)

All repeaters are open to all users.

Entries by David Coursey, N5FDL (289)

Monday
Jul312017

This site will probably change

Because I am not doing much with the site lately, I’ve decided that the $20-a-month I pay SquareSpace to host it is excessive, especially when I can host it elsewhere for what amounts to free. The problem is I will have to move the site to WordPress, not a minor undertaking, and will lose all the graphics now associated with the individual posts. 

The posts will still be available, just not the graphics now embedded in many of them.

The look-and-feel and site navigation will change. I will miss how this site looks. If you want to contribute to maintaining the site as-is, drop me an email.

I have no date in mind for the change, except that it will be soon. SquareSpace will charge me for August in a few days and I notice this account has been active since August 4, 2008. Nine years? Now I am feeling all sentimental, but my blog postings are moving to a new site about emergency preparedness more generally.

$240/year is more than this hosting is worth to me. I will also probably change the homepage so it doesn’t feature old blog posts so prominently.

Hmmmmm, what to do?

Tuesday
Jul042017

Amateur Radio and Animal Rescue

Animal rescue is an emergency. When a dog goes missing the animal faces tremendous danger. All rescuers know of animals that got out of their homes or yards only to be killed — usually by a vehicle — during their first hour of freedom.

Running free, the animal always faces the possibility of injury or death until it is recovered and hopefully returned to its owner. Alternatively, the dog or cat may be sent to an animal shelter or a new home. In the worst case, a shelter will euthanize the animal for its crime of exploring the smells and sights of the world beyond the fence.

Our mission as rescuers is to make sure every lost animal returns home. Sometimes we have to find and capture them first. Radio can help make that happen.

The lost animal is also a potential danger to humans. Loose in a strange, threatening environment, even the most peaceful dog can become a biter if provoked. Some less-socialized dogs may seize an opportunity to unleash aggression upon unfamiliar humans or other animals.

Rescuers are at particular risk because capturing an excited and fearful animal can result in defensive bites. The animal may be unaware of the rescuers’ noble intentions. As trained responders, we take steps to prevent bites for our safety, community safety, and the animal’s protection.

Should someone get bit — rescuer, civilian, or the ever-present little kid — an inability to capture and quarantine the animal means exposed humans require rabies vaccinations. While not the “23 painful shots in the belly” that my generation was threatened with as kids, the series of vaccinations and gamma globulin injections can prove very expensive for the patient, as well as uncomfortable and, for parents and kids, pretty scary. Fortunately, the shots work.

There is also the combined danger posed by the animal that gets hit (or not) by a car and then causes an automobile accident. At an emergency scene where both people and an animal are hurt, the animal is often the loser.

The search for animals in a disaster can involve many rescuers, multiple vehicles, and a large geographic area. Large animals require more resources than dogs and cats.

Search is an Emergency

We can all agree that a missing animal is an emergency for the animal, its owners, and innocent people who wind up in the wrong jaws at the wrong instant. The quicker missing animals are returned home, the better for all concerned.

Given these conditions, the people who seek to recover the lost/missing animal are emergency responders, particularly if they are members of an organization and respond as a team. While not as dramatic as emergency vehicles running lights-and-siren while speeding to an incident, animal rescuers share the common mission of all first responders: Saving lives and protecting property.

If you don’t feel this applies to you, give it a moment to sink in. You’re not just protecting and saving the lives of animals. You’re also keeping people out of harm’s way.

What animal rescuers do is important, even if the broad community is often not paying attention.

We are Emergency Responders

There is one thing all emergency responders, whatever their discipline, have in common. That’s the need for easy-to-use, flexible communications that allows everyone to communicate with everyone else in real time.

In that regard, an animal rescue team is no different from firefighters, who need to be dispatched, report when en route, communicate while at the scene of the emergency and report their status on the way back and when they return to their station.

Government invests hundreds of millions of dollars in providing emergency communications for professional first responders. In some cases, volunteers have access to these systems, but in most cases not.

Meet Amateur Radio

You have probably heard of Amateur or “Ham” Radio. These are different names for the same activity and refer to hobbyists who use radios and build radio systems for their personal use. For more than 100 years, radio amateurs have provided community service and emergency communications.

Most hams consider providing community service as an obligation in return for their free use of the public airwaves.

Across most populated areas of the world, hams have built systems for local and regional communication by users equipped with mobile or handheld radio transmitter-receivers. Even a small “handie-talkie” can communicate over a wide area thanks to repeater systems mounted on mountains or tall buildings.

Anyone who could be seen from a roof or hilltop-mounted antenna can communicate with anyone else who could also be seen Using a repeater system, ranges of 40-to-100 miles are common.

 

Users who cannot communicate directly radio-to-radio, generally 5 miles or less, can make contact through the repeater, which receives on one frequency and simultaneously repeats what it “hears” or receives onto another frequency. Users talk on the “input” frequency and listen to the “output” frequency of the repeater.

Service organizations can also use the repeater systems that ham radio operators have built for their hobby and to serve the community. The Red Cross, Salvation Army, National Weather Service, Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) groups and a variety of other do-gooders already use Amateur Radio to facilitate their critical emergency missions. As well as to help with parades, walks, fairs and other community events. Why not animal rescue and recovery, too?

All you need to participate is a ham radio license and some inexpensive equipment.

Ham Radio vs. Cell Phones

If you look at how animal rescuers communicate today, the answer is probably the small radio they already use all the time — their cellular telephones. We love cellphones, but there is a reason emergency responders don’t use cell phones for most of their needs.

Here’s what Amateur Radio does that cellular doesn’t do:

Talks to everyone at once. Where a cellular telephone is a one-to-one communications tool, two-way radio can talk to everyone at once. A many-to-many communications capability is important in coordinating rescue activities and maintaining group safety. Not to mention keeping everyone involved “on the same page” and being easy to use.

Radio works during widespread emergencies. Amateur Radio service is typically more durable during an emergency than cellular, which easily becomes overloaded or loses power.

More channels. In any area, Amateur Radio uses multiple repeaters that operate on different frequencies and do not rely on one another to function.

More power options. Ham radios are easy to power using AA or automobile batteries during an emergency. Many repeaters have automatic backup power. And if repeaters fail, Amateur Radio can operate without them, though at reduced efficiency.

Amateur Radio describes itself as “When All Else Fails” for a reason.

No FRS radios!

Some rescue organizations are using Family Radio Service (FRS) radios. Generally labeled by their supposed range (“32 Miles!”) and sold in pairs for $30-to-$100+. These are not “life-safety” radios and should never be depended upon as a sole means of communication in an emergency. There range is never more than a few miles, and all users are unlikely to hear all the other users. There are no repeaters for FRS users.

The advertised range for FRS radios is simply the manufacturer’s fantasy. The available channels may be crowded on a good day and jammed during an emergency. Interference is unavoidable. Organizations desiring reliable wide-range (like a city or countywide) communication should run far and fast from FRS radios. After several bad experiences, FRS radios are not allowed at wildland fires or even the camps where firefighters sleep each night.

Using Amateur Radio in Animal Rescue

Animal rescue organizations are not known to be widely using Amateur Radio to facilitate their mission, but there exists no reason why they should not or could not happen. While it is illegal to conduct business using Amateur Radio, volunteers are mostly unaffected by that prohibition. And emergency communication necessary for the protection of life and property is always allowed.

Here’s what is required to use Amateur Radio in animal rescue (or for any other purpose):

  • You must have an Amateur Radio license.
  • You must own or possess Amateur Radio equipment.
  • You must be trained to operate the equipment without causing interference to other users.

Getting licensed In the United States

Amateur Radio operators are licensed and regulated by the Federal Communications Commission.  Volunteers do the testing and training. At its most basic, getting a license requires 26 correct answers on a 35-question multiple choice test.

All the questions that may appear on the test, as well as the correct and incorrect answers, are published and freely available. There are many ways to study for the test from weekly classes, to individual reading and online courses and practice tests.

Perhaps the easiest way to get licensed is a one-day “HamCram” event where students spend six hours studying the questions and only the correct answers. When the test is given at the end of the day, the student selects the only answer that is even vaguely familiar. Most often it is the correct answer.

Persons as young as 8 and as old as 80+ have gotten their licenses in just one day using the HamCram technique. For motivated/interested participants the “pass rate” can exceed 90 percent. A Morse code test is no longer required to get a ham radio license.

For people who do not find the HamCram method helpful, there are many other methods for learning the material necessary to pass the exam.

There is no fee for an Amateur Radio license in the US, though a testing fee of up to $15 per test in allowed. The license term is ten years, and the license is renewable without further testing. Every ham receives an FCC call sign used to identify themselves over-the-air. Mine is N5FDL.

HamCrams are available in much of the United States, sometimes under different names. Cost ranges from free to about $40. In Northern California, visit hamcram.org to learn more.

Getting Equipped

Many hams own equipment worth thousands of dollars, but that isn’t necessary to become a radio-equipped animal rescuer. A handheld transmitter-receiver, called a handie-talkie, can be purchased for $55 or less. Additional batteries, a speaker/microphone, and small magnetic vehicle antenna raise the cost to a bit over $100. Many hams add a vehicle-mounted mobile radio and antenna for better range and convenience. These cost $100 to over $1000 but are not necessary for the beginner or limited user.

Amateur Radio repeater systems are the property of clubs or individuals and may cost thousands of dollars to build. Operational cost, typically for electricity, use of tall antenna sites, telephone lines, and routine maintenance may amount to hundreds of dollars each month.

Nevertheless, most Amateur Radio repeaters are open and available free to all users, though some repeater organizations appreciate it when frequent users join and become paying members.

Getting Trained

Passing the test — especially using a HamCram or similar quick-licensing method — will not teach someone how to use or talk on the radio. Fortunately, in most places, there are individual Amateur Radio operators and clubs that happily welcome newcomers. A rescue organization’s members can be trained in this way, probably in a day or less.

Your animal rescue team might want to form a cooperative alliance with the local hams where you live. Such an agreement is not necessary, but the hams and rescuers need to be able to work side-by-side when duty or public service calls. Working together is also for fun events, such as walks, runs, parades, festivals, and picnics.

Your Questions Sought

I have written this piece to introduce Animal Rescuers to Amateur Radio. Experienced hams will notice that I’ve covered only the essentials and, in the process, have sold the excitement of Amateur Radio short. Experienced Animal Rescuers will doubtless notice that my examples could be more finely honed.

I hope both groups will accept this as the basic introduction it is intended to be. This paper is a conversation starter designed to give rescuers a valuable and versatile communication tool and expand the universe of people, groups, and animals that benefit from Amateur Radio during an emergency.

If you have questions, please contact me: david@cevol.org

Tuesday
May302017

QuickSilver Radio's Hammo-Can XL Ready-Made Go-Box

Two admissions right up front: 1) I have never used one of these Quicksilver Radio ammo-box emergency stations. 2) When/if I get one, it sure as heck won’t say Hammo-Can XL in big faux-military letters on mine.

Callsign? Sure. Communications? Good. But I am still tormeted to be labeled by the FCC as an “Amateur Extra” — which sounds like “especially dufus” to me. I don’t need more embarassment.

I like the radio best mounted in this “top” orientation.I am writing this “review” because I plan to rebuild my existing portable station and would also consider purchasing something much like this box. There is a lot to like about this portable station, a few things to quibble with, and maybe something I really don’t like.

All-in-all, if you can accept this box for what it is, it should be very useful. (The images expand if clicked upon. The battery in inside the gray box).

Product Specs

Here is how QSR describes this $349.73 can of tricks. I’ve added my comments in italics.

Ready to Go!

Our new Hammo-Can XL™ is a complete VHF-UHF Station in a box.

For starters, this is a good idea. We need a good portable emergency station that is easy-to-purchase and works.

Yes, the radio is included! It’s a full featured dual-band radio by Jetstream. The JT270MH covers the 2 Meter and 70 Centimeter Ham bands, plus a lot more — including all of the NOAA weather channels. It is computer programmable, cable and software are included (also supported by Chirp software) with 25 Watts output power.

The radio itself costs about $120 if purchased alone. Call me a bigot, but I’d be way happier with a Yaesu. Or would I? I’d probably run the Yaesu at its 50w default, eating the battery. This radio needs to be able to transmit outside the ham bands during emergencies — like search and rescue missions. I am presuming that is possible with the Jetstream.

I’d program this radio with channels set for both 5w and 25w side-by-side so I can easily use the lowest acceptable tx power and save battery power.

Yes, the battery is included. It’s a 12 Amp-Hour rechargeable gel cell that will run the radio for many hours. Recharge it through the convenient Anderson Powerpole connectors. Wall charger, lighter plug cable, and other charging options available.

All the power in and out goes through the two powerpoles. Or the cigarette lighter jack. For me, two PowerPoles, one used for charging, seems four too few. I’d like to be able to fully power this station from an external supply. Is that easily possible? Can the battery be disconnected as desired? Charged separately? And all these cables come off the front of the box.

I mention this because I rarely run totally off batteries, although I am sure many others rarely run off AC in the field.

Is a 12 Amp-Hour battery enough? At 5w, probably for the day, even at a reasonably busy net control. I’d bring a DC supply I can connect to mains power or a generator. Or a much larger battery. That would make me feel much more secure.

Versions of this box and power-only boxes are available from the vendor.

Yes, a dual-current USB socket is included. Charge smartphones and tablets, run LED lighting, etc. Plus a heavy duty lighter socket for convenient power. Bright, easy to read voltmeter also included to keep track of your battery.

This is the heart of what I like about this box and what I want to add to my existing box: I need USB charging, cigarette lighter power is very helpful, I like the voltmeter. But I’d also like to know how many amps I am pulling, especially when running off an outboard DC supply or large battery.

Yes, two genuine Anderson Powerpoles are included. Charge the battery with any appropriate power source and run external devices.

I’ll talk about this more in relation to my own box and plans.

Yes, the antenna is included. Dual band whip with a BNC connector so you can easily swap in your choice of external antennas for higher performance and range.

If we accept — as I do — that having this box sealable and with no protrusions, this antenna mounting is a real plus for “right now” portable operation with essentially no setup. I, of course, would rarely want the antenna so close to my face. If I had one of these, I’d add 25 or 50 feet of coax with a BNC on one end (for the box) and whatever my antenna requires on the other.

All in a tough and water resistant metal Ammo-Can. Approximate dimensions 11-3/4”L x 5-1/4”H x 7-1/8”H; 15 lbs. 10 oz. Detachable lid with gasket.

What does “water resistant” mean? I don’t expect submersible, but can this box, when sealed up, sit out in the rain? Sit in a puddle? I know this isn’t a Pelican case, but what can it protect against?

Odd place for the radio, I think.

My Own Box

My personal box, wooden as it is, benefits from having a back that slides up and off. The exposes access to antenna jacks, data cabling for packet/APRS and radio programming, and extra Powerpole connectors. All of which, along with the DC power supply, can be accessed from the back without getting in the operator’s way.

My box has multiple radios — a Kenwood dual-band APRS mobile radio, a Motorola mobile VHF public safety radio, and a Uniden scanner. I typically run all three, with the scanner connected to a small antenna that sits near the box. The two other radios feed coax to separate antennas.

The Quicksilver box appears to have room for a second small dual-band radio. The scanner could become a handheld or perhaps a public safety, used to monitor and communicate with served agencies.

So far, the Quicksilver box could still be easily modified to meet my needs. Adding USB, voltmeter, etc., to my box could be a pain.

My box has two external speakers. Quicksilver would probably benefit from one speaker per radio.

What neither box has, and I want very badly, is a headphone jack and, ideally a separate speaker switch. I want to always be able to use the headphone but want to control the speaker separately so others can hear or not hear, as I desire.

How to do this for three radios at once? That is an issue, but I really only need an earphone/headphone on the radio I am using to communicate at the time. Give be multiple jacks and switches? 

Pricing

Is $349.73 a fair price for this box? Some hams — the more construction-oriented — will add up the total prices of the parts, toss in junk from the shack, and count their time at zero. They will say the box is too expensive.

Normal people will appreciate a professional appearance, the ability to ask the vendor to do customization, and when the UPS guy appears will consider this to be money well-spent. I am in this camp.

Bottom Line

I have about 3/4 convinced myself that my next medium-sized lottery win can be used to purchase one of these. Updating my existing box to add better power management, replace the Motorola radio with something smaller, add earphone jack(s) and speaker controls, etc. is a $200 project, tops.

Adding a really large external battery might be $200 as well. But either radio box could use it.

I have ordered from Quicksilver Radio in the past and like the company as a vendors and would not hesitate to order from them

Tuesday
May232017

Hey Preppers: Ham Radio requires a license (whether your magazine says so or not)

While I am not an outdoorsman, I enjoy thumbing through Backpacker and Outside magazines, mostly for the product reviews. Likewise, I look at an occasional “prepper” magazine, aimed at those who someday expect to be fighting off US Marshals and Navy Seals about to do, well, what?

Most preppers are more normal folks and, if we are honest, emergency-oriented hams share many of the same interests. In fact, we have had a number of preppers and suspect preppers in our HamCram licensing events. 

That interest explains how I ended up paying $10 for a copy of American Survival Guide’s Gear Guide. I found it quite interesting and as a result there are several items I now cannot live without.

But I have a real problem with their communications product section. It is written by a “Jim Jeffries” whom I pray is not one of the three “James Jeffries” listed with amateur call signs on QRZ.com.

My concern is the magazine shows several pieces of amateur gear — Yaesu and Icom — as well as some GMRS radios, but never mentions the requirement for operators to be licensed. Or if it did, I totally missed it.

I understand that in a prepper nirvana scenario nobody will be paying much attention to legalities, but until then, operating on amateuir frequencies sans license is a good way to meet the local ham community under unfortunate circumstances.

Likewise, GMRS, a service whose rules are now in discussion following a major rewrite, also requires a license. No test, but it costs $80 and is good for you and all your relatives.

Truth is, if it’s obvious to me that you are a serious prepper (not merely LDS), I am probably not too thrilled about your choice of amateiur radio as an adjunct. But, if I don’t have to know what you are doing in your home security basement — and you have room for me, the YL, and some animals during an emergency, all I can say is, “Welcome to Ham Radio!” 

Saturday
May062017

Meet my Jackery (Now stop laughing)

An external battery for powering/charging various iDevices and their ilk has become a necessity for emergency folks. It is not at all fun to run out of power when you need to do something, and in my experience, newer iPods don’t like be far from a power supply/charger.
One of the challenges is that external battery power requires a cable (typically USB) to connect the device to the battery. How many times have I had one but not the other?
So I was really happy to find the whimsically-named (?) Jackery Bolt external battery that includes both Apple Lightning and mini-USB charging cables built-in. I immediately purchased one (March 13) and consider it an excellent addition to my go-purse (an old Eagle Creek guide bag). Mine Bolt has a 6000 mAh battery and a 10050 mAh version is available. 
I paid $26. The higher-output model is $10 more.
Here is some information from the Amazon product page, linked below. (If you purchase from the link we may get a few pennies from your purchase). 
  • The global leading power solutions supplier with 15 years manufacturer experiences.
  • Hassle-Free Design: With 2 built-in charging cables and one open USB port, Jackery Bolt 6000 mAh allows you to charge 3 devices at the same time. No need to carry charging cables for your phones anymore, yay!
  • High Capacity: Powerful 6000mAh capacity can fully charges an iPhone 7 up to 2 times, a Galaxy S7 almost 1.5 times and other smartphones multiple times. Fast charge your devices with the maximum output at up to 2.4A, its rocket fast!
  • Bar-sized: With its elegant design and compact size, the Jackery Bolt is easy to carry in the pocket wherever you go. Jackery Bolt also includes a built-in flashlight for convenience in the dark and for emergency situations.
  • What you get: 1×Jackery Bolt 6000 mAh portable charger, 1× Micro USB charging Cable, 1×User Guide & Warranty,1×Thank You Card. 18-month product warranty and 7×24 hrs friendly customer service.

I like mine and recommend it to you. There are many competing devices available, but havimg permanently-attached charging cables is what sold me. A good purchase.