Prepping: Goodbye Shortwave, Howdy Outernet

Since I have most of the paper the F.C.C. has ever offered, like the Extra Class ham ticket, the old First Class Commercial ticket and the poor substitute General Radio Operator License, and since banging out 30 words a minute Morse really is fun, you’ll have to forgive me for offering some advice on the wide range of communications options for preppers.

In particular, there are three satellite modes around here which I keep meaning to spend more time with, but all are worth considering.

FUNcube Sattelites:

There are several of these little critters flitting about overhead, the product of imaginative people at AMSAT-UK. (That’s the Amateur Satellite Corporation, for the unwashed.)

The main thing about these guys is they are being used mainly for education during morning passes and they are being used for ham radio contacts afternoons/evenings.

Read up on them over here:

There’s more about AO-73 *FUNcube-1* on the AMSAT page here, too.

In terms of it being a “prepper-ready” service, I’m not holding my breath. The problems of preppers are probably better addressed by other means. Since most coms needs are local, the simple VHF and UHF ham radio repeaters with solar back-up and one of those under $30 dollar radios (like the BaoFeng UV-5R Dual Band Two Way Radio (Black)_) will do you just fine. Still, it’s another tool which might be useful in an emergency. Someday, maybe…


This one is also pretty cool, but whether it is of any practical value for preppers remains to be seen.

First, it’s topology (for now) is one-to-many. If you have content for the OuterNet, you need to upload it to the content center. 

This in turn gets popped up to the L-Band Inmarsat satellites (3 of them around Earth) which rebroadcast uploaded content. About 10 MB worth of content per day.

The receiver package can be purchased online here: and is about $100 bucks. That includes a “patch” antenna which then plugs in to a low noise amp, filter and then an SDR Dongle. Software for the Windows, Mac, and Linux folks is available, too.

In terms of satellite-delivered content, they are very keen on copyright issues and they like small files – think 10-20K ideally.

To my way of thinking this would make for a dandy way to collect 3-10 page text files. But since the OuterNet can handle ANY file format, there are people sending compressed .PDF files and more.

At the moment on the fora there are discussions about news content. One of the proposed sources for a short written report daily is the USGov’s Voice of America RSS Feed, but this is an “over the river and through the brush” way to get that. You could just subscribe in a Reader.  Or decode it from shortwave.

Still, if multiple gateways are worked into the architecture, then maybe it would hold promise, but in the meantime, the single-point-of-failure represented by the upload center and processing would be a concern.  Also, who controls the off switch?  Radio of the HF sort doesn’t have that except for ionizing radiation following a nuclear device going blooey, but it passes in a week to three.

I’ve been telling you about the third satellite option which is the NOAA polar orbiting GEOS series and I’m working on the SDR (software-defined radio) to get that shiny.

It’s getting hard to find anything as good as old-fashioned shortwave, but most of that has been slowly evaporating due to the ever-increasing data streams popping up on the Internet.

Elaine and I regularly have the afternoon glass of wine with “Alexa! Tune-In! 105 point 3, the Lounge” which then drops out of the stream from Port Douglas Australia, or so they say.

One of the problems with Internet streaming, though, is there are few regionally identified personalities on the web, so a web ‘station’ could really be damn near anywhere.

What’s My Path?  How dso I get “Into Radio Coms?”

Good question, that: How do I go from radio idiot to full on competency?  If burning yourself with a soldering iron helped, I would be better than Marconi by now, lol.

The easiest is to begin step one with a solid, but not too expensive shortwave receiver like the Tecsun PL880 Portable Digital PLL Dual Conversion AM/FM, Longwave & Shortwave Radio with SSB (Single Side Band) Reception. Remember, Christmas is coming.  Give generously to….uh…someone you love.  when they don’t use it…well…..

With the solid receiver, probably the second step would be to put up a simple longwire antenna. Nothing like the critically tuned 746-foot off-center fed behemoth here at Uretopia, but a nice 50-100 foot wire will transform a fair portable into a DX-sniffing (distance pulling)  gonzer.

Seriously, with my several years old Tecsun PL-660 Portable AM/FM/LW/Air Shortwave World Band Radio with Single Side Band, there is a radio station every 10 KHz across the entire AM band at night. Truly amazing. If you luck into stations like the clear channels out of places like Albuquerque, you can almost imagine being in another place. CKLW out of Windsor, Ontario is good, too. Tune after dark (the later the better) and enjoy.

Third step would be one of the small FM handheld ham rigs like the Baofeng mentioned earlier. Good enough to hit most of the local “machines” (repeaters, but we like to be cool…) and that will get you into the social nets, as well.

After that? Well, fourth step would be to get the HF privileges that go with a General Class ham ticket.

Step five, with the newly minted General Class license, I’d probably buy a simple ham radio like the Icom IC-718 HF All Band Amateur Base Transceiver 100 Watts. General coverage receiver, some basic DSP and always a great backup radio even if you go into high power amplifiers, crank-up towers, or satellite AZ-EL tracking arrays later on.

Oh, they also have (for $1,335) a completeIcom IC-718 Get On The Air HAM Radio Bundle

This Kit Includes:

The Icom IC-718 100W Base Transceiver
Samlex SEC 1235 Power Supply
Radiowavz DX-80 Wire Antenna
Heil Pro Set 6 Headset
Heil AD-1-I Adapter (for headset)
Heil FS-3 Footswitch
100FT of quality ABR RG-8X Coax w/pl259 ends

By the time you get your general class, you may get lots of opinions about gear. 

I’d also recommend a detour into tube radio restoration, which is one of my favorite ways to get better in electronics…  Cheaper than new gear, easier to work on and just as much fun.  Finishing the book I’m writing on Ham Radio Restoration calls to me, but not loud enough to answer, presently.

Sixth on the list would be putting up a great antenna. Learn to use antenna modeling software like Roy Lewallen (W7EL’s) EZ-NEC program which has modeled everything from odd-looking Chinese military loops to the behemoth that lights up 3870 KHz LSB around Miller time a few times a week.

From there, the training wheels come off.

You’re on your own: Big Boy (or Big Girl) pants.

Toss in one of those dandy refurb PCs from Wal-Mart (make sure to get 8 GB of RAM, yeah?) and you will soon be tripping the high fantastic with projects.

So my pending list at the moment is:

1.  Set up and write a manual on Software Defined Radios for Preppers – which will be on Peoplenomics when done. Audio piping and such.

2.  Then I want to build the quadrifilar right-hand circular polarization antenna for direct weather off the polar NOAA birds…

3.  And then we will light up the patch antenna on the Outernet.

4.  And somewhere along in there, I have an old Heathkit DX-60 and matching VFO to rebuild, and…

6.  …what about that Knight R-100A and matching T-150 transmitter? Oh yeah, waiting on parts from on those, since the out of the box spectral purity of the T-150 was less than acceptable. But the fixes are easy, even if the time to get it all done isn’t.

My late friend Robert E. Lee Hardwick, a long-time radio legend in the Northwest explained it best, I think. “Radio is theater of the mind. People who listen to radio do so actively, not like the cold media like television…

If you’ve ever been off in the sticks hearing a distant baseball game in the summertime, or been up late at night listening to a talk show like Coast-to-Coast AM from a freshly discovered distant station, you’ll know the feeling.

If not? Your loss.

Digital works, don’t get me wrong. But RADIO – especially warm-sounding tube type gear is what an analog Studer capturing a solo Stradavarius is to violins. Digital is just a music samples. Radio, especially with tubes, captures more of the morphogenetic fields involved, somehow.  Call ity magic if you will.

Digital works. Radio feels.

Further Adventures With the Optics of Aging

Another trip to the Eye Doc up in Tyler for yet-another oddity with my left eye.

If you’re just tuning-in, back on April 18, my left eye dislodged its implant after 25-years and what followed was 4-surgeries (3 under) in order to bulldoze out the old, site prep, put in the new, and stop a leak. Been a swell time.

The latest adventure really began when I accidently put the “safe” cleaning solution in my left eye, instead of the artificial tears…

“Oh, that’s nothing, hun. When I was up in Dallas, we had a lady put SUPER GLUE in her eye accidentally. She’d had it on the same counter because she had been working on her fingernails…”  Helpful nurse, yep.

She was lucky, and medicine was skilled, because she still has sight in that eye which, honestly, is amazing.

So back to my deal: The left eye is at 20-60 and “pin holing” to 20-50. And that set off a parade to the retinal camera room where processors found (drum roll?) I have a swelling on the back of the eye.  Well crap.  Center of the FOV (field of vision) too.

A dose of optical prednisone it is hoped will fix it, but in the meantime, it will be back up to see the retinal specialist in January.  Takes longer to see one than get a new home built.

All of which gets to a long, drawn-out, but obvious point:

If you have ANYTHING bothering you about your eyes, get it worked on early; don’t you dare postpone.

The other eye is still better than 20-40 – missed one on the 20-30 line, but still good enough to push the old airplane around the sky.  We’ll see if a budding pilot in San Antonio buys it.

Still, point is eye surgeries are no fun and avoidance is the best thing I can think of.

Machine Vision Lighting?

Speaking of eyes and such:  Got a very interesting invite to a web seminar next week.  Machine Vision Lighting, it’s called.

Never really pondered and brain-stomped in this area, but when you think about it, makes perfect sense:  That machines, at least during the infancy of their software evolution, might need a “special hand” here and there with color and contrast.

Of course, when the machines start to write their own code and design their own sensors, all bets are off.

Anyway, file under Advanced Vision and Imaging for now.  Till the codeplicators and autonomous optocoder programs come along.

Feline Healthcare

As expected (long as we’re in medical items here) Editor in Chief, Zeus the Cat was back to his spry old self Thursday. He actually managed to run a bit – more like a half cat-trot – for 20 feet.

Like all good managers, Zeus likes to leave the heavy lifting for the working class.

So I’m still writing the columns and he simply presses the upload key when he feels like it.

Here kitty, kitty. Hey Zeus!

(Talk to you Monday… write when you get rich!)

10 thoughts on “Prepping: Goodbye Shortwave, Howdy Outernet”

  1. 1. If we were hit with a solar EMP, would any of the satellites survive?

    2. More money has been spent this year on my older cat’s health care than on mine in several. She is doing really well and I love her bunches, so I just can’t put her down due to cost. Love and cuddles are better than $$ in the bank.

  2. Eye Issues SUDDENLY appear?

    CALL YOUR EYE CARE PERSON IMMEDIATELY … not in like “tomorrow”?

    This past summer while driving I got a flash of light in one eye and then almost immediately floaters appeared. First thought … indication of upcoming Stroke? (floaters appearing can be a pre indication of a stroke about to occur)

    I IMMEDIATELY called my Optometrist, an old guy but one who is really really fascinated with all the science of the eye and stays so much on top of all the new stuff that he probably actually knows more than some eye surgeons.

    He said: GET THEE TO AN EYE SURGEON WITHIN TWO HOURS … ONE IS BETTER … and gave me three names to call, three of the best in my city.

    The first practice (7 surgeons) managed to squeeze me in, one of the lesser surgeons (though still a Board Certified guy) took a quick look and called in the Old Man, the guy with 40 years of eye surgery experience. He spent a few minutes looking at my eye, said I needed IMMEDIATE EYE SURGERY, surgery that was beyond even his capabilities, and called in a favor and got me scheduled for IMMEDIATE SAME DAY EYE SURGERY with one of the two guys in my city who he said could do the very specialized surgery I needed IMMEDIATELY (as in THAT DAY even though it would be after normal business hours).

    I showed up at the other surgeon’s practice right at closing, and he and one of his partners in addition to his nurses stayed after hours to do my very specialized surgery with a laser.

    Ended up I had a detached Retina and the cover over my eye has torn. A single day’s delay would have resulted in partial vision loss, or so all three of the people I talked to told me (operating surgeon, referring surgeon and my very academic oriented optometrist).

    Surgery was successful … and my eye sight is again perfectly fine.

    LESSON: When something happens with one’s eyes that is sudden and not normal do NOT THINK THAT IT IS GOING AWAY!! IMMEDIATELY CALL your eye care professional and LET THEM DETERMINE if it is serious or not (or refer you to someone who can make that determination – and get there PRONTO!!).

    Actually that same lesson should be applied to anything that suddenly happens to your body. Let the Medical Professionals decide if it is serious or not … don’t just try to wish it away.

  3. Yup, agree with you George, as does my retinal surgeon…just had my left eye vitrectomy/membrane peel/secondary cataract removal done…because of a pseudohole that developed after vitreous gel tear, all my lines were wavy and with serious leans on them! Hesitated a year before surgery (staying facedown for 10 days is NOT something one looks forward to).

    Had surgery and results are 90% improvement….would have been better, or near 99%, if I would have had not waited and had the surgery last year.

    With the eyes especially, the sooner the better is the road to better vision in our ‘second and third chapter’ years.

    SO glad to hear that Zeus is much better!

  4. George,

    Since you left out Step # 5 on your list, might I ever so humbly offer a suggestion? A primer on texting & digital data transmission, such as DSTAR. Heck, I’ll trade you: I’ll put up a DSTAR Repeater in southern NM if you’ll write the “How-To” on the Comm plan.

    So my pending list at the moment is:

    1. Set up and write a manual on Software Defined Radios for Preppers – which will be on Peoplenomics when done. Audio piping and such.

    2. Then I want to build the quadrifilar right-hand circular polarization antenna for direct weather off the polar NOAA birds…

    3. And then we will light up the patch antenna on the Outernet.

    4. And somewhere along in there, I have an old Heathkit DX-60 and matching VFO to rebuild, and…

    6. …what about that Knight R-100A and matching T-150 transmitter?

  5. Everytime I try to read the posts about your radio, I feel like I’m attempting to decipher a Russian article. I know it’s relevent to a great man people, so I’m not complaining. But, boy I sure do get lost trying to figure it out….

    Glad to see your pet is well again. Want another one? My noble gesture of adopting from a shelter landed me with a cat that, shall I say politely, missed the litterbox in the hall bathroom and it landed in my basement. Grr…

    The one that adopted us begs to be outside for that biz and prefers to be outside at night. I love this cat.

  6. I remember listening to the Big 8 CKLW in high school. Was a big top 40 station back then. #1 station in both Windsor and Detroit for a time back then. Clear channel station too.

  7. George,
    As I’m a few weeks older than you I thought I’d pass tip this along for vision problems.
    I have been taking it since the article came out (July 2016) and have noticed real, steady (if slow), improvement in my vision. Might work for you as well.

    1st,Read the article on Saffron ..

    2nd, Try their MacuGuard® Ocular Support with Astaxanthin & Saffron. Item #01993

    When I first started it I took 4 gelcaps/day for 1 bottle (30 cnt) to saturate my system, then slowly dropped to 1/day. Basically went through 3 bottles in the 1st month. Within the 1st week I noticed improvement in night vision and several other minor issues. My vision now is better than it was 3-4 years ago.

  8. Restoring an old Heathkit HW-12 75M SSB rig. Got it at a SK (deceased ham) sale and it never worked from the git-go. Receive (RX)is great once aligned but it would not transmit (TX). Found a bunch of resistors in the TX side that were wrong and I mean way wrong like a 2.2K in place of a 1Meg. Should have it back to health in a few days and enjoying the warm glow of the tubes and yes the wonderful feel of a tube radio. Besides, it will keep the coffee cup warm these cold CO nights.


  9. Echolink is a great tool to contact capable repeaters worldwide. I regularly connect with repeaters in northern england and other parts of europe. I have used my android phone, ipad, and pc. I worked a station in moscow using my bfang 5w ht on a local echlink repeater. The mac software is not so great i understand though. Grid dependent but interesting non the less.

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