DIY: Battery Pack

batteryBeing a DIY’er is a lot like being a gun guy.  Any self respecting gun guy has (at one time or another) bought a gun simply because he had either a holster or an odd box of ammunition that he didn’t have a gun for.

This DIY Battery Pack project is like that, I recently was gifted some sealed lead acid batteries from a hospital.  Like smoke detector batteries these get replaced on a time table that does not account for useful life.  Sometimes it’s better to spend a little extra than risk a failure of a piece of life safety gear.  So now I have three neat little batteries and am compelled to find a way to use them.

Anyway these are small sealed 12 volt batteries, and they don’t have enough capacity to do very much useful work by themselves, but were fully charged and designed to be recharged over and over.

Since I have a lot of alternative energy projects planned, I figure having a small battery pack would be a lot easier to tote than a dirty car battery.  While I am at it, having some inputs like a cigarette lighter socket and some terminal posts would make it even better.  Add in some lighted switches and I would have a full fledged project.

Since I had three small batteries I had to decide how to wire them together.  I could either wire them in series to make them stronger, or in parallel to make them last longer.  In series you basically wire them end to end, like in a flashlight where the positive terminal of one battery is in contact with the negative terminal of the next.  If you do this then you make one big battery.  Three 12 volt batteries wired in series would give me 36 volts, but not for very long.   It’s like having three jugs of water and dumping them all out at the same time – you get a lot of water fast.  Since I don’t have any 36 volt gear to run, and I would rather get more time I decided on wiring them in parallel.  That is running a wire from one positive terminal to the next and running a separate wire from the negative terminal to the next.  This daisy chains all the like terminals together.  Using the water jug analogy, this would be stacking the jugs on top of each other and poking holes so that each jug fills the jug below it, this gives me the same flow as a single jug, but for a longer time.  Running in parallel does not increase the voltage, but it does increase the time I have to use the batteries.

I went to the local electronics store and bought some spade connecters with spades small enough to fit on the battery terminals and lugs large enough to fit two 14 gauge wires, as each spade clip needed to be wired to the battery before and after it.  I also got two lighted 12 volt automotive switches, two sets of terminal posts, two sets of 12 volt cigarette lighter outlets, and some shrink tube.

My plan was to insert a rectifier diode to each end so one set of switches and outlets would be for charging, and the other set for output, but I could not find the right sized diodes, and frankly just wanted to finish the project.  Now before the tech police beat me up, my solar kit has a charger controller with multiple inputs and fuses, and I plan on using that in my upcoming projects because it has a built in meter and I won’t have to worry about back feeding.  Any radios I may use with this pack also have fuses on the input wires so I don’t have to worry about blowing them up either.  Basically this is just a portable battery with some fancy switches.

After I wired everything up, I checked it to make sure it all worked and I didn’t have any shorts.  Then I had to find a decent looking project box for it.

I had originally planned on using a metal ammunition can for the project box, but after some careful consideration, I decided that putting a bunch of wiring and batteries inside a metal box might not bode well for my homeowner’s insurance.  What I ended up using was a small military surplus plastic first aid kit box.  A very sharp chisel lifted the embossed writing and cross from the top of the box, some fine sandpaper made it smooth enough, and some rattle can green spray-paint covered up the majority of my mistakes with the chisel.

I then took the appropriate sized drill bits and drilled holes for the switches and plugs; of course I first made sure everything would fit after installation.

It was a tight fit, and I had to electric tape the batteries together so I could get them in just the right place to close the box, but I think that just makes everything easier, as their won’t be any shifting inside to cause damage to my poor soldering skills.

For a more visual example of what I did, watch the video below:



Book: Technician No-Code Plus

Technician No-Code Plus

Technician No-Code Plus

Technician No-Code Plus is the first book I bought when I decided to get a ham license.  Actually, this and the test bank is all I used to learn enough to pass the test.

It is very basic, but gives you all the information you need to get a FCC Technician’s License for the Amateur bands.

There is some good practical knowledge to be found in this book, and for the price – I recommend it as a great starting place.

I find that Ham radio is essential to preparedness, this is because Amateur radio works when all other communication methods fail.

Smart emergency managers work with ham operators so that the Amateur bands can be seamlessly integrated into disaster response efforts.

I also find that due to the nature of the hobby, ham technicians are very willing to take the time to work with inexperienced individuals wanting to learn how to use the radios, unfortunately it is my experience that they like ham for ham’s sake, and are not as willing to share with those that are getting licenses for emergency preparedness reasons.

I would recommend NOT telling that your pripamry interest is being ABLE to communicate, but rather stick to discussion of your desire to learn how TO communicate.

Technician No-Code Plus

Amateur radio FCC license preparation for Novice and Technician classes without knowing Morse code.
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Review: Wuxun KG-UV3D Dual Band Handheld

Wuxun KG-UV3D

Wuxun KG-UV3D

Now for those that care about these things, I have not received any compensation of any type for this review. I am reviewing this device because I think EVERY prepper should have at least one ham radio, and with the quality/price ratio this radio is worth looking into.

First strike against the Wuxun KG-UV3D radio is that is Chinese made. Some don’t care –some do, personally I’d rather buy American made, but a simple internet search will show you how hard it is to find a American made ham radio.

First positive comment is that it’s around $100 bucks. This is in a world where almost all other handhelds start at 5 times that amount. I first learned about this radio from a group of ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) volunteers in East TN. These guys all had at least one and they were of the opinion that it was good enough, and sturdy enough, and if they broke the thing it was only a $100 radio.

As I said in the video my intent was to buy one, try it out, and if mine was as functional as the ones I was shown in Athens then I would buy a couple more for the wife and for storage. My wife is now expecting, so I had to add another prepper tier to my list, so the extra radios were bumped back, but I still intend to buy a couple more once I stockpile a lot of diapers and bottles…

I am not going to get into too much detail on these radios, as a ham will just go dig up the spec sheet and it may cause informational overload to a non-ham. But basically:

Wuxun KG-UV3D Features

  • Dual band monitor (VHF/UHF, VHF/VHF, UHF/UHF)
    • You can monitor two different sets of frequencies at the same time
    • The radio comes in different flavors so you can almost pick which two bands you want.
  • Selectable high/low power settings (VHF: 5W high/1W low) (UHF: 4W high/1W low)
    • You can select more time or more power
  • 13 hour battery life
  • Includes intelligent desktop 3-4 hour rapid charger
  • Loud speaker audio output (500 mW)
  • Bright flashlight illumination function
  • Meets IP55 waterproof rating
  • English female voice prompts enable non-sighted operation (can be turned off)
    • The Chinese lady scares me so I turned mine off
  • 128 memory channels (shared)
  • VOX Function
  • Digital FM radio (76-108MHz) with automatic tuning and storing, radio frequency display, 18 FM memories in 2 banks
  • Wide/narrow bandwidth selection (25 or 12.5 kHz)
  • Power on display: show battery voltage, 6-character customizable welcome message, or display test
  • Windows PC programmable, free software available for download. Optional low cost cable
    • This is the selling point for me – I found the manual programming wasn’t as bad as some reviews claimed it to be, but I liked doing it from my computer even though
    • There is some bugs in the setup and you may have to try more than once to get your radio to connect to your computer
  • The program is limited to a “legal” frequency band and not actual – meaning I can listen to the weather radio and FRMS and GRMS frequencies (among other things) but I have to put them in manually.
  • Radio to radio cloning with optional cable
  • 105 groups DCS/50 groups CTCSS
  • DTMF encoding (includes ABCD tones, continuous with button press duration)
  • CTCSS encode/Decode (no decode delay)
  • Stopwatch function
  • SOS function
  • Low-voltage voice prompt
  • Busy channel lockout
  • Selectable transmit over timer (from 15 to 600 seconds)
  • Selectable step sizes of 5, 6.25, 10, 12.5, 25, 50 or 100 kHz
  • Multiple scan modes including priority scan
  • Keypad lock (auto or manual)
  • Programmable by computer or keypad
  • High contrast white backlit keypad. All keys are backlit (except A/B & TDR)

That’s a lot of stuff, add in that you can unlock the radio to get additional channels* and that it feels like a Kenwood (very sturdy feeling) transmits clearly and loudly and you can buy an adaptor to run a longer antenna makes it (IMHO) a very good buy.

*about that unlocking;

1. It’s most likely illegal, and I am not suggesting you break the law
2. With the advent of trunking and other digital radio advances just because you can transmit and receive on the local law enforcement channels on the Wuxun KG-UV3D or other radio does not mean you can communicate with them.

Communications Plan

Communications Plan

Communications Plan

As an emergency management professional as well as a prepper I rely on the planning process to ensure that nothing “falls through the cracks”. One of my main worries is that my wife and I commute to work and we work in different counties. I travel a lot for work, and neither of us have family near our homes or our jobs. If a “no notice” catastrophic disaster occurs during the work day how am I going to communicate with my wife to ensure she can get home safely?

Because your family may not be together when a disaster occurs a communications plan is important to have so you will know how to contact each other.

Here are some tips I have learned over time working in this field.

  • Identify an out-of town contact.  It may be easier to make a long-distance phone call than to call across town, so an out-of-town contact may be in a better position to communicate among separated family members.
    • During the 2011 Alabama tornadoes my in-laws were not able to communicate via phone even though they all were in the same county, but since I had a Tennessee cell number, the system allowed me to call in. Every couple hours I made “health and welfare” calls to each member of my family and passed messages back an forth. This works because sometimes phone companies limit phone traffic by area code to keep from overwhelming the system.
    • Once you have identified an out of state contact, make sure everyone knows the number and has means to contact it. Older plans call for everyone having coins or a prepaid phone card, but how many pay phones have you seen lately? A better plan would be a prepaid cell with the number programed as “ICE” or in case of emergency.
    • Make sure you tell your contact they are listed as your emergency contact.
  • Teach family members how to use text messaging (also knows as SMS or Short Message Service). Text messages can often get around network disruptions when a phone call might not be able to get through. This is because it takes a lot less bandwidth to send a text than it does a phone call.
  • Subscribe to alert services. Many communities now have systems that will send alerts to inform you about local issues like weather alerts and road closings. Tennessee makes great use of sites like twitter and the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency website to inform the public.
  • Consider social media. As learned from recent revolts and social uprisings Facebook and other sites are great for sending sitreps (Situation Reports) but please take into consideration that others besides your family can see whatever you post.
  • The red cross has a service known as “safe and well” in this service family members that have went to a red cross shelter can register online so that individuals with personal knowledge can look up family members to see that they are “safe and well” at a shelter.
  • Consider ham radio. Amateur radio is a large part of my family’s communication plan. A license is very easy to get and costs less than $20. In a later post I will review a ham radio that costs around $100. At that price most anyone can afford to get a couple for family communication.

In closing, a plan should reflect your personal circumstances, should be specific, and realistic. While an actual disaster situation may make your plan obsolete, the activities required to make a plan, train your family on it, and then TEST it will make the plan invaluable should a disaster occur. Besides if you have a teen age daughter having a redundant phone plan will keep her from using the “I could not get a hold of you excuse” when she comes in late….