Working All of Palo Alto with 5 Watts

How high can you get your antenna? I used a roll-up J-pole antenna on an 18′ collapsible pole supported by our patio table and could be heard across the city using only my 5W HT.

Every Monday night, I check in to the Palo Alto ARES/RACES training net. I can almost always hear net control, but they can rarely hear me. I guess it is good practice relaying traffic, but it makes it hard for me to contribute substantially.

5W Yaesu VX-6R connected to antenna

Last night, I realized that I could use the umbrella hole in our patio table to support an antenna mast! It worked really well. I got great signal reports from across the city. I was clear enough that I got a report of low audio, so we tested a bit more mic gain.

antenna mast supported by patio table

The pole is a Greenlee 18 foot fish pole that was left behind after some electrical construction. It weighs 2.5 pounds and collapses to under 28 inches long. The sections are friction fit and designed for pulling, so they won’t support a lot of weight.

The antenna is an Ed Fong dual-band roll-up J-pole. You can build your own from Ed’s instructions (downloadable from his site), but he builds them better than I could for only $28. I bought mine at our local Ham Radio Outlet in Sunnyvale.

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If you have a patio table, grab some PVC pipe and get your antenna off the ground. It really helps.

Bacon Jerky!

Bacon is magic in food but a problem on the trail—refrigeration, skillets, grease, etc. Shelf-stable bacon makes tons of trash with strips wrapped individually. Bacon jerky to the rescue!

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On a recent visit to Walgreens, I spotted bacon jerky and immediately bought it. It does not seem to have a lot of preservatives. It isn’t overly salty (beyond its bacon-ness) or smoky. It should be eaten within three days after opening the package. With Scouts, it would last three minutes, so that is not an issue.

$5.99 for 3 ounces. That is a decent amount of cooked bacon, so a fair deal.

When my dad and I backpacked in the Pecos Wilderness, we took Wilson’s bacon bars to crumble into our morning oatmeal. The bacon bars disappeared decades ago, but we finally have a good replacement.

I have only seen this as a Walgreens brand. It will probably spread, but pop into your local Walgreens and give it a try.

Petzl Zipka Headlamp

When my first Petzl Zipka headlamp finally broke, I bought another one. That is a sure indicator of the right gear for my style. Enough light, light enough (69g), and it fits in my pocket.

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The Petzl Zipka is a different headlamp. Instead of a wide elastic headband, it has a thin, retractable Dyneema cord. The cord disappears into the the headlamp. It seems like the skinny cord would be uncomfortable against your head, but it never has been for me.

One hint–when taking it off, pull the cord out farther, then lift it off your head. If you just pull it off, the cord will wind up bits of hair into the spring-loaded reel. Ouch!

It is also easy to put on non-head objects. I’ve put it around my wrist, hanging on the underside and lighting my cooking. I’ve put it around the top of a water bottle to elevate it as a lantern. I’ve hooked it to a clip on my tent as a reading light.

The button behavior is pretty straightforward. I don’t find myself confused and swearing at the flashlight trying it to get stop flashing or whatever. That problem is surprisingly common with modern LED flashlights.

It takes AAA batteries, which isn’t optimal, but they last a really long time, so whatever.

I’m pretty sure I’ve bought three different versions of this headlamp. One of them broke, I bought one for my wife’s pack, then I got tired of moving mine back and forth between my backpacking gear and my amateur radio emergency communications gear. Will I find an excuse to buy another one? Probably.

They keep tweaking the name, adding a “Plus” or a “2” or both. For the latest version (newer than my red one), it is back to just Petzl Zipka. They are also back to the Bondi Blue color, which is nice because the shape reminds me of the original iMac.

Whatever, buy the latest Zipka. It has always been around $40.

As the sun goes down, I drop my Zipka in my pocket. When I need light, I’ll have it.

BSA Youth Protection and E-mail

Our troop has an e-mail alias that can be CC’ed for any communication between an adult and a Scout. To satisfy the “no one-on-one contact” rule, we respond to a Scout’s e-mail CC’ing yp@our-troop. The mail goes to the Scoutmaster and the Committee Chair.

I do this all the time, even when working at a District level, approving Eagle Scout service projects.

The Boy Scouts of America Youth Protection Guidelines and Social Media Guidelines are online.

Supermarket Backpacker

I came for the flannel, but I stayed for Harriett. I didn’t see this book in 1977, but I’m glad I found it now.

I bought a used copy of Supermarket Backpacker by Harriett Barker and I love it. This sentence starting at the bottom of page one may be the truest thing ever written in a cookbook: “Don’t forget that water is the only thing you can cook really well when backpacking in the high mountains.” I have proved that it is true in the flatlands, too. Ask the other members of the Raccoon Patrol.

How many cookbooks have an intro with more information than the four pages in this book? Not many. Perhaps more trail cookbooks should be written by “an avid outdoorswoman as well as a trained home economist.”

For the perfect icing on the cake, a friend wrote haiku for each chapter.

Backpacking for days.
Found! New evidence of man…
Plastic container.

Also, lovely pen and ink illustrations from two other friends. We should all be so lucky in our friends.

This book has a huge amount of information. Brand names, vegetarian meals, kosher meals, a Mexican sopa seca recipe. You could camp for years on just this cookbook.

One more quote from page 86, in the dehydrating section:

A good rule to follow when making any leather…if it tastes good in the blender, it will taste twice as good at camp. Before drying, sample and make additions until the combination pleases you.

There is only one thing that makes me sad from this book. We can no longer buy a Wilson’s bacon bar. Dang, I miss those.

The Wrong Map

I found this great story while researching our tendency to be optimistic in estimating work. There is a Scoutmaster Minute or three in this, for sure.

There is a story told by Albert Szent-Györgyi […]. A platoon of soldiers during World War II was lost in the Alps. Overcome with fear and despair, they did little until an officer found a map. Then they rallied, worked and finally found their way to safety. Only later did they learn that the map was of the Pyrenees, not the Alps.

This is great news for those brand-new to leadership, like Patrol Leaders. Even if your information is wrong, it may be enough to make the group more confident and pull everyone together.

It also shows the difference between being lost and merely not knowing your location. Without the map, they were truly lost. With the map, even the wrong map, they now had a goal and a plan and were no longer lost.

Finally, we are who we think we are, especially in groups. Believing we will succeed is critical to getting to the goal.

I found this in Taking Myths Seriously: An Essay For Lawyers by Donald C. Langevoort. A PDF copy is here. His source was Sensemaking in Organizations by Karl E. Weick, page 54, 1995.

For the original story, as far as it can be traced, check pages 16-17 in Any Old Map won’t Do, a study of the origins and mutations of the story.