Scouting @ Home: Weather Merit Badge

As we move from winter to spring, this is a great time to step outside the house and learn about the weather. All the requirements for the Weather merit badge can be done at home.

Just two days ago, I saw puffy cumulus clouds over the Santa Cruz Mountains and long, higher altocumulus over our valley. After this merit badge, you’ll know what that means.

Weather

There is a great page at the National Weather Service with NWS resources for the Weather merit badge. It has maps, charts, and even a document listing careers in weather.

The San Francisco Bay Region has really interesting weather. If you want to dig into it, I highly recommend Weather of the San Francisco Bay Region by Harold Gilliam. You’ll learn about waterfall fog and why some Berkeley is often colder than Oakland. Check your library for a copy.

You can find the requirements on the BSA site (PDF) or at the US Scouting Service Project (with a worksheet).

The Weather merit badge pamphlet is available online from the BSA.

For more posts like this, check out the Scouting at Home category on this blog.

Scouting @ Home: Entrepreneurship and Salesmanship Merit Badges

Ready to run an internet-based business? Entrepreneurship merit badge will walk you through the business plan and Salesmanship will track your success.

In our neighborhood, a girl is selling bake-at-home bread dough. Weekdays alternate French bread and naan, with cinnamon rolls on the weekend.

We came across this sign on our daily walk and ordered as soon as we got home. The first weekend delivery of cinnamon rolls was already sold out, so we signed up for the Saturday evening delivery (for Sunday morning). Leave a pan on your porch, pay with cash or PayPal.

Bread dough sign

I had a cinnamon roll this morning. It was tasty.

Bread dough cinnamon rolls

Have an idea for a business? Start with these two merit badges.

Entrepreneurship

You can find the requirements on the BSA site (PDF) or at the US Scouting Service Project (with a worksheet).

The Entrepreneurship merit badge pamphlet is available online from the BSA.

Salesmanship

You can find the requirements on the BSA site (PDF) or at the US Scouting Service Project (with a worksheet).

The Salesmanship merit badge pamphlet is available online from the BSA.

For more posts like this, check out the Scouting at Home category on this blog.

Scouting @ Home: Hiking Merit Badge

Hiking is probably not the first thing that you associate with “shelter in place”, but our California order does allow walking and hiking for exercise and well-being. These hikes must be with the people you live with. Hikes for this merit badge do not have to be Scout hikes.

Hiking

Hiking merit badge requires:

  • One 5 mile hike
  • Three 10 mile hikes
  • One 15 mile hike
  • One 20 mile hike

For each of these hikes, you need to make a plan before the hike and write up a reflection after the hike.

During this period, we have additional safety concerns. Hike where you can maintain a six foot social distance. Your hiking companions must be people you live with. Do not hike in remote areas. If anything goes wrong, the search and rescue team volunteers will need to break their social distance and may need to self-quarantine afterwards.

Here are some hiking guidelines from the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST).

  • Stay at home if you or others in your household are sick.
  • Explore nature nearby and try to choose less-frequented parks and trails.
  • Before visiting parks or preserves, check their websites for updated closure information. If a parking lot is full, crowded, or closed, do not go to the preserve.
  • Go alone or with members of your household only. Do not hold social gatherings. Stay six feet away from people you don’t live with.
  • Restrooms and other public facilities are closed; plan ahead before leaving home. Pack out all your trash.
  • Don’t stay too long — give others the opportunity to have a safe experience as parking will be limited.

Of course, we always use the buddy system, so no solo hiking.

Would a hike into the backcountry of Henry Coe State Park be a good idea? Absolutely not. That is lovely country and spring is the right season to hike it, but it is rugged and remote. Instead, plan a hike along the SF Bay Trail, which is nearly all close to towns and roads. The Bay Trail is 500 miles long, so you won’t run out of trail any time soon. The SF Bay Ridge Trail is another possibilities, but only segments that parallel roads, like along Skyline Road in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

If you have any doubts, choose a different hike. If the trailhead is crowded, turn around and choose a different hike.

Hiking merit badge requires a lot of hikes, so even if you cannot (safely) finish it during this shelter in place order, you can get a start.

You can find the requirements on the BSA site (PDF) or at the US Scouting Service Project (with a worksheet).

The Hiking merit badge pamphlet is available online from the BSA.

For more posts like this, check out the Scouting at Home category on this blog.

Scouting @ Home: Family Life Merit Badge

It is hard to imagine a merit badge better suited for “shelter in place” than Family Life. Let’s take a look at some of the requirements.

Family life

As you might guess, all of the requirements are done with your family or are discussions with your merit badge counselor. There are two requirements for projects that benefit your family, one individual project and one whole family project. Some ideas:

  • Plant a vegetable garden so you can make fewer trips to the store. Garden stores are closed, but hardware stores with garden departments are open, like our local Ace Hardware in Mountain View.
  • Plan and cook freeze-ahead meals for a week. You make the meals on Sunday, freeze them, then thaw and finish them each night from Monday through Friday.
  • Plan a week or more of meals that can be made from pantry items. Make the shopping list for these. For example, pasta puttanesca is made with pasta, canned tomato paste and crushed tomatoes, canned anchovies, jarred olives and capers. The Simply Recipes site has some resources for shelter in place shopping and cooking.
  • Organize your pantry to work better for long-term food storage.
  • Clean out and organize a garage, closet, games, whatever.
  • Bicycle maintenance day, adjusting brakes and shifters, oiling chains, whatever is needed.
  • Organizing school supplies for remote learning.
  • Update your family’s first aid kit and emergency supplies. Replace any out of date medications.
  • Clean out your fridge and freezer. Toss any expired food. Plan recipes to use the oldest items that are still good.

I’m sure there are other things you can think of that are important for your family.

In addition to the projects, you’ll make a list of household chores and track when you do them for 90 days.

You’ll also organize a family meeting to talk about several important topics. See the merit badge requirements for details.

You can find the requirements on the BSA site (PDF) or at the US Scouting Service Project (with a worksheet).

The Family Life merit badge pamphlet is available online from the BSA.

For more posts like this, check out the Scouting at Home category on this blog.

Shack Upgrade

For years, my “ham shack” has been equipment crowded on top of a crate surrounded by other crates and boxes. It was neither attractive or effective.

Can you find the radios? The VHF/UHF rig on the floor would be stacked on the dresser for the weekly Monday night ARES/RACES net.

Ham shack before

There isn’t a lot of space in the corner, so I spent quite a while looking for the right table or desk. I settled on a 24 x 36 inch hardwood table that looks like it belongs in a classroom. A deeper table would work better for radio gear, but this one fit the space, was reasonably attractive, and affordable ($172).

On Saturday, my new table arrived and the cleanup and reorganization commenced. The old crate is now a bookshelf next to the desk.

Ham shack after

With California’s “shelter in place” coronavirus order, the shack is doing double duty as a home office. The big monitor and keyboard are from work.

Ham shack desk

The power supply (adjusted to 15 V) and 100 W RF amp are under the monitor stand. Stereo speakers for the receiver (not the computer) are on top of the stand. I wrote about the speakers and audio amp in an earlier blog post. The dummy load (see this post) is behind the monitor. Farther to the right are the Elecraft KX3 and PX3 on an over/under stand from the North Georgia QRP Club. At the far right is a Yaesu FT-8900R VHF/UHF rig mounted in a Tac-Comm case. That can be quickly disconnected from power (PowerPoles) and the antenna (BNC) to be taken mobile or portable.

The monitor stand is a “Thank You” gift from when I worked at HP. I’d helped out some folks in another division, so they sent me one of the monitor stands they made in their sheet metal shop. It is a beauty, thick aluminum, with stiffening ridges along the front and back edges, and nicely painted in official HP instrument dove grey.

Time to quit rearranging stuff and get on the air!

Social Distancing and the Scout Staff

Having a hard time judging the six foot distance needed for coronavirus social distancing? Bring along your Scout staff!

The modern BSA staff is a great deal for $5.99. It is five feet long, so you’ll need a bit of arm extension.

I recommend getting a crutch tip for the bottom end of your staff. It gives you better grip and extends the life of the staff. A 1 1/8 inch crutch tip will fit the current BSA staff.

Some of the classic Scout staves are six feet or even six and a half feed long. This is my dad’s staff with my 6’2″ self as a measuring stick.

Scout staff walter

Just another thing to add to the list of uses of a Scout staff.

To compare the sizes, this is our collection of hiking staves. The mid-sized one is from a large sassafras shrub. A friend collected it in Arkansas and made this for me. The shortest one is the current BSA Scout staff. It seems really short here, but it is a very practical size, especially for youth. The tallest one has marks at one inch intervals for the top foot.

Scout staff collection

For more posts like this, check out the Scouting at Home category on this blog.

BSA Emergency Preparedness Award

No, not the merit badge, the award. It even has a dedicated spot on the uniform, on the left pocket flap. This can be earned by individuals from Tiger Cubs up through council adult volunteers. There are also unit, district, and council awards. Youth awards are approved by the unit leader, so there isn’t much paperwork.

Emergency preparedness award

See the requirements for the different levels for the details. Click through to the application to see the approvals. Your Scout shop or National Supply will have the Emergency Preparedness Pin ($2.49).

The requirements include some unit activities and courses, so they might be hard to do from home. Still, this is a good time to get started and to add it to the annual calendar.

I qualified for my award under the district Scouter requirements. I’ve taken Wilderness First Aid multiple times, which is a superset of a basic first aid course. I’m an ARES/RACES amateur radio volunteer for our city. I’ve taken the FEMA Introduction to Incident Command System course (and others) for my city volunteer work. And so on, the requirements are a good list.

Finally, this is one of those rare awards that is approved for both uniform and civilian wear (“may be worn either on the uniform or on nonuniform wear, centered on left pocket flap” in the Guide to Awards and Insignia). Maybe I need a second pin for my ARES/RACES vest.

For more posts like this, check out the Scouting at Home category on this blog.

USMC Antenna Handbook

If you’ve been looking for a practical, free introduction to antennas, the US Marine Core Antenna Handbook (MCRP 8-10B.11, 2016) is a good place to start. The book is especially good for simple HF antennas that can be put up at home or in the field.

USMC Antenna Handbook

The PDF is 193 pages. The main section of text is 160 pages, with a very good 20 page glossary at the back.

If you enjoy learning about antennas from this handbook, your next step should be the ARRL Antenna Book. If you’re not ready to shell out $65 for the 1024 page 24th edition of that book, check your local library. Older editions are less comprehensive, but they still have lots of great info. My 12th edition from 1970 is still useful. Antenna physics has not changed over time, just our understanding of it.

Let’s go over some of the sections of the USMC Antenna Handbook to see the strong and weak points.

Radio Waves, Propagation, and Noise

These sections are very good, especially about HF propagation. It could cover VHF/UHF multipath a bit better. Repeaters are not mentioned. Those are common in amateur radio, but apparently not in the Marine Corps. Serious VHF/UHF amateurs dig into other kinds of propagation not covered here, like tropospheric ducting, meteor scatter, moonbounce, aircraft scatter, and so on. Those are advanced topics, so it is reasonable to not cover them here.

Transmission Lines

This is not my favorite section, but the mistakes here are very common in popular explanations of transmission lines. Unbalanced vs balanced is not a helpful way to think of transmission lines. All kinds of transmission lines carry a mix of differential (balanced) currents and common-mode (unbalanced) currents. Also, it talks about baluns as balanced-to-unbalanced transformers, but they are most useful as common-mode chokes. Still, this is a fairly standard introduction to the subject.

HF Antenna Selection

Very good section, with lots of ideas for how to actually get wire into the air for horizontal dipole or vertical ground plane antennas. You won’t find coverage of ham favorites like the G5RV, off-center fed dipole, Carolina windom, or even the end-fed half-wave. The antennas covered here are all simple and proven.

This chapter does discuss NVIS (near vertical incidence skywave) propagation, something that is fairly recent in amateur practice. The first QST article on NVIS was in 1995 and it has only become popular in the last 10-15 years.

There is one interesting antenna that is new to me, the vertical half-rhombic. This requires a fair amount of space, up to 1000 feet, but is unidirectional and only needs one support.

VHF and UHF Antenna Selection

This section is a bit less useful because it relies on specific military antennas instead of describing types of antennas. For example, the OE-254 is a bow-tie vertical dipole, a low-Q, high-bandwidth antenna, but they just call it an OE-254.

Military VHF/UHF antennas need to work over a wide range of frequencies, but amateurs can use antennas optimized for the small number of bands that we are allowed to use. The most common single- and dual-band ham antennas are not described here, designs like collinear phased verticals, Yagi-Uda beams, haloes, Moxon beams, J-poles, and so on.

Field Repair and Expedients

Read this before ARRL Field Day! Here are some suggestions of what to do when an antenna insulator breaks.

Improvised insulators crop

Antenna Farms

Some really good advice on choosing antenna sites, useful even if you are just putting up one antenna. I don’t think I’ve seen this covered in detail in any other book. A lot of hams will end up with at least two antennas, one for HF and one for VHF/UHF, so this is a worthwhile read. We won’t normally be considering security measures like barbed wire and automatic weapons, so you can skip to the Technical Considerations section.

And that’s all! Enjoy learning about antennas.