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.

Wheat Berry Surprise

I improvised a dinner with wheat berries and veg. Tina asked what I was making and I said “Wheat Berry Surprise”! This starts with Mark Bittman’s Cooking Grains, The Easy Way then I threw in more tasty stuff.

I used wheat berries (whole wheat kernels), but you can use any grain you prefer. Likewise, the greens could be chard, dandelion greens, turnip greens, etc. Most greens will cook more quickly than the lacinato kale. I tossed in some chickpeas for protein.

Wheat berry surprise


  • 1 cup wheat berries
  • 4 cups broth or water (I used chicken broth)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (approx.)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • 3 stalks celery, sliced thin
  • celery leaves, chopped
  • 1 bunch lacinato (dinosaur) kale, chard, or other greens, cut into ribbons
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained
  • 1 bay leaf
  • several sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1+ teaspoon salt (omit or reduce if using salted broth)
  • a few grinds of black pepper


Put the wheat berries, thyme, bay leaf, and broth (or salted water) in a pot. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30-40 minutes or so. The wheat berries will be softened but chewy when done. See Bittman’s recipe for details.

While the grains are cooking, cut up the onions, carrots, and celery. The carrots should be diced small enough that they will cook while being sauteéd. I always add the leaves from the celery bunch because I like a bit of extra celery flavor.

Wash the greens. I find it easier to wash lacinato kale after it is cut. Strip the leaves from the stems, cut across the leaves, then put the ribbons in a salad spinner. Fill it with water, agitate the leaves, dump, do that again, then spin dry.

In a medium-sized pot (3 qts?), heat the olive oil, then sauteé the mirepoix (onions, carrots, celery ribs and leaves) until soft, about 10 minutes. Grind some pepper into the mix toward the end. Add some salt, if you want. If the wheat berries aren’t done, turn off the heat and cover.

When the wheat berries are done, remove the thyme twigs and bay leaf, then drain.

Turn the heat up on the pot with the mirepoix. Add the chickpeas and stir. Put about 1/4 cup of water in, then layer the kale on the onions and carrots, then dump the wheat berries on top of everything. Cover. The kale will cook with the steam from the water and the heat from the wheat berries on top.

After about 5 minutes, check the kale for doneness. It should still be a little chewy.

When the kale is cooked to your satisfaction, stir everything together and serve.


Stripping kale and chard off the stems with a knife is slow and fussy. Every time I did it, I thought that professionals must do it some other way, because this was taking way too much effort and time. Then I read about this fast technique in Samin Nosrat’s book Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat (see page 232).

You strip the stem out with your hands. Lay the leaf down on a cutting board, put two fingers astraddle the stem at the base of the leaf, then grab the bottom of the stem and pull up and out. The stem will come out and the leaves will be ripped off. Bits may stick to the stem or the stem might break, so tear off any remaining bits until you are satisfied. Stack the leaves at the back of the cutting board and they’ll be ready to chop.

Notes and Variations

Salt is a personal taste. Like beans, wheat berries can be tasty with a bit more salt. The broth I used has 530 mg of sodium per cup, which is about 1 teaspoon of table salt in 4 cups. To be precise, Pacific Foods Organic Free Range Chicken Broth has 2130 mg of sodium in 4 cups. Table salt has 2325 mg in 1 teaspoon. Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, what I use, has 1120 mg of sodium in 1 teaspoon. So, take my recommendations with a grain of salt and trust your own taste buds.

Use vegetable stock to make this vegan.

Add pancetta (reduce or omit the salt). Get four ounces cut into small cubes (about 1/4 inch). Instead of olive oil, brown the pancetta slowly to render the fat. When it is done, remove with a slotted spoon and put in with the wheat berries. Continue with the recipe, sauteéing the mirepoix in the rendered fat. If there isn’t enough, add a little olive oil.

BaoFeng HTs and Spurious Emissons

The January edition of QST has some disturbing data about dirty transmitters in BaoFeng HTs.

Amateurs are responsible for their transmitters being clean, but most of us don’t have the test equipment to check that. Also, manufacturers must meet the FCC regulations for every transmitter sold.

The ARRL Lab set up at hamfests and tested the HTs that hams had with them. Over four years, only 5% to 9% of BaoFeng HTs passed the test. Alinco, Icom, Kenwood, and Yaesu had 100% pass rates. Wouxon improved from 83% to 100% over the years.

QST 2020 01 HT Testing

From “Technical Correspondence”, QST, January 2020, pages 60-62. This chart is on page 61. QST is available online to ARRL members. This is a link to the article online.

The FCC rules for spurious emissions are in 47 CFR § 97.307 – Emission standards.

What if you already own a BaoFeng, like me?

Run low power. This will reduce the amount of power in the spurious emissions. Reducing the power from 5 W to 0.5 W should reduce the spurious emissions by 10 dB. The spurs still won’t be 40 dB below the carrier, but they will be lower in terms of absolute power. It can’t hurt. It will make your battery last longer, too.

What if you want an inexpensive HT?

Instead of a $50 BaoFeng, save up a bit more for a $75 Yaesu FT-4XR. From my research, this is the only HT under $100 from a major radioo vendor.

The FT-4XR uses the same chipset as the BaoFeng, so it has roughly the same feature set. But it has a clean transmitter and better interference rejection in the receiver. It also has ham-specific firmware, like automatic repeater offsets. That should make it easier to use.

The FT-4XR also uses the same antenna connector as BaoFeng, so aftermarket Nagoya antennas might fit. I would probably try the Nagoya NA-771 for $17, which might fit. I’ve heard recommendations for the Diamond SRJ77CA ($27).

I linked to DX Engineering’s page above, but the FT-4XR is available at similar prices from Ham Radio Outlet, Gigaparts, and other ham stores. Amazon has it at a higher price ($83), oddly.

BaoFeng UV 5R Yaesu FT 4XE

How did this happen?

It appears that the BaoFeng radios were designed for the much more lenient Part 90 emission regulations and do not meet the amateur radio regulations.

An article by AD5GG compares BaoFeng UV-5R emissions to Part 90 (private land mobile) and Part 97 (amateur) regulations. The BaoFeng meets the weaker Part 90 limits, where spurious emissions are not to exceed -20 dBc (dBc is relative to carrier). Part 97 limits spurious emissions to -40 dBc, 100X lower than the Part 90 limit.

Designing for the Part 97 limits requires additional low-pass filtering on the output. The new parts may only be pennies, but it would require a new board design. Maybe new versions of the BaoFeng HTs will be designed to the stricter standards, but I’ll have to see proof of that. The UV-5R is up to the third generation, at least, and still not compliant.

How to get an Amateur Radio License

What are the steps for getting your first amateur radio license?

Start by taking an online test for the Technician license. It is easy and free. You will probably do better than you expect. After the test, note the areas that you need to study. and are free sites with practice tests. You only need a C (75% correct) to pass.

K6WRU license blur

Now that you know what to study, get a study buddy, get some study materials, or best, both. The No Nonsense Technician-Class License Study Guide by Dan Romanchik (KB6NU) is free as a PDF and is exactly what it says. Study the sections where you are having trouble and keep taking practice tests until you are happy with your scores. Download it from the KB6NU study guide page.

Take a break from your studying to find a license test session. That will give you a deadline. Use the ARRL license exam session search to find a session.

The FCC charges $35 for the license. There may be some additional cost to cover the expenses of the exam session. You can take tests for all of the license levels at one session, so go ahead and take the test for General. You might pass!

After that, find a mentor to help you get on the air. In amateur radio, we call these people an “Elmer”. Use the ARRL club search page to find one near you. On the Web, try the Amateur Radio Elmers Facebook group.

Choosing a radio? That is a different post.

Troop 4014’s First Hike

I learned a new park today, thanks to the girls in Troop 4014. We had a lovely hike at Edgewood Park in Redwood City. I’d never been there, but I’ll be back.

Trail in Edgewood Park

The Scouts chose the route, did all of the map reading and direction finding, and got us back to the trailhead without any fuss. I carried a map, but only looked at it once.

Finding the route

We saw lots of wildflowers, a darkling beetle (one inch long), and three western fence lizards.

Edgewood park western fence lizard

Here is our track. It was 2.14 miles with an elevation gain of 435 feet. It was a nature hike with lots of stops, so we weren’t trying to eat up the miles.

Edgewood Park GPS track

See you on the trail!

Getting Started with Troop 4014

Starting a troop from scratch is a completely different experience from stepping into a functioning troop as Scoutmaster.

Founder strip

We’ve had our third meeting in four weeks. We are using the First Aid track of the BSA meeting plans for new troops. At the first meeting, I showed the girls the initial meeting plans from the Hiking and First Aid tracks and asked them to choose.

Right now, meeting planning is more Den Leader style but breaking in to pairs for them to teach each other from the handbook or other materials.

At the second meeting I brought some parachute cord for knot tying. We cut it into lengths, then I set up a camp stove to fuse the ends, with a cup of water to cool them off. They spent over a half hour melting rope and getting it just right. Big fun.

4014 is not chartered yet. We have a commitment from the charter org and we are linked with Troop 14. We had four 11 year old girls on Tuesday. We have a line on one more, plus two 5th graders who are interested. They’ll “age in” at the end of the school year, but I’ll probably invite them as guests. We have a guest female ASM/mom from another troop and two moms who we can probably sign up.

The Scout rank is a lot harder than the old Scout badge used to be. It used to be a one-meeting badge.

I’m astonished that whipping the ends of a rope is required. I’ll have to go buy some laid rope and whipping twine. Didn’t climbers start using kernmantle rope in the 1960s? Wow.

Scout Me In Neckerchief

My “Scout Me In” neckerchief arrived! I ordered one to show I’m supporting girls in Scouting and to have something to wear while we are getting Troop 4014 ready to charter.

Scout Me In necker

These were originally a restricted item, but now anyone can buy one. It isn’t in the online catalog, so you get it from the national Scout Shop by calling national supply and ordering on the phone (1-800-323-0736).

They quoted a 4-6 week lead time, but mine took about two weeks. It is a pretty fancy necker with a lot of sewing, so it isn’t cheap. With shipping, it was $40.86. I like it.

I’m an Amazon Influencer!

My most popular blog post has 7408 views in the 3+ years since I posted it. It mentions three things and I just saw those three things listed on Amazon under “Frequently bought together” when I visted the page for one of them.

Frequently bought together

These are not especially similar items and there are plenty of alternatives for each one. So these three together mean that Amazon is mining very, very deep into the long tail for similar items. 7408 page views might only mean 74 purchases. Or 15 purchases.

The original post is Better Yamaha CM500 Audio with PTT on Elecraft KX3. A clumsy title, yes, but it is descriptive. I wrote the post because I was tired of replying with the same information over and over again on mailing lists. Now, either on lists or Facebook, I link to the post.

What are the items?

  • A hand-held pushbutton, for turning on the transmitter (“push to talk” switch). This is the page I visited to see the “Frequently bought together” list.
  • A stereo to mono splitter cable. There are hundreds of these, all pretty much the same, but Amazon is showing the exact one I mentioned in my blog post.
  • The Yamaha CM500 headset, an affordable, popular headset for amateur radio use. There are lots of other choices cheaper and more expensive, so this is also a strong hint.

Mostly, there is no reason in the world to associate a hand-held pushbutton switch with these other two items. There are plenty of other hand switches, many of them pre-wired. There are many, many stereo to mono splitters.

Hint for savvy shoppers, the Hosa splitter was $6 when I wrote the article. It is $5 now.

Simple Base for Morse Code Key

I wanted to mount my Morse code key on a base so Scouts could use it at Jamboree on the Air (JOTA) this coming October. A $15 walnut “display base” from Amazon was just the right thing for that. Now we can set up a “Send your name in Morse code!” station.

Flameproof key 3

The key is a CTE-26003A “Navy Flameproof” that I bought when I was first licensed, back in the early 1970’s. I’ve never used it and it was never mounted on a base. It looks brand new. The “CTE” manufacturer code is for “Telephonics”, which matches the name on the key.

flameproof key manufacturer

A few hams offer nice bases for sale, but they were either too big or I was too cheap. This black crackle finish metal base is designed specifically for the Navy flameproof key and is reasonably priced at $30, but it is huge and weighs three pounds. Not quite was I was looking for. I also found some very nice exotic hardwood bases. Those were lovely, but I was looking for something more utilitarian.

I spotted the Plymor Solid Walnut Rectangular Wood Display Base with Ogee Edge on Amazon and chose the 6 x 4 inch size as the best match for the key. I picked up some #6 screws and fiber washers, plus some vinyl feet to keep it from scooting around on the desk.

flameproof key parts

The official Navy name for the key is “KEY SIGNALLING SEARCHLIGHT TOTALLY ENCLOSED TYPE 26003A” (spelling is original). Maybe some of the signaling searchlights were acetylene, so they needed a flameproof key. It is a very nice straight key considering that it was designed for very slow Morse code.

After I collected all the parts, I found a very similar wood straight key base project. That one uses lead shot to weight the wooden base, then felt on the bottom.

Plastic Pipe Roof Antenna Support

I noticed a clever antenna mount on another ham’s roof, so I built one myself. Putting my VHF/UHF antenna at the highest point of the roof has really improved my ability to copy some of the far-flung participants in our weekly ARES/RACES net.

plastic pipe antenna mount close-up

A cradle built from two-inch ABS DWV (drain, waste, and vent) pipe sits across the ridge of the roof. Legs two feet long go down on each side and a two-foot section is a vertical antenna mast.

My antenna is a Diamond X50NA, same as the X50A, but with a weatherproof Type N connector. I did additional weatherproofing with 3M Temflex 2155 rubber splicing tape and Scotch Super 33+ electrical tape.

I had spotted an antenna mounted like this and contacted the ham at that address. Rolf Klibo, N6NFI, replied with an article he’d written for the SPARK newsletter describing the mount. With that, I was off to the hardware store.

I used two-inch ABS DWV (drain, waste, and vent) pipe in two-foot sections. I cut up two of them to make the four pipe sections that go along the ridge of the roof.

The X50NA mounting hardware fits masts up to 2 3/8 inch, which is why I used two inch pipe. For coax strain relief, I used a conduit hanger that fit. Zip ties attach a loop of coax to the hanger so the full weight of the feed line isn’t pulling on the connector. That can rip the coax right out of the connector, or harder to diagnose, pull just one of the shield or center connector loose.

Antenna mount 3 Antenna mount 4

For a commercial version, I’d look at the Rohn NPPK, a steel frame that fits over the roof peak. It is designed to have a rubber mat underneath and four 18 pound concrete blocks holding it down. I’m sure it is far more secure than my DIY plastic pipe mount.

Allergy-Friendly Trail Recipes

The cooking merit badge requires a Scout create menus “keeping in mind any special needs (such as food allergies)”, but doesn’t provide a source for allergy-friendly recipes. It does give a URL for FARE, but that doesn’t have an organized recipe section.

The next version of the merit badge pamphlet should reference Hiking Free: Allergy Friendly Recipes For The Outdoors because that is the only book I know of on the subject.

Hiking Free Kindle Cover

I’m not the right person to review it, because I don’t regularly have to deal with food allergies, but she created these recipes for her son’s food allergies. I’ll trust that. I do have several of Sarah Kirkconnell’s other books and recommend them highly.

The author describes it as:

110+ Recipes That Are Top 8 Allergen Free: No Gluten, Peanut, Tree Nuts, Soy, Seafood/Shellfish, Dairy & Egg. Recipes for backpacking, the great outdoors, camping, car trips, dorm living and travel, for anywhere you need easy to prep meals that are safe to eat.

You can buy it here, $12.99 for paperback, $7.99 for Kindle.

Also, the 2016 edition of the merit badge pamphlet keeps the dangerous trail cooking recipe that uses ground turkey breast. It just isn’t possible to safely store and transport that on the trail (see requirement 1c). I blogged that problem back in 2014 in the Cooking Merit Badge: Trail Cooking Fail post.

Update: Sarah has posted two of the recipes on her blog along with a longer story about how she came to create all the recipes.

Rig on a Board Update 1

The “rig on a board” is working well. I’m a little worried about it scratching the central console, so the next version should have a cloth surface there. I’ll probably use a thinner board with some carpet or corduroy covering it.

Rig on a board 1

A wider board, maybe 10-12 inches, would leave plenty of room for the mic.

The wood for the prototype is 11/16 x 7 (measured), about 20 inches long, cut close to the middle. I used a regular door hinge. It has a little bit of play, but not too bad. A piano (continuous) hinge might be a better choice, especially if I use a wider board.

While I’m mounting things, an external speaker would help. I’ve plugged in one that I use with my Lowe HF-150 shortwave receiver and that improved the audio.

Hmm, 1/2 (or 5/8) x 12 (or 10) x 20 seems like a job for some scrap plywood. Just need to find some scrap carpet.