Blog: 2013-01

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Baofeng UV-5R as Emergency Radio

 [photo of Baofeng UV-5R with Retech RHA-601 antenna mounted, and Nagoya NA-701 in foreground] Around the time of hurricane Sandy, I decided I should have an emergency radio on hand. The best all-around, affordable solution I came up with was a Baofeng UV-5R, which can be bought for around $45.

The UV-5R is a low-priced 4W or 5W handheld radio transceiver from China that has remarkably good build quality, considering. It's small, has good battery life, can receive conventional FM stations and NOAA weather/emergency frequencies, can receive emergency services traffic like fire and police in some areas, and can also communicate on some ham radio bands, as well as communicate on GMRS and perhaps (in an emergency) FRS.

One drawback to the UV-5R as an emergency radio is that it uses a proprietary rechargeable battery (with no crank or solar charger). Ideally, you'd like your emergency gear to use rechargeable AA batteries, which are easiest in power outages to recharge and procure. However, you could keep the UV-5R going as an intermittent receiver for a week on a charge. And you can always store a charged second battery, perhaps on a second radio. You can currently get a third-party AAA battery pack for the UV-5R, but (like you might expect if you're accustomed to ordering cheap items direct from China) it doesn't really work or even seat properly.

Another drawback to the UV-5R for emergency situations, if you're thinking about FRS walkie-talkies for family members, is that it's not well-suited to FRS. If you want to be using FRS, you probably want normal FRS walkie-talkies, especially if you want to use them for non-emergency situations like camping.

The photo shows a UV-5R with an aftermarket stubby antenna attached, and also shows an aftermarket longer antenna. The bundled rubby-ducky antenna works pretty well, but doesn't fit in a pocket, and some of the longer antennae perform best. You can just use the antenna that comes with it; upgrade at your convenience.

If you get a UV-5R, you'll want to get a USB programming cable, and to use the Chirp open source software. The bundled Baofeng software is poor.

There's more I could say about the UV-5R, but you're best off Googling for a couple hours.

(Warning: There are regulations concerning transmitting on any frequency; don't transmit until you know what you're allowed to do and how to do it. Also, if you program in emergency services frequencies, be sure to use Chirp to disable transmit on those, since it's easy to hit the PTT button accidentally or to have the radio sneakily switch which of the two frequency slots is active.)

Free Good First Aid/CPR/AED Manual

The American Red Cross, which usually is kinda possessive about their materials, has put up the American Red Cross First Aid/CPR/AED Participant's Manual for free. That link will get you to a lousy Flash-based viewer, but then you can click the downward-arrow button to download the manual as a PDF file.

That site is legit -- the ARC linked to it from a page advertising classes. You can also find download links on that page for some smaller documents and posters.

Radio Shack Project Boxes as Raspberry Pi Cases

 [photo of black 6x3x2 inch plastic project case with thin white cable coming out of it] I was looking for a case for my first Raspberry Pi appliance, and had two issues with the plethora of available cases: (1) expensive; and (2) almost invariably designed with holes for all the ports, and to have SD card removable. To make this a better ``black box'' appliance, I wanted a simple box that contained everything and only had a power cord coming out of it. There were a few candidates on eBay, when I searched for electronics project boxes, but the cheapest ones were $12+ and involved a month or so wait to ship from Asia.

Just for grins, I tried, and was pleasantly surprised to find that they had a 6x3x2-inch black plastic case (270-1805) that was very close to my specs, just a little taller than I wanted, for $4.99. I was then pleasantly shocked to find that they claimed it was in-stock at several Boston-area brick&mortar RS stores. One doesn't think of RS as a source of electronics parts nowadays, but my nearest store did indeed have it in-stock.

I might have to do something about cooling later, but so far the temperature is well under spec when the Pi is under load.

If I get time to try putting RackOut on the Pi, I might use this same box for mounting a Pi and a USB hub on the back of the screen. I'd try using two of the 100mm VESA-mount points to attach to the screen, and having lots of cables running out of box. I wouldn't even have to put the lid on the box -- just make things a bit more presentable and secure.

RIP, Aaron Swartz

I did not know Aaron Swartz personally, and I sometimes thought he was making youthful mistakes, but he was clearly a good guy.

My First Raspberry Pi

 [photo of Raspberry Pi hanging with jumble of cables going into it, hanging about hardwood floor] My first Raspberry Pi arrived. It tested out OK, and so can be put aside for the moment.

I was turned off by the Pi last year, because it had some strangely closed bits. Now, I'm leaning towards making the Pi the default platform for RackOut. The Pi is not the least expensive small PC hardware, once you figure in the cost of necessary peripherals and putting them in a case, but the Pi is a popular platform at a cheap price, and it has a ring of hobbyist adventure to it. Still need to get a USB hub and invest a few hours seeing how RackOut runs on the Pi. (If the Pi is viable for RackOut, let's not talk about the probably 100+ hours I spent on RackOut Live details, much of which would be irrelevant to the Pi.)

I'll probably try to test the Pi with RackOut in a couple weeks. Consulting client work takes priority, and I have a new weekend project that presently seems more interesting than a silly living room PC.

RackOut Kinda Released

 [photo of improvised home theatre setup] Given that RackOut now lets me play DVDs on my living room setup, and also given that I need to refocus my attention on making money now that the holidays are over, I've done a pre-alpha release of RackOut.

Incidentally, before I could release this, I had to release a new package, web-server-xexp, and a new version of McFly Tools. RackOut does not yet use the mediafile library that I released recently, since there were more boring things that needed attention.

Earlier to... 2012-12

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