How to make a 2 meter antenna for Ham Radio

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This video does a pretty good job showing how to make your own 5/8 wave 2 meter antenna for your car. At the heart of Amateur radio is experimentation. Here is an easy project you might want to try.

From watching the video and listening, I came up with a list of materials. If you have a good source for these, let me know in the comments. If they are a good source (could be Amazon, scrounging for junk, local hardware store, etc), I will update the post with information about that I have not built this yet, but thought it might be something to try sometime.

Materials List:

  • Mobile antenna base
  • Fiberglass rod 1.4 meters long. Comments on the video suggested you find something similar to driveway markers.
  • Outer coax braid.
  • Enameled copper wire approx 40 cm
  • Heat shrink tubing
  • Solder and soldering iron.
  • Gorilla glue.

Better formula for calculating age in spreadsheet

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I came across a formula for calculating age based on date of birth (DOB) in Excel (or Google Docs, Libre Office, Open Office, etc). The formula is posted all over the place on the internet. It works great, but has one fatal flaw…

If the date of birth is blank in the spreadsheet, the math gives a strange answer. For example, my “blank” date of birth fields were giving an age of 115. Fortunately, this was an easy fix. We remedy the situation by adding some if logic.

My spreadsheet looked at C2 for the date of birth (adjust your cells accordingly). The original formula I found on the internet was this (DO NOT USE):

=DATEDIF(C2,TODAY(),“Y”)

My new formula (Blanks out cell if date of birth is unknown) (USE THIS ONE!!!):

=IF(C2,DATEDIF(C2,TODAY(),“Y”),“”)

So basically, I added an ‘if’ statement. Notice the ‘C2′ as the first parameter. This is the ‘test’ in the if condition. Therefore, the condition reads as follows: If C2 exist, do the datediff, otherwise put in a blank.

Creating a live disk on Ubuntu – Troubleshooting

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Today I attempted to create a live USB disk using a tool called unetbootin. Usually, it works great. But this time, I began to get boot errors when using the disk. It turns out, you may need to add extra files to the root folder of the usb drive after setting up the drive.

So if you are getting errors like this during boot:

  • Failed to load COM32 file menu.c32
  • Failed to load COM32 file libcom32.c32
  • Failed to load COM32 file libutil.c32
  • Failed to load COM32 file vesamenu.c32

The fix is easy. Assuming your USB drive is mounted as USBDRIVE (replace if needed), enter the following:

  • cp /usr/lib/syslinux/modules/bios/menu.c32 /media/${user}/USBDRIVE/
  • cp /usr/lib/syslinux/modules/bios/libcom32.c32 /media/${user}/USBDRIVE/
  • cp /usr/lib/syslinux/modules/bios/libutil.c32 /media/${user}/USBDRIVE/
  • cp /usr/lib/syslinux/modules/bios/vesamenu.c32 /media/${user}/USBDRIVE/

These directions are very similar to those found Ajo Paul’s website. I would like to thank him for pointing me in the right direction.

Coding for kids

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I just ran across code.org.

Wow, this is amazing. They use graphical utilities to teach logic to kids and to help them learn to program. Lessons can be completed for children as young as four!

I would completely recommend this. I tested out the Disney Frozen programming tutorials with my oldest daughter and she loved it.

Switching from Sprint to Ting – Saving money

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Yesterday, we switched from Sprint to Ting. What is Ting you ask?

Ting is a cellular provider that uses the Sprint Network (and Verizon as a backup for voice roaming).

Their model is interesting. Rather than paying a set monthly fee, you pay for only what you use.  They separate data, texting, and voice usage into three categories and bill for each at the end of the month according to actual usage. Family plans are easy too. You just add another device to your account. Then you automatically share the minutes/texts/data.

When I was on Sprint, I had three phones on a family plan. We spent about $190 per month for unlimited everything. After analyzing my data/text/voice usage, I realized we could reduce our current bills from about  $55 per phone down to about $20 per phone. And that is without any behavior changes.

Now here is the wonderful part, most people lean toward one type of usage. Either you text a lot, you use lots of data, or you talk a lot. I use data, but almost no minutes. My wife uses more minutes. Since we can get around data usage by generally connecting to wifi, we can save a lot there.

Our current Sprint contract was finished, and Ting does not require an unlock or anything. Basically, you sign up, and when the number is ported, you run a profile update command on your phone (Dialing ##72786#). Then everything just works, just like on Sprint.

Finally, Ting offers a great program for saving money. When a friend clicks your link and signs up, you both get $25 off your bill. If you would like to get a $25 dollar credit for your first month of Ting, click the link below. I’ll get a credit and so will you. We all come out ahead in this equation!

Save $25 on your first Ting bill when you switch.

DynDns and no-ip alternative

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Ever wanted to access your computer from anywhere? Many years ago I discovered a service called dyndns.org. Later, a friend introduced me to no-ip.org. Eventually, dyndns closed up their free services and while no-ip.org is great, they require you to login and renew it every 30 days just to keep it active.

So, I went looking for a valid alternative.  You see, there are so many services you can run once you have something pointing to your home computer. But this is the first, and most important step.

I eventually found nsupdate.info. It is a free service, no advertising, and pretty low key. You can even import your own domain name if you so choose.

  1. In order to setup your computer, go to nsupdate.info and create an account.
  2. Go to https://nsupdate.info/overview/ and choose to “add a host”. The ‘name’ field on the form will be your subdomain.
  3. After the host is added, click on the host name on the overview page. Then click “Show configuration”.  You will notice a bunch of tabs on the right, near the top. Click on the appropriate one. If you do not know, try installing DDClient. Just search how to install for your platform (Windows users use this link to search). (Ubuntu users just use apt-get).
  4. That is it. Now navigate to example.nsupdate.info and it will now go to your local computer. How about you create your own private dropbox by installing OwnCloud?

Quick Privacy Tip – Remove your records from PeopleFinders

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Ever see ads for peoplefinders.com? You know, the site that gives information about relatives, etc, and then offers to provide additional info for $50?

To remove yourself from their database, go to http://www.peoplefinders.com/manage/default.aspx and enter your information. Then choose to opt out.

It is that simple.

Also, there is additional information about removing youself from search websites here: https://www.abine.com/optouts.php

Should’t your kids be in school?

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My wife gets a question asked of her over and over. It seems harmless sometimes. It is often asked out of innocent ignorance.

Shouldn’t your children be in school?

You see, my children are homeschooled. They do actually have a schedule, but unlike the rigidness of public school, the time can be adjusted when something comes up.

Today, my wife received the question at the bank. It has been asked all over town. “Why are your kids not in school?” People have a hard time accepting that not all kids have such a rigid schedule.

After they get over the horrific idea that the kids are not “publicly educated,” they often (but not always) make a passive aggressive remark to my wife or my kids of some kind.  Usually it comes in the form of “so when do they start real school” or “what will they do when …”

I find this funny, because adults are often impressed by the strong social skills and intelligent conversation that our four and six year old demonstrate.

While public schools do try to serve the purpose of education, there is as much an agenda of indoctrination as there is the purpose of babysitting in these institutions.

The only reason I can fathom that somebody unrelated to my children would need so badly to criticize our decisions is because they feel personally threatened. Why? Probably because of the cult of institutional education. The people in my generation and earlier grew up with the understanding that an educated person could only exist if they were brought up by an institution.

Just to dispel a few notions about our family that some might have…

  • My wife and I are both educated and intelligent. My wife, graduated with honors in accounting, and I did the same in computer science.
  • Our children are “socialized.” Between homeschool group activities, church, etc, they have a lot of social interaction. On the other hand, they don’t spend a lot of time with manipulative children, bullies, and other bottom feeders of society that children are forced to work with in a traditional setting. Instead, they are inspired by oftentimes older role models. This propels them to maturity faster than their peers.
  • The kids in our family are challenged more so than those in public school. We base the curriculum on their level of accomplishment, so they are given more when they are in the “zone” and given less when they may have other distractions. This is important because it makes their education work like a well fit glove. It becomes the perfect tool instead of an awkward instrument.
  • Our life is more portable. If we wanted to take a vacation in the middle of February, we could literally take the school on the road. Or we could call it our spring break.
  • We are more vested in our children’s education than any institutional school parent. My wife is a teacher and a mother and takes both jobs very seriously. She understands her children’s needs better than anyone could by only participating in one side of the equation. This is not to say there are not good parents, just to say it is almost impossible to be more vested than a homeschool parent.
  • My children know technology and they know it well. It may partially come from their dad being a software engineer, but it is also how we teach our children. We embrace technology and use it heavily to assist with education. The children understand how to not only operate the computer/tablet/phone, but we are also working with them on learning why such devices work.

 

Growing greens in water (no pumps)

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Some of you may have heard of hydroponics. It is a system of gardening where plants are grown in a water and nutrient solution. In my home state of Minnesota, we have a lot of winter months where it is not possible to grow outdoors. So I decided to take this as an opportunity to try some unconventional gardening techniques indoors.

For my experiment, I am growing Pok Choi in a 5 quart ice cream bucket. The bucket has black plastic around it to keep light out. It has a net pot made from a yogurt container.

The kids and I sprouted the seeds by using the paper towel method. Basically, we folded up a paper towel, got it wet, and put a few seeds inside. This paper towel went in a plastic sandwich bag and then was placed in a cabinet (dark is important) while the sprouts came up.

Now that the seeds have sprouted, we chose the best one and placed it in the yogurt cup. Our growing medium is “Better than Rocks”, which we found on clearance at a gardening store. It is sort of like Rockwool.

Since we are trying to go cheap with this, our nutrient solution was one half teaspoon of general purpose miracle grow in a gallon of water. I know it is not ideal, but it is not like we are propagating expensive plants here! The seeds cost me 80 cents and came from the clearance rack at Gerten’s.

The plant will sit on our south facing windowsill and possibly get some additional light from a full spectrum CFL Ott light.

And here was my inspiration on using the Kratky method of hydroponics…

I will have to post more later with an update if this actually worked. We cut a lot of corners, but it may work fine. Here is wishing for the best!

Here are a couple links to some good resources if you would like to give it a try yourself…