Monthly Archives: November 2013

Regenerative Receiver from 1950 Boys Life Magazine

I found an interesting construction article for a one-tube regenerative receiver in the September 1950 issue of Boys Life magazine.  (From this link, you’ll need to scroll down to page 56 to read the article.) The authors are listed as Fred Roden and Glenn A. Wagner, and it reports the receiver in use at Albany, NY, where it picked up London, England, “clear and strong.” According to the 1952 Call Book, Roden was W2KED. He’s also listed as trustee of a Colubmia High Radio Club, W2OML, in East Greenbush, N. Y. Wagner seems to have been an author of many hobby articles for Boys Life, but I couldn’t find any indication that he was a licensed ham.


Schematic from September 1950 Boys Life. Note correction in text.

The article was a bit short on construction details, and at least one of them was wrong. According to an editor’s note (by Pedro, of course) in the November issue (page 3), there should be a connection between pins 6 and 8 of the tube. And there are no operating details explaining how to get the radio to come to life. Interestingly, the regeneration control is identified as a “volume” control, with no instructions on how to operate it. I would have thought that the lack of details would have proved frustrating to many scouts who tried to make this receiver. But according to the Pedro’s November editor’s note, many of them noticed the error in the schematic. And the caption on the schematic indicates that “any good radio repairman or electrician can give you valuable assistance in assembling the materials.”

The circuit uses a single 6SN7 dual triode. One half is used as the regenerative detector, and the other half is used as an audio amplifier. The two stages are coupled with an audio transformer, and it provides enough output to drive a pair of headphones.  From the coil dimensions, I’m guessing that the receiver covered about 3-6 MHz.

The circuit is virtually identical to the one appearing in the 1950 handbook, which is available online at this link. It’s also very similar to the AA8V Twinplex Regenerative Receiver, with a couple of exceptions. The AA8V design uses a capacitor rather than a transformer to couple the two stages, and also includes a separate volume control, in addition to the regeneration control. AA8V uses a metal chassis, whereas both Boys Life and the Handbook mount the components on a board, with a metal front panel.  The Handbook version calls for a power supply of 180 volts.  The Boys Life version calls for a 45 volt B battery.  This could easily be supplied by five 9-volt batteries in series.  The Boys Life version runs the filament with a filament transformer, which the Scout can plug right in to the household current.  I’m guessing that the current version of the Guide to Safe Scouting would nix this idea, but four D cells in series should be adequate to supply the filament voltage.  The plate current for a receiver of this type is quite low, so the 9 volt batteries should last a long time.  If you use flashlight batteries for the filament voltage, you might go through those rather quickly.

Here’s a video of what appears to be the Handbook version in operation.  From its location in GI, it’s pulling in a DL calling CQ TEST in some contest.  In short, you can do quite a bit with one tube, even if you were a Boy Scout 63 years ago!

The parts should be easily obtainable.  You can get “new old stock” tubes at places such as Antique Electronic Supply.  In addition, the 6SN7 is one of the “audiophile” tubes still being manufactured in Russia and China.  This audio transformer should be close enough if you want to stick to the Boys Life/Handbook version.  Otherwise, you can go with the AA8V design, which seems to use only readily available components.


Book Review: Radio Science for the Radio Amateur by Eric Nichols, KL7AJ

At the Sooland Amateur Radio Association hamfest, I was the winner of $50 worth of ARRL books.  After perusing the available options, and deciding that my 2010 Handbook was current enough for my needs, I decided to get Radio Science for the Radio Amateur
by Eric Nichols, KL7AJ.

The book bears the rather steep list price of $27.95, although it’s available at Amazon for a bit less. Overall, it was a good read, although I think I would have been somewhat disappointed if I had paid the list price. I suspect the price had something to do with the handful of one-star reviews on Amazon.

Nichols is a regular poster on the forums at, and the book’s writing style is a similar level of informality.  Some of the Amazon reviews point out that he seems to jump all over the place from topic to topic, and this is true.  However, the book isn’t intended to be a scientific treatise about any particular subject.  Nor does the book give many construction details.  What the book does do, and the scatterbrained style actually does well, is give the reader some ideas about real scientific experimentation that can be done by amateur radio operators.  It whets the appetite and lets the reader do some more research about what is possible.   The book doesn’t really teach you how to do anything, but it does teach you that a number of interesting activities can be done.

In no particular order, here are some of the insights that I got from the book:

1.  It’s possible to build a plasma chamber at home.  I’m not sure exactly what I would do with it once built, but he does suggest some ideas.

2. One can purchase data acquisition modules relatively inexpensively, and these allow you to interface a computer to an analog voltage source (such as a receiver S-meter, a photocell, or a thermocouple) so that the computer can easily collect data for later number crunching.

3. Amateur radio offers some real possibilities for distributed science. My own short story, Clint’s Best DX, concludes with an author’s note saying that the story was impossible. In the story, the hero discovers extraterrestrial life with his 6-meter beam. I explain that this is impossible, because the signal strength is just too weak for earthbound antennas.  (For an explanation of why, see this interesting NASA article, which also explains whether there are aliens watching reruns of I Love Lucy.)  The book got me re-thinking that conclusion.  If properly synchronized, it’s possible to distribute an antenna over widely separated points on earth.  If Clint were to use such a distributed antenna instead of his 6-meter Yagi, then perhaps he could listen to the farm reports from Canis Minor after all.

4.  Even the lone ham can do quite a bit of ionospheric research in his own back yard, and can probably do much more with some sort of distributed data collection.

The conspiracy buffs will be disappointed by this book, because it turns out that HAARP (the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program) has a pretty mundane purpose, but makes use of some pretty interesting science.  It turns out that a lot of mixing of radio signals can take place in the ionosphere.  This is due to something called the “Luxembourg Effect”, which is explained pretty well in this 1935 article.  The powerful longwave transmitters of Radio Luxembourg (and Gorky, Russia) were found to cross-modulate the signals of stations on a higher frequency located further away along the same path.  The strong longwave signals were modulating the signal of the higher frequency station in the ionosphere as it passed over the longwave transmitter.

HAARP, as it turns out, was mostly involved in using this phenomenon as a cheap (by military standards) method of generating low-frequency signals.  It can be quite a task to generate a strong low frequency signal in order to communicate with submarines.  But if you want to generate a 20 kHz radio signal, one way to do it is to generate two HF signals 20 kHz apart.  The ionosphere will serve as the mixing stage, and the result is a 20 kHz signal being transmitted from the edge of space.  Since this signal penetrates sea water, the submarines can copy it.  Unfortunately for the conspiracy buffs, I can’t think of any easy way to use this phenomenon to generate earthquakes, hurricanes, or any of the other phenomena that are associated with HAARP in the minds of some.

I think the best use of this book is to inspire aspiring young mad scientists.  While not disclosing too many details, I think this book suggests a number of science projects that are well within the capabilities of a bright high school student.  So if you are a bright high school student looking for an interesting science fair project, I think you’ll get some good ideas from this book.  While your classmates are busy building their potato battery clocks or making a volcano out of vinegar and baking soda, you can be doing some actual science.  What do you think your teacher will find more interesting, a homemade model of a volcano, or your measurements of the motion of the ionosphere?  If you need to build some tangible device, then I suggest that a homemade plasma chamber, made out of a plexiglass tube, nails, and a pump from an old refrigerator, will probably be a bit more impressive than the potato clock that your classmate offers.

The price of the book is indeed a bit steep for the impoverished student.  If you can’t find a used copy on Amazon, you can speak to your friendly librarian and ask them to order a copy.  If your local library is also too impoverished to buy it, you’ll impress your local librarian to no end if you walk up to the reference desk and ask them to get a copy through “interlibrary loan”.  You simply print out the listing from WORLDCAT, which shows the closest library with a copy.  Your local librarian will request a copy from that library, and in a couple of weeks, it will be delivered for you to check out.  Librarians thrive on doing this sort of thing, and they will be absolutely thrilled to learn that a student actually knows what interlibrary loan is, and actually gives the librarian the excuse to engage in the process.

For now, I glossed over the chapters on Smith Charts and wave polarization.  There appears to be a lot of good material there, but it will require a bit more study than the quick read I was able to give most of the other chapters.  For once, however, I do have some understanding of what is meant by the “characteristic impedance” of a feedline.  A feedline is nothing more than in infinite number of tiny inductors in series, along with an infinite number of capactiors in parallel.  This tiny components have both an inductance and a capacitance.  And, of course, any time you have an inductance or capacitance, you also have an inductive reactance and capacitive reactance.   And when I re-read that chapter, I have no doubt that I’ll have some understanding of how those give the characteristic impedance of the feedline.

Perhaps I would have been a bit disappointed if I had shelled out $27.95 for the book.  But overall, I got some good ideas from the book and I’m pleased that I selected it as my hamfest door prize.

Baofeng UV-5R: First Impressions

My BaoFeng UV-5R arrived today, and I’m quite impressed with what I’ve seen so far.  The radio is pictured here.  For some reason, the Amazon picture shows a European-style plug adapter next to it, but understandably, this was not included.  For just over $35, I received the radio and the separately purchased programming cables.  The radio itself included the antenna, the battery and charger, a headphone which apparently doubles as a through-the-ear microphone, and a belt hook and carrying strap.  The cable included a little disc with the drivers, but apparently no programming software.

Since I’m a ham, immediately upon opening the box, I moved the little manual aside, installed the battery and antenna, and turned it on.  I grabbed another handheld, my Yaesu VX-3R in order to test the new radio.  There was an orange button marked VFO/MR, which I correctly assumed switched between memory and VFO mode.  I put the radio in VFO mode and proceeded to enter a frequency, 146.520.  Sure enough, it tuned in the frequency, but I noticed that the radio put itself on 146.500 instead of 146.520.  Undaunted, I tuned the other radio to that unusual frequency and determined that the new radio could, indeed, both transmit and receive.  It didn’t sound half bad.

After a bit of trial and error with the keypad, I determined that the radio must be set for 25 kHz channel spacing.  To changed the channel spacing, I correctly surmised that the “MENU” button would probably be required.  I pushed it, and it showed me that I was on menu #0, used for setting the squelch.  Using the up and down buttons, I found a menu entitled “STEP”.  and hit the menu button again.  Sure enough, the radio’s built in voice announced “frequency step”, and I used the up and down buttons until the display read 5.0K.  I hit “MENU” again, and the voice told me “confirmed”.  I hit “EXIT” and tried entering the frequency again.  Lo and behold, this time, 146.520 took when I entered it.

Emboldened by my ability to enter the frequency, I decided to try a local repeater.  I successfully entered the output frequency, 146.850.  I then started scrolling through the menus looking for a method to enter the offset frequency.  I found a menu reading “OFFSET 00.000”, and I correctly surmised that I needed to change this to 00.600, which I was able to do quite easily.  Unfortunately, I had to resort to the manual to determine how to turn the shift on and off.  It turns out that menu item is named “SFT-D”, which I’m told stands for “direction of frequency shift”.  I set this to minus.  Upon hitting the push-to-talk button, the display read 146.250.  And upon releasing it, the squelch tail of the repeater came back to me.

I put out a call, but nobody was around.  Therefore, I gave my wife the other radio and tried to work her.  Interestingly, I was making the repeater quite well, but the VX-3R, with less power and a smaller antenna, was extremely noisy.  She could hear me, but I couldn’t hear her.

Another ham came back to me and gave me a favorable signal report.  It turns out he was also using the same radio, and he congratulated me on getting the thing to work without resorting to the programming software.

Since this radio isn’t really designed for amateur use, it’s not really optimized for things such as repeater splits.  Therefore, I realized that to get the full potential, I would need to program it, which is why I ordered the programming cable.  Before resorting to the software, though, I decided to try out the receiver.  As expected, it received the NOAA weather broadcast on 162.55 MHz quite well.  But much to my surprise, it also received signals from Clearwater, Minnesota, and Red Wing, Minnesota with just the rubber duck antenna.  In short, the receiver seems to work quite well.

Programming the radio with the computer wasn’t particularly difficult, but I did have a couple of false starts.  The guy I worked on the repeater warned me something about when I should turn the power on.  I forget whether he said that I should turn the radio on before or after I hooked it to the computer.  He also said something about using the COM3 port with the Chirp software.

I downloaded the Chirp software from  In my exuberance, I didn’t really pay attention to what I was doing.   I dutifully clicked on a big green button marked “download”.  After downloading some worthless software that slowed down the computer until I uninstalled it, I realized that this was just an advertisement, and I had to actually click on the correct text link.  So after uninstalling the worthless software, I got Chirp installed uneventfully.

I plugged in the radio, but the program apparently had nothing to communicate with.  It turns out I had to install the driver software from the little disk that was included.  I did so, and was getting closer to programming the radio.

I had a few more false starts.  When the software still didn’t seem to be communicating, I remembered the other guy’s comment about the COM3 setting.  I changed this, and it seemed to help.  However, I still wasn’t able to communicate with the radio, even though the lights did seem to be flashing in some random fashion.

I tried jiggling various wires.  And remembering the other guy’s comment about the power, I tried various strategies, such as turning the power on, then plugging into the USB port, or vice versa.  None of these seemed to work.  Eventually, however, I realized that there was also an option for “COM4” in the software.  Sure enough, this one worked.  I was able to upload the radio’s current configuration to the computer.  And after I did so, I then had the option to download any changes I made.

The Chirp software is very intuitive, and I think I figured it out without recourse to any documentation.

I programmed in one repeater, one simplex channel, and NOAA weather.  When I programmed in NOAA, I set the corresponding transmit frequency to inside the ham band, and with low power.  It would be very easy to transmit out of band with this thing, and that step should prevent it from happening, at least when I’m using one of the memory channels.

I also programmed in some satellite frequencies, for the SO-50 LEO satellite.  I’ve never really operated any satellites, but I want to give it a try, and I may as well try it with this radio.  There’s an excellent primer on the subject at  At this point, I don’t have any way of connecting an external antenna.  The radio, it turns out, has a “reverse” SMA connector.  In other words, the radio has a male connection, and the antenna has a female connection.  Since I don’t have the correct connector on hand, I’ll have to use the rubber duck antenna for the time being.  But I know that people have worked the FM satellites using just a rubber duck antenna, and I intend to give it a try.

FInally, I did a bit of reading on the web about my new toy.  The best site I’ve found so far is  In particular, that site contains an expanded version of the manual.  After getting familiar with the radio, I did sit down and read through the manual.

Overall, my first impression of this rig is that it’s an extraordinary value for the money.  It seems well built and extremely versatile.  I was very impressed with the quality of the receiver, and it seems to get out just fine.

Unfortunately, most people who buy this sort of radio seem to use it for little more than chatting on repeaters.  While that can be fun, the novelty wears off quite fast.  It seems to me that there are many more fun things that can be done with this radio, and over the next few weeks, I’ll let you know what some of them are.


How To Eat Without Money: Part 1

During the SNAP Challenge, I ate very well for a full week with a budget of $31.50. In fact, I finished the week about $5 under budget and with food left over. I decided to take the challenge to another level: Is it possible to eat without spending any money? I’ve decided to give this a try. I won’t do this challenge for an entire week, but I plan to do it for a full day, and expect to have food left over.

There are probably other ways of accomplishing this goal, but since I have internet access, the best way I can think of to do it is to earn the money online, and then purchase the food online using with my earnings.  Obviously, I won’t be able to do complete the entire project in one day, since it will take some time for the food to arrive.

Amazon seems like the most logical place to buy my food for this experiment, for two reasons.  First of all, even though the prices are higher than other places, many items are available with free shipping, as long as the total order is over $35.

Secondly, I can make Amazon purchases with funds earned from Amazon Mechanical Turk.  I explained Amazon Mechanical Turk in an earlier post.  It’s a site that allows internet users to perform relatively menial tasks and get paid.  Some very savvy users occasionally earn as much as $100 per day.  I probably won’t be this successful, but I should be able to earn $35 in about a day.  (My website also contains other methods of earning money online.)  This money is generally available for Amazon purchases within a day or two.  Therefore, I should be able to place my food order shortly after the experiment begins.

I should note that to use either Amazon or Mechanical Turk, I believe that you need to have a credit card or bank account (although I believe there are some workarounds, such as buying a prepaid debit card).  You might need to have a bank account, but you do not need to have money in that account, since you can make a purchase solely with Mechanical Turk earnings.  Therefore, it is quite possible to eat without money, which is what I intend to do.  I will document my experiences in earning the money, in placing my order, and finally in eating the food.

Planning my diet will be somewhat challenging, because Amazon is not a particularly thrifty place to buy groceries.  Some items are very much more expensive than they would be at the supermarket.  Almost all items are at least somewhat more expensive than they would be at the supermarket.  And obviously, fresh foods are not available.  There’s really no way that I can get a quart of milk or a dozen eggs.  Quarts of shelf-stable milk or even powdered milk and eggs are available, but the prices are too high.  The self-rising flour that helped me so much during the SNAP Challenge is available at a reasonable price, but the sugar is prohibitively expensive.

Therefore, I won’t have a lot of variety, but I have settled on a shopping list something like the following.  All of these items cost more than they would at the supermarket, but they are not significantly more expensive.  Prices change from day to day, and I’ll have to adjust my menu when I finally get around to ordering.  But for my daily supply of food, I’ll buy something along the following lines:

As of today, the total price for these six items is just over $40.  Prices change on a regular basis, so by the time I finally place my order, it might be quite different. All of these items offer free shipping, as long as I’m over the $35 threshold.

These items will provide a somewhat adequate diet for one day.  I’ll actually have much more of most of these items than I need.  Obviously, the lack of variety would grow very tiring after a day, but it would be enough to sustain life for multiple days.  After my one day, I’ll determine how much food I have left over, and how long it would last me.

Since milk and eggs won’t be available, I decided to use the Pancake Mix, since I can use it by adding only water.  Any kind of butter or margarine seemed to be out of my budget.  I was able to find ghee, which is essentially canned butter. While intriguing, it did seem to be out of my price range, and I’ll probably go with the Crisco instead.  I’d prefer to smother the pancakes with butter, but I have some ideas of how I can put the Crisco to use. Finding a sweetener proved very difficult.  Sugar, honey, syrup, and even jams and jellies were all prohibitively expensive.  But since the Tang is mostly sugar, I think I’ll be able to get by with that.

For supper, I’ll get by with something like one of the Hormel Compleats dinners. They’re fairly reasonably priced for packages of six. I don’t normally eat such things, but one or two of them will make a good lunch or supper, and these do come in handy for quick lunches, traveling, etc., so the leftovers won’t go to waste.   And since they contain token amounts of vegetables, I’ll be able to say somewhat truthfully that I will be eating a balanced diet for my one day experiment.

If you followed my posts during the SNAP Challenge, you’ll know that I’m not willing to give up my coffee.  Fortunately, the Instant coffee I found is about the best bargain on Amazon, and is priced about the same as what I would find at a local supermarket.

To buy all of this, I’ll need to earn about $40.  Based on my experience with Mechanical Turk, almost all of the money will be available within about a day after earning it, with a small amount trickling in a bit later.  While I think it would be possible to earn all of the money in one setting, I’ll probably break it up over a few days.  First of all, most of the jobs are rather menial, and my attention span isn’t suited to doing that sort of thing for long periods (and I have other things to do).  Secondly, even though there are thousands of jobs available, I do notice that after I’ve done it for a while, I’ve picked through many of the best ones, and it’s often best to wait until the next day for better ones to show up again.

I had a spare half hour this morning, and got a head start on the project by doing four surveys, which netted me a total of $1.55 in exactly a half hour.  That seems to be about the same amount per hour I earned in my earlier Mturk expriment.  Therefore, it seems like I have about 12.4 hours left to go to earn the money to buy my food.

Obviously, it would not be a sustainable proposition for a person to work 12.9 hours, simply to earn enough money for the food for one day, which is what I am doing.  However, I have no intention of eating all of my pancake mix, Crisco, and Tang all in one day.  I’ll have plenty of leftovers, and if necessary, I would be able to eat the exact same diet the second day.  While that would sustain life, it’s not a particularly appetizing idea.  But what I think I will discover is that by using this system on a regular basis, it would be possible to supplement a diet with “free” food from Amazon.  Since one can order different items each time, after a while, this “free” food would include a large variety.  But as with any experiment, I won’t know until I give it a try, which is why I’m doing this.


Trying Out a Chinese Radio

If you came to this page looking for information about the SNAP Challenge, you’ll find those posts at this link.

I consistently get a lot of traffic on my Cheap Chinese Handhelds page.  There, I have a fairly comprehensive listing of all of the cheap VHF and UHF handheld radios that have become available in recent years.  When I started that page a couple of years ago, these radios had just started to appear at what seemed like insanely low prices.  At that time, you had to order directly from retailers in China.  None of these radios was certified for sale in the United States.  Therefore, it was not legal to sell them in the U.S., nor was it legal to use them for public safety or commercial uses.  It was, however, always legal to buy them, and it was also legal for licensed hams to use them on the ham bands, as long as the individual ham realized that he or she was solely responsible for any spurious emissions.

In the last couple of years, two things have happened.  First of all, many (but not all) of these radios have been certified for use under Part 90 of the FCC rules.  This allows them to be sold legally in the U.S., and it also allows them to be used legally by commercial or public-safety users.  Also, the Part 90 certification gives some assurance (but certainly not a guarantee) that the radios comply with the spurious emission limits for hams under Part 97 of the FCC rules.  They will easily transmit out of band, so I routinely warn buyers of such radios that if they use them to listen outside of the ham bands, they should program a corresponding transmit frequency inside the ham bands, to avoid transmitting out of band if the push-to-talk button is inadvertently bumped.

The other fairly recent development is that these radios have shown up on Amazon, being sold by third-party sellers. And most recently, some of these are now being sold directly by Amazon.

The reports I’ve read about these radios have generally been favorable. They are still insanely cheap, and they appear to be well made. Most of them seem to consist of a single chip, and are essentially software defined radios. (So they’re not one tube radios, but at least they are one IC radios.) The near universal complaints about most of these radios are the poor quality of the instruction manual, and the difficulties with programming. I’ve only seen one of these radios in person, one owned by another K2BSA staffer at the National Jamboree. From what little I saw of his BaoFeng UV-5R, I was quite impressed at the value for the money. And there’s a wealth of information about this radio on the internet, and programming software is readily available. Therefore, the poor owner’s manual and programming difficulty are both non-issues as far as I’m concerned.

Despite the popularity of my web page showing the available radios in this category, I don’t actually own one of the darn things. I decided to change that so that I can give a proper review to one of them. Therefore, I decided to order the same model, a BaoFeng UV-5R, which is pictured here.  It’s listed as being both sold by and shipped by Amazon, and shipping is free. It appears to include a drop-in AC charger (with plugs for both American and European outlets). According to the FCC database, it is certified under Part 90. (Copies of all of the certification documents regarding this radio, including the full users manual, can be found at this link on the FCC website.)

Amazon recently raised the limit for free shipping (unless you are an Amazon Prime member) from $25 to $35, and the cost of the radio was just under the $35 limit. Therefore, I added to my order one of the programming cables. I’ve never programmed a radio using a computer before. To the extent that it’s necessary, I’ve managed by using the radio’s keypad. In fact, since I use FM so rarely, I normally just use the VFO dial or enter the frequency directly.

I needed something to put me over the $35 limit, and I was mindful of the horror stories I’ve heard about programming the radio from the keypad. Also, it appears that the correct repeater splits for North America aren’t pre-programmed into the radio, as is the case with radios from Yaecomwood. Therefore, the cable might come in handy, and I ordered one of those as well.

From my earlier experiment involving Amazon Mechanical Turk, I had the money in my Amazon Payments account. Therefore, I’ll get the radio without even incurring any out-of-pocket expense. The total price, all of which I earned from taking surveys, transcribing business cards, and writing marketing fluff, was under $40. Amazon promises that it will be here between November 18 and 21. When it gets here, I’ll put it through the test and see how well it performs.


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SNAP Challenge: Lessons for Disaster Planning


One cup of flour, turned into edible form.

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I don’t own a single piece of camouflage clothing, so I must not be a “survivalist.”  On the other hand, I do recognize that it’s a good idea to have some rudimentary preparations for getting through life’s emergencies. Those emergencies can range from the very serious, such as the Zombie Apocalypse, down to the very minor, such as not wanting to go buy a carton of milk because it’s raining. In either case, it’s a good idea to have some food around the house.

For some people, that might mean investing in special “storage” food in adequate quantities to last the entire duration of the zombie outbreak. For other people, it’s a more modest supply of canned goods to last the length of a winter storm. I tend to be in the middle of that range. Therefore, when I think of emergency food storage, I think in terms of keeping adequate quantities of “normal” food on hand, rather than buying special “survival” food. As outlined on my food storage basics page, that can generally be accomplished at no cost, since it entails buying things that we will normally eat.

On the other hand, there is a limit to how much “normal” food one can store. If preparing for a longer term emergency, it might be advisable to purchase some items that can be packed away and forgotten about. On another page on my website, I have some ideas on how to store larger quantities of foods such as milk and eggs and a fairly reasonable price.

During the SNAP Challenge, I ate very well. This was in stark contrast to the experiences of others who were forced to eek by for a week on starvation rations. I was successful where others failed for one reason, and one reason alone. I was able to eat well because I invested a small amount of my very limited food budget on two items: A bag of flour, and a bag of sugar. Between these two bags, I spent less than five dollars, but these bags took care of all of my caloric needs for a whole week. With my remaining money, I was able to easily take those basic calories and make the meals appetizing and nutritious. But the flour and sugar kept me fed very well, and I had leftovers at the end of the week.

This is an important lesson for storing food for emergencies: In order to do long-term storage at a reasonable price, it is necessary to have some of that food be in the form of basic ingredients, such as flour and sugar. Of course, much of your emergency food storage should be in the form of foods that can be eaten with no preparation or minimal preparation. But as the SNAP Challenge has proven, this can make the cost prohibitive. To give you some idea, this special One Year Emergency Food Supply of “survival” food will set you back almost $10,000. The equivalent number of calories, if purchased in the form of flour at supermarket prices, would be about $400. In other words, special “survival” food can cost about 25 times as much as “normal” food in the form of basic ingredients.

Therefore, it is clear that to have long-term food storage, you do need to plan around basic ingredients, just as I did during the SNAP Challenge. The difficulty with this approach is, of course, that it will entail cooking. During the SNAP Challenge, I made use of many modern conveniences, such as an oven, a toaster, and an electric coffee maker. During many disasters, some or all of these modern conveniences would be unavailable. And, of course, during many disasters, the electric power and/or natural gas will not be available.

One way of dealing with this issue is to spend thousands or millions of dollars on a survivalist bunker with all of the conveniences of home. All you need to do is stock it with thousands of gallons of diesel fuel, and you can live out the zombie apocalypse in style. For many, however, this is not an option. And for someone like me, who doesn’t even own a single piece of camouflage clothing, this isn’t a particularly good option.

A better way of approaching the problem is to be creative and figure out how the minimal preparation of food can be accomplished without all of those modern conveniences. In most cases, this will add some difficulty, but those difficulties are rarely insurmountable. Therefore, this morning, I decided to see how I could turn a cup of flour into edible food without using the oven. I normally use the oven to cook food, because it is very convenient. I merely set the temperature, put in the food, wait the specified number of minutes, and then remove the item. This process is made extremely convenient by luxuries such as a large volume in which to cook, an automatic thermostat, and even a timer. But these are mere luxuries. At its most basic level, the oven does one thing: It generates heat. This is all that is necessary for cooking. Everything else is nice to have, but not necessary. As long as you have a method to generate heat, it will be possible to cook. Therefore, as long as you have a method to generate heat, you can cut your food costs from $10,000 per year down to $400 per year. And at these lower prices, it is possible to store food for longer term emergencies.

To demonstrate this principle, I decided to turn a cup of flour into food that I can eat, without use of the oven. There are many ways in which this can be accomplished, although all of those methods require heat. For the heat, I could have used a charcoal grill or a backyard gas grill. I could have used a Solar Oven. I could have used a campfire. The exact method of generating heat is unimportant. Depending on the method, the exact cooking procedures might need to be modified. But as long as heat is available, then the flour can be turned into food.

I decided to use an electric turkey roaster to generate the heat. In many disaster situations, this would not be an option, since it requires electricity. But again, the exact method of generating the heat is unimportant. I merely want to demonstrate that it is possible to turn flour into food with any available source of heat. To one cup of Self Rising Flour, I added a quarter cup vegetable oil and a quarter cup milk. I used fresh milk, but powdered milk would have worked just as well. And since normal flour stores better, in an emergency situation, I probably would have used regular flour along with baking powder. But I’m merely establishing the concept here. The details can be worked out depending on what is available.

If you want more ideas about the concept of generating heat during an emergency, please visit my How To Make Coffee Without Electricity page.

The resulting biscuits are shown above. I baked the biscuits in the turkey roaster at the highest temperature setting (marked 400 degrees, although I suspect the actual temperature is lower) for about 40 minutes. Without a real oven, the biscuits never really get brown. But they tasted just fine. And more importantly, they represent food, even though they started out as basic ingredients that were not edible in their original form.

The important lesson of the SNAP Challenge is that with a bit of planning and a bit of creativity, it is possible to prepare for emergencies at a very low cost. If you think in these terms, then you don’t have to worry so much about FEMA coming to rescue you after a disaster. And more importantly, if you are concerned about others, then FEMA doesn’t have to worry so much about coming to rescue you after the disaster, and they can concentrate their efforts on others whose situation is more dire.

Our New Prairie Home

For over ten years, our parent website ( and its predecessor websites have earned a small amount of income from the Amazon affiliate program. This income was very modest, but it was income, and we paid Minnesota income tax on that income.

In June, the Minnesota Legislature decided to kick us out of the state. As a result, we no longer earn this income in Minnesota, and we no longer pay Minnesota income tax. This website now earns income in another state, and Minnesota no longer sees a dime of that income. We got kicked out of the state because the Legislature bowed to pressure from large Minnesota retailers such as Best Buy and Target. These retailers were fretting about the unfairness of an unlevel playing field. From the sidelines, they watched the success of Amazon‘s business model and wondered why their customers were going to Amazon. They undoubtedly watched billionaire sports team owners successfully go to the legislature for help, and they decided to do the same thing. So they sent their lobbyists to St. Paul and asked the legislature to “level the playing field” for them.

They argued that Amazon is successful for one reason and one reason alone. It’s not because Amazon has better prices. It’s not because Amazon has a huge selection. It’s not because Amazon has great customer service. No, the only reason why Amazon is successful is, so the argument goes, is because Amazon does not need to collect Minnesota sales tax. Because Amazon does not have a physical presence in the state, it is not required to collect sales tax. Instead, customers are supposed to keep track of their own purchases and remit the “use tax” to the state themselves. According to the argument, Minnesota customers enjoy having to do this extra step, and this makes the playing field unlevel.

The Minnesota Legislature looked at the fact that Minnesota residents were making money by being Amazon affiliates, and decided that this was enough of a physical presence to warrant a demand that Amazon collect Minnesota sales tax, effective July 1. Predictably, as it had done in other states that had tried the same trick, Amazon decided that it wasn’t going to do business with affiliates in the state, effective that same date.  Unless they moved, those affiliates were out of a job.

In short, Amazon was told that they needed to fire their Minnesota affiliates or else collect the tax.  They complied with this demand, and thus leveled the playing field, by firing the Minnesota affiliates.

A website such as doesn’t have too many ties to the physical world. We exist in “the cloud”. Our main physical presence is in the form of a bunch of ones and zeros in a Utah data center. But we have some physical assets, and until June, our physical connection was with the State of Minnesota. In late June, we hastily moved those physical assets to Texas.

We thank the Lone Star State for providing us with temporary refuge. But Texas summers can be hot, and we’ve spent the past few months looking for a permanent home. We have now found it, and we are proud to say that our operations are now based in Madison, South Dakota.

Madison is a thriving town of 6,474, and is the county seat of Lake County. For a refugee from the land of 10,000 Lakes, it’s a beautiful area with many opportunities for outdoor recreation. It is near the 1350-acre Lake Herman and 2800-acre Lake Madison. Several South Dakota State Parks are in the area. And like its larger namesake in the Badger State, Madison is a college town, as the home of Dakota State University. Its a short drive from Sioux Falls, a bustling city which has used its location to take advantage of the economic chaos just to its east.

If you want to send us a postcard, you can send it to our new World Headquarters:

  •, Inc.
  • 110 E. Center St. #388
  • Madison, SD 57042

Nothing much has changed. Our ones and zeros are still located in Utah. But the physical assets of this cyber business are now located in South Dakota. And you can thank the Minnesota Legislature for encouraging us to find our new home here.

Super 8 Motel - Madison

For your stay in Madison, South Dakota, we recommend the 
Super 8 Motel – Madison
. They offer reasonable rates, clean comfortable rooms, free breakfast, and plenty of free parking. They’re less than a mile from our world headquarters.

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