Woke up this morning to the sound of rain falling. It’s 42F so no worries about the white stuff. Just gentle precipitation falling out of hopelessly gray skies. Makes it easy to justify a morning in the shack with a lot of coffee. I see where band conditions are supposed to be poor-to-lousy for the next 24-48 hours. Great. That hasn’t stopped some POTA activators from hitting the field. I just worked N8BB at a park in Michigan on 40 meters and now I’m listening to Brian, N1BS in Rhode Island working a pack of hunters. Signals are a little light, but still seem workable. Being the beginning of a new month I briefly considered doing something out of the ordinary, like doing nothing but —fill in the blank– for the entire month but I never came up with anything good so its just radio as usual again this month.

I’ve been trying to gather enough gumption to take on some year-end accounting, ham radio style. For instance, a quick review of my LoTW awards account shows that I have 47 states confirmed on 80 meters, 49 confirmed on 40 meters, and 49 confirmed on 20 meters. This seems some low-hanging fruit that, if picked, would yield another award, five band worked all states. I haven’t paid attention to my WAS account after earning the Triple-Play award and didn’t realize I was so close on another bit of wallpaper. I’ll have to do something about that.

There’s also some final bookkeeping to be done to complete my DX Marathon submission for 2023. This event has held my interest in DXing for two years and I look forward to another. I didn’t expect to even make the 100 entity threshold this year having been off the air for several months due to family issues and moving to a new location. Last year I managed to work 122 countries and 31 zones for a total score of 153. My goal this year was to improve on that considerably which didn’t happen, I’m currently at 104 entities and 30 zones. Less than I had hoped, but much better than I expected after witnessing the year fall apart like it did.

Bottom line, there’s always busywork to be done and I like that my lifelong hobby continues to hold my interest and keeps me busy. In fact, I think I’ll jump in the SST this afternoon. I can only offer the propagation gods a paltry ten watts of RF on the altar today thanks to the IC-705. That will just have to do, and honestly, it usually does.


I removed the IC-7610 from the operating desk recently to prepare it for shipment to Michigan for a display replacement. In it’s place I have setup the IC-705 with the AH-705 auto-tuner on a more permanent basis so I can continue to play radio. By comparison, the enormity of the “hole” left by the 7610, its two matching speakers, and the ICOM power supply was striking. The entire experience has me questioning the common sense of maintaining such equipment. And it’s not just the desk space required, the double-boxed radio that I will drop off at the UPS office is massive, and the shipping bill alone, impressive. This only serves to reinforce the notion (at least to me) that smaller footprint equipment is just smart ham radio strategy.

This month-long switcheroo of equipment on my desk brings with it additional challenges. The IC-705 was designed to be used laying on a rock outside. Same goes for the Elecraft KX3. The cables all connected on the sides which is a logistical nightmare when trying to use this stuff on the desktop where you would want the transceivers sitting up for easy access to the controls. Right now I have a veritable rats nest of cables running in and out of the 705 and I haven’t even connected the microphone. All things to consider carefully when selecting equipment and building a shack. I’m going to have to quickly come up with some sort of cable management system for the 705 on a desk just to feel better about it. The same would be true of the KX3 if I choose to use it over the coming month.

Yesterday, with the replacement radio cooking along at 10 blistering watts of HF CW, I managed to easily work ten stations, most of them POTA activators in the field. To be honest, I’ve never seen much difference between ten and a hundred watts so long as I’m using a decent antenna. Hardcore QRP enthusiasts will expend many brain cycles trying to convince you that there’s only a negligible difference between received signals at 100 and 5 watts, yet most also will tell you using 10 watts instead of 5 watts is a way too much power kind of sacrilege. Go figure.

Fortunately, I’m not a purist and 10 watts falls into a category I consider to be “low-power” and I’m good enough with that. I’ve often said my long affiliation with the QRP world has nothing to do with power levels. I’d run a kilowatt if it was safe to do so in a package that I can carry in my hand and it would run off a small battery. Since that’s not possible, I fall in with the QRP crowd for the portable equipment, the kits and home brew projects, and for the whiff of self-sufficiency I get when fraternizing with the best of these. Five watts, ten watts, psh. Who cares?

Now, where is my new Elecraft KH1? Ordered it at 2pm on October 20th, six weeks ago. So far, nothing but crickets out of California…

Hambrew Magazine

If you can recall the specialty publication, Hambrew Magazine, you probably have a few gray hairs. It was published during the 90’s in those golden days of the QRP movement. Touted as being for amateur radio designers and builders, it was published by George De Grazio, WF0K (now a Silent Key) from 1993 until 1997 and nearly every notable electronics designer in the QRP world in those days contributed to the work. Some have said Hambrew reminds them of SPRAT from the GQRP club and while it wasn’t solely focused on QRP activities, there’s a similar vibe.

I’m not sure you can still find all the parts listed for the projects described in these pages, but if nothing else, it’s an enjoyable ride down memory lane on a cold winter evening. Replay the year 1996 from the links below. The entire collection can be found with a little digging around online.

Radio Skinny Dipping

The CQWW DX CW contest last weekend represents the end of the road for DX chasing in 2023 for me. I’m boxing up the IC-7610 for a return trip to the factory to have the display replaced. The duration of that service work will no doubt leave me without it until at least the end of the year. That’s not necessarily a bad thing since I’ve accomplished the HF goals I had for DX chasing. Long ago I came to terms with the simple fact that I’ll never make the DX Honor Roll and that’s okay with me. Working all but a few seems a terrible frustration and working them all even worse, finality. No, I’m happy to have played in this game for a season, learned a lot, earned some wallpaper, and now is a good time for me to move along.

Besides, I was never cut out to be a lifelong DX chaser.

By the way, radio skinny dipping might be copyright K3NG for all I know? Earlier this year he wrote about the freedom to build equipment unencumbered by anything. He said he occasionally walks over to that gear and taps out a message using Morse code and if he gets a reply, he remains in the moment. No logging, no looking up anything, no contest scores, nothing. He called that “radio skinny dipping” and I was reminded of that today when I saw a QRZ bio of a fellow I had looked up that said in part, “Glad to hand out FISTS and SKCC numbers any time. I don’t collect them for myself, nor do I maintain a log. I no longer have any operating goals that make them necessary”.

While I have often suggested it, I haven’t (yet) had the courage to completely forego logging. The record-keeping fetish is predicated mostly on the need for data to apply for awards or to judge success or failure in contest, or simply to be able to say “look at me I’ve made a million contacts in my radio life”. A more vapid exercise is difficult to imagine though what makes each of us enjoy this hobby has always remained a mystery and to each his own. You do you and I’ll do me. I intend to spend the balance of this year playing with HF casually at low-power and without logging or concern for who, where, or how many I work. I’m going radio skinny-dipping and I suspect the water will be just fine.

When 2024 rolls around I’ll share my plans for my next radio adventure. I’ve dropped enough hints and alluded to my desire to follow a different path “one of these days” and it will finally be time to move on. There are a lot of different facets to explore in amateur radio and I feel sorry for those who get stuck doing the same thing over and over again, often for decades. Sometimes until they lose interest and drop out of the hobby altogether. My bucket list demands attention and if the events of 2023 has taught me anything it’s that life is short and those with a desire to do anything need to get busy because a year turns quickly into a decade and a decade into a lifetime before you even realize it.

Burning Questions

There are a few things I have been wondering about and figured why not ask the audience of readers who frequent this somewhat questionable establishment. Apologies in advance if you think these to be simple questions easily understood by everyone except me. Feel free to provide answers in the comments.

1. When someone includes VOTA in their FT8/FT4 CQ transmissions, are they indicating that they are a VOTA station or that they are only interested in working a VOTA station?

I understand that Volunteers on the Air is an ARRL program that awards points for working certain officials and other volunteers. And there is a year-long effort to tally those points for some sort of award credit. My question is what is the caller indicating in this case? If the same caller put “DX” in place of “VOTA” then I understand he is only interested in working DX stations — but this VOTA thing leaves me scratching my head in wonder and I avoid replying because of my uncertainty.

2. Do POTA/SOTA stations prefer that those chasing them use as much power as is available?

In other words, would they prefer not working QRP stations? It seems a fair proposition considering the activator has probably spent time and money to head to the field and may themselves be using battery powered QRP field gear with a compromised antenna, a tough proposition even when working more powerful stations. Perhaps this isn’t the best time to try and engage them using QRP power levels?

3. Is ignoring stations that don’t use LoTW rude behavior unbecoming of a genteel radio operator?

I only QSL via LoTW and I employ the software option with WSJT-X to color highlight stations known to make use of Logbook of the World. I figure it’s wasting my time to work anyone via FT8 if there is no chance of a confirmation. I would certainly chew the rag with any other ham using voice or CW, but since the FT modes are an exchange of the smallest amount of data, what’s the point unless it’s worth something like DXCC or WAS credit?

4. What’s the deal with the attitude of some digital operators who insist on receiving levels of confirmation on the air in order to “count” a contact as valid?

I visit the QRZ page of almost everyone I work via FT8/FT4. It’s the only way to find out where they are and anything about them. Sorry, I haven’t committed every maidenhead grid square location to memory. Many of those pages have some bio info and very often I see something like this, “if we worked and I don’t copy that final 73 from you our contact is NOT going in my log”. Why? If you send me 73 and I send you 73 one of us could always be left to wonder if the other fellow actually received that final-final acknowledgement. So what exactly is the point of this nonsense? Perhaps it makes you feel a little better about something, but I come away with a rather dim view of you (LID) in the process.

5. How is it possible that Raul Midón, AE3RM has never been invited to play Bottom Cycle Blues at DX or Contest University in Dayton?

A little extra credit and not a serious question, but come on, he’s an amazing musician who hasn’t received nearly enough attention in the amateur radio world. In my humble opinion. Check out the video before you answer.

Weekend Update

It was a busy weekend. The kids were all still in town for Thanksgiving holiday through Saturday and we had an enjoyable time visiting with them and the grandchildren. On Saturday morning it was a visit to the local Christmas tree farm with all of them to get a tree before they began heading back to their own homes. Saturday afternoon Fedex delivered the Elecraft K1 transceiver that I had purchased from a guy in Chicago a week earlier. But when it arrived I was busy in the shack with the CQWW DX CW contest so I didn’t check it out until Sunday evening.

I didn’t approach the CQWW as a contest. My score was unimportant. It was an exercise in cherry-picking needed entities and in that regard I didn’t do so well. I made around 50 contacts, all DX no domestic. I didn’t gather a single ATNO though I did fill several needed slots assuming they are confirmed. It was almost all ten meters for me and while my results were skinny, that should goose my numbers on 28MHz nicely. I didn’t think band conditions were stellar, but there was a lot of activity. I admit to growing bored as I often do in these events. I’m not equipped to be a serious radio contester either with the necessary hardware or the gumption to stick it out. When you’re searching and pouncing for select entities it gets boring pretty fast. I probably spent five hours total in the effort, time spent mostly spinning the dial looking for something I never found.

The K1 that arrived is a four-band (40,30,20,15) CW transceiver (SN 2750) with the internal auto-tuner, filters, and noise blanker. (I’m looking for a KTS1 tilt stand). After the contest ended I powered it up and all looked well. I called CQ at five watts and a couple of RBN stations took note. A good sign! Then I went hunting for a “first” contact which wasn’t tough as the SST was already in progress. Three quick exchanges on 40 meters and I figure the new (to me) K1 has been broken in. Having built and sold a K1 some twenty years ago, it’s nice to have one back in the shack next to the K2 (SN 524) I built in 1999.

The K1 will likely play some larger role during the month of December when I’ll send my IC-7610 back to the factory for a display replacement. That will promote the IC-705 to the primary position until the big rig returns. I’ve been telling friends that December marks my return to full-time QRP work with good reason. I plan to exercise all of my QRP stock during the month. Some, like the KX3 and the TX-500, haven’t been powered up in months and I have some fears about the health of internal batteries.

The absence of the big transceiver will mostly close out my hunt for DX during 2023. To be certain, I’ve worked an impressive amount of DX at five watts over the years, and magic happens more often than you might think. But having achieved most of my HF DX goals, the focus is beginning to shift to other bucket list adventures in the coming New Year.

NorCal 40B

My garage and workbench are stacked with kit projects purchased so that I would have something to do during the winter months. Good intentions and all that, but I seldom seem to get these finished. Maybe because I keep adding new ones to the stack? I know I want this one, the NorCal 40B single-band QRP CW transceiver from NM0S Electronics. It’s been SOLD OUT every time I’ve checked, but I’ll keep checking for this modernized bit of nostalgia.

The original 40A had something of a cult following. An entire textbook was based on the project and some untold number of electronics enthusiasts cut their teeth on this design. That textbook is now worth a small fortune if you can find one. Of course there’s an email group for like-minded builders, as well as an entire build series on YouTube.

Introducing the NorCal 40B from NM0S Electronics

NM0S Electronics has received permission from the Wayne Burdick N6KR to produce an updated version of the legendary NorCal 40A CW Transceiver.  The new ‘B’ version kit overcomes the issues with obsolete components that caused the original kit to end production.  The NorCal 40B follows the design of the original faithfully, while adding a rugged pre-drilled, silkscreened enclosure! 

NM0S Electronics

Ten Centimeters Cubed

Cubesats: How An Accidental Standard Launched A New Space Age

Bob Twiggs was frustrated. His Stanford University graduate students started satellite-building projects but never finished them.

Searching for a way to simplify the projects—and cut out build time—Twiggs thought, “What if we made [the satellite] a cube and put solar cells on all sides so no matter which way it rotated, it was going to get charged?” With some spare solar cells from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, he went down to a local shop and found a 4 X 4 X 4-in. transparent box.

It was also around that time—in 1999—that an infamous error caught Twiggs’ attention. That year a mix-up between Imperial and metric units by a Lockheed Martin engineering team caused NASA’s Mars Climate Orbiter to burn up in the red planet’s atmosphere, ending the mission early.

“I said, ‘It’s about time students learn metric,’” he says. “I wonder what this [4-in. box] is in metric? Well, it turned out to be just almost 10 cm.”

Cubesats: How An Accidental Standard Launched A New Space Age

Taco Tuesday

I just took the turkey out of the freezer and I hope there is time for it to thaw before it’s scheduled to go into the oven on Thursday morning. I meant to take it out last night before going to bed but I forgot all about it. I awoke early this morning in something of a panic about it and got up early to handle it. 48F and raining right now then off and on showers for the rest of the day. I’d like to light a fire and enjoy a leisure day inside the house, but getting comfortable by the fire puts this old man into a sleep coma, even with a cup of coffee, so maybe I need a better plan for the day?

Submarine Operation Today: I will be listening for John, K3WWP who will be activating the submarine Requin from its berth in Pittsburgh using the call sign NY3EC. Last time he was there (I think) was September 27 and I managed to get him in the log and since this probably will be his last visit of the year, I’d like to do it again. If all goes well he will be trolling the waters of 7041, 10117, and 14061 +/- QRM around 1500-18/1900Z. Sending “good luck” to John for a hearty activation!

From the Ozarks: There’s some scuttlebutt about a final run of the Hilltopper transceivers, the one designed by Dave, K1SWL. I’ve got three of these single-band transceivers and they are a recommended buy if resurrected and you don’t already have one. Included in that scuttlebutt was mention of another run of the popular Cricket 20 transceivers. Keep your eyes peeled if you missed that one too. Also, have you seen the EFHW Antenna Experimenter Boards? Interesting… One final note from the 4SQRP group, the November edition of the Ozark QRP Banner is ready for download. Enjoy!